After our stay with friends Greg and Sherry in Minnesota, Rich and I headed west then south through the Dakotas down through Iowa and into Missouri. We had planned to stay in a small town just outside Kansas City. This was no random choice. We were going to spend a couple of days with some very dear friends from our time in Naples, Italy. I had been a team member on many CREDO Personal Growth Retreats with Rod, and Richard and I had both been involved with the CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreats with both Rod and his wife Trish.
Rod and Trish had made a flying visit with us about three years ago here in Jacksonville. They had been doing some east coast travelling and decided to dip down a little lower than originally planned to spend a day or so with us. That had been the first time we had seen each other since they had left Naples, Italy back in the mid-nineties. So we were very excited to be seeing them again. However, even though they were the primary reason for choosing to make Kansas City a stop on our 4,252 mile retirement ride, I had a secondary motive for wanting to stop there.
During the period 1989-91, Richard was transferred to a ship that was home-ported in Norfolk, VA. Although it wasn’t my first visit to the USA, it was the first time that I had lived here. It proved to be a very difficult time for me. The culture and way of life over here is drastically different from Europe. Everything over here involves distance and there is very little public transportation. And the distance factor enters into creating relationships with other people. In Europe everybody knows everybody. In Norfolk I found it very difficult to make friends; people seemed to live in their own boxes.
However, through a specific fellowship that I am involved with I did manage eventually to create some meaningful friendships. One lady in particular, Gert, became a very good and close friend. In the spring of 1991 Gert gifted me with a a subscription to Daily Word, a small daily reflection booklet that is published by UNITY. That booklet became my lifeline. It is the most positively uplifting daily meditational book that I have ever read. Wherever I went, Daily Word travelled with me, and I have continued to renew the subscription every year since then. I have used their twenty four hour prayer line many times over the years and it is such a comfort and a joy to make a call and get a real person on the other end who truly cares about whatever issue may be bothering me in the moment, and who is willing to pray with me and offer comfort.
Inside the front cover of the Daily Word each month there is a photo of the Silent Unity Chapel. There is always a light on in the top tower of this building and the photo intrigues me. Every time I see it I think, wow that’s where the prayer ministers are who receive all the phone calls and pray with all the callers – at any time of the day or the night every single day of every year. For the last fifteen years I have held a small dream to go there and visit. And here we were, planning to go to Kansas City and I knew that Unity Village was located somewhere close by. So when Rod asked if there was anything particular that we wanted to do/see in the area, I jumped right on it.
On Friday 26th August, we set off with Rod and Trish to go visit the Unity campus. I had no idea what a spiritual treat I was in for; God was in a most generous mood that day. Upon arrival we parked in the main parking lot right in front of the Book Store and Café. We decided to go in there because we figured that we could get information as to the layout of the campus and get directions to the Silent Unity building and chapel. The store was an absolute delight and we perused for a while. The staff was so helpful and we bought a couple of items and received a map of the campus. Imagine my joy when I found out that there was a large, handicap accessible labyrinth laid out on the ground immediately opposite the store. Rich, Rod, and Trish were quite happy to indulge my desire to walk the labyrinth and so with a happy heart I took my walk. Below is a video that Rich made and towards the end there are some still photos that he also took.
While I was walking the labyrinth, a large red-shouldered hawk came and rested at the very top of a tree on the edge of the labyrinth and watched me as I made the eleven circuits. His photo is here below.
When I had finished my walk we all went through a walkway and up some stairs to go visit the Silent Unity Chapel. Nothing quite prepared us for the beauty that lay before us at the top of the stairs. The campus buildings were laid out in a long oblong design and centered in the middle of them was a beautifully designed formal garden with fountains and pools. The whole thing made me think immediately of Europe and of St. Augustine, Florida because there was a Spanish flair in the design. I could have stayed there for hours. It truly filled my heart and soul with great happiness.
We wandered along and crossed the a small bridge over the central pool then headed toward the chapel. Trish and I went inside noting that there were two other people already there – a man and a woman. As we entered, the woman turned around toward us and said, “we are just about to do a guided meditation, would you like to join in?” We both assented, and spent the next fifteen minutes being guided through a beautiful reflection. This was another highlight of the trip for me. We spent a little more time walking around the campus and taking in the peacefulness and serenity of that place, before heading off to have a lovely lunch together.
I have to write about grace because in recent times I have become very aware of how much grace has poured into my life over the years, and especially in recent times. It is with quiet joy that I realize that the first three letters of the word grace are the same as the first three letters of two other words that are dear to my heart : gratitude and grateful. There is no “coincidence” here. I think that grace is intrinsically connected to gratitude and being grateful.
Because I am a Christian I have a very specific belief in grace and what it is. Grace for me is a gift freely given by God to those who choose to receive it. Yes, I believe as with any gift, the recipient has to have hands wide open and be willing to accept the gift of grace. Within this concept, I also believe that grace is huge, ever present, all around me, and is mine for the taking – or for anyone else to take if they so choose. The God of my understanding is generous with the gift of grace and is in a state of constant giving. I am the one who chooses to refuse or ignore or throw away His/Her gift.
Another way that I define grace is as God’s love. As a believing and practicing Christian I experience God’s love in so many ways in my life. As I sit,stand, or lie in the arms of my husband I experience grace. When I accept or give forgiveness, I experience grace. If I am in a state of turmoil or sadness and take time to place myself in God’s loving presence, handing over any pain to Her/Him, I experience grace. Looking at a newborn baby, I experience grace. Taking in the beauty of Spirit’s creation, I experience grace.
Grace has flowed continuously into my life as I have been on the spiritual path. I have been gifted with so much that as I look back over the last thirty years I am amazed at the richness that has been poured into my life through grace. To try and chronicle all of it would take several tomes. So just looking at recent times I will attempt to give examples of unexpected grace that has come to me.
My sons live in Italy and so I do not get to see them often. Especially with today’s economic crisis, the money required to cover a round trip is prohibitive and not at all readily available. But God provides. Two weeks ago my eldest son was sent to Newport News, VA to attend a work-related conference. I’m no spring chicken any more, so to make a nine-hour road trip alone requires quite an effort on my part, but a God-given opportunity (grace) to spend a few days with my son was not to be passed up. He was being sent to “my part of the world” that allowed me to see him. That was grace.
Because I made that drive, I was given another opportunity to experience God’s grace. On the drive home I chose to stop in Fayetteville, NC to spend an afternoon and over-night with a dear sister-friend LeeAnn. LeeAnn is another spiritual sister that I am blessed with, so to spend time with her is to spend time in focused personal and spiritual growth. We don’t talk about the weather or what work is like. We dive in deep and soak up our time together because it affords us the opportunity to share so much.
Going back abut 6-7 weeks, Richard and I traveled to Seattle, WA. That was a total gift in and of itself. Because he was travelling for para-professional reasons, his room was paid for. He had a bunch of frequent traveller miles racked up, so we were able to cover my air fare. This gave me the opportunity to be able to visit with a dear friend, George, who I hadn’t seen in twenty five years!! Can you imagine the gift (grace) that was for me. On that same trip I was also able to spend a day with a woman who I had befriended a year earlier in Florida. And the grace flowed!
As Richard and I travelled home from that trip I had an amazing experience. Richard dabbles in photography and of late has played with time lapse using both still shots and video. He decided to video our flight home filming two or three minute segments at various points along the way. As we flew into the night we hit some pretty turbulent weather and a storm raged outside. (I reminded God to keep us safely in the palm of His hand and reminded my Guardian Angel to come alongside and hold the plane up!) Richard was filming the lightening and nudged me to take a look at the view from the window. This I did, and it was quite spectacular: wide flashes and forks of lightening.
As I watched I found myself not only looking directly out of the window but also glancing into the screen of Richard’s camera as he was shooting film. All of a sudden, in the screen I saw her, a magnificent angel with huge wings, hair flying out behind him/her, robe streaming in the wind, and arms reached out under the belly of the plane. I gasped and said “Look at her!” Richard turned in and looked around the plane and said “Who, Babe?” I pointed into the screen and said “Her, the angel.” He looked into the screen and said, “I don’t see anything Babe.” I pointed again and said “The angel, look there’s her head, her wings, her robe, and she’s holding the plane in her arms.”
Now Richard is very patient and understanding of me and fully accept that I am a little “different”. So gently, but without any hint of disbelief, he said “I don’t see her Babe.” Momentarily I felt panic and decided to look directly at the angel out the window, but I couldn’t see her. With my heart sinking I looked back in the screen and there she was – clear as daylight. I then thought that perhaps I was seeing a reflection of something in the screen, so I took hold of Richards hand and moved it from side to side. But there she remained as clear as could be.
I invited Richard one more time to “see her”, but he shook his head and said “I can’t see anything Babe, but when we get home we’ll play the whole video and see what shows up.” But I knew she wouldn’t “show up” on the video. She was there as a grace for me to see and to know that God was taking care of us. I am grateful for the gifts that God has bestowed upon me and I do not take them lightly. The gift of His/Her grace is a wondrous miracle that I humbly accept.
I know that talking things through with someone helps to diminish the hold that anything that is frustrating me or causing me anger or resentment has on me. Writing also helps in the same way. So here goes. Whether I’ll be able to post is another matter, and that’s where my present frustration is coming from.
I haven’t written in a while. I’ve given up trying to understand why this happens. It’s not that I have nothing to write about. I have been keeping, and adding to, a small list of topics that I want to express my feelings about. But something is getting in the way. The weather has been gorgeous lately. We have been enjoying the best Florida spring weather – no grey, no de-pressing stuff going on outside, so that’s not the issue.
Now that I think about it, maybe there is still an issue connected to the weather that’s been keeping me from writing, but it’s the reverse of dealing with the de-pressing grey. It’s been so perfectly beautiful outside of late that I have been called into the garden and have struggled to balance my time outside with all the other things that I want/am committed to do.
It has been really amazing to watch the garden come to life after the long cold winter. It seems as though with each passing year I become more aware of the transformation that takes place as plants come back to life, buds appear, then full foliage and flowers blossom out. The Confederate Jasmine, that I planted as two very small 20-inch tall plants at the base of the front supporting columns of my old gazebo two years ago, has now grown into thick, lush greenery that covers both 8-foot tall columns and trails upwards onto two of the roof supports and is also quite thick as it meets across the front horizontal bar. It is also full of flowers which I hope will last so that I can see them and enjoy them when I return from this trip.
And therein lies another source of frustration. I have been travelling on and off since 28 March. Being out of my normal habitat and routine is always somewhat disconcerting and disruptive, and I haven’t yet learned to handle that with total grace and acceptance. I drove up to Newport News, VA back then to spend a few days with my son who was there from Italy to attend a work related conference. It was a gift that I had no intention of passing up. We had a great three days hanging out together. On the way home from there, I was then able to stop in Fayetteville, NC to spend an afternoon and night-over with my dear sister-friend LeeAnn. She and I never waste time on pleasantries, diving deep into our sharing from the heart and soul which allows us to broaden, deepen, and strengthen our relationship on all levels, especially the spiritual level. Another enormous gift for which I am truly grateful.
Arriving back in Florida after that trip, I had three days to catch-up (I always say that with tongue in cheek because, how on earth do you catch up with time that has already passed??). So it was a flurry of unpacking and keeping up with some commitments that were on my calendar, before I then had to pack for the trip that I am presently “enjoying” ( barring bad internet connections – grrrrrr!) with my husband.
And therein lies the ultimate frustration. Yesterday evening I had the first real longing, desire, to do some creative writing. I sat down eagerly in front of my computer and – nothing. I don’t mean nothing would come out on the page. I mean nothing would come up on the computer. No worries, I have my resident computer technician travelling with me, no? But after checking things out he told me that there was nothing he could do. There simply was no internet connection and he had no control over that. Talk abut frustration!!!
As well as the creative writing I felt called to do, I also had a bunch of emails I wanted to send out, and there were several things that I wanted to check out on Google. I was stuck. Couldn’t do a thing. So I called it a day and picked up a book and decided to read. But the frustration was there, bubbling under the surface and even though I checked in with God and asked for inner peace, I guess I was wanting to hang onto the frustration and wallow in it for a bit because it was still there this morning, and so was the lack of connectivity!!!!!!!.
Rich has struggled all morning to give me some connection, but it has been been frustrating for him too. Right now I have no idea if I have connection or not, but I did learn (thank God I can always learn something), that I can at least access my Live Writer programme and get the words out and down, and in doing so I have released some of the frustration. Whether I will be able to post my writing is another matter, but at least it’s ready to go if and when we get a connection.