Monday, October 1, 2012

The language of light...

15 minutes.  That's all it takes.

It's Monday morning.

She tells me to uncross my feet and clench my hand.  I'm rusty at this blood draw business.  She goes for the sweet spot, the depression in my right arm that has been stuck repeatedly for blood work over the last 19 months and has yet to disappoint in the amount of blood it produces.  

But the vein rolls, and a small squeak escapes my mouth as she pokes around with the needle trying to salvage the poke.  Its no good.  We move to my left arm.  

She jabs another spot and I squirm with the intense, albeit, brief pain as she tries to elicit a stream of blood. 

 But it trickles and we watch in awe as a bright purple bruise appears instantly.

What is up with my blood? 

As the smooth steel of needle pierces my skin for the third time, I grip the chair with my toes as pain shoots through my arm.  Minutes later we're finished, although she says if they can't use the precious few drops we've squeezed out of me, she'll call me to come back.  

15 minutes ~ is the amount of time for my reality of cancer world to shatter through the serenity I was holding onto.

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

If you are going on a "retreat," you want it to come with a name like Carmel of Mary.  Because it doesn't seem possible upon arriving, that you are really just miles outside of Wapheton, North Dakota at a Carmelite Monastery.

A golden hue of light cast a steady glow over the landscape as we drove up Friday night.  My friend Roxane (through an extension of Mother Joseph Marie) invited me to attend two days and two nights of a retreat with her.  

Autumn in all of its splendor greeted us upon arrival.

We spoke to Mother Joseph, the one time we would see and speak with any of the Sisters while we were there.  The Sisters are cloistered, and spend 7 hours out of the day in prayer.  They are not seen or heard.  

The silence was both staggering, and serene all at once.  

My mind hushed and dialed down, as my eyes feasted on the glory all around.  Words it seems, became unnecessary.  Language was surrounding us in the sounds of the birds, the hum of the wind, the whirl of the leaves,  and the smell of the harvest-tinged earth. 

This heart delicately outlined in the grass was the first thing we saw as we got out of the car.  Love was at my feet, but I couldn't have know, really, it was surrounding us at every moment.

The Carmelite Monastery below.  Roxane and I were made two hot meals daily, and summoned by the ringing of the bell.  The bell also signaled the start of Mass every day at 7 am, and several other times of prayer for the Sisters, beginning at midnight.  

I had no earthly idea how much I'd feel like I was walking back in time when I entered the private guest house we stayed in.  From the green couch, to the blonde wood of the desk, to the gold colored drapes and the rounded arches in the walls, I felt like I was at my Grandmother's house.  

I have to say the house was not just cozy, but spotless.  I mean not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere.  The linens were pressed.  The kitchen countertops were lined with baskets of fruit, fresh baked bread, snacks, granola bars, and tea.  There were eggs and milk in the fridge and home made applesauce.  The simplicity of the rustic setting had such a warmth and charm to it.  I was enchanted.  I was discovering the truth of the saying "love is in the details."  

I picked the blue room as my own.  Reminiscent of my grandmother's home again with the chenille bedspreads and the crocheted pillows- the soft golden sunshine bounced off the blue walls enveloping me in tranquility.  I slept and read for hours.  My gratitude poured out in an endless stream in my journal.

The Sisters subsist off a garden plot, and donations brought in from the community.  The food was so lavish, in such a down- home hospitable way.  We would arrive in the dining room and our food would be placed in a lazy susan that spun around from the kitchen to the dining room.  We couldn't see the Sisters who prepared the food, and they couldn't see us.  They would ring a bell and then our food would appear on the turnstile.  

This lunch consisted of roast lamb with some savory sauce on it, rutabagas, squash, tomato salad, fruit salad and a cookie.  The food was earthy and well seasoned, and mouth watering and so tasty. 

On our last night Roxane delivered a note to Mother Joseph asking permission for us to attend their Compline prayers.  We were welcomed to come inside and listen.  The Sisters sit behind a screened area.  But their voices were so pure, sweet and clear.  Gregorian chant encompassed much of their prayers and I left feeling the love the Sisters share with each other and for Jesus. 

We found that as we left the dining area after dinner, the sun would just be setting.  We would grab our cameras and chase after the sunlight as it danced into the night.

Everywhere we turned, a click and a capture awaited us.  We pored over our photos and delighted in realizing we had so many different ones, while shooting the very same things.  

Everything seemed to be in alignment... 

Towards the end of our stay last night we sipped tea savoring the respite for a few more minutes before we departed.  How would we bring this retreat to an end?  

It turns out God had it all planned out.  The clouds had rolled in while we ate and it had turned overcast and melancholy.  But then I happened to turn and looked back over the trees and the most radiant light streamed through one last time. I stood transfixed, chilled with goosebumps at the timing of this last visual feast.  Light, God gave me light.  He magnified my word and shone it brightly across the land for all to see.  

“When you get to the end of all the light you know and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” 
― Edward Teller

I will see Dr. Panwalkar in the morning.  Today's bloodwork will inform the treatment I receive tomorrow.  As I sift through my photos again, peace descends. The light is still shining through after all.   

The calling of the bells...


  1. Oooh, Vicky... so absolutely beautiful.. all of it. Especially, your account of the experience.

    Can I tell you, you gave me the courage to go get that darn mammogram I was overdue for. I've been hesitant because my mother has gone through breast cancer this year and now my risk is higher... the fear got the better of me for a while. Then as I read your courage again and again, I thought I had better just suck it up and go. And so I did. Thank you for sharing your story... and reminding us all what Grace looks like...

  2. all i could think of when i read this was HOW much you are expanding your moments - HOW much you are basking in His Grace and light.

    Big hug sweet friend!

  3. I am speechless. Just beautiful.

    there is always a lesson for us in each and every post. Thank you.

    I love the Carmelite order. I would love to do a retreat such as this. It sounds like just what you needed.

    Vikki the light is with you there is no doubt. So many magic moments in this post. And your photos, wow, just wow.

    All the best tomorrow. I can never get blood taken very well ever. It is always a drama. Keep looking at those photos and finding that peace as they are really telling you something. They so are.

    1. PS I spell your name incorrectly with two ks from time to time, goodness knows why, apologies.

  4. Vicky, I have to say, I was waiting with great anticipation to see how you would depict our adventure through your beautiful blog, and I was not disappointed. I loved it! And when I got to the part at the end, the light, I knew, without a doubt, as you knew then...that that was God reaching out to you. Some would have missed it, but you didn't. I delighted in that moment with you, yes, (de-LIGHT...what a perfect word in this case), but you spotted it. You called it. The clouds, perhaps were mine (you know how much I love them!). :) I am so happy we had this time together. And I'm glad you posted the bells. I will cherish this forever!

  5. Autumn is speaking with splendor, isn't it, my friend?
    Beautiful photos you shared. I continue to think of you each Tuesday as I know that is 'your' day to see your doctor.
    Honestly, I think that the nurse should have been able to get your vein with the first stick; if not, I don't think it would be unkind to ask for someone else to draw the blood. I know that Mama had to have blood drawn each day for 10 days, and we learned who can draw it effortlessly, and who needs a little more practice. I, for one, don't want Mama to have to be stuck unnecessarily. I'm just saying that because I feel the same way about you.
    I send you hugs and warm smiles, Vicky.
    Love you,

  6. It gave me goose bumps to read this post and look at all the beautiful photos. Your spirit is amazing and you are a very talented writer.

  7. Sending you strength and love and more strength, sweet friend. The light you capture with your camera is emanating deep from within. I am praying for it to always be by your side, and shine through the way it does now Vicky.

  8. I felt like I was on the trip with you! Sounds like a a wonderful place to visit. Will have to ask my mom and sister if they have heard of Carmel of Mary. I'm so glad you felt the peace through love and prayer.

  9. So much peace and beauty in your words and images as you travel through this difficult time. Prayers continue, Vicky.

  10. Someone else mentioned goose bumps, and I agree.. What a lovely, peaceful experience.

    I am praying for you and whatever news you may face this morning.

  11. Such a very special post, Vicky....your words and photos, of which would shine light on anyone lucky enough to visit, are full of grace and gratitude. Smiles and abundant good thoughts and wishes for you, Vicky.

  12. Oh, oh, oh. The photos are fabulous! I am so glad you experienced this and shared it with us! May God bless you richly today and may his light continue to be with you, my friend!

    Smiles and hugs to you!

  13. My heart holds you and your heart today. My heart is yours to lean on. You are amazing. You wrote this so well and the pictures are stunning. xoxo

  14. What a beautiful serene place for the heart and soul.
    Wonderful post Vicky.

  15. So beautiful in every way! I felt peace just reading your words and looking at the pictures. So glad you had this time. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  16. Beautiful Vicky...just beautiful.

  17. thinking of you today, more than usual....i hope you know and believe that.....xoxo

  18. THIS is what I've been praying for and you couldn't have given a better quote: “When you get to the end of all the light you know and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
    ― Edward Teller

    Thank you, dearest Vicky, and now I'm headed to today's post.....worried. I'm glad you had this time in such an incredible setting.


  19. God's love made real in a holy, loving place.
    The perfect place to feel like God's holding you in His hand.
    And He is.

  20. Dearest Vicky,
    As I read this reverent post I couldn't help but think about the scripture that refers to our prayers as "a sweet fragrance in God's nostrils". Oh, the abundant and magnificent scent that must be arriving in our Maker's nostrils...How very pleased and honored he must feel in this beautiful place.
    I continue to pray faithfully for you, my darling friend,
    Lovingly, your sister in our Savior, Messiah and Lord,
    Carolynn xoxoxo
    I'm so happy you are traveling with your sweetheart and able to take in the beauty of Fall as you go. Prayers for safe travel for the two of you.


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