Saturday, September 12, 2020

Who's behind the mask?


Saturdays are always busy days for us. Usually my husband works in the yard and I work inside the house, but today we decided to venture out on an errand. 

It was time to buy our monthly groceries. Since money is tight with only one income, we always try to be thrifty. We'd compared prices at all of the local grocery chains and big box stores finding Walmart to be the least expensive, so that's where we decided to shop even though I don't really trust buying meat there, I agreed to go. 

As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed there were no spaces close to the front of the store. The crowded lot said it all. Many were taking advantage of this beautiful day. 

We walked from the far end of the lot toward the store, masks in hand. When we approached, we noticed blockades set up to herd people in the "right" direction. An employee sat on a little stool making sure each person who entered the store had on the proper facial attire. Those without masks were turned away. 

The sliding doors opened as we stepped on the mat outside the entrance. I kept on walking and my husband grabbed a grocery cart following quickly behind me. 

First stop was the produce department, my favorite area. Hubby always tells me I spend too much time there but I don't care. I love fresh vegetables and don't mind cooking them. 

I perused the aisles picking up plump, juicy tomatoes, sweet Vidalia onions, luscious purple eggplants, and a heap of deep green Kale. Reaching for some artisan salad on a shelf above my head, I made the clear containers tumble down. A nearby employee scrambled to get them but I'd beat him to it. Our eyes locked and I wondered who was behind the mask. 

His dark brown eyes looked kind. I apologized for upsetting his display and he didn't say a word. I watched as he restacked the packages. He seemed frustrated and ready to move on. I wondered if he'd had a hard day. 

I quickly finished in the produce department and headed toward the aisle with canned goods. Another store employee was busy scanning and stacking items. I approached and asked where I might find sun dried tomatoes. She mumbled something and started down the aisle. She wasn't upset, but in a hurry to oblige. Within a few minutes, she turned to face me packages in hand. "Here you go," she said, her bright blue eyes sparkling. Thanking her I continued on. 

Next came the dairy department. I needed some cottage cheese and some hummus. As I rounded the corner, I almost bumped into an employee pushing a large cart with stackable blue crates. I manuevered around her and grabbed my containers of cottage cheese placing them in my buggy. She was still working next to me so I turned to speak to her. 

"Are you one of the grocery pickers, the personal shoppers for online orders," I asked. She replied in the affirmative. As we talked I noticed her large, round eyes, a beautiful shade of amber. "I'd like to thank you for all your hard work," I said, explaining that I usually use the online ordering service but had decided to come into the store for items myself today. She nodded her head and I told said, "I hope you know how vitally important your job is to those of us dealing with medical issues. I don't know what I would have done without people like you who took the time to select my groceries when I was diagnosed with cancer." 

At that moment, she stopped what she was doing and stood looking into my eyes. I hoped she could tell I was smiling even though a tear was forming in the corner of my right eye. We stood like that for several minutes, just looking at each other, and then I patted her arm and said, "Really, thank you so much. Whoever you're picking for today may never thank you, but I want you to know I value you." 

The gleam in her eye let me know she was smiling beneath her mask and she'd accepted the compliment with pride. 

I knew she needed to hear a good word and it felt amazing to offer that tiny gesture of kindness to her. 

As I pushed my cart toward the deli, I glanced around the wide space in front of me. There were people from all walks of life and all of them hidden behind masks. As I looked at them, I felt sad. So many failed to make eye contact with those around them, instead choosing to ignore the fact that they were in the presence of others. 

I wanted things to be like they used to be. Last year, when I'd gone grocery shopping, I'd often strike up conversations with those I met in the aisles of the store. I could see entire facial expressions before speaking and I'd know, by body language, whether or not it was okay to approach. 

We were made for community. A little paper or cloth mask shouldn't have the power to destroy that fact but it's already done so much damage. 

Yes, there will be those who believe masks are for the best but there will also be those who believe them to be detrimental to both health and emotional well being. 

As we see more and more public venues requiring masks, will anyone pay attention to the one behind the mask? Will we take time to actually "see" each other, even if the only evidence of humanity are the eyes? 

I hope I'm not the only one wondering who's behind the mask. Every individual matters, and everyone could use an extra measure of kindness. 

The Bible says, "Be ye kind, one to another." Though no one may see your smile behind the mask, the eyes can say it all. Look at those around you. Lock eyes. See them. And in so doing, pray they'll see you, too. 

We're in this thing together. We might as well make our encounters count.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Hold on to Hope

 

 
Have you ever had a day where you felt oppressed, like a heavy cloak of despair smothering you? I have. Yesterday was that kind of day for me. 

There was nothing about the day, per se, that I could pinpoint, I just felt sad and overwhelmed. To be honest, I felt hopeless and out of control. 

As I thought about all that's going on in the world, my spirit cried out to God, "How much longer, Lord?" I wanted all this Covid junk to be over. 

This holiday weekend, my husband and I had gone out to run a few errands. As we sat outside a store and talked before going in, I watched the people entering and exiting the store. Every single one of them had on a mask. To me, it looked as if they had all been brain washed. They walked aimlessly forward, masks covering their faces, like robotic soldiers on duty. The ones exiting did the same. The only difference was most of the ones exiting the store eventually removed their masks, but not all of them did. 

My heart grieved for our country and I wondered why we'd fallen into such a state of compliance. Where had our free will gone? 

I was reminded of a story I'd heard many years ago when I taught kindergarten. The story was about a strong willed child and how he refused to sit down when asked by the teacher to do so. Over and over again, she'd asked the child to have a seat. Each time he'd fought back. Finally, after the teacher placed her hand on his shoulder and gave a strong push downward, he sat cross legged on the floor. The teacher thought she'd won the battle and spoke to the child in hushed tones. "I'm so proud of you, Johnny, for having a seat like I asked you to do," she said. Johnny, still seated on the floor, folded his arms across his chest and said, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside." His story resounded in my mind as I opened my car door and prepared to walk toward the door to the store. 

Paper mask in place, I reached for my husband's hand as he was fastening the loop of his mask over his ear. We were wearing our masks because we weren't allowed to enter the store without them, but I wanted to scream aloud, "I may be wearing my mask on the outside of my body, but I'm not wearing it on the inside." 

I've always been a person to follow the rules, for the most part, anyway, but the mask mandate seems ridiculous. And when my husband complained about not being able to breathe well while wearing a mask, I wondered how others with health issues get past the mask mandate. 

Sure, many stores don't have a mandatory requirement for them right now, but I'm sure it's coming. 

When one freedom is removed it makes one wonder what's next. 
 
And are there others feeling as hopeless as I've been lately? I'm sure there are. 
 
I've stopped watching the news because it makes me feel anxious and unsettled. You know it's been said ignorance is bliss and sometimes, I think that statement is correct. Sometimes it's better not to know all the details of what's going on in our society, especially when there are so many hope robbers these days. 
 
I love the poem by Emily Dickinson -  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
 
Hope. Such a small little word with such profound meaning. How do we cling to it? The only way I know is to grab hold with both hands and never let go. But the power behind those clinging fingertips must be faith, for without it, our grip will surely fail. 
 
I hold onto the fact that one day soon all of this will be over. I can't wait for the day Jesus returns. Are you ready? I hope so. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Preparing for the Sneak Attack

 My husband and I like to watch good movies, especially ones with interesting plots. Recently, we watched a movie about soldiers on a secret mission. It was a nail biter. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I wondered at every scene, what would happen next. 

As one of the main characters in the movie wandered through enemy territory, you could feel the tension rising knowing danger lurked at every corner. Just as we thought he was going to make his way out unscathed, bullets ripped through the air tearing through his camouflaged material and lodging deeply in his chest. For the next few minutes, we wondered if he would live or die. Surely, they'd keep him alive to continue the story line, right?! Thankfully they did. 

Many of my friends know I've been working on writing a book about my breast cancer journey. It's been a long, tedious process. Reliving memories has made me feel like a soldier returning to previously conquered enemy territory. It's felt ominous and oppressive. 

But even though it's been challenging, I've slogged on. I am determined to finish my mission by year's end. This is a personal goal so I push through. 

Today, as I was writing, I wondered why I feel so compelled to write the story of my journey. Will it matter, one way or the other, if anyone reads what I write? Probably not. Will it be beneficial in helping someone else on their own cancer journey? I hope it will, but who knows. So why write? 

Perhaps it's to smother past demons that lurk in the dark shadows of my mind. Maybe exposing them will help with my own healing. But can I ever be truly healed from the trauma of breast cancer? I'd like to answer a resounding yes, but I'm just not sure. 

What I do know is this, time is said to heal all wounds. If that's so, and I've just recently passed the 6 year mark, I should be well on the way to becoming whole again, but then again, maybe I'm not supposed to return to my old normal. 

I hate the phrase new normal. It's popular among the pink sisterhood, but I don't like it. Nothing is ever really normal anyway, is it? I mean, day to day, everything changes. Nothing remains the same. 

So maybe writing the book is only cathartic for me. Maybe I'll complete it and then hit the delete button after I'm done, who knows. 

I'm usually not a wishy washy person but today, I feel that way. I wish I could be more positive, like a friend of mine who's dying of stage 4 cancer right now. No matter what she goes through, she smiles. I don't know how she does it. 

I've always tried to be a Pollyanna. My rose colored glasses have always been perched tightly on my nose but today, they're sliding. I keep reaching up to push them back in place. 

Maybe I need a little encouragement and motivation, or maybe a swift kick in the rear! 

Now that I've vented, I'll return to writing, for a little while, anyway.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Crafting can be dangerous!

 

Anyone who knows me knows I love crafting. To date, I haven't found one I didn't like. This week, I've been playing with polymer clay and have had fun creating a new line of creations I'm calling "Woodland Weirdos" for lack of a better name. 

Yesterday, my morning started early. After a cup of cappuccino, I pulled out my duffle bag of goodies and got busy. In front of me was a huge stack of clay, a pasta machine, some wood slices, twine, superglue, glue gun, gluesticks, paint, stain, and a bunch of moss. What in the world could I do with all of that? As I was thinking the creative juices started to flow. 

First, I conditioned the clay. Running it through the machine, I watched as the hard, dry clay became soft and supple. It reminded me of Scripture - He is the potter, we are the clay. 

When the clay was workable, I began to shape and mold it. I wanted to do something unique and interesting. As I pushed and pulled the clay, I began forming a face. Wanting to give it character, I stretched the nose and pushed up the cheekbones. When I'd gotten it as I wanted it, I took a dowel and formed the pupils in the eyes. I stood back and looked. I was pleased. (Which also made me think of Scripture and how God must have felt right after He'd formed creation, "...and it was good.")

Placing my little old man face on a sheet of wax paper, I popped him into the toaster oven and baked him for about 40 minutes. 

After he was cool enough to touch, I opened the bottle of stain and worked it into the crevices I'd created in the clay. The dark brown stain sunk in quickly and revealed the detail of the facial lines, exactly as I'd wanted. 

Later in the day, after the stain had dried, I polyurethaned the clay and let that dry about an hour, then the fun began. 

I wanted to adhere the clay face to one of the wood slices. In order to permanently adhere it, I needed to use a strong glue. A glue gun would provide instant adherence but I knew from past experience it could soften and melt in heat or even pull off in extremely cold weather. Since my little guy was doing to be an outside decoration, I had to opt for the superglue. 

Pulling off the cap of my superglue gel, I carefully squeezed out a few drops on the back of the clay face and quickly pushed and held it onto the wooden disk. The instructions on the glue said it would take about a minute to completely adhere, so I sat and held it tight. 

A minute later, I held up the wood and shook it to see if the face would stay in place. It did and I was happy. On to embellishment...

I needed to give my little man more character and interest. Looking at my pile of goodies, I came up with an idea. I'd make him a woodland creature, a woodland weirdo! 

Taking bits of moss, I began to glue and build, but unbeknownst to me, some of the glue inadvertently got on my index finger. And then, I touched that finger to my thumb. BAD NEWS! My finger was glued fast to my thumb! What to do, what to do??? 

I tried to pull the digits apart quickly, to no avail. They were stuck and stuck good. The superglue worked amazingly fast on human flesh. 

I asked Siri to find out how to remove superglue from flesh and He said (I have an Australian male Siri because I like his voice) to use nail polish remover. 

I knew, under my bathroom cabinet, there was a partial bottle of nail polish remover. I couldn't remember if it was the non-acetone kind or the acetone kind. I hoped and prayed it was full acetone because that would be the only way I could dissolve the superglue. 

Thankfully, the bottle had about a thimble's worth of acetone in it and it was just enough to unstick my stuck finger and thumb. Boy, was I glad! 

I continued working and created a dozen Woodland Weirdos. I had such fun forming and decorating each piece. 

As I looked over my work, I thought to myself it was time to reopen my Etsy shop. I'd closed it early last year when I got tired of posting and selling art, but I thought their might be a market for something cute and creative like my weirdos so I just may put them online to sell. 

Art has been wonderful post cancer therapy for me. When I'm creating, whether it's painting, writing, or doing some sort of craft, I don't think about how much my back hurts or how depressed I might feel. It's been a true blessing and I'm so thankful God has given me the talent to do the things I do. 

I did learn a valuable lesson while creating my weirdos, and that is to respect the superglue! It does a wonderful job for providing quick crafting adhesion, but it also does a great job of sticking skin to skin. 

In the future, I think I'll choose another glue. Superglue is too dangerous for me. That's my story and (pun intended) I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Choosing Joy even when it's difficult

Being cooped up in the house during the pandemic has been challenging. Until a few days ago, I'd done reasonably well but realized I wasn't myself. Usually, I'm upbeat and happy but I'd found myself struggling with feelings of hopelessness and depression. That's when I realized, I'd lost my joy. 

These days, it's hard to find joy. Being separated from friends and loved ones is awkward and painful, but for someone with cancer related low immunity, it's not only a necessity, it could be detrimental to my health.

We've had a lot of gloomy, rainy days lately, too, due to a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic. Those gray days have also added to feelings of sadness.

I realized I'd experienced these feelings before, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Back then, my physical maladies caused me to revel in self- pity. I was so me focused, I couldn't see anything else.

It took a while to realize what was happening. Becoming so comfortable with those feelings, I wore them like a heavy, woolen cloak. Days and days, I'd let the weight of that thick garment smother me but then, something happened.

One morning, as I sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and looking out the window at a beautiful sunny day, I realized I'd lost my joy. The longer I sat there, the more I thought. "Where had my joy gone," I wondered, "And when had I lost it?"

Although I couldn't pinpoint a time and date, I knew it had to have been around the time of my diagnosis because that's when it felt like my world had fallen apart. And though it had been six years since surgery, I was still struggling with my emotions.

That's when I realized I had to do something about it. I had to get my joy back. There was no way I was willing to live under a cloak of darkness.

But I didn't know where to start or what to do. So I began to pray. I asked God to help me find my joy again and in my spirit, I felt Him speak to me, "Praise Me."

I thought I did a pretty good job of that already. I always got up early and spent the first part of my morning with Him. I made sure to spend time in the Word meditating. I always took time to pray but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, I was usually asking God to answer my needs and requests for those I loved rather than focusing on His character, His goodness, His mercy, and His grace.

So I decided that had to change. I was going to find my joy by focusing all my attention on Jesus. To do that, I was going to have to make myself intentionally focus on His love and I was going to have to shift my perspective. I was going adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Looking outside the kitchen window, I saw some beautiful red and white flowers on a plant my son had recently given me. "Thank you, Lord, for your beauty in nature. Thank you that my son wanted to give me a gift. Thank you he chose to come visit me." A few minutes later, two little house wrens jumped on top of my charcoal grill and began to tweet the most cheerful song to each other. "Oh, if I could have joy like that," I said, "Lord, I would be so happy!" Again, He spoke to my heart, "Praise Me."

Picking up my iPhone, I quickly found the My Music icon and asked Siri to find a praise and worship station. I wasn't in the mood for lyrics, so I chose an instrumental station. As I listened, an old familiar favorite began to play, "Bless the Lord, O, my soul" by Matt Redman.

As I listened to the words, my heart began to calm and I felt myself began to weep. All those feelings of pent up sadness began to flee. The light of worship was dispelling the darkness. My heart, in tune with His, was exactly where it should be - He focused instead of me focused.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in seasons where we must hunt for joy. During those times, it's important to be intentional about looking for reasons to express gratitude. Often, it's hard work. When a person is feeling down and depressed, the last thing one wants to do is express thanks. But it's in the thanking that joy explodes. Just like striking a match to a bundle of dry kindling, one small ember gives way to a blazing fire. We must be willing to pick up the match and strike it. To do that, one has to deliberately choose.

I'm so thankful God helped me realize how to regain my joy. My match was tapping on a cellphone app and allowing the words of a song to rekindle the fire of joy inside. As I sang along to the instrumental music, the words ministered to my heart as I praised God.

I made a mental note to choose joy. I knew this would become a discipline in my life but it would take practice. One of the ways I could implement this new exercise into my life would be to start each day by writing down three things for which I was thankful. I chose to end the day the same way.

As I've intentionally searched for reasons to be grateful, I've been able to see more clearly that God continually blesses me each day.

If there are two words I want you to take away from this post, they'd be - CHOOSE JOY. Though they seem simple, they take effort. But if you're willing to work at it, soon you'll find the practice of daily gratitude something you enjoy immensely. Before you know it, it won't seem like work any more, you'll see things and realize His great blessings without much effort at all.

We serve a good, good Father. He enjoys blessing us. That's why I think the psalmist wrote, "But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel." Psalm 22:3

When we worship, the presence of the Lord dwells among us. That feeling of complete peace and love is enough to make any heart sing with joy. Try it! If you've lost your joy, you can find it again. I promise.

Today and every day, choose joy.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Bras, Boobs, and Blueberries

The day after my sixth cancerversary, I made a trek to Fayetteville to pick up my new bras and boobs. Every two years, insurance allows me to get 4 new bras and a set of new prostheses. Most people don't know silicone prostheses degrade over time and two years is about as long as they keep their shape with normal wear.

Usually, when I drive to the little boutique that sells the mastectomy bras and prostheses, I feel anxious. I don't know why I feel that way but I assume it's due to post cancer PTSD. This time it was different. I felt elation. I was going to pick up a vital portion of my femininity.

Since having both breasts removed in 2014 and foregoing reconstruction, the only way I felt I looked feminine was with the addition of mastectomy bras and prostheses. Oh sure, I could have taken a old bra and stuffed it with polyester fiberfill or socks or something, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't feel like my natural breasts and it surely wouldn't look like them either.

Silicone breast forms are as close as one can get to the real thing. The weight, appearance, and texture trick the body into believing what was once lost has now been found.

When I arrived at the little shop to pick up my goods, I noticed a sign on the door asking me to wear a mask. Since the Covid -19 pandemic, so many things have changed. Pressing the door handle to the front of the shop, I found it locked, even though I had an 11:00 a.m. appointment. I was right on time. I wondered what was going on so I pulled out my cell phone and called the shop owner.

She thanked me for my call and assured me she'd be right up to unlock the door. (She was inside working along with her co-worker. They were keeping the door locked to prevent the possible introduction of germs by any unscheduled visitors.)

When the door opened, the owner greeted me wearing a mask and presented me with one, too. I placed the mask over my face and we entered the shop as she asked how I'd been doing. Just a few steps inside, I was asked to stop at the hand sanitation station they'd set up.

I squirted a big blob of gel sanitizer into my palms and vigorously rubbed my hands together.

Since I'd called and placed my order in advance, there was no waiting.

Before submitting payment for my 20% portion of the bill, the owner had me fill out a corona virus questionnaire - Had I visited a country outside the United States within the last 30 days? Had I been running a fever? Etc. Etc. To every question I was thankful I could check the NO box.

I paid my portion of the bill and tucked the sales slip into my bag. My eyes noting the total, $653.45. My 20% was $130.69. One set of breast prostheses was $556.22. Three mastectomy bras were $94.23. Post mastectomy products were so expensive.

Before leaving the shop, I asked about swim prostheses. I was pleased to find they did sell them but insurance did not cover them. Inquiring as to the cost, I was told each prosthesis would be $50. It didn't take but a few minutes to rationalize buying these lightweight, fast drying prostheses. What was another $100 plus tax added to my already mounting credit card bill?

I left the shop with two large pink and white shopping bags in hand. My husband smiled as I came out the door. He'd seen these bags before. The closet in our guest room was full of them. They were a high quality vinyl product and had been recycled often for many a family birthday gift.

As we left the shop, I checked my phone messages and found one from a local farm I'd visited two weeks earlier. It was a family run farm that sold vegetables and fruits. Today, the message said, the farm was selling off some of their thirteen year old blueberry bushes.

Turning to my husband, I asked in my sweetest and most convincing voice, "Honey, could we run by the farm and dig up a blueberry bush?"

I had no idea what he'd say. It was well over 90 degrees and very humid.

"Of course we can," he said, so we did.

It took about half an hour to dig up the huge plant and get it to the car. When we opened the back of the van to stuff the bush inside, I had to laugh. My bags of bras and boobs sat just at the top of the blueberry bush.

As we worked to push the large plant in far enough to close the van door, some of the ripe berries fell into the bag with the prostheses. Watching them fall reminded me how quickly I'd lost my breasts. For 42 years they'd been attached to my body and in an instant they were gone never to be seen or felt again. 

The blueberries, on the other hand, would be plucked from the bag and added to ones still clinging to the tree. I'd make muffins, pancakes, and jams with those. We'd enjoy them for months to come. Their plump ripeness a sign summer harvest.

We left the farm with our van full of bras, boobs, and blueberries.

The day had been productive and satisfying.

While hubby was busy transplanting the new blueberry bush into the ground, I went inside to try on my new bras and prostheses. Tucking the molded silicone into each side of the mastectomy bra, I noticed  something wedged inside one of the boob pockets - a nice, fat blueberry.

Plucking it from the bra, I quickly popped it into my mouth letting the sweet juice explode there.

A huge smile spread across my face. Bras, boobs, and blueberries. What a combination! And that's when it hit me. I wasn't crying. A feeling of joy had replaced the past sense of sadness I'd always felt after coming home with new bras and boobs.

All it took was a blueberry. One fat, juicy berry to remind me life can still be sweet, even after breast cancer.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Berry picking thoughts

When the sun came out and the rain stayed away, I made a decision. Today I would go berry picking.

The past few days, we've had heavy rain. I'd planned to go picking but knew the ground would be too soggy so I stayed home.

Gathering up my bottled water, keys, purse, and phone, I headed out the door knowing my trusty GPS would guide me. I'd only braved this trip alone once before.

I was surprised to see about ten cars already parked on the gravel lot outside the farm entrance. I assumed there would only be one or two cars at most since yesterday was a complete washout.

Making my way up to the check in desk, I was greeted by a young girl. She wanted to know if I was there to pick strawberries or blueberries. I told her both.

She handed me two baskets and pointed me in the direction of the open rows. I decided to wander down the strawberry rows first since I knew it was the end of the season and there wouldn't be many berries to pick.

The rows were rain soaked and muddy. I wished I'd worn my old sneakers instead of my new ones. Doing my best to dodge the puddles, I bent over to check the strawberry mounds. The first few I checked had no berries, so I made my way further down the row hoping no one else had gleaned the fruit there.

The sun was beginning to rise and I felt the heat on my back. At the end of the field, I found a few berries. Most of them were overripe and mushy. The others were under ripe. Yellow jackets hovered near damaged fruit and I made a point to veer away from them. I didn't need a sting.

After picking half a basket of subpar berries, I decided to shift my focus to blueberries. I knew they'd be abundant and quick to pick.

Heading over to the blueberry bushes, I meandered to a shady part of the row. A neighboring dog barked loudly and startled me. Thankfully, he was behind a tall fence.

Turning my attention back to the bushes, I noticed they were weighed down with fruit. Beautiful, lush blue berries clung tightly to the branches. Among them were scattered dots of light purple, unripe berries and tiny pale green baby berries. The contrasting color was so stunning. I stopped to take a few photos. 

A cluster of berries caught my attention and I moved to pluck them one by one. Dropping them into my basket, I continued picking a few at a time until I realized the berries were so ripe, I could grasp a handful and pull gently allowing them to drop steadily into my basket. Soon I found myself thinking about friends and life in general.

Every berry I picked reminded me of how my friends were slowly disappearing. One by one, they were finding themselves facing a recurrence of cancer and then, days, weeks, or months later, they'd pass away. It seemed so unfair.

I wanted to keep my friends in a tight little cluster, healthy and whole instead, they were ripening and falling - ripening to the devastation of cancer, slowly and surely.

It was hard not to cry as I worked my way down the rows, picking, and sorting the berries. I wished there was something I could do to help my friends.

Each of them was in a different stage of decline. Most of them were waiting for test results that would determine their fate. None of them had a positive perspective. My heart hurt.

With my basket full of berries, I didn't want to leave the farm. There was such solace there and although there were other people picking, none were near me. I felt alone.

Finding my way to the shade of a large pin oak, I lucked up to find some empty wrought iron lawn chairs. I almost sat down for a spell, I was hot and tired, but noticed a large red bull in a pen adjacent from the tree.

The bull and I locked eyes. As he lifted his head from chewing, I spoke to him. "Hey buddy, how ya' doin'?" He listened attentively for a few minutes and then went back to munching on grass. I stood watching him for a minutes wondering how such a large animal could survive on grass.

A bluebird flew out of his nesting box and startled me. The distractions of nature kept my mind busy and pushed the depressing thoughts about my friends' health to the back of my mind.

I wished I didn't have a heart of empathy. It would be so much easier. But I do. And I'm invested. I love my friends. I want them to live.

I left the farm with 8 pounds of blueberries. I was tired and hot and smelly, but it was a good day. I enjoyed the solitude among the berries. It's always good to take time to process your thoughts, even if it's hard to do at times.

Who's behind the mask?

Saturdays are always busy days for us. Usually my husband works in the yard and I work inside the house, but today we decided to venture out...