Fear Not: Letting the Leaves Fall

As we morph from summer into fall, the transition comes so naturally to many of us. Black teas give way to chai and chocolate, citrus to pumpkin spice, and vibrant greens and blues retreat to give yellows, oranges, and reds prominence. The question “do I need a sweater,” looms in the back of our minds as we embrace the seasonal layering and plan our projects for the retreating sunlight hours. I love autumn, always have. 

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“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it…” (Holy Bible, Psalm 24:1)

In fact, I love all the seasons and feel I spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on nature’s seasons and the way in which they seemingly coincide with my life. Parables throughout the bible reveal their gems through the reference of nature, and God’s own handiwork is revealed through nature time and again. (Job 12:7-10; Psalm 24:1; John 1:3) If all of nature cycles around the commands of God and his purposes, are we not part of his purpose? (Isa 43:20) 

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of these does not know the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

Holy Bible, Job 12:7-10

Arielle Schwartz, PhD., is a licensed clinical psychologist and trainer for therapists (specializing in trauma and post traumatic stress disorder). Schwartz explains, “The seasons in our natural world offer many rich metaphors for healing. These seasons exist around you and within you. […] Each stage of growth has its own timing. Recognizing these rhythms and cycles can help you orient to the tasks of growth and change.” (Schwartz, 2020) In summary, Schwartz explains that spring invites us to plant new seeds and embrace growth while summer provides opportunity for growth and full, unhindered bloom. Autumn is an invitation to let go and release that which no longer serves us by pruning or reflecting on the wild growth of summer. Winter, she says, asks us to embrace darkness by connecting internally with stillness and quiet. I would add that during winter there is time for rest and planning for spring growth – gathering resources and education to support our plan.

My own life seems to follow the physical seasons of the world pretty closely, I notice. Sometimes there are major life events that occur over years of time and the length of those seasons will not coincide with nature. In addition, I usually am working through multiple seasons at the same time for different areas of life. I may be in a season of spring growth in a career while a season of winter within marriage. Or I may be in a season of fall with housekeeping and summer with creativity. The beauty of the seasonal model of growth is the embracing and understanding of all things and the timing of them. Understanding the seasons makes the trials and choices we have no less difficult, but understanding the cycle and normalcy of such hardships certainly takes the edge off. We are not isolated and alone, dealing with things all on our own. Instead, we are part of the natural world and larger world around us cycling through in the timing and way that God guides us. 

 I’ve recently read another model for growth that I enjoyed titled, The Journey Blueprint: Following the Hero’s Path to Take Control of Your Life’s Story. (Bouche, 2018) This served as a wonderful storytelling and personal tool, one that I recommend learning about. Not only was it a fun read, pulling from pop culture and referencing a lot of the familiar stories and characters we have learned to love, but Bouche breaks things down quickly and concisely for us.  It fits in well and honors the christian beliefs we share about God’s existence and omnipotence within our lives. The basic idea of this model is that for every hero, there is a journey he/she must follow. There is a moment of which they receive a call and must choose to cross the threshold into the unknown. They must train and have mentors and helpers along the way. They must reach a point of choosing the impossible. It is quite lovely to see the basic plot line of all good stories exposed and simplified in a way that can apply to our own lives. After all, God chose us with calls and impossible tasks too. The problem this has for me, however, is that it is such a complex and long model that I will not remember the many phases when my mind is already in a crisis trying to make sense of where I am and where I am going. The four seasons are simplistic. Nature will always have the central grounding of principles that I need to grasp and embrace circumstances.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

Holy Bible, Isaiah 43:18-21

It doesn’t matter what model we follow, or which metaphor we use, the truth is that we have been (as a world) coming out of a season of great growth and changes that have been pummeled upon us as a result of Covid-19. We are told that the virus is not over and that a second wave may be imminent. It is now October and we have been growing under the seeds planted by Covid-19 in January, regardless of what that growth looks like. For some, it is growth under unemployment or quarantine; for others it has been growth in empathy and consideration to respect the beliefs and boundaries of others. Some have been forced to close businesses and grow under the hardship and questions of, What next? Some have stepped up and taken risks and done work they would not have thought possible of themselves. Still others have grown by taking one stance and then shifting to another on the endless to mask or unmask; to close or open; to fellowship or isolate debates that rage within and all around us. Regardless of the type of growth we each have been forced to experience this summer, we are now moving into autumn and a new season.

“…Under the hot summer sun, everything grows […]. Although weeds are not inherently bad, you may not want them in your garden. Given this, it is wise to choose carefully where you place your energy so that you grow the thoughts […] and actions that support your true self.” (Schwartz, 2020)

We’ve grown in many ways over this summer, and so have our weeds. It is time to look at and remember our true self, the (God’s) call on our lives at this point in time, and align ourselves where we need to. Is it time to let go of something that is preventing you from growing even more? Is it time to prune back beliefs or behaviors that may have helped you survive at one point in life (or even recently through these times of Covid-19), but that are no longer supporting you? 

Are you living inside of fear or doubting your self-worth? Do you need to take a hard look at how you define success and reframe your perfectionism? It may be time to let go of these things which keep us small, keep us in fear. As the leaves leave the safety of the trees and the dormancy of rest and planning approach us, let’s embrace the season that we are in.

A simple search reveals that God uses the instructions “fear not” 365 times in the bible. So don’t be afraid to let leaves fall, to weed your gardens, to prune your vines. Fall is here and it is time to slow down and take in the smell of cider, taste of pumpkin, chill of the breeze, and sound of the owls hooting in the woods. It is ok to lighten the burden of the past season from your shoulders and prepare yourself for rest. Let go of those things that are no longer serving you and allow yourself to move into a new phase and approach.

References:

Arielle Schwartz, Seasons and Cycles, in The post-traumatic growth guidebook: practical mind-body tools to heal trauma, foster resilience and awaken your potential 12–13 (2020).

Holy Bible, Zondervan (2011).  

Julie M. Bouche, The Journey Blueprint: Following the Hero’s Path to Take Control of Your Life’s Story (2018). 

Book Review: Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory

Set in a post-WWI England, we find the characters are developed fully and entertainingly as only Philippa Gregory can do. Gregory seems adamant in all of her books to produce protagonists that do not retain flawless qualities . This was intense to read due to the graphic nature of PTSD, the cruelty and reality of warfare (trench and class), and the tendency of evil strains. I was tempted to put it down so many times due to the cognitive dissonance created by this book, but the end left me shocked and satisfied.

Book Review: Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics by Nancy Scheper-Hughes

After reading an excerpt of this in college (2003), I searched for 17 years for the actual title of this book to revisit. The lengths I went to were magnanimous, and in the end I was only a little disappointed. After all, 17 years of building something up in your mind is no low expectation of delivery. One of the original anthropological sociologists, this report is largely outdated and irrelevant since the rise of the internet and global commerce. Dated in the 1970’s Scheper-Hughes lived among those in rural Ireland for one year and reported her findings on the community. She particularly focused on mental illness, and though disguising all informants the townspeople identified themselves and their loved ones taking extreme offense to what they perceived as cold blooded betrayal. I find Scheper-Hughes is difficult to keep on topic and lacks provision of direction. This did not read as a case study with control factors and other elements we are accustomed to now, but rather focused largely on character development, individuality, and backstory. This work was groundbreaking and phenomenal at the time it was produced, and no doubt Scheper-Hughes will always remain a founding influence on cultural social studied. Yet my advice is, unless you are studying psychology or sociology, read the foreword (updated in early 2000’s) and let it rest.

Book Review: Remembrance by Rita Woods

I am not one for young adult reading, and this book treads the line on that genre. Received as part of the Once Upon a Book Club February 2020 box, I complied with the club rules and read diligently stopping only on the designated pages to open the gifts that coincided with the story. The pestle is wonderful, I might add! While I braced myself for an insightful glimpse into history, this story dances around historical events while slowly succumbing to the world of fantasy. I was not prepared for the slow introduction of white magic and supernatural gifts, but it did not deter me from finishing. (Perhaps the gifts were an incentive to finish, though I choose to believe the plot also captured my attention.) This is a book I would recommend to a select few, and if you are tight on time and don’t enjoy fantasy – a hard pass.

Mindfulness and Trauma

Most recently, I attended the online Trauma Skills Summit hosted by SoundsTrue. It featured ten days of amazing skills, practices, and guides for those that have experienced or support those with trauma. There was one lecture that stood out to me and I wanted to share the information with my friends here at Crutchprints. 

Elizabeth Stanley, PhD (creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, professor at Georgetown University, and certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing) lectured about trauma and mindfulness in a very impactful way. If you have a trauma background, you may find mindful breathing practices to be difficult or overwhelming. Especially if there is a history of physical or breathing constraint.

Stanley offered understanding for this in her lecture and explained the importance of recognizing our own bodily reactions to the exercises of mindfulness. While mindfulness is a wonderful aid during the healing process and embodiment phase for trauma survivors, it can be adjusted to your needs. Approaching your own situation with self compassion and resilience is within your power. You don’t have to give up or stop mindfulness altogether if you are uncomfortable with certain aspects within the practices. 

Stanley offered a few tips for those with backgrounds of trauma in regards to mindfulness practices, I’ve expanded on them below:

1. Find a place with your back against the wall. This allows the reptilian brain to feel safe (without looking over its shoulder for threats). 

2. Once in position, take time to slowly turn your head a full 180 degrees to the right and left. This impactful exercise allows the reptilian brain to register the environment, assess threats, and permit centering.

3. If you have an adverse reaction to the breathing focus, know that is ok. Focus on another part of the body that is safe. Perhaps focus on the place where your feet meet the floor beneath you. If you do not ‘feel’, press your feet lightly into the ground until you feel a sensation, or try an outdoors practice where you can safely be barefoot in the grass. Another suggestion is to take your hands and rub them lightly on the top of your thighs, focusing on that movement rather than your breathing. 

 4. If you aren’t comfortable closing your eyes (often due to sense of safety), let them rest softly open instead. Either focus vaguely on an object before you or allow your eyes to be open while focusing on a part of the body just as if your eyes were closed.

Science continues to discover ways that mindfulness assists all of us on our journey, whether or not we are in post-traumatic growth. It is important to know that even today, you are in control, you have a voice, and and you get to decide how to approach your journey. Finding things that work for each of us will empower us right where we are while encouraging self-compassion, resilience and delivering the enrichment of mindfulness.

(Sources: Elizabeth, S., PhD. (2020, August 26). Trauma and Mindfulness. Lecture presented at Trauma Skills Summit in Soundstrue.com.)

Book Review: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

This story is based on Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World”. Christina was a real-life woman that became Andrew Wyeth’s thirty year muse as he visited her again and studied her world. In this fictionalized memoir in Christina’s perspective, her disability (true) and family history of descendants from the Salem witch trials ensures her world will not develop much past the bounds of her home. This was a very difficult read for me, a disabled woman. Seeing the opportunities that were not there during this time and seeing the feelings and thoughts I have put into black and white on pages for all to see brought more than a few tears to my eyes. I felt raw and exposed as I became influenced to adapt Christina’s quote, “you showed me what no one else could see,” as my own. Featured in the Once Upon a Book Club 2019 Advent box, I noticed other purchasers found this book exceedingly dull, slow moving, and some were unmotivated to finish. Because this is based on a real life person (though fictionalized), and the painting is one you are bound to see again, I recommend seeing this through. Take the opportunity to see the limited life of one disabled woman and gain insight into the lives that many others live even today.

Book Review: The Last Letter from Juliet by Melanie Hudson

A feature of the Once Upon a Book Club February 2020 box, this book is guaranteed to leave all readers in a flux of emotion as we laugh and cry all at the same time. Truly heartwarming and uplifting, this story is one you will want to pass on to your dearest of friends as I did. In this novel, Katherine finds herself a widow mired in grief. She is persuaded by an Uncle to come for a visit in his town. He arranges lodging in a seaside cottage, former home of Juliet. A spitfire flying girl in WWII, Juliet leaves remnants of her story all about her cottage and as Katherine explores she finds Juliet’s memoirs written in the form of letters. We journey with Juliet through the good and bad times of WWII as an orphan, and with Katherine as she strives to find the will to start living again. Without hesitation, find a yellow scarf (provided with the book in the Once Upon a Book Club box, but any yellow scarf will do!) and curl up with this extremely enjoyable fiction.

Turkey Talk


“Hi, Turkey Babies,” I yell in my high pitched call as I make my way around the house towards the chicken coop. Immediately, a charade of clucking and gobbling greets me like a gathering of friends. I make some weird tongue noise that I imagine resembles the gobble of other turkeys, and my turkey friend clucks out her own response eagerly. From the corner of my eye I catch my husband, standing with his turkey caller in hand, and staring with disgust in my direction. 

“The turkey won’t respond to the turkey caller, but she will respond to your turkey talk – that sounds nothing like a turkey!” He shakes his head laughing as I shrug him off, slightly irritated that he so bluntly insults my own turkey talk. Who’s he to say I don’t sound like a turkey?

Just like every other weather-permitting evening, I open the gate and tell my turkey friend and two miniature bantee chickens (one hen and one rooster) that it is time for our walk. When we adopted the turkey, the bantees were part of a package deal. They were all young, and the two chickens were convinced the turkey was their mother, and vice versa. The three have been inseparable since day one. Unlatching the gate the three follow me out of the pen. Today, we will walk down along the cornfield to the woods where I know the blackberries are ripening. This will be a light snack for me and a bedtime snack for my friends. Their bedtime is much too early for my own taste, but then I’m not up at the crack of dawn, either.

“Come on, Turkey Babies, this way,” I call as I work my way down the back yard, taking in the heady scent of summer evenings in Lancaster County. Consisting of corn fields, manure, fresh earth, and smells of cut grass swirling about, evening is my favorite time of the day. The light sound of buzzing comes from the myriad of bugs and pollinators at work in the hedgerows,, birds flutter and sing around the feeders and in the trees, a mourning dove calls out for his lover, and somewhere in the distance a woodpecker is still hard at work. 

As we approach the woods I hear the scattering of squirrels and rabbits. My little black 4.5 lb chihuahua, Coco, blazes ahead of our parade in demonstrable bravery and with a mission to protect. I follow, the turkey follows me, the bantee rooster and then the hen follows her, Rick meanders behind, and finally the caboose, our dog Carrie, brings up the rear. Carrie is 15 this year and while at one time she would have enjoyed those bantees like a kid with chicken nuggets, she has retired her hunting badge and thus resigned herself to trophy bird-watcher. The whole scene seems directly plucked from a children’s story.

Arriving at the edge of the woods, I realize the blackberries are a bit odd this year, not quite as big as other years where their plump and juicy berries will guarantee steep competition with wild birds. This year are a bit dry, hard, and even bitter. I take a few in my mouth and pucker my lips in a sour face. “These aren’t the best, but enjoy,” bending over the edge of the woods  I toss some over my shoulder and peek back as my comrades lunge forward like children scatting for candy at the county parade. 

After awhile I stretch and turn, “Alright, Turkey Babies, it’s time.” Slowly, I work my way in the general direction of the chicken coop. No one follows at first, but when Rick takes a few steps forward the turkey suddenly panics, bringing her head straight up and turning it in severe angles to utilize her side vision to find me. I make some turkey talk to help her find me, and she takes off running towards me with her head and neck swinging wildly to balance her like some sort of primitive ‘osaurus. Within seconds the chickens make their own dash across the yard to regain status in the procession. We make our way back up the hill to the gate of the pen where I lift a crutch to guide them gently inside and I leave them with more turkey talk which clearly communicates promises of future walks.

Rick shakes his head in disbelief at this scene, plucked almost directly out of a cartoon. “You know, taking the turkey for a walk isn’t the best thing for producing tender meat,” he explains. I listen to him, but my minds drifts back to another turkey story from the past…


My dad was always keen on making sure that us four girls experienced the fullness of life in the country, life on a farm, and life full of adventure. He brought a turkey home one summer afternoon, and put it in the smaller horse barn christening it, The Turkey Pen until Thanksgiving. He gave us some food, “Take care of her, feed and water her, and we’ll have a good Thanksgiving dinner. Just like colonial times.” It sounded so fun!

We were compliant, and as the months bore on the turkey got larger. At about 10 and 6 years old (I was the eldest), my sister and I watched as the little turkey morphed into what seemed like an ostrich-sized giant. We did our duties, throwing feed into the trough and racing out as quickly as we could, pushing each other and swearing it was every man for himself. In my own case, it was more a skip and a hop, my fake leg lagging behind and sometimes getting shut in the door before being yanked out like a tail. 

Gradually, this turkey got so big that when she would hear us coming she would throw her fist-sized head up over the railing in greeting, scaring us half to death, and becoming our greatest enemy this side of the Mississippi. We began introducing the neighbor kids to the barn of horror, bribing them to do our chores for us, it never worked. Eventually fear overpowered novelty and we worked up the courage to protest caring for her altogether. Mom had a little one in the house, and I see now her refusal to help was her own version of pleading the fifth (the right to not self-incriminate). So Dad picked up the slack, as Dad’s do on so many of their children’s adventures.

The night before Thanksgiving, a traditional meal of meager pickings and leftovers to ensure refrigerator space for the next day’s feast, Dad informed us that it was time. It was dark, and we headed out to the barn on his heels afraid of the boogie monster. When he flicked the light on the monstrous head came up over the railing as we yelped and chatteringly appealed to his authority, “SEE! This is what she does to us! She wants to eat us!” Dad guffawed, and led us into the pen with him. He had his axe, a board, and gloves in hand. Not having any sons, I was the eldest daughter and thus obligated to step in on all occasions that a boy would typically serve. I watched as he placed the turkey’s gigantic softball-head on the board, held her body still between his legs and stretched her neck across it saying, “Hold this.”

Not one for noncompliance, I obeyed. I wrapped my small hand around her neck at the base of her head. Her bald turkey-eyes half closed and half open, the red of her neck and the muscles and veins strained and stretched before me, I closed my eyes unsure of what to expect. It was about the exact time that Dad had the axe in the air ready to come down that I realized something: I already have one leg, and he is swinging an axe in the direction of my hand. Self preservation won over compliance, and I let go a second too soon. 

The turkey, injured but not killed, flew up from between Dad’s legs with a screech and began desperately circling the pen to get out with flapping wings, white feathers flying everywhere, and hops and jumps with her enormous turkey claws. Without hesitation, my sister and I took off. We ran out of the barn into the dark night, no longer concerned for the boogie man. We stopped only to peer back through the window for a moment at the carnage. There we saw the turkey running around the barn, Dad chasing it with both arms desperately flailing and grasping amid the chaos, white feathers, dust, and screeches in a merciful attempt to finish the job as painlessly as possible. My sister and I looked at each other and knew we were probably in big trouble. Even though she didn’t really do anything wrong, abandonment was the worst of crimes in my family. We silently agreed any punishment was worth the crime, and headed to the house like true criminals. Dad was left to handle the aftermath of killing, plucking, and prepping the main dish of Thanksgiving himself.
We must not have received criminal sentencing, as I do not remember more than being teased for leaving the old man to fend for himself. The turkey itself ended up being over 30 lbs. It was so large that it did not fit in the oven, to which Dad cured innovatively by using a chainsaw to cut it in half. Thanksgiving dinner, always at 1pm, wasn’t until 8pm that year, when the half-sawed massacre came out of the oven. Eyes wide as saucers, it was the only Thanksgiving that my sister and I remember eating so many of the delicious side dishes we were just too full to eat any turkey.


Staring at Rick after the tender-meat comment twenty five years later, I come to the stark realization that my pet will be Thanksgiving dinner. I flinch. I made it clear when we agreed to adopt the turkey that I would not be a part of the killing process this time around, but it seemed so distant at the time, so far removed. Now, I’d inadvertently enjoyed this turkey, appreciated its intelligence, sharp hearing, and good eyesight. I have laughed at its anxiety and shared in many months of turkey talk with her. It’s been a joy and delight, and if I’m honest I’ve probably gained some soothing salve for memories of [clears throat] turkeys past. The breed of turkey we have is bred for meat, and she will soon get too heavy for her legs, and they will break. I know we will have to slaughter her soon. Correction: She will have to be slaughtered soon, no  I or we about it.

In resigned submission, I’ve taken a new approach to turkey stuffing. One that I like to call inverse stuffing. I now take out a little bread each day and hand feed her. It is much more pleasant than the traditional stuffing process, I tell myself. But soon, very soon, Rick will call my Dad and he will bring my nephew (nearly 10) and my niece (six) to come and experience the full adventure of farming and country living themselves.This will be the second Thanksgiving where I become so full on delicious side dishes that I will just have no room for turkey. 

Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This romantic tragedy (once a banned book) tells a story in the third person via housemaid. The story of love and loss, cruelty, revenge, and returning to love we are taken on an unpredictable winding path of dissonance. Human behavior shines under the pressure of absurdity and depravity so unbelievable that we are forced to believe it. At the end I am left with conflicted thoughts and emotions, amazement, and bewilderment. I received in a Once Upon a Book Club box a spoon ladle with the first part of this book printed on it in the 2019 Advent box. Curiosity piqued, I made reading this a priority and in essence it did not disappoint. There is a reason that this is a classic, and in my own opinion it is far superior to many other romantic tragedies more commonly known.

Book Review: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker

In 1876 on the Dakota prairie, two women are forced to combine households in order to survive when one husband is killed and the other jailed. Only one major obstacle exists between them: Nettie Mae’s husband was killed by Cara’s husband when stumbling upon an adulterous affair between the man and his Cara. Told by Beulah, Cara’s daughter, a great story of blooming love, hatred and grudges, humility and reality is woven through these pages. “There are some seeds that refuse to grow until they’ve been tempered.” Life on the prairie was hard, and circumstances and survival must take precedence over personal grudges in this book. Finding this story a bit hard to believe will place all of our attitudes into check when we learn the basis of this story lays in the genealogical history of the author.