Lucille Sider Shares a Creative Coleus Christmas with her Community

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

My Christmas Coleus is a centerpiece of Christmas harmony, bursting with red and green.

It’s actually six plants all growing together in a big pot and has become a Christmas Coleus that truly represents my community.

Here’s how this unusual Christmas story unfolded: In the spring of this year, 2021, I drove by St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois and was stunned—truly stunned—by the deep red coleus garden. The garden was almost a half-block long and 6 feet wide. I had never, ever seen a coleus garden so big and so utterly beautiful.

I was smitten!

A week later I took my friend Barbara to that amazing garden. She has a beautiful outside garden and is always on the look-out for new flowers. She was immediately mesmerized. I then carefully instructed her to snip off some coleus slips. Slips are a single strand of the plant. When placed in water for a few weeks, they grow roots. Then all you need is a little pot, a little soil, a little water—and BINGO—you have your own, beloved coleus plant!

A week or two later, I visited my friend Daryce and we sat on her deck, listening to the birds and delighting in the plants. I immediately learned that she, too, loves coleuses and had quite a variety. In fact, she gave me a large plant, over a foot in height. It was more like a small tree with a trunk than a typical coleus plant. The leaves were a vibrant green with dark red stripes. Absolutely gorgeous!

I could not wait to get home, snip some of those long branches, place them in water and watch the tiny roots grow. Before I knew it, I had eighteen coleus plants, nine red ones and nine green ones with glorious red stripes.

When Barbara dropped by I gave her some of the green plants with the striped leaves. She planted three of these and three of the red coleuses in a big pot. That is the origin of The Christmas Coleus.

By mid-September the coleus was almost three feet wide and three feet tall. Of course I posed with it for pictures and immediately became the “The Coleus Queen” on Facebook. In retrospect, Barbara should have posed with me because the beautiful coleus is as much from her TLC as mine.

My friend Barbara with her coleus-packed wagon.

In early October Barbara and I knew we needed to move the plant inside to avoid an early frost. Barbara had just purchased a new wagon—a blue canvas beauty! Four feet long, two feet wide and one foot high. Perfect for transporting our coleus!

On moving day, we carefully lifted the coleus into the wagon and started walking four blocks from her house to mine.

Part of the plant drooped over the side of the wagon, which was truly precarious.

We had lots of questions and stares as people walked around the wagon for it took up two-thirds of the sidewalk. No one had ever seen a coleus this big!!

Finally, I was thrilled to have the coleus in my apartment where I could experiment with how to care for it in the winter months. We placed it in front of the window in my bedroom.

As soon as Barbara left, I found my “sunshine lamp,” which I knew I needed to provide sufficient light for the coleus. This lamp is rectangular, about one foot high, two feet wide. It produces rays that are like the rays of the sun. I have used it when struggling with seasonal depression in the winter months. It helps me get through those long, dark days and I was sure it could help the precious coleus as well.

I was right about that!

Providing light for the coleus has been a long-running experiment. There is no standard guideline. Perhaps this is more intuitive than any other aspect of caring for the coleus. And of course, the amount of light from the sun is always changing as winter approaches. Thus the time with the sunshine lamp is getting longer.

It soon became clear to me that the dark red coleuses needed much more light than the green ones with the red stripes. In fact, the red ones look somewhat faded and have developed some light green lines along the circumference of the leaves. Thus, I carefully rotate the plant so those faded red leaves get maximum light. It has helped considerably.

As we are nearing Christmas, I have established a routine that is clearly working for it has grown over a foot higher and a foot wider than when I brought it to my apartment. Some of the leaves from the red coleus have exploded in size and thus are 7 inches long and 5 inches wide.

Amazing! Beautiful!

Of course I love to show the coleus to friends and neighbors. They always congratulate me for my “green thumb.”

I insist that the secret of growing plants is more about “the pointer finger” than the “green thumb.” Let me explain. About every four days, I reach my hand into the top of the pot touching the soil with my “pointer” finger. If my finger is dry, I water the plant. If it is moist, I wait a day or two. About once a week, I fertilize the coleus using the standard Miracle-Gro fertilizer for indoor or outdoor plants.

At one point, I observed that the branches of the coleus were very brittle and could break easily. I struggled with how to protect them. Finally I bought wooden stakes about five feet high and carefully pushed them deep into the ground. Next, I took green string and tied the brittle branches to the stakes. This has worked very well and so far. as not one branch has broken off.

Then, I had an idea for a Christmas decoration.

I draped red and green tinsel from stake to stake. Later, I added another stake into the middle and placed a Christmas star on top of it. Perfect!

Now, I awaken each day to the beauty of the Christmas Coleus. Seeing bright rays of the sun gently bathing the plant brings a deep peace. Off in the distance is Lake Michigan with its ever-changing colors. Will the water be turquoise, baby blue, dark blue or gray? Such joy!

I get up, make my coffee and sit in the rocking chair just four feet from the coleus. It is the best meditation spot I have ever had! There was so much joy in gathering the red coleus slips with Barbara, receiving the green plant from Daryce, which has exploded into many beautiful plants, and now we have this glorious Christmas beauty.

Sometimes Barbara comes and we delight in the coleus. We remember that first day when we picked red coleus slips from the garden at St Francis Hospital. Some of our friends say we “stole” those slips but we insist that the hospital would have gladly given them to us. After all, it is a hospital of Saint Francis, the who preached to the birds and danced with the animals! And now my statue of St Francis stands close to the coleus, blessing it and sending it love.

Barbara and I chuckle about the four-block trip from her house to mine when we transported the coleus in her beautiful blue wagon. How we apologized to neighbors for taking up most of the width of the sidewalk. We just shake our heads as we remember their amazement at our little procession.

But most of all, Barbara and I cherish the beauty of creation.

We remember the story of creation in the Bible.

We wondering if that “fig” leaf that Adam used to cover himself was perhaps the original coleus!

A Christmas Coleus!

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

 

Do you have an animal friend in your life? They can help you make even more friends!

By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

Do you have an animal friend in your life?

If you don’t, I’ll tell you one of the most rewarding experiences pet lovers discover when they bring a cat or dog into their lives: They start to make new friends in their neighborhood. Of course, dog walking instantly makes us more visible, but even cats have a way of making new connections across a community.

Here’s how my cat PJ wound up making those connections.

This happened two months after my home in Binghamton, New York, was devastated by a flood, sending both of us—me and PJ—fleeing from our house on that dreadful evening. My friend Anita had insisted we come to live in her building where she knew there was an empty apartment below hers.

Anita had a real phobia about cats, so I was extremely grateful that she welcomed PJ. PJ seemed to be adjusting just fine—until that Thursday afternoon when I came home from work.  He was not at the door to greet me as he always was.  I became a bit anxious so quickly entered the apartment hoping to find him asleep on the sofa, his favorite place when he was home alone.

He was not on the sofa so I checked closets.

He was not there so I checked behind all of my furniture.

After fifteen minutes of searching, I called Diane, a deacon from Northminster Presbyterian Church where I worked as Pastor of Visitation. I had thirty seniors I visited monthly and Diane had accompanied me in visits that were complicated.  Such was the case with several seniors with Alzheimers.  Diane was a cat lover and had a sign in her yard, “Cats Welcome Here.”  She had visited me and PJ and PJ took an immediate liking to her.

When I called with the news that PJ was missing, she was there in ten minutes to help me search.  After scouring my apartment she said, “We have to make signs and post them in the neighborhood.  We sat together and designed a sign that said:  “Lost Cat:  PJ.  A small beige cat.  Call Lucille (and my phone number).  Reward.”

We rushed to the neighborhood printer to make 30 signs.  Then we set out in the neighborhood to post the signs wherever we could find an appropriate spot.  We also gave signs to people we met on the street.

After two hours on the street, Diane left and I started calling people.  I called my pastor at the Methodist Church and he immediately put PJ on the prayer list.  Diane put him on the Presbyterian prayer list.  I called my relatives in Canada and my son and his wife, Soren and Amanda, who lived in Washington, DC.  They had given me PJ as a house warming gift one year ago.

PJ’s real name was Panama Jack, the Third.  Both his father and grandfather were named Panama Jack.  The breed was Tomkinese which is both Siamese and Burmese.  While he looked Siamese, his personality was gentle and loving like Burmese.

The next day Soren told me that he and Amanda cried the night before, crying for me and PJ.  Soren also bought a service that put a message about PJ on 250 telephones in my neighborhood.  That night my cousin, Twila, from Pennsylvania called me and said, “If PJ does not come back, I will give you Lucky, a wonderful cat that just appeared in their yard about six months ago.”  While I did not want to think about PJ not coming back, her call and her offer were soothing.

The next evening Twila came to help me search for the cat.  We went all around the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen PJ.  We looked in garages—which was not really wise in retrospect, but no one seemed to object.

On Thursday morning, however, Anita received a call from the neighbors next door and they said that a small beige cat was at their door and they took him to the basement.  Anita and I hurried over with the cat carrier and there he was.  He immediately came to me and we carried him home.  He was not interested in food and water; he just wanted to be held.  I lay on my sofa and he crawled on top of me and put his paw on my cheek.  He had never done this before.  I knew he was telling me he was happy to see me.

After a while I started calling friends and family telling them that he was home.  Some of them cried for joy with me.  I called the churches who had him on their prayer list and they rejoiced with me.  On Sunday I went to church and at announcement time I reported that PJ was found.  They clapped and clapped.

As I was driving home from church, tears of joy fell on my face.  Joy because I would see PJ.  And  joy for all the love given to me from all of these friends, family and churches.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

Finding Resilience in the Midst of The Winter Blues

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

When I turned 33 years old, my life felt perfect. My husband and I were a great team as we cared for our three-year old son and as we each were working on doctorates. Our son already had a best friend as well as several other children on our block on the north side of Chicago.

But seemingly out of nowhere, in early November, 1979, an inner darkness gradually crept into the core of my being. I lost a sense of purpose. I felt exhausted. I just wanted to stay in bed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

Thankfully, I knew of a female therapist who worked especially with women. Immediately, she identified my aliment as “The Winter Blues.” Loss of purpose, exhaustion, and inner darkness hit the nail exactly on the head. Some simple statistics then helped to relieve some self-incrimination. The first was that approximately 10 million Americans suffer from “The Winter Blues” and that women are four more times than men to be afflicted. This helped me to not feel so alone.

The reality was that I had many friends but when The Winter Blues struck, they seemed so far away. Without realizing it until later, I had been withdrawing from them.

My therapist then reminded me that the technical name for “The Winter Blues” is “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” which is shortened to SAD.

Since “sad” was exactly the way I was feeling, this information again helped me to not feel so isolated.

Throughout that first winter, my therapist guided me every step of the way. She helped me stop blaming myself for how I felt. She gently nudged me to have coffee with my female friends. She nudged me to find a walking partner along our beautiful Lake Michigan. She encouraged me to go to church even if my husband could not go.

While that winter was the first time I truly understood the depression I felt, it has taken several years to really manage it.

Perhaps most important, I’ve learned that unless one masters how to manage SAD, it will creep into the psyche when the days grow short in November and it will sit there until March, when the days grow long. My motto became: “You take charge of The Winter Blues, or they will take charge of you.”

As the years have gone by, my own winter blues have weakened. I have found many ways to defend myself. The most powerful is to turn on the lights.

Light Therapy is quite a simple response and is widely recognized as effective.

I now live alone except for my cat, PJ. When I wake each morning, after a long snug with PJ, I walk directly to the living room/dining room and switch on the ceiling light. The light from two 100 watt bulbs greets me warmly. Since the light emanates from the ceiling, it feels like bringing in sunshine directly from the sky. Then, I switch on the ceiling fan. The movement of air in the room brings some sense of aliveness—like a gentle wind.

After that, three more lamps greet me. Two of these are standing lamps, with glass bowl-shaped shades turned upside down to direct light onto the ceiling. Again, this feels like sunshine from the sky. And finally, I turn on my table lamp with a stained glass shade. The shade of green and red accentuates all the plants that adorn the room.

With all the lights on in my main room, I make a pot of coffee in the kitchen. With a cup in hand, I move to my study, a small room with two big windows. I sit on my cushy glider and peer at Lake Michigan through one of those windows. While I live four blocks from the lake, I can see it from my windows, all five of them.

The question always is: How will the lake look today? Will it be a light blue, turquoise, dark blue, blue green or even gray? Will it be smooth or choppy? And what about the sky? Will it be clear with no clouds? Will it be full of those fluffy white clouds?

After sitting on my chair and absorbing the beauty of the lake I write down how I am feeling. As a person who struggles with depression, this is very important. I actually rate my level of depression with a numeric scale that goes from about 1 to 3. 1 is very little depression and 3 is a great deal of depression. If I am at 3 for several days in a row, I am in danger of having a depressive episode. I call my psychiatrist to make an appointment and we decide how to manage it. Usually an adjustment in medication is part of what I need. An extra session with my therapist may be needed also.

Then I return to the living room with a second cup of coffee in hand. I sit among the plants. I have two small trees in the corners of the living room, gracing the large windows straight ahead. The rest of the plants are coleuses, famous for their variegated leaves that come in many colors. Some are a deep red, while others are a light pink and green. Some are striped green, red and white. They vary in size, with the biggest ones standing over two feet tall. They are arranged on plant stands of various heights, displaying each one in all its glory. The 20 coleus plants make me feel like I’m in my own personal garden—I call it “plant therapy.” With the morning sun pouring through the windows, the darkness fades significantly.

Finally I plug in my water fountain, strategically placed among the plants. With its three tiers, flowing water ebbs gently in the room as a white, lighted ball turns gracefully on the top tier. This is the perfect setting for my second cup of coffee.

Halfway through that second cup of coffee, (about 9 am) my dear friend Frank knocks on my door, ready for our morning meditation. We live in the same building in Chicago, and have been meditating together for six years. While the practice has changed over the years, it always includes The Lord’s Prayer, spiritual readings, intercessions and 15 minutes of silence.

We begin with The Lord’s Prayer. This is not the traditional English text but one that Frank himself translated from his study of the Aramaic language, the language Jesus would have spoken.

In our time together Frank and I read scripture and other spiritual writings. We sing a short song. Then we pray. Our prayer list has at least 50 people on it. It is so enriching to remember each one. We let them know we are praying for them, which brings a certain intimacy into the relationship.

Finally, we have 15 minutes of silence. The silence brings together all of the previous words and actions. Furthermore, it settles any restlessness we might have, thus preparing us for the day.

After Frank leaves, I sometimes use my “light box “to combat any remaining darkness. This rectangular lamp is designed to emit rays just like the rays of the sun. I sit to the side of it so the rays land at an angle to my face, which feels soothing. If the Chicago sun doesn’t show itself, I also shine my light box on my plants. Giving them an hour of light therapy picks them up and helps them get through the Chicago winter. And on occasion, even my cat sits in front of the light box. I chuckle as I realize that even he needs some help to get through Chicago winters.

In addition to this routine, I have three other practices that are foundational for warding off the winter blues.

Music is the most important of these. I usually awaken each morning with a hymn running through my mind. I write it down and make a practice of singing it throughout the day. To remind myself to sing I have placed several small pink paper squares around my apartment. I feel very blessed that I wake each morning with a hymn. I discuss each one with my therapist just as we discuss dreams. The hymns are always affirming, reminding me of God’s love. A recent one was this: “Oh, the deep, deep, love of Jesus, Love so amazing so divine. For he loves us, ever loving, binding all of mankind.”

As noted above, I receive weekly counseling. My counselor and I discuss not only practical matters, but also my dreams and hymns. Dream interpretation keeps me attuned to my unconscious mind, which guides me in everyday situations and in understanding deeper psychological tumult. I love interpreting dreams.

Finally, I often pamper myself during the winter blues. I give myself permission to splurge by eating out and carrying in. I buy bouquets of flowers for myself and my friends. I shop online. Even the notification of a package arriving perks my spirits. Of course this splurging can easily get out of hand—especially during the pandemic. So managing it so it does not manage you—that’s the key!!

Finally, let me share with you Frank’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer, which you may want to include someday in your own spiritual reflections. It is:

Beloved Mother/Father of the Cosmos, awaken our hearts, minds and bodies to your loving and radiating presence.
Give us your empowering vision that all is one, earth and heaven together.
Remind us that we are your children, being fed by an eternal wisdom now.
Loosen the knots that form within and between us, freeing us to forgive.
Keep us aware of the flow of your goodness through us that we may bear fruitful lives.
For you are the vision and power of the unfolding new creation on which we stake our lives.

Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:

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Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency: Knitting lives together

This knitting image is shared courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:

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Knitting Lives Together

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

When I moved back to Chicago in 2015 to be near Frank, a friend of 40 years, the first people he introduced me to were David and Elly. David, like Frank, was a retired Lutheran pastor. Elly was a retired cancer specialist—both brilliant people. But the most endearing and intriguing thing about Elly was that she always—and I mean always—was knitting.

While the four of us would easily lose ourselves discussing the fine points of theology or psychology after dinner, Elly would busy her hands knitting sweaters, hats or gloves. And those were just the tip of the iceberg.

One day, I noticed that the beautiful blue and white socks she was wearing were of her own creation—and I became enchanted with the idea that I, too, could learn to knit socks. Socks, unlike scarves or sweaters, required skill beyond what I thought was my capacity for this craft.

I shyly asked her to teach me.

She smiled in return. “I’d love to teach you.”

The next day, I was invited her to my apartment for the first lesson. I was excited because I knew I would love it, and already I was imagining making socks for my son. I had done some simple knitting as a teenager—mainly scarves—so I knew a bit about the two main stitches, knit and purl. For each of them, you simply loop the yarn through the adjacent stitch below. In a knit stitch, you thread the tip of the needle through the right of the stitch below—and for a purl, you bring it back to the left.

But before I could knit and purl, I had to learn the first step in knitting, which was “casting on” stitches. This process requires two needles, which you twist around each other, sneaking in the yarn so it becomes lodged on just one of the needles. For a woman’s pair of socks, it takes about 48 stitches. For a man’s, about 64. These stitches then become the circumference and cuff of the sock. It takes at least 3,000 stitches for the cuff and leg and another 4,000 for the rest of the sock.

YES, 7,000 stitches for one sock!

For knitting socks, it takes five needles, which can be a little tricky. The needles are pointed at each end and are about 7 inches long. To watch someone manipulate these five needles looks quite complicated. But when you get into the swing of it—the movements are smooth and sweet.

As I labored through this process, Elly and I sat side by side on the sofa, which comforted me. When I made a mistake, she helped me correct the problem in a way that never made me feel stupid or wrong. As someone who is prone to feeling stupid, this was significant.

After about 100 stitches of knit two, purl two, a lovely multicolor pattern started to form. This pattern naturally pulls the stitches close together so the sock fits snugly around the leg. After 30 to 40 hours of labor, I finally removed the needles holding the stitches apart and beheld my first pair of completed socks. Slipping on that freshly knit pair of socks was heavenly. They were so soft, so warm and so pretty!

I left them on all day.

But I soon learned that it wasn’t just the process of making the sock that was such fun. The fun began with a trip to the yarn store to select from among hundreds of kinds of yarn! At least 50 of these were sock yarn, which is thinner than yarn made for sweaters and scarves. At first, I felt overwhelmed about all those choices. But then, I noticed that half of those choices were some variation of my favorite colors: pink, blue and purple.

In the beginning, I bought yarn for five pairs in these colors. After I gained some confidence and experience, I stretched my horizons and bought yarn that featured shades of grey, silver and brown. The yarn is only $8 to $10, so I can come home with six or eight balls of yarn without breaking my bank—even though I wanted to buy 10 or more.

Sometimes I bought yarn for a specific person. And as I made the socks, I imagined the feeling of giving them as a gift at the end of the process. I would tuck my love for that person into every stitch—it felt like a way of praying for that person. Knitting is meditation—and every pair is thousands of stitches of meditation!

Once I started gifting socks to friends and family, I found that absolutely everyone loves a pair of home-knit socks. I grew to love the ecstatic response of “You made these?” Sometimes, I almost felt like I had to defend myself and convince them that I am indeed capable of this. Of course, I would give credit to Elly and tell them about the way she came to my apartment, sat by me on the sofa and patiently helped me out of every mess that I had gotten myself into.

I also found that the more socks I made, the more questions people had.
How long does it take to make a pair of socks?
How much does the yarn cost?
Isn’t it hard to make socks?

Modeling Elly’s patience with me, I would always take the time to respond and show them the needles. While I had never precisely clocked the hours, I told them that I guessed it took between 25 and 35 hours. But I reassured them that while I made them, I was often watching TV or chatting with a friend. They were always impressed.

I always loved to watch the reactions of those who received my socks. One special reaction came on Christmas day in 2020, when I presented socks to my elderly friends Vinnie and Bob, who are 93 and 99 respectively. They held them lovingly, and later told me that they wore them all the time. Because Bob is in a wheelchair, and cannot wear shoes because of foot sores, he loves wearing his blue and green socks.

One time in church, I noticed he wasn’t wearing his own socks, but had Vinnie’s socks on. Her socks were pink, white and baby blue, colors that I picked out to reflect a more “girlish” scheme. But Bob didn’t mind—he said he couldn’t find his socks, so he just wore hers. I chuckled, and at that moment I decided to make more socks for him. At his 100th birthday party in April, I gave him a brand-new pair that featured black, silver and shiny white yarn. He just loves them.

Currently, I am knitting a pair of socks for Maria, a 13-year-old girl who is traveling with her 16-year-old brother from Central America to the US. After eight years of living without their mother and brother, who made the treacherous trip eight years ago, they decided to make the trip to reunite with family in Chicago.
But this trip is even more treacherous than the one Maria’s mother made. The adult who was hired to accompany Maria and her brother turned out to be a criminal, so they were forced to travel on their own alongside countless other teens.

After leaving in late winter, we learned that they successfully crossed the border in early spring and are now being held in a government facility for teens in Texas. As soon as the extensive paperwork is completed, they will be joining their mother and brother here in Chicago.

I’ve seen a picture of Maria and her brother. Maria is petite, and it takes my breath away when I think of her on this journey. I find myself waking up early in the morning afraid for her—so I turn my fear into prayer. I ask God to protect her, to comfort her, and give her the strength she needs to make the final trek of this journey and safely be reunited with her mother and brother after eight years of being apart.

And as I pray, I tenderly tuck my love into every stitch. The yarn I have chosen for her is a soft and multi-colored—pink, purple, green and blue. Plus it has sparkles.

I can’t wait to give them to her.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s Zoom series?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it. She began this series on September 14, but you could join her group in its October session.

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Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency in the midst of trauma: Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

Photo courtesy of Emily Kuhn via Wikimedia Commons.

Consider Meeting Lucille Online

Her Zoom series starts September 14, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:

Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers, which begins Sept. 14, 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.

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Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

I had lived in Chicago for four years—such good years. My dear friend Frank lived one floor above me in our building in Hyde Park. The University of Chicago, seminaries and museums were in the neighborhood. Plus, we lived just three blocks from Lake Michigan and we delighted in the ever-changing water from our own apartments.

Frank and I meditated twice a day. We met monthly with a meditation group and these people became like family.

Frank was always reading theology and we had marvelous discussions about his favorite theologians.  In 2019 one of these was Meister Eckhart, a German from the 13th century. In late July, he and a friend, went to Germany for a week-long conference on Eckhart.

Three days after they arrived home I treated Frank to our favorite Italian restaurant and it was there that I realized something was wrong. We were chatting away about a friend whose father had died. I mentioned that we were at the funeral. Frank had no memory about the funeral and was somewhat irritated with what I was saying. Frank does not get irritated quickly so this was out of character.  He then mentioned the car assuming it was parked in the lot near the restaurant. The reality was that we had not driven the car. It took some persuading before he was willing to walk home. Home was only two blocks away but he was not convinced that we had not driven until he saw the car in the parking lot.

Frank’s memory continued to deteriorate over the next week. He was admitted to The University of Chicago Hospital and was given a wide variety of tests. After three months it was determined that he had a form of central nervous system cancer.

For it, Frank received a stem cell transplant. This is a long and difficult process and I was shocked when I asked his doctor how effective this treatment is. He responded that this would give Frank about a 20-to-30-percent better chance of surviving.  I was stunned.  I assumed it would be at least 50 percent or more.  While I knew that his form of cancer is very serious, it was not until the doctor referred to the low survival rate that I became terrified.

Frank was a perfect patient. His faith was strong. Many days when I would visit, he would say, “I feel God’s presence. It is so strong.” Frank was very much at peace. But I was not. I had moved to Chicago to be near him and I could not imagine my life without him.

My own mental health started to slide. I lost confidence in myself and was not able to write stories, which I had loved to do. I felt exhausted even though I was getting eight hours of sleep. I travelled to Philadelphia to be near my brother and his wife but their loving care did nothing to stop the depression. When I returned home and visited my psychiatrist I was hospitalized immediately. It took seven weeks in the hospital before I could stabilize and return home.

The central psychological question was: Could I live without Frank?

If he dies, would I be able to carry on? Would I move to Washington DC to be near my son Soren?

It is then that the poem that I had written eight years ago began to speak to me on a very deep level. Back then, I had to let go of the fear of losing my house once again. Now, I must let go of my beloved friend and place my hope in God alone.

These lines once again guided me. “Oh Lord, please give me the grace to hold lightly any person and to open my heart to God’s abounding love and abiding rest and be free.”

Frank has now been free of cancer for over a year. He receives an MRI twice a year. We both hold our breath as we await the results. It seems that I agonize over this more than he does. In some ways, his faith is stronger than mine. He believes he will live as long as God has some purpose for him. And it is clear to him that at the moment he has purpose in a number of ways. He is organist at Montgomery Place, a home for retired people. He is a spiritual director and it is clear that his wisdom is powerful in guiding his counselees.

I receive support from several close friends as well as from a psychologist and psychiatrist. My faith is stronger than ever. When I begin to falter I return to spiritual practices I developed with Frank.

One is a walking meditation. It is so simple. I simply walk slowly and repeat these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.

The past is behind and the future has not arrived.  Thus these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.

And finally, the little chant Frank and I composed many years ago, is as powerful now as it was then:

Let it come, let it go,
Let it come, let it flow,
All is well.

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Look for the next part in Lucille’s series in our September 20, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s September 14, 2021, Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.

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Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency after trauma: ‘All manner of things shall be well’

What do you see in this photo of a stream in autumn? The fallen leaves? The waters of uncertain depth? Or do you see stepping stones?

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Share These Stories of Resilience, Now

THEN, PLEASE MEET THE AUTHOR IN SEPTEMBER

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider already has inspired readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma, every week in neighborhoods everywhere. This weekly series of columns began on August 23 with a first story, The Perfect House. This second column builds on that first one. Please, share these column with friends via email or social media (or print out a copy to share using the convenient “print friendly” button at the end of the story). Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers in September 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.

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‘All Manner of Things Shall Be Well’

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

For two years my perfect house brought deep joy.

Visitors poured in. That first summer I invited my nieces for a week-end. Two came from Ontario, Canada, and two from Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania nieces brought beautiful toddler boys and we all loved watching them splash by the fountain.

We had a lot of fun and a lot of deep sharing. Four of us had been sexually abused by my brother-in-law, Edmond. The niece who was not abused just shook her head appalled but grateful that he had not reached her. We prayed together and felt so upheld by each other.

My son and his wife came from Washington, DC, and that first Christmas opening gifts in the living room in front of the fireplace was heaven. My cat PJ was on every lap taking in all the love he could find. He had been a gift from my son and daughter-in-law when I moved into the house.

My brother and his wife who had master-minded the rebuilding after a major flood came to visit and always helped with some house project. And always, we went to Lowe’s and found just what we needed.

I loved to show off my garden, especially to my female friends from church. While we were playing croquet in my back yard, I delighted in showing them the flowers: azaleas, petunias, geraniums, impatiens and on and on.

In fact, that first year I could not bear to let my flowers die so I just started potting them and carrying them into my house. Every window was dressed with the flowers. I later counted and found that I had 91 plants in the house.

Just one small area of my indoor garden!

I also had a plant infirmary where I could give them extra TLC with a large grow light. That year I had countless tea parties in my beautiful living room garden.

I was enjoying all of my relationships with family and long-time friends. One of those friends was Frank, who I had met in our 30s when he was the pastor of a church in Chicago and I was the church’s pastoral counselor. We formed a small spirituality group with some other friends and we remained in touch even as we found ourselves moving around the country.

My friend Frank had by this time moved to Pennsylvania from Chicago. Now we were only three hours away from each other and we were back and forth often. He loved to sit on my deck surrounded by flowers. That first fall I had 15 mums and, coupled with my water fountain, the setting was idyllic. We chatted and we meditated as we do when we’re together.

Frank had started a meditation group in Pennsylvania and I was always invited to participate. I went as often as possible. The time that affected me most profoundly was when the group was meditating silently in a creek.

I’ll never forget that day. The weather was perfect. About 75 degrees with a slight wind. Birds were singing their hearts out and the little fish seemed so happy as they swam around me.

I was truly struggling at that point because of some concerns that had arisen in my family. For a while I could find no peace. But after about 20 minutes, my worries just seemed to float away in the ripples of water.

Simple phrases ran through my mind and eased my soul: “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. “

When the meditation was over, I told Frank about my experience.

“All shall be well,” he said, telling me that he was drawing on Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic whose book, Revelations of Divine Lovehas become popular once again.

Her famous verse was: “All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”

On the way home I repeated over and over again the words that spoke so deeply to me: Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.

The next day I composed a simple tune and wrote it down. I called Frank and sang it to him.

“Absolutely wonderful,” he said.

I have been singing that little chant ever since. And both Frank and I have taught it to many people.

Life seemed perfect for a long time, even after the drawn-out trauma of the flood, but eventually I began to feel lonely. I longed to have a house mate. The days when darkness started to descend at 4 pm became frightening.

I was in psychotherapy and of course I discussed my loneliness with my therapist. We scoured our minds for people I might invite to live with me. I was open to having either a woman or a man. My friend Frank was back in Chicago by this time. But we kept very close contact.

We chatted about living in the same retirement home someday. Frank would organize hymn sings. He would play the piano and I would lead the singing. My parents had done this in later years and I so admired it.

“Doing all of that with Frank would be perfect,” I said to my therapist, “If only I could find someone like Frank.”

My therapist immediately replied, “He is one in a million.”

So I left the office discouraged, thinking I would never find a friend like Frank. But on my way home this thought came to me: If he is one in a million, you better go and live near him. When I got home, I immediately called him and he responded, “I would love to have you come to Chicago. We can get you an apartment in my building.”

I had lived and worked in Chicago for 26 years so it felt like this would be a homecoming of sorts. I discussed this with my son, my bother and many friends. We all worried that I would miss my beautiful home in Binghamton so much that I could not adjust again to city life.

So what I decided to do was rent my house for a year. Then I could come back if that felt right. During that year I missed my gardens a great deal—both my outside garden and inside garden. But when the feelings were intense all I had to do was sing, “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.”

My apartment in Chicago was in the same building as Frank’s. It had huge windows with a southern exposure and immediately I started filling those windows with plants. I mean—lots of plants. About 60 in all. Frank and I began to meditate together twice a day. We ate meals together at least once a day. We started a meditation group with six other people and they became so foundational to my spirituality and later to our friendship. My beloved friend Alyce lived in the city and we spent such wonderful times together. At times I had doubts about selling my house. Of course I would take these to my therapist. But what guided me more than anything was the chant.

“Let it come, let it go, Let if come, let it flow, All is well.”

I later came to realize that the earlier poem I composed about my house has the same theme. It is about letting go and daring to trust in God. The last three stanzas have spoken to me so deeply:

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To own my house
But not let it own me.
To love my house
But hold it loosely.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To hold lightly
Any place or person
Any thought or feeling.

Oh Lord, please give me the grace
To open my heart
To your abounding love
And abiding rest
And be free!

And Lord,
Please bless my house.

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Look for the next part in Lucille’s series fin our September 6, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s September 2021 Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.

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Lucille Sider urges us to step outside: ‘The gods are painting the whole world green again!’

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EDITOR’S NOTE—Our caregiving-themed books recommend that all of us spend more time reflecting on the natural world around us. Just a few examples: Suzy Farbman’s GodSigns includes a catalytic scene as Suzy walks along the ocean shore; Never Long Enough includes gorgeous illustrations encouraging families to enjoy nature together; and Now What? urges families to maintain the mobility of aging loved ones—and lists many ideas for stepping outside. (Cover-links to those books are in the left margin.) In Lucille Sider’s memoir, Light Shines in the Darkness, the visual metaphor on the book’s cover is a glorious, sunny morning in a tree-lined meadow. This week, as spring breaks out across North America, Lucille reminds all of us:

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The gods are painting the whole world green again!

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

The ground is thawing,
Roots are stirring,
Long nights are shortening,
The sun is beaming.
Hastas peek through the ground,
Buds climb out of branches,
Grasses spread over the lawn,
Chipmunks ascend from their darkness.
The gods are painting the whole world green again!
Light green,
Lime green,
Blue green,
Olive,
All glorious greens.
Pine needles, maple leaves, ferns and holly
Tulip leaves, junipers and lily of the valley.
All gloriously Green.
My heart is charmed by,
My mind’s enlivened with,
My pores are fragrant with,
Glorious green.
Robins are singing,
Chickadees are chirping,
The whole world is chanting:
O GLORIOUS GREEN!
O GLORIOUS GREEN!

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PLEASE, feel free to share this poem with friends—our share it in your discussion group to inspire everyone to spontaneously write their own odes to spring.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

READ THE BOOK. You can order Lucille’s Light Shines in the Darkness from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle and Barnes & Noble—as well as many other online retailers.

And, oh yes! Of course, her book is available through Walmart (via Walmart’s website so you don’t actually have to drive to a store as Lucille did in today’s column).

Clinical psychologist and clergywoman Lucille F. Sider adds her voice to the chorus of women in the #WhyIDidntReport and #MeToo movements. This is Lucille’s story of resilience and hope as a survivor of sexual abuse. She explains the challenges of finding her way out of a fear-based spirituality into one that is full of grace, hope and forgiveness. The unique richness of her book is that she wrote it to spark healing discussion. As she describes her experiences in these pages, she also steps back and offers helpful analysis as both a psychologist and a clergywoman. At the end of the book, she includes a complete study guide with questions for reflection for individuals, small groups and classes.

“The book is arranged to be a valuable tool in the hands of persons in the helping professions, such as clergy, social workers, psychologists,” writes the Rev. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and Ambassador of The Wesleyan Church. “This writing is so powerful, yet gentle, that people will be able to add their own words to combat the pain. Lucille’s credentials enhance the power of the story. Truly a book for these days!”

“Timely, compelling and courageous, this autobiography lays bare the trauma of both child and adolescent abuse. This book deserves to be read by any adult who, living in a culture where 80 percent of females have experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18, are no longer content to keep their proverbial head in the sand.” Carol Schreck, Professor Emerita of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Palmer Theological Seminary

INVITE AN AUTHOR’S ZOOM

GET IN TOUCH! Lucille Sider has received many requests to give talks and workshops—or to appear in media even in the midst of the pandemic. She considers each request and has accepted many invitations—so her voice and storytelling already is a popular part of the national conversation. Would you like to get in touch with Lucille to make such a request? Email us at [email protected]