Sanctuary…
“Maybe four to seven months.” These words in response to my bold and naive question of “what if I do nothing?” covered the three feet between my oncologist and me in a nano second. The weight of them settled on my heart in slow motion eons. I held Diana’s hand - a veil of silence lay over us, Dr. Anthony and the intern, standing near. It’s funny… where the mind goes in moments like this. I found myself feeling sorry for the young woman, thinking “what a hard way to learn how to deliver bad news.” Then, tears… and an awkward but loving group hug - my beloved Diana, Dr. Anthony, who I’d only just recently met, and the complete stranger, enfolded in the holiness of this most intimate of moments.

There is a fragile, raw humanity, an aching sense of loneliness in that moment. Yet, here I was, held in the outstretched arms of love, compassion, and acceptance. Somehow a feeling of deep trust and belonging rose from my soul. It was maybe the fullest moment of grace I have experienced in my life. I finally spoke … “well then… I’m not ready to go out yet… what are the options?”
Sanctuary ~ Sustenance...
“Fran, you’ve got to find yourself a quiet place in the eye of the hurricane. Let it rage around you and know that you have this quiet place.” It was well after midnight a couple of weeks later. I was sitting with Catherine Meeks, just the two of us, in a large, candle lit meeting room that a little while earlier had been filled with the joy of singing… sixty women and me, on a retreat in the Texas Hill Country outside of Austin. I had just shared with Catherine the news of my diagnosis. She was tired from travel and having been “on” for the evening’s presentations, but there we were, sitting for maybe an hour together in the quiet. There were tender moments of silence, tears, and a palpable sense of tending the garden… the garden sprouting new shoots of our friendship, the garden filled with rows of heartache, rows of immense strength, courage and wisdom borne of the struggle for justice, rows of the hope that rises from the deepest roots of faith and love. This garden would sustain me for months to come… as it does at this very moment. “Fran, you’ve got to find yourself a quiet place in the eye of the hurricane.”
I knew I had to find a way to continue to find hope and possibility in the months to come as I started a twelve week chemotherapy regimen and tried, like everyone else, to face the emerging pandemic. I knew I couldn’t go the “Pac-Man destroys the cancer cells” route. A friend reminded me of something Dr. Bernie Seigel had said some years ago, “you have to find some way to welcome the chemo into your body.” So I envisioned the chemo as a great orb of healing light and energy that was so compelling that even the cancer cells could not resist its healing power. When it encountered the cancer cells, they were overcome with the healing light and shattered into a million shards, becoming part of the orb, increasing even more its healing power. 
A short time before I began the chemo treatments a dear friend (and cancer survivor) sent me a copy of the late John O’Donohue’s poem For A Friend, Upon the Arrival of IllnessIt instantly brought tears and a deep connection to both the poem and my friend. I decided then and there to ask a few friends if they would record themselves reading it so that I could have them as companions along the way. One friend in Ireland took the poem down to the sea, to one of my most sacred places and read it with the sea roaring behind her. Another couple translated it into Irish and set it to music, and as one of them read it the other sang so beautifully I cried every time I listened. Another recited it as if it had been written for me, in just that moment. I began every chemo infusion by putting on the headphones, settling into the big reclining chair, with the chemo bag hanging just behind me - my new dancing partner - soaking in more love and healing energy anyone could have possibly imagined. 

Diana’s loving care and support were a constant. I knew that all around the world family, friends, and people I had never met were praying for me daily. Letters, beautiful handmade cards, emails, many from our AwakeningSoul community, phone messages, neighbors going to the grocery store for us - all these together sustained, and are sustaining me, and Diana, and our hearts are filled with gratitude. 
Click to hear

read by Susie Daly
on the Clogher Strand in Ballyferriter, County Cork, Ireland
Sanctuary ~ Sustenance ~ Inspiration…
I suppose there are other ways to bring one’s focus and attention to what really matters, but I know for certain that being told you may only have a few months to live is certainly among the top four or five. And I know for certain that being told four months later that you are all clear - there is no cancer where it had once been - is in that top group as well. I have done a deep dive these past months - evaluating, interrogating, mining for truth and clarity of vision, searching for the “voice of the genuine” as Howard Thurman so brilliantly spoke. And now, having been given the gift of this new chapter - what is my calling in life? What do I treasure? What is my true North Star? What inspires me, fills me with hope and possibility?
Given the darkness of these days
You could say “no” in a million ways,
Bathed in the light of your true North Star,
This moment cries out “Be who you are.” Enfolded in all that we hold sacred…

I will choose possibility,
I will choose possibility,
Knowing that hope will sustain my road.
from Choose Possibility 
words/music Lindsey Blount/Fran McKendree
2020

As Ann Holtz and I mid-wifed the birth of AwakeningSoul, we worked really hard choosing language that would describe our hopes for what it would become, what it could provide. We knew it had to be a crucible capable of containing the heat and passion of our struggles, a sanctuary where people could feel safe, safe enough to ask the “big life” questions they carried. A quiet place in the eye of the hurricane. 

We knew it had to be place that provided sustenance - life affirming nourishment for the soul, heart, mind, body and spirit. A garden where the deep, yearning roots of our hopes and dreams would find what they needed to grow strong and withstand the forces that seek to wither and destroy. Rows of heartache, rows of immense strength, courage and wisdom borne of the struggle for justice, rows of the hope that rises from the deepest roots of faith and love.

We knew it had to be a place where hope and possibility filled us all with courage and inspiration. A place where the voice of the genuine rings loud and clear, where truth, compassion and a yearning for justice would point to our own North Star. A place where we could feel in our bones the deep connectedness and a sense of belonging and acceptance…. a beloved community.
I have come to know, in my heart, through my searching and re-evaluating over these past few months, that AwakeningSoul is one of the beams of light that shines from my North Star, lighting the way forward through these most unsettled of times. As we move this year to the virtual world, we know that this is a time of learning and exploring, of discerning. As our beloved friend Barbara Brown Taylor said during her time with us last year “sometimes the only discernment we can make use of is seeing the next solid place to put a foot.” I know how much I need this time together. I pray that as you discern where you would like to be, who you’d like to be with two days after the election in November as we navigate the waters of what - change, joy, trauma, hope, grief, possibility? - that your step would lead you to join us. We will be a solid place. I look forward with a grateful heart to the four days we’ll share together.

Blessings, 
Fran


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AwakeningSoul 2020 - a Virtual Gathering
November 5-8

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AwakeningSoul 2020 - a Virtual Gathering,
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sanctuary
a sacred space of hospitality where we can find rest, respite, and renewal
sustenance
abundant food for hungry souls; intellectual and spiritual nourishment that both challenges and nurtures

inspiration
deep conversation, uplifting music, evocative art and spirit-filled worship, encouraging us to look deeply into our lives and choices, energizing us as we return to our communities
AwakeningSoul Is the collaborative partnership of Fran McKendree and Ann Holtz. Fran is a gifted musician based in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Ann is both a spiritual director and an independent consultant. She lives in Waynesville, NC. Together they have formed AwakeningSoul to offer spiritual events to feed hungry souls. Ann can be reached at annawakening@gmail.com or 865-414-8509.