noun, often attributive al·tar \ˈȯl-tər\
a platform or table used as a center of worship in Christian ceremonies and services
It's been a year. Twelve months of appointments and medications and tests and procedures.
I live with layers of chronic health concerns. Sometimes my diabetes plays nice; sometimes I'm unable to track what has my numbers roller-coaster-ing. Last year I began a long and hard-to-treat flare of existing gastroparesis. Weight began to melt away. Food, once a great joy and comfort, became an enemy. Pain became constant. My team of medical caregivers kept searching for answers ... and found them.
I also have familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a rare hereditary colon cancer syndrome. I lost my colon to this condition a few years ago, and somehow missed the memo that FAP was still very present. A few months ago the doctor found polyps in my stomach again, nothing really new, but then polyps were also found through the length of my small intestine. The trouble with FAP is that these polyps can turn cancerous when no one is watching, and they had to be removed. After an attempt by my specialist to locate and remove the largest of the growths, and after being turned down by a local group of specialists for a more complex procedure ("this patient's needs would be better met at a teaching hospital"), I was referred to UNC Chapel Hill.
Doctors had never indicated that I was beyond their capabilities before. My primary care physician had never had a patient needing this more complex procedure. I'd never traveled hours away for treatment before. To say I was a little unnerved is an understatement.
Then in April my friend, Kathleen, reached out with an invitation to a small group of women: gather at New Earth Farm for bonding, encouragement, and creating traveling altars. Her sister-in-law, Daisy, a hospital chaplain, would be there to share examples and ideas with us. It was the perfect, just-for-me gift at the perfect, just-as-God-timed-it moment. I accepted with gratitude.
The day was chilly and windy, but the gathering spot was cozy and warm. Friends, new and treasured, arrived unexpectedly, filling my heart with happiness! One dear soul brought hats for everyone, a welcome gift on such a chilly day as we wandered the farm.
Everyone brought supplies and tools which spilled out along the long table amongst the softly flickering candles. Traveling altar examples were placed on shelves with books and put-up jars of yumminess.
Tiny boxes were transformed while strong women talked of challenges and joys. Each box would hold beauty, strips of paper for penning prayers, and a wee candle to light. The boxes were different sizes and shapes and materials; each a special creation for quiet prayers and meditation that could be closed tight and carried to many destinations.
At the end of the day, as we stood and shared tasty treats, our traveling altars were placed together on the long table, our offering of praise and thankfulness for the time spent together. Farmer John came to admire the work of our hands and obliged us by taking our group photos.
My traveling altar was ready for my journeys ahead... wherever my God leads...