Memento…

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It all started with the Pepé Le Pew ornament. As I placed it on the tree, I tumbled down a rabbit hole of remembrance. Each ornament from your box carried me further and further…

Perhaps you thought you would get away without a birthday post this year, since Dad, Josh and I spent that day driving across the state to be with you, then trotting all over Knoxville trying to find some establishment willing to feed us on Thanksgiving, then hugging you and saying goodbye and driving home. No such luck, dear one. Your old mama is too full of recollection for that. 😉 Our life together has been composed of so very many sweet moments. Here are a few personal favorites…

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Let’s begin with Pepé… When you were a little boy you had this wonderful habit of hugging everyone. You might see someone you loved across the church foyer. You would start running, picking up steam along the way, and crash into them with all that love. Even if the object of your affection was slightly terrified, he or she couldn’t help but be delighted. While your physical approach has become considerably more refined, you still only know how to love full on, with everything you have. It is one of your most endearing qualities.

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Somewhere, there is a picture of you, walking stick in your hand, dogs around your feet, as you explored our farm. Those were delicious days of discovery. The misadventures of “bloody peaks” were more than redeemed by the “tree of wonder”, skipping rocks in the creek, and the ancient tobacco barn with its mysterious tunnels and its steady supply of bones and fur and snake skins. That explorer is in you still. Whether trekking along the Appalachian trail or the trackless wilds of Alaska, you seem to be more yourself in untamed places.

Do you remember when we adventured abroad for the first time, and ate warm Viennese rolls every morning, and traipsed through nearly every art museum in Paris? I could hardly look at the art for watching you look at the art. Always, it seemed to me that you were seeing something I could not see. The intensity with which you connected to those glorious works was mesmerizing. And that moment, on the airplane, as we were flying home–I asked you what was your favorite part of the whole trip–and with this long, slow, exhale, you closed your eyes and breathed out “standing in front of the Mona Lisa.” I would have flown all the way to Paris just for that.

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It’s not surprising, of course, because you have always been an artist. Even in pre-school, teachers at church would remark on your extraordinary abilities. And drawing was necessary to your well-being somehow. I remember once, we went away for a few days and, inexcusably, I forgot to bring your drawing materials. As we were driving home, you were almost trembling as you talked about getting back to your pencils and paper. The way you call into being that which is not, simply by moving your hand across paper, is miraculous. I have never stopped being in awe of it.

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Then, of course, there is your love affair with music. When you were little, it was all about speed. Every piece. Even the ballads. Didn’t matter. Only fast, all the time. 🙂 Later, you became the ultimate pick-up man playing piano, saxophone, guitar, banjo, accordion, melodica, mandolin… And every gathering of family or friends, usually ends up with you attached to some instrument and–whether it’s “Boots and Cats” or bluegrass, or something in between–there will always be music.

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How fun it has been to cook for you (and with you) lo these many years! To explore the culinary world with you, at home and abroad; to have you introduce us to the gastronomic standouts of your adopted city; to watch the exquisite delight you take in food, have all provided me with great joy.

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There are a thousand other memories rollicking around my brain right now, and you know I could wag on forever. But in the interest of brevity, I won’t even mention Legos, Redwall, gymnastics, cub scouts, camping, long talks into the night… I will only say that my world is richer and deeper because there is you. I love you immensely.

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I thank my God every time I remember you. ~Philippians 1:3

25 Reasons Why…

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Truth is, I have never required a reason for loving you. Not since the first time I looked into your pretty pink face, breathed the sweet scent of you, and pulled your soft, warm body into me. In that moment, our hearts made a covenant: all the time, no matter what.

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If, however, I was ever asked why I delight in you, here are some of the things I might say…

 

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I love the way you have always been able to hold an audience spellbound.

  1. When you were a baby, dad and I would go to dinner and set you (in your car-seat) on the table. You were our dinner show.
  2. At your second birthday party, you told the story of David and Goliath, beginning to end, with all the proper drama. I have never forgotten that, nor, I dare say, have our guests.
  3. One of my favorite Christmas photos is you in your green velvet dress, standing on the hassock at Grandma and Grandpa Nelson’s enacting some performance, all eyes on you. (Forgive the blurry photo. Remember, this was pre-iPhone. Back then, every shot was a crap shoot. You never knew what you had till the film was developed. Some were better than others. This is one of the others.)
  4. You are a gifted singer. You have a lovely voice and are remarkably good at finding harmonies. It was fun watching you use these gifts in children’s choir, and in our many family sing-alongs, but my favorite of your performances are the unintentional ones; when you are busy at something and do not realize that you are singing. I could listen to that all day. 🙂

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You are the most generous person I know.

  1. We got our first glimpse of it just after you turned two. Dad and I were decorating the Christmas tree and you were worried that your brand new little brother would feel left out. So you decorated him. 🙂
  2. One morning, you woke before us, and by the time we got to Jake, you had filled his crib with pretty much all of your toys.
  3. Then there was the Christmas when you, as a teenager, asked for only money from everyone so you could give it to Bloodwater Mission to provide clean water to precious ones in Africa.
  4. The gifts you give others always say something about them. They convey to the individual the fact that you know her. You have studied her and chosen something that is uniquely suited. Regrettably, I do not share this gift, but I admire it ferociously.
  5. And then, you had a baby. And every time you went to buy something for yourself, you came back with something for her and totally forgot whatever it was that you needed because, all of a sudden, you didn’t need it any more.

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You make a place for everyone. This is one of the things I most wish I could learn from you.

  1. When you were just a toddler, you had next-door best friends. You were never happier than when Jillian and Julia or the other Kelsey came over to play.
  2. As a teenager, friends were essential to your happiness, and were the sources of your greatest delight, and sometimes, your greatest heartache.
  3. You have always had a remarkable ability to find the ones who feel left out and make them feel seen and known. Whether it was the awkward kid at church or that person at work that everybody dreads working with, but somehow engenders sympathy from you, you make room in your life for all the “misfits”.
  4. I suspect that one of the reasons you were most keen to have your own home was so that you could invite friends over. You are at your most natural when you are welcoming and feeding friends and making them feel loved and enjoyed.
  5. In this year following the death of your Papa, I have watched you make a determined effort to love on Nana the way she always loved on you as a child. Most 20 somethings are too busy living their own lives to stop and imagine how lonely it must be to navigate life without the one person who has always been at the center of everything. But not you. Thank you for that.

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You have an inimitable sense of style.

  1. From fairy tale dresses to flip flops, from blonde hair to black, purple, pink, etc…, piercings, tattoos–your body has been a canvas onto which you have projected that which is inside. Sometimes it has been painful, most of the time exquisitely lovely, but always, always honest.

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You love extravagantly.

  1.  Those who have had the great good fortune to float into your orbit, be they family members or friends, have hit the jackpot. Your love is unconditional. I, personally, am very thankful for that. It is the type of love that pursues, forgives, and makes bold.

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You are brave.

  1. When you were 5, you wanted your ears pierced. I took you to one of those stores at the mall. When they shot your tiny little ear with that awful gun, tears slid down your face, but you didn’t make a sound. Frankly, I was panicking a little, wondering what I would do if you said no to the second side. But, you took a deep breath and told the lady you were ready. Just like that.
  2. You bought a home of your own, in which to raise your little one, when you were 21 years old! Twenty one! This astonishes me still.

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You are funny.

  1. I love your laugh, but mostly I love that it is always easy for you to find something to laugh about.

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You are a wonderful mother.

  1. You take obvious delight in your daughter. Kenzie will never need to wonder whether she is loved.
  2. You have made a great many sacrifices to insure that Kenz has a good life; from rising early and working multiple jobs to provide for her, to teaching her to enjoy clean and healthy food, to showing her how to esteem others and treat them with kindness–by your own example.
  3. You are the fun mom; going all out to decorate and dress up for Halloween, helping your baby girl collect wildflowers and small critters, playing in the rain. And the sand. And the snow.

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You make the world more beautiful.

  1. Your photographs open our eyes to a world that we might otherwise pass by.
  2. You coax beauty from the earth.
  3. You make food an art form with creations delicious, nutritious, and gorgeous.

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Darling daughter, when I held you for that first time, twenty-five years ago today, I had no idea how spectacular my life was about to become. Thank you. Thank you for being. Thank you for being you. Exactly you.

I love you.

Always.

 

The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph…A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments…

~T.S. Eliot
Little Gidding, Four Quartets

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Franklin, Tennessee is a town steeped in history. And we never tire of telling, and retelling, our stories. We preserve old houses, we name our streets after fallen heroes, and we do a brisk trade in antiques.

Why this preoccupation with the past?

Because we understand that stepping inside the lives of these real flesh and blood people who lived in a time very different from our own ironically helps us to see ourselves more clearly.

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Studio Tenn Theatre Company is presently retelling one of the most poignant and heart-rending of our stories in their first completely original play, The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided.

On November 30, 1864, 20,000 federal troops met 20,000 confederate troops in the town of Franklin (which at that time had a population of less than 800 persons). A bloody five hour battle, most of which took place after dark, resulted in 10,000 casualties.

These are formidable statistics, but they are just numbers. Pete Peterson, writer of the screenplay, takes us deep inside the human story. The focus is primarily on the family of Fountain Branch Carter whose home, requisitioned by General Jacob Cox as a headquarters for the union army, will be at the very epicenter of the battle. To add to the drama, Captain Tod Carter, beloved brother and son is out there somewhere in the battle, and has finally come home…to die.

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It is Tod, in his guise as Mint Julep, who tells the story. This is appropriate since one of his duties during the war was as a correspondent for The Chattanooga Daily Rebel. Tod is only ten years old in the first scene and fresh off a day on the river with his young friend Henry, a slave. Henry will be an important character in the story, as will the river. In this very first scene we taste tensions present within the family; tensions that parallel those festering in the nation.

Fact and poetry are creatively woven together to convey a story that plunges directly to the heart. The spiritual We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder roots the story in time, while haunting new compositions from Patrick Thomas give voice to longings, dreams, and prayers. Instrumentation is appropriately spare enabling us to hear every nuance of anguish in the voice when Carrie Tillis sweetly sings the wistful I Will Comfort Thee.

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The play also gives a glimpse of the excruciating plight of slaves, even those who are “well treated”. The otherwise sensitive Mary Alice prattles on to Retha about needing a husband that is as easy to control as Henry and laughingly asks Callie her secret, much to Callie’s obvious discomfort. When Henry is told to tear up his copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with its radiant words “thenceforward and forever free”, I involuntarily gasp. And when Callie stands all alone on the stage and exquisitely renders a lament for a life of hurt, and a plaintive plea on behalf of her husband, my heart aches.

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The story is, of necessity, solemn, but not without hope. Taking a cue from Eliot, the play explores the cyclical nature of life and how revisiting our stories, even the difficult ones–perhaps especially the difficult ones–is necessary because each visitation helps us see farther and deeper.

Time rolls ever on as we repeat our forgotten histories. And in its turn it reveals the faithful freedoms that bind and keep us. It brings us face to face with all we tried so hard to push away until, in a whirl of apocalyptic vision, we see clearly, if only for a moment, and do our best to remember what we’ve seen.

~A.S. “Pete” Peterson

Do not miss this important and compelling play. Tickets for remaining shows are selling fast. An extra show has been added to accommodate high demand, but I encourage you to act quickly. Find tickets and more information HERE.

*Music links in post feature composer Patrick Thomas and are available for purchase. All photos property of Studio Tenn.

 

 

A Legacy of Turtles

Whimsical is not a word I would use to describe my Grandma Howard. Oh, she had a fine sense of humor, and a wonderful smile–the kind that requires the whole face to get in on the act, chin to forehead, ear to ear–this despite the fact that as long as I knew her, she had nary a tooth.

Certainly she had an appetite for beauty: filling her home with handmade quilts, crocheted rugs, and embroidered dresser scarves; and her garden with peonies and cleome.

But more than anything, Elsie Goldie Collins Howard was practical. Life had asked too much of her for her to indulge in frivolity.

Perhaps that is what makes the turtles so unexpected. And so special.

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The first turtle quilt was a baby gift, given to my parents not long after I was born. It has been well-loved and much used in the intervening years and is barely hanging together in places. But I count it among my dearest treasures.

When I was a little girl, I thought it was so funny, all those colorful little fellas, some wearing familiar cloth, parading across a white ground, linking arms as if to play Ring a Ring o’ Roses. It was not til I started sewing and quilting myself that I realized how much work it had required. The basic block is similar to the one used for the familiar drunkard’s path. But to this was added a hand-appliqued head and tail. For every. single. turtle. VERY impractical.

I don’t think I ever told her how much I loved the quilt. It didn’t even occur to me, in the way it seldom occurs to children to say thank you for dinner or for new socks. Making quilts was so much a part of who she was I might just as readily have thanked her for breathing.

When she died, she left a number of finished quilts that had never been used. Additionally, there was a stack of quilt tops that had yet to be quilted. These were distributed among the children and grandchildren. When my mom saw that one of the quilt tops was turtles, she thoughtfully chose that one for me. She quilted it herself on my grandmother’s frame. I spent a few summer afternoons in the cool of the basement working on it myself, alongside Mom and my Grandma Nelson. I sleep under that quilt every night.

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Out of the attic of our new old house, we have carved a little playroom for Kenzie, and for the other grandchildren we hope are in our future. We included two sleeping alcoves, each sized to accommodate one twin mattress. As I contemplated how to dress the beds, I decided to make quilts for them–not to save money, you understand. Truth is, I will have as much money in supplies as it would cost to buy a nice enough, mass produced, machine quilted quilt.

But when my grandbabies climb under those quilts, I want them to feel the love I feel when I crawl into my own bed. I want them to know I have stitched something of myself and my love for them into the cloth.

One of the quilts is butterflies, in honor of Kenzie’s summer of butterflies. But the other, is turtles. I was intimidated by the curves and made one practice block first, just to make sure I could do it. Also, I should confess that I am considerably less patient–and far more lazy–than my grandmother, so I ran borders between them to cut down on how many turtles I had to make (a decision I have regretted somewhat because you lose the turtles linking arms).

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The top is finished and I have bound it to the backing, but a great many fall evenings will find me with a parade of turtles across my lap as I push a needle in and out, paying forward a legacy of love, and whimsy, and turtles.

p.s. The treadle sewing machine in the top photo is the very one my grandmother used to make all those quilt-tops, including my turtles. 🙂

East of Eden

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…”

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My people are people of the soil.

My grandpa made his living as a dairy farmer. And now, when he sits on his porch in the evening, he looks out over the fields where he pastured his cattle, and where he made hay for their winter sustenance. In the middle of those fields sits the timber frame house where, one hundred Aprils ago, he was born.

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Over the past forty-nine years, my parents have planted gardens, fruit trees, and flowers; dug a pond and built some barns; raised kids, dogs, farm cats, and beef cattle; snow sledded, cut firewood, and canned a million quarts of green beans on the wild twenty acre plot of Eden they bought when I was just a baby.

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My brother and his bride have reared their babies and built a beautiful life, and now a business, on the very same farm where my dad was once a boy.

Deep roots.

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Mike and I have been somewhat more transient. Gypsies. In June we moved into our sixth house in twenty-nine years of marriage. And yet–something of this need to plant things, to intimately know my portion of earth, has pursued me.

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So I lovingly lift out my mama’s irises and haul them with me, wondering if any of the soil of Appalachia still clings to their rhizomes. I sift cleome and larkspur seeds into the new ground and bless my grandmothers who loved them so and who, though immensely practical, could not live without beauty.

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I study the vicissitudes of sun and shade. I tuck columbine under the dogwoods and border the walk with lavender. I make a home for Samra’s calla lilies and Lorri’s Lenten roses. I stand perfectly still when the hummingbird comes to drink while I am pulling weeds. I watch Kenzie charm the butterflies.

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And slowly
thread by thread
I stitch myself into this new soil.

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p.s. The barn pictured above has been transformed into a gorgeous event space. If you live in the East Tennessee area and are planning a wedding, reunion, or corporate event, check out River Ridge Barn HERE.

Vincible: A Riff on Aging…

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cardiologist’s office offered me an appointment on the same day I was seeing the dentist, I figured this was efficient. I would already be out — and showered (never a given).

I did not realize that these two were engaged in a secret conspiracy to steal my invincibility.

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Despite the fact that it has been five years since my last visit to the dentist, (Don’t judge, I have trauma issues.) I am praised for my hygiene. No cavities. Hardly any plaque.

“There is, however, the matter of these silver fillings. While they will last forever, they are much less flexible than your teeth and with the passage of time have begun to cause cracks. If left untreated, you will begin to have breakage. We need to replace them.”

“Wait, what?! Let me get this straight. Because I am old, I am going to need to come in once a year for the next four years to have silver fillings dug out of two teeth at a time, and those same two teeth fitted with crowns?!”

“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”

“Awesome.”

I walk out into the stifling heat feeling seriously deflated. And old. I think back to my check-up a couple of years ago where the answer to every question I asked was “Well, at a certain age…” I contemplate taking up day drinking. Then I remember the cardiologist and think better of it…

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I had my first episode of tachycardia when I was a teenager. My mom and I were sitting in the living room having a pleasant conversation when my heart abruptly went from beating 70 beats a minute to more like 180. As if someone had flipped a switch. It lasted about five minutes, then was over. It was weird, but I didn’t think a lot of it. I have continued to have these episodes randomly, and infrequently, ever since.

The impact on my life has been minimal for the most part. Only twice has it been problematic. The first time was when I was pregnant. A woman’s heart rate naturally accelerates because of pregnancy. In me, this translated to more frequent episodes that sometimes lasted an hour. I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem and taught me ways to help restore my rhythm.

The other time it was a problem was when I had an issue with my thyroid. But that only lasted about three months. In the ten years since, I have been back to the old pattern of infrequent and short.

Until the morning of July 6th.

That morning, Kenz and I were on our way to explore the playhouses at Cheekwood when I had an episode while driving. It was so severe that I had to pull over til it stopped. Over the course of the morning, I had four more episodes, the last of which persisted almost two hours until, at my doctor’s direction, I went to the emergency room and had it corrected forcibly. (Mike had joined us by then and was driving, lest you fret.)

Because there was no obvious explanation for this sudden craziness, my doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist.

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Dr. Estrada is calm and laid back, and I think to myself that this is going to go well. He sketches an illustration of the heart and its valves and shows me how the several types of tachycardia work, including the one he believes I have. It is not as dangerous as some of the others which is good.

“However, with age, these random episodes like you had a couple of weeks ago are likely to become more frequent, and possibly more severe. At that point they can cause damage to the heart and you may find yourself in the emergency room more often. We don’t have to fix it now if you want to wait and see how it goes. But it is probably just a matter of time.”

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When friends and family have asked about, and even challenged, what they perceive as an overly rigorous commitment to eating healthy and to exercise, I have explained it like this: There are a lot of things about our health we can’t control. Mike and I both have strong family histories of diabetes and heart disease, for example. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to be wise about the things we can control.

That is what I have said.

But apparently, what I actually believed was this: If I do all the right things, I will be invincible. The ravages of age will have no authority over me.

I was wrong about that.

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Wise men and women in the Church have always urged us to be very aware of our mortality. It is a potent reminder to be fully present in the moment. For this reason, it has been common practice in many monasteries to keep the bones of those who have gone before on display. As I understand it, this awareness should be a voluntary practice. Failing that, I suppose some of us must have it thrust upon us.

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And so, I am working to come to terms with the fact that I am vincible. Yes, that is a word. I looked it up. I spent yesterday morning in the dentist chair getting thirty year old fillings ground out of two molars and am now sporting fine, fashionable new crowns. And while I still believe that we have a responsibility to steward well the bodies we have been given, I am being disabused of the illusion that this guarantees a life free of physical adversity.

There is a price to be paid for the wisdom that hopefully comes with age. All that learning takes a toll on the body. And maybe the toll itself has a wisdom in it.

I’ll let you know.

In her eyes…

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In her eyes, he is brave and strong. He rises early and goes off to work. He builds things and brings the electricity. He is smart and can do anything. When it’s time for him to come home, the mama scrubs the children and combs their hair and makes sure dinner is warm and ready, and this tells her that he is important. He feeds the cattle and looks after the calves, and when the pond freezes in winter, he chops a hole through the ice so they will have water to drink.

In her eyes, he is music. And church. He sings in the car and the field. And he plays piano and guitar, and occasionally a little harmonica. He shines his shoes every Sunday morning, then sits with his Bible across his lap and prepares to be with God. At church, he holds a hymnal in his hand and stands in front of the choir and they follow him. He is the closest thing she knows to a celebrity. He has to stay late sometimes for deacon meetings, and even though she does not know what a deacon is, it sounds weighty.

In her eyes, he doesn’t understand. He can’t see that she has gotten older and needs to test her wings. He is reluctant to let her grow up, to let her go all the places, all the time. She doesn’t understand. Yet.

In her eyes, he is no longer infallible. And yet, she sees wisdom there that she was too young to see before. As she brings her own babies into the world and watches them grow, more and more becomes clear. And she watches him with them; as he takes them onto his lap to drive the great John Deere tractor, as he pulls an apple off the tree or berries from the vine and piles them into their eager hands, as he drives across the state to be there for birthdays and graduations and plays.

In her eyes, he is aging well. He is learning to rest; something that has always been a challenge for him, as for her. He is learning to make accommodation. When standing too long in the garden or field makes his legs hurt, he recruits the four-wheeler for part of the work. He uses a grabber to pick up fallen apples, and a dolly to roll the heavy five gallon pails to the cider press. Still, he is productive. Still, he travels and feeds his curiosity. Still, he is needed.

His is a good and valuable life,

in her eyes.

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Happy Father’s day, daddy! I love you. Always.

Far Above Rubies

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When I was a little girl, I used to pick peonies from my mother’s own garden and give them to her for Mother’s Day. The irony of this completely escaped me at the time.

However, Proverbs 31 says to “let he own works praise her.” So, as it turns out, I am once again choosing to give my mother a gift that she has already given. I have taken some liberties with this familiar passage concerning the virtuous woman to give you a little glimpse of how my dear mother has lived it out before us.

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10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She helpeth him clear the land and fashioneth a home for their young family. She stretcheth every dollar and selleth encyclopedias to help make ends meet.

12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She careth for him in sickness and speaketh well of him, and always chooseth to see his best self.

13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She goeth to the fabric store with her daughter who is growing too tall too soon and selecteth fabrics and trims for a new Easter frock that will be long enough and, for a moment, will make her feel prettier than she is.

14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar; from Darnell’s, and Goldston’s, and occasionally from the day old bread store. And from wild blackberry bushes and the muscadines that grow out in the woods.

15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She assembleth her famous meatloaf the day before and putteth it in the fridge to bake early the next morning. She cooketh cornbread and potatoes and sweet corn, wrappeth them in towels, and placeth them in the “hot cooler” to keep them warm for homecoming dinners.

16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard…and lettuce and onions, and acres of green beans, and tomatoes and cucumbers, and a yard full of beautiful flowers.

17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms…mostly by wielding a hoe and shovel, and carrying five gallon buckets full of beans from the garden, and wrestling the huge, scary pressure cooker.

18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night…because she might need to get up with a sick child. She might need to rub Save the Baby on her chest and warm a towel over the stove and wrap it around her. She might need to clean up vomit, administer crackers and ginger ale, then sing that little one back to sleep.

19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She picketh up the firewood as her husband cutteth it and tosseth it into the back of the truck to insure that their family will be warm. She driveth the pick-up through the hay field to help her husband and children collect winter sustenance for the cattle.

20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She taketh them food and visiteth them when they are sick or sorrowing.

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. And because the freezer is full of corn and apples and berries, and the shelves are stocked with jars of green beans, sauerkraut, tomato juice, and assorted jellies.

22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. She quilteth and seweth and teacheth her daughter, and granddaughter, to do the same.

23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. He ith a lucky fellow. 🙂

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. She bravely goeth to college once she hath all her children in school. She getteth her teaching degree and poureth herself out for classrooms full of lucky students.

25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come…even when things are very hard. When she receiveth the cancer diagnosis, when she loseth a precious grandson much too early, when she careth for her beautiful mother in the difficult last days.

26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She teacheth her children how to give a proper handshake and the importance of having a plan when you go on a date because unplanned time getteth one into trouble. She readeth them stories and showeth them, by her example, how to esteem others.

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. And when, on the day of her fiftieth wedding anniversary, her son and daughter-in-law presenteth her with her tenth grandbaby, she still hath the energy to play with this new little one and invite her to sleepeth over.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her…though not nearly so much as she deserveth. Sometimes, to be honest, they taketh her for granted. And still, she loveth them.

29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. The longer I liveth, the more I knoweth this to be true.

30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

family1

Nothing I can say could possibly exceed all that you have said to us with your life. I am grateful for you. Happiest of Mother’s Days, Mama! I love you.

The Halftime Report…

birthday

As of today, I have breathed upon the earth for 50 years. Given that this birthday comes just five days short of my grandpa’s 100th, I am choosing to see this as roughly halfway. 🙂

For someone with my disposition, it is impossible to arrive at such an auspicious waymark without a fair amount of reflection and rumination. You might expect me to share with you some of the wisdom I have acquired over low these many years. And while I do pray that I am wiser than once I was, mostly I find myself overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude for the beautiful adventure that has been my life, thus far. So much more than I could ever have thought to ask for…

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name. ~Luke 1:46,49

For planting my roots in Appalachia…
For lightnin bugs and cold swimmin holes
and the Christmas trees we dragged from the woods
Bare feet in warm soil, scent of freshly turned earth
Wobbly-legged calves still glistening and new
For tender lettuce and onions in hot bacon grease
Wild muscadines eaten right off the vine,
I thank you

For a mama who read stories to me in that voice
that will always be my favorite
Who wakened in me a love for the piano and then
showed me how to make the magic
Who sewed my clothes and permed my hair
and dried a million tears,
I thank you

For a daddy who worked two jobs to make sure we had enough
and brought treats home in his lunchbox
Who taught me to be curious
and to work hard
and to sing
and to never stop learning,
I thank you

For my brothers and cousins
For painting with poke berries
and traipsing through wild places
For all the bicycle rides
across the honeysuckle bridge
through the woods
to the store on the highway
And for the rides home
eating candy necklaces
from our sweaty necks,
I thank you

For the church that smelled of cedar
and teaberry gum
tent revivals on summer nights
hymns and Hallelujahs sailing out into the dark
For foot washins and singins
and dinner on the ground
and all the people
and the way I first learned to love You there,
I thank you

For every teacher
every mentor
who saw something in me
that I could not see
and ruthlessly drew it out,
I thank you

For that adorable 22 year old boy
who scurried into my life on a Sunday morning
and stole my heart
and upset all my plans
and became God’s provision for me
Who has stood with me
in cathedrals and canyons
and emergency rooms
Who meant it when he said better OR worse
and has loved me more than I deserve,
I thank you

For a warm, sweet bundle of joy
who exploded all boundaries of love
when she made me a mommy
and who continues to teach me about love
daily
with her life,
I thank you

For the first boy child
grabbing life by the horns from the get go
For music and hikes and food
and long, deep talks into the night,
I thank you

For the baby boy
who is taller than us all
For the way he makes life a celebration
For his courage and curiosity
his talent and his zeal,
I thank you

For the wee one
For the way I am meeting the world
all over again
through her
For the way she teaches me to wake
each morning
eager and expectant,
I thank you

For all the beauty…
For the delicious agony of words
and the excruciating ecstasy of music
For the grandeur of mountains and vastness of the sea
For lavender, and butterflies, and red tailed hawks
For cardinals in winter and the first blossoms of spring
For the wildness of summer storms
and the silence of snow
For glaciers and rain forests
and the stark loveliness of the desert
For the extraordinary places all over the world
where it has been my privilege to stand,
I thank you

For found friends in far flung places
who have knit themselves into my heart
And for friends nearby
who love relentlessly
who see what could be
and make it so
who have made my life immeasurably rich,
I thank you

For faith
that has traveled long and endured much
and just when I least expected it
blossomed into something so rich and wide
that I will never come to the end of it
For all that is mystical and sacred
For the gift of Your Presence,
I thank you.

 

*And for you, dear reader, wherever you may be, for visiting these pages from time to time and sharing your life with me. Thank you.

To Wear Forgiveness…

forgiveness

The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world is division, opposition , separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness.

~Alexander Schmemann

Slanting rays of late afternoon sunlight fall on the solea as the priest bows before the first deacon and says these words, “Forgive me, a sinner.” The deacon replies, “God forgives, and I forgive.” The deacon bows before the priest and says the same. They repeat this ritual with the second deacon, and the third. Then, one by one, we add ourselves to a line that eventually snakes around the whole church, bowing to one another, “Forgive me…” til each person in the temple has bowed before the other, asking for, and receiving forgiveness.

There are tears. And hugs. Some of us barely know one another, others have complicated histories. We do not take time to enumerate the many ways we might have hurt one another. God knows. But by our words and the humbling of ourselves, we say we would like it to be other. That we want to be made right.

With this, we begin our Lenten effort.

And because, in her ancient wisdom, the Church understands that we need lots of practice, she gives us the whole of this week to contemplate repentance and forgiveness. The services are filled with a great many prostrations, mingled with reminders of my propensity to seek my own way. But this is not punitive. This is liberation. I speak to my friend Jack one night after praying the penitential Canon of St. Andrew and ask him if he is tired after chanting so many long services this week. “Not at all. I love this service! It’s invigorating.”

Invigorating? A service whose primary focus is repentance?

In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored…Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul.

~Alexander Schmemann

I have discoloured Thine image and broken Thy commandment. All my beauty is destroyed and my lamp is quenched by the passions, O Saviour. But take pity on me, as David sings, and ‘restore to me Thy joy’.

~The Lenten Triodian, Canon of St. Andrew

It just so happens that a couple of days before Lent began, I had an encounter with a dark cloud from my past. A reminder of a difficult season in which I made choices I am not proud of. And I allowed that cloud to rain all over me and put me in a terrible funk.

Perhaps this is why I need this week so much. I need to physically stand inside forgiveness. I need to look into the eyes of another who will say to me, “You are forgiven. By God, and by me.” I need to know hunger in my belly. I need the opportunity to touch my face to the floor, not as a grovelling worm, but as one who recognizes my vulnerability. I need to wear forgiveness in my body so that the next time accusation visits, it finds no harbor in me.

It is only when we have lost all love of ourselves for our own sakes that our past sins cease to give us any cause for suffering or for the anguish of shame. For the saints, when they remember their sins, do not remember the sins but the mercy of God, and therefore even past evil is turned by them into a present cause of joy and serves to glorify God.

~Thomas Merton

May it be so.

Forgive me.

*A parenthetical word on dates: The Orthodox and western dates for Pascha (Easter) frequently differ, usually by just a bit, but occasionally (as this year) by more than a month. You can read about why that occurs HERE and HERE. Hence, as our western brothers and sisters are ramping up for Palm Sunday, we have only just begun the Lenten season.

 

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