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One Wild and Precious Life

You are not a baby any more. But I remember the soft warmth of you, wrapped in a blanket, only minutes into the world. I remember being sorry, a little, that you were not my secret any more; the tiny miracle inside me whose movements were a mysterious knowing. I remember being amazed that, with two other little ones already such an important part of my life, you could carve a unique space in my heart, wholly your own, that would only ever be yours.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver

You are not a little boy any more; the precocious one running ahead on every hike to climb something, or crawl inside or over something, just to know what lay beyond. And yet, you have done a better job than most of retaining the best parts of being young.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
~Pablo Picasso

Curiosity: The way you used to enter a hotel room and within minutes know the combination to the safe, which toiletries had been provided, and where to find all electrical outlets, as well as the Gideon Bible. Now, your curiosity leads you to the best music and YouTube videos, to killer electronic equipment, to stories about the Holocaust and human suffering.

Optimism: Not so much naivety as a conscious choice to believe the best about everyone. To give your all to each relationship, to every endeavor, with a firm belief that others will do the same. Perhaps you have been disappointed at times. But I also believe that sometimes your faith in others calls from them something they do not know they have to give. And that is a gift. To them. To the world.

If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget standing in the hallway of the humanities building at your college, waiting to lay down a couple of piano tracks for your digital audio recording project. The hall was full of students between classes who must have wondered what this strange old lady was doing loitering in the hall. Then you walked through a door, and the hall erupted with “Josh!!”, “Hey Josh!”, “Joshie!” And I knew, for a moment, what it must be like to be the mother of someone famous. 🙂

Audacity: Kids always believe they can do or be anything they set their minds to. It is only as adults that we begin to place borders and qualifiers and excuses around all our best dreams. And yet, you dream on…

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson

You are not a teenager any more. And I don’t even know what to do with this. Though you will always be my baby boy, you are a man. You make grown-up man choices like working a job you need even if you don’t love it, like buying insurance and your own clothes, like choosing the next right step in your life even if the way is unclear…

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

~Wendell Berry

This is a threshold moment. You are on the edge of ripening into that which you have long been preparing to be. And I can hardly wait to see where all this leads. Know that wherever life takes you, Dad and I will always be here, cheering you on. The world needs you, best beloved. We need your compassion, your courage, and your creativity. Give us all you’ve got.

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Happiest of birthdays, my dear son!! I could not be more proud of you. I love you! May God grant you many, many years!!

*Bottom four photos, taken by Josh. The one just above those, taken by Kari. Photo of tiny Josh and Gatlin taken by Wendi.

 

I’ll Be Seeing You…

My darling, you know I adore The Notebook. The romance, yes, and the fury of new love. But mostly, the deep, enduring love that doesn’t know how to let go. The kind of love that shows up day after day to tell the same story over and over again.

It occurs to me that, with 30 years under our belt, we are coming to share more with that seasoned couple trying hard to remember than with the combustible pair of young lovers. It also occurs to me that, in the event that I am Allie some day and you must be the custodian of our memories, you might like a little help…

Please don’t ever let me forget that Sunday morning when first I saw you, bursting through the back door of the choir loft at Laguardo Baptist Church with a bundle of music in one arm and a Mellow Yellow in the other. Or that week volunteering together at VBS…and the grapes. You might want me to forget that you borrowed money from me at Taco Bell on our first date, but I probably won’t. 😉 Remind me of the fast and furious knowing, the summer evenings sitting on the floor at Robbie and Clayton’s, talking late into the night, asking all the questions, until  a sleepy Clayton would call out from the back of the house, “Mike, don’t you think it’s time to be heading home?”

Tell me stories about our “young married” days at Haywood Hills; about Paul and Debo, Chris and Trisha, Rebecca and Katherine; about house-boat trips and Sunday night Pictionary. Tell me about our first house on Debra Drive and how we didn’t notice there was no dishwasher til I was standing there with a dirty plate in my hand, about the horrible grasscloth we ripped off the walls, and the night the water heater exploded and flooded the basement. And don’t forget the tiny furballs.

Make sure you tell me about our babies and how you “conducted” them into the world (always patterns of four despite the nurse’s instructions to count to ten). It seems to have worked. They are all musical. 🙂 Talk about homeschooling and children’s choir, about cub scouts and sports teams, about the puppies and the farm, about talent shows and camping trips and church camp, about watching these remarkable humans grow into themselves.

Remind me of all the places we have been. Of England and France (This is your chance to tell me we saw Prince Charles on the Chunnel Train with none of the children to correct you.) It might be best if you do not mention that we almost lost each of the boys in separate metro incidents. Mind the gap!

Include something about Venice, the Cinque Terre, Meteora, the Hagia Sophia, Costa Rica, Alaska, and the Dingle Peninsula. Tell me that once I stood before the Book of Kells. Remind me how we crossed the Grand Canyon on foot. Twice.

I might be surprised to learn that we have run marathons, even an ultra-marathon. But tell me about those. Especially the one up Pikes Peak. And in the Tetons. Tell me about the crazy cold Disney Marathon when the sports drinks and gels froze, but fire pots were burning in Epcot and I cried all the way through the Magic Kingdom.

Be sure to include stories about the long walk across Spain. Don’t forget David and Jan, Samra and Perry, Rhys, Otto, Jose, Jorge and Kelly, Paul, Mike, Adam and all our other beloveds… Talk about the hill towns, the vineyards, and the Botafumeiro.

It will be difficult to tell me about the hard time, that season when we weren’t sure we would make it. You will want to be self-deprecating because that is your way. But DO NOT let me forget that you loved me fiercely, even when I made it so hard. Remind me of friends who stood with us, who challenged and encouraged. Never let me lose sight of the fact that seasoned love is a miracle and a gift.

Talk to me about the ancient Church. About how it is so different than anything we have ever known, and yet, how arriving here was like coming home. Talk to me of the beautiful sensuality of worship, about the deep theology, about how it asks so much of us, and yet gives us so much more. About how we found healing here.

And please, please, tell me about our granddaughter. Remind me of sleepovers and duplos and make-believe, and how she gave us the opportunity to see the world like it was brand new. Tell me about the sweet surprise of godchildren and how they have blessed our life.

And when you have told me all the stories, just be with me. Sit beside me. And let the knowing between us keep us company.

Thank you, my darling, for living and loving long with me. I know it has not always been easy. Perhaps it has never been easy. But God has made something very good of our love. And I am glad you have all our stories. And I am glad neither of us has to begin again. May God grant us many more years of growing into one another, til all borders become permeable and the knowing is complete.

To be continued…

A story thirty years in the making is far too much to cover completely in one blog post. Here are a few previous posts that tell a little more:

The Martyrdom of Marriage
23
Gift
I Choose You
Further Up and Further In
Ripened Love

 

 

 

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.

jakebday

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. 🙂

kb

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.

 

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. 🙂

In her eyes…

daddy

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.

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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.

Ripened Love

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Give me a ripened love
full of recollection…

love tender and fragile in
the wild, impatient spring when
romance was new and
each day a discovery

love that has borne
the heat of summer defending
its yield against storm
invader
drought
sending roots deep
to drink the earth

love that has endured the
measured violence of pruning
and known the consolation
of the Gardener

Give me a scarred love
bent by wind, whose branches
tell a story long in the making
fruit distilled
to a warm dark sweetness

ready for the pressing
and aging
still to come

and the final surrender
and the drinking up

~sm

for my darling who has loved me long

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Metamorphosis

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My blog has had some security issues this year. As a result, it was offline in the spring when my baby boy turned 18, and when he graduated from high school. So here I offer a woefully belated coming of age post. The words are from a blessing that Mike and I had the honor of speaking over Josh at his senior formal. They give a tiny glimpse into the life of this remarkable young man that we have had the profound joy to parent.

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You were born curious. Five minutes in any hotel room and you have found all the best gadgets, secret hiding places, snacks, toiletries, AND the Gideon Bible. Never one to stay on the path, you run ahead and climb things. Ingenuous, you can figure anything out, from all things technical to how to drive a stick shift, nothing scares you. Stay hungry. Never stop learning.

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Senior formal with sweet friend Ashley. Outfit designed by Josh. Shirt hand sewn to his specifications.

The world is more beautiful and festive because there is you. Fashionista and interior designer, you integrate loveliness into all you do. As an accomplished food stylist, you transform the most humble offerings into a feast. Thank you for teaching us to celebrate every season, every day, as gift. The world is starving for beauty. Feed it.

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Convincingly incarnating both a lecherous wolf and a dashing Prince Charming in Into the Woods at the Franklin Theater

When you were 12 years old, you sang Amazing Grace at a school talent show. With the first clean, clear notes, the room fell silent and still, awed by the beauty of it. Whether leading worship, singing with friends, or acting on the stage of the Franklin Theater, you continue to leave us breathless and blessed by your artistry. Your photographs and your words compel us see the world afresh. Marcel Proust said, The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Keep seeing deep, and helping us see too.

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Best uncle ever

Your love knows no bounds. You are a generous and loyal friend; a trusted confidante to many, kind to all. Kenzie adores her uncle Joshie. When dad and I are old and can’t remember our names, we will remember the extraordinary Christmas gift you gave us two years ago, at great cost to you. Heck, we’ll probably lug it to the nursing home with us. Continue to love well, and allow others to love you.

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*photo and editorial credit Josh F Mullican

You are a true man of faith. Like every person, your life has had hard places. You have walked these with great courage and persistence. You have not been afraid to wrestle with God, to be raw and vulnerable and to ask tough questions. The result is a faith that is authentic and personal. Never stop chasing after God. He loves you so.

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Dear one, Dad and I labored over these words, wanting them to be the right ones. But, they are inadequate. We are proud of you and love watching your continual metamorphosis into the person God has designed you to be. May your days be many, and may you know much joy. I love you. Always.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young

~Bob Dylan

 

Further Up and Further In

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There is no remedy for love but to love more.
~henry david thoreau

It might have been reckless to become engaged only two months after meeting. It might have been reckless to marry only seven months after that. I can’t really say.

This I do know: I expected a great deal of my husband. I believed he would right every wrong in my world, fill all the empty spaces in me. I would, of course, do the same for him. And this would be as natural as breathing. Because we loved each other.

This way of thinking might have been was reckless.

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What we have learned over the 28 years between then and now is that people who love one another experience extravagances of joy together they would never be able to know alone. These same people are also uniquely qualified to cause hurts deeper than those inflicted by the worst enemy. We have known our share of both of these. Our friend Heather said it this way, “Your testimony is broken, battered, beautiful, & redeemed.” That about sums it up.

What we have also learned is that God can use all of this, the sweet and the bitter, to draw us to Himself. The marriage we have today has a richness and a loveliness we did not even know to wish for in the early days. And that is a testament to God’s extravagant grace, to forgiveness 70 x 70 x 7 times, and to friends who fought with us and for us when we were unwilling to fight for ourselves.

In the six years since we have come into the Orthodox Church, we have been privileged to be part of a great many weddings and marriage blessings. Marriage is a sacrament. Therefore, a wedding is seen by the Church to be, not so much a declaration of our intention to love one another, but a vessel of the mystical grace of God. This is a wondrous mystery.

Asking for the blessing of the Church seemed a fitting next step in the work that God has been doing, and continues to do, in our lives. A further grace.

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So on Saturday we gathered with a handful of dearly loved ones before the altar. The prettiest little girl in the world padded barefoot down the aisle in a white dress that once was her mother’s, carrying crowns on a silver tray. And the priest blessed her and took the crowns. And I walked down the aisle on the arm of this good man who I finally understand is God’s provision for me. The epistle reading was St. Paul’s exhortation to husbands and wives, and the gospel was Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana.

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Father Stephen began his homily with this prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom,

“O Lord our God, Whose dominion is indescribable, and Whose glory is incomprehensible, Whose mercy is infinite, and Whose love for mankind is ineffable: Do thou thyself, O Master, according to Thy tender compassion, look upon us, and upon this holy temple, and deal with us, and them that pray with us, according to Thine abundant mercies and compassions.”

He spoke of the great love that moved the indescribable, incomprehensible, infinite, ineffable God to make a way for us to know Him, so that all of our life can be a progression towards God. And this grace, this sacrament, was an important part of this progression.

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Then he crowned us to one another–crowns that speak both of authority and of martyrdom, and gave us to drink from a common cup, then covered our joined hands and led us three times around the altar.

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And my heart was full.

As Father Stephen reminded us, we are embarked on a journey that continues into eternity. And his prayer for us was that, just as in Cana when the best was served last, the richest and sweetest wine was still to come. May it be so.

This is a significant waymark.

A “thus far”.

A further grace.

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Further up and further in, my love…

__________________

*Many thanks to our dear friend Joel who took all the photos in the post (except Father Stephen blessing Kenz which was taken by Josh. Thanks, Josh. :)).

**The phrase “Further up and further in” is borrowed from C. S. Lewis who uses it in the Last Battle, a favorite at our house.

***Thank you, Alece, for Thoreau. His words are perfect.

****If you would like to see more photos, your can find them HERE.

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