Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Peaches, Blueberries, and False Indigo ~ May 2021

 There is a lot of talk these days on the social networks about 'branding.' I'm not exempt from exploring this and claiming a few talking  points of my own. But I'm a cautionary luddite, often turning back,  or turning away, from the proverbial Ark like Indiana Jones and Marion.  The Spirit of the Lord wipes out those who wish to possess power only belonging to HIM. To say it's important to consider what image we embrace, by what name we call ourselves, is quite an understatement. Our identity is to be found in Christ alone. And I will carefully walk into the statement of opposition, by saying, but we are also instructed in Scripture to live in the world- being not of the world. I would say, in a thesis- style statement - Romans 12:1-2 puts things into perspective with a nod to a common hashtag and philosophy #growthmindset:  any wave of transformation must be tempered and guided by the renewal of our minds saturated with our identity unwaveringly in Christ. 

While ancestory.com would state that I am a true 'Georgia Daughter', I only moved back to Georgia in 1995. The 'Peach State was in full bloom during the Olympics and so the branding was wild with logos teamed up with the American Flag and the Olympic symbol.  Later after having lived  in Georgia for a while, I took note when the Three  Pillar logo and Arches that symbolize the State's motto, 'Wisdom, Justice and Moderation,' were replaced throughout many governmental agencies about 2012.  They were replaced with a Peach symbol looking more like a lottery ticket than a noble state symbol. No discussion about the number of streets named for the great fruit is necessary to make the point of association about the peach with Georgia.    Yet, it would seem that the peach is illusive in its level of excellent production, and is really a misnomer. Truth be told, it would seem that the greatest export in the Peach State is blueberries and the fried favorite- chicken for processing. I can validate the seemingly uselessness of the peach tree as a producer, having one in my own yard that might be more accurately called an ornamental tree. But there it is. When we wander to far from the truth, or wishing something was so, we find ourselves backtracking, or trying to shore up the ocean-like binder of false evidence with a toothbrush, just to keep its secrets. Sometimes it is easier to stay with the narrative - false though it be- than to try to correct all those street names or modify all the stationary with the glow-in-the dark peach symbol. 

The University of Georgia is home to the State Botanical Gardens. I'm blessed to have created a habit, even tradition of visiting there on special occasions and periodically through the week. It is altogether lovely but it is an informative and grounding experience in the natural legacy of our state. It shares well the native plants and offers the novice gardener an experience in education they don't even realize they are receiving, repetitive observation being one of the most effective learning tools ever. To walk through the garden,  one begins to see the plants that grow well  together and isn't misled by extra carpet-bagging plants. But there is one- one that shamelessly declares its lack of authenticity out loud, right there next to native iris and lily. False Indigo is one of the loveliest plants I've seen. It's stems are delicate and its leaves are soft, rich and supple. It seems to behave like a succulent, needing little water once its established. But it knows who it is. It makes no claim to be true 'Indigo,' and no one expects it to be. 

I bought a small planting of this truth telling plant a few years back, got it in the ground as fast as I could and with all the business of life, promptly forgot it, and chopped it down with the weed wacker. Oh my, that was a sad day. I knew  it wasn't an expensive investment, but it was a neglected, misplaced plant. On a birthday visit the following spring, I found it with in the Botanical Garden's native landscape-- I almost wept., well, I think I did inside. This plant was huge. The realization of what could have  been in my yard was only a stump of a plant that I'd under appreciated and  almost lost to regular maintenance in my front and shaded  garden. It was rooting quietly underground in all the wrong place. You know what I did-- I moved that beauty to a new place in the yard, taking care to get it started properly. I had run out of space in my primary garden, along the sunny fence area and needed more room for the sunny  blooming beauties that now enhance my view from the garage.  This plant is thriving now.  My False Indigo will take a little while to be a good comparison to its cousin at the Bot Garden, but its got time and space and a gardener who respects it for being just who it is.  I cherish it and notice it every day. 

"Stories remind us and give us the metaphor we need to cope."

While this may be a story of plants, the garden is a constant metaphor for life. Sometimes we are trying to hard to be a peach when really we are a blueberry. We keep trying to adapt to the soil or the light where we find ourselves, trying to be content as we should,  but really there's an entirely different place (literally or figuratively) we will thrive if we can gather up our roots and give the new place in the garden a try. We may have bought the false narrative for so long, that we can't even find the way back. But I think that False Indigo has even proven that nothing is hopeless. The Great Gardener is always looking for the plant out of place, buried deep within the earth, pressed down and invisible.  Not every bit of the new growth from my newly moved plant  has thrived this season, but I see next  year as something I won't want to miss. I'll have to wait, but at least I can wait in hope and confidence. Taking the first step in knocking back the weeds and pruning back the false narratives can push us into a place that growth that, like the False Indigo, will be entirely to the glory of the Original  Gardener. I believe the faithful Creator looks at us as  precious when He sees us move beyond surviving-- and embrace thriving, just as He designed us to be. 

False Indigo, State Botanical Garden at UGA

Friday, April 9, 2021

Who Taught You to Be a Boy-Mom? April 2021

When life was passing out kids, I never saw boys in my future. I never had any idea what that future would look like beyond baby -hood. Naive. Oh, I'd  read every book, I'd even taught boys, exclusively, at all boys schools. But somehow I made it out of those experiences with NO CLUE.  The intensity and apathy, the fierce nature and the emotional capacity of a boy. The maleness of the persons in my house. 

My Dad was exceptional in many ways, but most will remember that his vast (seriously vast) wisdom came from the miles he' d spent reading. Reading every book, all the books, and then some more books. He had a favorite home-town sports team, yet the major sporting events on television were usually eclipsed by the PBS adaptation of a popular classic book. Quiet. Calm, even in adversity, stillness and patience are my memories of Dad's parenting style. 

Enter Drake. Drake's objective was to break my mom's will by 10:00 in the morning. He dressed like Daniel Boone expecting even his teachers to call him 'Daniel' in the classroom. I was every character who enhanced Daniel's profile when we played in our backyard on Buckeye Road. It was my playhouse Dad had built that was sabotaged with B'Lou's fireworks and then rescued by Daniel. 

We watched him jump like Evil Kinevel in the  '70's and watched him stomp through the grass  down to the creek passing cotton mouth snakes to play 'lookout' or just dig in the bank.  While I set up house in the abandoned chicken coop, Drake was creating adventures fortified with every conceivable challenge available in our wildish places. 

Sara Owen's Bridal Luncheon, Memphis, TN 2021
Daughters on Back row, 'Steele Magnolia's' on Front -Just missing Gwen

Last week, I sat at a table of celebration  with other 'boymoms' - those who face the brave frontier of parenting in the post-modern world. The measures of safety and fearful things out there are only complicated by our unique children. I mention these ladies because they all knew Drake and I when we were young, when we were those wild kids, when they were those wild kids. We are all facing the new world, this challenging often times, soul-less time in parenting. There was alot of  'sharing' that usually happens in later hours of the night, but we knew our time was short. We told of successes, we told of sorrows, we told of things we never dreamed we'd be offering our kids as bribes, and that we'd actually tried to bribe them to do and be what we wanted or hoped. Some were holding back. The story is still too hard to tell- yet. 

But, we gazed sideways and looked at our mother's, - the YaYa's, the 'Deaconess's,' -the 'Steele Magnolia's' of our lives, and savored a moment that may never come again. We were reminded of the mothers who taught us to dig in, hunker down, and be the best parent you could be through un-numbered and often unimaginable circumstances. It was my mom who sewed the stripes on Evil's pants when he made those death defying jumps, and it was my mom who sewed a real squirrels tail on the back of Daniel's coon skin hat. It was my mom who prayed as he ventured away towards the cotton mouth covered creek and didn't beg him to stay close to home. 

Leaving Sacramento  Photo taken in Neal and Nancy Sullivan's home

Drake was not a 'prodigal,' but the lessons found in that story from Scripture are, at times, a part of any parents arsenal.  Once not too long ago, I googled,  how to love a prodigal son. The first thing to come up was from 'Focus on the Family,' a Biblically based organization, that I would consider for sound, solid advice. The first answer -- 'let him go.' 

'let him go'

There comes a point in parenting where the roots must do the work of tethering to the early guidance given. The guidance we may give after that point will only be a roaring in their ears, repelling them away. 

So what can I do? What should I do? One foundational thing is shoring up my own life, and catching up on my personal growth and maintenance that's fallen by the wayside. 

Secondly, be available when the kids show back up- be available to talk, be confident in who I am, WHOSE I am. There's a part of both the  prodigal and the older brother in all children, in every person. That 'letting them go' doesn't mean they don't come back, or that they don't watch the other leave.  Strength in the Eternal Power that sustains our faith when they are little, will feed the next season of parenting, and in an altogether stronger way. For we'll be looking back to the roots and wings that sustained us too. I'm so thankful when I look back, I see the  Steel Magnolia's - 'The Sisters.' Between them, they've raised Real Estate Leaders, Corporate Leaders, Photographers, Airplane Pilots, Obstetricians, Teachers,  Research Scientists, Architects, Dentists, Chefs,  Bronze Star Recipients, Track Coaches, Historians, Entrepreneurs, Mothers and Fathers, both- parents of every type of child, with every type of struggle or interest.  Their collective history is beautifully intertwined  elements of sorrow and success, but they've always, always been there for each other, and on their own, persevered in ways beyond comprehension. Like the other daughters, I've been watching and remembering, my mother didn't bow to every changing wind, but moved to meet the challenges of family, confidence in the Lord, and relying on her friends and community to be strong enough for that day's challenges. 

Thirdly-- Today is Dad's birthday. While we would celebrate him, he would turn the camera lens to Mom, and say how proud he is of her. Drake and I both knew and continue to know how Dad prioritized his relationship with Mom, and she visa-versa. While their affection for each other was never up for question, they are not super human. They had their share of lack of agreement over many, many things. But their marriage to each other was first in the family. I remember the vows he would request of many a bride and groom during the wedding ceremony he might conduct. There was always a point made that there would come a day when the deceiver would present a stumbling block. But I remember most the idea of laying down one's life, daily, not in a grand gesture, but with each thought for the other. 

 1966, Mom and Drake  in Sierra Nevada's - Dad's taking the Photo

Drake and Mom, Memphis January 2021

It would seem that the best things in life, do not happen over night. There is no magic wand for the 'boy-mom,' or for any childhood. The good, the best things are a slow progression of attention to details, acted out over a lifetime. Occasionally, we see a glimpse into the outcome, celebrating a moment in our collective history,  a triumph. I celebrate the beauty of these friendships, and their gumption. I hope for another birthday lunch for these fun souls, and strength anew each day, while we live out this mortal thing called life. Celebrate, redeem the time, live. Repeat.  

I'll take it. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Pushing Back ~ Victory Garden ~ March 2021

My first opportunity to  teach Textiles came with an office. I should rephrase this-- it came with a desk in a group office in what was essentially a hallway for students on their way to the design lab. In some ways, it was good.(Remember, I'm a 'half-full' person. ) Interaction with students was a bonus, you saw who was actually going to class, and you might just be lucky to overhear valuable chatter that might serve in connecting with these students. We were the 'Core' class teachers. Math, English, but I was a cross-over. I taught Textiles. Textiles is a 'Core' class for students studying Interior or Clothing Design. So a few years in,  I was migrated to an office where instructors from my field of study were collected. I knew I had arrived. But with that move came unbeknownst to me, the added joy of the sound of the 10:00 opening of Lord & Taylor Department store, and the escalator grinding directly over my head.  As glamorous as it was to be working in the 'lower floor,' aka-the basement- of Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, GA, there were trade offs. 

Embroidery Enthusiast ~Indian Rocks Beach, FL 1982 

Being able to focus in the midst of chaos has long been a skill of mine. And it's paying off in spades this year. My 'office,' once a front living room, is more like a hallway on the way to the kitchen, a pitstop to change the thermostat, and most commonly, a resting spot for Henry while he checks the recipe he's cooking up on his cellphone, with a spatula dripping in hand. But its mine. I have a space. I have shelves full of my books, drawers full of sewing supplies, and a furniture layout that only a creative could appreciate. I'll take it. 

Staying in the midst of life, while finding your 'niche' is important. Living 'in the world, yet not of it,' is critical. Engaging in discussion without accepting every idea has long been appreciated- So I am less morphed by every sway of the wind, and am now pushing back on the parameters of my tiny universe.

Burning off the leaves in our updated garden space. 2021

 'No man is an island,' said John Donne, and I fully agree.  Community is precious, yet our exposure to every conceivable notion is more like a fire hydrant sourced by the ocean, and our ability to drink deeply of a wholesome idea and develop that interest is swept away far to soon, before we are able to offer it opportunity to take root. We are often even ridiculed for going back to the 'old things,' when we don't embrace the 'new.' Nothing 'new' is ever found under the great orb, yet it seems to come at us faster these days, and with a renewed sharpness to shame, even cancel. So here's me, pushing back. Looking back into the hills, from whence cometh my strength. 'Let us not grow weary in well doing,' And all That. Timeless truths, shining onto the new and the old, lighting every path. Once again, finding a foothold in my little corner of the world.

My Nana's sewing box and 'all the things...' 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Almost Rachel ~ January 2021


Home 2013

Teenage boys require coffee, and thermoses, and hot pockets, gym bags, and space. I never pictured myself as a wrestling mom or a football mom, the most aggressive sports outside of MMA, but here I am, livin’ the dream. {lol} cowbell and all. But once up a time there was Rachel. All pink, soft kitten hat for her trip home to live with us in January, 14 years ago. I’ll never forget the feeling of loss, despair even, when we were told the biological parents had changed their minds, they were going to keep their baby. 
Oconee  County GA 2021

If I have learned anything in 17 years of parenting, it is about the more nuanced details involved in adoption and God’s design for family. Early on, my ideas were so limited- so focused upon what it meant to us as parents. I’d even say similar to *any* ‘parent-want-to-be’,  our values were in keeping with the modern wave of family values.  A result of our consumer culture we are more likely to think about the child as accessory to our lives, rather than a blessing to the family, a heritage and legacy that honors God. As broken as adoption starts, I've gathered an essential bit of knowledge that can make or break the opportunity to parent well, in a more pleasing way, to the Glory of God and in sacred appreciation of the Image bearers placed in our care. 

December 2006 Henry's Adoption Finalization

While we have only adopted, fostering is a closely associated area of care, as a break has occurred between a biological parent and child. You will hear it said, '‘Reunification is the goal.’ And it is. To hope in favor of anything else is contrary to God’s original design. While you and I might wish for me to have experienced all the pinkness that goes with raising a daughter, her opportunity to be with the mother whose voice she heard in the womb is what my soul tells me is best.  That adoption was not a failure, but a win. The child won. Not only was she not terminated through abortion, but she retained those who conceived her as her parents. 

Henry 4 months Sunday School with Lexi and Mixon

Naivete does not diminish my awareness of situations, though, who when the child who remains with their biological parent, it is not always in the child's best interest. And in those situations, the broken nature of our world's influence has infiltrated this sacred place of family far beyond the ideal.   Perhaps a biological parent is not mature enough yet to care for the child. Or perhaps the child will be in danger. The beauty of the adoptive home doesn't change the broken nature of the original situation. 

August 2010 Double Birthdays


 I am fascinated with biological similarities within families. Our families of origin both have strong genes that manifest in beautiful ways. God's design is brilliant. While I might enjoy and appreciate these aspects about my family, my children do not have these opportunities to look daily for those connections. We have built other bridges of connection- one son favors me in eyes and place of birth, while another favors my husband. But they know this is contrived. It's not harmful, but it is not deep enough to sustain a parent/child relationship. Superficial connections do not last. Time and dedication to truths and developed spiritual tethers must become the place of security from which an adopted child launches, if they are to succeed, and then like every child, there are still no promises. 

Canoe trip 2014 

I'm currently processing Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, with numerous friends. I had a dear friend call out of the blue yesterday needing to process the movie. Like most good stories and like the relationship of any parent to child, the long detailed version (book over movie/daily living vs. the abridged version) is much more effective in understanding how connection to person and place are to a child . Even in all the disaster of Vance's family, he still knew who he was when he was connected to persons in his life.  He struggled with reconciling all of the parts of himself, perceived successes and his tragic past, but he was able to become comfortable in his own skin, learn to live with the story of who he was and how he got there. 

My birthday 2016

Last night,  Eric and I had a rare date and were seated at the big Hibachi table across from a mother and her daughter having a pleasant dinner out. Eric, in his kind way, noted how I missed out, how I didn't get that opportunity to experience a daughter. Knowing many mothers with daughters, I'm often reminded that no path of parenthood and family is perfect. I've heard just as many biological parents say, it was never their adopted child that stirred the pot in their home, but their biological child who created the most chaos. Male and female, He created them both, with equal opportunity for discord to abound, just as the path to being a family can be a challenge. But He also beautifully shared the ideal of adoption and harmony when our hearts are opened to what  *could* be. 

Halloween 2007

I heard a friend say this morning, she was making an effort to be challenged to read a bit out of her comfort zone. I agreed in thought, immediately assessing my current reads, knowing how important it is to pace myself.  These days, I purchase and put on the shelf the more challenging books, and wait for the time for my heart to be opened to that story, subject or event, or most usually, the brain bandwidth to give it the just attention it deserves.  I'm currently reading The Scarlett Letter about 2 pages at a time. The story of a child born out of unidyllic circumstances. Yes, that story like Sarah and Haggar is not lost on me.  It is important to keep that open mind. But I've just found it difficult lately, to keep the good thoughts from falling out. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, it is imperative to hold to truth, and with kindness, keep that truth close. God will sort out my thoughts that are in error, ungracious. It really is in God's hands, and His hands are merciful and kind to those who love and honor Him. 

November 2019

November 2020

Almost Rachel. Blonde with blue eyes, by what I remember about her birth/biological parent's appearance. But God had plans and those plans are good. Instead 8 months later my beautiful blondie, blue eyed sunflower made his way into our hearts and hands, forever. His big brother, with his chocolate eyes was already a part of our souls.  I fully trust God has big enough hands to care for the one who is not 'my child', as much as I trust He will guide and care for the ones that are. HE is able. Blessed. We are blessed beyond measure, pressed down, and shaken together, overflowing. For opportunity and choice are ours.

 Mom and Dad 2021 watching Henry's Basketball Playoffs 

Footnote/Post Script: If one reads this post in isolation, it might seem that the only good outcome was for a child to come into our lives at all, and  on an entirely different part of the trajectory of the adoption cycle, the term 'reconciliation' takes on many nuances.  I have many thoughts on this. But I would want the reader to know, I believe it would have been my obligation to accept God's providence if He did not see fit to have given us any children at all. Likewise, reconciliation comes, for me, with the over-riding belief that joy can be found in adversity. Reconciliation is not always having a relationship with biological parents, but it can be. It can also be supported from the moment a child is matched with potential adoptive parents, if and when they wish to meet their biological family.  Adoption is a fluid journey, like every journey in life. We're still traveling that road and learning right along side other adoptive families. And as in everything else, I believe, God is faithful~He will see us through. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Teacher Man ~ Hillbilly Elegy ~ Bookshelf No. 10 ~ January 2021

It has been a particularly cold start to 2021. Yesterday, Debbie reminded me about the heroine of  The Nightingale and her perseverance against the elements in a particular harrowing part of the story. She asked if it were based upon a true story. I believe it is a compilation but very plausable. While staying in from the cold myself, I watched  again the movie, which is based upon the book of the same title, 'Angela's Ashes.' It is not an easy story. It is not a feel-good movie, even though the main character and author survives his childhood and upbringing, There is no way to paint the picture beautiful. But he tells it anyway and goes on to write two more books - Tis' and Teacher Man. I keep a copy of the latter on my shelf, although I've only listened to it. The author narrates it, and I wouldn't doubt if he also narrates in the movie 'Angela's Ashes.' His Irish accent with its lilt of resignation at the end of every sentence completes the story in an exceptionally profound way. I did not know about the books beyond Angela's Ashes, until Mom and Dad left their audio copy with me, with the disclaimer to 'not listen with the boys in the car.' My parents have notoriously listened to recorded books in the car on all of their outings. They would, and mom still does, take an extra lap on the way home from church just to finish a chapter. They also told me to skip a few chapters where Frank finds love in America. They are not one's to offer something without the full warning. 

Stories can remind us and can give us the metaphor we need to cope. Resilience in McCord’s books is an understatement- the narrator in the movie shares this about Frank McCourt's early life: "When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how m y brothers and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth telling. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. And worse still is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.' 

When I read and watch stories such as Frank McCourt's, I think of his mother Angela, standing out of necessity in the greviously humiliating line for charity at the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Bitterness grew in her and escape from the culture was almost impossible, especially for a married woman. But this same situation caused his mother to take him to the school his teachers suggested he go, as he showed ‘real promise.’ Stories may share the tragic circumstances of  a phoenix like heroine, but they may also ask us to consider the greater impact of a determined soul.

 I am almost finished reading Hillbilly Elegy. Yesterday, a passage seemed pertinent in my accidental comparison of these two men. After surviving his own most challenging childhood, J.D. Vance describes Usha, a classmate while at Yale, for whom he 'fell hard.' He writes, 'I had never met anyone like her. ... Usha occupied an entirely different emotional universe. ... She instinctively understood the questions  I didn't even know to ask. .... I didn't know how the world worked. ... Usha's presence made me feel at home.' For all their perceived differences, it seems to me that what he found was someone trustworthy who saw things differently than he did. Vance’s life had been rescued in many ways before he met Usha, but that relationship would never have been possible if he hadn’t had others who gave him the gumption to ask questions and not settle for what life had dealt him.  McCord calls this necessary element ‘doggedness.’ From Teacher Man,  “Doggedness,’ he says, is “not as glamorous as ambition or talent or intellect or charm, but still the one thing that got me through the days and nights.”

I see many connections between these two stories. Both had a desire to tell their stories and were careful to share the affection they had for even those who had caused the most harm in their lives. I see specifically two strong women, one strong grandfather, who stood in the gap where others had failed, and in places where they themselves had failed. Gap-standing is a thankless job. I believe the authors didn’t want this to happen to the people who had made their lives possible. For me and every other reader, the story doesn’t stop blessing
  within those who meet them personally. Because J.D. and Frank wrote their stories, I can know it is possible to move past literal and figurative ashes into worlds that only the imagination can sustain. When the darkest days in a surreal January can challenge a soul, it is good to know even the broken story can be redeemed. 

Winter 2021

This December 2020 and January 2021, I have been writing about books on my Bookshelf. Someday someone will be cleaning out my shelves, or at some point one might wonder why a books was worth the investment of time to read. So, I'll keep writing and sharing my Bookshelf. These are not book reviews, but more thoughts that have occurred to me when reading and reflecting during this period of time. If ever these are published, I'll go back and document specific quotes and footnotes, but that is for another day. For now I'm just sharing as though we're having coffee and I can't wait to talk about a good book. Links are often found on Amazon. I am not presently an active affiliate, but if this is so, I would receive a very small percentage of the sale for sending you their way. I like most of all to send you to Goldberry Books, an online  bookseller with a special brick and mortar bookshop in North Carolina. Not an affiliate, just a fan. They have the list for the Close Reads Podcast, among many other wonderful suggestions for reading. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

O' Henry and Jack London ~Bookshelf No. 9 ~ January 2021

 Upon the birth of our first son, my brother sent along a  'name-sake' book he selected to honor the occasion. My son, Jack,  is named for my grandfather, Jack Maison Woolf, and my husband's  Uncle Conrad 'Connie' Cebulski. But the book Drake selected was about another Jack altogether, represented well in,  Call of the Wild  by Jack London. While it would seem to some, a 'cute' gift, London was no stranger to either of Drake or myself. Our family has roots in Northern California where London, after many years of adventure, lived out his days. We have dear friends in Alaska, with whom, for a season, Drake lived and experienced a bit of the 'Last Frontier.' When we were both still  in high school, we visited my grandmother, Zada,  and Andy, the grandfather with whom I grew up, in Sonoma County, where she is now buried beside my Grandfather, Earl Freeman Bassett. He passed away when I was only a thought-- he knew I was to be born, but we never met. But South Dakota born Louis 'Andy' Anderson was a wonderful and loving husband to my grandmother in her last days in Napa .   He was the 8th grade educated -only- grandfather I knew, who once told me to get  'as much learning as I could, because it is the only thing they can't take away from  you.'  As many times as we could go back, we did. 

15 years old, Northern CA Coast

So we made the trek by train one Christmas across the country and through the Rockies to visit Grandma and Andy. While we were there, we ventured out to visit Wolf   House, the ruins of Jack London's home and final resting place of he and his  beloved mate, Charmian. 

Books tend to inform, shape our view of life. London's tend to inform, enlighten, and sometimes darken. His nihilistic view of life, and his perception of humans as 'just another species,' brought about some amazing stories, including, 'To Build a Fire.' But these stories do not enlighten one to see God but describe a limited view of the created man, seen not as a unique creature, but another soul-less animal among animals.  Adam Andrews said it best though. To understand nihilism, it is wise to ask a nihilist, and who better to read than Jack London. 

While I can see a handful of personal connections to the book, the best would be how well my son cuts to the marrow of an issue. He is not living in a state of denial and is like London, and every other young man, making his way in the wild of his day.  So this book still stands on the family bookshelf, in honor of his birth and in appreciation to the canon of Jack London. 

Our second son, Henry Robert, was named for his grandfather, Robert 'Papa  Bob' Sherman. As we, Eric and I, made our way to California for another return to the region of both of our families homeplace, we would determine the first name for our son to be Henry. We both just liked it. We both had no other name in mind at the time, and it just stuck. I thought of the book by O'Henry Dad had given me some years ago, which included the story of 'The Gift of the Magi.'  That story seems to resonate more clearly after more years of marriage than fewer. Caring and giving seem to grow sweeter after experiencing  years of togetherness in both struggle and success. Henry's arrival in our life came at a time when we thought we were a family of three. We did not know we were to gather up our own 'Red Chief' among the sunflowers and garlic from the Sacramento Valley. But this blondie blue-eyed boy would prove every bit of the story, 'The Randsom of Red Chief,' the humorous tale of a boy picked up by kidnappers who eventually bring him back. Henry has snuck and sneaked and generated quiet chaos since the day he was born.   'Benign neglect' and 'free range' approach to parenting became essential in raising Henry. His sense of independence and strong will have taken me to places I never dreamed I'd go, and continue to fuel the fire of our family  when even the kindling on the hearth is soaked. 

From my own text, O. Henry, Ransom of Red Chief 

So accidental as these 'name-sake' books may seem, I believe there is a providential essence to each. While Jack is not a nihilist, he seeks the very essence of everything that is found in the wild North West. He would have embraced the Gold Rush and camped by a fire in the wilderness, with a dog for his only companion. My Henry has been lost a million times to us (on the beach, at the park, at church...) but he has never been lost to himself. My little clove of garlic finds his way and persists as high as the sunflowers we saw as we drove away from the hospital with this new babe in tow. 

Yes, writers of books inform our souls, give us guiderails for our thoughts, enlighten our traditions, even across centuries and continents to calm and complete the persons we become.   I love seeing these books side by side on my bookshelf. I'm thankful and at peace when I think through the details of each uniquely designed child with their uniquely  created souls. The books that bear their names connect me to possibilities that I can layer with my life experiences, created by an author I've never met nor shall, save only through the literature they left behind.

 I'll take it. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Christmas Carol ~ Bookshelf No. 8 ~ December 2020

   Charles Dicken's backstory is one not to miss.  As he is widely  appreciated in literary circles, I won't try to retell his story, but will suggest one  considers it before dismissing him or his books. Not only do his books tell stories of unique and brilliant characters, they tell of what  may be our own future if we are to look closely enough. For there really is nothing new  'under the sun.' The stories may have different customs and styles, but there is the  constant thread of humanity, both the broken and the victorious and the choices his characters have made. 

According to the church calendar, it is the 5th day of  Christmas, 2020. While I do not officially follow that calendar, it is a point of reference I've begun to appreciate. After the hustle and bustle of pre-Christmas Day events, the world slows down,  and if you don't rush to put away your chotchkies and decorations, those representative lights can illuminate an almost lost opportunity to embrace some of the most beautiful traditions ever. 

Our little family is well acquainted with Christmas Carol . Each year, we have either watched or read the story in part or whole. There are numerous cinematic offerings. My favorite is the 1931 black and white, but from trusted friends, I've heard the Muppet version is good also. I'll have to take their word for it. Not gonna happen. But my favorite scene is one Eric shared with our church family one Christmas Wednesday evening in Baton Rouge. Scrooge has just become aware of Marley's ghost and his presence has overtaken the room. Marley is a visage, but  to better understand  him, Scrooge invites him to sit, if he can. Like most of humanity, we don't understand what the after-life is really like and Scrooge is no exception. 

I will not argue Dicken's theology, but I'll use it as an example of what the human mind can understand. Our lives are not a pointless experiment, like Elton John once asked in song, in which we have no say.  Marley describes his 'traveling' after-life, with, 'no rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.'... Holding  up his chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again. 'At this time of year, I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow- beings with my eyes  turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!' 

In the twilight minutes of 2020, we are blessed with the reset of a new year.  Llike most, I remember from the past few months a few 'paper-bag ' moments where the room wouldn't stop spinning, where everything felt lost and would never be recovered. I noticed this year, while watching  'It's a Wonderful Life,'  similarites to 'A Christmas Carol,' --the feeling of relief when what was familiar and beautiful came back into focus or was revealed a new, in the case of Scrooge, at the end of each story. 

Last year at this time, I was mid-year in a Life Mentoring class with Edie at Life In Grace. In bold letters across a journal, I wrote like all the other classmates, '2020 - Best Beautiful Year.' Yup. I did. What a joke-- or was it? Would I trade all that has happened? or the  transformation and growth that has come. I crossed through those seemingly bogus words at one point and wrote in the margins of my dream/ planning/journal I'd carefully curated, 'All is not lost, they(hopes) are still there, and they are good.' I don't know about you, but every fiber in my being was tested this year. Every nerve and synapse found places I didn't know existed. I found myself like Scrooge, facing the unknown on my knees with my hands in my pockets, reflecting and thoughtful,  desperate, wishing for the mortal, temporal rest in the comfortable, for the easy.  But easy doesn't create change or growth.  

'Reset' is a charged word these days. But a reset, like Dickens has offered to us is one I'll take.  Scrooges eyes are opened. And  I would assert like no other new years eve, my eyes have been opened too-- to the brokenness of my life and the world, but also again to the opportunities of victory as well. 'Do it scared,' has a whole new level of meaning. But as every generation who has gone before would agree, like it or not, the new year has come, and the choice is mine. What will I be reflecting on in a year? In many ways, it feels like we have no choice, but that isn't true. We do. We always do. 

My chalkboard Wall

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Seabiscuit, An American Legend ~ Bookshelf No. 7 ~ December 2020

  While I was in middle and high school, I owned, at the cost of  one pick up truck and one thousand dollars, a horse named  Apache. He was a beautiful paint horse with a classic coat of white, black and brown scattered across his back. He was 15 hands high and gelded to a easy going pace of life. But he  was young and full of a good gallop. The gift of owning a horse, getting to know it,  and experiencing the ride and the strength of a horse is priceless. To interact with a creature with that strength is something I'll never completely understand how it has impacted my life. 

My first book about horses was by Walter Farley, The Black Stallion.  Luck would have it, a movie would come out right about that time. It is a magnificent piece of cinematic art. Run- don't walk to that selection on your streaming device. But definitely read the book first. I never read much past Farley's first but I did move into a couple of Dick Francis's books which leaned more towards an adult audience. I never read Anna Sewell 's,  Black Beauty and I believe I never will. 

 Fast forward about 20 years: movies began to notice stories of  triumph by the underdog. Stories that would encourage the American soul began to appear. Enter Laura Hillenbrand to the landscape of the movie world via her amazing retellings of what I call her 'twin sisters ' on my shelf:  Unbroken  and Seabiscuit.  I read the first which was written about 8 years after the magnificent tale of the horse named Seabiscuit. What I remember most is from the movie, so I am challenging myself to read her book. Unbroken I actually read from cover to cover, and now continue to share with any person who will read, giving often to high school graduates. It is riveting with detail that brings the story to life. 

 While my memories are from the movie, 'Seabiscuit,' I don't struggle with going backwards from movie to book. I believe the story of the owner, the rider, and the proverbial 'dark ' yet magnificent horse are what can inform the soul way beyond the movie viewing. The profundity of the time period, a period so devastating to the American landscape of culture and economy it is called 'The Great Depression.' All of my grandparents lived through it, so I can imagine the normal person with hopes and dreams being side-lined by events beyond their control. I would love to know what they knew about this horse or the story, because it was  a headline everyone knew about, and every one could relate. The crash effected every American, and each player in this story felt the impact in their own unique way. I propose that reading about such an amazing story is an opportunity to reflect on the human heart and what hope and relationship can do to buoy up one from despairing.  

Just as confidence is a memory of success, I believe hope begets hope. The muscles of our memory are stretched through experience and emotion. While every story does not directly shine a spotlight upon God's direct hand in our lives, calling  Him by name, and putting HIS name in the movie credits-- I believe God is present in every event and every place and every story.  Why do I say that? Some of the greatest stories of holy virtue or glory that can only descend through a faith heritage in Jehovah God  never mention that faith. It is up to us the synthesize the layers and not to isolate  the secular from the sacred. Gather it up, sift it out, stay in the Word. He is in every story, but it is up to us to return to the ultimate story of the ultimate Hope. 

'...there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.'

Hebrews 7:19

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Uninvited /The Best Yes/ Love Does ~ Bookshelf No. 6 ~ December 2020

 A few weeks ago I participated in a gathering of friends food and fellowship at Debbie's. We were to bring a book to swap. Hello. Yes, please. We were instructed to write a  brief 'teaser' passage on the wrapping without giving it away. I knew some of the group would be gardeners and foodies, so I selected    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I keep a handful of these, thrifted and like new books so I was ready to go. But this was after much deliberation. I also knew this crowd to be powerful mamas, and might appreciate another author that made a difference in my life at a challenging time. 

Our books all wrapped before the Swap

Dad passed away in September 4 years ago, and by December of that year, I was a hot mess. Loss and grief have a way of resurrecting old wounds, hurts you thought had turned into scars. But they weren't and I was what Dad often referred to as 'the walking wounded.' This came back to me hard this week when I learned of a teammate of Henry losing his mother  two days ago. Parent loss is.... ageless, timeless. Losing a loved one, as a dear sister said, is like losing a part of your hedgerow that blocks the winds on your heart. Weakened is an understatement for where I found myself. I was Christmas shopping with the boys and had stepped into Christian Books on Epps, before it closed, and saw  Uninvited, Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst.  I snatched it up, paid the bill and forgot what else I'd needed to purchase(not an uncommon phenomenon in my life-purchasing books instead of milk, eggs, TP.) I'm pretty sure I ordered pizza, put the boys in front of 'Elf,' and read the entire book.  Some of the brokenness in my life heard passages anew such as Psalm 23. The Lord doesn't remove us from our hardship, but He prepares a table, He provides for us what we need in the moment. He does. Chapter titles like, ' Moving through the Desperate In-Between,' made sense to me. Considering how the enemy could use my weakened state to play upon my fear, this passage was highly marked up: 'The enemy loves to take our rejection and twist it into raw, irrational fear that  God really doesn't have a good plan for us. This fear is a corrupting companion. It replaces the truths we've trusted with hopeless lies. Satan knows what consumes us controls us. Therefore the more consumed we are with rejection, the more he can control our emotions. our thinking, and our actions.' 

Fast forward. Still thrifting books, I recently found Lysa TerKeurst next book, The Best Yes. I have since participated in therapeutic counseling as well as Life Coaching with  Edie Wadsworth at Life In Grace. So many things have happened in four years, but I've found investing in taking care of yourself mentally, as well as physically and spiritually, is crucial. On my chalkwall is largely written, 

'A Year From Now, You'll Wish You'd Started Today.' 

But what if you are in the midst of life and you don't know what you should start - or stop? And not to add any pressure, but often self-help books are written by highly accomplished women with businesses and ministries known world wide. So taking great caution with who I let into my head is important. There are a million people who will offer suggestions of ways to use your mind and talents, but being able to listen to God's voice along side intuition and make wise, informed decisions is priceless gift. I've mentioned before one of my favorite quotes from  The Best Yes:  

'You won't ever be able to keep up with unrealistic. 

Unrealistic demands lead to undercurrents of failure.' 

 This isn't the typical 'Obstacle is the way' type rhetoric you hear in the average motivational book. Yes, that book is great too! But what if you are burning out, and you really need to assess that to actually say yes to? 

Another favorite quote in Lysa's book comes from Bob Goff, from Love Does. 

'The world can make you think that love can be picked up at a garage sale or enveloped in a Hallmark card. But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It's a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright... The brand of love Jesus offers is... more about presence than understaking a project. It's a brand of love that doesn't just think about good things, or agree with them, or talk about them... Love Does.'

Can I just say- if you are suffering from 'analysis paralysis,' and want to get off that treadmill, Lysa is a good guide. She is not just another writer; she has walked some fearful paths unexpectedly and still found her 'Best Yes.' 

This season of Christmas is often filled with entirely too much choice over what to do and how we will spend our time. I'm exausted. Really. This year has been more than I can handle at times. But each time I reassess, regroup and consider what is really my 'best yes,' I'm better for it and my family benefits from the best version of me I can be. When I am more centered and aware, when the chaos of my people-pleasing ways goes away, I am able to be more present, be a presence for good, do in the most meaningful way. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Hope Believes All Things ~ Bookshelf No. 5 ~ December 2020

   'I couldn't put words to it, but Swede, as usual, could.  
"Afraid we're being impertinent?" 
"Presumptuous? Arrogant? Blasphemous?" 
This still happens with Swede and me. I'll lack a word, and she'll dump out a bushel of them. 
  "You called Jonah a griper---"
"Well, you read about him. After the whale he goes to Nineveh and tells the pagans to repent or God'll burn them to death, and their cows too. So the pagans repent---- ashes and gunnysacks from the king on down! And you k now what Jonah does?" 
"No," I admitted. (R euben)  Actually, I thought the book ended when he got coughed up. 
'He mopes! He marches off in the desert and asks God to burn those pagans anyway, and their cows." 
"Well, that wouldn't be fair,"I said. 
"That's what  God said too, but Jonah sat there pouting. Lip out to here! He didn't want those pagans to repent; he wanted a barbecue." 

 I love this bookPeace Like A River by Leif Enger.    I love how Swede and her brother, the narrator, Reuben Land, sort things out, talking things over. They ask the big questions, reference timeless standards and stories, and come to their conclusions.  Until the next day  when they are faced with a new challenge, maybe bigger and more difficult than anything they might imagine. Their stories inform their souls then too. 
I don't believe 'books teach us lessons.' In a sense they do, or can but that's a distilled conclusion. A writer worth his salt sets out to tell a story that will convey what he or she knows to be worth telling, the remembrance they wish to share with their children or their community, shaping future generation's culture. Enger does this through the voices of Swede and Reuben. At one point Reuben reflects on Swede's perceptive observations: 
    "Well, we all hold history differently inside us. For Swede such episodes retold themselves into a seamless and momentous narrative; she had a Homeric grasp on the significance of events, and still does; one of her recent letters asks, Is it hubris to believe we all live epics? "

I heard a politician in our heated Georgia climate say yesterday, he had picked an unusual time to get into politics. Yes, yes he did. But there he is. How do we govern our hearts when we are called for 'such a time as this?' It's not for me today to assess him or his heart, but it is for me everyday to reflect on my own. While marking wrong doing and weighing matters of justice and right, it is the easy path to be swept up in the heat of the moment. Like Swede and Reuben, it is for us to wrestle with what we know to be true and stepping back to see a broader picture. 

A few years ago, a friend graciously asked me to attend the Kupendwa Ministries Dinner here in Athens. She was hosting a table and I was blessed, along with my friend Debbie who came with me. I saw Amy Washington,  the visionary,  and her family who have given their lives to 'the least of these.' I heard Bob Goff speak, the author of Love Does, Discover a Secretly Incredible LIfe in An Ordinary World. He spoke of an usual time in his life when he was presented with an opportunity and he had no idea from where the resources would come. His laughter and engagement was contagious! We laughed so hard and cried with him in joy over the success of the 'extraordinary ordinary' that he had seen manifested. 

'You won't ever be able to keep up with unrealistic. Unrealistic demands lead to undercurrents of failure. So don't allow the unrealistic demands of others to march freely into your life. Resolve instead to make decisions based on what is realistic-- not on trying to earn the approval of or impress another." 
I would offer Swede's approach to synthesize what we know, instead of living by one slogan or mantra. I must be realistic about what I can do on my own. But I must lean into the unknown with faith and hope, like Bob and Amy, who have relied, like Lysa also, upon God and HIS miraculous power.  Swede and Reuben go on in their conversation to bring up others from the Old Testament who trusted boldly. 
Bold belief, bold hope leans into faith which leads to confidence (' a memory of success'.)* Realistic becomes empowered by informed faith and hope, and my worries calm down. I worry less about the wrong and focus on the right, and what the right can even do. My lack of confidence or lack of faith are empowered by what God can do, in my life and even in the life of those with whom I disagree, or worse- those on whom I might wish 'a barbeque.' 
Hope. Real, true Hope. 'Hope... believes all things.' 'Lord I believe, Help my unbelief.' 

What words do I live by? 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Thrill of Hope ~ Bookshelf No. 4 ~ December 2020

Almost every Christmas, I pick up a book I've had my eye on and read it cover to cover, reading until I can't hold my eyes open, avoiding every  unnecesary task, praying no one will notice. This Christmas has brought me to a second title by Kristin Hannah, Winter Garden. It falls right in my favorite novel genre, historical fiction, specifically World War II. To me there is nothing more engaging   and encouraging than reading about the numerous resistance efforts throughout Europe,  the hope on both sides,  and the people who lived and endured the war between the Axis Powers and Allied Forces. 

Winter Garden moves slowly into the historic portion of the story. The main characters are living with someone who survived, but bears the results of living through such a time.  For-shadowing of a very layered story tells the reader, 'She hasn't enough of herself left to share.' And  in another part of the story (no spoiler's here), families of 'criminals,' 'can recognize other families of criminals. They move like victims, with their shoulders hunched and their eyes cast downward, trying to make themselves smaller, unremarkable. Unnoticeable.' 

Tragic is not a word I would ever use to describe my life. But in every persons life there are moments that are classically tragic in nature. The expectation and  hope are pitted against  mortal odds unsurmountable. This post is not a tale of 'done-me-wrongs ,' but relatable moments, without stories that cast a martyrial shadow. This one is more humorous. 

Eric and I became 'us' when we moved to Louisiana. We knew no one, and no one knew us. As much as we loved everything about Louisiana, I learned to be realistic there, make some compromises, and even drop my expectations. We learned to depend upon each other more fully, even if we didn't need to. My mind looks back to Uncle Mike meeting us in the Atlanta airport, because he could get through security in uniform, when we adopted Henry from California. Our family is ALWAYS there for us. Yet everyone has some dark passages that no one knows nor is it easy to share. The Lord only knows how much I would need resilience in future days, but I can most humorously  convey this with a story  about my church attire. 

I LOVE sweaters . Textiles, yes, but knitted cables,  the yarn, the feel of wool. Love is the only word. But wool and Louisiana do not mix.  Once while sweating through church, a kind sister told me afterwards to ,  'Give it up. Just buy you some Christmas Sandals and summer clothes in fall and winter colors and move on.' Best advice I think I've ever received. 

I have not spent all of my life in the South. I did a spell in Ohio, learning to appreciate snow, ice, and that cold which cannot be shaken. I learned how to skate on a pond, by myself in subzero weather. I wore long underwear to school from October to April, and we selected our Easter parkas just like my kindred sister from Louisiana  advised us to -- adapt, compromise,  have realistic expectations. But there was something about those sweaters, something in my psyche that insisted it was what one should wear, how one should prepare, what expectation, nee- advent- should look like. 

Within the book, Winter Garden, there are just such moments displayed in what seems to be senility, but the one challenged by change and true tragedy is remembering how to  cope and how to survive.  Her actions seem as crazy as wearing a wool sweater in 70 degree weather. She packs food in her overnight bag instead of clothes for the trip.  Her daughter finds packs of butter in her coat pockets. She's always concerned about the cold. And always concerned about food.  

This is my favorite period of history because so many faced what appear to be insurmountable odds. They are faced with starvation, exposure to the elements, and corruption in powerful places. They seldom know who they can trust, and they often suffer some loss that leaves them changed forever. I walk away wondering how would I survive,  measuring up my coping skills. Introspectively, considering my odds. 

Our collective challenges may not seem to look as dire as this on the outside, although 2020 has brought its 'A Game' to the table. But if you were to ask the average person today if they could relate to characters like these in the books, I'd bet they could easily blow your hair back. Those times do come, when something we hoped for doesn't happen, or happen the way we thought it should. That is life. Living fully, engaging with humanity. It would seem 2020  is the year so many find themselves, myself included, moving the bar back, moving the mark lower, when it comes to hopes and dreams. But the surprise has been to feel resilient-- and still feel off balance. 

A couple of years ago, a friend reminded me of good advice. She participates in the trapeze classes here locally- yes, she is boldly 60 years old and exercises with trapeze. But she reminded me as my world was spinning out of control-- 'Find a place on the wall and look for it every time-- find your point of focus.' She was right. Even when the hope is deferred, when they keep moving the goal post, finding that one thing and focusing is the way to survive. 

My reaction to reading this book at the half way point is two-fold. After one of the most tragic moments of revelation, the mother responds to her children when they ask what they should do? How they will go on? Her response is the epic. Live. Adapt, compromise,  have realistic expectations. This is where God feels our pleasure and delight in His creation. Live. Hope boldly with dreams and beliefs in what God has given to us- the blessings. 

Secondly, and most importantly, rely and depend upon the most miraculous Provider. When nothing seems possible, we are brought to our proverbial knees. It is then that the cosmic Christ is revealed from cradle to grave, the Father 'that sees' is beheld, and we are able to not 'lay aside the cares of this world' but handle them with a strength that comes from a supernatural and miraculous point of focus - God the Trinity. All of our messiness is doable, nothing cannot be handled by the One who began his mortal life in a manger found  in a dirty stable. And there is no wound or loss our God cannot heal with the never changing Hope He has set in our hearts- if only we will embrace it. 

Nativity from Jerusalem ~ Gift from Dad, 1996

Peaches, Blueberries, and False Indigo ~ May 2021

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