Friday, September 10, 2021

Grace, Platitudes and Mrs. Dubose ~ August 2021

  When a Christian faces an obstacle, there is an immediate default to rely on  Scripture, especially passages that feed the virtues of a man's soul. In like manner, we lean in and rely on the experience of those who have passed through similar valley's, whether they are in our real life circle or from the past such as a well known figure from the Bible. It's even more interesting when the passage comes from a seemingly inconsequential person's circumstance or story, the person on the margins and periphery of life.

If Flannery O'Connor is culturally a 'great Aunt',  in my mind, Harper Lee is like a 'second cousin.' Like millions of individuals who have read her great work, To Kill A Mockingbird, I am deeply moved by the story, the plot, the characters, and not least of all, the implications for my life.  Books and the stories told within are not always necessarily intended to teach us something. A writer may have done that from the outset, say for instance Harriet Beecher Stowe who indicates upfront, within her Preface, she wishes to impact the reader's mind regarding the the plight of the slave in her great work, Uncle Tom's Cabin. She states she wishes to 'awaken sympathy and feeling,' within the reader for the enslaved African  in America. Thusly, she wishes to educate the reader. 

But differently,  Harper Lee, known by her closest friends and family as 'Nelle', does not express such in a preface or any interview about her book to my knowledge. She, in essence, delivered a beloved child and much like Hannah,  presented it to the temple of all readers and offered it for the life it would have, separate from its early origins, to become what it would without input from her at all.  She did not revisit the book in multiple interviews with reporters and in fact lived a quiet, secluded life between Monroeville, Alabama, and her New York apartment. The 'lesson' if one must be made, is the realness of TKAMB (To Kill A Mockingbird) and is the reader's to appreciate if they only will look closely at the characters. For I can assure you, while some are a composite, based upon friends and family, some most certainly represent ideals, I believe, Lee was herself wrestling with herself along with the rest of the United States of America when she published the book. 

With this in mind, I suggest Mrs. Henry Layfayette Dubose. She is a hold-over from the seemingly distant Civil War,  even when this book was published, 1960, and the time when it is set, not long after Franklin D  Roosevelt's inaugural speech in 1933. There are still Confederate Veterans and Widows living among those who populate this small fictitious and true to life southern home town. Think about that for a moment. Mrs. Dubose appears  is  a widow, her health in great decline and her only companion is a young black girl who cares for her day and night. Her house serves as the boundary for Scout and Jem, two doors to the north of their own home, and the other is the Radley residence, three doors to the south. With one boundary of 'unknown entities' and mystery and the other of bitterness and  defeat, Scout, the reader's narrator, describes Mrs. Dubose as 'plain hell.' Yet, they see their own good father treat Mrs. Dubose with the utmost kindness and she in turn speaks with reciprocal courtesy to him. She is humanized, personalized, appreciated.  I have  not sorted out for myself how much Atticus Finch, their widowed attorney father, knew about how she spoke to them, her incessant antagonizing . But, it is a point of interest to note what Mrs. Dubose seems to pinpoint as their transgressions.  It is the loss of what their mother could have influenced,  Scout's manner of dress, her casual manner of speech, and the implied inability of their father to care for them in her absence. Her attacks were based in loss and what might have been. She herself lives in a state of  loss and bitter loneliness. It is rumored she carries under her lap blanket a Confederate pistol, perhaps more of a talisman than a weapon, a reminder of the sense of security and justice she once knew.

It is said if we knew the depth of our enemy's sorrows, we would no longer be enemies.   While in the south many would disinguinely say about Mrs. Dubose, 'bless her heart,' genuine grace and kindness are what Atticus offers. He knows more. He is an adult, and as we find out, a keeper of  private details about Mrs. Dubose and her affairs.  As a lawyer, he has helped her in her most intimate matters about her estate. He knew she was soon to pass from this life and she wished to go unencumbered by the  addiction to pain killing morphine. Jem's reading and the company they were required to give to Mrs. Dubose was much more than an act of penance for his tearing up her garden in response to her most  critical comments. 

 I  only noticed Mrs. Dubose in recent year's reading of TKAMB. She was such an inconsequential person compared to the blazing story created by Mayella and Tom Robinson. But yet, she tells a most tender element about what Atticus taught his children, about how to  treat people, even those who might speak ill of you or even those you love. Jem in his immaturity can't see why Atticus is so generous  in his kindness. But we like Jem can see that Atticus gave any way, and instructed those in his tutiledge to do so as well. 

I am reminded of a familiar passage  attributed to Mother Teresa called, 'Anyway.'  Atticus guides us to not live in ignorance but be kind and true, anyway. A modern phrase the christian will often repeat, 'Even if.' Even if the the obstacle, the storm, the trial, the sickness, the loss, - we are called to press forward in refinement, just as the Silversmith refines us to better see His own image in us. 

To Ada Monroe and her father, Inman, from the story  'Cold Mountain,' says, 'I believe God is weary of being called down on both sides of this war.' Perhaps He is tired of our fighting, but I believe He is more weary of us looking everywhere but to Him. I believe Mrs. Dubose wanted to hear her name called clearly when the Lord called her home. She wanted to be seen and known and endured the pain of withdrawal to experience God's presence more fully. She might not have put it that way, but I remember a contemporary in culture of her once doing something just so similar. My Nana returned to her name of birth,   Vaden, before she passed. She had simply called her self Elizabeth as she didn't like her legal given name. She wanted no dishonesty before she left this physical world. 

Finishing well. Letting go of the petty and small and seeing our neighbor in all their faults and flaws and loving them, just as they see our weaknesses and desperate need- not of a cheap platitude but of costly grace. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Flannery O'Connor, Elisabeth Elliot ~ Thoughts on Mercy ~ August 2021

 It's not summer without revisiting a bit of Flannery O'Connor. Last night, we did a bit of listening to, 'Revelation,' from the collection bearing the title,  Everything that Rises Must  Converge.  I  was spurred on to this by sharing with Eric some thoughts from Jonathon Rogers book, The Terrible Speed of Mercy. A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor.  JR (Jonathon Rogers) is a wonderful writer, thought provoking teacher of grammar of language and writing, as well as story teller and published author of fiction, and podcaster at  The Habit  part of the The Rabbit Room Network.  

The passage to follow comes from Chapter 8, 'A Good Man is Hard to Find: 1954-1955.' from JR's book The Terrible Speed of Mercy.  Her reaction to reviews on her stories is the subject and consequently a consideration of why and how she could write about such disturbing subject matters. 

'The Kenyon Review, which had first published several of the stories included in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find,'  ran a review that described the book as "profane, blasphemous, and  outrageous," though the reviewer didn't seem to think that was necessarily a bad thing. "Miss O'Connor is consistent in her condemnation," the reviewer wrote."...

 "The notice in the Kenyan Review wasn't, in fact, a negative review. But, in O'Connor's mind, it was one of many that utterly missed the point of what she was trying to do in her stories.  'I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic,' she wrote. 

             "'The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.

I recommend the audio book. The narrators are excellent. 

" For O'Connor, the real horror was never violence or deformity, but damnation. Horror that awakens a soul to its own danger and prepares it to receive grace is no horror, but a mercy. 'The devil,' she wrote, 'accomplishes a good deal of groundwork that seems to be necessary before grace is effective. '" 

For me, Flannery O'Connor is a bit like a Great Aunt one visits periodically. You leave with a greater understanding of your roots, especially if you were raised in the south. It's not easy reading or easy listening. But as JR reminds us, Flannery didn't used non-PC language to offend but awaken the reader to a truer story being told. She would however, correct this niece of southern heritage that the story was not written for propaganda. She wrote the real stories so they would bear out the truth, and not a contrived version of who the characters were or should be.  JR summarizes so well her thoughts on this,  "The duty of the fiction writer -- the Christian writer no less than any other writer --is to look clearly and fearlessly at what is-- not what ought to be-- and to use those concrete facts as the raw material for fiction. Ironically, it is only when the fiction writer obeys the laws of his or her art, rather than resorting to propaganda, that the sense of the Transcendent has a chance to exert itself." O'Connor called it, 'grounding it in concrete, observable reality.' 

Elisabeth Elliot had something to say on this matter. While some may not see the characters in O'Connor's books  worthy of mercy, that they got what was coming to them, I believe we miss yet another point. To observe sin, pain, horror, discord with creation, one who perpetuates grief or tragedy, on themselves or another, has learned this somewhere. They are likely the recipient of that which would drive this to action. As Karen Swallow Prior remarks in her fine book, On Reading Well,   ' we are all Mrs. Turpin,' at times in our lives. No one escapes with out sin.  And no one escapes the consequences of sin. Elisabeth Elliot addresses one of the consequences of sin- pain- very eloquently.  'I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God. ' While we would not wish pain, sin, brokenness   or horror upon anyone, it is up to us to see things the way they are,  what we have done with God's creation, and appreciate the depth of God's mercy and grace. 


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Science and The Pieta ~ July 2021

'Science is real,' say the signs on the roadside  these days. And the longer I live, the more I believe it is so. Sitting with a table of Ladies' Homesteaders in Athens the other night, my friend Debbie and I expressed our fear of teaching Chemistry to a Master Gardner before her guest presentation. After she had begun,  I realized how ridiculous we must have sounded, as she schooled us in  biomes, nitrogen, ph levels, microbes and nematodes. My Google button was worn out after that evening of true enlightenment. I 'm much more comfortable in the verbal nuances of a literature book or art appreciation. There are reasons I never completed some of the more applicable career possibilities of my degree- Interior Design, Pattern and Dressmaking - numbers on a ruler stump me. Yet they, like the composition of the soil I so regularly dig up and often ineffectively utilize, are the most beautiful and profound witness to the Master Gardner who designed it all from the very beginning. 

It is written - and I believe - that Christ was full participant of the Creation. 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 
Colossians 1:15-17

 A glimpse. We are given glimpses of the magnificence of the Creation. Our portion may be full of joy, exhilaration or it may be full of seemingly insurmountable trials, one right after the other. Most people experience seasons of both, layered with drought and deluge. But for some, the drought seems endless, filled with moments of disbelief.  How, and why, and please, Lord, no more. 
I was gifted this 'Pieta,' statuette. The original stands in St. Peter's Basillica, in Rome. Like others, I can't get past the profundity of loss in this glimpse of history. The original now stands behind bulletproof glass. So many historic and ancient artifacts and artistic endeavors represent the soul of man, the deepest longings and challenge the one who would destroy it. But unlike the temporal nature of the statue, the cosmic nature of the Moment this particular piece represents cannot be destroyed. But it is up to the individual to remember and embrace what is really going on. 
I've never 'born' a child from my body, but I am a mother. Of course I identify with Mary, who 'held these things in her heart.' Her holding all the hope and promise of the world in her arms, having no way to fully understand her small part in a larger plan, in THE Greater Plan. 
It is said, 'We plant trees, in whose shade we will never sit.'  Reflecting on Mary, and upon champions of faith through struggle,  I am  instructed how little I understand and must endeavor like they, to finish well. For even in this moment of loss, the Creator of the Universe  understood loss.  Shamed and despised. Misunderstood. Loved by a young mother, the simplest of participants in this cosmic moment of grief. 
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
Isaiah 53:4

As this young mother grieved what she could not understand fully, I look at her along side those I watch struggle with loss and grief of losing a child. The daily magnitude of grief in cacophony with the design and  resilience of the uniquely female body and soul is testimony to the fall.   The demonstration of God's gift of his only begotten  Son is testimony to His understanding the need for the remedy.  I believe He gave us Mary to personify just this moment, whether in our own lives the child was lost at birth, later in life, or who still walks among the living. It is for us to see the grittiness of His birth, His humanity, His breaking away from His mother to fulfill His destiny. And for her part,  ladened with the physical and emotional weight that only a mother can feel. 
In this modern world of Science turned on its ear, I reverently and unashamedly embrace this moment in history. This divine moment where the intimate nature  and essence of woman is presented fully exposed. The fragile yet indomitable woman, in her most broken and vulnerable state, holding her Child, flesh of her flesh,  the Cosmic Christ, created yet Creator. For this image, I am thankful. I am thankful to the One who has carried our griefs and holds all the hopes of tomorrow and the unseen fruition of the broken mother's heart. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Growth Mindset and The Secret Garden ~ June 2021

 Never would I have put these two books together, but I am a late-comer to both the appreciation of The Secret Garden  by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the concept of 'growth mindset.' I'm sure there are books bearing this exact title out there, but for me, Switch on Your Brain ,The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health,  by Dr. Caroline Leaf is a most approachable  book incorporating Biblical  references that support the concept of 'growth mindset,' and how our body and brain work together.

It occurred to me the approach we take to our circumstances makes all the difference - whether we see things negatively or choose to see the options and opportunity. Usually these are a part of change, something unfamiliar and from the chorus of voices in your head  you'll hear someone either  say, 'It'll never work,' OR 'DO IT SCARED.' 
You'll hear someone either  say,
 'It'll never work,' OR 'DO IT SCARED.' 

 I love how a book  that's been in your view for a few months will pipe up and talk to you, as if it's saying, 'Do you remember how cheerful Dickon was? Do you remember how ill Colin was? Do you remember how excited Mary was to run free with Dickon, while Colin was trapped inside with the curtains drawn closed?' 
Well, I ran across that passage- Mary is a determined child, not willing to live indoors when there is a wild secret garden to be explored. Dickon, who is now a voice in her head, lives free and emboldened by his happy upbringing. At one point Mary thinks this clearly, that she wishes to go to Dickon, while she doesn't wish to visit Colin. Colin's mindset is darkened by his physical plight that has been exacerbated by his father's grief. Dickon and Mary literally must convince him to take his health into his own hands, and with it follows a new mindset of joy. 

'I wonder if it would not do him good to go out into a garden and watch things growing. It did me good.' 

Science about the  brain demonstrates how when we take our thoughts captive, we can guide our thoughts, retrain the brain. It  can be hard to step up out of the well worn path that we've stayed in so long, but that's where the habit training comes in handy. Developing habits that support a healthy lifestyle- mentally, physically, and spiritually- has  been proven to give the boost needed to make significant desired changes. 
I've got to finish The Secret Garden  to find out what happens to Colin. He has been confined to his room and bed because of a bad back and associated illnesses. I think I remember accurately what happens to Colin, and that he makes a wonder-filled transformation. But, I'm keenly aware that  every story doesn't have a 'happy ending.' Every wounding relationship is not healed, every loss is not reconciled just because we develop a good exercise regime or eat more veggies. That's why habits must include our mental, physical and spiritual health. If I believe ( and I do) that my body and soul belong to the Creator and are intended for His glory, then it is up to me to explore trending terms like growth mindset and  positive habits if it can push me to crowd out old ways of thinking and old habits that do not serve healthy living. 

This is important  to remember tho- No one can make you do this . This is a job for each person to decide for themselves. And the longer we feed the unhealthy thought or action that make up our  habits, the longer it will take to effectively 'crowd out,' or fill with good things. The deeper the rut of travel in the same path, the harder it is to get out of that rut. I'd rather  'Do It Scared,' than listen to the doubter.  Every day is a new day, a gift. Set backs when I falter, are just a set-up for a come-back. Time for me to get moving. 
5, 4, 3, 2, 1.... no time like the present. 

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 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

Grace, Platitudes and Mrs. Dubose ~ August 2021

   When a Christian faces an obstacle, there is an immediate default to rely on  Scripture, especially passages that feed the virtues of a m...