The Music of Family

068E7848-EFD1-44CD-94E5-EDB43AD57577I have come to believe that family is music, sometimes loud music, sometimes music almost inaudible. But it is music that I deeply cherish. So few things in life really matter. Family is one thing that does matter. It’s all about relationship and rootedness.

This week we lost First Lady Barbara Bush who lived a long and meaningful life for 92 years. During her lifetime, Barbara Bush — called “the enforcer” by her family —was famous for speaking her mind. One thing that was most dear to her was her love for family. This she reveals in her own words:

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent. When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends.

In our retirement, my husband Fred and I somehow managed to move ten hours away from our son and grandchildren. I’m not sure exactly how we made such a decision, but we certainly live each day with the reality of it. We have missed the delight of watching our three-year-old grandson grow up. We deeply miss the sweet moments we used to spend with our granddaughter who is now almost nine. We hardly know our grandson by marriage. And we hold tightly to the memories we made spending childhood days with our oldest grandson who is now in college.

We can’t call those moments back. We can’t relive the days when our grandchildren were babies and toddlers. But we will have the memories always.

This weekend, our entire family visited us, with the exception of the oldest grandson. We had a grand time celebrating our three-year-old’s birthday, complete with streamers, balloons and a Spiderman cake. The laughter was infectious. The excitement was palpable. Our small house was full and loud, very loud! The popping of balloons was a highlight for the boys, and quite NOISY for those of us who are older. But all of it was the big, boisterous music of family, a celebration to be remembered.

All too soon, the visit ended, and Fred and I watched the car crammed with grandchildren pull out of our driveway and head toward Arkansas. The house was quiet again, so very quiet. The music of our life got much softer when they left, and for a brief moment, I thought about crying a little. But I thought better of it. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The visit had been a very special time of celebration. Our family was happy and healthy. No call for tears.

My choices are: 1) to be terribly sad that my children are far away; or 2) to celebrate their lives and the bond we share, a bond that transcends the miles that separate us.

So my blog advice for this day is to hold on tightly to the music that is family. Listen intently when it’s soft and quiet. Join the celebration when it’s raucous and loud. But always know in the depths of your soul that the melody will dwell in your heart of hearts forever. That’s what the music of family does.

 

 

 

Rootedness

FEB12BA8-9746-4E12-84C7-A6CDCCEC2347

Photo by Jeremy Bishop

I spend a good deal of energy trying to understand myself. I wonder about the places my emotions go, how I got to where I am spiritually, where my deepest convictions came from. Self-assessment is a lifelong process. Saleem Haddad expresses the process with great insight when he writes this in his book, Guapa.

 . . . Digging through my roots to understand the way my branches grew.
(https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14107015.Saleem_Haddad)

These days, I have been digging through my own rootedness, and as I have contemplated my roots, I recalled the deep childhood influence of the two people who literally nurtured my sense of rootedness — my Aunt Koula and Yiayia, my grandmother. It is clear to me that I was rooted in the devotion of these two strong women.

From my dear Aunt Koula, I received the kind of lavish love that is most surely a part of a Greek aunt’s DNA. And from my attentive (sometimes intrusive) Greek grandmother, fierce protection. One can thrive on lavish love and fierce protection, and I did thrive.

But my teen years brought change. I was no longer near my aunt, my grandmother, or even my mother. Instead, I lived with a harsh and abusive father, a broken man held together with alcohol and the sexual abuse of his only daughter. So I was a troubled teenager, adrift for a season and feeling that I had lost my rootedness.

But inside me was a persistent resilience. In the midst of abuse, I sent my roots even deeper into the nurturing soil, a soil that still held the nutrients placed there by my aunt and my grandmother. I managed to keep myself rooted. Through the pain of abuse, I became stronger as my roots pushed deeper into the earth beneath me. I found the Divine Source that made sure I would be rooted and grounded in love.

I was always a religious child with meaningful ties to my Greek Orthodox faith. But as an eighteen year old, I discovered an even stronger foundation of faith. I found God in a new way, reborn by a fresh faith in Christ.

My roots held me firm. I was stronger than ever before. And at times during those difficult years. I would fall into God’s arms of grace as I repeated the prayer that, through the years, would inspire me more than any prayer in scripture.

. . . I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

— Ephesians 3:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

To all around me, I appeared strong and vibrant during those years of chronic and constant abuse. Like a tree that displays the splendor of its verdant leaves in the sunlight, I displayed my own “leaves,” in spite of the destructive and pain-filled environment that was my life.

Budding. Growing. Greening. Branching out.

Outwardly, I seemed healthy and strong, but the real strength was below the ground, roots and taproots pushing deeper into the soil. What happens there is unseen — below the ground. But that which happens below the ground, unseen, literally fashions the glory of what is seen, above the ground, branches reaching high into the sky toward the heavens, pointing to the God of the ages.

It is miracle, really, a grace gift from the God who longs to plant us firmly and deeply into a holy foundation. And so we can withstand the storms and the winds when they threaten, even gale force winds that move us, but cannot destroy us.

I call it rootedness.

 

Lighthearted Living

IMG_6028

Photo by Tim Ernst. Harvest moonrise, Hawksbill Crag, Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area, Ozark National Forest, Arkansas.

I often think of my Aunt Eirene and wish she was still with us. She was the queen of lighthearted living, in good times and in not-so-good times. She had a beautiful, playful spirit. She was always bejeweled when she dressed for any occasion. She was creative, with many talents from drawing house plans to interior decorating to iconography.

She invited me into her iconography world by urging me to go with her to a week-long iconography workshop on Weeks Bay, a beautiful, serene spot near Fairhope, . Weeks Bay is described with the phrase “where rivers meet the sea.” With its stunning marshes and shorelines, it made a perfect backdrop for a week of rest, creativity and spiritual experiences.

As the sun set each day, we lingered near the river and wondered about the delightful reality that this river’s current actually meets the sea’s tide. Then, after a pleasant community dinner, we enjoyed creating sacred icons in an atmosphere of soft music and quiet conversation that always included talk about how our icons were taking shape, the blending of colors, and the strokes of the brush that had to be precise.

IMG_6030“It’s not looking right” was a frequent comment. And always someone would reply that we were doing very well and that we should prayerfully continue. My aunt would constantly call attention to my icon, making sure that everyone within earshot knew that her niece’s iconography was the most beautiful she had ever seen. The workshop was a creative and spiritual week that enriched my life for years to come. For that, I am grateful to my Aunt Eirene, one of my two fun-loving aunts.

But there is another thing that I remember fondly about Eirene. Music! Thanks to Eirene, I may have been the only toddler in the world that could sing every word of dozens of songs from the early 1900s . . .

Shine on, shine on harvest moon up in the sky;
I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June or July . . .

I’ll spare you the remaining lyrics. But to this day, I sing along to the Pandora tunes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and even the songs of the Ziegfield Follies — every word!

I thought of Eirene just the other night when the gorgeous harvest moon appeared in the night sky. I thought of her gifts to me — music, painting, dancing, and most importantly, lighthearted living. By nature, I’m not particularly lighthearted, so it’s important for me to have lighthearted people in my life for balance.

If you look around, you might find fun-loving people who could add a little laughter and levity to your life. I don’t know about you, but I can use more of that lighthearted living.

Thanks, Eirene. Rest in fun.

Pete and Peter

Enlight123

Impulsive, spunky, fiery, colorful Pete. RIP.

My youngest brother, Pete, was taken from us too early. Cancer ravaged his body, but could never damage his indomitable, spunky spirit. Pete was spirited, colorful and full of life, fiery in one moment, gentle in the next. He was funny. He was fiercely loyal. And he loved lavishly.

I could easily compare Pete to his namesake, the disciple Peter. You know the one, the disciple who kept putting his foot in his mouth, who tried to walk on a lake and began to sink because of a faith too small. He was the disciple who betrayed Jesus three times and in the end, in the very last verse of the 22nd Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verse 62 ends the pain-filled story with these words: “And he went out and wept bitterly.”

You see, in spite of his mistakes, his denials, his impulsive behavior, Disciple Peter loved Jesus deeply. And my baby brother was a bit like this flawed disciple. Pete was often impulsive, volatile, frequently unreasonable, quick-tempered. Yet, he was full of love that opens its arms to protect with extravagant caring.

So for the 29th of June, St. Peter’s Day, I remember the impulsive disciple who, for all his mistakes, learned how to hold on to his better self, to recover from wrong turns in his life, and to make peace with his wavering self. Jesus called this seemingly undisciplined man “the rock.” I suspect Jesus chose that name because he saw that Peter knew how to live again, standing strong against his own demons and ultimately learning that any betrayal, every betrayal, can miraculously be restored by love.

My brother Pete’s life, also filled of rough roads and wrong turns, taught him the same lesson: that love restored him to himself, to his estranged family, to the sister that had been lost to him for years. Love did that. And love is what keeps Pete close, even in death.

Poet Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful piece entitled “A Sonnet for Petertide.”

Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.

Thank you for your life, Disciple Peter. You give us hope that we can overcome our imperfect actions, make it through dusty roads covered with the boulders of our mistakes, and find love at the end.

And as for my baby brother, Pete, I will always remember your ornery ways, your explosive temper, your intense loyalty and your lavish love.

Happy Name Day, sweet little brother. I miss you.

My Healing Days

img_4571

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

– Psalm 139:11-12 NIV

I am drawn to light, to brightness and color. Dark shadows and muted hues can cause melancholy in me. And in those times, I try everything I can do to fill my day with brightness. It is a healing balm in troubling times.

In 2014, I spent most of the year very ill and in the hospital. As I recuperated at home, I found that I had no energy to surround myself with brightness and color. I did not notice it really, until my sister-in-law came to Little Rock for a visit. A seasoned decorator, she began to transform my surroundings in little ways. She and my brother also insisted that we relocate to Macon, Georgia so that we could be near enough for them to help Fred with my care.

They prevailed. We moved. Our belongings arrived at our new place (a place we had never laid eyes on) before we arrived. My family unpacked all our things, set up the house, and my sister-in-law filled the place with flowers, candles, and all kinds of beautiful things. We arrived late at night. When we walked into the house, it was filled with good smells, brightness and color. It looked like a Southern Living decorator house.

In that brightness and color, lovingly created by my family, I began to heal and get stronger. My days became day’s of calm. I was able to take my intense focus off of my illness and instead aim my gaze toward God. There was healing power in that, a transformative power that strengthened my spirit. The words of John Muir provide a lovely description of my healing days.

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless . . . days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.

– John Muir

How grateful I am for the thousand windows open to God. How grateful I am for the love and care of my family, for the light, color and brightness that fills my life. How grateful I am for these healing days.

Happy Forty-Seven

image

If you know me very well, you have heard this quirky and delightful story. If you haven’t heard it, then you are about to hear about the beginning of a forty-seven year marriage. Happy anniversary to my beloved husband!

This is the story of an impetuous 19-year old girl and her proposal of marriage. It was on the campus of the University of Alabama that this unlikely love bloomed. Fred and I knew one another casually, but our friends never pictured us as a couple. We were just too different.

On a bet with his friends, Fred asked me to go out on a date, Homecoming weekend, 1968. It was a concert on campus featuring Andy Williams and Roger Miller. Much to the surprise of my roommate and my dorm friends, I accepted. They waited in my dorm room anxiously for me to return from the evening. When I got there, I told them that I was going to marry Fred.

They literally rolled in the floor in laughter. But two days later, I said these words to him while we walked on the beautiful Alabama campus. “God told me that we are going to get married.”

His reply was that God had not told him any such thing. As always, God knew best, and we have had a marriage filled with forty-seven years of happiness.

The moral of this story? God even speaks to silly 19-year old college girls! Happy Forty-seventh anniversary to us!

Tea at Midnight

image

Small blessings are the best! It was 12 midnight and we were tucked in our bed watching “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” I had been coughing and, in fact, had taken a dose of my asthma inhaler.

Then Fred mentioned a cup of hot tea. It was just what I needed, Mandarin Orange Tea at midnight, made by a caring husband. Who could ask for a nicer blessing? The tea calmed my soul, and my cough.

I am grateful for a cup of hot tea, for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, for a nice, warm bed — all small blessings!

Oh, and I’m grateful most of all for an enormous blessing — a husband who will make tea at midnight.

Our Huge Bread Bowl

image

For as long as I can remember, there was a huge pottery bowl in our kitchen. I call it my grandmother’s bowl, although I don’t really know that the bowl had an actual owner. I can’t remember when it appeared or if anyone purchased it. It was just always there. The bowl had a singular purpose, mixing and kneading big loaves of sweet bread, Vasilopita, and Greek cookies called koulourakia.

In my mind, bread simply could not be made without that smooth, shiny pottery bowl. It was very heavy, so kneading the dough was no problem. When the dough was ready, smooth and elastic, my grandmother would use a big knife to cut a cross in the top. Now the dough was ready to rest in a warm place for two or three hours and magically rise. Those hours seemed endless to us, and we must have asked dozens of times, “Is it ready yet?”

The dough always did what it was supposed to do in that bowl. It was covered with towels and we always watched the towels rise far above the bowl’s rim, telling us that delicious New Year’s Bread, called Vasilopita, was not far away.

Our bowl always promised an adventure in our family. It made a home out of a house. The dough inside it held many handprints because everyone helped with the kneading and shaping — my grandmother’s strong, skilled hands and our tiny hands, barely able to make the smallest dent.

Each year, the bowl was used by either my grandmother or my Aunt Koula. The baker might have changed, but the bowl and the bread was always the same. And the family experience of baking the bread never changed.

Through some act of pure blessing, the huge bread bowl is now a part of my home. It sits on a shelf waiting for New Year’s Eve when the bread-making begins. Our bowl is a family treasure, an ordinary object filled with warm, sweet memories of years gone by.

This blog post is dedicated to my brother, Andrew, and my cousin, Tasia, who love the bowl as much as I do.

Simple Pleasures

image

Today will be a quiet day, a day to recuperate from our 12 hour trip from Little Rock. We had rain, stormy rain, and traffic delays at every turn. The trip was exhausting. But we spent an exhilarating week with family, good friends, and our three grandchildren.

We were so tired we slept late this morning, our bodies moving toward normal through extra rest. Our emotional and spiritual selves will need their own special kind of re-creation. That part of us took a hit because we had to say goodbye to our grandchildren and our son. So today we will spend a day close to home.

We need rest and peace. We need the simple pleasures of home.

After all, I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.  ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

The Coming of the Dawn

image

It’s a brand new morning filled with possibility. It’s also the day we leave our Little Rock home to go back home to Macon. So there is emotion involved, bittersweet feelings that remind me that we are once again leaving behind our son, our grandchildren, and a host of lifelong friends. We cannot straddle two states very well. We cannot cure the sadness of distance with FaceTime or Skype. This situation simply is what it is, and we will have to navigate the emotions of having family far from us.

I have no doubt that when night falls on us tonight in Georgia, we will feel at home and content. We will nurse a little sadness, yes. We will work with melancholy feelings for a while. But we will be in our home, our safe place and our place of rest and peace. I will be glad to see my garden and marvel at how it has grown in a week. I will be very glad for my own bed. Night will find me in my place.

Once again, Bishop Steven Charleston describes my emotions in his eloquent writing.

“It is quiet now. All the cares of this long day are drifting away. There is peace in the house, and in the garden, and over the fence into the wide world beyond, a peace that passes beneath the trees and through the fences, circling the moon in a spiral of silver light, following the night air, going into places where lonely hearts hide, searching for the wounded among us, comforting the dreams of the innocent. It is quiet now, for the love of God walks this night, as every night, gently seeking, seeking those who need love the most, as they wait, wait for the coming of the dawn.”

Missing my grandchildren, I will “need love the most.” But I know that the words are real and true: “. . . the love of God walks this night, as every night, gently seeking, seeking those who need love the most, as they wait, wait for the coming of the dawn.”