Making It All the Way Home

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“Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.”

~ St. Teresa of Avila

With aging, I have experienced an emotional and spiritual “returning home.” The years have brought a sense of well-being in some very real ways. It happens to us all, I think, as we follow the usual life paths of grief, loss, fear, hopelessness, and yes, joy. The difficult paths are the important ones, in fact. Each assault, each time of suffering, makes us seek who we really are inside.

In a conversation last night, I made this comment:

The passing years are taking some of my intensity away. I now see my younger self as a very different person than who I am today, looking back on the years in which I was driven to save the world. But I’m happy that the frenetic drive has lessened for me over the years. If I had not settled down, I think I would have died. And the kidney disease year had a profound impact on the person I used to be. I miss myself sometimes, but mostly I’m very grateful to have relaxed.

The beginning of a brand new year brings a pensive season for me, a time when I want to know myself, my real self. My self-assessment, then and now, reveals how I eventually made it through life’s chaos to the serene present. So I am happy that I made it all the way home to this place, this still and holy place that nurtures my life.

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Our Huge Bread Bowl

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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.

Out of Africa

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Sunset over the Nile River in Uganda

One never comes out of Africa. It is said that once you have been to Africa, you will never come all the way back. I can identify with that statement. Coming back from living in Africa was one of the most difficult times of life for us. It was a magical place to live, filled with wonderfully friendly people, acres of lush banana groves, rolling hills spotted with growing things, verdant tropical rain forests and mountains capped with snow.

On the plains of Africa we saw elegant giraffes, gazelles, zebras, elephants and cape buffalo meandering through swaying grasses that move with the breeze. The hippos splashed in the water only an arms reach from our boat. The Ugandan kob ran gracefully across the vast expanse. The great Rift Valley invited a sense of awe with cliffs several thousand feet high.

It was an experience to remember always. But even more significant than the natural beauty of Africa was the experience that we shared with the people of Uganda. Stripped from all of life’s comforts by the brutal reign of Idi Amin, the people were so eager to move into a better life. We joined them right after Idi Amin was deposed. It was a time of digging water wells, taking seeds, fertilizer and gardening tools into villages, offering blankets, medicines, protein supplements, sewing supplies, books and other educational materials, sports equipment and Bibles. It was a time for grieving their losses, healing, and rebuilding their lives. Sharing that time with them made it seem unfathomable to leave.

But we did, and we returned to America with a huge piece of Africa in our hearts, where it remains after more than thirty-five years. It is really true: once you’ve lived in Africa, you’ll never come all the way back.

Simple Pleasures

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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

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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.”

Home of My Heart

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I’m on the road today! And I’m celebrating going back home to Little Rock to see friends, church family, and my child and grandchildren. I haven’t seen them in over a year. I have not seen my youngest grandson at all. He turns one today, so if all goes well on the journey, I’ll see him on his birthday.

Home is now far away for me, ten hours by car. My new home is nice enough, and we have made a “sort-of” home here. But Little Rock is the home of my heart, a place that was difficult to leave behind.

I can not help but think of Naomi’s story of leaving home in the first chapter of the book of Ruth.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

It must have been traumatic to leave home for her, and when her husband and sons died, she must have languished terribly. The story goes on to tell us that Naomi survived and built a new home.

That’s what we do. We build home wherever we go. We put our heart into every new place, and eventually the heart makes it home. I will do that in Macon. I have already made some progress. I have a dear and loving family here, and we so enjoy one another. But for today, I am celebrating going back home! To the place of my heart! To the people of my heart!