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.

Β . . . Digging through my roots to understand the way my branches grew.

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 β€” 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 beΒ 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,Β and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

β€” 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 β€œleaves,” in spite of the destructive and pain-filled environment that was my life.

Budding. Growing.Β Greening.Β 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 β€” below the ground. But that which happens below the ground,Β unseen,Β literally fashions the glory of what is seen, above the ground,Β 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


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 β€œwhere 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_6030β€œIt’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 β€” 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 β€” 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.Β I don’t know about you, but I can use more of that lighthearted living.

Thanks, Eirene. Rest in fun.

Pete and Peter


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: β€œAnd 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 β€œthe 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 β€œA 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.

Simple Joys


Life is full of joys! Little joys and big ones! Complex joys and simple joys! Last night, I watched three of my grandchildren play on the floor . . . tickling, rolling, scooting, laughing, throwing a mini basketball. The experience was a simple joy.

I lifted a Bible verse gently out of context this morning because it expresses the kind of joy I enjoyed yesterday with my grandchildren. No doubt about it, they “refreshed my heart.”

“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” Β Philemon 1:7

Life has its way of burdening our hearts with all sorts of “bad news.” Reading a newspaper or reading the world news online each day confirms it. So we need brief times of heart refreshing, the time to engage in simple joys that nurture our souls.

I can definitely give you an example of a simple joy this morning: surprising my granddaughter by waiting for her to get off her school bus and watching her reaction when she saw me. I had not seen her in over a year, so when she spotted me down the block from her bus stop, she shouted my name, broke into a run, and landed in my arms.

What a simple joy that was, and a profound one, all at once! I pray tha your world today will be full of simple joys.