Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sixth Day, Pissarro

We went to see the Pissarro exhibit at the Brooks Museum. Though I didn't think the exhibit was displayed very well, the paintings were wonderful, and learning more about the artist adds so much. As always, I leave wanting to take painting lessons! Someday....

This was one of my favorites. The House in the Woods. The other, the Farm on the Grounds of the Chateau de Marly, seems not to be anywhere on the Internet; or perhaps it goes by a different name. But I did find this, a quote from Cezanne: “We learned everything we do from Pissarro. … It’s he who was really the first Impressionist…He had the good luck to be born in the Antilles where he taught himself to paint without a teacher.”

So perhaps I should just start painting, without lessons? But that would still require a space to paint, which is also a problem at the moment. Anyway, it was a lovely afternoon. And this house in the woods most certainly has six geese a-laying somewhere about, don't you think?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Five Golden Rings

. . . Plus one—and the other one hidden underneath!

There is something to that color wheel we learned in elementary art class. Could this fruit look any better in a bowl of another color? I don't think so. I'm a little sad to keep eating these things, but I suppose keeping them indefinitely as a still life would ultimately result in a much less pretty arrangement.

Friday, December 28, 2007

For Calling Birds

(Nota bene: these are not my photos....)
Today I drove back from a visit in Arkansas. While there I visited friends and heard from each a story of struggle, of pain, of things gone wrong. I can’t say that it weighed me down, but it made me more aware than usual of the truth that we rarely know what is really going on in the lives of people around us, and that life is hard.

As I drove home, I was listening to a CD of Celtic Christmas music. It was the first time I had heard all the verses to “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” And I heard all the words, and it was beautiful, and I was thinking about angels and finding hope in a hard world. Verse three especially stayed on my mind.

And then, just as the sun was setting, I was giving up on seeing any Canadian geese, as I had (I thought) passed all the watery areas. But to my left I thought I saw some fluttering. I looked more closely, and there were geese out in the field. It was a field of stubble, with water between the rows of golden stalky rice remains, so they were hard to see.

I kept looking (as best one can while driving) and realized that there were lots of geese out there. I was going too fast to stop, but I pulled over at the first place I could find, turned around, and went back to a side road where I could pull off the main road and park.

I got out of the car and watched in wonder as hundreds and hundreds of geese fluttered about in the field, and hundreds and hundreds more came in to land. V-formation after V-formation approached in the sky, and they circled and slowly joined those in the field. A host of geese, ascending and descending upon this field of mud in the middle of nowhere.

And the sound! I had never heard anything like it. Honking, squawking, whatever you want to call it. It all combined to create such a sound that at first I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. I wasn’t even that close to them, and it filled the air and filled my ears and filled my mind with amazement. Like trumpets, but they were voices. They were calling, singing the song that, I suppose, brought them all together to a safe place, helped them sort themselves out.

And the sun set, and the geese decorated the golden-pink and gray sky with their outstretched wings, and car after car drove by, and people didn’t even notice.

As darkness came, I finally got back in my car, turned the music back on, and drove on.

And I wondered how many times we go down the road and don't even hear the angels sing.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heaven’s all-gracious King!”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The third week of Advent....I didn't write that after the Service of Lessons and Carols, my throat felt like fire. I lost my voice completely and was home sick most of the week. Poor timing for shopping, decorating, and sending Christmas cards. I didn't feel up to driving to get stamps, even, until near the end of the week. But it was a good time for resting and reading, and I was just so glad it had held off until after the singing.
Here is a clearer view of the tiny little wreath that I like so much. We had a larger wreath, but last year we left it unattended for just a few minutes, and it suffered damage in the fire that consumed the greenery and part of our tablecloth. Quite a Christmas morning celebration!

Back to the recent present: I did get better, and then Drazen came down with a cold. He was a trooper, though. I don't know if it was love of family, concern for me, or looking forward to the food (or all three)--but he chose to make the drive to Searcy for dinner with some of my family on Christmas Eve.

On the way there we saw thousands of Candian geese, sitting quietly on the flooded fields of Arkansas between Fair Oaks and Augusta. How does the sight of migrating Canadian geese bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat? I am not quite sure, but it did, and I thought that might be my favorite Christmas present for the year.

But then there was the full moon. My dad and I had gone for a walk around the Harding campus, to see the Christmas lights. Which were lovely and even in a way enchanting. But then that moon, just over the horizon, still goldish from whatever it is that makes it that way, and huge, huge, and so beautifully round and quiet. That was entrancing. I wish I'd had a camera with me. The memory will have to suffice. We drove home that night under that glorious moon.
After a too-short nap (Drazen went on to bed), I went with a friend to an Orthodox nativity service. An experience I won't forget. This friend didn't tell me until we were on the way there, that they stand for the entire hour and a half, except for about five minutes of the service! I actually appreciate the reverence it implies, but my foot is still hurting from the long time spent in shoes that weren't meant for such an experience.

Christmas Day, we were both exhausted. Drazen from his cold, I from being up late and recovering from my own bout of illness; and both from the interrupted sleep that comes with one or more people blowing their nose throughout the night. I woke up with not a host of heavenly angels singing, but a host of depressing thoughts. I feel awful, I'm exhausted, this day is going to be impossible. Why did we invite someone over for dinner? How am I going to get it done? What if Drazen doesn't like the gift I got for him? etc.

But we got up, I put cinnamon rolls in the oven and coffee on the stove. And Drazen found the channel 3 airing of our Lessons and Carols service, which infused my spirit with joy and refocused me on heavenly hosts, and shortly I was smiling and laughing again. We opened presents, tried our new coffee, enjoyed the morning.

By afternoon, it was a different matter. I was tired. I took a nap while Drazen spent two hours on skype with a long-winded friend in Croatia. I woke from the nap feeling tired, sad, lonely. Wishing for things that I always thought would be a part of Christmas and are not, and may never be. Doing the crazy comparing thing, which always means comparing ourselves to those who have the things we wish we had, rather than comparing ourselves to those who do not even have what we have. I missed Grandmother, and extended family being together, and children being a part of the picture.

Just in time, Drazen got off the phone and we went for a walk. Which clears the mind and invigorates the body, and gave me the energy and good will I needed to come home and do the cooking and cleaning before our guest arrived.

Justin came over. And we celebrated Christmas together, with scripture and prayer and food and life-sharing and dog-petting and laughter. At one point Justin and I somehow got into a laugh that wouldn't end, and we both wound up in pain from it! It gave new meaning to "side-splitting" laughter.

Later, Drazen and I watched the movie First Knight, a gift from my sister's family. By the end of it I was again exhausted, with a headache starting, and having those thoughts again. Why did I want to stay up late watching a movie? Now I won’t be able to sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be awful. Etc.

I had seen the movie before, but this time was struck by a line I didn't remember from before. It seemed appropriate to the day. Guinevere, trying to explain herself and her love to Arthur, says something like, “Feelings come and go like the wind. But my will is what sustains me, what keeps me true to my course, and it is with my will that I love you.”

Christmas Day my feelings came and went like the wind! But the day wasn’t about my feelings, and at the end of the day, body and mind and soul sat at the table with the wreath and the candles and thought once more about Light coming into the world and how blessed we are to have something more hopeful and sustaining that our own feelings and even our own thoughts.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the Light is real, and full of Grace and Truth. Even when I'm not.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

And we have the prophetic word made more sure.
You will do well to pay attention to this
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns
and the morning star rises
in your hearts.

-from recent Advent readings in Isaiah and II Peter

This is the view from the window above my prayer desk. I have the bottom covered with (sigh of embarrassment) tissue paper, which was a quick fix when we moved in some years ago and did not yet have curtains. You can’t tell from this photo, but it actually looks nice, lets light through but blocks my view of the neighbors backyard, so I haven’t changed it all these years.

But the top of the window is best. Here I see the leaves come out green, turn colors, and fall. Here I see the birds flutter about, the squirrels run through the trees. And just Tuesday (the day I took the photos) saw a hawk soar up from a branch, just as I looked up.

On Tuesday the light struck me. It was cloudy much of time I was sitting there, and then suddenly came the light, and here it is. Light in darkness. Much like prayer, sometimes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Second Week of Advent (and a Half)

The little advent wreath is so sweet I took pictures of it last week, but obviously haven’t written anything until now.

Today I saw yet another article in some publication about “surviving the holidays.” I read it, and it was a good article with some practical advice. But my main response was sadness and mild frustration.

We have become by choice fairly low-key about “the holidays.” This is probably made easier by our not having children, but I would like to think that even if we had children, we would consider honoring God with a sane life more important than whatever all the things are that make “the holidays” such an unholy time for many people.

I just think it’s sad that so many people look at this as a time they have to “survive,” which has the connotation of just getting by, enduring, hanging on till better times come.

In Italian the word for “survive” is “sopravivere,” which more clearly than the English gives the meaning of “to live above.” (Only because most of us don't realize that "sur" here means "above," same as in surcharge, surplus, etc.) I think that’s what we have to do when a culture gets so crazy. We have to live above the craziness, the materialism, the secularism, the unrealistic expectations that the media and even our friends might set for us. Not indulge in it all and barely come through alive, but choose to live in a way that lets us live above it.

Part of that is the practical stuff. Schedule carefully. Eat healthily. Practice saying no both to others and to yourself. Think through what really matters and let go of the rest. Stop trying to impress people.

But the other part, the biggest part for me, is the advent wreath and what it represents. That our focus is on Jesus, his coming as a human into the world, his presence in our lives day in and day out, and his eventual coming to stop the craziness for good, and to bring “joy to the world” for all time.

The choir I sing with did our service of Lessons and Carols this past Sunday evening. It was glorious. One of my favorite pieces is below. It’s a Gregorian chant, with wonderful old sounds, sounds of light and mystery and dissonance and peace, harmonized by one of our choir members. And it’s the sort of thing that, when you go around with it in your mind, makes it not hard at all to “survive the holidays.”
They become, actually, holy days, to be fully lived and treasured.

From lands that see the sun arise,
to earth’s remotest boundaries,
the Virgin-born today we sing,
the Son of Mary, Christ the King.

Blest Author of this earthly frame,
To take a servant’s form he came,
That liberating flesh by flesh,
Those he had made might live afresh.

In that chaste mother’s holy womb,
celestial grace thus found its home:
So God, in ways beyond all thought,
the means of our salvation wrought.

She bowed unto the angel’s word,
accepting what the Father willed,
and suddenly the promised Lord
that pure and holy temple filled.

All praise, eternal Word, to thee,
whose advent set thy people free;
whom, with the Father we adore
and Holy Spirit, evermore. Amen.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Father Stevens' Final Journey

This morning I was blessed to attend the memorial service of precious Father Stevens and to hear the stories of other people whose lives had connected with his. It was a beautiful occasion in honor of one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. For now I will only share the obituary from the newspaper, which was written by one of the men I met today. My own reflections will wait for another time.

FATHER ANTHONY-GERALD "Lee" STEVENS, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross who founded the Mbalotahun Leprosy Relief Program (MLRP) and the first Anglican indigenous religious order for men in Liberia, has died.

Born in Durham, Maine and graduated from Bates College, Father Stevens' early career was in acting. The Rev. Anthony-Gerald “Lee” Stevens, 95, served as a naval chaplain in the Pacific, then entered the Order of the Holy Cross, making his life profession in 1951. From 1952-65, he served primarily at the order’s monastery and school in St. Andrews, Tennessee.

But it was while serving the order’s Liberian mission, and particularly at the leprosy clinic and colony at Mbalotahun, that he “lost his heart forever,” as he was often quoted. He was a supreme example of Christian love and caring in the Holy Spirit to this remote clinic originally founded by his Order of the Holy Cross in the 1920’s. To facilitate his work at the clinic, he trained and was licensed as a paramedic in leprosy. He also studied the Bandi language and developed a leprosy rehabilitation and control program.

The remainder of his years in the order alternated between the time spent in his beloved Liberia and years spent as the resident monk, first at the priory in South Carolina and later at Iona House in the Diocese of West Tennessee. During the recent civil war in Liberia, he lived at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, N.Y.

Last year, when the political situation calmed, he returned at the age of 94 to establish at the request of the bishop of Liberia an indigenous religious order for men, the Community of Love in Jesus (CLJ). This was a very fitting name for this order as this dearly loved man left many such communities throughout his life wherever he went, especially here in the Diocese of West Tennessee.

Father died on September 22, 2007 at 4:45 p.m. local time in Bolahun, Liberia (11:45 a.m. CST) in his little cell at the St. Francis monastery where he was surrounded by his primary caregiver and first ordained priest of the CLJ, two novices and two aspirants plus an American doctor summoned from a nearby village. A single candle was burning as the monsoon rains poured down outside the monastery and Father Stevens peacefully passed into God’s hands as he breathed his last breath. His body was buried at his request in the cemetery of the leper colony at Mbalotahun.

A memorial service celebrating Father Stevens’s life will be held on Thursday, December 6 at 11 a.m. at St. Columba Episcopal Conference and Retreat Center (901-377-9284), http://, 4577 Billy Maher Road, Memphis, TN 38135. A celebration luncheon will be held afterwards and reservations are requested.

Father Stevens’ vision was the support of all children of the leprosy patients in this area through a full tuition program for education aimed at freeing “the poorest of God’s poor” from the circumstances of poverty and disease, the care of leprosy patients in Mbalotahun, and the continued development of the Community of Love in Jesus as a Missionary Order whose purpose is to reclaim Liberia for Jesus.

Father's constancy of praying for numerous people and his affable, gentle, and loving personality and his shining example of being a follower of Jesus Christ are the qualities he impressed on all those who knew him. One of his most heartfelt spiritual directions given to those seeking it was that, “the Will of God will never lead you where His Grace will not sustain you.”

All memorials are requested to be made to The Father Stevens Liberian Leprosy Trust Fund through the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Waking Up

This is what it looks like to wake up in the bed where I spent the past two nights.

(Well, not exactly, because unbeknownst to me the camera battery was on its last leg and didn’t flash, so the light/dark contrast wasn’t quite as dramatic as this appears.)

Essentially, though, this is what I woke up to yesterday morning and the day before that.

It is definitely a room with a view, with six ceiling-to-floor windows and long horizontal windows where full-length either would not fit or would not be appropriate.

Surrounded by woods, the cabin is made of cedar wood. To me it feels more natural than anything. Maybe a canvas tent would rival it, but all the tents these days are made of synthetics, it seems, often with bright unnatural colors.

Have I written before about St. Columba? I know I wrote about discovering the deer that were illegally killed there. But have I written about how much I love this place? Possibly not, because it’s impossible to put into words.

This retreat center north of Memphis has blessed my life so deeply that I can say I would not be the person I am without it. Almost ten years ago I went for the first time, and I’ve been going back ever since.

It was here I reclaimed sanity after the stressful last weeks of my graduate program and began in earnest the search for what my life would be about once school was finished.

It was here I met Father Stevens, whom I have written about (February 13, 2006)--and who left this life a little over two months ago. I will write about him again.

It was here I first encountered the rhythm and discipline of the daily office and the beauty and power of the Book of Common Prayer.

It is here that time and again I am renewed, refreshed, and sustained in ways that go deeper than I can understand or explain.
It is here that I connect with the peace that surpasses understanding.

I came to the woods for my recent stay after one of the most stressful situations to occur in my years as a counselor. Because of the situation I kept my cell phone on, and I was called late at night and stayed on the phone until midnight, and had to go back into town the next day to deal with things.

Even so, my sense of the past few days is one of peace. Images of trees, geese, ducks, deer, a blue heron, an owl in flight, falling leaves, and still water fill my mind and promise to remind me in the days to come that there is a reality beyond my daily tasks.

As I was driving out to St. Columba after the second very stressful day at my office, I looked up over the lanes of traffic and saw a rainbow. A long, lovely rainbow just before sunset, looking as if it ended right above the retreat center. Another promise, another reminder not to get too caught up in the things that are so messed up, but to focus on the One who is eternal and is more merciful than we can imagine.

For me there is no better way to do that than to spend time in the woods. We go way back, the woods and I, and they take me places I can get to no other way.

Hopkins’ words come to mind, “the dearest freshness deep down things.” And come to think of it, his poem speaks to morning time as well, so here it is (with apologies that I cannot get the indentions to work) to end this post that began with a picture of the dark-scattering sun:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks

In everything, give thanks. –Saint Paul the Apostle

To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.
--Albert Schweitzer

A friend and fellow counselor recently said in our therapy group, "Gratitude is a discipline." I don't know if I had ever thought of it in just those words, but I know it is true.

And for the past few days I have found myself thinking often of those earliest celebrators of what we call Thanksgiving Day. They had left behind their homes, lost family and friends to the long journey and to the dangers and diseases of the new land they called home.

I would love to know just how their decision to feast and give thanks came to be made. I'm certain they felt relief and gratitude to have made it through the winter and to still be alive. But I'm equally certain they were still grieving the ones they had lost, and wondering how long they themselves would be able to survive.

I cannot help but believe that one reason we have a holiday like this, is that those early settlers were people of a particular kind of faith. A faith that did not give empty promises, a faith that did not see man as the measure of all things. A faith that prepared them for struggle. A faith that encouraged the discipline of gratitude in the midst of trials.

May God give me grace to live by this same disciplined faith. Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blanketed in Love

Last night Drazen wanted something warmer on the bed. I remembered a blanket from Grandmother's house that I had stored away. Seems we didn't need it last winter; maybe we used something else. But yesterday I remembered it, a wool blanket that will always remind me of the bedroom my mom grew up in, where my sister and I usually slept. I always loved the windows in that room, five of them, with their white curtains that looked like angels because of the way they were pulled back in the center.

Our bedroom has only window, and obviously it didn't let in enough light for me to get a good picture of the blanket on our bed! So here is a close-up:

The wonderful, surprising thing was that when I took the blanket out from the cabinet it was in, unfolded it and spread it out on the bed, it still had the smell of Grandmother's house. So I went to sleep with that wonderful scent all around me. I may not have had angels at the window, but I felt a presence all about me, and I slept very well.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grandmother's Birthday

Today is the day she was born.

These are photos from Thanksgiving Day, 2002. They are the only photos I have of her made with a digital camera.

For those who don’t know, the top photo is of her with my mom.

The bottom photo (you can click to enlarge it) shows a bunch of us in the den at her house after our long day of eating and visiting. It got so that we couldn’t do that at her house the last couple of years, and we met at the church’s fellowship hall, which had a lot more room for the children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren. On this particular day there were 35 of us, plus the dog. But of course we all packed into her house afterwards!

She was very tired at this time, for various reasons, and I find myself wishing that my last pictures of her were not this way. Most of her life she was so incredibly full of energy.

But maybe that’s not so bad, to have these reminders that everyone has their limits, even the people we tend to idealize.

I was telling a friend today about her—how beautiful she was, how elegant she was, how articulate she was. And yet what prompted me to talk about her today (besides it being her birthday) was the memory of her lifting her tennis-shoed foot and stomping down paper towels in a wastebasket in a public restroom, saying, “I just don’t understand why people don’t do this more often, why they make such a mess.” (I had found just such a mess of overflowing paper towels in the restroom at work, and had followed her example and stomped them down.)

She was real, very real. So she had to get tired, and eventually she had to leave us.

Happy birthday, my very real Grandmother. Thank you for all the very real memories.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Granddaddy's Garage

Granddaddy had an amazing garage.

When I was little, it seemed like a whole ‘nother house, with an upstairs and everything. Even as an adult, I thought the upstairs would make a great little apartment. It was big enough for a sitting room, bedroom, and bath.

More amazing than the garage itself, though, were all the things in it. A boat hung upside down from the rafters in the left side of the garage (second photo), and I always wondered if it were the same boat I remember sitting in on the Hatchee river when I was about nine years old.

As the photos show, Granddaddy kept an organized garage. Everything had a place, and he kept things where they belonged. By the time these photos were taken, quite a few tools and other things had been given away, so you don't get the full picture.

But he had everything! Not a project was undertaken in all the decades of my life that required a trip to the hardware store, or a call to borrow something from a neighbor. He had all kinds of tools and gadgets, probably some that he never used, for all I know. I wish I had more specific memories of things that got worked on, but I don’t. I just remember starting to do something, and him or my grandmother saying, “I think there’s a wrench (or drill or whatever) in here that would do a better job of that,” and after a bit of looking around, there certainly was.

Perhaps his garage was a companion to Grandmother’s freezer and pantry. A symbol of preparedness, a reminder that these things were not always available, but thanks to grace and hard work together, now we have them and will use and share them.

Granddaddy died on this day, in 1989. I was in Italy and unable to be here. That was hard. It took me a long time to realize, make real, that he had died. There was no tool or gadget to make that job any easier.

Tonight is not the night because of other projects, but I hope to write more about him when the time is right. Like my grandmother, he is worth writing about.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Argentario a lot lately.

Argentario, a peninsula in the very southern part of Tuscany, has a special place in my memory for several reasons. It is, as you see in the photos, beautiful. Especially the part that we went to was beautiful, because it was away from the more traveled areas and the tourists. So the natural scenery was for the most part unspoiled.

In fact, the few buildings that dotted the landscape were themselves lovely, because they were all so old. Nothing new had been built in that area for many decades. It was not allowed.

And that’s another reason Argentario has that special place in my memory. I would never have gone there except for the generosity of a dear, dear woman named Marisa Roggi, who became a precious friend. Perhaps I’ll write about her sometime.

Marisa and her husband (deceased some years before I met Marisa) had somehow managed to purchase this property out in the restricted area of Argentario. She would invite us to go down for a long weekend and stay in the little house. It was little, surely the littlest as far as our eyes could see.

The photos above (taken from the Internet) both match photos from my photo album, taken near the area where we would walk down to the sea. The little island in the top photo is Isola Rossa. And in the bottom photo, that looks like it might be the Queen of Holland’s summer castle out on that jutting part, which is how I remember it. I could be wrong, but it is much the same. We were somewhere close to where these photos were taken.

This is the first place where I got to swim in the sea at night, looking up at the moon and stars as I swam.

It is the first place I ever took a shower outdoors. We were all a bit nervous about that at first, but it’s such a restricted area, there really was no one around. So we’d post a lookout (just in case!) and shower one at a time, under the freestanding showerhead, out in the open, looking out to this incredible seascape. It was a wonderfully free experience, as I recall.

And, yes, this is the place where my friend and I partook of another very natural experience, on the land belonging to the Gucci family. After I wrote about that on an earlier post, I thought perhaps I should explain.

The penisula is a large mountain, as you see, and Marisa’s house was way up near the top. (It's actually known as Monte Argentario, properly.) We had walked down to the sea. As I recall, it was too cold to swim, so it was just a walk. And we were walking back up. It’s a long, long walk. We’d been out for a couple of hours or more. And there are no public restrooms in an area that has laws to keep anyone from building anything.

So we were just looking for cover. We found an area covered in tall, stalky weeds, and it seemed like the best place. We took turns, and just as we came out from the weeds, our program director and his wife walked by! Thank goodness we had found very tall weeds, and they had not seen us. But we did ask whose land we had been traipsing around on.

And that’s how we learned that this particular land belonged to the Guccis.

We snickered as they went on their way, and laughed out loud as we made our way up the road.

So it isn’t as if we just did it for the fun of it. I feel the need to say that.

Oh, what memories! What a dear friend Marisa was, to share this beauty and freedom with us. Did we realize then what a rare treat it was? I don’t know. It was special, I knew that. Now, living an ocean away, I wonder if I’ll ever return there, and I realize that it was a gift that I will never open again. We can go to Argentario, but not to this very location, not to stay in a private home with access to a private beach area. Marisa passed away several years ago, and I don’t know if her children still own the house or not.

It makes me want to try hard to appreciate every experience in life, because you just never know how special it may be, how long it will last, or whether or not you’ll be able to experience it again.

Marisa, thanks for the memories!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How They So Softly Rest

Seventy-two years ago this month, my grandparents married. Their anniversary was October 8. I always thank God for what their marriage meant to me.

My sister, Lisa, and I went to Brownsville recently and visited the graveyard. It was a beautiful day to remember beautiful people. And it really is a beautiful place. I’ll share more photos later.

I love that their last name was Christmas. To have Christ in one’s name is a lovely thing. And even from a more secular perspective, they were both such giving, gifting people! It is a trait that everyone associates with them, I think.

Being there that day brought a song to mind from years ago, a song we sang in my high school chorus. I can’t find the lyrics to it anywhere, though I did find a choral performance of it on YouTube, which helped me fill in some blanks in my memory. I still don’t know how to put things like that on my blog, but if you put the first line of the song in the search box on YouTube, you will find the performance. Listen to it. It’s beautiful. I didn’t know in high school that I would come to love the composer, Healey Willan.

And oddly enough, a Google search of one of the phrases brought up a wonderful 1879 edition of Longfellow’s Poems, scanned and made available to the public since the copyright had expired. I never found the poem, though I suppose it may be in there somewhere. (If anyone knows for sure where this text comes from, please let me know.)

The old edition, however, connected me to my grandparents in another way: the print is so tiny that I had to go and get the magnifying glass I keep in my office, in a drawer in the housewife’s desk that for all my life sat on the front wall of my grandparents’ living room. I have been sitting here looking through the same magnifying glass my grandmother used, trying to find a poem that her death reminded me of.

So, with that background, here is the song, which you simply must listen to if you want to find the beauty in it:

How they so softly rest,
All, all the holy dead,
Unto whose dwelling-place
Now doth my soul draw near!
How they so softly rest
All in their silent graves,
Deep to corruption
Slowly down--

And they no longer weep
Here, where complaint is stilled!
And they no longer feel,
Here, where all gladness flies!
And, by the cypresses
Softly o’ershadowed,
Until the Angel
Calls them, they slumber.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hay Is for Horses

In first grade we had a “practice teacher,” as we called them, named Miss Bonita.

I suppose she was in my life for a semester or less, but perhaps because first grade was such a big transition, she made a big impression on me.

I remember her saying, “ ‘Hey’ is for horses,” if we forgot and said, “Hey, Miss Bonita!” I tended to be a very submissive child, and my guess is that I did this once and with her response felt that I had committed a terrible act of rudeness. And probably never said it again, I was so eager to please.

This comes to mind with these photos taken a couple of weeks ago on the way to Brownsville, where I met my sister for a visit.

I had never seen hay traveling down the highway, so I thought the one truck an oddity. Then came another, and another, and another.

If Miss Bonita had been in the car, I just might have said, “Hey, look at all that hay!”

Just for the fun of it.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Tyranny of the Urgent

I came across the following article this morning. It relates to what I wrote last time about not wanting to spend too much time with electronic/cyber reality as opposed to created reality.

It also refers to a little booklet I was thinking about the other day, The Tyranny of the Urgent. My continual prayer is to center my life around important things and not let it just be used up by the urgent things.

Hello, My Name Is Bob, and I Check My Email While on the Toilet
By Ken Yarmosh: 05 Oct 2007
From TCS Daily (i.e., Technology, Commerce, Society)

The Internet seems like an infinite source of information and knowledge, yet we often allow it and other digital technology to be infinitely distracting. Cell phones, e-mail, and IM are tried and true digital distractions. Today, that's advanced to satellite television, social networks, and text messaging. These technologies create a sense of urgency due to their instantaneous or mobile natures. We've allowed the dings, buzzes, and chimes to interrupt everything from meals, meetings, and movies. We've yielded to urgency or perhaps better put, been fooled into believing that next e-mail, phone call, headline update, or text message is indeed urgent.

In 1967, Charles Hummel wrote an essay about the "tyranny of the urgent," where his point was not that we have insufficient time to accomplish tasks but rather that we prioritize the urgent over the important:

"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."

Since his essay was written in a less digital world, Hummel references the impact of the telephone on the urgent, "A man's home is no longer his castle; it is no longer a place away from urgent tasks because the telephone breaches the walls with imperious demands." The latter part of the sentence could now read, "it is no longer a place away from urgent tasks because cable, satellite, Internet, cell phones, etc. breach the walls with imperious demands."

The urgent is synonymous with the now. It relates to the "What are you doing?" question of Twitter, ostensibly the most egregious of urgency offenders. In the always-on always-connected urgent world, so much time can be spent "keeping up" with new stories, new e-mails, new text messages, and new updates of various types that "keeping up" becomes a task itself. In fact, it teeters on becoming the task of the day; the news of our lives never stops.

But how much is too much? How many times a day should we check e-mail? How many times a day should we allow the phone to interrupt us? How many times a day do we need to find out what our friends are doing? How many times a day should we get the headlines on what's happening in the world?

Keeping up can create a psyche of paralysis. If you don't keep up, you're "missing out on something" but if you do, there's a good chance you aren't getting more substantive or important things done (e.g., work, reading a book, listening to a friend's problems, paying attention to the kids, etc.). The digital urgency problem can reach a climax; it can evolve into an addiction.

It's no wonder that Blackberry's are referred to as Crackberry's or that there are organizations dedicated to Internet recovery. The latest statistics show that people are on social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook three times as much as print or broadcast media sites. Recent surveys by AOL indicate that e-mail users are checking their inboxes around the clock and even in the bathroom due to the mobility of their devices. Your friend's iPhone might be cool but you may want to pass on using it.

The interruption-filled lives so many people are leading have consequences. Many schools and offices block social networking sites in part because of the distraction issue and its implications on productivity. Lawmakers in Arizona and Connecticut are considering banning text messaging while driving for safety concerns. It is increasingly status quo to ignore friends and family while tending to cell phones.

A society dominated by digital interruption, by the urgent, has the potential to be less polite, less focused, less productive, less safe, and arguably less intellectual. That does not disregard the good of digital technology but rather questions how people are deciding to use it. Rudeness, inattention, procrastination, and superficiality are not new problems. Unfortunately, these tendencies are becoming more acceptable because we've been convinced of the importance of our digitally connected lives.

In many recovery programs, one of the first steps to overcoming an addiction is to admit there is a problem, "Hello, my name is Bob and I check my e-mail while on the toilet." That may sound comical but without acknowledging the worship of the urgent, there can be no change. Man must re-build the walls of his digitally infiltrated castle. He must find his place of quiet, of solace, of meditation, and of focus. The important must supersede the urgent once again; it starts with the off switch.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Random Facts

A friend “tagged” me via her blog.

I still haven’t learned how to put links in my blog, but you can find Miriam at, and I hope you will, because she tends to write things worth reading.

Well, here’s what I was told I needed to do:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts. 2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves. 3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules. (**if you’re a non-blogger, you can email them!) 4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. 5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Since doing this in its entirety goes against my discipline of trying to cut out unnecessary activity and to encourage living more life away from the computer, I’m only going to give the eight random facts, and not “tag” anyone else.

1. In elementary and junior high, I loved hurdles and the long jump. I think my record in the long jump was 14’ 6”. I remember being amazed to think I could have my dad lie down and jump over twice his height and then some.

2. Pecans are my second-favorite nut. First place goes to my sister. Haha.

3. A friend and I once relieved ourselves on land that belonged to the Gucci family. We were desperate and didn’t know till later whose land it was. I've always thought we should be able to turn that into some political statement or something, but never have managed to.

4. My favorite place to go in Florence is the church of San Miniato al Monte.

5. It has been almost five years since I was in Italy, and I miss it very much.

6. I love moss. It’s hard for me to walk by it without stopping to “pet” it.

7. I love walking barefoot on grass and do it whenever I discretely can manage it.

8. I’m right now wondering if it’s a good use of time to sit and write random facts about myself, and wondering who but Americans would do such a thing? But I’m stuck at home waiting for the plumber, so it seemed like a good idea.

This picture is from a research project by two University of Memphis researchers using "a model to simulate the procurement of lithic raw material assemblages for paleolithic archaeological sites using a random agent." I liked it because it looks like moss.

I think a lot of the studies on randomness are showing that if you do enough random stuff, you end up with a pattern. So I wonder if anyone sees a pattern in my random ramblings above?

Ah, the plumbers came, and the water appears to be flowing again, so off I go into my normal day. . . .

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Summer Appreciation: Cicadas and Company

It’s the first official day of fall, so I had better write this now.

I love cicadas.

When I was little, we often found their exo-skeletons left behind on the trunks of trees in my grandparents’ yard. I suppose I must have seen these and played with them from a very young age, because I don’t remember ever feeling squeamish about them. They were just a normal part of life, and they fascinated me and were fun to play with—especially if you could find someone who did not regard them as normal and got scared by the sight of one appearing on their shoulder or elsewhere!

I think the cicadas themselves are beautiful, in an insect-y way. Kind of like plump dragonflies. I love their iridescent colors, and their amazingly complex wings.

But most of all, I love their singing. Or droning, as some would call it. And I love all the other insects who sing along with them on summer nights, and I’m sorry I’m not sure who’s a cricket, who’s a katydid, or even who’s a frog. I’m sure there are creatures out there making sounds, creatures whose names I don't even know.

In the summer, our front porch becomes a box seat in a concert hall, with the insects providing the orchestra.

It probably goes back to childhood again, because something about that music soothes me like a lullaby. It conjures up memories from Arkansas and Tennessee, of places that felt like home because they were home. Sitting outside on Grandmother’s terrace. Or just pulling up chairs to sit outside her back door and look at the stars and watch her moonflower open up to the night. Playing out in our yard in the country in Arkansas, until it was just too dark, and we had to go in.
And that background music of cicadas and their companions always there, humming the day to its end, providing yet another example of God’s creativity.

This photo is one I found on the Internet, and I chose it because of the symbolism. The new life coming out of the old shell, the intentional act of leaving behind that which is no longer needed. It’s not something I find easy in my life; who knows how the cicadas feel about it? But they do it, and their life continues.

Once my grandmother and I were in her kitchen and could hear the birds singing outside. “I wonder what they’re saying?” she said, as if she wanted to hear my answer.

“I think they’re saying, ‘God is good, God is good, God is good,’” was my reply. (If the heavens are declaring the glory of God, the birds must be, too, I’ve thought for a long time. And Grandmother was going through a very hard time then, hard to witness, so I think I needed to hear this myself.)

When I hear cicadas sing, I think it’s the same song. And that’s one thing I love about summer, and about God. He is good, and He will bring us through every leaving-behind we are faced with, until the Day comes when there will be no more leaving behind.
And now, welcome to fall, as we leave summer behind.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Small World

Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with anything I've been writing about.

I bought these dishes the first or second year of our marriage, in Zagreb, Croatia. They are still in our house in Croatia and haven't been used in a good long while.

The last time I was at my cousin Laura's house I noticed some dishes she had, and if I'm not mistaken, they are the same as my Zagreb dishes. It was the strangest feeling, seeing those there in her Middle Tennessee home!

So last year when I was in Croatia I took these pictures, but haven't been to Laura's since then.

So I'm posting them here for her to look at and see if they actually are the same, or if I was mistaken. (Also because I figure why pay for processing when I can put it here for free?)

If they are the same, it will be really interesting. Laura and I have noticed other things we've decorated our homes with that are the same, chosen completely independently. But this would be the most amazing "Oh, that's just like the one I have...." to date, as far as I'm concerned.

(It also says a lot about the global economy, I guess, but that doesn't excite me very much.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Summer Appreciation: Mushrooms

After the storm and the rainbow, I was driving along and was distracted by a blur of white. . . .

I had to stop and see if it was what I thought. And it was! A cascade of mushrooms rejoicing in the humidity and softness of the earth. Though I couldn't linger at the time, I felt a compelling urge to get up early the next morning and go see them up close. So I did.

Can you imagine being an ant, or a ladybug, waking up to this overnight change in the scenery?

This one looks as if it might take flight in a strong wind--

And these look happy basking in the sun.

Could those photos of the moon's surface really be closeups of mushrooms??
I've been told that I have large hands, for a woman...

Is it possible that this little message was the reason I felt compelled to return? Was it calling out for someone to come and share in the love?

Well, now you've received the message, too.
Let all things their Creator praise. Even mushrooms.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Made in Italy, with Joy

Occasionally on my way home from work, I stop in at the shop Tuesday Morning just to see if what they have matches something we’re needing at the time. If so, and if the price is right, I might buy something. Most often, I end up leaving empty-handed but enjoy just browsing.

Maybe I should explain that I don’t shop much. I avoid malls, dread the traffic in shopping areas, buy most of my clothes via catalogues or at a thrift shop near my house. Besides the grocery store, bookstores and Hallmark are about the only places I go with any frequency.

But for some reason, Tuesday Morning appeals to me. It’s such an odd assortment of stuff, and usually has that rummaged-through look that reminds me of the outdoor markets of Europe. It doesn’t overwhelm me. And sometimes it has just what I’m looking for.

So, I stop in now and then.

On one stop, I came across the soap you see pictured here. The picture appealed to me immediately, and I was dangerously pulled in when I saw that it was from bella Firenze, that is, beautiful Florence, where I lived for two years.

But I knew I was in love and about to make a commitment when I saw in tiny print on the box, Made in Italy, with Joy.

Made in Italy, with Joy. How could anyone not fall in love with something so sweet? Of course I realized it was a marketing idea. Perhaps the person who thought of it has nothing to do with the making of the soap and sits at a desk all day. Or, since it is “artigianale,” made by artisans, perhaps not.

In any case, it brings to mind a certain street I used to take en route to language school, where I could see and hear the artisans at work, making frames, working with leather….chatting or singing as they worked, sometimes looking up to wave at the blonde American walking or riding by on her bicycle….

Made in Italy, with Joy. I guess in some ways I was made in Italy with joy. Those years were critical ones for my life, forming my faith in important ways. They opened the doors that led to my marriage and the life I have now.

And although my two years in Italy were not idyllic or struggle-free, they were full of an incredible amount of joy that made up for the other. I’m so thankful for my time in Italy.

Well, you won’t be surprised that I bought the soap. Soap wasn’t on my need list that day, and it’s rare that a material purchase brings me joy. But that one did!

How I would love to say with everything I make or do that it was made with joy. Maybe that’ll be my goal for this coming week. Feel free to join me.


And in case you're interested, this soap and others from Florence are available via Amazon, which is where I found the photo.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Hope in Strange Places

Recently I met with a teenager who was raped by a family member. She had not talked to anyone about it, except me. But everyone knows because it was in the news. They just don't talk about it.

The same day I saw a woman with a history of drug addiction who also has a severe mental illness. She has done well on medication, but has run out of some of her meds. Having moved to town recently and not having a car, she has had a hard time doing anything. She thinks she has enough money to pay for a psychiatric appointment, if I can help her find a place that can see her soon. Painfully shy, she almost begged me to continue seeing her, because she feels safe in a Christian place.

After that it was a young woman who answered "yes" to nearly all the symptoms I asked about, ranging from suicidal thoughts to headaches to anger problems to sleeplessness. The suicidal thoughts have been there since childhood. She says she has no friends. No transportation, no income. She stays at home to take care of a disabled family member.

Meanwhile, my co-worker was dealing with a situation I won’t even try to describe. It involves a long history of severe abuse from family members. Because of what has happened recently, we are trying to find somewhere for this person to stay. But because he is not addicted to anything, it’s hard to find an agency that will take him.

I left the office feeling drained that evening. The world I hear about in my office is sometimes a very ugly, sad, barren world. People who don’t believe in the existence of evil should sit in my chair for a few days. (Somehow that makes it more real than watching the news, I think.)

As I walked to my car, I was given a gift. Our blah, beige, concrete block building is bordered by hot, hard gravel. A width of beige-painted cement runs between the building and the gravel parking lot, which is surrounded by razor wire. Close to my car was a circle of charcoal ashes from the grill used for a July 4 lunch today. Nearby was a trash can used by employees who come outside to smoke.

And in a crack in that width of cement, right next to a drainpipe, a tiny spot of vivid purple and yellow caught my eye. I went closer and found a precious little viola growing there in the midst of that ugly, hard, utilitarian landscape.

The closest flowers to this spot are fifty feet away, so I’ve no idea how this little viola wound up growing in that crack. But it did, its beauty the more remarkable because of its surroundings.

And while the seeming wasteland I encounter in my office may seem ugly and barren at times, I have seen hope bloom there over and over. I’ve seen beauty grow there, and life and joy and peace.

"With God nothing shall be impossible."

(Photo of flowers growing in the ancient walls of Zadar, Croatia, from our trip last summer.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Summer Appreciation: Rainbow

One day last week I was driving home and saw a rainbow. (We have continued to have showers since the storm I wrote about earlier.) I couldn’t see a lot of it, with the trees and buildings around, but it was wide, with intense color. Lovely.

Rainbows, despite their very scientific explanation, still have an other-worldly quality for me, and it was hard to keep driving because I wanted to pull over and just gaze.

For some reason I decided to take my sunglasses off as I looked at it. So I did, and do you know, at that moment, it almost disappeared. I could barely make it out by focusing very hard. I put the glasses back on, and there it was, as intense as before.

I wondered how many people were in a place to easily see that beautiful message from God, but weren’t seeing it because they didn’t have sunglasses on, and the brightness of the day kept them from seeing the colors? (And certainly many missed it because they were going in another direction. Or perhaps in the same direction, but more focused on their driving than I was!)

It reminded me of words from my high school English teacher’s chalkboard. Mr. Wright wrote out a saying each day, not as an assignment, but to enrich our lives. I can’t recall this entire quote, but the second part said, “Better to keep yourself shiny and bright: You are the window through which you must see the world.”

Certainly we are the only window we have for viewing the world. I don’t know about you, but I want to see rainbows through my window!

(I didn’t take this photo, can see it's not Memphis! I’m afraid I also don’t know the rules about borrowing photos from the web. I’ve been assuming that people can make them “un-copyable” if they don’t want them to be copied? Can anyone enlighten me?)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rated PG??

I just learned of a website you can go to and have your blog rated.

Mine rated PG because the word "gun" appears three times, and the word "hurt" appears once.

Today my aunt told me that she tried to look at my blog, but it was blocked by their computer's filter, which I think is called "BSafe." We were both bumfuddled, but perhaps this explains it!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer Appreciation: Storms

I love storms. I grew up in "tornado alley" in Arkansas, where spring simply didn't pass without a tornado coming through somewhere nearby. I respect storms, but I don't recall ever feeling afraid of one.

We just had a wonderful storm. I had migraines three days last week, so I should have known something was on its way. My neighbor this morning mentioned that it was "supposed" to rain a few times in the coming week. Well, it was "supposed" to rain yesterday, too, and it barely dampened the topsoil. So when he told me that early this morning, I thought, "Oh, great, now it will be 90-plus degrees and horribly humid all week, and I'll still have to water flowers."

Driving home after work, I noted a few drops on the windshield. Then a few more. Enough to say, "Hey, it's raining." (I confess, I was talking to someone on my cell phone.) And then, "Wow, it's really raining." Lightning flashed in the distance, but I figured any storm would move on and be over quickly. The sky was mostly light, after all.

After my third comment about the rain, my friend said, "I'll let you go so you can concentrate on driving." And not a minute later, after turning onto Poplar Avenue, I could hardly see to drive. I moved over and pulled into a parking lot to wait it out.

Ah, the wonder of rain pouring down in torrents! Especially during a drought, it is like music to the ears. This rain did not seem to be going along with my "over quickly" idea, so I turned off the engine, undid my seatbelt, moved my seat to a more horizontal position, and lay back to enjoy the show.

Quite a show it was. Cars were creeping along, water was flooding the sides of the street, and everything looked gray through the waterfall.

And the wind! It blew in forceful gusts, making for some serious sideways rain. I could hear it, and from time to time, I felt my car lifting with the force of the wind.

I'm not sure why I love storms so much. Growing up where I did, I've seen towns flattened. I know wind and water can be very dangerous, but something inside me comes alive in a storm, and it feels so good to be alive in that way. To feel so much a part of the natural world, and to be reminded how small and powerless we are. Storms are a reminder that human beings are not in charge.

Maybe that's part of it. No amount of skill or knowledge can prevent a storm, or even guarantee you'll be able to weather a storm. Sometimes you just have to hang on and trust.

Not that this storm felt dangerous, once I got out of the traffic. Truth be told, I was tempted to get out of the car, raise my hands to the sky, do pirouettes in the parking lot, and just get totally wet! It would have felt so good! But I had to go to the grocery store, and thought I ought not go in dripping.

So I stayed in the car and waited, enjoyed the music of wind and water, and for the rest of the evening have felt more alive than I had in a good while.

That’s something to enjoy about this summer.
For the sake of my blog's integrity, I feel I should mention that I didn't take this photo. I found it on a website all about storms.