Sunday, February 14, 2021
Monday, January 18, 2021
You also wouldn't know from this picture that she never wore a graduation gown. She wasn't able to go to college, thanks to the Great Depression and financial struggles it caused, likely complicated by the family's house burning down and her father dying when she was ten years old.
You can't tell from this picture that she never played piano or any other musical instrument. It just wasn't part of her upbringing.
But this beloved woman--despite osteoporosis, as well as two separate broken hips, both of which she recovered from and continued living independently--was always taller than I was when it comes to strength and character.
She died on this day (January 17) eighteen years ago, and for eighteen years I have thanked God for Grandmother and prayed "help me to be like her in the ways she was like You."
She and Granddaddy paid for my early piano lessons. She always encouraged me and asked me to play for her. She cut flowers from her own yard, drove them to Arkansas, and made the flowers arrangements for my senior piano recital. And bought my dress for that occasion, too.
Granddaddy and Grandmother used to give all of us a dollar for each A on our report cards. That wasn't a primary motivation for me, but it showed that they thought it was important to work hard, and that learning about the world mattered. Grandmother was a reader, and even though she seemed to spend more time in the yard and in the kitchen than she possibly could sitting with a book, the bookshelves in the house intrigued me with Gift from the Sea, The Prophet (How I wondered about that name, Kahlil Gibran!), I'm Okay-You're Okay, and always National Geographic magazines were around.
She was never a cheerleader that I'm aware of, but she certainly was my cheerleader, and I'm sure she was the same for all my siblings and cousins. It's amazing how powerful encouraging words from her were. She remembered our interests, remembered our teachers' names, and asked about them from time to time.
She taught children's Bible classes for many, many years. Her Bible stayed on the kitchen table, and we often read from it and a devotional book before meals when it was just the two of us, not a big family gathering. Before the big family gatherings we would often sing the Doxology together. It was obvious from the wear and tear on her Bible, that it was her constant companion, a strong connecting point with the God she loved and served.
And so when I see this picture, with my arm around her shoulder, even though I'm not standing on her shoulders, I know without a doubt that I would not have graduated with that counseling degree were it not for her, nor with the DMin degree years later. I know that I would never have entered piano competitions and become a piano teacher without her influence. The last time I saw her was after a choral concert, because she always encouraged my musical endeavors.
And I am quite sure that without her faith, which saw her through heart-wrenching loss and struggles of various sorts, I would not be a person of faith. I have no idea who I would be without her, really. I'm thankful I never had to find out. She was always there, always loving and serving and giving, encouraging and teaching with words and beyond words.
"Help me to be like her in the ways she was like You." Thank you, dear God, for Grandmother, a giant in mind and spirit.
Wednesday, July 01, 2020
|Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash|
Yesterday I was talking with a sort of mentor who has listened to me over the past couple of years, and I asked what advice he would have for me going forward, since I'm not sure how much more our lives will intersect.
His response: "I think you will regret it someday if you don't start writing. Writing something. Your blog, a book, whatever. I think you'll be sorry if you don't do more of that, get yourself back into it."
So, because I respect his thinking, nearly half a year after I wrote about the possibility and the power of always beginning anew, here I am on my blog, beginning anew.
I had started a post sometime in the time between January and now, to share the poem below as a way of expressing what this year so far has been like. After the January New Year's post, a good chunk of my free time was spent helping a special person in my life by proofing and editing their master's thesis. Once that was done, the free time was spent traveling to visit friends out of town as well as hosting a friend from out of town. Oh, and both a personal retreat and a group retreat. A pretty full month.
By the end of February it was becoming clear that life was about to be hit by the novel coronavirus, and March ushered in the reality of that with all its unsettling dynamics. I was closely watching the news coming from Italy, with daily death counts and pictures of coffins the stuff of surreality. We had beloved people in Bergamo, the hot spot, who became ill with flu symptoms.
Normal life here began closing down. I stocked up on groceries. Started seeing my clients through a screen. Learned that someone I had had lunch with the first week of March, had been exposed to people who had tested positive, so I stayed in for over two weeks straight just to be careful.
|Photo by Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash|
Then one Sunday morning I woke and found a text message, "Croatia had an earthquake." It was March 22, and until I could get more details later that morning, I had no idea if people we knew were okay or not. We were so thankful to learn that as bad as it was, it could have been much worse. Then that same week two different friends in Croatia were hospitalized with serious problems.
March was an apocalyptic sort of time for everyone. Writers have been using that word to refer to the pandemic, not so much as an "end of time" word, but in the literal sense that an apocalypse is an unveiling of reality, pulling away the props and curtains we have in place in what we think of as normal life. We've been able to see serious cracks and crevices and crooked places as the veil has been pulled away. It's been a painful time in many ways.
In early April a very dear friend died. I'm sure I'll write more about that later.
Then near the end of May began the events that led up to the ongoing protests and all the difficult and painful realities and the accompanying emotions intertwined with that part of our country's story.
All to say that even though I had thought I'd be writing more in 2020, it was as if my mind went into survival mode. All my energy was needed to just keep taking the hits, as it were, and keep up the necessary functioning, working with clients and occasionally teaching for our class at church (via Zoom), learning to teach piano through a screen, helping a group tasked with making decisions about when and how our church might return to some kind of meeting in person. (We have not yet.)
The early days of the pandemic often took me back to Croatia, to the early days of the war in 1991. It was uncanny how many emotional memories I had during March. Of course a virus spreading around the world was very different from a war starting, but I repeatedly had intuitive flashes, my body and mind making connections back almost 30 years to those feelings of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, the hope that maybe it wouldn't be as bad as some predicted, the hard realization of how bad it could really be. The way time slowed down. The sense of isolation. Small things like the grocery store shelves emptying. Much bigger things like the wondering who would survive and who would be lost. Weeping at scenes of death coming through the media.
One night I sat at the piano and wept as I realized that it could be many months, possibly a couple of years, before I would sing in a chorus again. Certainly not the greatest suffering of the situation, but it represented so much more than what might seem to some a simple hobby.
Since the third grade, I have kept some kind of journal. It started in a little green diary with a lock and key and has gone on to fill bound books of various sizes and shapes, with rarely a week between writings, and sometimes daily writing for significant periods of time.
But for the years that I lived in Croatia, I have nothing in writing beyond letters and occasional notes in a planner that I've found in my desk there. I did no journaling for three full years.
I think the past few months have been something like those three years. The mind can only do so much, and my mind hasn't had the energy or ability to put things in writing.
"Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity," said William Wordsworth. My dear English teacher used to emphasize the importance of the "recollected in tranquillity" part of that process; one's best writing doesn't tend to come completely spontaneously, but requires some distance for reflection and a sort of absorption and assimilation. And sometimes writing at all seems to require some distance.
Perhaps I'll share one day a poem I did actually compose in those early days, before the virus had clearly arrived in our area. But for now I will share a poem by someone else. I've shared this poem with many of my clients over the years, people struggling when life events have taken them so far from what they had called normal before. I don't recall where I came across it, but since then I've learned more about its author and just love it all the more for the life behind the words.
We've all lost some of our Normal since I last wrote on this blog. I hope that anyone reading this has been able to hold on to enough Normal to keep you anchored in the midst of all the change. And I hope you'll find some courage and strength in this poem, especially when you consider the writer, whose life you can learn more about via the link at the end.
I don’t know what
For a long while of lately.
For now though,
I know that
For a little while…
Even if things are not Normal,
They’ll be okay.
That’s because I believe
In the great scheme of things,
From the book Hope through Heartsongs, written by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, a 10-year-old “poet and peacemaker” who died from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. He started writing poems when he was five to allow his mom to “see what was inside of him” and he continued to write up until his death at age 13.
Sunday, January 05, 2020
Thursday, November 14, 2019
I've shared some of his poetry here before. Tonight I got out the stack of letters from him, most written when I was in college and he was at Ole Miss working on a doctorate. I hadn't looked at them in years but knew where they were and just decided to read a couple.
What a beautiful thing, that he took the time to sit and write these words to me. And took the time to read the words I wrote to him. These letters, because of their very words and because of the connection they represented, helped me through some hard times, and I imagine they will in years ahead, too.
Tuesday, October 08, 2019
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Monday, July 15, 2019
And then to see it written out in so many languages, and to know that people have been singing it in different countries (or else why would it have been included?) for many years, expressing the same thoughts and beliefs, even though their languages and cultures and histories and habits were not the same, just filled me with a beautiful sense of connectedness. I didn't feel so far from home.
Especially because we had this sung at our wedding, with its other tune, known as Hyfrydol.
This one started off with the Italian, at least on this page.
And here it begins in English. They included so many languages that they printed the music more than once for readability because they wouldn't all fit on one opening.
We also had this song at our wedding.
And we did not have this one at our wedding, which will surprise no one, probably, but it was one of my favorites growing up.
And eventually our time in the prayer room ended, and the journey continued.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
It may be a new record, going over six months without putting anything on my blog. Certainly not a record I intended to set.
Maybe reading the book Digital Minimalism affected me more than I realized. I did not determine not to write on my blog, but I was enjoying the intentional space between me and the screen as a result of reading that book (which I haven't yet finished, but do recommend.) It wouldn't surprise me if at some level that book was a factor.
But I think it had as much or more to do with a couple of different health issues that meant extra appointments over several months. And a couple of major house repair/renewal projects that interrupted life significantly. And singing in a couple of different choruses over the spring, which meant two rehearsals each week for a good bit of the time. Oh, and two out of town conferences that took me far away from home. (Don't they say good things come in pairs?)
Whatever the reason, here I am again. Determined to share some pictures and do a bit of writing about our recent travel to Croatia.
The picture above is from a booklet I found in the Munich airport, in the "Raum fur Stille und Gebet," or "Space for Prayer and Silence," a lovely small secluded area which "invites people from all over the world to pray in silence, to calm down, and to draw new strength," as the website says. And it must have some amazing insulation, because when you get in there, it is completely quiet. You'd never imagine you were in a bustling, noisy airport if you didn't already know that.
I've written about it before here, and since that first visit have been there a few times. This is the first time I had seen the little prayer booklet, with this lovely prayer written in ten languages. It was a wonderful way to be welcomed onto the European continent and to begin our visit there.
I know I've seen a chapel in at least one other airport, somewhere in the States, but I can't recall where it was. I wonder if any of my readers have ever found a chapel in an airport? And how many have wished they could?
And I just found the most amazing thing. An entire history of this place, with photos from the architect's designs to the woods where they found the tree, and how they moved it into the airport. Fascinating. Now I just need to learn to read German beyond my single college semester level! (If you decide to check out that link, just know that there are a couple of blank pages after the initial title page. then it's full of pictures.)
Sunday, January 20, 2019
But the whole reason for being out there is because the moon is in the act of being eclipsed even as I sit here and write. I couldn't take the cold too much longer, so I came in for a break before returning in a bit.
This morning in our Sunday Bible class, the theme was how the Creation is a witness to faith in God, looking at Hebrews 11 : By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.
In the context of discussion, a class member mentioned that the eclipse would happen tonight, and I'm so glad he did, because though I had seen something about it earlier, I had forgotten.
Sitting out there just now, besides noticing the moon, and noticing that it was very cold (the thermometer says 26 degrees), I couldn't help noticing how clear the air was and how brightly the stars shone, something I haven't seen in a long time. It was beautiful. I wanted so much to be able to stay there, but I couldn't.
…..Well, I left and I'm back. And while I was out there, I had the idea of bringing my grandmother's rocking chair out to the deck. It couldn't hurt the chair, and it would let me lean back enough to see the moon and to have support for my neck. So I came back in and got the chair and watched the rest of the veiling of the moon more comfortably.
And the whole little experience brought to mind evenings at Grandmother's house when we would have finished washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen, maybe preparing something for the next day's deliciousness, maybe watching the news or something worthwhile on TV. And at some point Grandmother would say, "Let's go sit outside for a while."
And we would do that. Take a couple of folding chairs (or more than a couple if there were more people) out the back door to simply sit outside on the driveway, with the backyard before us and the whole sky above us. It was always warmer weather, so we might hear a symphony of cicadas or see lightning bugs blinking in the yard around us. With or without those, there was always the wonderful smell of being outside and the vast sky above and whatever stars we could see.
I don't have specific memories of conversations during those times. It wouldn't surprise me if we may have sung once or twice. "Can you count the stars of evening that are shining in the sky?" I really don't recall what we talked about, or even that talking was much a part of it. I was not generally a big talker if someone else didn't start it off, and what I do remember is sitting there quietly at the end of a day, feeling such a sense of togetherness as we absorbed the beauty of the night.
Oh, and I do remember something specific. Grandmother bought a moonflower vine and planted it right out there by the back door so that she could look at it in the evenings. And smell its wonderful scent. I do remember talking about that and going over to admire it.
The moon, the stars, the rocking chair, the sun and earth all part of a beautiful moment tied to other beautiful moments. What a gift to have minds and hearts capable of perceiving, remembering, connecting, feeling, loving. Tonight is a full moon, and a full heart.
And I think of St. Francis, from class earlier today.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them,
bright, and precious, and fair.