10 Reasons to Bring the Kids to next year’s North Charleston Arts Festival!

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I can’t believe my firstborn son will be married in two weeks!!!  I had a great time visiting with Jason and his beautiful fiancee’ Vickie this week on their vacation to SC.  The time ended with a trip to Cypress Gardens where we took a boat ride through the black swamp.  We had a great time, even if they (that would be Pedro and Jason) did try to scare me by going off the boat “trail” to look for alligators!  Thankfully, we didn’t see a single one!  And we didn’t get lost either!  I guess they taught me a lesson about taking risks but I wonder what they would have done if we’d met an alligator!  One of my favorite pictures was the mandala bridge…or so I named it because the reflection in the water made a circle.  Now starts the countdown to TWO sons’ weddings (secondborn son, Corey, marries beautiful Sarah in 40 days!) and the bridges they will cross into their futures that I pray will be bright and full of love and adventure.  

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My Dad…the legacy of a life well lived, much loved, whose lessons continue and last from generation to generation.  Two years ago today he left us and oh how he is missed.  Blessed moments once shared are remembered with love and gratitude.  He wasn’t perfect, he never claimed to be, but he was kind, honest, faithful to God, witty, loving, and strong.  He could be stubborn but it was born of conviction to stand for what was right no matter who didn’t like to hear it.  He was a guiding light who loved beauty and captured it through the camera lens.  He loved music and planted the seeds of music in all his children through blaring records of many genres, classical and big band the most.  I love these pictures that show him as a young newlywed, patriotic serviceman, and then devoted Grandpa surrounded by some of his generational legacy.  Yep, this is my Dad and I am proud to be his daughter.   

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The Edge of America…The Edge of Life…

A winter walk on Folly Beach, SC, aka “The Edge of America,” is always a journey to see how the tides have changed the shifting sands of time.  The Morris Island Lighthouse teeters on the edge of existence because the ocean is literally eroding it to the point of collapse.  There is an organized local effort to Save the Lighthouse, a historic landmark, with fundraisers and lobbying for saving its centuries old life.  This grassroots effort seeks to shore up its foundation so that it will not succumb to the pounding waves and end up in an ocean grave.  Whenever I come here I do wonder as I trudge the sandy path, like stomping through snow drifts up north, if the lighthouse will still be there.  I always breathe a deep sigh of relief when I cross the dune threshold and see it standing, still taking the rhythmic and sometimes fierce beatings of the waves, and I echo a silent thanks to the Creator of the universe for allowing this landmark to withstand the forces of nature.

Walking this beach on a warm February day while most of the country is gripped by winter blizzards inspires me to appreciate the solitude of driftwood and dead trees that tell the story of time’s passing; that say “Hey!  Look!  I am still here!  I survive the storms of life and yet I stand strong!”  The shifting sands and the changing tides fill the gaps in my soul with hope that the gritty, salty stuff of life will not topple me but make me stronger.  I am still here and I stand tall because of the mercy and grace of God. 

Annie Dillard says it better about the gaps, the spaces between things: “The gaps are the thing.  The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound.  The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery.  Go into the gaps.  If you can find them; they shift and vanish too.  Stalk the gaps.  Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock – more than a maple – a universe.”

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25 years ago today I married this guitar man with a beautiful voice who I met in graduate school at the University of Louisville.  He invited me to hear him sing at an international dinner for students and that was it, the rest is history.  Seems like ages ago!  On this our Silver Anniversary, I am grateful that we are still together through thick and thin, ups and downs, and the many changes life brings raising three children.  He is a good and patient man, a forgiving and loving husband and father.  He sweetly sang his way into my heart then and still does now.  These photos are from Christmas gatherings with friends.  May God bless our journey for another 25 years….Thank you, Pedro!  

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Roofus, aka “Houdini”…thought I should mention Roofus (he’s the white dog) since he keeps my feet warm and protects me.  His nickname is “Houdini” because of his almost miraculous disappearing acts from the backyard.  He is the ONLY dog we’ve ever had that jumps the fence just to come to the front door because we took too long to let him in the back door.  Pedro is constantly trying to outsmart him and he finally found a collar the dog can’t wiggle out of when he is tied up.  Even Indie, Corey’s dog, gets in on the act and tries to help Roofus out of his collar by dragging him by the chain.  It’s hilarious!  But maybe dangerous so we have had to stop that magic trickster in his tracks. 

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Of Frosts and Fires…

Leave it to Queen Callie, the calico cat, to investigate the slightest change in her kingdom and make her disapproval loudly known.  A week or so ago autumn’s first night of frost warnings prompted her loyal subjects to make some changes in the palace.  Pedro built a fire in the den for romance and warmth, and I moved the plants in from the porch to avoid frostbite.  I am trying really hard to overcome my past history of plant neglect and I hope this first attempt will help me rehabilitate my not-so-green thumb and turn over a new leaf! (Pun intended, of course!) However, the indoor greenhouse in the foyer has caused a domino effect because the bench where the plants are is the spot I used to keep the Queen’s bowl of food.  The food was moved to higher ground on top of the piano, in part to keep three large dogs from emptying the bowl when we aren’t looking.  This change has been very distressing to the Queen.  She whines to her loyal subjects and throws herself across our path as we try to get out the front door demanding that her palace be restored to order.  So what if she has to jump up on the keyboard and play a few tunes to get her food?  It is more disturbing to us in the middle of the night when we hear her strange music like she’s the phantom of the opera, until we figure out that we are not having strange dreams, just living in a strange kingdom at the mercy of a finicky Queen.  I did see her laying on the fireplace watching the flames dance and looking quite content so maybe there’s hope for peace in the land once more. 

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Fallen Trees, Flashlights & Dark Nights

Is there a fallen tree in your life?  I’m speaking metaphorically for a problem or ongoing issue, significant life event (like the death of a loved one) that has had such a strong impact on your life that it could be compared to a large tree brought down to the ground by hurricane-force winds in the darkness of night.  This could represent a past or present storm, or one we are afraid will come in the future.  When this change arrives, in whatever form the storm winds come, it can level us to the ground.  We are left facing this obstacle like a fallen tree in our life, and we may not know how to move it, deal with it, or overcome it.  When the morning light dawns we can see just how big of a fallen tree we are facing.

I attended a great lecture last weekend on the dark night of the soul and the commonality we shared as humans who have encountered a dark night in our lives was prevalent in the audience and, in fact, unanimous.  I took many pages of notes as this occurence has happened to me on many levels: personally (the well-known mid-life crisis, my father’s death, children leaving home, to name a few), professionally (in my former job as a therapist I dealt with other peoples’ fallen trees and dark nights on a daily basis until I forgot to take care of me and burned out), spiritually (I have been in Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones more than once!), and even physically (often the body is the last frontier to show the effects of stress).  Sometimes the stress of encountering a fallen tree in the dark night is simply too much and we can become depressed!  Rest assured, if you forgot your flashlight you will likely fall over it, conk your head on it, or, at the very least, stub your toe on it!  Or, maybe, you remembered the flashlight but didn’t check the batteries and the light is weak or without power.

I remember my husband standing before a full church during a celebration on the last day of a spiritual renewal weekend called Cursillo a dozen years ago, sharing this very metaphor that I am borrowing from him.  He compared his life prior to the weekend experience as walking through life with the flashlight (faith) in one hand and the batteries (God’s Power through the Holy Spirit) in his pocket.  He shared how God used the weekend, Jesus, and the love of people to spiritually help him get the batteries into the flashlight where true Light could shine.  That metaphor really hit home for a lot of people that day and I remember it still.

So, about those fallen trees…on one of my walks at Springbank I encountered the one in the photos above and found some answers in nature.  Fallen trees may vary in size and number but if they fall across your path you pretty much have to deal with them one way or another.  Look at the root system of this fallen tree that has not been completely severed from the trunk and see the miracle that has taken place over time:  the shoots of new trees have sprouted and young trees are growing out of the fallen trunk!  Life has sprouted from something left for dead.  This phenomenon can be contemplated from many angles and for me the conclusion is the same: HOPE!  So, the sprouts are nature’s way of dealing with fallen trees in the forest, even if the healing takes a long time to happen.

Let’s consider man’s response to fallen trees.  The one at Springbank was given a surprise ending not only in the sprouts but in the bridge someone built over it.  I suppose there was no particular need to chop up this tree and remove it from the woods and once the sprouts appeared I’m guessing that the nuns who live there wanted to honor the new life appearing from the dead, fallen tree and so they built a bridge over it.  What a great place to sit and think about life!  Sometimes, however, there is no choice but to remove the fallen trees and use the wood for other things, like drums or firewood.

Recently, I watched my husband methodically remove a twisted, diseased, half-dead oak tree from our front yard that was in danger of falling on our house.  I prayed every day that he would not get hurt as one by one he removed top branches and worked his way down.  He stood on the roof of our house and used a saw blade on a very long pole every day after teaching!  I told him to “Be careful!” so many times I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time those two words came out of my mouth! 

One evening last week I was taking a nap after work and I heard a huge thud outside that shook the bed like an earthquake.  I just knew it was the rest of that darned tree coming down!  I jumped up worried it might have landed on my husband!  As I got up I saw him run past the doors and through the backyard AFTER the thud.  I don’t know what that was about but I was glad he was okay!

The quick clean-up of this fallen tree was due in large part to our neighbor’s desire for free firewood to last the winter.  He hauled off most of the large sections.  Obviously, in suburbia, we could hardly leave the fallen tree in the front yard to wait for the lessons of nature or even for us to build a bridge over it.  Still, it will be interesting to see if anything sprouts from the leveled-to-the-ground stump that looks as smooth as a giant pancake lying in the grass.

I don’t think it is a good idea to ignore fallen trees and/or dark nights but this is often man’s response.  We can easily engage in all sorts of compulsive behaviors to numb the pain and remain in denial.  Our culture supports this attitude of keeping a stiff upper lip and being strong but the prolonged effects of practicing denial often result in all sorts of symptoms and dis-eases of the soul.  Facing our fallen trees often brings up emotions we may not be prepared to deal with but in the long run it is better than the alternative and with some support to help us we WILL get through it!  Denial seems to help us cope on the surface of things but over time it eats away our soul until there is just a dim spark flickering like a flame in the wind.

So, if your flashlight is empty, get some new batteries!  Pray!  Ask for help, lean on your family, go to church, get some fresh air, and reach out a little. Take a friend with you on your journey and find a good therapist – there’s no shame in this, it works!  After all, you may have to build a bridge to get to the other side of the path but you MAY find one already placed there by a kind, UNSEEN Hand.

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