Wednesday, July 20, 2016


As you are aware from reading any of my posts, I am a fan of most types of music.  Most of my preferred selections, though, come from the realm of singer-songwriters such as Dan Fogelberg, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver and others.  But one that I thoroughly enjoy, yet do not reference a great deal is Mary Chapin Carpenter.   The music industry doesn't always know what to do with singer-songwriters, and for some reason have classified Ms. Carpenter as a country artist.  I consider her more folk-pop or folk-rock, but that's just me.   Whatever her classification, I do enjoy her music. This song, music and lyrics are the property of Ms. Carpenter and her publishing company.  I use them herein for discussion purposes only.

One of her albums that I loved from the moment I popped in the CD for the first time was the Stones in the Road recording.   On it, there is a song entitled, Jubilee.   From the first time I heard it, I was receiving it as a celebration of bringing a soul back to the fold after being away.  This soul's absence had been of his or her own creation and it's perpetuation of that separation was also self-imposed.  

I can tell by the way you're walking
That you don't want company
Well, I'll let you alone and 
I'll let you walk on
In your own good time you'll be
Back where the sun can find you
Under the wise wishing tree
And with all of them made
We'll lie under the shade
And call it a jubilee...

A jubilee?  What exactly is a jubilee?   It is defined as a celebration that occurs after 50 years, such as the 50th year of a monarch's rule, or an anniversary of a country's founding involving 50 years.   It's origin, though, may well have come from Leviticus 25:8-55.   In this passage, jubilee is discussed as being related to atonement; the redeeming of property, land, livestock, etc., the sale of which may have become necessary in the previous 50 years.   The Bible is replete with references to the number 7; indeed, God created the world in "7 days", and Jesus himself indicated that number of times forgiveness needs to be granted is "70 times 7".  Of course, 7 times 7 is 49.  So for 49 years, business goes on, but in the 49th year, provisions must be made for that year of atonement, of redemption, of "making things right". During the 50th year, the redemption process - the atonement - occurs and so do the celebrations. I encourage you to find your Old Testament, and read this passage.  (Leviticus is the 3rd book of the Holy Bible.)  Jubilee is the celebration of the redemption.

I can tell by the way you're talking
That the past isn't letting you go
Well, it's only so long you can take it all on
Then the wrong's gotta be on its own
When you're ready to leave it behind you
And you look back on all that you see,
It's the wreckage and rust that you left in the dust
On your way to the jubilee!

One of the matters with which I find myself having difficulty is that message of forgiveness.  I don't think I'm a terribly horrible person, but there are times that I still see or remember things I've done or said that I wish I had not.  I have asked God to forgive me, but somehow I haven't been able to forgive myself.  This is a failing on my part, for who am I to NOT forgive when God already has? That's pretty arrogant of me.   I do know that when something I've carried for a long time is finally released, it is most wonderfully freeing!!

I can tell by the way you're listening
That you're still expecting to hear
You're name being called like a summons to all
Who have failed to account for their doubts and their fears
They can't add up to much without you
And so if it were just up to me
I'd take hold of your hand, saying come hear the band
Play your song at the jubilee!

Truly, one of the conundrums in which we find ourselves involves our conflicting senses of wanting to trust in God's answering our prayers, yet not being able to be patient, or deciding that God is not answering when He is either saying "no", "not now" or "I have something better in mind". Maybe He hasn't been able to get our attention away from TV, our "smart phones" or other distractions. We shrink away in horror at the idea of being angry with God, or not trusting him.  We fear His anger.  We fear the consequences of continuing on our way without that confirmation from Him that we are on the right path.  We fear the silence in which we have to listen for His words, because we might not like the answers.

I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came
When you feel this way try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee

Perhaps most frightening for me, anyway, is knowing exactly what it is that is missing.  I know that something is, but what?  Like many, I find myself thinking that if x happens, then I'll be happy; only  when it does, I'm not.  It's easy to back away when I feel like a fool, than it is to simply stop, be quiet and look.  The thing is, none of us have to feel this way!

And I can tell by the way you're standing 
With your eyes filling with tears
That it's habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here
Where the people who love you are gathered
Under the wise wishing tree
Let us all be considered then straight on delivered
Down to the jubilee

Where the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be.
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking about jubilee!

The last two refrains remind me of several of Jesus' parables, but in particular, the prodigal son.  The son in the story has been in a sort of self-imposed exile, comes back begging forgiveness, leaving his wreckage behind him, hoping against hope that he will be allowed to be in his father's presence again.  The father redeems him and there is great celebration in the household.   Let's call it a jubilee! 

May the Peace of Jesus Christ be with you!

Monday, June 6, 2016

My Father

On December 16, 2014, at approximate 5 pm, Oscar Floyd Hooker took his last breath while sleeping.  He was 92 years old.  My mother was right where she always had been in the previous 66 years and 4 months; sitting beside him, holding his hand.  The hospice nurse had just cleaned him up and changed his bed linens; while rounding the corner of his bed, she looked back at him and noticed a slight change in his coloring.   She stepped back to his side with her stethoscope, and determined that he had slipped away quietly.  She went out to call my brother, who had gone with his wife to run an errand.   He called me.   I had been the night shift the previous night, and had been napping for about an hour.   Within half an hour, we were all again in that room with my mom and my father’s remains.   As my brother would later make note in a beautiful poem, we told stories, remembering things he had said or done - - usually funny things – half expecting him to wake up and correct the errors in our story-telling.  Maybe wishing that he would.

I am a Southern girl, and we have special relationships with our daddies - - and make no mistake, he was my daddy!   It’s somewhat hard to explain.   There are many issues that only my mother could handle, but some were particularly “daddy territory”.   Those usually related to my car.   Or money.   I remember once when I had moved back to Charleston, South Carolina from San Francisco, I had a job interview in South Augusta, SC.   Dad just had to get the map out and show me “the best route” to go, even though he had never been there.   He had driven from Charleston to Atlanta a few times, and never mind that I had found my way around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas -Fort Worth, Kansas City, Chicago, Syracuse, NY, all over Florida and a few other places on my own, this was THE best way to go!    I just listened.   Now, of course, I just plug in the address in my GPS and head out!

Dad had shown me the best way to go in many areas of my life.  Sometimes I listened and heeded his words.   Sometimes I just listened, remembering his words after I had made a mess of things.   Always, I hated to invoke his disappointment, as I did on more than one occasion.   He always, ALWAYS forgave me.
There was one time, when I was about 18 months - - and no, I do not remember this first hand - - that we were out in the front yard, and I can only guess that he had been playing with us and stopped to have a conversation with someone who dropped by.  People were always dropping by….   Anyway, I marched right up to him with those hard soled little toddler shoes and kicked the heck out of his shin!   I am alive to tell the story because he laughed, even as he massaged his leg!

That was not the only time his laughter saved me from certain death.   When I was about four, maybe five, he had been left alone with us, and between the three of us, the den was quite cluttered with our toys.   Most of the toys were usually housed in a cedar chest that I now have in my living room; the longer ones - - the toy rifles, my baton, etc - - were stood in the corner beside the back door.   We had been playing, and cutting up with him, and he had a defiant, sarcastic sense of playfulness sometimes, when he suddenly looks at his watch and told us that “mommy would be home soon” and to “put your toys away.”  I was across the room from the corner where my baton belonged, and I started walking – albeit slowly - - toward it, twirling the baton as I went.   It wasn’t fast enough, and he interpreted my lack of speed as disobedience.   The origin of the idea in my mind for what happened next is still a mystery, but, he leaned over me with a very mean expression on his face, clapped his hands and pointed to the corner.   I set the baton down, looked directly into his face, adopted the same expression, clapped my hands and also pointed to the corner.   I heard my brother’s gasp behind me as I stared into my father’s face, instantly wishing I hadn’t done it, but somehow knowing that if I moved before my dad did, I would surely die.   We were thus frozen for what seemed like an eternity, but then I saw the twinkle come back into my dad’s eyes and his facial muscles moving into a laugh.   I jerked that baton off the floor, ran to the corner to put it away, and picked up the rest of my toys as quickly as I could!   We were still talking about that incident during his last week in the hospice, and still chuckling.   My instincts were correct; he had forced himself to laugh at me so he wouldn’t hurt me in his profound anger at my defiance!

For reasons that I’ll not share here, I spent a good part of my early life with a sense of inferiority, and a strange idea that I was not supposed to be alive.   Indeed, I had a few incidents of daredevil activity in my early childhood that could have resulted in serious injury or even death, had others not been around to prevent them.  (I did get a broken right arm in one such occasion.   It only served to assist me in nearly ambidextrous behavior for a while.  I still do a lot of things with my left hand because of it, even though I am right handed.)   I was driven to make good grades, to play music, to sing, to be the best I could be so that I could win approval, even though I knew my parents and the rest of my family loved me.   I just wanted to be kept around.   I don’t know exactly when the full on depression started, but I know it was there by my teenage years.   Folks just thought I was weird or conceited.   I’ll cop to weird; never to  conceited.  If people only knew how much I felt like a fraud.

About a month before my father’s passing, I showed him a document to which I had contributed significantly.   It was published, and is in use.   He told me he was proud of me.  Not only for that, but for all the things I had been doing, especially in the church.   He was proud of how I had handled my husband’s death a couple of years earlier (don’t think he ever read about that herein; he might not have been so proud).   I might as well have received a Nobel prize or something that monumental; my father took the time to list things for which I had made him proud.  I’m not sure my feet hit the floor or the ground for the rest of the afternoon!

On the Sunday before he passed away on that Tuesday afternoon, he called each of us individually to his side.   If we weren’t physically present, he had us telephone the missing ones.   He talked to me, to my sister-in-law, we called my brother, my niece with the great-grandkids, and my nephew.   He told each of us how much he loved us, how proud he was of his family and how much he would miss us!   Many tears were shed, most of which came when he took off his wedding ring and put it on my mother’s finger with her rings that he had given her.   We all got to tell him how much we loved him, how proud we were of him and how much we would miss him, too!   He called out to God and to the angels to please come and get him. Nothing important was left unsaid.  No regrets.  No recriminations.  Just love.  He mostly slept after that.

Once he was gone and we were planning his memorial service, I learned that when we had first moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960’s, there had been a Freedom March, in which all the local pastors had been invited to participate.   Dad went the Session of our church, told them of his intentions to march, and invited them to march with him.  Only one of them had the fortitude to do it.   They became life-long friends after that.  

My father taught me through word and deed that:

1.       Family is of paramount importance after God.
2.       People are people, regardless of skin color, nationality, creed, gender preference or identity, etc.
3.       God is Lord of all.   What we believe about God doesn’t change who God is.
4.       Doing the right thing doesn’t make one popular, but it helps one sleep at night.

Once, in 2000, when my parents had moved to Jacksonville where my brother was living, Dad had to have a catheterization procedure on his heart.   He reacted badly to the dye, and became critically ill.   I was told to, “get on a plane and get down here”.   When I arrived, my brother met me at the airport and drove me to the hospital.   As we were walking across the parking lot, he suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “Susie Q, you are going to meet some people that I work with, in all likelihood.   They are coming to see Dad, but also to see me.   When they meet you and refer to you as the ‘foster child’, just go with it!”    I laughed, saying, “the joke’s on you; I look more like Daddy than you do!”

I am proud of that fact!   And I am proud of the man that my father was on earth.  My daddy…  I miss you so much!

In 1979

Picture of him and me just before walking me down the aisle

Mom and Dad on June 24, 2006, at my niece's wedding 
On his last birthday, November 22, 2014.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

And God Made Liesl

It has been a while since I last posted here; over two years.   I was a little stunned by that the last time I looked at it, with that entry being one for the Lenten season in 2014.   Much has happened in that time.  When I wrote in March 2014, I was still stinging from a string of three horrendous losses.   First, the loss of my husband in July 2012, then the unexpected, sudden need to euthanize my beloved 11 year-old hound-pit bull mix, Opie, in May 2013 and finally the not unexpected, but devastating decision to send almost 16 year-old Lab mix, Sandy, to Rainbow Bridge in December 2013.  We had raised these two each from when they were small puppies.  In just over 20 months, I had gone from having a high stress job in Fredericksburg, a wonderful (but progressively ill) husband and two loud, rambunctious canines, to being retired, widowed and existing alone in a big, cluttered, and terribly quiet house.   “Stinging” doesn’t begin to describe it; “reeling” is more like it.  More losses were coming, I just didn’t know it yet, and, as the saying goes, they usually come in threes.   That was the case with mine.

I spent a great deal of time in 2014 traveling around, especially the early part of the year.  I jumped into a lot of projects for the church, and for the presbytery.  I spent a lot of time away from the house, away from all the projects, the cleaning out and the pain of getting rid of things that held such memories. 

Around the beginning of May, I thought I was over the worst of my grief, and realized that the house was entirely too quiet.   I started thinking about needing a companion - - one who would be by my side, who would love me unconditionally, who would cuddle with me, who would let me cry when I needed to, yet be entertaining enough to lift my spirits when I felt down; one who actually needed me as much or more than I needed him or her.  I wanted someone to be happy when I came home!  In short, I needed another dog!

I decided after having a lot of contact with the dog owned by my Crossfit trainers, that I needed a German Shepherd, and it needed to be from an eastern European bloodline.  I wanted a puppy, figuring I had time to spend with one.  I searched breeders, and found one in West Virginia that specialized in DDR (the former East Germany) bloodlines.   Many of their pups had the black sable coloring - - which I love!   I told the breeder the traits for which I was looking, that I wanted my new four-legged best friend and she told me she was preparing two of her females for breeding with her newest imported male from Germany.   My name was put on a list, and the wait began.   While waiting, it came to me that I should call her Liesl, commonly used in Germany, but which is originally from the Hebrew, Elisheba, and means “oath of God.”
The breeder and I communicated quite a bit over the next few weeks, and finally I got the word that the selected female was indeed in whelp.  (Pregnant, for all of us who don’t know the correct terminology)   Finally, on June 29, 2014, I got the word that the puppies were born - - seven males and three females, but one female had died.   I was assured that one of the two would be mine.   Approximately five weeks later, I received a photograph of the “crew”, with the one pup at the right end being the lone surviving female.  I fell in love instantly.

(See her cropped image).   Of all the pups in the photograph, she was the only one looking at the camera, and interacting with it!   I knew she was my Liesl.

Of course, it was far too early to get her; she was too little to leave her mother.   So, for five more weeks, I anxiously ticked off the days, waiting to get the word that I could come and pick her up.

On September 9th, after having been to the Lockn Music Festival in Arrington, Virginia, I went to Lexington and met with the breeder to get my girl.   I had on a brand new Widespread Panic tee shirt.   Finally, they arrived, took her little crate out of the truck, set on the ground and opened the little door.   She ran out straight to me, stood on her hind legs, with her front paws on my knees.   I picked her up.  She showered my face with puppy kisses and the front of my brand new tee shirt with puppy pee!   I didn’t care;  she was mine and the tee shirt could be washed!

I found out on that trip home that she was (and still is) a good little traveler!   She quietly lay in her crate and pooped all over it.   I stopped to clean it and her as best I could, and we began our adventure together!

We were never apart for that first month.  Wherever I went, so did she, except for worship services. About a week after I got her, I took her with me to Charlotte, NC, for the quarter- and semi-final matches for the first season of GRID.  In the lobby during our trips in and out of the hotel for potty breaks, she introduced me to the New York Rhinos GRID team! She was great, except for crying and barking a little too much the first night while I was gone.  She accompanied me to meetings, often laying in my lap (or someone else’s) and sleeping.  I took her little lightweight travel crate and sometimes she would play in there, but mostly she wanted to be out where the people were, and in that first couple of months, introduced me to the majority of Warrenton!  Our next door neighbor also has a German Shepherd, and the two of them are BFF’s now!  Aside from 2 exceptions, she has never encountered a person or creature with whom she did not want to play!   (one exception was the copperhead that bit her paw in 2015, and the other was the cable guy from a couple of months ago.)

From the beautiful, auspicious beginnings, though, she has been a handful!    Her innate friendliness and exuberance has cost me a bit of money.   German Shepherds love to chew on things.  She is no exception. She has greatly assisted me in “evaluating” things in the house about which I was previously undecided to keep or toss.  She has been a struggle to house-train, as she figured out early on how to escape her crates!   She also has figured out how to get out of the gates at my neighbor’s fenced in yard!

I had to have a fence constructed to allow her to run and expend some of her energy, as she is far too strong for me to control any other way.  Just as she had introduced me to many people in Warrenton, she has reintroduced me to my neighbors, as she will go on rounds to see them, if she manages to wriggle loose from me when exiting our gate!  I am more a part of the neighborhood now, than I ever have been before!

For all her destructiveness, her boundless energy and her stubborn unwillingness to obey commands on the first utterance, she is a loving companion.  She cuddles with me, lifts my spirits when I am feeling down, needs me and always greets me with a wagging tail and happy face!   She has grown into being a gorgeous GSD.    God saw that I was unhappy.  He saw that I needed a companion, and he made Liesl for me.  She is God’s oath to me  - - with her, I will never be alone, never need a companion, never go without affection or being needed, never go without being loved!

Friday, March 21, 2014

On Love and Vulnerability - - A Lenten Devotional

On page 77 of his beautiful book, Open Mind, Open Heart, Thomas Keating writes the following:  Suffering is part of the warp and woof of living.   It is not an end in itself, but part of the price one has to pay for being greatly loved.  Love, whether human or divine, makes you vulnerable.  And from page 14 of Heart of the World, he writes: Vulnerability means to be hurt over and over again without seeking to love less, but more.

Of course, most of us are familiar with I Corinthians 13, concerning God’s gift of love.  Starting at verse 4, it says, Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  (I Corinthians 13: 4 – 8a, NRSV)

Lent is a season in which we are reminded of God’s intense love for His creation, and the pain and suffering God endured on our behalf, and the supreme sacrifice made for us.    Over the past couple of years, I have been reminded numerous times about pain, suffering, sacrifice and vulnerability.    I have not seen the necessity in Lent for “giving up” something relatively trivial like-- dare I say it-- chocolate, in the short term only to revel in on Easter Sunday.   No, chocolate does not begin to approach the magnitude of what many I have lost for the remainder of my time on this planet.    So what is the victory I will celebrate on Easter?  

I will celebrate the fact that I am loved by a family, numerous sets of friends and acquaintances, and a God who loves me so much that He was willing to endure the pain, suffering and vulnerability to allow His Son to be sacrificed.   I will celebrate that death does not have the last word on a life, and that my sins were taken into the grave… and left there!   I will celebrate that love endures all things and never ends.   I am not promised that it will never hurt.    I am not promised that everything will go the way I think it should, or that I can be entirely carefree.    I am not promised that physical, mental and emotional maladies will not rear their unpleasant heads from time to time, hurling me into the depths of pain.   But  I am promised that I am loved, and that love will survive all ills, provide hope, and remain throughout eternity.  

Can your chocolate do that?

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me so much that you sacrificed your Son.   Thank you for the steadfast, faithfulness of your love and mercy, that rose victorious on that first Easter morning,  and which sustains us still.   Help us to be mindful of those among us who are in pain, are suffering and vulnerable.   Help us to remember when we are hurting that it is a sign of being loved.   In Jesus' precious name,  Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

With A Million Stars All Around

Well, it has been a while since I have added anything to this site.   I haven’t felt particularly moved to express anything until this morning.  
As I write this, events are happening in the sky above my home - - and likely yours as well - -  but you may not be witnessing  them.  In fact, if you are not retired, you probably are sleeping at this moment.  But there are meteor showers predicted, and indeed some of my friends on social media have reported seeing them already, with the best viewing times yet to come.
I have been out already - -  a couple of times - - the last time, spreading a beach towel on the ground in my back yard and lying back, gazing at the sky above.   As I did so, several things came to mind, things that made me realize I didn’t need to see the actual meteor shower.     I’ve seen them before.   No, other  messages came to mind that I think may have been the real reason I was led outdoors instead of to my bed to sleep.   If you will permit me, I’ll share these with you here.
First of all, there was a haziness to the viewing at first.   Initially, I interpreted it as cloudiness, as we have had some rain this weekend.   But the longer I was outside, the clearer the sky seemed and the more defined the stars seemed in that sky.   I was reminded of the passage in I Corinthians about seeing in a mirror dimly but then face to face.   Now, our understanding is blurred; but eventually, it will all be clear.   Or, in the more recent words of Dan Fogelberg, “one day, we’ll all understand.”
My first reverie was rudely interrupted by the sudden appearance of a bat, flying about a foot from my face.   I had to scramble to ensure that it did not find its way inside my dwelling where my beautiful aging canine was sweetly sleeping.   But a few minutes later, I was back outside.
I was then reminded that John used to wake me up to come outside and witness meteor showers.   It used to irritate me a little, particularly if I had to work the next day, but he kept up with such events.   I find myself doing it now, and tonight it made me feel a sense of his being near that I have not experienced in a while.   It was a comfortable feeling, and one for which I am thankful.    This is a lasting gift he has given me!
I was aware of the sounds of the country.  Nights in rural areas are loud; not with sounds of sirens and horns so much, or even human voices, but insects doing the various things they do that make noise.   Bats fly around.   Breezes in the trees rustle the leaves.  Most animals are sleeping, but one hears an occasional twig snap in the woods…  It could be deafening for those not accustomed to it.    As I lay there, I realized that this ground on which I was reclining, these trees that were inhibiting somewhat my view of the sky and this house looming above me to my side are, for this point in time, mine.   This is my home.   I do not know that I have ever felt this connected to this place, that it is so much a part of me, or I a part of it.
As I lay there on that silly, thin, little beach towel, relishing the firm, cool ground beneath my head and back, I gazed up at the myriad of stars above me, and realized that in other states, maybe even other countries, there were others similarly situated, looking up at these same heavenly bodies.   In that moment, we were all connected!  We ARE all connected!   Knowing that certain of these people happen to be friends of mine made that fact so much more comforting because in that moment, I felt as if they were lying next to me on the ground, gazing skyward and experiencing the same sense of awe and wonder as was I.
And in that moment, with a million stars all around, the world felt just a little less lonely.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Like you, I have been aware of this designated day of love for most of my life. This is my first Valentine’s Day as a widow. I find myself telling many friends and family members to enjoy this day, and that I love them - - and I do - - and yet, something feels just a little bit off. It is not just because I am no longer married on this earth. It is something else. There is something about the meaning of this day of which I am not really a part this year, or at least, I did not think so.

Until this year, I never particularly cared how the observance got started, or why it has become such an expression of romance and love. Is this some centuries old tradition or an invention by florists, candy makers and greeting card manufacturers to sell merchandise? I was a tiny bit surprised at what I found just by looking on the website called Wikipedia. (I am drawing my descriptions of a few of the legends from that website.) As one might expect, there are a number of explanations - - all of them quite old.

It would seem that at least one legend goes back to third century Rome, when Claudius II decided that single men were better in battle than married men, so he outlawed marriage for young men. A priest named Valentine decided that this was an unjust mandate, and began performing secret marriages for these young lovers. When it was discovered, this Valentine was put to death.

Another story regarding the death of Valentine was that he assisted Christians in escaping prison, where they were beaten and tortured. He himself was thrown into jail. It is reported that he personally sent the first “valentine” when he signed a letter to the object of his affection, purported to be the jailor’s daughter, as “from your Valentine” just before he was martyred.

These are legends, of course. But apparently, this Valentine was known to be a sympathetic, heroic and ultimately romantic, figure - - one who literally acted out of, and for romantic love. He was reported to have been put to death on or around the 14th of February in the year 270.

As with many of our Christian celebrations, it is also thought that our St. Valentine’s Day is a “Christianization” of a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia, occurring in mid-February. The Luperci was an order of Roman priests. They would gather at the cave where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were supposedly raised from infanthood by she-wolves.  They would then sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. After killing the animals, they would cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them in the blood of the sacrificed animals and gently slap them against women as well as in the fields to engender increased fertility in both. Subsequent to this morning activity, the women would gather in the center of the town and place their names in a large urn. Young men would step forward and draw these names from the urn and thus, men and women would be paired. These pairings often resulted in marriage. And children.

Lupercalia initially survived the onset of Christianity, but was outlawed as “un-Christian” at the end of the 5th century. February 14th was designated as Valentine’s Day by Pope Gelasius. It was not until much later that it came to be definitively associated with love. In the Middle Ages, in England and France, it was thought that the mating season for birds began on or around the ides, or middle, of February, so that is another explanation of the timing of Valentine’s Day.

So, legends abound, and the day has long been associated with romantic love. Present day merchants are not totally to blame for this one… Not totally.

I’ve been very fortunate. Since my teens, there have been relatively few years that I have marked a Valentine’s Day outside of a romantic relationship of some sort. Certainly, this is the first in the last twenty years. Yet, I am not sad or feeling deprived of love this year! In fact, just to the contrary!

When “hosting” and “serving” a Valentine’s Dinner at my church earlier this week, I wanted to honor my love for, and marriage to, my late husband in some way. I did not want to feel sad or weepy; I wanted to enjoy the fellowship that such an evening could bring by serving others. (He had rarely attended these dinners due to his schedule and health concerns, yet I always knew he was at home waiting for me.) Thanks to my recent diet and exercise activities, I was able to wear the same outfit that I had worn to the rehearsal dinner on the night before our wedding in 1993. I put on the engagement ring John had given me, as I wore it that night 19 years ago, and wore also the emerald and diamond ring that he gave me to replace a marquis-shaped birthstone emerald class ring from college that got lost some years ago. My sister-in-law had given me a framed snapshot taken of us the night of the rehearsal where John was hugging me. I took that picture and placed it on the registration table at our Valentine’s Dinner. No matter what I was doing during the evening, I felt that John was there with me, in spirit, as he always had been in our life together. I remembered how happy and hopeful we were that night in 1993, anticipating the years we would have together, and by doing so, I was buoyed and joyous throughout an evening that perhaps some others were finding to be sad and empty.  

This year, I did not need the flowers and since I am not supposed to be eating candy anyway, did not miss the chocolate! I have plenty of cards he had given me throughout our relationship. All I have to do is read them, or just look around to see the memories of the love he and I shared, and the life we built over the years in this house; whether through furnishings, the dogs we adopted, or pictures of us. I know that he loved me, and he knew that I loved him. We said so every day, multiple times, and managed to find ways of expressing it in other ways, too. I have not stopped feeling love for him, nor him for me, just because he has passed on to life with God in Heaven. As we held hands and he breathed his last on that day seven months ago, my final words to him were that I had and would always love him; and I always have and will.

As children of the living God, all of us are called to love each other. Love is action, not just an emotion. Love is putting the benefit of others before that of self. In the case of romantic love which today celebrates, the actions and demonstrations are more specific in nature, and generally support procreation activities. They have since the beginning of humanity, and are gifts from God, no matter how they have been perverted over the years for evil purposes.  It is a gift worth celebrating!

If you are in a romantic relationship right now, celebrate it! Do those things for your beloved that tell that person how important he or she is to you! If you are “alone” physically due to the passing on of your beloved, remember with joy what you shared and celebrate! If you are between relationships, remember with joy those good times you have had, trust that God has something so very special in mind for you, and be open to it!  And celebrate!  

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fullness of Emptiness

The Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters that the Christ emptied Himself of His divinity to become a human being named Jesus and to live among other humans on earth. We talk of glasses being half empty or half full when describing how we view the situations in which we find ourselves. Those who are widowed speak of a profound loneliness felt even while in the midst of a crowd of friends and relatives. And ministers and other writers struggle with those vast, blank pages or screens when deadlines are looming and the words simply will not come.

I have become familiar with all but the first of these examples of emptiness. I have experienced it more in the last six months than I ever have even imagined before. There have been far too many days that were full of chores to be done, but no energy, interest or drive emerged to get them completed. In some cases, no energy, interest or drive emerged even to get them started! I have spent far too long in the land of “why bother and what’s the point”. I have been choosing to live in the past, dredging up memories - - good ones and not so good ones - - in part to smile, but often to feel pain. Feeling pain is an indication that I still have the capacity for feeling; that I did not die with John back in July. I have thought of the future as a nightmare I have yet to dream.

I have been looking at my life as I would a piece of paper that has been crumpled into a ball and discarded, only to be retrieved and pressed back out; with worn places where words have been written and erased, no longer fresh, clean and crisp; but soft, worn in some places, torn in others and generally wrinkled. And few words remain. All of the terms that previously identified my life are faded, with some eradicated completely. The page is empty, devoid of what it once held. I’ve been mourning for this almost as much as I have been grieving the loss of my husband. I wonder who I am now, and who I am to be. There is a drained, cavernous feeling within my soul.

And yet, I realize that this very abyss is spacious enough for such potential! As I have crossed the meridian into middle age, retirement and widowhood, the bonds that previously described my life have loosened. This life, this canvas, much like a priceless painting that had been covered over then subsequently restored, may well yet hold a masterpiece that the Artist painted years before my birth. As I struggled in my early life, I awkwardly and pitifully painted over God’s purpose even as I searched for it, placing there instead a youthful and inexperienced representation of what my life could be. In places, I think I stumbled onto pieces of my destiny. But as a student tries to learn a skill without consulting a trained professional or at least without sufficient practice, my attempts at life have been ill informed and would have benefitted greatly from some additional instruction and apprenticeship. I hope to not make the same mistakes again.

As I raise the burning candle of my faith and peer into the darkness of the future, my hand trembles, sending the melting wax dripping down on my fingers, but I am not burned by regrets or guilt. It is not a tremor based in fear, but one of awe. It is the excitement of knowing that in a real sense, I can start over from here, knowing what I know and having lived what I lived! Yes, I have already lived longer than I likely have ahead of me, so those worn places are apt to permanently absorb the ink with which the rest of my life will be written, so I need to get it right. I have a limited amount of time - - the exact duration known only to God - - to live the life He planned for me. Where I go from here, and what I am able to accomplish is taking on a higher sense of urgency.

I have written previously about feeling as if my little boat were stranded on some boulders in the middle of the river. I think I am experiencing a shifting of its position, and I am tentatively picking up the oars again to see if they will reach the water this time. I am emptying the boat of that which once threatened to swamp it, and with much hope, it is time to rejoin the current moving downstream.

May the Peace of Christ - - the One who experienced the most profound emptiness in order to live with us - - be with you!