The Birth of a Tradition

Christmas is a time of year chock full of traditions. It may hold some of the only traditions I follow, actually. I’ve even built my own family tradition of Special Day during the Christmas season – a day spent doing fun things with each of my kids as my gift to them. Special Day and Christmas Eve worship service are my hardcore traditions.

This year, it seems that a new tradition was born. It wasn’t planned. An invitation was made and it was accepted by a community of people dear to me. The invitation was radically simple: will you join me in decorating a really big tree that sits on a busy highway? Let’s add lights that offer hope and joy to passers-by; ornaments to honor loved ones.

And boy, did they accept! The tree that sits on property that belonged to my grandparents, then to my parents, now belongs to me. I had a dream that prompted me to seek owning it. That dream continues to develop – seeds of renewal and growth for a community I love.

I don’t present myself as a sad or grieving person. I do, however, carry a deep and abiding pain related to the death of my firstborn son nearly 5 years ago. Life, for me, splits into two segments: before Josh died and after Josh died.

What I learned in making an offer to use this tree to remember loved ones is that 1) there are many, many people who feel the sting of loss during Christmas in my small hometown, and 2) there’s something very healing in coming together to remember our beloveds who are no longer with us. And a Christmas tree is apparently a GREAT place to bring all these emotions and people together!

As we celebrated Christmas huddled as a group in the dark around our adopted tree, all of us who placed ornaments in honor or memory of a loved one felt a special presence this year. We heard his or her name spoken. We saw their light shine. We sang carols together. We felt sad together and we felt joy together. That is the definition of love and the definition of community.

And, before we parted ways, we agreed to do it again next year. That big but ordinary tree is now a symbol of love, joy, community, and Christmas spirit – <snap!> just like that!

Someone Else’s Memories

It’s a bit of a departure for me to write on a topic that isn’t meant for spiritual formation. But I find this fascinating and hope to get some of your stories and insights in response.

The area of NC where I grew up is full of homes built in the 20th century – some even older. It’s also a place where parents of children who long ago moved away live their final years, leaving homes unoccupied but not unloved. Many of these family properties, full of memories of special gatherings and holidays together, are being sold by adult children with very full lives in other places to happy buyers from all over the place who feel like they’re getting a great deal. In fact, they are, in terms of real estate and investment.

But, how does it feel to move into homes so very full of previous lives lived there? I can’t help but imagine some of these places welcome new owners less easily than others. I only know how it feels to see other people living in a place that holds my special memories of life gone by.

Families who move frequently may not experience attachment to lands and houses of their own. But most of us have at least one property owned for many years by a relative that seems to us to be more or less sacred.

How does it feel to buy a property that holds so many of someone else’s memories? Share with someone you know who might have a story to tell on this subject.

A Valentine’s Day Tribute

The year was 1985. I was an 18-year-old college sophomore at UNC, dating a guy from NC State in Raleigh. We were both musicians, played in a band together and we were a bi-racial couple – not as common then as it is today, but not unheard of, either. (I’m not sure if it was more scandalous that we were a black-white couple, or a State-Carolina couple …) Even though I was advanced academically and musically, I was socially green and as clueless as a toddler when it came to politics or social issues.

That’s why I was genuinely baffled at his response when I told him I had made Valentine’s Day reservations for us to have dinner at the Plantation Inn. He flatly refused to go there with me and I cried angry-teenager tears. But, I did learn a lot about what it means to be a white woman dating a black man in America that Valentine’s Day. We are still close, and we still laugh about that one every year.

As a life-long learner, I like to know the history of traditions and holidays. Maybe you do, too. Here’s a good video from the History channel that tells the story of how Valentine’s Day came to be one of the biggest holidays we Americans celebrate: The History of Valentine’s Day.

Now, this conversation has likely conjured a few special Valentine’s Day memories from your vault. If you feel so inclined, I would be honored to have you share one of your favorites here. (Keep it super-clean – not the early pagan fertility celebration kind of story, please.)

IMG_0368A lot of folks who land on this site are not local, but for those who are and are able, I’d like to invite you to come out to a special musical performance of Guitars & Friends this Valentine’s Day.  The show is from 7-9 at the Nash Arts Center in Nashville, NC and you can buy your tickets early at

I’m pretty sure this is a reservation you’ll want to keep! 😉

Give thanks, again.

I recognize that it could be viewed as a form of laziness, reposting a portion of last year’s Thanksgiving-themed blog. (Particularly since I’ve been a real slacker in my blog writing for the last half-year.) Indulge me, if you will, in allowing this one to be passed around in a few heads and hearts again. The message is no less important this year.

For the record, I am exceedingly grateful this year for the joys and milestones experienced in my life and in the lives of my immediate family members. I am grateful for many sincere, genuinely loving and lasting relationships in my life. I have some really awesome friends … and I wish we could spend more quality time together. I am grateful to God for the grace (unmerited favor) that gives me an opportunity to share the gospel (good news) of Jesus with people I may never have a chance to interact with otherwise. May you all have an abundantly joyous Thanksgiving as you seek to truly GIVE thanks. 20131101-201953.jpg

[Bonus inclusion to make up for re-posting last year’s article: click for a video recording of “Thank You,” recorded live during worship in Butler Chapel on the lovely campus of Campbell Divinity School in 2013.]

From the 2013 blog post:

Thanksgiving Day, when I was growing up, was one of the more revered holidays. It wasn’t a religious holiday, but it was a holy day in many ways. Businesses were closed. We set aside that one day to gather with family – as extended as possible – for an afternoon and evening of feasting. Often, the party moved from one house to the next where we had an opportunity to see new, happy family faces at each stop. When I think of family gatherings, inevitably, I remember the Thanksgiving Days of my earlier years.

Now, Thanksgiving Day has been diminished to a sort of pre-game for the Superbowl of holiday shopping. It’s appalling, really, our lack of attention to the importance of acknowledging and demonstrating gratitude. Surely, we could all use a day to lay aside our cash and credit cards to assemble with friends and family, and to simply be grateful – individually and collectively – for what we have received and for the grace we have witnessed in our lives.

So, I’m making an appeal again this year – an appeal for our return to Thanksgiving. I’m making a plea for our turning away from culturally driven consumerism and turning toward God and those people with whom we are in relationship to say “thank you.” Maybe, just maybe, if we protect that one day of Thanksgiving, we can gradually learn to nurture gratitude as a way of life, instead of nurturing our insatiable desires for more of everything … that leads to satisfaction with nothing.”

I’ve noticed a few of my Facebook friends starting a daily post of thanks-giving as the holiday approaches. Even though a few folks are posting their daily journal in a public forum, I hope there are several more who have, perhaps, decided to take on the Give Thanks challenge in a more private way.

Will you be honoring Thanksgiving Day as a day to practice gratitude in your family? I hope you put as much (or more) effort into that plan as you put into planning which sales you might hit on Black Friday.

I really like the phrase “give thanks.” I like it because it emphasizes the truth that gratitude isn’t something meant to be felt and left there. It’s meant to be shared, to be given away.

Thank you for spending your time reading and thinking about gratitude with me. Now, let’s give thanks together – generously.

Beating triskaidekaphobia

From high-rise buildings without a 13th floor to Emergency Departments that skip Bay 13, a lot of us prefer to skip the number 13 altogether. When it comes to calendar years, though, no one ever established the leap year to avoid ’13 and appease the triskaidekaphobes. 13

I’ve always had an innate interest in numbers. As a musician, I can easily associate skills in music with skills in math. My only mental link to the concept of eternity is to associate it with numbers – the eternal continuum of numbers in two directions. As a Christian, I’ve always linked the number 3 to the Trinity, 12 to the tribes of Israel, 40 to the wandering Israelites in the desert … and somehow the number 13 has always joined the list as “unlucky.”

Anyone interested in the history of assigning 13 as an “unlucky” number can read about it online enough to get the idea that it’s a very old custom. I agree with the builders who are re-incorporating 13 into construction designs. When I was a sales director with Mary Kay Cosmetics, I learned that Mary Kay Ash was a fan of the number 13. She thought it was lucky and started her business on Friday, September 13, 1963. (I admire her for many other reasons, but I like this in particular.) We have traditionally given 13 a lot of power as “the” unlucky number.

For whatever reason, I always thought of 8 as my “lucky number.” I don’t remember how I arrived at that initially. “8” has disappointed me many times, so I sort of let that whole idea go. I was born in 1966, but not in the sixth month, so I was always happy about that. I suppose it would have been comforting to have been born in July of 1977, but that wasn’t meant to be for me.

When 2012 rolled around in the calendar, I didn’t blink an eye. What could be wrong with 2012? It seemed harmless enough as it began, and my family had some wonderful things happen in the early months of 2012: a college graduation, a beautiful wedding, the first grandchild! Weaved into that year, though, was one of the most painful things I’ve endured in life: divorce. As a country, we have endured some really challenging experiences, too. Just think about it for a minute. 2012 has been a wonderful, terrible, victorious, defeating, celebratory, mournful year. I don’t know whether to put it in the “good” or “bad” category!

So, now comes 2013. I’m not afraid of 13. I’m rather ambivalent about the number but I’m hopeful about the year. I pray for God to bless us in 2013, just like I do every other year. And God does bless us, even in the most difficult years. I suppose we think being lucky means having only good things happen to us. I’ve lived long enough to see that good and bad often tag along together. I feel lucky when my child wins two toys at once in the claw game and I feel loved and blessed when great things continue to happen for me and my children in the middle of my biggest disappointments.

Do you create slogans for each year to motivate yourself toward new goals? “See and be seen in 2013!” (Maybe not.) “Healthy and lean in 2013!” (Some of you might like that one.) “Eliminate mean in 2013!” (I wish.) 2013 may or may not be lucky, but I do pray for love and blessings for all in this new year! Hope beats luck every time.

You Are Where You Go: Places That Call Us

We don’t travel very often. Our schedule is so hectic with everyone working, in school, or both. So, it’s a real treat when we do get a few days to go somewhere and break free from our schedule-driven routine. Being just two hours from the ocean, most of our short trips are in that direction. I am so grateful for warm sunshine, salty ocean waves, sand between my toes, and folding beach chairs! And iPods – I should add iPods. Back in the day, we had to carry great big boom boxes with about 6 extra “D” batteries to ensure that we could listen to the music we wanted instead of whatever the folks beside us might be blasting.

Last week we attended a conference in Asheville, NC. I didn’t get an opportunity to explore as much as I would have liked, but I did get a sense that I like that place quite a lot. The vibe is cool and artistic. Leaving, I knew I’d come back for another visit.

When my husband and I were together and would travel together, I noticed that he would leave something of his everywhere we went. Something. Every time. It seemed to me that he was either marking territory or leaving bread crumbs to find his way back. Now that I think about it, it seems like an outward manifestation of our different personalities. Everywhere I go, I take a little piece of the place with me internally. Everywhere he goes, he leaves a little piece of himself behind.

There’s nothing wrong with either of those approaches. I’m sure they’re equally “ok” – nothing pathological there. But I find it interesting the way places can draw us, much like people, to join them or to have them join us.

I’ve experienced most regions of the U.S. and have no desire to live in a region other than the one I’m in. I’ve only ever traveled to England outside of the U.S. It seemed oddly familiar, but not with any sense of longing or attachment.

There is a place on earth that calls me, though. I haven’t been there yet, but it calls me. I will have an opportunity to go with other Divinity students in a couple of years and I plan to do just that. The land of Israel. The Holy Land. The shores of Galilee. I want to go there. I want to be there with my bare feet in that sand. I want to hear the music the people beside me are listening to. And I want to bring it all back home with me, safely inside my heart and mind as another place that I love like a cherished friend.

So, what did they put on your driver’s license?

I was one of the few people on earth born with two different eye colors – one is blue like my father’s eyes, and the other one is brown, like my mother’s eyes. The reactions I’ve witnessed to this little conversation-starter have ranged…widely. I can tell when someone first notices by the way his or her face transforms from active engagement in conversation to that wondering smile, fixed stare…and then the first question. Someone once asked me, “Did you know…” (If I had been quick with my wit that day, I would have acted shocked and dumbfounded.) Typically, I have a little script that I give them: “My dad had blue eyes, my mom has brown eyes, and I got one of each!” Once in high school, someone noticed it while we were in the library. He ran out screaming “witch!” I didn’t have time to give him my schpiel.

The question under the whole exchange – on both sides, really – is “WHY do you have two different eye colors?” During my lifetime, the answer I first embraced without understanding was that my chromosomes for eye color slipped during my development. I’m glad it was eye color and not something else. It could have been something else. Today, there are conversations about something called “chimerism” – a condition whereby two sets of DNA are consumed into one person. That one’s way too weird for me to embrace.

A formal name for my particular kind of eye color is sectoral heterochromia, although that is not what is on my license. My license indicates “DIC”, which stands for dichromatic. There exists a Facebook group for people like me, but I’m not a member of that group. That would defeat my whole sense of uniqueness in that regard.