Monthly Archives: December 2010

blue

When I was little, about 4,  I went through what I like to call my green phase. For an extended season of my life I only wore green. You may be thinking, I knew she has always been crackers, my sister can give you much fodder to bolster that view, but I would argue that “eccentric ” is a better descriptor. So, yes, like all great artists, I did spend a bit of time in that verdant land…

Well, I have been praying about this next nine weeks to come. The main impression I have is the color blue. I see blue skies, blue oceans, and the blues of my eyes. All the music I think that I will be playing in our Reflections class ( isn’t the predominant reflection blue?) makes me think of the color blue. I have covered all the tables in my room in a cerulean shade. I am planning on wearing the color every day. ( We’ll see if they even notice.) But yes, my blue phase is dawning.

Blue is the hallmark of the heavenlies – the expansiveness and presence of God. So, put on your jeans or your hues of blue and join me.

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2010

I’ve been thinking back over the year a bit.  Thinking about what all happened and more importantly, what I learned this year…

First, I learned that I like to write more than anything. I learned that I love encouraging, okay, manuevering others who are able to write into doing it for us all.  Sometimes that has been students, sometimes friends and sometimes I have been able to convince some serious writers to write with me as well.  I am so very delighted that all of those talents hiding about me have thrown this hungry reader a few bones of late…

I am proud of myself for sticking to a fairly serious regimen of writing. I have several projects in the works, beside this blog. There is a book I am editing and some drafts for a story line of another book I am dreaming up with a friend, and there is my Ignaitus Journal which is a contemplative exercise I began this summer. And, I try to write things for and with my students. I do write a great deal, but it is my favorite thing to do and all.

Second, I have learned that friends are to be found everywhere. We have some new staff at school this year. All are wonderful and I am excited about getting to know them even better this coming semester. I have also stumbled on or been directed to some really great blog writers. (See my blogroll for some great reading.) Most of the authors have been teachers, professors and guides to me. Some have become friends.

I sense some more of the same in the year to come, as far as writing goes…lots of writing with my students and Ignatius and knocking out these books we have been stringing along… and hopefully, lots more of what we both seemed to enjoy most: collaborations and fabulous guests.

So, thank you all my friends…old and new,who have so encouraged me in my writing this year.

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pecan


My dear friend, Kathryn, you all figure out which one, sent me a text today. She was on route to some Christmas gathering in the- middle-of -nowhere, Georgia and passed a long chain of pecan trees. She said it made her think of me. ( Writers hold connections like that well)

I’ve always said that one day I might just have that house in the country with some pecan trees. Funny thing, I don’t really even care that much for pecans, except salted, and roasted at Christmas. I don’t even like pecan pie, I know, un-southern; I don’t like sliced (raw) tomatoes either, a definite disqualifier, don’t tell anybody. I’m hoping my taste will change like it did for greens when I hit 40. I’d bout kill you for some good ones right now. Surely by eighty I will eat them both, nearly exclusively.

Only one of the houses we ever lived in as kids had a pecan tree, my parents’ present one. But the tree is kinda an after thought, one that just came up from seed and that grows in an inconvenient place for a pecan tree. It doesn’t have space or honestly care enough to grow good pecans. So I have never considered it a bona-fide pecan tree.

Anyway, I love pecan trees…They remind me of home, not my parents’ house. Home. From before I was, in a place where the soil was basically sand and life. There are pecan trees everywhere in Middle Georgia, where my parents were born and raised. My grandmother’s sister’s house in Thomasville, further south and back in time, excuse me, out from Thomasville, was the closest to anyplace my Nana ever associated with home. Her parent’s small sharecropper place fell in years before I came to be, I’m sure.  I went to South Georgia with her a few times but she never spoke of or showed me any land that she ever lived on. Her sister’s place was a two-story farmhouse in the middle of a pecan grove. I remember being little and staring out at all those trees, just a lined up and the folks there telling how many pounds of pecans that they’d sold that year – their living. I remember my cousin, Tracy, a boy a few years older than I had a mini-bike that we got to ride on, with him, between the long rows.

And of course, Nana had a pecan tree, too. Properly planted, with a wide domain of its own, and defended from pest, it did bear fruit a plenty, even in the North Georgia clay of Clarke county. That tree was my lookout, where I spent countless hours just thinking, considering this and that, watching birds on telephone lines against the falling sun and listening for the train not too far off, rumbling and whistling just behind Normaltown. I could get up and out pretty far in that great spread of branches, it had its space, remember. I climbed up in its strong arms, nearly to the top of the house which Nana also let me keep swept of the Great Pine’s straw. Nana never did trouble herself about my getting high enough to see and hear and take care of those things that might need some attention.

So, she let me go on as high as I might, knowing that old tree would take good care of me… just they way its brothers and sisters had taken care of hers.

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in the aisle

I began writing in this blog a few days after my birthday, last year. It couldn’t put it off, press it down any longer, the desire to give words their due.

My plan was to write for a year or an arbitrary number of hits, which ever came first. My writing in this venue was about  finding my voice, learning, again, to stay faithful to a work. In a manner of days, I will eclipse that arbitrary number of hits. I don’t advertise this blog, most of my friends and family have no idea of it, I don’t use my social media site to promote it. If you read it, I asked you to or you probably write yourself and that makes you a special kind of, oh so welcomed, kin to me.

I was in the Target today, buying a movie…I turned and saw the hardback books. The mad and passionate crush of my life, Pat Conroy, has a new book out. It is about his reading life. His, like mine, encompasses so much of who he is and has become. I flipped through, fairly confident that my mother would buy it for me as a Christmas gift. He recounted three major influences. A dear woman, a teacher in his home town, Beaufort, who actually wrote and published and James Dickey, whose poetry is my very favorite and whose Jericho lies strewn across my living room/ reading room/writing room, coffee table. This worn and beloved book is the only thing I asked for when we cleared my grandmother’s home in Columbus of treasures. I got her sofa and the beautiful marble top coffee table that it lays upon as well. Then he mentions Thomas Wolfe. Pat describes reading the first page of Look Homeward, Angel, and what happened in him as he read.

I know all of Wolfe’s works. I know a bit of the writer’s history. I know his is perhaps the epitome of southern stylized writing. I know that he represents a life road that I did not take, now twenty-five years ago, when I chose not to press my way into the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, of course. When I turned from my heart’s desire to write, and took the money and stayed home to study “bizness.” My best friend in life went on without me, to her own particular brand of greatness. I stayed home and made people happy and lots of damn scholarship money. And later, in college, when I had a chance again, I stayed on still, unable to free myself.

I have never read Wolfe because 1.) I never had to as a business major. 2.) I have never dared to because it has always symbolized the other life that I thought that I wanted to live.

In the aisle today, I heard deep in my soul, “Go get the book, and read it when it that magic number turns.”

That will just give me time to read “your book,” Miss Amy, first. I bought that, too.

I know this, I knew it profoundly as I drove around the perimeter of Chapel Hill a few weeks ago. (I took a detour on the way home, Kim and MK.) All is not lost… much is gained these years I have wandered west of all I thought I was to be. Nowhere did the thread of my calling break, only I. The father of my very nemesis here in the hinterlands was one of Thomas’s best friends at UNC. I’ve seen all the pictures of them together. What are the odds? Had Thomas lived, he might have been his godfather.

Just this month, my first friend and I have newly connected and deeply so. And my new best writer friend whose life and mine have from eternity been destined to collide, hails from Chapel Hill.

I am standing in that aisle at Target, thinking about stories I have learned to listen for and see wound around sticks and stones and solitary statements, that are not. I think of Thomas Wolfe, and that it is time (finally) to read, Look Homeward, Angel. I drive to the library and check it out. I wonder who has last opened the pages of this particular volume. I sit in my car and read by the good light the warming day affords ( as it is nearly Christmas our temperatures have climbed again to the 70’s.) I skip over the unnecessary introductions and open to that fateful first page. I see myself in every phrase.

“The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute -winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is window on all time.”

-Thomas Wolfe,  Look Homeward, Angel


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riding lessons

My girls have always wanted to ride horses, especially the little one, Molly. She has pictures all over her room of horses. They have ridden a few times, on vacations -Trent and I retired our desire to ride after riding up faces of sliding rock in Costa Rica. Were good on riding, thanks. We have some friends who have horses that the girls occasionally ride. But, riding lessons have not been in our budget. Until, this week. No, we didn’t win the lottery. “You gotta play to win” and all. But, this week, as Rob took the girls by to see the horses that board not far from our house, he ran into some riders…They struck up a conversation…Rob often takes time to just talk to people. He explained how the girls came by to see, occasionally bring an apple to the horses. Their trainer offered to let them ride, to give them lessons, for nearly nothing. Another woman there, Miriam, joined the conversation. She had been waiting on her young riders who board their horses at this barn as well. She met my girls. She took to them, they are friendly, like their Daddy. She offered the use of her horses, whenever they might want to ride.

I met Miriam yesterday. We went by to check on the horses, to see  who might be around feeding, my girls are as interested in taking care of the horses as they are riding. Miriam’s oldest daughter was feeding their horses. Her three-year old was helping keep the horses to their own feed bucket. Her baby was sleeping in her car. She walked up and graciously greeted me, making the connection that I was Molly’s mother. She introduced me to her children who were feeding the horses and invited me to come and talk with her whenever the girls might come ride. Then she suggested that the girls, hers and mine, walk the horses to their pasture a bit  down the road. She and I followed in our cars. As we approached the gate, Miriam offered me her phone number and told me to call her anytime my children wanted to come, gave me their riding/ feeding schedule, made me feel more welcome and wanted than I can remember in a long time. What a beautiful, gracious, loving woman she is. Her children are kind and generous and embracing. I feel very blessed to have come to know them.

Miriam and her daughters wear their hair in a scarf, they explained gently to my inquisitive youngest child, that they are muslim. I can see Molly, not much the theologian, shaking her head okay, and grabbing Simine’s hand, “Come on let’s go.” I can see Meg’s mind churning, but loving her friend Sima, from school who is there to ride as well, and chalking up her good fortune to have found a friend and a ride as from God.

Yesterday, on the way over to meet up with our new friends and the horses, Molly asked me. “Mama, what does being a Muslim mean?”

I stopped a minute  before I answered and listened to the heart of our God… I told them that we had the same God, the God that came and found Abraham. That we call Him different names but He is the same. I told them that the father of their faith was Abraham’s first son. The father of the Jewish faith was Isaac. They are family. We, the Sullivan and our kin, who trace our ancestry to neither line, are just blessed to be included in such a heritage of God’s choosing and blessing. We are the one’s who are the outsiders, the ones  graciously, lovingly not cast aside but taken in and treated as if we were indeed family.

The horse is a powerful symbol in Arab culture of strength and beauty. It symbolizes wealth and nobility, family line. For them to offer us access, unmerited, unproven access to their horses and lives was nothing but grace.

I told my girls that Muslims recognize Jesus as a man of God. They like their cousins, the Jews, who so many believe can do no wrong, do not recognize Him as very God. We, those adopted in, because of Jesus, do believe that anyone that generous, kind and self-sacrificing, must have been God Himself.

Because generous, kind and self-sacrificing pretty much sum up the heart of God, don’t they?

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The greens are hung…

I learned a few things today. First, my new boots, Justin work boots, are terrible for climbing up hills and down hollows. I will not be wearing them out in the woods again,  although my sliding around brought the girls great laughter.

Second, I learned that I can pass the baton of decorating to the girls. They can do just about any thing I can do, maybe better.

Every year, Rob decorates the outside of our house to rival our very enthusiastic neighbors’  efforts. We value excess over tastefulness in this neck of the woods. I am willing to bet the power usage of Helena, AL equals that of New York City at Christmas time. It is considered flat-out un-American and  un-Christian, in that order, to not light up around here.  So, we do evoke Jesus’ challenge to be a good neighbor and all.

Since I was little, I, however, have decorated for Christmas with my now gone to glory,  Nana.

Nana was a Garden Club guru and would have never decorated with anything not living, in season and from her or a dear friend’s yard. We did not use fake, anything. We did not buy flowers. So, in honor of Nana’s memory, neither do I.

I think no less of any of you that may do so, but I do not.

So every year, I cut greens in Athens at homes where I can find just what I need. I cut greens in Helena at a few neighbors, I cut greens in my yard, which I despise as you know, and I cut greens in the small stash of woods behind our house. Today, we stomped that stash. We climbed trees to get just the right flow of berries, we clawed our way up steeps, we slid down hollows and captured in our sacks all the flora the earth would offer.

Then the girls took over, they could do it, this year, they claimed. I handed out forms and pins and watched them go to work. They fearlessly trimmed, wound and bunched greenery and pressed pins deep and hidden beneath a former sprig. They composed with magnolia and cedar, pines and hemlock. They punctuated with cones and seed pods and berries of blue and red. They polished with sprays of spruce and left their signature, bright green mosses.

I could have done no better. They have the eye…and the patience to find the gifts this earth gives, presses right out of the ground toward us who would look and receive grace.

I hung their greens, proudly, displaced my earlier ( I had a dinner party) effort to a less noticeable station, and gave theirs the place of entry.

My Nana would be so proud of their scratches – we grow thorn a plenty round here, and their souls’ offerings back of beauty.

They are already planning where to tromp next year to spy out new trophies, considering new greens that they should garner and dreaming up  new offerings to bear.

As the greens are duly hung, let Christmas come.

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forward motion

Sometimes it is a shift in posture, a leaning in. Sometimes, a word that spills out, unnoticed. Sometimes, there is a prolonged connection, a glance that seems to see beyond and through some veil. All these actions point a boat, a life, downstream, make it possible for it to gain and sustain forward motion to journey on in God.

Those are the places I know to pray. When the boat is in the river and its nose is turned downstream, you paddle/pray, not to press the boat forward, a good stream, certainly the river, will move the boat along fair enough, but one paddles to guide the boat’s path. Nose forward boats go along, but paddling or holding a rudder fast helps marshal the stream for journey.

There are many boats, that I know by name, presently turning nose toward gravity’s fall. Many are just now taking on provision for journey greater, steeper or anew. In the last few days, I have so felt the spirit’s call to pray, to hold some things in place, to press a skewing nose more toward the streams central flow.

I think about the times that I have been trusted, had the privilege to captain friends down our small river. I usually give those most un-used to river rides to Trent, my son. He can read that river. He can see it dip and puddle, where I cannot. He loves better it and so  knows it more. My 16-year-old is the surest guide I know upon our swiftly flowing stream, his namesake.

So, as these boats nudge their nose out, I think of Trent. I remember the watch of his eyes, how he takes notice, what gives him pause and what tips him off that joy and rush will meet his violent  steer into the almost too soon appearing gap, and its water-born-fall that buoys a boat on air and droplets suspended to lower places.

River God… swell and rise, swiftly ferry. Help me see and hold what my eyes can gain. Help me love and know You more, that I might guide safely all who hand me a paddle and ask I ride along.

I’m missing the river – my guide, my teacher. But, it’s unseasonably cold, too cold to ride as of yet.

Who is up to ride along the next warm day?

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