I’ve been watching the new show, “This is Us,” on NBC. It follows a family with triplets (well, two triplets, since the third died in childbirth, and the parents adopted a third baby who had been abandoned at the hospital) and the daughter has a weight problem. Shown as a girl of around eight, she was already a little chubby, and her mother was encouraging her to eat fruit when her brothers were eating sugary cereal for breakfast. Then there’s a discussion between the two of them where the mother says, “You know I love you. I’m just trying to help.”
Those scenes take me back to my own childhood—well, actually my adolescence—when I gained weight too quickly and my mother started in on me. But she wasn’t as gentle as the mother in the TV show (played by Mandy Moore). So I’m watching to see how their relationship changes as the daughter gets older. (The show goes back and forth between decades, showing their childhood and later the kids as adults.)
In the scenes where the “triplets” are adults, “Kate” (played by Chrissy Metz) is seriously overweight. In one scene in Episode 2, Kate meets “Toby” (played by Chris Sullivan) at a therapy group for people with weight/food issues. Toby is attracted to Kate and convinces her to go on a few dates, but as he pushes for intimacy, she is obviously afraid. There’s this one scene that tells it all for me, when Toby asks her to go somewhere with him where they can just be themselves and not think or talk about food and weight issues. He says something like, “Life is not just about being fat.” She replies, “For me, it’s always going to be about the weight.” As Avery Thompson says in Hollywood Life:
It invades every aspect of her life, and she just can’t change what she feels in her core. Her confession is an honest one. Not many people have the guts to talk about what really troubles them deep down in inside so openly.
I felt her pain in my gut a she said this. And I understand that it’s “what she feels in her core.”
There’s a slim young woman in Kate’s overeating therapy group who has body-image distortion issues. I also identified with her, from back when I was running an aerobic dance business in the 1980s and weighed 116 pounds. I would look in the mirror—in my spandex tights and leg warmers—and still believe that my thighs were too fat. (Of course I’d give anything to weigh 116 again.)
So when Kate says it’s always going to be about the weight, I worry that I’ll never be free of this obsession. I worked so hard to lose that 15 pounds last fall, winter, and spring, and then so easily gained back 10 of it this summer, and now I’m ready to start losing it again. But the prospect of having to focus on everything I eat (again) isn’t a happy one. I’m tired of this lifelong battle. Of course when I share this with people, I get lots of suggestions about different diets and lifestyle eating choices. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate people trying to help, but I’m pretty well informed. But “knowing” is only half the battle, if even half. For me, it’s about waking up every morning and as part of my morning prayers asking God (and Mary of Egypt, my patron saint, and my guardian angel and Mary the Mother of God) to help me that day to be disciplined in my eating and exercise habits, and to please help me lose weight.
I’ve been praying that prayer almost every day since I was a teenager. I’m sixty-five years old. And now I’d really like to lose 25 pounds, which sounds like moving a mountain.
Anne Lamott said (in an article for Oprah Magazine in 2009) that one thing she did to become the person she was meant to be was “…whenever I could, for as long as I could, I threw away the scales and the sugar.” She makes it sound so simple… to quit caring about her weight, but also to quit eating sugar. Neither is something simple.
And so I begin again. Today. I’m going to try to talk to myself as a kind, sweet, supportive, non-judgmental mother would talk to her daughter. As I know my own mother thought she was doing, God rest her soul. I’m going to try to quit blaming her. I’ve already forgiven her, which is a big step, but taking responsibility for my own actions and leaving her out of it is much harder. Today I’m going to focus on my writing projects (three!) which I love—proof-reading galleys for one book; working with an editor on the manuscript for another; and honing marketing plans for a third—and hopefully the joy this work brings me will flow over into a more positive focus on food and exercise. Deep breath. Here goes….
This is probably the first time I’ve ever blogged about politics, and maybe it will be the last. And if you’re hoping to hear me plug either candidate, you’ll be disappointed. I’m sure I’m not the only person in America who isn’t excited about our choices in this election. But most everyone I’ve talked to at least knows whom they are going to vote for, even if they’re not very happy about it. Not me.
Before Monday night’s debate, I listened to two friends talk passionately about their candidate for an hour or so, at my request. One exchange took place a number of weeks ago, and another just a few days ago. In each case, I asked these friends to plead their cases—to inform me about the reasons I should vote for Trump or Clinton.
Both of these friends are extremely smart, well-educated, compassionate, loving, and well informed on the economy, world events as they relate to war, health, religion, moral and ethical issues. I love and trust each of them. I wish I could have had them in the room at the same time (neither of them live in Memphis) and let them debate the issues. Instead, I just listened to each of them separately when we were together.
And I listened to the debates on Monday night, through the prism of the things my friends had said about Trump v. Clinton, about Republicans v. Democrats, about two very different visions for America. And if the visions were the only issues, I’d have an easier time making a decision. But then there’s the candidates themselves, neither of whom elicits my trust or my respect. Both of my friends said to me—when I brought up the problems I had with these individuals as persons—that sometimes we have to look beyond the person to the platform, to the programs and ideologies they represent. It’s a tall order. I don’t want to vote against someone. I want to be able to vote for someone.
I have never—and will never—make a political comment on Facebook, because I know that it will immediately elicit mean responses from the other side, no matter which side I support. It’s exhausting and disheartening listening to people condemn those who think differently as being idiots. I can’t remember the last time our country felt whole. My heart is saddened by the divisiveness and the anger.
The only good news about this election is that it will be over soon. And then the real work will begin—the work of healing from the hatred and anger and divisiveness. I hope we can do it, no matter who is at the helm.
As I was saying my prayers last night, I asked God to have mercy on America. And then I thought about a Scripture verse that speaks to my struggle:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.—Philippians 4:8
I will vote in November. But I will probably have to turn my mind and heart to arenas other than politics in order to find things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. To find virtue and things worthy of praise. As a Christian, I believe in the separation of church and state, so I don’t automatically vote for a candidate whose spiritual or moral tenets line up with mine. There are other important factors to consider when thinking about our country—not our church. As Paul Wehner says in his article, “The Political Magic of C. S. Lewis” in the New York Times Sunday Review:
Lewis knew that a faith-informed conscience could advance justice and that Christianity played an enormous part in establishing the concept of natural rights and the dignity of the human person. But he also believed that legislation is not an exact science; that a Christian citizen does not, in the words of Professors Dyer and Watson, “have the authority to represent his or her prudential judgment as required by Christianity”; and that no political party can come close to approximating God’s ideal.
So what did Lewis believe the government is supposed to do?
The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.
Which candidate, which political party, which agenda, which vision for America, can best achieve that goal? I still don’t know, so I’ll continue to pray for wisdom, and for God’s mercy on our country.
I just drove home from Atlanta today, excited to be greeted by a package from Mercer University Press—“Second Pages” (also known as galleys) for the anthology I’m editing, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be!
It looks like a book!!! (Can you tell I’m excited? I rarely ever use more than one exclamation mark at a time.)
And it has an ISBN Number, so it’s official! (using more reserve with the exclamation marks now)
About a month ago I wrote a post about the terrific job the press’s copy editor did with “First Pages.” Previously I wrote about the publishing process and defined a few terms, so if you missed that post, it’s here. And now, this is my last chance to go over every word with a fine tooth comb. I’ve got two weeks to proof it.
The writing/publishing business is a bit like the military. Many stages of the process feel like “hurry up and wait.” I’ve been through weeks and months at a time with no deadlines on any projects, and now I’ve got three projects working at once and I’m in heaven. On the 400-mile drive home from Atlanta today I brain-stormed on my next project, which I’ve been doing for several weeks now. I might have hit on something exciting—more will be revealed. I guess this is just how my brain works—the busier I am the more energetic and productive I become. Boredom isn’t an option.
Just had to share the news. Stay tuned as the journey continues!
Just over three years ago I posted this:
I wish I could write something encouraging today about how I’ve overcome those cravings for “more” and have become a disciplined, moderate person. That would make a great fiction story. The truth isn’t as uplifting—my cravings are just as strong as they were three years ago. The only time in my life those cravings left me was a period of several months right after my car wreck, which happened about a week after that blog post. Lying in a hospital bed with a broken neck, leg, and ankle, metal satellite-looking beams sticking out of my leg, my neck in a brace and pain meds and muscle relaxers keeping me afloat, I noticed that I had no appetite. I didn’t crave anything—not carbs, not alcohol, not sweets. Three months later I had lost fifteen pounds without trying, and without exercise. (And six months later I had gained it back.)
Our cravings begin in infancy, but our appetites are simple at first. We just want mother’s milk. Or formula. And our appetites are dictated by physical hunger. But as we get older we are introduced to things that tempt us to cravings that have nothing to do with physical hunger. Sugar. Simple carbs. Salt. Soft drinks. One of the most common “signs” that parents often teach their toddlers—before they can speak—is the sign for “more.”
And so the struggle continues. Yesterday morning I read this wonderful post by Father Stephen Freeman, “To Have More—Pleonexia.” Father Stephen writes about our cravings for more as an addiction, but also as a spiritual issue. And he makes it clear it’s not just about food or drink:
If the desire to have more were limited to material goods, it would, perhaps, be but a bothersome thing. However, the disease of pleonexia is spiritual and infects the whole of our lives. Pleonexia is not a disease that can be isolated to a single area of our lives. We want more of everything: more things, more sex, more food, more entertainment, ad infinitum.
These things I want more of seem to take turns, one or more of them always pushing their way to the front of the line, vying for my attention. The Church fathers talk about food/gluttony being a key passion that can affect the other areas of our lives, and sometimes I find that to be true. If I have the gluttony under control, sometimes I can get a better handle on the bigger issues, like greed, jealousy, anger, and depression. This is why the Church encourages us to fast, a practice I have always struggled with. But as I get older, I’m beginning to believe that it can help with the cravings. Even to keep the Wednesday/Friday fast (no meat, dairy, or alcohol) is a huge effort for me, and I fail at it weekly. But to have an awareness of the discipline and to even make small efforts seems to help.
So, this ends my first week of blogging without the themes, “Mental Health Monday,” “Writing on Wednesday,” and “Faith on Friday,” in several years. It’s funny, but I almost fell into those themes organically this week… creature of habit, I guess. But it did feel good to have the freedom to write about anything on any given day. We’ll see what next week brings. Thanks, always, for reading!
I love books about women whose important contributions to the worlds of art, religion, literature, music, politics, or culture were obscured by their circumstances or by more famous or more powerful men. T. C. Boyle’s The Women tells parts of Frank Lloyd Wright’s story through the lives of his mistresses and wives. In The Paris Wife, Paula McLain sheds light on significant chapters of Hemingway’s career through the eyes of Hadley Richardson; whereas Hemingway’s life in depression-era Key West is colored by a young woman his wife hires as a maid, Marietta Bennet, in Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck. McLain returns to historic fiction with her portrayal of Beryl Markham in Circling the Sun. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings brings the story of Sarah Grimke and her urban slave, Hetty “Handful” Grimke, in early nineteenth century Charleston to modern readers, along with its message of bravery and selflessness which often go unnoticed. And then Megan Mayhew Bergman takes on thirteen women in her story collection, Almost Famous Women—women like Norma, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, and James Joyce’s troubled daughter, Lucia. All of these books inspire me to find another courageous woman, lost to history, to resurrect in fiction. (I’m still searching for my heroine.)
Meanwhile, I can’t say enough good things about The Confessions of X, which I just read in just three days. I’m a slow reader and usually only read one to two books a month, but I couldn’t put this one down. Suzanne Wolfe (you might recognize her name from Image Journal, which she publishes and edits with her husband Gregory Wolfe) had me from the start with her subject—“X,” called Naiad in the novel, the concubine of Augustine, the Augustine who would become Bishop of Hippo and would later be canonized. Augustine and the young girl from Carthage with whom he fell in love agreed to a life without marriage, as she was below his station. The book, told through her voice, begins and ends with Augustine’s death and funeral, where her interior monologue tells much of her emotional struggle:
Many come and the sound of their prayers is sometimes like the thrumming of bees deep within the hive in winter and sometimes like the cry of an animal in the dark. Its ebb and flow sets the leaves shaking and the shadows dancing until it is hard to know what is sorrow and what is joy, what is greeting, what is farewell. Such has been the sound of my life as it has passed along the wide corridors of time to this moment, here in this place, where I will once more look upon his face.
Naiad was the daughter of a mosaic-maker, and she was also his apprentice, working along side him on many projects usually done by young boys. As she thinks back from old age to herself as a girl of ten, her memories become metaphors for her life:
Under the direction of my father who worked by my side, we scrubbed the tesserae with brushes dipped in sand and oil and then rubbed them with leather cloths, smoothing and burnishing until the whole floor shone, my father explaining that any roughness in the surface would catch on sandals, dislodge the tiles, and destroy the mosaic over time. Such polishing we do to our memories so they will not snag on our souls and cause us to stumble.
Wolfe’s prose shines throughout the story, which spans over five decades of fourth and fifth century Corinth, Rome, and Africa. She awakens our senses to each exotic location, like her journey to Thagaste when Augustine’s father was dying:
…the beauty of our first journey is with me still like ephemera of dreams that come unbidden to the mind long after sleep is past…. Seabirds shouldering the following air, cutting and dipping like Icarus gone beneath the cliffs, their cries a paean to their darings; the salt on his lips as we kissed; the dust so thick and choking in the first spring heat, we resembled those sad shades who wander on the nearer shore, no coin to pay the ferryman. We bathed in rivers that ran like molten silver through plotted fields….
And on their return journey to Carthage, after she gave birth to their son, we again feel that we are with them, experiencing the sights, the sounds, the very earth:
Enough about Wolfe’s amazing prose, its beauty enough to keep one turning the pages. But then there’s the story itself. Even for readers who know the historic plot—or like me, who were somewhat familiar with it—Wolfe leaves us wanting more with each scene. And even though the story is written through the voice of Naiad as an old woman looking back, the immediacy of each event holds the reader firmly in that present moment.
The land lay rich and replete as far as the eye could see, the wheat stirring and riffling in the wind, the vines marching in serried ranks to the furthermost distance where terra-cotta tiles glowed among the deepest green of ancient pines like molten honey in the sun.
Wolfe makes it clear in her Author’s Note that the book is a work of fiction, and even points out places where she intentionally strayed from the historic account of Augustine’s youth, rise to greatness, and eventual coronation as a bishop. She also gives a modern take on Naiad’s place as Augustine’s concubine, while explaining the background of this ancient practice. (See my post about fictionalizing historic figures for more on this.)
An added benefit for reading groups and book clubs are the 12 discussion questions she offers for readers. The one I found most interesting reflects on Augustine’s great respect for Naiad intellectually and spiritually:
One of the recurring themes in the story is the conflict between “flesh” and “spirit.” Augustine in particular struggles with the nature of the body. Do you think X helps him to change or grow with regard to these issues?
I’ll close with that question, and leave it to you, the reader, to form your own opinions as you avail yourself of this literary treasure. I’m so thankful to have discovered it! Read more in this article by Wolfe about the writing of the book.
Christmas is only three months from this coming Sunday! There’s something about football season that always reminds me that we’ve almost entered the fourth quarter of the year. And although it’s still in the 90s (and humid) here in Memphis, the Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations that are showing up in the stores are harbingers that it’s coming. So what should we be doing NOW to avoid the panic in December? Here’s what I did this weekend:
Designed and ordered Christmas cards. I used Vista Print, which I’ve done many times in the past. Their prices are good, and the templates are fairly easy for uploading photos or art work and text.
Ordered 100 Christmas stamps from usps.com.
Updated my Christmas card list, which I created as an Excel document several years ago. This is always a bittersweet exercise, as I delete those who have passed away since the previous year, something that happens more often as we get older. But it’s also a joy to add new friends to the list.
Looked over my 2015 Christmas gift list (yes, I keep these in a file) to see what I gave everyone last year. I’ve already ordered (and received and stored in a closet) gifts for several friends and Goddaughters. Watch for sales now—especially for fun personalized items—and don’t wait ’til the last minute.
Made airline reservations for our trip to Denver to be with kids and grandkids for Christmas again this year.
Every year I talk with friends who are stressed as the holidays approach. Usually it’s because they don’t get a head start on the season’s activities. Maybe this post will encourage some folks to start planning and hopefully have a joyous season this year.
And did anyone notice I’m not using “Mental Health Monday” any more? Thanks for the replies to Friday’s post… I’m going to discontinue using themes for now. We’ll see how it goes without the structure. If I get lost I can always reinstate them!
Meanwhile, here’s a little something to help you get into the Christmas spirit.
Four years ago this summer I decided to organize my blog posts into three categories: Mental Health Monday, Writing on Wednesday, and Faith/Family on Friday. Over 600 blog posts later—keeping for the most part within those parameters—I might be ready for a change. I had been blogging for five years (since 2007) without using those categories, but in 2012 something shifted in my small corner of the blogosphere. I think I was craving organization. And most days it’s helpful to have those writing prompts for the blog. But sometimes—like on any given Friday—I might not have something on my heart about faith or family. And not every Monday finds me “cryin’ all of the time.” Since I write—or read or research or think or do something related to writing—almost every day, I don’t really need Wednesdays as a category for writing.
As I write these words, I’m wondering what it might feel like to wake up on a Monday morning, for example, and think, “Hm. I don’t have to write about mental health today. I can write about anything!” Would that free up the muse, or break down the discipline I’ve been following for four years?
Of course it’s no small thing that one of the main topics I blogged about for Mental Health Mondays was my mother’s journey (and mine as her caregiver) with Alzheimer’s, and that journey ended with her death in May, so I know I’m feeling a huge gap, not only in my life, but in my writing world. (I penned sixty posts about Mom over the past nine years.)
So, I’m considering a change. But I want to know what you, my readers, think. Do you enjoy having these categories for the blog? Do you only read the blog on certain days, when you know I’m going to be writing within a category that interests you? Please leave a comment here, on Facebook, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know your thoughts. If I quit using these categories, it won’t be a change I’ll make lightly (if it ain’t broke….).
Have a great weekend, and thanks, always, for reading!
Last Wednesday I did a post about Joe Formichella, one of two authors I’ll be hosting for a literary salon in October. Today I’ll feature his wife, the author Suzanne Hudson, who will also speak at the salon. Like Joe, Suzanne has several books to offer at the salon, but I’d like to focus on her collection of short stories, All the Way to Memphis (2014 Rivers Edge Media). There are ten stories in the book, but I’ll only comment on a few of them here.
The first time I read Suzanne Hudson’s short story, “All the Way to Memphis,” I didn’t actually read it. I witnessed it performed as part of a musical and literary show performed by an amazingly talented group of writers and musicians, all contributors to the anthology, The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul. I was at the 2013 Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, there to sign copies of this stellar collection to which I was honored to be a contributor. I already knew that Suzanne was a brilliant writer, having read some of her earlier work a few years ago. But this story explains a lot about why she has garnered comparisons to Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. I was enthralled watching Nashville singer/songwriter/actress Lari White play “Savannah” to Suzanne’s “Clista” in the show:
She pulled to the shoulder of the road and watched in the rearview mirror as the girl gathered up hr things and bounded toward the waiting vehicle, then, catching her own eyes in the reflecting oval of silvered glass, saw a shadow of the emotion and primal fear that had captured Clista in the pre-dawn hours this morning, when she shot and killed her husband of forty-something years.
As Nashville musician and writer Marshall Chapman says, “Suzanne Hudson writes about what Southerners do when faced with dire circumstances. It ain’t always pretty, but sure as hell is readable.”
Hudson’s story, “Opposable Thumbs,” is filled with as many or more captivating turns of phrase, and her characters come to life on the page as she breathes her magic into them. Like Grandemona:
Grandemona’s deft white hands carved at a tomato, unwinding its skin into one languid serpentine strand.
And like Kansas and Pinky:
Kansas’ kinship with Pinky grew out of penetrating black nights in the aftermath of her mother’s death, when Kansas crept from the big house to Pinky’s bed, nestling against the old woman’s flannel gown in a curled, soothing sleep.
‘You ingrown, child. Ingrown like a toenail, into me,’ Pinky would laugh, ‘because I tended your mama, all through her growing up, put my soul into her when she just a baby. Then her soul go into you….’
An equally colorful cast of characters peoples her story, “Yes, Ginny,” which circles around the disappearance of six-year-old Ginny’s stepfather:
Ginny’s relatives, a collective noun of arms and legs and faces, whose conversations writhed in and around one another’s like reptilian snarls in a pit of stranded snakes, offered theory after theory about where Johnny Lee Fowler had got off to….
“The Thing With Feathers” is a short (only seven pages) but powerful story—my favorite in the collection. There’s nothing unique about its theme. Sadly, childhood sexual abuse is all too common in many parts of the world, including 1950s rural Alabama, where Hudson sets this story. But it’s Hudson’s voice—and her amazing language itself—that holds the reader almost in a trance from the first line to the end. We are this little girl, age six, and now ten, and later twelve or thirteen, and we experience her most devastating assaults on her innocence over and over again, but each time always through her eyes. Nothing about the ending of the story surprises the reader, but it’s the darkly beautiful description of the journey that wows us. And in the end, “She would get him and reclaim herself, take herself by her little girl’s hand, dimpled and unscarred, to the place where her soul was hidden. And then, finally, the two of them would blend into each other, into the notes of the music, notes in chromatic half-steps and notes of modulation… where the thing with feathers could sit unabashed on its perch, and reach into its sweet, sweet depths, and sing.”
I hope I’ve teased your appetite for some seriously good Southern short stories. BUY THE BOOK to read them all!
My husband recently sent me this link to a fascinating article in MedScape: “From Jazz Bass to Impressionism: How Brain Disorders Influence Art.” He knows I’m a big fan of abstract expressionism—especially artists like Willem de Kooning (and his wife, Elaine, who is actually one of the three main characters in my novel, Cherry Bomb)—and that I’m always fascinated by connections between mental health/illness and creativity. (De Kooning is one of the creatives discussed in the article.)
In the introductory paragraph, the author John Watson explains his reason for delving into this “collection of painters, writers, and musicians whose neurologic conditions informed, and sometimes interrupted, their life’s work.” Watson believes these observations “can help achieve one of art’s greatest objectives—to shine a light on human experience at the very place it is created, understood, and expressed: our brains.”
Of course I was most fascinated by Watson’s evaluation of Willem de Kooning’s later works, which he excelled at for several years after he was unable to perform routine daily tasks due to Alzheimer’s disease. de Kooning and his works were evaluated by clinicians, who were astounded at the complexity of the work he did fairly late into the disease process, saying “his productivity may indicate the preservation of the artist’s working, procedural, and episodic memory, and other neurologic underpinnings crucial to seeing out artistic concepts.”
The preservation of his procedural and episodic memory well into Alzheimer’s disease? This reminds me of the importance of keeping things like music and art available to Alzheimer’s patients as much as possible, which I wrote about in this post in January of 2015, “Alive Inside.”
Watson also explored literature, citing Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “searching depictions of individuals facing stark moral crises in otherwise unjust societies are regarded as foundational texts to the fields of psychoanalysis and existential philosophy.” Dostoevsky suffered from epilepsy. Watson’s research showed that “modern imaging attributes ecstatic auras to activation of the anterior insular cortex.” Another mental health issue possibly resulting in creative genius.
The article shares insights into the struggles and creative successes of a dozen artists, including:
Frida Kahlo—spinal injury and related neurologic disorders;
Woodie Guthrie—paranoid schizophrenia;
Chuck Close (contemporary American painter)—dyslexia and prosopagnosia (face blindness);
Stevie Wonder—colored music synesthesia;
Friedrich Nietzsche—oscillation between euphoria and deep depression, possibly caused by syphilis;
Lovis Corinth (German impressionist painter)—right hemispheric stroke;
Charles Mingus (bass player)—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis;
Charles “Buddy” Bolden (jazz cornet player)—alcohol dependency and schizophrenia;
Vincent van Gogh—more than 30 retrospective diagnoses.
I was fascinated by every reflection. If you’re interested, just click on this link and scan through to the artists that interest you and read the short stories about what they suffered and what they shared with the world.
In the Orthodox Church, today is the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anna. Being a grandmother (of four little girls, ages one, four, six, and seven) is one of my greatest joys. Although I live over a thousand miles from my granddaughters, I think about them every day. I pray for them. I smile as I look at their pictures all around my office each day and on the refrigerator. I send them letters and gifts. I look forward to Face Time with each of them, and I often wonder what they will be when they grow up. And yes, I imagine spending time with them more often if we retire to Denver in a few years, picking them up from school and taking them to soccer or dance or art classes, having them for sleepovers, taking them shopping, to bookstores and the theater.
Since I couldn’t have biological children, my husband and I adopted our three wonderful “kids” who are now in their thirties. We waited seven years after we got married before an adoption agency would grant us our first child. At the time, those seven years felt like an eternity to me. All our friends were having children, and my empty womb cast a sad shadow over many of those early days of our marriage. And then God’s blessings began to come to us as He gave us Jonathan, Jason, and then Beth. I was only 34 when we adopted our third child, but we had been married fifteen years by then, and I remember feeling a bit old. Couples were getting married and starting families younger back then.
Imagine how Anna must have felt. She and Joachim had been married for fifty years and were barren. They were often ridiculed by the community—many even said it was their sinfulness that caused Anna’s fruitless womb. (I know that feeling.) Joachim was a faithful Jew who went to the temple and offered sacrifices regularly, giving a third of their income to the poor, a third to the temple, and only keeping a third to live on. Finally God blessed them with a child in their old age. And not just any child—their daughter was Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The Orthodox Church (and the Catholic Church) venerates Mary, the Theotokos (the “God-bearer”) very highly, as it should. But it also holds her parents in high esteem. At the end of every divine liturgy, we hear the priest say these words:
“May the risen Christ, our true God, with the prayers of his pure and holy Mother, the power of the precious and life-giving Cross, the protection of the spiritual powers of Heaven… the holy and righteous ancestors of God Joachim and Anna, and all the saints whose memory we celebrate have mercy on us and save us.”
As blessed as Joachim and Anna must have felt by this amazing gift, I can’t imagine how difficult it was for them to let Anna go and live in the temple at a young age, where she would remain pure, preparing herself to become the mother of Jesus. They gave up the joys most parents experience in having their children live at home with them. And they both died before experiencing the miraculous joy and incredulous pain they would have known watching their grandson grow up and become the Christ, who would eventually suffer crucifixion before his miraculous resurrection and ascension to Heaven. Their mission as His grandparents was over early, but will forever be a cornerstone in the Church’s history. And so we sing to them on this day:
“As we celebrate the remembrance of thy righteous grand-parents, through them we beseech thee, O Lord, to save our souls.”