The Grace of Forgiveness

florida sunset

Scripture Lead-in:
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ first discourse in Matthew’s Gospel. The first four chapters introduce the audience to Jesus as a kingly figure.
Jesus has amassed a great following from Galilee, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. His audience is full of peasants who live at the subsistence level. They have known the heavy taxation of Rome and have experienced the evils of political oppression. But God’s kingdom is bigger than Roman rule. God’s power is greater than Roman oppression. Jesus does not rally them to overthrow the government. Neither are these would-be kingdom bearers called to suffer passively. They are called to do the unthinkable. They are called to love those who persecute them and pray for them. In Matthew’s Gospel love is not for the faint of heart; Jesus’ very mission is a demonstration of God’s love.
Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Sermon
Welcome to this second Sunday of Ordinary Time, a time to focus on what it means to be a serving Christian.
As the Holy Spirit continues to call us to be Christ’s disciples, Christ becomes more than the divine center of the New Testament, more than an idea, but a living, acting being again. As we receive His Grace, we are inspired to serve as He would have us serve.
How then, and why, have we been asked to serve? How do we become channels of peace? How do we bring hope, light and joy to places where there is despair, darkness, or sadness?
We have, I believe, all been drawn to this church because it is a community of compassionate people. Our community offers vital programs that guide our little ones and our youth. We provide meaningful opportunities for fellowship within our community. We celebrate and honor the varied gifts and talents of the individuals in our community. We value our seniors, and we pray for people in need. We seek and embrace opportunities to serve our local community and our world.

Indeed, we take the “service” part of our Methodist vows seriously. If you joined the Methodist Church as a youth or an adult, you will recall your promise: to offer your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness as evidence of your commitment.

As a child, I thought “witnessing” was ONLY about asking if someone was saved and then, if they hadn’t, explaining how, through the words of John 3:16, and by praying ceaselessly, reading Scripture, and evangelizing to the world — we would all come to the table where the “saved” placard was on display. Perhaps as a child you thought the same. Of course, such witness is integral to being Christian, but our reasoning and personal experiences with other humans do not require we hit others over the head with such zealousness.

As we mature in our faith and move forward in that hope-filled, grace-filled “journey toward perfection,” we gain a broader understanding of what witnessing for God and serving Him means. Indeed, we learn how serving is a form of witnessing. And how that serving pleases God and blesses our experiences on this planet.
Last week, Rev. Rob’s message was about “shifting out of neutral.” He talked about Christians being the “salt of the earth” who must not lose their flavor. He said that “doing no harm,” while admirable, is not enough. If we Christians develop a “social cocoon” for just ourselves, we are like salt that has lost its flavor.
In Rev. Rob’s words, we are called to preserve and sustain what it means to be a “spiritually minded person,” people who are truly the “salt of the earth.” In the Scripture last week, Christ gave the Pharisees the message to “go and do likewise” as the good Samaritan had when he involved himself in the suffering of someone unlike himself.  In fact, the injured man was an enemy that other so-called godly people had seen and passed by, leaving the man to die.
Service is not “drudgery,” but a doorway to something wonderful. Serving our Lord becomes a personal value giving us a life that sustains not just ourselves, but everyone and everything else we encounter. Through service, we become committed to preserving that which matters. We have indeed “shifted out of neutral.”
Today we are called to “Step Through the Open Door,” that is, “walk our talk,” put our faith into action through service, and through this service, witness for the God who has told us not only to love our neighbors, but also to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and pray for them as well.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Right? Right! Well, thank Heaven for John Wesley who made the journey toward perfection just “little more” humanly manageable by saying . . .
“Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.”

Well, that makes this perfection thing “a little more humanly possible.”

Sometimes, as human beings in a world where all too often “might is right” and our egos lure us into being our own worst enemy, doing what is right is a very hard job. We fall short. Sometimes quite short.
It’s hard dealing with those dog-gone enemies, isn’t it? Really hard to turn the other cheek. To go another mile for someone who didn’t even appreciate the first mile. Oh, we do it for people we care about, or if our pay check is dependent upon it because our boss seems more like an enemy than a friend, but — those selfish drivers in traffic who cut us off? . . . those angry people posting ugly rants on Facebook? . . . those people with their scowls and tattoos and body piercings? . . . those people with the loud music or those celebrities with their scandalous behavior, or those oddly dressed people carrying prayer rugs — well, gee, gosh, I’m supposed to love them, too?
Isn’t it enough I thank God every day for my many blessings, for the people who loved me enough to teach me right from wrong, for the poverty and ignorance I have risen above? For being born in this country instead of Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Venezuela, the Ukraine?
No. It is not enough.
For me, what lies beneath the commands (note– not the hints or suggestions) of Matthew 5:38-48 is forgiveness. Forgiveness, when you think about it, is a form of witness and service on a very personal level. It is not the only open door we need to step through, but it is an important one and basic to Christian love.
“For there is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.”
Have you ever been betrayed by a friend or co-worker? Has your closest friend ever deserted you at a time when you most needed him or her? As a child or an adult, have you ever been teased or tormented by hateful or thoughtless people without mercy?
Well, you are not alone, of course. There’s a guy in the New Testament who had the same experiences, and all of them in the last week of His life. And we all know what His last words were. He even taught us how to pray to God, to ask Him to “forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
But, oh. My. Gosh. What a tall order that is.
What exactly is forgiveness?
Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. It’s a “mind thing.” isn’t it, as well as a “heart thing?” The act that hurt or offended us might always remain a part of our life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on us and help us focus on the positive aspects of our lives. Forgiveness can lead to feelings of empathy, compassion and even understanding for the ones who have hurt us.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting us. Nor does it minimize or justify the wrong. We can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps us get on with a more empowered life.
I have a couple of stories to share with you that illustrate the freedom and the empowerment that comes from forgiving.
Dixie Gillaspie was 8 years old when her father began to abuse her.
She grew up in a small town in southeast Kansas. Her parents were members of a secretive, evangelical Christian community that met in people’s homes. Her upbringing was very conservative and strict, with harsh physical punishment, but it also had an idyllic veneer.
“It’s like you’re watching all these fairy tales and someone slips a horror story in the middle of it,” she said. “I assumed that as long as I didn’t talk about the horror movies, I could go back to the fairy tales, and that’s what kept me safe.”
Gillaspie, a popular speaker, business coach and author in St. Louis, had never spoken publicly about this part of her childhood until Maya Angelou died recently. The poet and author also had been raped as a young child a few miles from where Gillaspie, age 50, now lives.
Gillaspie, whose father died decades ago, wrote in a blog post for the The Good Men project the day after Angelou’s death: “It’s here in the same city that I sit with my silence. And feel her strong north wind of a voice. And know that strings are moving, and I can be silent no longer.”
She refuses to be seen as a victim, although she says she had been physically and sexually abused by her father for years. She knows black eyes, bruises on her body, blisters on her legs, welts on her back and visits at night. For years, she blocked out the worst of those memories and struggled with depression and survived a couple of suicide attempts.
In her early 20s, her father was dying of cancer. She went back home with her then-boyfriend and future husband, Tom Gillaspie, and nursed him in his final months. She decided to put what had happened to her before in a separate box of a previous life.
“I could have a family and pretend it didn’t happen. Or I could hold on to my story, and not have a family. It wasn’t a matter of forgiveness; I wanted a family,” she said. “It’s how I survived. It’s not going to be everyone’s choice.”
Most days during that time she and Tom didn’t leave her parents’ home. They slept on a makeshift pallet on the laundry room floor, and she was up several times a night to care for her father.
One day, they went to visit Tom’s family a couple of hours away. They stayed later than they intended. When she rushed in to check on her father, he started with, “Where have you been? You said you’d be back to help. …”
Suddenly, he stopped and said “I’m sorry.”
She went through the motions of turning him in the bed and says she must have given him his medicine and food, but she doesn’t remember those details. All she could hear was “I’m sorry.”
She sat on the back step of the house and bawled.
It was the first time she could remember hearing those words from her father.
She was 23 when he died.
In her late 20s, the memories of abuse were an avalanche and refused to be ignored. She has been in therapy, written a fictionalized book of her story and confided in a few close friends over the years. She had to confront it internally and admit to herself the extent of the abuse. She had to believe that she did not deserve it, that she didn’t ask for it. Eventually, Dixie began asking herself: What do I have to do in order for my story to do any good?
She wanted to share her story without any desire for pity or anger on her behalf. She has stopped keeping track of who knew and didn’t know about her past. She needed to say that forgiveness is for your own sake. Compassion doesn’t mean you don’t condemn what was wrong or punish what needs to be punished.
She needed to realize it was OK to let go of bitterness, anger and hate.
The months she cared for the man who she says attacked her repeatedly for years brought its own healing to her.
“I had those months to get to know the man my father wanted to be. And I still miss that man.” 

The doorway opened, and Dixie Gallaspi stepped through.

[http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/relationships-and-special-occasions/parenting/aisha-sultan/how-an-abuse-survivor-confronts-her-attacker-on-his-deathbed/article_1b22f04e-e4b2-5592-ae2e-d96d1b94dc7b.html]                                                                                               
We hear similar stories of forgiveness through positive action when we see what the Mothers Against Drunk Driving have done in the wake of their losses . . . or when we learn of Terri Roberts, the Pennsylvania mother whose son in 2006 barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, tied up 10 girls and opened fire, killing five and injuring five others before taking his own life.
Once a week, Terri spends time with a 13-year-old Amish girl named Rosanna who sits in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Roberts bathes her, sings to her, reads her stories. She can only guess what’s going on inside Rosanna’s mind because the girl can’t talk.
The Amish responded to this horrible loss by offering immediate forgiveness to the killer — even attending his funeral — and embracing his family.
Terri Roberts forgave, too, and now she is sharing her experience with others, saying the world needs more stories about the power of forgiveness and the importance of seeking joy through adversity.
“I realized if I didn’t forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had. And a root of bitterness never brings peace to anyone,” Roberts said. “We are called to forgive.”

The doorway opened, and Terri Roberts stepped through.

[http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2520819/Family-Amish-schoolhouse-shooter-shares-story-forgiveness.html]

And finally there is Scarlett Lewis of Newtown, Connecticut, who lost her beautiful son Jesse in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. She and her older son J.T. say they have learned to forgive the shooter, Adam Lanza, for what he did and no longer feel anger toward him.
How is that possible? we ask ourselves.
“For me, it was the only way I could go on with my personal power intact,” Lewis explains.
Not long after the massacre, Lewis’ therapist put her in virtual touch with a group of survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It was through them that Lewis says she learned to forgive.
“These young adults had seen their entire families murdered in front of them,” she says. “They said, ‘We want you to know we’ve been through this. We know you’re going to be okay. Here’s our equation for healing.’ And it was basically living a life of gratitude, forgiving those who had murdered their families, and making a conscious decision to do that so they could move on without anger in themselves. And service to others. Because when you give to others you get so much more back.”
Lewis and her son took that message to heart, she says, and made the decision to forgive, using the Rwandans’ experience as perspective.
“If they could forgive the neighbors who came in and murdered their families, then we could forgive Adam Lanza,” she says.
Lewis has now created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, to develop programs to teach children that they have the power to change thoughts and choose a life without hate. 
The doorway opened, and Scarlett Lewis stepped through. [http://canadaam.ctvnews.ca/mother-of-sandy-hook-victim-finds-healing-through-forgiveness-1.1590901]
The list goes on over the pages of history . . . Rwanda, Nazi Germany, the Jim Crow American South, the nation of South Africa. . . .
Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Lewis B. Smedes, a renowned Christian author and theologian of the 20th Century, said “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
And who was in the front row at Mandela’s inauguration? His prison guards.
Many of us have, as Thoreau said, lived lives of quiet desperation. We have not suffered as heavily as others. Our indignities pale in comparison to the people whose stories I have just shard. Still, these indignities — whether great or small — can take over our thoughts and hold us back.
And what if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?
Mitch Albom, in his book Tuesdays With Morrie, writes “It’s not just other people we need to forgive. We also need to forgive ourselves. For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done.” And all the things we said and did in anger.
The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs we’ve done and how those wrongs have affected others. At the same time, we shouldn’t judge ourselves too harshly. We’re human, and we all make mistakes. If we’re truly sorry for something we’ve said or done, then we should consider admitting it to those we’ve harmed. We can speak of our sincere sorrow or regret, and specifically ask for forgiveness — without making excuses.
Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. In most cases, it takes time. When we’re ready, we can actively choose to forgive the offending person, even ourselves for the harmful effect our words or actions have had on someone else.
In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul provides an avenue for moving forward and releasing the anger, the disappointment, the pain:
“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
None of us needs to define our life by how we’ve been hurt, do we? In our humanness, we can vent if we must at first, but sooner or later we can strive to get past it, soothe our souls and look for ways to remind ourselves that we are children of God. The compassion and understanding that transcends from God our Father is more than recompense for the personal affront or the suffering.
Maya Angelou said, “You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. . . I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.'”
No amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.
Ephesians 4:32 sums it up: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Shakespeare gave us a tormented Hamlet who refused to suffer those slings and arrows and took revenge for his father’s murder, but Shakespeare also gave us Portia in the Merchant of Venice. In Act IV, scene 1, she addresses the manipulative moneylender, Shylock, concerning the “Quality of Mercy.”
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

As we walk into the week ahead, may we strengthen our own spiritual life and bless the lives of others through love, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.
Closing Prayer:

The light of God surrounds us.
The love of God enfolds us.
The power of God protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is,
And all is well.

[prayer source:  http://unitychurchinmilwaukee.org/site/?page_id=355]

Note: Thanks to Rev. Rob White for asking me to fill in while he was at annual conference and thanks to our pastoral care minister, Rev. Sarah Steidtman (also at conference) who wrote the pastoral prayer provided earlier in the service. Her prayer complements my sermon so clearly and oddly enough, I did not look closely at her prayer until after I wrote out my first draft. I am posting it below.]

Our God,
As we seek the quiet of this moment, we ask for the patience to slow down and observe carefully, so that we may practice the virtues we admire in others and yearn for in ourselves.
In his ministry Jesus preached a message of love; let us remember that love comes from the heart, and can be given generously as gifts of time when we truly listen — to our children, our parents, our friends and even our foes.
In his ministry, Jesus preached a message of peace; may we live peacefully in our homes and communities. Let us welcome his spirit there, so we may remember how to live respectfully with our differences.
In his ministry Jesus preached a message of forgiveness; remind us, Lord, to release our grudges against others and allow us to forgive ourselves when we fall short. Allow us to experience both the grace of forgiving others as well as being forgiven.
Divine spirit, hold us in your warm embrace. Give us the strength to return to our spiritual center, our intrinsic good nature. Heal us from the burdens weighing heavily upon our hearts.
As we breathe deeply in this quiet space, let patience, peace, compassion; forgiveness, love, and joy take a ride inside. When we emerge from our prayerful bliss, let us walk each day inspired by the spirit of God working within us and around us. We come to you, Oh God, on this day — as we have on many other days — to express our appreciation for being in fellowship with you and this community of faith.
Hear this prayer and those silent petitions resting on our hearts. We pray in Jesus name who taught his followers when gathered in community to pray — Our Father, …

Home Town Reflection #3

This third reflection was written celebration of the great time a handful of my high school girlfriends and I had in May of 2010.

Spring 2010,  St. Augustine Florida

It is a lazy Sunday afternoon in St. Augustine in May, the temp in the 80s, the Florida humidity cranked up, as the breeze off the Atlantic whispers “Relax . . . relax. . .  relax.”

No problem for us, the “girls of 64 celebrating 64” on our last day in paradise.

The “girlfriend get-away” idea began about seven years ago when we met over dinner at Presti’s in Oberlin before our 35th class reunion.  Class reunions are great, but we never had the time to thoroughly catch up on each other’s lives.  “Why don’t we go somewhere for a weekend get-away?” I suggested.  Eyes brightened and smiles gleamed. With enthusiastic responses, we were off and running . . .  sort of.

It took nearly two years to plan the 2006 get-away to Savannah, Georgia.  After all, we had reason to celebrate: we were all turning “the big six-oh in oh-six.” Invitational letters were sent out to all the girls in the class suggesting we “Come not to reminisce about the good old days, but to discover who we’ve all become.

In November, 2006, twelve of us were settled into a vintage house not far from Old Savannah, mimosa-filled glasses raised in a celebratory toast. Savannah was just the beginning– sight-seeing, eating, shopping, laughing and talking.  We all agreed that we should do it again in a couple years.

In fact, 4 years passed until we were relaxing once again in a vacation rental house, this time just a few dozen yards from St. Augustine Beach.  Three of the classmates who’d been in Savannah (Mary Hartman Leininger, Peggy Dammeyer Rogers, and Penny Tudor Case) were unable to make the trip this time, and other classmates we had encouraged couldn’t due to personal obligations.

And so . . .  early on the morning of April 29 six Wellington area girls (Cheryl Ewell Hines, Sue Perry Coleman, Patti Brown Colvin. Sue Shepard Manzano, Pat Zacharius Spevock, and Ruth Anderson Johnston) caught a flight out of Akron-Canton airport.

Within ten minutes of each other, the Wellington girls met up with Florida and Colorado friends Joan Sorah Williams and Julia Jewett Bailey (yours truly) in the parking lot of our vacation rental. A couple hours later, Vickie Smith Vorell, of Strongsville, drove in from visiting friends in South Carolina.

Inside my suitcase was The Duchess, our dear mascot from the Savannah trip — an adorable plush bear whose maroon velvet coat had been exchanged for a pink swimsuit.

In St. Augustine, our “home away from home” was a two-story five-bedroom beach house with four and a half baths (essential with all those hair dryers and toiletry kits). Splitting the cost not only made it half the cost of a hotel room, but also allowed us to stock our kitchen with breakfasts foods, beverages and evening snacks.

Within an hour of arriving, we took a local’s recommendation and lunched outdoors at a bay-side restaurant called Aunt Kate’s, sampling some she-crab soup and cocoanut shrimp in the shade of a live oak tree.  Hats off to southern living.

After settling into our rooms and walking the beach in the late afternoon, we gathered onto the upper deck of the house to chat.  Ruth had brought us the maroon “group therapy” tee-shirts we’d ordered from a classmate’s wife (Cheryl Shuster) and surprised us all with a matching tote.  Two of our best shoppers, Sue M. and Sue C., presented each of us a lovely bracelet to remember the weekend by.  I’d made each friend a CD of 60’s music and tributes to celebrating friendship, including the once-popular Beatles’ song “When I’m 64” and Jimmy Buffet’s “I’m Growing Older, But Not Up.”

Dinner time on day one  — was it the ocean air that whetted our appetites?– called for a trip into Old St. Augustine.  Squeezing all nine of us into Ruthie’s mini-van rental, we headed over the bridge and were soon reading menus at Scarlet O’Hara’s in Old Town.  After a delicious dinner and much family photo sharing, we located a Winn-Dixie, divided up our grocery list, and within minutes were ready to check out and head home.

As April’s full moon rose over the Atlantic, we were exhausted from a long day of travel and the excitement of seeing each other and collapsed into bed.

Within just a few hours, the sun popped up over the Atlantic. Our morning coffee in hand (classmate Patti made sure was ready each morning), some of us lounged in pj’s to chat and make plans for the day while others headed beach-ward for a quiet walk and sea shell gathering. By 10 a.m. we were dressed and ready to meet St. Augustine in all its sunny, 75 degree splendor. What a welcome relief it was to the eight of us who had suffered through a very long northern winter.

The St. Augustine Trolley system helped us familiarize ourselves with the Old Town. Maps in hand, we made note of places we wanted to see at some point during our week-end.  At the trolley center, we also purchased discounted tickets ahead of time for the Ghost Tour that night.

By Friday night “friendly spirits” had entered our bodies. . .  after all, we’d taken an afternoon wine-tasting tour of the San Sebastian winery, an evening ghost tour, and then a return trip to the rooftop of the winery to listen to a local jazz combo.  During their break, we introduced ourselves to the musicians who later played “Under the Boardwalk” and “Johnny B. Goode,” moving us all to the dance floor and reminding us of all the girl-dancing we’d done at our junior high parties.

On Saturday, we toured the Fountain of Youth, a very informative history park and drank from the five hundred-year-old fountain. Although a few of us craved a ride on the carousel in the nearby park, nothing happened to our looks; we still looked as young as ever.  Obviously, after 46 years, we saw through the eyes of our hearts; the water receives no credit whatsoever.

After the Fountain of Youth tour, we separated into smaller groups, some touring historical houses, others shopping or checking out museums.

Dinnertime Saturday night found us at Santa Maria’s on the pier.   Too windy to dine outside, we feasted inside, once again, on good food and conversation.  We never seemed to have trouble finding a stranger willing to take a group photo of us. When we asked them to guess why we were together, they’d usually figure out we were long-time friends, and graciously guess a more recent graduation date for us than 1964. Must have been something in the water. Or the kindness of strangers.

By Sunday, we were ready for an easy day — a generous brunch, some last minute shopping, some relaxation time at the beach or pool.  The day drew to a close with pizza delivery, a photo op of the 36 pairs of shoes that traveled to St. Augustine with us, and a rousing game of “Catch Phrase” at the dining room table.

The weekend, of course, had passed way too quickly. The topic of the evening soon became where to go next time. Several destinations were suggested and a date set.  Whether or not we choose a city between Chicago and LA, 2012 marks the year we’ll be ready to “get our kicks on ‘Route 66.’”

Reflecting on our time together, we “girls of 64” were happily at ease.  Although life has occasionally tossed us some left curves and given us more than a few dark valleys to journey through, the toughest life experiences seem to have have empowered us to see life as good and the Fates ultimately in our corner.

The “girls” of our generation, separated by years and miles, may not probe too deeply into the saddest or most challenging life experiences, but we do listen with compassion when the latest heartache is offered up.  And we found so much to laugh about.

We do take care of each other, watch out for bad traffic, share snacks and stories, and inquire about each others’ lives.  Privacy is a respected with an unconditional empathy and kindness.  We all just seem to know that others care, and that prayers in times of need are graciously given.

The bonds of growing up in the same town in the same era are strong.  Wellington and our time together in high school will always be a part of who we are now.  As the cusp of the Boomer Generation, most of us do not identify at all with the hippie stereotype the media constantly revisits.  We love each other in a way unmatched by the newer friendships life has brought us since graduating high school. There’s a definite synergy whenever we are together — the whole IS greater than the parts and we like that.

While enjoying that spectacular Sunday brunch at The Reef on the Coastal Highway, we watched the Atlantic’s rolling swells and white caps.  Although we’d sipped water from the “fountain of youth,” we knew all along we’d brought that fountain with us.

As our girlfriend getaway came to an end, the afternoon wind filled the sails of a few dozen boats gliding along the coastline, the haze of the humidity softening them to a bluish blur. Such memorable scenery . . . ‘tis the “stuff that dreams are made of.”

Home Town Reflection #2

This second piece first appeared in an e-zine I edited a few years ago called  Sophie-Sophia.  I will share more of those musing in future posts.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Genes

         My sister and I have the roots of both the Jewett and Rife family trees to thank for our “travel genes.”  Our Grandpa Rife was a Methodist minister who moved his family every three years to a new parsonage all around northern and central Ohio, thereby creating adaptable-to-change natures in his children.

Our Grandpa Jewett, orphaned at an early age, left England with his older brother to “seek his fortune” in America.  Little did he know that another ship had already left Scotland carrying his future wife, a three-year-old twin at the time.  Both were destined to meet on a farm in Ohio, marry before the end of the Nineteenth Century and rear five children, the youngest of whom was our father.

When he was five, Dad’s family moved to the 105-acre farm where he would spend the next 59 years of his life with only one exception — the year he, his widowed mother, and his brother spent in Florida during the Twenties surveying swamp land for developers.

Though farming and economics did not allow our parents to take the family on any week-long summer road trips while we were growing up, in 1955 my mom and her sister had a great idea: they would take their children –six cousins, ranging in ages of 8-17 —  in my Aunt Louise’s new station wagon on a road trip across Pennsylvania and the Skyline Drive of Virginia to Washington D.C. for a couple days of historic sight-seeing.  Eisenhower was in office, and as we passed the White House, I was absolutely sure I saw our beloved President in front of the White House trimming the shrubbery.

Feeling proud of my sharp observation skills, I gleefully pointed it out to everyone in the car, forever locking myself into a lifetime of family joking about my nine-year-old naiveté.   But it was a vacation (and a gift!) none of us ever forgot.

The family photo album that records the trip bears witness to the times: In the heat of a July afternoon in  DC, my sister and I sit on the steps of the Capitol Building wearing our blue nylon  Easter dresses.  There were shorts in our suitcase, but there was no way Mom would let us tour the nation’s capital in anything but our Sunday best. Though the image, recorded by a primitive  box camera, is a bit fuzzy, that’s okay.  Some clarity should be left to the mind’s eye alone.

Over the years, my husband and I have made the D.C. trip twice — once with his parents and my mother in 1977 and again with our two children in 1995.  Along with New York City,  D.C. remains one of my favorite  travel destination cities.   So much to see, so much to learn, so much to simply absor

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