Image courtesy of http://www.rockingwallpaper.com
Last year on December 31st, I wrote a post about spending time with my grandmother at the retirement home. Hospice was called in, and as my parents met with them to discuss treatment options, I fed my dear Granny small dollops of pureed food on the end of a spoon. Delicately, quietly, she ate and I contemplated how life would be when this woman, a candle flickering so proudly throughout my life, would finally pass and her light would be extinguished.
Just a few weeks later, on January 27, she passed peacefully on a Sunday morning. At that same hour years ago, she would have been readying herself for church, curling her golden hair, applying powder to her cheeks, clinging to her Bible with the marked-up passages. But this particular Sunday she lay silent, her vitality tamed by disease and her body conquered by death.
But the story doesn’t end there. Our faith claims that I will see her again without the burden of noisy oxygen machines and frequent morphine injections and the painful experience of blown veins. I will see her triumphant with all of the joy she once knew, but not on this side of eternity. In the meantime, I realized how life could be when a great light has gone out. I mourned but then I was motivated. I simply poured my energy into others, exercised the contagious generosity she possessed. I encouraged my students to live out their dreams of becoming writers. I celebrated authentic friendships. I nurtured and rekindled relationships that are valuable to me. The contemplation catalyzed by her death has enabled me to ultimately improve my life. I take better care of myself and in the absence of her light, I feel that I have inspired many other flames to flicker on boldly against the intimidating darkness and uncertainty of our world.
Perhaps this year, you or someone you know lost someone special. I urge you allow yourself time to grieve, remember those times you spent fondly, give yourself permission to cry, but most importantly, honor the individual by spreading goodness to the world he/she left behind. Let the legacy be one of indomitable goodness, forgiveness, and mercy. There is much evil in the world, but also much good. Understand that you contribute to that balance and make an intentional effort to chase despair out of the dark places.
I fear that I will disappoint you if I don’t list some of the highlights of the past year. Many wonderful things happened in 2013, but I will post just six so the list doesn’t get too tedious:
1) In 2013, I became a leadership mentor for the non-profit organization Develop Africa. Develop Africa sponsors scholarships, microfinance loans, and occupational training for residents in Sierra Leone. I met an amazing group of girls through this program. As I watch them learn, grow, and celebrate milestones, it warms my heart. It is an abiding joy to work with these young women. The program has now expanded into Kenya. I look forward to more work with these wonderful ladies and with the fantastic organization.
If you would like to contribute to the stellar work that Develop Africa is doing, please consider making a donation to the organization. I can tell you firsthand that the financial support touches the lives of so many people. It is truly changing lives. To support Develop Africa, please visit http://www.developafrica.org.
2) One of the joys of this year was co-hosting the Narnia podcast with William O’Flaherty and Paul Martin. I include The Silver Chair two-part series in this as well (which made the “All About Jack” podcast top ten!). I had a wonderful time rereading the series and discussing it with some of the most respected and admired scholars in the Lewis field. If you haven’t treated yourself to this series, please visit www.narniacast.mymiddleearth.com and download the nine-part series.
3) I continued contributing to Kelly Belmonte’s fantastic blog All Nine Muses –www.allninemuses.wordpress.com. I thoroughly enjoy writing for Kelly (who, by the way, published her excellent first book of poetry Three Ways of Searching available through Finishing Line Press). This year, I became a contributor for Islands of Joy (http://islandsofjoy.blogspot.com), a blog maintained by my friend and fellow Inkling scholar Sorina Higgins. She is the mastermind behind the fantastic webpage The Oddest Inkling, dedicated to Inkling Charles Williams. Like Kelly, Sorina is also a published poet, with her collections Caduceus and The Significance of Swans. Both are available on Amazon.
4) I met three wonderful people I really admire this year:
Malcolm taught courses at the C.S. Lewis Foundation Fall Conference (a PURE JOY I experienced last month!). He is an absolutely brilliant, thought-provoking speaker. He signed my copies of his poetry collections – Sounding the Seasons and The Singing Bowl. In addition, I interviewed him for the All About Jack podcast – http://lewisminute.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/aaj-podcast-the-singing-bowl-malcolm-guite/. For more info on this interesting individual, visit the reflection I composed at Islands of Joy – http://islandsofjoy.blogspot.com/2013/11/there-are-few-moments-in-your-life-when.html.
Dr. Karen Prior is a writer and English professor at Liberty University. I met Karen on Twitter (@LoveLifeLitGod) and thoroughly enjoyed her writing on various websites (Christianity Today, Relevant, Breakpoint, and The Atlantic among others). I purchased her memoir Booked last year (2012), a narrative which explains how books have shaped her physical, emotional, and spiritual development. It is a fascinating, informative, and entertaining read that I HIGHLY recommend.
Photo courtesy of http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com
I finally met her when she conducted a course on writing memoir in Roanoke. Afterwards, we had coffee and enlightening conversation. She is currently working on a biography of Hannah More. She is also a snazzy dresser!
Douglas Gresham is the step-son of C.S. Lewis. In September, I was invited by Lewis scholar Devon Brown to hear Gresham give three different talks at Asbury University. Gresham far exceeded my expectations. He is a warm, friendly gentleman who embodies the tenets of Christianity and demonstrates a lifestyle of generosity and compassion. If you wish to hear more of my day with Gresham, read my reflections on Islands of Joy – http://islandsofjoy.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-day-with-douglas-gresham.html.
5) Speaking of awesome people, I attended the C.S. Lewis Foundation Fall Conference in November.
My friend and fellow Muse Becka Choat and her bookstore Books by Becka
There I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I treasure the friendships I make at Lewis-related events. There’s nothing like great conversation with a bunch of Narnians. I also attended a family reunion in August where I reconnected with members of my grandmother’s family. Both weekends were wonderful and nostalgic.
6) Finally, I returned to Europe. I have openly admitted to being an Anglophile (is that unpatriotic?).
This year, we spent four days in London, visited my ancestors’ homestead in Nottinghamshire, and spent two days in Edinburgh, Scotland (and toured the castle!). London is absolutely my favorite place to visit. While there this year, I visited the home of Charles Dickens, the Tower of London, the home of Benjamin Franklin (my husband is directly descended from him), the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and H&M. 😉
I’ve had a blessed year indeed.
There are many wonderful things planned for 2014. Among them, I, along with Lewis scholar Will Vaus, will be reading through the C.S. Lewis Bible in a year. The plan is simply reading four chapters a day, with reflections and journaling to follow on our respective blogs. I urge you to join us (even if you don’t have a Lewis Bible!). Will will be blogging at http://willvaus.blogspot.com.
Wishes for a wonderful, healthy, prosperous New Year from me, Aaron, and the puppies!!