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Daddy

My father died twenty years ago today in San Diego. He breathed his last in a room with a view surrounded by his beloved wife and eight children. We were praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, the rosary and reciting the psalms we used to say as children long ago and far away.

He died of pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed on Fat Tuesday, he died on Easter Sunday. I have written before about what a beautiful death he had. The thing that merits repeating is that we were far from a perfect family.

Daddy had bipolar disease, aside from the times he was hospitalized, there was no treatment. It is just now being treated and talked about.

Know this: Bipolar people are brilliant. You probably know some. They are the ones who can burn through days of creativity, who seem drunk with fire, who have an essential energy that makes them ALIVE. They are charismatic and volatile. The are exciting to be around.

And this: Bipolar is hereditary.

Now this: It is treatable.

Nowadays there is no reason to suffer alone. Get help.

So imagine being a brilliant bipolar person, essentially misunderstood, most of your life. Imagine having eight children. Imagine the weight of history, of growing up in the segregated South with the campfires of the Civil War still glowing. Add some extreme idealism, true love, great imagination and drive, and an endless search for answers.

That was Daddy.

Add in an impossible temper and hyperbolic gift for description and comedy.

He was a major in the Air Force, but he didn’t know that for about twenty years. (That is another story). He spent most of his life looking for answers.

In the 1970’s he stumbled upon the work of Norman Vincent Peale and put up vision boards, we called them motivation boards then. Most of his dreams came true.

When I was widowed in 1982, he was my personal coach. I could feel his concern and love across the miles. He understood some of us more than others. I was lucky that he understood me.

At the end, and twenty years later, what is true is what remains.

He loved my mother and his children. He was a wonderful grandfather. He sought the truth. I am sure he is behind my discovery of the positively wired brain work I am immersed in. He never looked at women in a lascivious way. He was charming and funny and one of a kind.

Because he was bipolar with all its attendant adventures and misadventures, I never looked at him with any kind of awe or pedestal admiration. He was my Daddy and I loved him. No one could impress him, and because of that, no one impresses me.

Growing up in a world both here and there that is so invested on where you live, how much you make, what the brand of your watch and car – well Daddy never strove for that, so neither have I.

He gave me a great example of the road less traveled, and if necessary the capacity to travel it against opinion and without validation.

There was one thing that could have broken him, the death of his dearest ones. So he beat us to that finish line.

When he told me that his prognosis was not good, he cried. We were on the telephone. ‘I’m so sorry honey, I’m so sorry I won’t be around for the grandbabies.”

I said, ” That’s OK, Daddy, I know you will be with us. You’ll see it all. I will tell them about you. They won’t forget you. We will see you again.”

He said, “I’m sorry I didn’t get to fly more.”

“You will fly in heaven.And you will get to see everyone, all the ancestors – you’ll be talking to them every day.”

One day he called me and said, “I just wanted to hear your voice and say I am so lucky to have a daughter like you.”

He understood me. “You are good and quiet like your Aunt Lib.”

When he carried Mercy, my first born, he burst into tears and said, “I never thought I’d ever love a blue-nosed Yankee!” He took to calling her Peanut. One day he was dancing in the dining room in La Jolla with her and said, ” Peanut, one day men will try to make you dance backward. You show them! Ain’t no one gonna make my Peanut dance backwards!”

I could go on and on, but there is only this. He loved his family. He loved Jesus. That is what remains.

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Speechless and humbled and filled with joy, I am. Stumbling upon this on this great and bountiful holiday, time stopped.

Thanks-filled

by my daughter, Ana-Maria

I.

I am thankful for this sturdy table,
worked by hand, and cloaked in handworked linen
to mask the stains and gouges left
by the feasts and frolics of many generations.
Lost legacies, stowed away in cupboards,
in antique pots on piano-tops,
deathless witnesses of time, recalling
memories of those who made us.

I am thankful for the feast that fills us,
the enduring gifts of Eden — God’s plentitude
thinly veiled by the toil of mankind;
for my father’s tirelessness,
my mother’s generosity,
for these two, who have taught me, by the fierceness of their love,
Love’s gentleness.

For my brothers and sisters, my best friends,
who have kept me, all my life,
or all of theirs,
from ever being lonely,
I am thankful.

For this home that we have built together,
this cradle of idealism, nest of dreams;
For the things it has taught us, and taught us to be:
Defenders of Truth, Men of Integrity,
Ladies Chivalrous and Bountiful,
All who know the value of kindness,
and the validity of faith;

For the Church that has held me,
sustained me from birth,
saved me from my stumbling feet and blindness;
For the hope of heaven that has given me
a wellspring of joy, a lamp and unerring compass,
I am thankful.

I am thankful for this string of peaceful days and restful nights.
I am thankful for solitude unbroken
but by the contented companionate rumble of my kitty’s purr.
I am thankful for friends who, with patient hands and steady,
have held for me a mirror to my life,
shown me my heart as I couldn’t see it alone.
My friends who have tamed me, understood my thorns.

I am thankful for undying dreams
distant worlds and lifetimes,
intimately loved,
cherished and known, though yet unseen.
For the breath that fills my lungs
the melody that fills my ears,
I am grateful to God,
who has given me voice and a song to sing.

II.

For the honest work that fills my table,
for the hearty food that fills my hunger,
for the holy love that fills my heart,
and the kindred souls who fill my hearth
I am thankful every day.

But every day is filled of little things
that fill my life with wonder —
moments, fleeting, subtle,
that register in my soul with the reverence of glory
but often I neglect to register with conscious thanks.

Today, therefore, on this feast of Thanksgiving
with these greater gifts encompassing me,
enshrined in gratefulness, but set aside:
Today, in a pool of firelight,
A pool of warm remembrances:

For whispered whiskered caresses,
For watercolor vistas on an evening wall;
For swaths of melted gold that caulk the crevices of a maple trunk;
For the intoxicating antique tendrils
that waft up from between marbled bookcovers;

For the glistening dewdrop that rests
within the delicate funnel of a lily-leaf,
enshrouded by an emerald thicket,
sparkling through the darkness, though no wandering eyes may ever behold it
in the immortal flower’s lifetime;

For the delicate choreography of the butterfly,
for the touch of a ladybug on a fingertip,
for the patchwork in a glinting spiderweb;
For the modest stars that shine behind the constellations,
silver specks behind the brilliant lanterns;

For the gentle gilt that floats around the aeries
of cloverpatches,
catching the farewell light of summer dusk;
For the prismatic feathers that gleam against the silver sky–
rainbow pockets, brilliant, subtle, cool;

For the diamond shards that melt against my windowpane with every rainfall;
For the dappled screens that dance over my eyelids
when I rest beneath the sun;
For the whisper of the rosegold shadows
that welcome me to wakefulness at dawn;

For the sound of a hummingbird’s flight,
for the harmony it creates with the woodpecker,
for the cicadas’ August lullaby;
For the plumed plumpness of little sparrows,
who trust enough in their tiny hearts to take from me my crumbs;

For the salty air that tumbles over ocean waves,
which, entangled in my hair, follows me for hours;
For the sweetness that coats my tongue,
redolent, fragrant, fruitlike,
extracted by the sun over strawberry fields;

For snowflakes that hold their shape in a bank that overwhelms a city,
tinkling out their joy when recognized amongst the multitude;
For the beautiful tenacity of the withered leaf
which, exposed and thrashed about by the bold, ungoverned wind,
clings to its branch,

And for its graceful descent, after its graceful, trusting surrender
to the immutable currents of life;
For the little things that reveal to me how little I control,
and how much I have been given, in the depth of this richness;
For the moments that reveal the depth of your care,

I thank you.

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I first read Joan Wester Anderson’s work back in the early 1990’s when I found her first angel book, “Where Angels Walk”. Her writing is clear, engaging, and her stories are riveting.

Fourteen more angel books have followed through the years, and my family’s bookshelf holds them all. The books are beloved by all of us, and the stories have been the subject of late night conversations amongst the children for years.

She wrote about a miracle that happened to my family in her book,”Where Wonders Prevail”, which was just re-released as “Angels and Wonders”. Although my grandfather wrote a book about this miracle that happened in the Philippines during World War II, Anderson was the first person to tell our story to the world.

I knew that Anderson was the mother of a large family, a devoted Catholic, a seasoned writer, a sought after speaker- but I didn’t know that she was very funny. Humor in a religious context is always a happy surprise. I always expect religious people to be rather straightlaced, although every single faith-filled person I know has an active imagination and sense of humor.

What a delight then, to receive and read through Anderson’s latest book, “Moms Go Where Angels Fear to Tread”. As the mother of many children, I belong to a sisterhood of women whose anecdotes span every possible twist and turn of possible experience. We know how to make do with less, make something out of nothing, make many people feel special, listen to several people talk at once, and be delighted. Or crazed. Mostly delighted though. At least, that is how I feel.

When I became a mother in 1985, I had no support group. Most people I knew had one or two children. In the years to come, I became the mother of six children and became friends with other mothers of large families. The best times we had were sitting around  large tables  in our homes recounting our own adventures in motherhood.

Any seasoned mother would enjoy this book, because it is candid yet lighthearted. It is authentic, because Mrs. Anderson is one of us. She knows what it takes to raise a bunch of kids. She tells us about her whole glorious era as a mom, her times of looking out the window at the great world that marches while mothers tend their chicks. She tells us about the great family vacation, and gets us misty eyed as the once tiny children now venture forth on their own.

Motherhood is the hardest and most important job in the world. It is wonderful that this New York Times best selling author, has written this book, at once a guide and a souvenir of the time of our lives. The book is published by Guideposts, the great inspirational publishing house.

You can reach Anderson at her website http://joanwanderson.com or on her Facebook fan page. Look for: Joan Wester Anderson.

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I first read Joan Wester Anderson’s work back in the early 1990’s when I found her first angel book, “Where Angels Walk”. Her writing is clear, engaging, and her stories are riveting.

Fourteen more angel books have followed through the years, and my family’s bookshelf holds them all. The books are beloved by all of us, and the stories have been the subject of late night conversations amongst the children for years.

She wrote about a miracle that happened to my family in her book,”Where Wonders Prevail”, which was just re-released as “Angels and Wonders”. Although my grandfather wrote a book about this miracle that happened in the Philippines during World War II, Anderson was the first person to tell our story to the world.

I knew that Anderson was the mother of a large family, a devoted Catholic, a seasoned writer, a sought after speaker- but I didn’t know that she was very funny. Humor in a religious context is always a happy surprise. I always expect religious people to be rather straightlaced, although every single faith-filled person I know has an active imagination and sense of humor.

What a delight then, to receive and read through Anderson’s latest book, “Moms Go Where Angels Fear to Tread”. As the mother of many children, I belong to a sisterhood of women whose anecdotes span every possible twist and turn of possible experience. We know how to make do with less, make something out of nothing, make many people feel special, listen to several people talk at once, and be delighted. Or crazed. Mostly delighted though. At least, that is how I feel.

When I became a mother in 1985, I had no support group. Most people I knew had one or two children. In the years to come, I became the mother of six children and became friends with other mothers of large families. The best times we had were sitting around  large tables  in our homes recounting our own adventures in motherhood.

Any seasoned mother would enjoy this book, because it is candid yet lighthearted. It is authentic, because Mrs. Anderson is one of us. She knows what it takes to raise a bunch of kids. She tells us about her whole glorious era as a mom, her times of looking out the window at the great world that marches while mothers tend their chicks. She tells us about the great family vacation, and gets us misty eyed as the once tiny children now venture forth on their own.

Motherhood is the hardest and most important job in the world. It is wonderful that this New York Times best selling author, has written this book, at once a guide and a souvenir of the time of our lives. The book is published by Guideposts, the great inspirational publishing house.

You can reach Anderson at her website http://joanwanderson.com or on her Facebook fan page. Look for: Joan Wester Anderson.

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moonstarsThe flu is back in our house, and I am making sure that it leaves for good. A sense of humor is always good at times like this, so we remember the now comical-to-relay episodes of the baby years when illness took our family down for almost a month at a time. As seasoned parents, we know the drill, the vaporizers, the Lysol, the bleach and the NyQuil, the softest tissues, the soup and the cozy bedrooms. There is a fire in the fireplace, extra trips to the health food store and pharmacy. There is a general reeling in from all the outside activities. Every evening reunion from the outside world to the home world brings questions of “How do you feel? Are you alright?” Everyone tries to get all the sleep they can.

This particular episode coincides with the most beautiful moon of the year. It is too cold to walk under it, and too busy in this infirmary to do anything but look at it in the coming and going of every day.

It hangs in the sky, like a great witness to all our life. I think of the moon in all the places I have seen it, and all the friends who I have admired it with. I remember its silver light on the mountains I grew up in, and the silver path across the China Sea. I remember seeing it hanging like an orb on a summer night in New York City in the early 1980’s and, being so removed from nature that I thought it was a new streetlight.

I remember a night in Cambridge when my big kids were howling babies. Nothing would stop them and we took them downstairs and into the garden where a huge moon was rising. Dumbfounded with beauty, the babies stopped screaming and sat on our elbows with the moonlight illuminating their round cheeks.

Tonight, when everyone is quiet and asleep I will pull the curtains apart and let the moonlight flood my room. From my pillow I will watch it dance off of the golden leaves outside. If the moon could see our house, with all its slumbering folk, it would smile. Here lives a family with many children and many pets. Here lives a man and his beloved wife. Here we live, all together. All is well.

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