Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Faraway Places

For a moment in time
We travel the world in an evening.

Hit Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East.
Children share what they’ve gleaned from distant lands.

We journey together, parents, grandparents, siblings, peers.

Taste cuisine from cultures unseen.

Visit places we’ve never been.

Meet those who plan a trip to Japan –

Future missionaries rehearsing the scene.

At the International Fair we travel the world in an evening.

Thank you, Jennifer, for making it happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We Give Thanks

These are the lyrics I wrote to a song some time ago.  Today I wanted to share the music with you, but must confess that I don’t know how to share music on a blog… not yet.  Anyway, here are the lyrics: my song of gratitude.  

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

For the needed things we seem to take for granted
The harvest in the fields that someone planted

For the pleasures in our lives that made us glad

The friends along the way that we have had

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

For the simple things we often overlook
A sunset or a gentle flowing brook

For the meals prepared that someone had to cook

The time for us our families often took

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

For the Bread of Life God gave that we might live
And the Word of Truth He gave for us to give
For the Living Water sent to quench our thirst
For the Son of man who gives to us new birth

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

From the dawn until the setting of the sun

When the stars appear and night has just begun
Til we drift away on clouds of peaceful sleep
And commit our souls into His hands to keep

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

Every good and perfect gift
Comes from the Father above

Some things change and fade away
But what remains is love

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given
We give thanks

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cedars of Lebanon

The heart’s affections are divided like the branches of the cedar tree; if the tree loses one strong branch, it will suffer but it does not die.  It will pour all its vitality into the next branch so that it will grow and fill the empty place.     ~ Kahlil Gibran

People say that the cedars were planted by God’s own hands. This is why they’re called “The Cedars of God,” and this is why Lebanon is called “God’s Country on Earth.”  Lebanon appears 75 times in the Old Testament.  It is the only country in the Middle East that does not have a desert, and it is the only non-dictatorial country in the Arab world. 

My daughter Abigail (Abi) finds this information online as she researches the country of her paternal ancestors.  Her father’s grandparents are Lebanese immigrants who settled here on the east coast and became U.S. citizens.  

She signed up for the International Fair with our homeschool co-op, and is speaking about her great-grandmother and her native land, Lebanon.  She found a framed article at her grandfather Ralph’s house, titled, “Mrs. El Ramey’s a Dreamer and a Worker.”  Through this article and from interviews with her grandfather she has become acquainted with a great grandmother she’s never met, one who died long before she was born.  

Abi’s Presentation at the International Fair

I went to my granddaddy’s house and found this framed article.
This was my first real introduction to my great grandmother. 

 A dream brought a twelve-year-old Lebanese girl to America. Essie Marie Abeyounis arrived at Ellis Island in the fall of 1911 with her father – nearly a century ago!  She didn’t know whether he expected to make his fortune here or whether he just wanted the adventure.  Anyway, Essie - or Sitti to me (which means grandmother in Lebanese) - always remembered his words, “You can have anything you want in America if you work for it.”

In Dover NH, Sitti worked in a mill ten hours a day, counting tiny wires in weaving frames.  During this time, her father grew homesick and returned to his wife and other children in Lebanon, and Sitti moved to Greenville NC to live with her brothers. 

Later she attended the Sister’s school, Belmont Abbey.  Here she was forced to learn English, for they said to her, “Learn the English language – or don’t say nothin’.”  In Greenville, she’d been able to speak Arabic with her brother and other family members.  But not here.  After graduating, Sitti returned to her brothers in Greenville, where she met Joseph El Ramey.

 In Sitti’s own words:

“I went out with Joseph one time before we were married.  He asked me right in front of my brother if I would like to see the movie, Birth of a Nation.  And we went, unchaperoned, which was really shocking behavior in those days among our people.”

Joseph (my great grandfather) asked her brothers for Essie’s hand in marriage and was turned down flat. The brothers didn’t approve of the marriage because Joseph wasn’t from their hometown of Hammana in Lebanon.  Besides, he’d not yet made his fortune.  So there!

Long story short: they eloped.  Sitti says, “We were not children who didn’t know our own minds.  He was 41 and I was 26.  Lent began the following Wednesday, and according to our families’ beliefs a couple had to be married before or wait until after Easter.  So we were married on Tuesday.

“We moved to Farmville in July, 1925, and opened a dress shop there.  Those years during the depression were hard, but our family was happy.”  The couple had three children: Anisa, Tommy, and Ralph (my grandfather).   

Meanwhile, Sitti’s mother over in Hammana sat and looked toward the ocean and wondered if she’d ever see her daughter again. 

Then in 1961, Essie’s son Tommy bought her a round-trip airline ticket to Lebanon. Friends in Farmville also presented her a sizable gift to help out with expenses.

For 10 months during 1961 and ‘62 Sitti strolled the hills of Hammana with her 92 year old mother who was still alert and active.  She stayed through the Christmas season with her Lebanese family and visited Beirut, Tripoli, the Cedars of the Lord, and other places of beauty in the land of her birth.  But she was never tempted to stay.  She missed her children too much. 

Before Sitti left her native land of Lebanon to return to the U.S., her mother told her that she was now content to die, having seen her daughter again.

My great grandmother brought back this family tree from Lebanon.  It was made in 1480.  The very bottom branches represent the “Ramey’s”, 4 brothers who began the tree, and all of these leaves are descendants from them.

Sitti's Art

This is pretty interesting: My granddaddy was the mayor of Wilson for 12 years. 
His grandfather was the mayor of Faloga, Lebanon.

My Granddaddy Ralph visited relatives in Lebanon in the 90’s and returned home with gold bracelets for me, my sister, and my mom. 

Photos from Granddaddy’s trip to Lebanon.

Uncle Thounus’ home in Hammana. 

Uncle Thounus’ Garden

A Marketplace  

Picking Cherries

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.          ~Psalm 92:12

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lost Medal

She aspired to sainthood and succeeded - the one dream realized during her lifetime.  

It was common knowledge. Everyone knew she walked the walk: never gossiping, never complaining, never exalting herself above others.  Living her faith day by day, and bearing the fruits of a selfless heart.    

A few tangible things remain in my possession as keepsakes of her: the crepe orchid dress with the gossamer jacket she wore to church.  It still hangs in my room, seven years later.  

No one else I know is worthy of a dress so lovely and delicate.  Goodwill or the Salvation Army Thrift Store would be pleased to receive it, I’m sure.  Any woman would love looking so church-proper and elegant.  But how can I part with this symbol of her truest pleasure: her weekly sabbatical from slave labor.                 

Then there’s her journal with roses on the cover.  The book containing remnants of her life, dreams that never came to fruition for whatever reason.  With eight siblings in her family of origin, college was out of the question.  A teaching career forbidden.   

Another aspiration of hers: to become a writer.  The following story is found in her journal, which I converted to poetry and third person. 

Today is her birthday.  She would have been ninety-three.  Happy birthday Mother. 
This poem is for you.


For Nellie

In late sun one afternoon she rakes and sifts
Through fallen leaves, hunting determinedly
Underneath the apple tree
Where she believes her missing medal to be –
The one received in school for best writer.
But time has bound her hands to domestic duty:
Endless sweeping, cooking, laundry –
Stuck in a common
Quandary, yet a time-honored
And noble vocation. 
Some call it sacrifice
To abandon one’s own voice and vision
For obligation.  Therefore she stashes
In her black scrapbook her daughter’s verses,
Esteeming each poem a literary jewel.
And trusts that her only girl will
Someday find her mother’s lost medal.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Get Them in the Ark

Never be afraid to do something new.
Remember, amateurs built the ark;
Professionals built the Titanic.

It seems like only yesterday when I received the phone call that evening.  A male voice on the other end of the line, asking how to go about homeschooling their two boys. 

Mike and Sharon had moved here to North Carolina from Milwaukee Wisconsin, and the new school system where their sons were enrolled just wasn’t working out for them.

Sharon’s story in her own words:

“It was in April of 1985 (Tyler’s kindergarten and Joel's 2nd grade year) when I received the wakeup call.  I always took the children to school and picked them up.  They were both usually happy and cheerful when they boarded the car every afternoon.

“But one day Joel climbed in the front seat and, as we pulled out of the parking lot, he began to cry.  ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.  His reply: ‘I’m so stupid I could blow my brains out!’  

I was shocked... but I didn't show it.  Where would he even have learned such a horrible thing?  I said, ‘Baby, there is nothing stupid about you.  You're a very smart boy.’  

Very shortly after this incident I heard the Lord say to me, ‘Get them in the ark.’   I knew what this meant.   
It meant pulling them out of school and teaching them at home.  

“Within days a friend of ours told me about Debra Elramey, a woman in our city that was home schooling her children.  She was the first one in Wilson to have done this.  I called her.  She told me how to go about registering with the state and making the move.  We became good friends and remain so to this day.

“Mike and I never told the children what we were planning to do.   On the day we went to the school to withdraw their records, I remember sitting on the steps in our den and being aware of my Mom’s presence.   I felt like she was saying that this was the right thing to do.  

“In the natural, my Mom would not have approved of this decision.   While she’d been living she was one to go with the flow and not buck the system.   She had passed away a few years before and I really believe that she was among that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that was cheering me on.

“When our children were safely in the ‘ark’ I noticed that the sullenness in Joel’s life was gone and his joy had been restored.

 “I often wonder what would have happened to Joel and Tyler if I hadn’t obeyed God and had just left them in the school system.    Where would they be today?    What kind of men would they have grown up to be?    I just thank God that He gave me the grace to obey Him. 

“Year by year I’d ask the Lord if He wanted me to continue homeschooling.   Since I never received an answer I assumed that the silence meant ‘continue full steam ahead.’   I will not say that it has always been easy.   I can say that I often felt inadequate and wondered if I was doing all that I could to provide them a good education. But God was faithful and sustained us through the duration of our homeschooling years.  
“I’m grateful for those productive years and the time God gave us to grow together as a family.  I learned right alongside my children and grew spiritually in the process.   God was, and still is, faithful!” 


I look back over the years Sharon and I spent together, raising our children and spending time in each other’s company as the best of friends.  It’s one of those rare companionships that you know was not accidental, but divinely ordained. 

Our friendship has never been based on superficial interests but is spiritually focused as well as mutually beneficial.  I may have mentored her in the very beginning stages of homeschooling, but she has been for me one of the wisest of spiritual friends, and one I’ve always leaned on, especially in times of anguish.   Friends like this are few and far between.  

Every time I look out in my backyard I can still see our two sons playing pirates or whatever.  They were the best of friends as well, with HUGE imaginations.  

Then one day they both grew up and went their separate ways.  

My son Jesse moved across the country to Oregon where he now works with a publisher and remains single. 
His old pal Joel currently lives in Wilson with his wife Lauren and their four daughters.

The Killion Family

Moriah, Kathryn, Olivia, and Bristol 

Second generation homeschoolers

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Heart to Heart

A roundtable discussion at Starbucks.  A small group of moms dedicated to the service of motherhood.  A conversation about our children’s aptitudes and interests (or lack thereof).   A cozy, intimate time of sharing and laughter.    

Kathy’s son enjoys the Civil Air Patrol and the Shakespeare club. 

Kim’s son loves to cook - and can beat his mother at it - but has little interest in literature.  Contrariwise, her oldest daughter is a bookworm and writes with a passion. 

One of Sally’s sons is scientifically oriented and spends his time, like Einstein, working out his solutions in solitude.  His younger sister, on the other hand, is not wired for such.        
Sharon’s two boys are as opposite as night and day.  The elder brother has always enjoyed writing, and is now author of a book on spirituality, while the younger is inclined toward mechanics, and loves fixer-uppers of any kind. 

Apparently God created us as individuals with unique gifts and callings.  Face it: he’s not the one who came up with standardization. When no two fingerprints, leaves, or snowflakes are identical, why would he desire a world of clones?  He delights in individuality, and in those who seek to fulfill his desires and plans for their lives – and their children’s. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”   Jeremiah 29:11

What are your children’s aptitudes and interests?  How might these be indicators of God’s call on their lives?    

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Majoring in the Majors

I’ll never forget my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Edgerton, who required us to memorize the Twenty-third Psalm.  Her words will remain forever with me:  “Class, I expect all of you to commit this particular Scripture to memory because, trust me; you are going to need it down the road one day.  Psalm 23 is so foundational that you can’t afford to go through life without knowing the Lord as your Shepherd.” 

 No school standard can compare with this knowledge.

This was a defining moment for me.  Every academic subject seemed superficial in contrast to the sacred text. Of all the things we studied that year, the memorized scriptures are all I can honestly still remember (except for the 3 Rs).  It’s called “learning by heart.” 

What an interesting phenomenon: hide something deep within and it mysteriously becomes etched there in stone, inerasable by time and circumstance.  Truth is internalized, integrated into the personality, and miraculously transforms the mind. 

 Ms. Edgerton never required us to memorize scriptures for a grade, but she was wise enough to know which lessons were eternal and which were temporal.  Wise enough to discern the difference between wheat and chaff.   On a daily basis she put the horse before the cart. 

                    From my sixth grade teacher and from my mother I learned to major in the majors, and have passed this legacy on to my own children. After all, it was the Shepherd who led me to homeschool my children. (Isaiah 40:11) … He will gently lead those that are with young.   As parents we’ve been given a window of opportunity to introduce our children to the One who can lead them throughout their lives.  May He continue to guide us all in the paths of righteousness.   
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