Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will come often. It is my hope that these stories and reflections will be helpful in your spiritual journey. I look forward to your thoughts, questions, or suggestions. Please leave your comments and join as a follower so I will know you were here. It is a privilege to share the journey with you.

If you wish to know more about me, spiritual direction or retreats visit my website. www.bunnycox.com. Blessings, Bunny

*See first posting in January, 2011 to learn why this blog is called "From the Big Red Chair."

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Peach trees. Tender peach trees rise from hidden seeds in fertile soil. For everything there is a season.

Go now, God's blessed child, 

ready to endure whatever comes your way, 

Guided by the one who 

gives you strength, 

Your good companion along the way.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I am grateful for the love, support and words of encouragement from those who have faithfully read From the Big Read Chair over the last year and a half. Some of you have requested I keep From the Big Red Chair an active blog and that I tell other stories. I will honor that request, but for now, 'tis a season for rest. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Eulogy for a Peach Tree

The peach tree fell during the night. I awoke to find its branches obscuring the view from my kitchen window and its roots exposed to the morning. Every tree in the rain-soaked garden stands upright except the one that matters most to me.

I am going to miss the peach tree.  It has been my companion in these years since Tara died. It stood silent as I prayed and observed the changing seasons from the vantage point of my big red chair. It bloomed in the spring and rained pink blossoms in the breeze. Its summer fruit entertained the squirrels and temporarily stopped their relentless raids on the bird feeder. Yellow leaves in the fall foretold winter’s approach.  Day after day, season after season, I watched birds eat from the birdfeeder that once belonged to Tara. I watched them and felt connected to her. How can loosing a tree feel like loosing another part of her? 

The character of the yard is different now that the peach tree is gone. Brightness replaces shade. The umbrella-like canopy on the patio’s edge is no longer there. Mellow notes that once rang from Tara’s chime swaying in its branches are silent.  Only the wind remains. I don’t know why the peach tree picked this day to fall.  Maybe it is trying to tell me it is time to turn loose and move on.

I’m not the only one who mourns the peach tree. The birds do, too. Their world has changed forever, as has mine. They seem to have trouble accepting it. From a nearby bush, a cardinal tilts his head from side to side to get a better view, looking first with the right eye, then the left, as if peering more closely will make the tree and its missing feeder materialize.  I feel sorry for him.  I know it won’t help.

Titmice zoom in on autopilot for their morning visit.  I laugh at the bird equivalent of throwing it into reverse when limbs and feeder fail to materialize.  Flying feathers, furious flapping, and frantic eyes accompany their anything-but-graceful descent. Over and over they circle the spot where the peach tree used to be, each time approaching from a new direction. I know their attempts will continue until they recognize that trying to keep things unchanged is futile. A new way of being will have to evolve as they adjust to life without the peach tree. It won’t ever be the same, but it will become more normal.

That is how it is for me now. Our family circle is closing around the space where Tara used to be and a new normal is evolving. I still find it strange to introduce my son Nevin as my eldest. The age gap between Tara and her younger brother closed on his last birthday.  Next year he will be older than she ever was.  That will never seem normal.

I still don’t how to respond when people ask how many children I have, or how to answer when asked if I am my grandson’s mother, as legally I am, but few inquire now. For most people, the way we are is all they have known.

Confusion mounts in the backyard. The hummingbirds are mad. No longer able to hide in the leaves of the peach tree until the coast is clear, they have no choice but to make a direct approach to their feeder which hangs exposed under the eaves of the house close to the window. Territorial battles rise to a fevered pitch.  Perhaps anger in response to loss is common in the bird world, as it is in ours.

I observe the aerial acrobatics of the hummingbirds and remember my own rage.  I recall every wound and cause for grief. I recount every detail of what happened.  I think of those who played a role in the story, both positive and negative. I remember.  I always will. I think of the birds and wonder if they will forget that the peach tree existed.  I hope they won’t. Every life has significance.

I watch the reaction of the hummingbirds to the peach tree’s death, and I have an epiphany. I am not angry anymore.  I don’t know why.  It’s a peace that passes understanding. 

Sometimes my throat closes and tears come when I least expect them. Sometimes I’m lonely. There isn’t a minute I don’t miss Tara. In the beginning I told the story over and over to anyone who would listen.  I needed to. Each telling was one stir through the messy mix of pain and sorrow, one attempt to incorporate unthinkable events into the ingredients of my life. I don’t talk about it much anymore.  I don’t need to. Each verse, every chapter has blended to become an indistinguishable part of who I am. This is my new normal. 

But, if I want my children and my children’s children to know what I have learned on this journey, the story must be told. And so, dear ones, this is what I want you to hear:

Mine is a saga of suffering. It is also a parable of grace. I pray you will never experience the pain I have. I hope your trials will be few. But if ever you find yourself in the wilderness, remember, my story is your story, too. On the path of suffering I found healing, mercy, transformation, and grace. I discovered redemption is possible, resurrection is real, and I have never been in a place so dark, or so deep, or empty that I didn’t find God waiting for me there. I did not die as I once thought I would. I made it. I emerged from the gray wilderness of grief.  And most of all, dear children of my heart--I can see green again.


“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulations, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”~ John 16:33

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are You My Mother?

“Let's get started,” the banker said as Spencer and I settled into chairs in front of the desk in his plush office. “Are you Spencer’s Mom?” he smiled.  

“Yes.. . No. . .I mean . . .”

The banker peered at me over reading glasses that threatened to slip from the end of his nose.  His puzzled expression and raised eyebrows suggested he thought I might be a brick shy of a full load. How could a woman not know if she is somebody’s mother? 

My plan was to demonstrate fiscal responsibility and mature behavior by accompanying Spencer to the bank to open his first checking account before he left for college. I probably should have explained to the banker that I am Spencer’s “double-mom” since he is my “double-son,” a grandson by birth and a son by adoption. But that raises more questions than it answers. Besides, there comes a day when you don’t want to have to begin a sentence, “When Spencer’s Mom died . . .” The story is much too long, too complicated, too personal to share with strangers. I couldn’t blame the banker for not understanding.  Sometimes, even we get confused.   

“Uh...Let’s move on,” the banker said, shuffling papers in front of him. “I’ll need to attach security questions to the account,” he explained. “What’s your mother’s date of birth?” he asked Spencer, apparently thinking it best to direct questions away from me.         

I decided it would be less confusing if I responded to future inquiries from the banker as Spencer’s grandmother, rather than his mother. Wanting to redeem myself, I chimed in, “January,” giving Tara's birth month. Spencer simultaneously responded, “March.”  It was one time I wished he hadn’t remembered my birthday. 

The banker rolled his eyes.  After a pause he ventured, “Perhaps a different question might work better. What is your mother’s maiden name?”

Spencer, realizing I had responded with Tara’s information, adjusted his reply to mine.  “Cox,” he answered, stating her maiden name. I adjusted my response to his, “Rice,” I said, giving mine.  Again we replied in unison.

“People!” said the banker, clearly exasperated, “I have to get some answers to these questions, or I’m not going to be able to open this account! Do you think we might be able to find one we can all agree on!?”

 “Look,” I said to Spencer. “Just tell the man I’m your mother, OK?  But remember what we said in case anyone ever asks you again.”

Judging by the speed in which we were ushered from the banker’s office, I think he opened the account merely to get rid of us.

I can’t blame the poor man for being a bit bumfuzzled. Afterall, it’s not every family who has a double-son; a Brunkle, as Spencer calls his uncle Nevin now that he is his brother-by-law; or a Sant, now that Brynnan is an aunt-turned-big-sister. I have to smile. If our family relationships are perplexing to the banker, and occasionally to us, just think what we’ve done to the genealogists.  


“All you need in this world is love and laughter. That’s all anybody needs.  Love in one hand. Laughter in the other.”~August Wilson

“A joyful heart is good medicine.”~Proverbs 17:22

"Peace begins with a smile."~Mother Teresa

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.”~Anonymous


Smile at least once today.  If possible, laugh. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Love Song From Heaven

It is a mistake to think “time heals all wounds.” It doesn’t. Any mother who has lost a child can tell you that. But in time, scars cover open wounds and become beauty marks on hearts that dared to love. Pain lessens, sorrow fades, but neither entirely disappears.  Recollections transform from painful reminders into treasured memories, and the rediscovery of a forgotten letter tucked into a seldom-opened drawer can become an occasion of joy, bringing the yearned-for music of a loved one's voice, like a love song from heaven:

Dear Mom and Dad,

25 years! What a wonderful gift.  What a wonderful journey, and a testament to your love.  It has been a long road, a hill here and there, the occasional pot hole, but a road that you have traveled gracefully, and a journey in which I believe the two of you have just hit your stride.  One in which you have grown together and found that the greatest tribute to your love you could give to each other is to dedicate it to God.

I am proud of you two, and inspired to the point that I struggle to find the words to express the love and admiration I feel for both of you.  

Congratulations on this beautiful milestone and thank you for loving us, and each other.

Happy 25th anniversary!  I can’t think of any two people who deserve a day as special as this any more than the two of you.

I love you both,


"Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away."~Song of Solomon 8:7

"Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers."~May Sarton

"I see scars and I see stories.  I see a being who has lived, who has depth, who is a survivor.  Living is beautiful.  Being part of this world is beautiful, smile-worthy, despite the tears."~Alexandra Heather Foss

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."~Romans 12:15

-Do I avoid speaking to people who are suffering? If so, why?
-Do I remember to celebrate with others in times of joy? 
-What do I think of this statement: "A scar is never ugly. . .We must see all scars as beauty. . .A scar does not form on the dying. A scar means 'I survived'."~Chris Cleve, Little Bee


Make a list of things I can do to comfort someone in distress, to celebrate with someone in  joy? Act upon it.

Write a letter to someone on a special occasion, either happy or sad. Don't worry about what to say.  Speak from my heart.  

Write a letter to affirm someone I love. Remember to say "I love you."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hope in the Wilderness - Part 2

Continued from Part 1:
“Tears crept into the stillness as raw and real as first-loss. . . My eyes fell upon a verse in the middle of the page. I gasped. The words seemed meant for me. Tears came once again, but they were tears of gratitude, not of sorrow. I had discovered why I had come.” 

On a retreat years earlier only weeks after Tara's death, in the garden at Grace Church near Montgomery, I was blessed by the presence of Christ, by Tara, and by loved ones lost, and I stumbled upon a grave marker etched with the resurrection promise, “Your daughter lives.”* Now, the words of Jesus leapt from the pages of Matthew, Chapter 9, to assure me my beloved daughter and the love between us exists for eternity:

“Why all the commotion and weeping? The child is not dead: she’s only asleep.” 

How could I have missed the signs of grace that surrounded me: A butterfly tapped into tin reminding me of Tara’s words, “through the cocoon of the tomb Jesus took flight and gave us life everlasting;"** The chance occurrence of choosing a room with a name and number pointing to the words of Christ to comfort a mother's broken heart? 

Quietly, like a deer slips through the forest, a whisper, soft and gentle, entered the silence. 

“Will you let me come in? Come into your life? Into your heart?”

Darkness broke open to reveal the place within me where grief stood sentinel, forbidding entrance,  lest opening to love might wound again.

Grief is like a terrible fire—consuming, devastating--but when the time is right, when the question is posed, if we choose life rather than destruction, if we say yes to love rather than despair, the fire becomes a creative force.  What remains when it passes is purest silver wrought by the hand of God through faithfulness and unconditional love.  Yet, it is always important to remember--though redeemed by grace--the silver never forgets the flame.

Soon my retreat would end. The crackle of the Advent fire and the shuffle of silent footsteps would no longer be heard. I supposed I might become weary of the quiet over time, but in the moments remaining I vowed to savor the last drops of its sweetness. On that night, in a place named Dayspring, during a retreat called “Hope in the Wilderness,” I experienced the miracle of rebirth. A stone of resistance rolled away, love walked in, and from the cocoon of the tomb of grief, my heart, at long last, took flight. 


"And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper."~1 King 10:12 

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."~Isaiah 43:19

"When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like dawn breaking within you. . .When love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning."~John O'Donahue

-What signs of grace surround me?
-How would I answer the question, "Will you let me come in?" 
-Is there a hidden place of resistance within me?
-What are my thoughts about this statement: "If we choose life, rather than destruction, if we say yes to love rather than despair, the fire becomes a creative force."
-Has there been a time in my life when I experienced "rebirth?" If so, what happened?

Precious Lord, may the sufferings of your children lead to healing, wisdom, renewed appreciation for life, compassion for others, deepened faith, and the knowledge of your ever-present faithfulness. Give me eyes to see the surprises of your grace. May I give thanks for faith renewed, hope restored, and may the fruit of these gifts be used for the consolation of others. Amen  

*"Gift in the Garden, Part 1 and 2"~From the Big Red Chair, October 20 & October 27, 2011
**"The Greatest Gift"~From the Big Red Chair, April 21, 2011

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hope in the Wilderness - Part 1

The winding road emerged from a tangle of dense woods and continued beside a ramshackle fence bordering a field of winter weeds.  Muddy ruts sucked at the tires of my car. When I diverted my eyes to check the tiny map on the back of the retreat brochure in hopes of discovering a recognizable landmark, I  narrowly missed colliding with a low-hanging branch as the road plunged back into the forest.  The chill of wet earth and remnants of rain plopping onto my windshield from bare branches above heightened my sense of loneliness and stirred flurries of apprehension. 

At best I am lost, I thought. At worst I am not.  What am I doing here? Why did I come? Whatever made me think I could spend a winter weekend in silent retreat far from home in the company of strangers? The answer was simple.  If I wanted to complete requirements to graduate from the Leading Contemplative Prayer and Retreat Program at the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Formation, I had to.

Joining the program at Shalem was an effort to reenter a world left behind when my daughter Tara and granddaughter Alden died and when raising Tara’s son Spencer became my calling. I knew if I hoped to escape the confines of grief and venture into new life, I must nurture tender stirrings of renewed interest rising within me. I chose a retreat during the church season of Advent at Dayspring Retreat Centered near Germantown, Maryland, titled “Hope in the Wilderness.” 

Damp earth swallowed the sound of my arrival at the rustic structure secreted by undeveloped fields and undisturbed woodlands.  In the moments before my presence was detected, I considered fleeing. What if solitude ripped away the bandage of busy-ness that had long concealed the wound of sadness? What if silence required sheathing the sword of distraction that kept demons of grief at bay?  

“I’ll leave you here to choose your room,” said the lanky young man who carried my suitcase to the Matthew hall as we passed others named Mark, Luke and John.  “Pick any room you like. You’re the first one here.”

I peered through open doors that lined the left side of the corridor.  A rocking chair, a dresser, and a desk with a small lamp furnished each chamber.  A large, single-pane window stretched from corner-to-corner on the far wall, opening each room to the silence of the forest and creating an illusion of spaciousness.  A handmade quilt of unique color on the foot of each bed was the only distinguishing characteristic. 

I entered the chamber at the far end of the hall and sat in the rocker by the window, my unopened suitcase beside me. Fog that settled into the evening woods, along with descending darkness, did little to calm my rising angst. “Something doesn’t feel right,” I thought. “I don’t think this is my room,” I concluded.

Back in the hall, suitcase in hand, I found a room closer to the entrance that seemed to invite my company.

“Tell your prayer partner how you wish to be prayed for this weekend,” said the retreat leader who divided our group into pairs when we gathered by the fireplace in the main lodge for introductions before entering the Great Silence. I considered requesting prayers for courage, but rejected the idea. Doing so would require explaining why I was afraid to be in silence.  Prayers for peace would require re-telling the story of loss that I preferred remain my sacred secret. I settled on prayers for clarity. “Other than being a compulsory part of the program,” I confessed to my prayer partner, “I don’t have a clue why I'm here.”  

I awoke the next morning grateful for the previous evening's swift descent into slumber that circumvented anxious thoughts during dark hours and deepening stillness. The smell of food prepared by cooks working in silence drew me to the lodge. After breakfast I wandered fields of dry winter grass that swayed about my knees. A bell summoning me to the noon meal interrupted the morning and startled me into an awareness of time. As the day lengthened, I wandered through fields, down a steep hill, and under towering trees, to a bench deep in the forest. I sat motionless, moving only my eyes, hoping not to alarm a deer I hoped might slip by under cover of waning daylight. None appeared.  Only tears awakened in the silence. Tears rose from their hiding place in solitude to invade the peacefulness. Tears crept into the stillness as raw and real as first-loss.
Fleeing to my bedroom, my hand upon the doorknob, my eyes fell upon a previously unnoticed rectangular plate attached to the door.  Above the words Matt: 9--Matthew Hall, room number nine--floated a large butterfly hammered into the metal by the hand of an artist.  How ironic, I thought. How appropriate that I coincidentally chose a room whose door was marked by a butterfly that to me was symbolic of Tara.  A butterfly adorns her grave marker as a symbol of her poem and a reminder of hope.* But in that moment, the butterfly brought memories of sorrow.  

As I lay in darkness upon my bed, tears spent, it occurred to me that the word and number on the door were in the same form as chapter and verse of the Bible.  I switched on a light, retrieved a Bible from the desk drawer, and opened to the ninth chapter of Matthew.  I gasped when my eyes fell upon a verse in the middle of the page that seemed directed to me. Tears once again flooded my eyes, but they were tears of gratitude, not of sorrow. I had discovered why I had come.

. . .to be continued "Hope in the Wilderness" Part II


"The purpose of the Church's year is to continually rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart's memory so that it can discern the star of hope."~Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

"Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is wondrously present."~Edward Hayes

"In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair."~Howard Thurman

"Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."~Mark 6:31

-Do I need peace and rest?
-Do I find the prospect of quiet inviting? Why? Why not?
-What is my experience of grace in coincidence?
-Where have I seen the "star of hope?"

*"A Time for Peace"-From the Big Red Chair, January 2, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Letter to Camp

I have a theory. If you want your children to listen as you wax eloquent, wait until they are trapped in a moving vehicle. Or, if they happen to work as camp counselors during the summer, send an unexpected letter. That is possibly your best chance that they will pay attention to what you have to say. Blazing heat and fatigue, mixed with a healthy dose of curiosity and homesickness, can be powerful tools in the parental arsenal. If you want to improve the odds they may actually remember what you say, try seeing in how many ways you can say “respect.” With kids, it's never a sure thing that you'll get through, but it's worth a shot anyway. 

Dear Spencer,

I’m so proud of you and what you are doing.  I know it is hard work and a big commitment to be a counselor.  You will probably never know what your gift means to others.  But you can be assured every person there, including you, is there because God ordained it at this time and this place.  Keep your eyes open to see what he has for you.

Spencer, you are a good role model for others, and the endearing thing is you don’t even know it.  That’s good. Wouldn’t want you to be uppity or anything!

I respect you for who you are and for what you have accomplished.  I am proud of the man you are becoming.  You have had more on your plate than most people will ever experience, and you have persevered, grown, and learned from your experiences.  And now you offer those hard-earned lessons as a gift to others.

Spencer, you are hard on yourself about your grades in school, and that is good because it means you care and are willing to keep working at it. School is such a big part of a young person’s life that it is hard not to judge ourselves solely by academic standards.  First of all, your grades are not as bad as you seem to think, and more important than any grade could ever be, I want you to see that in things that really matter, you are an A++ student! Your heart of compassion shines. You share your talents and gifts and are willing to work to the benefit of others and to serve the Lord. And you are loyal.

Warning! Mother moment ahead!

Sometimes, Spencer, you are loyal to a fault. Be careful to whom you give your loyalty!

Bishop Stough used to say he believed there was one question we will all be asked when we get to heaven, “How well did you love?” 

Spencer, you love much.

It won’t be long now before you go to college, and I won’t see you everyday.  You are going on to the next phase of your life which is as it should be.  But I want you to know I’ll miss having you here all the time.  I consider the years we have had together to be one of the greatest gifts in my life.  Even though we both wish we still had your Mom, I cherish the opportunity to be together. You have always been a big part of my heart, and I would fight to the death to protect you (and just about have!!)

I know there have probably been times when you must have wondered what happened to the sweet grandmother who never fussed, who let you eat all the cookies you wanted--do anything you wanted to do any time--all the time! She’s still here, Spencer.  She’s just trying to do her best at mother things.

Speaking of mother things, if you go off to school and don’t call me at least twice a week, I’m going to chop your head off!!

Well. . . on that cheerful note, I’ll stop. Have a great weekend.  They are lucky to have you.  

I love you.


"Parents can only give them good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands."~Anne Frank

"Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children."~Charles Swindoll

"Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and do not foresake your mother's teaching; for indeed they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck."~Proverbs 1:8-9

"Even a child is known by his doings."~Proverbs 20:11

-What have been the greatest gifts in my life?
-What experiences have led to growth in my life? What gifts do I have to offer as a result?
-What character traits do I most admire in others?
-How would I wish to be "known by my doings?"
-How well have I loved?


"Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart."~From the Book of Common Prayer


Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Beginnings

High school graduation ceremonies strike terror in my heart.  It happens every time I watch one of my children receive their “passport to the future,” as almost every graduation speaker has described that cherished piece of paper, representing twelve years of homework assignments that may or may not have been turned in. I listened as Spencer and his classmates were reminded in lofty words that it is their responsibility to build on the “firm foundation laid by teachers and parents.” The world was "now in their hands."

That was a scary thought. I don’t know how other parents felt hearing that declaration, but I broke into a cold sweat.  I wanted to shout, “Wait! He’s not ready.  I’m not ready! I haven’t done enough!”

"There is still time," I told myself.  

I still had the summer to bombard Spencer with warnings and inundate him with last minute words of wisdom.  I reviewed my mental checklist:
  • Warn him about overdrawing his checking account.
  • Tell him how important it will be for him to manage his time now that I won’t be there every day to help.              
  • Try not to get mad when he rolls his eyes when I say that.
  • Encourage him to eat healthy food and beware of the freshman fifteen.
  • Forget that--teach him to make potato soup instead so he won’t starve.
You would think the boy was trekking to the hinterlands, never again to be seen in civilized society, with only minutes to complete wilderness survival training, rather than going away to college. As long as there is frozen pizza, I consoled myself, I suppose he won’t have to forage for roots and berries. 

Calm down, girl, I thought. Breathe! He's going to be fine and so are you. You're just having “end-of-an-error” jitters. I reminded myself I had survived children leaving home before. I wondered what it would be like when Spencer left.

When Spencer’s mom Tara left for college, tears flowed every time I passed the door to her empty bedroom. When Nevin's turn came to fly the nest, I wasted no time lamenting his departure. I began crying over the kitchen sink when he was still a junior in high school. 

Brynnan was the last to leave. I dreaded the moment of separation. We gathered in the garden at Rhodes College with other parents and students for the culmination of a two-day, freshman orientation that I think was more to help the parents get used to the idea of college than the students. The college president knowing the potential for soggy parental meltdown, allowed no time for tearful good-byes. He not-unkindly, but briskly announced from the podium, “Parents, please go now. As the old saying goes, ‘How are we gonna miss you, if you won’t ever leave’?” 

I reached toward Brynnan for a last, poignant embrace with a lump in my throat and tears burning my eyes, but she had already turned. “See ya, Mom,” she called over her shoulder. “I've gotta go check on Mrs. Summerford.  She looks upset.” 

Sam smiled and put his arm around me, "Well, Mom. I guess that's it. It's just you and me now." And with that declaration, we entered the empty nest. 

Soon Spencer would leave for college and another season of child-rearing would end. We would send him off with our love and fervent prayers for God’s protection, and once again Sam and I would be together, alone in the house, just the two of us.  

The ceremony ended and hundreds of cheering teenagers tossed mortar boards into the air. I'm glad I remembered the empty-nest is not without its advantages, and being with Sam is a very good thing.  
I lay awake that night, listening for Spencer's footsteps on the stairs and his voice calling, "I'm home!" I added to my checklist:
  • Tell him every day while I still have him at home how much I love him.
  • Remind him--every day--Tara would be proud.      
Spencer ambled into the kitchen the following day for a post-Noon breakfast. Perhaps I should have waited until he was fully awake or at least until his head was out of the refrigerator before  initiating a moment of sentimentality.

"You know, I'm really going to miss you, Bud," I said.

"Yea, I know," he said with a poignant sigh as he retrieved a carton of chocolate ice cream from the freezer.

"I'm really gonna miss the cat."


“You are the bows from which your children as living arrow are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.  Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”~Kahlil Gibran

“For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”~Psalm 100:5

“For everything there is a season . . .”~Ecclesiastes 3:1

-Change is a constant part of life.  What changes have I experienced?
-How would I describe the seasons of my life? Are there some that have been more difficult than others? Why? Why not?
-Is there anything I have found to be helpful in negotiating transitions? What would I want to share?
-Have I found grace in new beginnings?
-What is my prayer for this season in my life?

A Prayer for changing times:
Beloved One, so quickly has this season come to an end.  As I prepare to conclude this season now grown old, may this time be alive with contentment, completion and rest. As the winds carry songs of harvest gratitude, may my heart join the chorus, singing praise for you.  May the growing presence of a new beginning speak of the bounty of your love, and may the fruits of your grace be stored in my heart. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Youth Sunday - Part 2

Rarely will an adolescent boy permit a glimpse of his view of God or the world, but if he does, pay attention, look carefully, he may show you the kingdom of heaven:   

Youth Sunday Service Honoring Graduating Seniors - Sermon by Spencer Cox:

Last year during spring break, I was able to take part in a truly incredible adventure. The Diocesan Youth Department had planned Spring Break Conference, which is always held at Camp McDowell, but this time it would be held at some place other than camp, some place called S.I.F.A.T. At the time, I viewed this to be borderline treachery. Spring Break Conference anywhere but camp was unthinkable!  I grudgingly signed on to attend and to stay the three extra days at this silly S.I.F.A.T. thing.

I soon found out that S.I. F.A.T was actually an acronym, and not just a very bizarre name. It stands for Servants in Faith and Technology, and the primary purpose of this organization is to educate missionaries to third-world countries in the wonders of appropriate technology. This “appropriate technology” term can be summarized in one sentence, “You don’t give someone a refrigerator if they don’t have electricity.” It sounds simple to remember, but you would be surprised, or so I am told, at the amount of woefully wasteful, unnecessary, and sometimes harmful tools missionaries bring into their villages.

But another thing that this place did was put on a little camp—a three-day event, complete with a 12-hour simulation of life in a third world country. We lost more than half of the people who came to the Spring Break Conference, so the total participants who stayed for S.I.F.A.T. numbered about thirty people. These thirty people, most of them friends, but not great friends, were in for a truly life-altering experience, equivalent to the first time you see the picture of a white candlestick surrounded by black, and it suddenly transforms into two black faces staring at each other with a white background behind them. You suddenly wonder if your eyes are broken, but you are in fact, just seeing the world a little clearer.

These thirty people arrive on day one, and nothing special happens. We learn how to make a stove out of two coffee cans, two bricks, sawdust, a piece of pvc pipe, and a lighter, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, it burned at about 400 degrees for three hours, and we cooked stew over it. We all go to bed that night a little confused as to what exactly we’re going to be doing the next day, but excited nonetheless.

The next day comes and we are asked to carry our pillows, toiletries, and sleeping bags with us and to follow Nate, our guide for the weekend. Not knowing what’s going on, we follow and are separated into groups called “families.” 

We walk about a mile and then we come to this ramshackle town that was built out of anything and everything, car hubcaps, plywood, chicken wire, with unpaved streets and jagged rocks underfoot. It was a frightening place, and it seemed there were no friends. 

We had arrived at the slum simulation.

Immediately, we are questioned harshly by a “border official” and asked what we were doing in the town that we were told belonged to “Bolivar.”  We mumbled something about camping.  He laughed and pushed my family on through. I was with four other people, all youth except for one adult.

As soon as we put our stuff down, we learn we have to buy our dinner that night or we won’t eat. A chicken breast costs $250, fish the same, a cup of rice was $300.  Fruit was $100 each. All the food was outrageously and unfairly expensive, and we began to complain. Nobody cared.  In fact we were laughed at openly. So I took my "family" aside, and I told them that obviously we weren’t going to be able to do things normally here.

One of the more memorable moments was about halfway through the simulation.  I was walking through the crowd, and a seedy looking man came up to me and offered to buy the women off of my hands for $5,000 dollars each. I immediately pushed him into a wall and told him, as I brought my fist up, to get lost before I made him regret it. I was genuinely furious. I forgot it was a simulation. This man was trying to hurt my family and to do that he was going to have to get through me. He cowered away, and I gradually went back to normal.

Earlier in the day something similar had happened, I was selling “drugs” to some people. I had to if my family was going to eat. I got caught and thrown in jail. When my family came to bail me out, I told them no, to go buy food and a house for themselves and only come to me if they had enough money. We were all shoeless at that point too, because we sold our shoes for money. But what mattered to me most was my family’s health and safety.  I would be fine for the time being.

Eventually the ordeal ended, and it was like a blanket lifted from my eyes. There are people in this world who deal with this every day--places where right and wrong are a matter of necessity and perspective, and caring for those you love is your highest priority, next to surviving.

The gospel today preaches there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I can’t say I’ve ever faced a situation where someone pulled a gun on my friends or something, but I believe that without hesitation I would throw myself in the way. I didn’t believe this before S.I.F.A.T. though. I didn’t understand it. I thought that asking for that kind of commitment was a little insane. Loving one as someone else is easy to grasp, but actually sacrificing your life for another to live on is a little more complicated.

I realized though, that it doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your life. It may mean going hungry for a friend so they can eat, taking the blame for their mistake, staying in a filthy jail with no shoes and freezing so your friends can provide for themselves first, and almost punching a college student in a simulation who offers to buy your female friends from you.

God truly opened the doors for me on love. Before I knew God, I only thought I could love people. But when he guided me with his patience and his word and his trials and rewards, I began to understand what it is to truly love someone, to truly be there for someone. I couldn’t have done this without God’s help. To learn to be selfless, to treat others as you treat yourself, to sacrifice for them, that is what God’s love is about. If he sent his only son to die for the entire world’s sins, a little kindness and following his directions shouldn’t be too hard should it? But we still find it difficult, myself included.

At S.I.F.A.T, I got a small glimpse, a tiny taste, of some of the dilemmas Jesus faced. How do I lay down my happiness and my comfort for people I don’t know, and still love them? I found the answer there, because everybody has some valuable quality. I discovered that the members of my simulated family during S.I.F.A.T, who I had deemed as less than useful, had many talents. I grew to love and grew close to strangers in three short days, so it can be done. And I urge you all to try it. 

Next time you meet someone who you want to be friends with, make an unnecessary gift, a sacrifice for them without expecting anything back. Lay down, not necessarily your life, but your wall you have toward strangers. Lay down your hostility. Lay down your suspicion, and truly be open and honest with them. 

For I truly believe that there is no greater love than to sacrifice yourself, not just for a friend, but for a total stranger. And all in God’s name.  

The word of the Lord.

1 John 4:7~"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God."
"You don't need a college degree to serve. . .You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."~Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Prayer: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be taken away. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Youth Sunday - Part 1


Some bright morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away

If anyone told the kids who planned the Youth Sunday service at Christ Church that “I’ll Fly Away” might be a bit primitive for Episcopal tastes, it must have flown right over their heads. Untethered by self-consciousness, and oblivious to the fact that some people in the congregation hadn’t flapped their wings in years, they sang with innocence and exuberance. 

I rather enjoyed singing “I’ll Fly Away” to begin the nine o-clock Youth Sunday service.  It made me think of Tara flying away to heaven, free from strife and with the assurance of reunion joy. She had been on my mind as I dressed for church. The high school seniors were being honored and Spencer was to deliver the sermon.  Tara’s absence during this rite of passage for her son stirred sneaky grief, the kind that lies dormant until a memory or event exposes its hiding place.

I wrapped myself in all things Tara. Her ring was on my right hand. A graduation gift from her grandparents, it’s free-form style reminded them of her free-spirited personality.  Her cross hung from my neck, and the bracelet she made for me circled my wrist.  I carefully removed a small, gold brooch that Tara purchased in Ireland from its place of safe-keeping.  The “Tara Brooch” is a replica of the larger one worn on the robe of the high king in the ancient kingdom of Tara. I pinned the brooch to my shoulder and checked the safety catch not once, but twice.  In my mind's eye, I could see Tara and her bother laughing and dancing together upon a peat bog.  I noticed the recollection brought pleasure, rather than pain as it had in the past.

“You’re just going to have to wait like everybody else,” Spencer had said refusing to reveal the topic of his sermon and rejecting my offer to assist. When a Cox man refuses to talk there is no point in pushing. 

My nerves for Spencer intensified as the service progressed. Voices rose to sing a second hymn, and a lump came to my throat

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you,
In the hollow of his hand

Brynnan prayed those words at the funeral home as a farewell to her sister. She heard them sung during a church service later that evening and said, “Tara was speaking to me, telling me that she was alright, letting me know she had heard my prayer, returning the blessing to me.”*

Coincidence?  I think not. I wanted to stand and announce to the congregation, “Ladies and gentlemen!  Tara is in the building!”

My spiritual director told me that sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through scripture and the voice of another, whispering the words we need to hear in ways only we understand. She said her parishioners often say the sermon spoke directly to them, citing words she swore she never uttered. Maybe it was my mood.  Maybe it was my imagination, but the words of Jesus in the gospel reading sounded for all the world like Tara speaking to Spencer, telling him she loved him, that she loved God, was with God, and giving Spencer motherly advice.  I wondered if anyone noticed besides me:

“The father has loved me, and so I have loved you. Abide in my love. . .I’m telling you these things so my joy in you may be complete. This is what I want you to remember. Love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this--to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . . Now, go and bear fruit--fruit that will last!”

Spencer's voice interrupted my thoughts. 

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he began the sermon.

Instead of the little boy, beaten and defeated, unable to look anyone in the eye when he came to live in our home, I saw standing before me, in front of the entire congregation, and in front of God, a young man confident in his message with the courage to deliver it.  If ever I doubted God’s power to heal, to create beauty from ashes, to redeem even the most horrendous circumstance, it disappeared in that moment.

People in the congregation dabbed their eyes because Spencer's words touched them. I cried because I was witnessing a miracle--a resurrection miracle.

I didn’t want to leave the church, but when the announcement was made that the final hymn would be “J-E-S-U-S,” I knew I had to.

The throbbing beat of a lone guitar banged out a driving, bluesy rhythm. Spencer played his mother’s guitar. People bobbed their heads and tapped their feet. Some even swayed.  Spencer’s solo voice rose above the music, and he took us on a rollicking, good ride that only the terminally resistant could refuse. His body leaned into the rhythm as he sang a rambunctious, I’ll-go-first-you-go-next version of Jesus Loves Me.

And Christ Church praised God in a manner seldom, if ever, done before:

“I’m talkin’ ‘bout  “J!”

Congregation: “J!”


Congregation: “E!”. . .

. . .and on through S-U-S!

Everybody! “I’m talkin’ ‘bout JEEEEESSSSUUUUSSSSSssss!”

I saw the devilment in Spencer’s grin as his voice rose to a crescendo, and he slipped into an over-the-top, gravelly falsetto that on any other occasion might have triggered a walk out. 

Repeating the chorus, he screeched, “I’m talkin’ ‘bout J! . . .”

As it ended, applause and laughter rippled through the congregation. 

“That’s the first time I ever left church laughin',” said one woman after the service.  “My goodness!  Preachin’ and singin’, too!” said another.   One man took my hand, and shaking his head said, “When he got here that boy looked like a whipped puppy that had just been let out of a closet. Look at him today. What a journey, what a journey.”

My friend Nancy, who had never stopped praying for Spencer’s well-being, said, “Well, Bunny, I think it is safe to say. . .he is definitely alright."

The minister said, “I told him not to do that!” 

"Why did you do it if he said not to?" I asked Spencer on the way home from the church.

“Well, I know he told me not to do it like that, but then I thought, ‘What the heck. Why not shake ‘em up a bit’.”  

Like mother, like son. I swear I could hear laughter in heaven.


"I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord."~Jeremiah 30:17

"Sing unto the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things." ~Psalm 98:1

"Coincidences are God's way of getting our attention."~Frederick Buechner

"For me, music making is the most joyful activity possible, the most perfect expression of any emotion."~Luciano Pavarotti

-What place does play have in my spiritual life? What activities do I find joyful?
-Have I seen health restored and wounds healed? What happened?
-What are my thoughts about this statement? "Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through scripture and the voice of another, whispering the words we need to hear in ways only we understand." 

*"Hey, How's It Going," From The Big Red Chair, September 14, 2011

Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Never Know

I was not snooping!  Spencer’s essay was in Hplain view on the desk in his room, and sooner or later somebody had to change the linen. OK, so maybe I was snooping, but I’m not sorry.  How else would I have discovered we made a few good decisions along the potholed path of parenthood.  Children don’t divulge that kind of information readily lest they forfeit the power to keep you guessing.  

I’m glad I read Spencer’s college application essay. Otherwise, I might never have glimpsed his tender heart or known that the simple act of ensuring he got to camp in the summer created life-sustaining ripples of hope that washed upon distant shores and soothed a young man's struggling faith:

Please respond to the following question: What person or place has had the greatest influence on your life?

When I was in the third grade, I was living with my mother and father in Georgia before their divorce, and was, in general, getting pretty bored. Cartoons, hot wheels, games; all simply failed to alleviate my crushing sense of boredom. My grandparents noticed this, and recommended Camp McDowell in Nauvoo, Alabama to me. Cleverly, they didn’t tell me it was a church camp (knowing I would instantly balk), and I went along for the ride happily. When I got there, I instantly fell in love with every aspect of it that my brain could comprehend at that age. The people, environment, friends, and atmosphere were all idyllic. I didn’t realize how important Camp McDowell would be in my life. Camp McDowell and my experiences in the Episcopal Church have carried me through some difficult times and have helped heal wounds I have suffered.

When my mother died, I went to live with my father. I had not seen or heard from him in a long time, and I found him to be unpleasantly changed. In general, he was not the same man I remembered. I felt as if I were in a less than welcoming home with people who saw me as a burden to bear because I shared the same blood as my father. I had no family nearby, no friends or anyone else to talk to, no one I could depend on.

My faith was very weak at that point. More or less, the extent of it was that I believed God was real.

I was lying in my room one day, and I began to think about Camp. I thought about how crazy everyone was there. I thought about how much fun I had.  I thought about the wonderful staff who actually seemed to take an interest in the kids. I thought about this and much more lying on my bed that night, and I began to realize God was giving me hope.  

I had begun to fight my way back to becoming normal again, and remembering camp was giving me the strength to do it. Every time I slipped back into depression, I recalled the fever-pitched singing at camp, and how the songs sent waves of joy thundering down my veins, and I would regain a foothold and begin climbing again. It was a very slow and painful process, but eventually I succeeded. 

Before I knew it, I was sitting in my grandparent’s house, very much scared and very much lonely. My grandparents explained that my dad had given up his parental rights and was not my legal father anymore. They adopted me as their child and gave me the surname Cox.  I honestly didn’t know if I would ever be able to forgive my dad, and I looked to God and my experiences at Camp to help me.  
Camp McDowell truly brings out the best in people and helps you discover things about yourself that you did not know were there. It brought out my ability to talk with strangers about sensitive issues and problems in their life or in my own. It taught me to use my experiences to help others and to not dwell in the past, but to learn from it.

I realize now how easy it might have been for a child who has been through all of that to forsake God and become a hardcore atheist, but that isn’t what happened. It slowly dawned on me that God does love me.

My life has been an interesting one so far, with some very hard times, but I have met them full on and have come out a better, stronger person because of it. I do not regret anything that happened because there is no point in dwelling on the past and because there have been immeasurable amounts of good to come out of it. I am not bitter about what was taken from me because so much has been given back. I have made peace with God and Jesus, and consider them to be very good friends of mine. And, I have forgiven my father for disowning me.

Camp has been a major part of my life, and I know your school has the potential to equal or surpass that experience. Please consider me for admission.  I promise that I will not disappoint you.


"Even the youths shall faint and be weary. . .but those who wait for God; they shall mount up with wings as eagles."~ Isaiah 40:

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overflow you. . ."~Isaiah 40:

"You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.  You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls live in the house of tomorrow."~Kahlil Gibran, On Children

"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."~Nelson Mandela

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."~Leo Buscaglia

-What person or place has had the greatest influence on my life?
-Have I been the recipient of an act of kindness that has played an important role in my life? What was it? What happened as a result?
-What lessons for living have I gleaned from the woes in my life?
-In what way might I demonstrate a "small act of caring" today?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plan B

With his arms outstretched to counterbalance the occasional wobble, Spencer planted his feet on top of the cinder block wall that lined the sidewalk in front of the school on his first day of kindergarten. The knees of his freshly pressed jeans were not yet torn. His tennis shoes were not yet scuffed. Golden flecks in his tousled blond curls glinted in the morning sunlight. Heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe, he inched across the wall, until he toppled to the ground in front of his mother, causing her to stumble. In spite of his mother's repeated admonitions for him to walk beside her like a "normal person," Spencer hopped back on the wall and resumed his task with the determination of a five-year-old on a mission.

“For heaven’s sake, Spencer, what are you doing?” Tara asked.

“Practicing my tightrope walking,” he explained. “In case this school thing doesn’t work out, maybe I can join the circus.”

That’s Spencer.  He always has a Plan B. I suppose with the upheaval and disappointments he experienced when his parents divorced and after his mother died, it is not unexpected that he would  anticipate the worst and consider the next best option, thinking when, not if, he had to move on. 

“I guess if this doesn’t work out,” he said at the breakfast table one morning shortly after becoming our 'double-son'--a grandchild by birth, our son by adoption--“maybe I can go live with Uncle Nevin.”

Sam responded in his usual get-to-the-point-in-as-few-word-as-possible way. “Oh no.  This is your home, Buddy. You are not going anywhere.”

I recalled the words of my lawyer-friend on the day of Tara’s funeral when Spencer was taken away, “There comes a time,” he said, “when a boy needs to find out for himself what kind of man his father is.”*  

It didn’t take Spencer long to learn what kind of man Sam is. 

"I know sometimes we get on each other’s nerves a bit," Spencer said in a handwritten note to Sam. "But for every one of those times there are 100’s more that make those seem bearable.  I just want to thank you and say Happy Father’s Day. I want you to enjoy it and take pride in the fact that you’ve earned it in my book.  I love you so very much, and you are a pretty cool grandfather.  Spencer”

With humbleness and gratitude, I am pleased to report that with "cool" Sam as their father, and in spite of the fact that we do occasionally get on each other’s nerves, all of my children have apparently found life in our household to be, for the most part, “bearable.”  And thankfully, at least for now, no one has run away to the circus.


“Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” ~Matthew 9:48

 “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” ~Sigmund Freud

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”~Clarence B. Kelland

“Often the only thing a child can remember about an adult in later years, when he or she is grown, is whether or not that person was kind. ~Billy Graham

-Is there someone who has modeled compassion and loyalty for me? What did I learned from them?
-What is my experience of “father?” Does that experience strengthen or hinder my relationship with God and my response to God as “father?”

A Prayer for Compassion by Mother Teresa:
Lord, open our eyes that we may see you in our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts that we may love each other as you love us. Renew in us your spirit. Lord, free us and make us one. Amen

* From The Big Red Chair, Thin Boards, Sept. 21, 2011