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We are all born of the coming together of two people.  And if we're lucky we become who we are in large part by an initial imitation that evolves into a uniqueness.

At this time of year, we think more about those whose handprints we see in our lives.  We rearrange our time to be near those we love.  We are maybe more aware, and subsequently more grateful for the small circle that has emerged and stayed constant around us.  We realize, if we are honest with ourselves, that we owe a great debt.

Blood is important, but it's no guarantee.  My parents have become the greatest influences in my life.  In watching them, I find two artists I still try to emulate.

Jere and Hazel were born in Macon, Georgia, not too long ago, my mama would want me to add.  She grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” and he was shy.  Though he thought he didn't have a chance with her, they were married six months after they met.  

My daddy was bagging groceries for a living when I was born.  There wasn't much money for furniture so Daddy built bookcases to house his reel-to-reel tape player and his book collection out of cinderblocks and wooden planks.  From these shelves they gave me Beethoven, Dickens, C.S. Lewis and the Bible.

After I was old enough to ride a bike, Daddy took me to the brickyard one Saturday afternoon to collect bricks and somehow managed to build us a big patio in the back yard. 

When I was seven, Billy Joel's Piano Man came out.  I was always reluctant to get up and out the door for school.  Impatient, my daddy would wait in the car.  One morning he yelled in from the driveway, “C'mon!  Billy Joel's on the radio!” 

That did the trick.  On the way to school, my parents asked if I'd like to be able to do that -- to play like him.  No forced eating of carrots or piano lessons in my childhood.  Because of that invitation, this Christmas I will return to Georgia and play Tom Waits on the piano while my 94-year-old grandmamma flips through the songbook, marveling at pictures of him.  Again.  Like we do every year. 

In his mid-thirties, through a strange turn of events, my daddy had to begin his professional life anew.  One morning I found him reading the want ads. 

"What are you looking for?" I asked him.

“Whatever job has the most ads.” 

“That's a weird way to look for a job.  You're a school principal.” 

“I'm whatever the world is needing.” 

He ended up teaching himself to write software for banks and has been running his company for over twenty years.

My mama is the caretaker of the world -- full of style and grace.  Fierce and funny and all heart.  A barefoot girl building sandcastles on the beach.  Still.  

There was a bad thunderstorm one night and I was afraid.  The lightening was so close and we lived in the woods.  She told me that in life there are things we can control to some extent and things we can't.  Weather is one of those things that is beyond us.  So we have no choice but to understand that God is making that weather and to trust His manifestation of that.  That was the last time I was afraid of weather. 

She waited until I was older to move onto the larger lesson that we are in control of nothing except our responses. 

There are in all of our families and social circles, the seemingly unlovable.  The braggarts, the careless, the bossy.  There are also the sick, the elderly, the children -- the helpless.  Mama seems to gravitate towards these.  She has an instinct for where she is needed and no matter how unpleasant that station is, you will always find her dead center of it.  She has learned that the joy of life comes in doing what is yours to do -- not in spending the days figuring out what you want and going after that.  A servant's heart beats in her.

I got the idea in my head at an early age that Mama could fix anything.  Things happened as I grew up that taught me otherwise.  But she knows how to bandage up the broken.    

Together Jere and Hazel navigated their way through my ridiculous adolescence and managed it with all manner of grace, despite their fear and inexperience.  No action, no matter how unthinkable, was enough for them to walk away or condescend.  They always approached in love -- and valiant attempts toward understanding.  We are now all adults, and still they find themselves in comedy clubs, racetracks, walking down Hollywood Boulevard at  midnight -- places they would never otherwise be.  They have never stopped meeting me where I am -- never stopped wanting to know their daughter.  Even though they know some of what they see will break their heart, they will not look away.  They have spared my brother and me what pain they could and held our hands through the rest.

I have been watching for nearly forty years as they move through the high places and the low.  Through homecomings and airport goodbyes.  Through lost jobs and lost loves and new adventures.  Through hospital corridors towards death and towards birth.  I have lived with them and far from them but I will never stop watching...imitating...hoping to be like that when I grow up.

* * *

A great artist moves with the days.  He doesn't fix something in his head and will it so.  He allows.  He watches.  He listens.  And then, if he is very good, he shows you yourself.  Our response to art is a recognition of something that already exists in us.  It's the realization that we're known and not alone.  A great artist will risk it all everyday.  It's such a way of life, he doesn't even think of it that way anymore.  He just has no choice but to do what is his alone to do. 

In celebration of this season of all kinds of gratitude, here are Jere and Hazel.  They have no paintings for sale, no cds, no books -- only this free idea and a shining example to uncover your own path -- let nothing discourage your destiny.  Do what you were born to do.

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