Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Echoes in the Mountains

There were quite a few echoes in the east Tennessee mountains this past weekend. 

Around 40 Madarises gathered there at my cousin Ben's place in the mountaints near the NC border, overlooking the famous "Dragon's Tail" road so popular with bikers. (Real bikers riding Harleys & Ninjas & such; not people like me who ride bicycles...)  To clarify, this was but a subset of my extended family.  "Extended" here means everyone from my Dad's siblings down. There were 4 generations represented there.  For many, the phrase "family reunion" evokes groans & sighs & fears & dread; this is NOT the case for Madaris family reunions!  They are some of my most treasured times on earth.  Lisa, who married into the family, would agree, as would our children.

There were echoes of laughter.
Pretty much any gathering of Madarises brings with it a lot of laughter, which is one of the many reasons I so enjoy family reunions.  If one's basic outlook on life is sour & borderline-angry, then one must be part of a different family!  We're going to have fun and enjoy the time & the journey together, as we did this past weekend.

Launching water balloons off the mountain.
There were echoes caused by various forms of outdoor activity.
Also de rigeur for a gathering of my family.  This gathering included cornhole, s'mores around the fire, tubing a nearby creek, hiking the mountains, swimming/jumping off the nearby bridge, tossing a football around, even water baloon launching (which is pretty cool off the side of a mountain!).

There were echoes of music.

The Sunday afternoon sing-along
Though our musical talents vary from superb to...less superb let's just say, we enjoy music.  Sunday afternoon, we made it specific by gathering around the piano as Jeanne (our hostess for the weekend), played various hymns accompanied by her hubby on bass and their two sons on trombone & guitar.  We chimed in with favorites from the hymnal, and sang along.  "Amazing Grace"..."In the Garden"..."My Jesus, I Love Thee"..."It Is Well With My Soul"...and other classics that mean much to our family heritage.  Some in the room had allergy attacks that we they tried to hide during this singalong.  *sheepish grin*

There were echoes of conversation.
Another thing that is an integral part of our family gatherings is conversation.  Lots of conversation.  And Ben & Jeanne's place had multiple settings that were oh-so-conducive to chatting; decks, porches, mountain trails, lounge chairs, meal places,...The topics vary widely from very serious to very frivolous, and one can jump into or out of most any conversation at leisure without offending the others.

There were echoes of games.

A serious game of "Garbage."
Of course, the required card game called "Garbage" which is a game I've never figured out.  It involves several people, multiple decks of cards, and a dizzying array of rules.  One cousin accused another cousin & 2 aunts of changing the rules as the game went on; "Garbage" is serious business at Madaris reunions!

There were echoes of others.
As a now-gone cousin told me once, one of the unique and greatly-strengthening aspects of the Madaris family is that we have quite a bit of experience with death.  Early death...death at an old age...death of very young children...And thus, we share a rather profound appreciation of life and of its brevity.  We cherish the memories of those now gone, including, most recently, the senior member of the family, my Aunt Daisy. (written about here some weeks ago).  Her name came up several times last weekend, almost always with a smile and/or a laugh.  This is how we tend to focus our memories of those now departed. 

I also think this is how we keep this particular batch of echoes around family gatherings.  "I remember one time when your Dad said/did _______"..."I know Aunt _________ would be right here digging into this blackberry cobbler"..."Remember _______'s car?"..."Hey, I have some of Granddaddy's garlic plants still cultivated; you want one?" (etc.)

So we heard again the echoes of some of my cousins: Glenn, Bill (also recently departed & written about here), Joe Lel, Joe Henry,...And of some of my cousins' children who left this world VERY early...And of some of our aunts & Uncles: Daisy, Ruth, Jr., James (my Dad), and Evelyn...And, of course, of Charlie & Mattie--my grandparents, who started this whole thing.  A deeply treasured time for was sitting on the deck listening to a few cousins who are not quite as young as I share memories of Granddaddy.  I treasure this, because Charlie died when I was not quite one year old.  Naturally, during all card & domino games, Mattie's echoes were loud, as she loved thrashing us all in card games.  I have 21 years of memories of her, and I could nearly hear that great laugh & see that wonderful smile that I've missed so hard for over 30 years now.

Ben's parents, George & Daisy, who had a HUGE
impact on my faith & my marriage.

There were echoes of sadness.
Again, we have considerable experience with death, both the sudden, unexpected kind and the long, slow kind.  We also have experience with things like heart trouble...cancer...marriage challenges...parenting challenges...Such things are never far from our awareness when we get together.

There were echoes of remembering times gone by.
Other family gatherings, whether at the cabin on Lake Martin or at Grandma's small house in Selma, or at cousin Chuck's cattle farm in central Alabama, or Aunt Evelyn's place just outside of Selma...My cousin Wanda compiled a video of some 4.5 hours of video footage from some of those gatherings.  I plan on blocking out 4.5 hours & watching the entire thing soon.  We swapped pictures.  "I was cleaning out Mama's file cabinet, & found this great picture of you/your Dad/your kids...Thought you might want it."

Over all of these others, there were very strong echoes of grace and of faith.

A few of us attended the church my cousin Ben
(on the left) pastors
Charlie came a rough family background, with a VERY difficult father who--according to lore--turned all of the kids out of the house when they turned 16 to fend for themselves.  Mattie's Mother had a mental breakdown when Mattie was only ~12; Mattie's Mother spent the rest of her days in an institution.  Neither of these sound like ideal family settings to train a couple!  And yet, I nearly guarantee you that all of us who were there--and most of us still living who were NOT there!--are already eagerly anticipating our next family gathering.  The Madaris family is loving & gracious & close, despite being just a couple of generations removed from very tough family backgrounds.  That's just one example of what theologians mean by the big word "grace."  We don't deserve it--especially some of us in my me--but we get to experience it anyway.

My Grandma Mattie remains one of the more godly, Christ-like women of faith that I've ever run across.  Most of us share her faith, to greater or lesser degree.  All of us respect & recognize that her faith mattered greatly to her, and thus that it has helped shaped all the rest of us.  (A newly-treasured photo that was given to me: me when I graduated from high school, standing between both of my grandmothers, both of whom would be gone just a few years after the picture was taken).  One of Mattie's ancestors was an integral part of founding the Alabama Bible Society back in the 1800s; perhaps Mattie's faith--and ours--is traceable back to Abner.  Regardless, Christianity & Scripture have shaped our family.  Shaped us such that we are able to welcome & love those who might have a different worldview (very rapidly become a lost art, that).  I am so very thankful for the Gospel's impact on my family.  Eternally thankful.

There are many of us here...and many of us no longer here.  I can't wait to be reunited in Glory with those now departed.  And to meet those I never met, and let them teach me more about our Savior, and about their own faith journeys from before their faith became sight.

And tell them all THANKS.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day

If you are able, save for them a place inside of you
And save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go
Be not ashamed to say you loved them,
Though you may or may not have always.
Take what they have left and taught you with their dying,
And keep it with your own.
And in time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane,
Take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes
You left behind...
Major Michael O'Donnell
1 January 1970
Dak To, Vietnam
 Major O’Donnell was shot down over Cambodia on March 24, 1970 while attempting to recover some soldiers in a firefight.  He was declared MIA for 20+ years.  His remains were found & recovered April 12, 1995.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Alma Mater...That Isn't Mine

"alma mater" => "Nourishing Mother" Widely used to describe schools where one obtained a degree.  Also refers to the official song of that school where one obtained that degree.

"Ole Miss" = common term for the University of Mississippi, located in Oxford, MS.

Way down south in Mississippi,

Once upon a time, Ole Miss was a combo of (1) where the great Archie Manning played football, and (2) the team that defeated my Crimson Tide at our homecoming on a Saturday afternoon while I was taking Masters comprehensive exams a couple of blocks away from our stadium.  Then when we moved to Hattiesburg, Ole Miss became the object of venomous hatred by, well, a large number of locals.  I started to buy into that myself--recalling that Homecoming debacle--but then I had widespread exposure for a long time (22 years now!) to a considerable number of Ole Miss fans & grads.  Some of them are great friends who have gone far beyond the extra mile for us.  Very kind & gracious folks, even when my team of choice beats theirs.

Then, six years ago, Ole Miss became the school my beloved son attended...and received a degree from in 2010...and will receive another degree from this Saturday.  (In MS, it's very simple: if one wants to be a Pharmacist, one is either going to Ole Miss or going out of state.)

There's a spot that ever calls...

It will surprised no one that James was raised a Bama fan.  While he can still cheer for Bama at times, his colors are clear, and they are Red & Blue.  Not Crimson & White.  "Hotty Toddy" is his cheer of choice; not "Roll Tide."  "Forward Rebels" is his fight song; not "Yea, Alabama."

I'm OK with that. 

Where amongst the hills enfolded,...

Oxford is where his heart is; not Tuscaloosa.  Vaught-Hemingway is his home stadium in the Fall, and Swayze Field in the Spring; not Bryant-Denny & Sewell-Thomas Field.

I'm OK with that too.

Stand old Alma Mater's Halls...

In fact, I'm beyond OK with it.  I'm very excited for him, and very grateful for Ole Miss!  Just a couple of weeks ago, there I was at Swayze Field, wearing my Ole Miss hat & my "Ole Miss Pharmacy" t-shirt, cheering on the Rebs as they beat Auburn in baseball.  The gorgeous Bama coed with the beautiful blue eyes was there beside me, as was my favorite Ole Miss student in all of the history of the planet.  The next afternoon, there I was w/ the Ole Miss student & 2 of his Pharmacy School buddies.  I was the old dude wearing my "Ole Miss Dad" t-shirt.  This weekend, Lord willing, I'll be there @ Swayze again wearing some Ole Miss gear & cheering on the Rebs.

Where the trees lift high their branches to the whispering Southern breeze,...

Every parent dreams of & prays for his child to have a fantastic, challenging, transforming college experience.  Like James has had at Ole Miss.  In our case, those prayers have been answered in spectacular keeping with Paul's "beyond what we can ask or think" description:

Academic challenges faced & overcome.
I'm not smart enough to get into Pharmacy School, let alone out of it.  James got accepted into their early-entry program, which means he had to maintain a GPA higher than pretty much all of my undergrad semesters' GPAs.  And he did it.  For 6 years (2 of undergrad, & 4 of Pharmacy School).
Professional development
Wow!  James arrived in Oxford six years ago much like most freshmen arrive on their campuses; a bit nervous about it all.  He's leaving having held multiple positions of leadership in various Pharmacy School organizations.  Some of these were elected positions, some were appointed by faculty(!).  He has made presentations to faculty in Oxford, at University Med. School in Jackson, to Doctors at Pine Grove Mental Health facilities nearby here, to Doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.  He has engaged in statistical research with another pharmacist about the efficacy of some heart drug.  So, yeah, Ole Miss has added just a smidge of professional development.
Spiritual Growth
The freshman Bible study group he participated in met weekly in the Grove.  (Yeah...that Grove...the one that's famous on football game days).  He was a faithful church attender in Oxford whose theological convictions led him thoughtfully to move his attendance to another church in Oxford. He was part of a multi-ethnic biblically-solid church during his time in Jackson last year during the dreaded 3rd year Pharmacy School.
Good Times
We parents should hope that our children have such a great time in college that they stay there, rather than heading home the moment their last class of the week lets out.  (Aside: Parents, if you DON'T hope that, and if you insist that your child be home every free moment, I URGE you to think through the impact you're having on your child's personal development!) James has done that, even as one who loves home and loves his family & friends down here (Oxford's just over 4 hours away from here for those who don't know).  He LOVES Ole Miss Sports, and is a faithful attender, even if that means driving up from Jackson for a game.  And he has learned to enjoy a game whether the Rebs win--which they did a lot of during his time in Oxford--or whether they lose--which they've done a lot of these last two seasons.  That ability is sadly lacking today in so many sports fans of various allegiances.  On top of that, he has made deep, abiding friendships  up there that will remain for life.  On top of that, these are the types of friends every parent desires for their children; folks who either are or will soon be contributing to society in meaningful ways.
Love for the Town
Oxford is one of Lisa's & my very favorite places in the country to visit.  Fantastic small town, picturesque, lots of history (the church James attended up there was founded in 1831, & moved to its present location in 1844), a considerable amount of arts & culture (On our most recent trip there, we visited Faulkner's home), and of course, a number of just great eateries.  James can easily imagine himself living there in retirement, attending every Ole Miss sporting event, every play, speakers on campus, concerts,...I can imagine myself doing that too, actually.
Career Path that will allow making a difference
Simply huge.  James has accepted a job as a pharmacist at University Medical Center in Jackson, which is a very solid medical facility where the University's medical school is located.  Early on in Pharmacy School, James decided his passion lay in clinical pharmacy, dealing with patients.  Several years later, he's launching a career oriented exactly in that direction.

There Ole Miss is calling, calling,...

It's not my alma mater.  Mine will always be located in west Alabama.

But I am VERY fond of the place nonetheless.  I sent my treasured son up there 6 years ago as a nervous & excited high school grad.  Ole Miss has made him a man who has already accomplished much, and whose career path & trajectory are so great in terms of helping people and contributing to society.

To our hearts fond memories

Ole Miss grabbed hold of my son's heart six years ago.  I predict Ole Miss will not let up its grasp on my son's heart for the rest of his days.  Which is, of course, exactly what we all should want for our children.  A place that is theirs by their own choice.

To the University of Mississippi: THANK YOU for the HUGE and lasting impact you have had on my son.
To the School of Pharmacy: I'm in awe.  Thanks!
To the Rebels Sports teams: Thanks for the many fun memories for my son.  And for me.  I hope the football Rebels win almost all their games next Fall & every Fall.  (*smile*)  Seriously, I hope you guys win often & big for years to come.

Hotty Toddy!
bb--not an alum, but a grateful parent of one!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I love graduations...and hate them too.

In May, 1983, I walked across a stage at the University of Alabama and received a degree & a handshake from the president of the University. In my case, it took 6 years and 3 different schools to get there, but that’s another story for another day.

A few years later, I received a M.A. degree. Then, in 1990, I received a Ph.D., which could well have been viewed as that year’s sign of the imminent return of our Lord.

Since then, I have attended numerous college graduations, and I actually love the ceremony. As a professor I get to don the robes & the hat and be part of the platform party w/ my colleagues. I dig the significance of the ceremony, the motivation of the speakers’ remarks (well, most of them…), and the general pomp & circumstance of it all.

But the coolest part to me is afterward, when I get to shake hands w/ my students who have just walked across the stage & received a degree. I *LOVE* this part of the day! “Mom, this is Dr. Madaris” etc. Utterly awesome, in the real sense of the word “awesome.”

And yet, in all of my goober-ish enjoyment of graduation, and all of the excitement of the new graduates, there’s a decided bittersweet feel. I really love my job, in large part because I really love college students. (well, most of them…) I like to think that over the course of battling with duration, net present value, market efficiency, supply & demand, futures contracts, gap, CAMEL ratings, time value of money, and other goodies one covers in econ & finance classes, at least some of those students become friends. Which means that graduation = saying goodbye to friends who are (mostly) moving away. I do NOT enjoy that part of graduation day. Even with the excitement of the day and of students/friends moving into career type jobs, I’m not very good at saying “goodbye.” I totally agree with C.S. Lewis, who said (paraphrased) “the reason saying goodbye is so hard is because we were never meant to do so.” One of my favorite descriptions of heaven is this: the land of the eternal hello. I can’t wait.

All of which makes this weekend's WCU graduation all the more bittersweet.  Mostly because I won't be there to say goodbye & meet parents & such.  I'll be at another graduation up in a large university in Oxford watching my favorite male 20-something on the globe hear his name called.

So, to all WCU near-grads, know that you are loved, and that you are prayed for, and that you will be missed (well, most of you...*grin*).  Now go succeed wildly in whatever path your life takes!  And know that as you do so, there's this elderly-but-still-hot econ & finance professor in H'burg who will always consider it a deep and humbling and profound honor to have been a small part of your education.

And as we say in Alabama, y'all come back now, ya heah? ;-{D}

Much love,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

p.s. - Remember, with your next paycheck, however large or small,...*grin*