One spectacle grander

You can barely see them, but that's Jeff, Matt and Drew at the bow of Holland America's ship, the Volendam, sailing Alaska in June 2000.

You can barely see them, but that’s Jeff, Matt and Drew at the bow of
Holland America’s ship, the Volendam, sailing through Alaskan waters in June 2000.

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”Victor Hugo

Jeff and I love to travel, and cruising has become our favorite kind of vacation.  Needless to say, we haven’t been able to take a cruise for some time, and we have no idea when we will be able to go to sea again.  Nevertheless, we still dream and talk of taking another cruise, and hope it won’t be too long before we are able to set sail.

Meanwhile, Hugo’s quote reminds me that I’ve had a front row seat to a spectacle grander than the sky or sea this year; I have seen Jeff fight through and survive one crisis after another, giving me the most intimate glimpse of the interior of his soul that I have ever seen.  Although neither of us chose this particular part of our journey together, and it has been full of scary risks, suffering and exhaustion, it also has been a beautiful testimony to his strong foundation of faith, the power of prayers from so many who care about us, and his courage and determination to stay with Matt and me as long as he can.

I hope this year is full of wonderful sights for you to enjoy, whether at home or abroad.  Amid all the sights of land, sea and sky, I hope you will keep an eye out for those surpassingly grand views of the many beautiful souls whose paths will cross yours.  Bon Voyage!

One year ago today

Lose sight of the shore


  1. Although it may sound silly, I will tell you that you and Jeff have been blessed to bond and to connect soul to soul. To watch a loved one endure cancer and to experience it by their side is an experience like no other ~ to be the patient and to know that you are there, is a soul-filling love experience. I should know. My hubby held my hand throughout and it brought us closer. xo

    • You know, that doesn’t sound silly at all to me. I didn’t think Jeff and I could get any closer; though we are vastly different and have lots of conflict over those differences, we are also very alike in many ways and have always been connected in a very primal sense that goes beyond description. However, now that connection is just magnified. I appreciate your telling me of it from the cancer patient’s point of view; I sense Jeff feels that way, but of course, being a man of few words, he does not say it. As you say, it’s “a soul-filling experience;” one that is terrifying (how would I ever survive if I lost him NOW?) but also reassuring (I will NEVER lose him, even if he dies). Thanks for these lovely thoughts and for being with us on this long road.

      • You are most welcome ~ I just wrote from the heart and I am grateful that you understood what I was trying to say. Sometimes the caregiver gets lost in the shuffle and I just want you to know that even though he may not say it, he wouldn’t be able to endure all of and fight to survive without you by his side. Your presence is the best medicine. ♥

        • 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. LB

    You have an incredible way of finding the positive amidst the challenges and trials. Sharing your blog with a friend who can relate. Thank you, Julia

    • Thank you so much, LB! I am happy to have you visit us here, and feel honored you are sharing the blog!

  3. Jack

    For many years in my professional life, I traveled the world, the good, the bad, the ugly, the magnificent!. I got to see the coolest things, fished, played golf, saw sights, met friends, witnessed joy and tragedy (my friend in Mozambique car-jacked and killed in South Africa the day he was supposed to pick me up), was detained (really more hassled) in several really less-than-stellar places, almost missed the birth of child #3 after getting stuck in western Africa, stuck in Europe after 9/11 in a nice Parisian hotel (don’t tell).

    Now, I’m commuting on a professional assignment to Dallas from my hometown in Alabama for 3 years and how I wish I was at home every night. Travel isn’t the game, that “surpassingly grand view” is of my home, my beautiful wife that has endured my absence for all these years. Remember the great song in Jaws on the boat with Dreyfus, Scheider and Shaw, “Show me the way to go home”. Indeed!

    • Believe it or not Jack, I have never seen Jaws and I have no knowledge of that song…I will certainly have to look it up! I have just read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s recently published letters and diaries from the final years of her life, and how she endured her husband’s long and frequent absences throughout their marriage (often not even knowing where he was or how to reach him). You are blessed indeed to have a wife who was willing to endure being apart from you often. My continual thought in reading Lindbergh’s journals was “I don’t think I could tolerate that.” However, being one who was seemingly born to travel, I also understand the call of adventure and the fact that travel enhances life in a way that is directly proportional to the hassles and even catastrophes that go along with the stunning experiences. And yes, the best gift of travel is the enormous appreciation it gives us of HOME! Thanks for sharing these reflections with us! Perhaps you should be blogging about some of these stories…

  4. MaryAnn

    What a wonderful pair to share heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul! God blessed you w/ one another! Your words express it clearly: “a beautiful testimony to his strong foundation of faith” and I will add: to yours, also!

    • Thank you Mary Ann, you are generous as always. Speaking of which, though I’m far behind on my correspondence and will get you a “real” note eventually, I wanted to tell you that Matt (and we) were so delighted that you bought a goat for a family in the Philippines, in his honor as a Christmas gift to him! I love that program at CRF and meant to blog about it – maybe I will next year; I wanted to let readers choose some things for Jeff and me to give through that program…but with all that was going on I never got around to it. That is our very favorite type of gift to get, although you are about the only person we can convince of that. I AM SO HAPPY that you knew exactly the perfect thing to give Matt, who wants very little and thus is notoriously hard to buy gifts for!

      • MaryAnn

        My Dear, It gives me great pleasure to buy Christmas gifts from Christian Relief Fund. You started me on this special journey when, at our 40th wedding anniversary, you bought us a “sewing machine” for a girl’s home in a 3rd world country. The 1st time I gave goats & chickens as gifts to our grandchildren is a memorable experience for me. I included one of their friends & had added pictures of children holding goats, etc. (Since our children were so young). One of the friends told me that he hung the picture on his bulletin board & named his goat “Samantha”. This year our granddaughter’s boyfriend told me how happy he was because his brother is in the Philippines as a missionary. Each year, I thank God for your thoughtful gift way back when! Sometimes, I ask our kids to choose, which is fun. But, when I asked one of the older ones, he said: “No, I do not want to choose. It’s too much fun seeing what will be next: tools, a goat, a chicken, build a house, a cow, water well! I want you to choose.” As you can see, I really enjoy this! Thank you for the introduction!
        It thrills my heart that Matt was happy w/ the gift! He is my boy! (oh: man) heehee

        • Mary Ann, someplace I still have the sweet photo of those girls with their sewing machine. Maybe I will dig it up and post it in December (or earlier) with a post that invites people to send in their votes for things to donate. I was reading where so many people are discouraged from giving because there are organizations that misuse the money or just spend most of it in fundraising or whatever. One thing I love about CRF is that their records are so exemplary (we use GuideStar to evaluate the nonprofits we give to, and CRF always gets high marks from them). I also love the personal touch. We get cards and letters from “our” kids and watching them grow up (via photos and letters) is so much fun! But it’s also fun to be able to give very specific items to families that will get so much mileage, dollar for dollar, for what is spent. I want to investigate micro-loans too; a lady from church introduced me to that concept and I would like to look into it. Technology is making it so much easier to be involved with these exciting projects and stay in touch with what is happening around the world, and so many exciting things are happening! I am so happy to know someone who gets as excited about it as I do 🙂 and I still cherish the memories of our years of doing Magi Project together. Thanks again for the lovely gift in Matt’s honor.

      • MaryAnn

        Julia: a blog about CRF would still be informative as you know they do “Honor” gifts all year…

        • I was thinking their “catalog” of things to give people overseas only came out at Christmas…I need to call them and find out more. I do think it would make a good blog, because their programs have brought us so much joy over the years…

  5. Michael

    Had a great time in Atlanta with granddaughter Norah Ann. Went to Mary Mac’s which was quite a treat. I tried the Potlicker and also the Mud bugs. Not sure would get the bugs again.
    Very unique place and hope to go again. My son went there previously and commented on long time greeter Jo Carter who has been there many years and gives out many free back rubs. My son was taken aback at first. Hope to meet her someday. My son now lives in Canton about an hour north of the airport-which is not as convenient as his previous abode in Marietta.
    The holiday lights at the Botanical garden were also pretty amazing. Next time he wants to go to the Chattanooga aquarium which is supposed to be pretty awesome. I also want to visit Helen and New Echota.

    • Oh, shoot, I forgot to tell you about Jo and her back rubs! I wish I had told you to call in advance to see when she would be there. She even gives out her card that lists her very unique occupation! Definitely unique to that restaurant; I’ve never seen a place that had a floating staff member going from table to table giving back rubs. I’m glad you got a taste of genuine Southern cuisine. Sometime we will have to try to get to the Botanical Garden at Christmas. We’ve never seen the lights there. I should have told you to take Norah Ann to ride the Pink Pig at Rich’s (now known as Macy’s but true Atlanta natives will always think of it as Rich’s – they can’t fool us). See, there are all kinds of reasons to get back to Atlanta whenever y’all can. 🙂 North Georgia is also beautiful. Eric’s home is in the mountains there near Elijay, not far from Helen.

      • Rene

        Where is this restaurant, and can I get a reservation? 🙂

        • Hee-hee, it’s in Atlanta, and you can go anytime without a reservation. Although it might be interesting to publicize Jo a bit more, and see if we can get a trend started. It’s definitely unique.

  6. Jenelle

    That picture is really cool. Seeing all your boys on the bottom, put the magnificent landscape into perspective. Huge and majestic. What a great reminder that we have our own adventure in life…everyday.

    • Yes, the horizon wouldn’t seem so large without the tiny ant-size people in the foreground! Life is certainly an adventure – often harrowing, but worth the ride.

  7. Great picture! I love cruising also. As we have discussed, there is nothing like “nature,” specifically the vastness of the open waters or the sky, to show how big God really is.

    I love the quote. The human soul (mind/will/emotions) has always intrigued me. At one point I wanted to be a psychologist. I ended up being trained to disciple/counsel others and now spend time with ladies trying to work through issues. It is in the human soul that God really reveals Himself.

    • Barb, the vastness found in nature is a good parallel for the unfathomable depths in a human psyche. When I think about the landscape inside my own head and realize that there are similar unknown worlds inside every single person on earth, it just passes my comprehension. Talk about the final frontier! They are learning more about the brain all the time, but still what they don’t know far outpaces what they do know, and of course, the soul is more than the brain (although Dr. Daniel Amen has referred, aptly I think, to the brain as the hardware of the soul). I can easily imagine you being a psychologist, but as a mom, you are in a field that is not too far from there 🙂 and perhaps you are more needed as a lay counselor anyway. In my experience, people often need friends more than they need paid professionals, and there is something about a personal tie that can go beyond the very helpful expertise of a good psychotherapist. So I’m happy you are where you are – and I bet many others are, too!

  8. Sheila

    Julia, this testimony of love and hope is so beautiful. I am thankful every day that our paths crossed. I admire both you and Jeff. Happy Friday evening to y’all. Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila, I too am so thankful for you! Happy weekend!

  9. Carolyn

    Hi Julia, I hope the new year has been good so far. I am doing better, shingles are about gone but still have some pain. I go next week for my 3 month lab work and then see the doctor on the 21st. Praying all will be okay. Now about my eyes, I will be having the first surgery on the 27th and about a month later the 2nd. surgery will take place. I just pray that my double vision will be gone and my vision will be great. Praying for Jeff to get stronger each day and hope you are doing okay. I know that the care giver can get tired sometimes. You all take care and hugs and love to all.

    • Carolyn, thanks so much for this update; I have been thinking of you and praying the shingles were gone, but I need to start praying about the eyes too! And also your next check-up. Please let us know what you hear from your tests. Jeff is doing a bit better each day. He hopes to start back to work next week although he will still have to have another surgery to remove the liver stent, just before you have your first eye surgery. I hope in 2014 both of you will log less “doctor time” than you did in 2012 and 2013! Love to you and Terry.

  10. Beth

    Julia, how I wish to be able to travel comfortably on ships. Twice I’ve tried, and twice it was a disaster. The last time was in the early 80’s, as we finally docked in Boca Raton, I very gracefully leaned over the railing and heaved. Heavily heaved on the deck of the Buschweiser yacht. I’m told it was not appreciated when I asked for my sunglasses. I do love house boating on the Cumberland and collecting not seashells, but geodes. I pray that the two of you will soon resume your past travels. Have you been to Scotland? If not, I recommend it!

    • Beth, we’ve never been to Scotland, but have always wanted to go. In fact, we have our eye on a cruise of the British Isles that includes a lot of stops in Scotland. Both Jeff and I have mostly Ulster Scot blood (also known as Scots Irish). The closest I’ve come to Scotland is when I took a train to York from London, and I was just itching to go a bit farther, across the border, where our ancestors, all from the border clans, lived many generations ago.

      Jeff tends to get seasick on smaller boats (especially sailboats) but he hasn’t had any problems on any of our cruises, though he did take anti-nausea medication as a precaution on the first one. We only sail on very large ships and always make it a point to get a cabin as near to the center of the ship as possible. I just love to sleep at night with the rocking motion when the sea is choppy; I feel as if I’m a baby in a cradle being rocked to sleep. But Jeff definitely does NOT like it.

      I’ve never met anyone who collected geodes! In fact, I didn’t know one could find them anywhere except museums and gift shops 🙂 .

  11. I am so thankful that there is clear sailing on the horizon for you and your family. I know the journey is not at an end but I am ever praying that God will keep the sea calm and the monsters at bay. Love you. A

    • Thank you Amy. I am thankful you have been with us bravely fighting the monsters all along (even the ones we couldn’t always see 🙂 ). Love you too.

  12. Carlyle

    A Beautiful thought Julia Baby

    • Thank you Daddy, it is so nice to have you here commenting again! We are thinking of you continually, and hope you and Mama are doing well this cold winter. I hope to be coming to see you soon. Love to all three of you!

  13. Michael

    Next time on the -to visit list in Atlanta. Jo sounds like a” not to miss” phenomena, It turns out one of my son’s co workers lives in the vicinity of New Echoa. Fascinating history of North Georgia and apparently some of the people in the textile industry- for which Canton is named;-something to do with silk-supported the north as their livelihood depended on being able to trade their goods up north. What is also fascinating to me, is how many African Americans I know have roots to native American ancestors. A pastors’ wife here I know from Oklahoma-cites Cherokee ancestry in her lineage. So I wonder if she had some ancestors who walked that trail. That trail of tears. I also want to visit the Kennesaw mountain battle site- not far from Marietta. I might have mentioned that before. Also my son says there is a lot of “Old money ” in the north Georgia area. Could that refer to previous plantation sites?
    Another quote about the soul from Eckhardt, ” All of human history, its accomplishments, its buildings, architecture science and achievements, all pale in comparison to the value of a single human soul.” Something like that. Thanks for the comment on unexplored regions of the psyche and soul- that sounds very hopeful.

    • I don’t know a whole lot about North Georgia except that it is beautiful and very different from Atlanta, in the way that mountain regions are always different from big cities. Dalton (one of the larger towns, going toward Chattanooga) was always famous for the carpet mills in that area, so that would be similar to textiles. I think south Georgia is more of a paper-mill region. I don’t think of North Georgia as having a lot of “old money” plantations, since I tend to think of plantations as being more agricultural (cotton fields, peanuts, tobacco, etc.) and I don’t tend to think of mountains as farmland, but I guess there is old money everywhere.

      Probably a majority of native north Georgians, black or white, have at least some Cherokee blood, since there were so many Cherokee there in the beginning, and any one person’s descendents tend to get more and more numerous with each generation. The Trail of Tears is one of the most shameful events in American history. When you think about the geographic differences between the cool mountain homelands of the Cherokee and the hot flat lands of Oklahoma, it seems unbelievably cruel to even consider uprooting them and forcing them to walk to a land so different from any they had ever known. If you get a chance, try to see the play Unto These Hills in Cherokee, North Carolina. I have not seen the updated version, but I will never forget the old drama. I have had a resentment against Andrew Jackson ever since.

      The quote from Eckhardt is really good, and goes right along with a post I just wrote (scheduled for January 21) with a similar quote from C. S. Lewis.

  14. So wonderful to hear you’re looking ‘forward’ to spending time traveling together again. We’ve been lucky to do more traveling than some and I must say the ol’, ‘there’s no place like home’, still rings true for me. Not because I live in the most beautiful cities in the world, far from it. It’s because home is more than what meets your eyes. Even though we are currently in a temporary home, it’s still my favourite place to be. I think every home has a soul all it’s own, one that’s hopefully a reflection of everything that brings meaning to your own life.

    • Yes, as Jane Austen wrote, “there is nothing like staying home for real comfort.” We build these little nests for ourselves and we feel so cozy and happy there. Travel just underscores that, while it also helps us get out of ourselves and into other people’s lives. I think both are essential. One thing I tell Jeff a lot recently is that “it would take a really fabulous (translation: unaffordable) place to be better than our home!” Not because we live in a palace, but simply because it’s fitted to our own comfort.

  15. The past year surely is a testament Julia. Your unshakable commitment to your faith and each other is to be admired and commended. I’ve thought about it, and really don’t know how I’d manage. Nothing against medical miracles but, I guess when it comes down to it, the shear will and wit that lies within us can be our most valuable trait. The sky is infinite and comparing it to the depths of ones soul is so beautiful. Thanks for the quote. Beautiful photo too 😀

    • Thank you, I’m so happy you like the post! Medicine is wonderful (mostly) but it is never sufficient in itself; at best it is only one part of the overall picture. There are those who survive but are bitter and morose, and there are those who fight bravely and then if they lose, face death with a calm and beautiful serenity that is a victory in itself. I appreciate your kind words and especially your steadfast companionship on this long road!

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