Saturday, August 30, 2008

Big Bob

A boy walked into the Beve's office the other day with his brother-in-law and his mom. This boy just moved here from Gillette, WY. Thrilled to be in our corner of the country of the tall timber, soaring mountains, and salt-water bay to the west. Of course they're thrilled, I mean, we all are.

This boy was actually lost, though Beve didn't know it at the time. He was intended for a different counselor, but it's a rather difficult school to find one's way around in for the uninitiated. Beve doesn't pay attention to whose name is on the top of the folder, he just takes whoever walks in his door. Invites them in to sit on his couch. He asked this new student to tell a little about himself, starting with what Beve should call him. "My family calls me Big Bob," the boy said. Beve smiled. "Big Bob it is, then," he said. Beve told Big Bob what kind of place he'll find Squalicum High School, how the teachers are kind and caring, how they'll go out of their way to be helpful and make Big Bob feel at home. Big Bob is a special kid with some learning disabilities, and a great heart. Beve could tell all that quickly. It really was a great conversation--brother-in-law, mom, Big Bob all sharing concerns, Beve reassuring them all, listening to what they said, what they were saying beneath their words. Big Bob's mom was thrilled, kept saying, "I think this will be a great place for my son."

Then Big Bob turned to his mom and said, "I think we should tell him," and she nodded. Then he told Beve that Mom is dying of metastasized lung cancer. It's in her brain now. They moved here so she could die and Big Bob would be with his brother, brother-in-law when she's gone. She might have only three more months, though who knows. Beve told them he understands. And he does--more than most people. Far more. Beve was in an ICU unit one bleak day with his sister when she received news of tumors in her brain. They cried hard together, thinking of her losing her life early, leaving her young son. Beve has lived what this family is living. He told them this. And he told Big Bob he can come and talk to him any time he needs to, that his door is always open.

It was a holy moment, that hour with this family, a moment so holy you're tempted to take your shoes off because you aren't the only ones in the room when you thought you were just a moment before. Suddenly God had come in and allowed Beve to enter into something much bigger than himself, schedules, all those things he can get caught up in. Allowed him to perform a priestly function, right there in his school office. I don't think he prayed with them, though he was praying every minute with his holy, sacramental words. But God was there, and it was good. It's why Beve loves his job, why he wouldn't do anything else.
And, I'm thinking, how amazing it is that God knew Big Bob needed the Beve, no matter the computer had said. I love that sometimes 'getting lost' means finding exactly the right person. It did for Big Bob.

A journal entry

Four years ago, during the Republican National Convention, I wrote these words in my journal.  They bear repeating, I think:

September 1, 2004:
"I have always admired Laura and George W for their faith, their commitment to each other, their moral integrity. They are, as far as I can tell, from across TV and media spins, true.  Christianly in fact, not just veneer.  However, I disagree so strongly with republican policies, with Bush's decisions to go to war with Iraq, with the economic policies and lack of any conservation ones at all, that I won't vote for him.  I can't bring myself to vote for a man rather than the issues.

This is a fundamental dilemma:  Is the President the man or the office (and administration)?  Should one vote for/ want a bad man (morally) or even simply a less good man who makes right decisions for the country or a good man personally who takes the country in the wrong direction?  Certainly it's easier if one can align a person and decisions, but I'm not sure it's that clear a pond anymore.  At least not this time.

Two concerns:  What of the compounding dilemma of agreeing with some policies of a candidate but not others?  How do I, or anyone, determine, which issues matter most?  For most Christians, abortion is the the issue, and all else hinges on how a presidential candidate feels about a child's right to life.  And I am absolutely pro-life in every sense, myself.  But it's a simple-minded thing to care about a baby's right to life, and not be pro-gun control or not worry about sending them off to die at 18 in wars that shouldn't have been started in the first place.  That makes no sense to me.  And what of stem-cell research, a God-like practice, in my naive understanding?  How do I stir this into the mix?  Exactly which issues should sway me most?  And then I think, we cast our votes so late on election night that most of the time it barely matters.

Secondly, as I sit in my house, living my quiet, middle-class life, I have to wonder what difference it will make, in the long run, who wins the election.  When 9-11 happened, I walked out into my backyard on that sunny Tuesday morning, and honestly thought the world would change--even for us, even in our far corner of of this continent.  I wondered if it was the last simple morning of life for us.  But it wasn't.  Sure, we were pre-occupied for a while, kept the TV on more than usual, hung a flag on our front door, but that flag came down after a while.  We turned the TV off, got used to lines at the airport. Life is back to normal now.  We live far away from the epicenters of power, and carry on as usual.  Who lives in the White House, even when he's impotent, even when he's ridiculous, doesn't seem to effect us very much.  So does it matter?  Will the war really end?  Will life be safer, cleaner, better for Americans? Will there be jobs for my children when they finish their expensive college educations? Will we be friends in the world community?  I'm just skeptical to wonder.  It never has before.  Who is president has had little impact on my ordinary life."

But maybe, maybe this time...

 I want it to.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Passport's cover

I've been waiting all week to write this.  It started Monday with a lump in my throat, a few tears, and a great love story and a slow car ride home from a hospital with a new baby and a determination to be a dad because he'd never known his own.  It built Tuesday, though I was slightly blinded by an orange pantsuit (and I actually love the color orange!), with some well-chosen words of support, some other words of what I might go so far as to call chiding, "Were you in this for me?"  After weeks--no, months--of speculation about whether she'd be gracious and rise to the challenge, she did, to ensure that what she's worked so hard for will not be lost, to ensure her own future as well. And Wednesday I was reminded of the brilliant mind of our former president.  Seriously.  He can give a speech.  Well, they all can, can't they?  And then Joe took the stage, Joe, with his straight-shooting salt-of-the-earth tragic past and unWashington-life.  Let me just say, those four people, Michelle, Hillary, Bill and Joe set and excellent table, getting ready for the big party that was last night. (Not to mention Al Gore last night, who I think might have gotten some voice lessons some time since he won he Oscar and Nobel Peace Prize.  He delivers a whole lot less woodenly than he used to!)

I've been watching political conventions a long time.  The first one I remember was 1964 when I was 7 years old.  We lived in Michigan in those days, and I remember when Barry Goldwater got the Republican nomination.  Wierd that I remember such a thing, huh?  I was kind of a presidential nerd.  I had all the presidents memorized by the next year when we moved to Washington State, and knew many of the people they ran against.  Don't ask me why.  I just liked them.  It's not really that I'm a political junkie, Beve would tell you, it's just the party of presidential politics, and the hoopla of the conventions.  Even now, in this techno age, they still do the roll call essentially the same way they've done it my whole life.  So when those states passed, Illinois, New Mexico and Hillary Clinton walked down onto the floor to take the mike and move to nominate Barack Obama by acclamation, I loved that pagentry.  I don't care what your politics are, it's great show.  A losing candidate--particularly in such a closely fought race--hasn't done that in my memory.  Shoot, when Teddy Kennedy lost to Jimmy Carter in 1980, he was barely civil (and talk about upsetting a dynasty!).

Of course, I care.  And I have to admit--no, I'm glad to admit!--that this is the first election in my voting life, that the choice set before me is one I care deeply about.  Four years ago at the Democratic convention, I sat by myself and listened a man with a funny name give the keynote address and as he spoke, I began to get chills.  I'd heard Bill Clinton wax on when he gave his keynote address the convention before he ran and wondered if he was the future (though he spoke far too long, something like an hour!).  But this man.  I'd never heard anyone like him.  J came home from work right after he finished that night and I said, "I think I just listened to our next president." J remembers how 'infatuated' I was with him.

And last night when he spoke again, I again got chills.  There was substance last night. I don't agree with every one of his positions, of course.  Shoot, I don't even agree with all of my own husband's.  However, I agree with the way Barack Obama intends to govern, with his plans to reach across party lines, his goals of diplomacy first and force as a last resort. I'm tired of this war, it hurts my heart to think of all those soldiers fighting for who knows what.  I don't know what. Seriously.  And then they come home and seem to be perishing in a different way...

It's painful to think of what has happened to our country. I can't bear it.  I don't think of myself as wrapped in the red, white and blue--I like the colors of heaven, personally.  But when I present my passport places, it does say United States of America on it.  I can't get away from that.  And there's a responsibility attached to that passport.  To live up to the seal on the cover.  And we just haven't been doing our job, at home and around the world.

So I sit rapt in front of my TV, listening to Barack Obama speak, hoping he says enough.  Hoping more than just those 85,000 who love him hear.  Hoping the world listens.  Hoping the country says, enough is enough.
One of the biggest criticisms of Obama throughout this campaign has been whether he's 'ready' to be president.  But I have to say, I doubt anyone is ever 'ready' for that job.  It's an enormous job with too much weight to it.  How could a person be prepared?  Perhaps the only person actually ready to do it is a person who has already done it, a man who is beginning his second term, for example.  And just think of how well that's turned out lately.  No, it's the ability to learn quickly, surround oneself with wise counselors, to listen and evaluate from a myriad of viewpoints.  Not to mention have integrity, strength of character and diplomacy (not that I think our presidents have necessarily had these...!).  I just don't think all of our last president's experience has been very helpful.  And I have to admit, eight years ago that troubled me.  When Clinton was president, I was appalled by his sexual predilictions; however, I thought he was a good president. He did his job well.  People often do their jobs well even when they fail in their lives.  And so he did. Then along came this man who had had a religious conversion and wasn't afraid to talk about it.  I recognize that the Bushes are people of deep faith.  I value that in them.  But his faith alone does not qualify a person to be president. It's how he has done his job, how he doesn't listen to people, and his policies that I have a problem with.  All of it.  Barack Obama is also a person of deep faith.  He's also a person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  He claims Him boldly--often.  I love that.  But that alone doesn't qualify him.  It's other things about him that give me hope.  It's things about us together that give me hope.

But, to be fair, I'll listen next week to John McCain and his new running mate, Sarah Palin (Alaska's-barely-wet-behind-the-ears-and-he-calls-Obama-inexperienced?-governor), in Minneapolis.  Just one question, do you think it's an obvious ploy to get women voters or what?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back to school

SK left in a flurry this morning.  I stood in my bathrobe, beating back tears, as she drove away in her white Subaru loaded with a school year's worth of belongings, ready for whatever awaits her across the state where she goes to college.  She returns excited to see friends, ready for the challenges of classes, with great hope for extra-curricular activities.  Her car is full, but I think her plate is already fuller from what she's piled on from the smorgasbord of opportunities from behind that 'pinecone curtain' where she lives.  But that's the way our SK has always functioned best.  Give her a little to do, and she'll handle it, maybe at the last minute.  Swell her load until it looks like it will topple her and she stretches to handle it all with grace and joy.  It's just the way she's made. 

I love how she's made.  I love that she came home this summer, lived her graceful, accommodating self in the midst of the wildness that was our lives.  I love that she extended that grace to V, who didn't give it back, but SK just kept extending it--driving her places, doing things for her, fixing food for her.  I love that SK's friends, even the non-Christian ones, recognize that she's the most compassionate, accepting person they know, that she doesn't waver on her own ethics but extends grace and mercy to others, especially those who don't know Christ.  It makes them ask her serious questions about what motivates her, who this Jesus is who makes her love as she does.  They see Him in her.  I love this. 

I ache that this summer was something of a disappointment to her, that our home wasn't the sanctuary it might have been, that the dream internship job she'd been promised last summer withered away into three short week-ends of grunt-work, that her absence during the school-year meant her place wasn't kept on the worship team at church.  These disappointments for her are disappointments to me. But, in her inimitable way, SK handles her disappointments better than I do.  I can be a mother bear about them, snarly and ready to pounce.  I've always known those hardest to forgive are those who hurt my children...

And of course I'm sad that the summer was so short with her. I walked back in the house, laid on her bed and had a good cry.  She was so present just a second ago, the scent of the body mist she sprayed still hanging in the air, but now her absence is all that's left.  I miss her already.

But Sunday's coming. And E is flying home. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Day the Music Died

On a Wednesday morning, 11 years ago today, my father died.  He'd been inexplicibly hemmorhaging on and off the the previous ten days, so was in an ICU unit, but even there, the doctors were at a loss as to the cause, how to stop it, what to say to us when they failed.  I remember a fresh-faced young man who was the physician on duty that morning standing by the nurses' station, crying as we walked past to say goodbye to Dad's empty body.  They were the first of many strangers' tears I saw in relation to my father's life.  Dad had that impact on people.  I guess I've shared that enough here. Obviously.
So when I was thinking about what I wanted to share today, I thought of the emails my siblings and I sent in a round-robin last year, on the 10th anniversary of his death.  They all agreed I could post them here, so here they are, in the order they were written, with the title of this blog the subject line my sister wrote in the first email of the morning. 

 From L:
Dear Ruth and Carolyn and Dave and Rich,

 10 years, can you believe it?

I'm with Mom, I can't think of any suitable ways to commemorate the day, except think about Dad, which I have been a lot.  We thought about him a lot on the hike!  You can't go hiking and not think of Dad.  I keep singing this song (see above); it's weird how sometimes that happens, my subconscious starts a song before I realize why.  (In this case the connection's pretty obvious.)  I think Dad was amazing in that we were each special and important to him individually, and we felt it.

I suppose if he were alive now he would be in bad shape, knees, hips, kidneys, and who knows what else.  But I still miss him and wish I could talk to him sometimes.

What should I make - Joe Froggers?  Something with molasses and spices, I think.  A raisin pie - that's the mourning pie.


From C:
I remember.  Not just that morning--I really hate(!) remembering that morning actually--the tramping up the hill, Rich in his 'BIg Dog' t-shirt waiting for us outside the elevator, being ushered into that windowless room to wait while they futilely tried to save his life.  The little nun, the phone calls, going down the hall--you saying, "Let's at least hold hands!"  His open mouth and hand still warm when I touched it to remove his wedding ring. The cafeteria afterwards--all those blasted people.  And the waiting for Ruth on the bench on the corner where we could look up at the tall building where his body was still cooling.  The driving around Pullman together in the van, opening the windows to scream, "SHIT!"
 But what I really think of is him.  Sometimes it's like a toothache.  I can bring up the real essence of Dad and it's so pungent I can't believe he won't come walking into this house where he's never even been.  He's that solid--His face, his hairy freckly arms with the patches of scaley skin on the elbows he was always scratching; the odd bump in the middle of his forehead; his lop-sided gait and the swish of his slippers on the floor as he walked down the hall at home; his voice--sometimes raised; his laugh--sometimes loud, sometimes silent; his grunt as he rose from chairs and couches too low; his bent back as he stood at sinks--his, ours, camping pots--washing dishes; his plaid woolen shirts.
Make a spice cake with caramel frosting.  Definitely something with raisins.  More heavy cake.  I can imagine that you thought of him on the hike.  Great that you did that the August of the tenth summer after he died.  A way to commemorate, for sure.  Stephanie was just telling me the other day that she remembers me being sad for a really long time when he died.  Eight years old and what she has from that is my sadness and a dollhouse.  I guess that's something.
Love to all of you this day.

From RW: 
Thanks for making me cry at work (I mean it, thanks). You two are more eloquent than I, must be the preponderance of engineer in me, so I enjoy your writing and try not to let the tears drip on my keyboard.
It does seem like 10 years to me in the sense that I don't think about him every day. I do miss him at specific times. When I'm hiking, when I have exciting things happen at work, when I want to brag about my engineer sons. I don't have the specific remembrances like you Carolyn, which makes me a little sad. I miss him more in the things I want to share with him. I believe he sees and knows about our lives, I just want to be around him in the sharing.
I am thankful every day that God put me in this family. And it's more than Dad - it's also all of you.
Heavy cake is the thing. I'm going to the Mariners tonight and I'll think about wanting to share that with him.

From RE:
I miss him when I work with Mom, I miss him when I look in the mirror, at Whidbey this summer, when things go on at the university, when the kids do things; I think of him almost every day in some fashion.
We all have our memories, yucky though they are of the morning/day, that weekend, that whole summer.  The weather today is much like it was ten years ago, bright, breezy and summer! Sarah said that there was a Relay for Life this past weekend in Manhattan, which is what she and I were doing that weekend ten years ago. So many memories but the greatest are of him loving us!  Carolyn - "Spend the money!"

From D:
Hey sibs,

Ruth, you'd mentioned the weather there, but I remember when Rich phoned me with the news - I was at
work, had only been there an hour or so, and it was grey, dark and raining. I was standing up in the
cubicle-ville at National Semiconductor and the news dropped me to my chair. Lucky I didn't hit the floor.
I felt like I was in a movie and the camera was zooming out to show the sea of people I was in, of
whom I knew none for more than a month or so. I was alone there. In the middle of all those people.  They
had amazing compassion, and in little time I had my tickets to come be with my family. My people. 

Ten years. He had only met Kim just once.  But seeing you all at Ruth's, she and I weren't together. I had
barely moved to Maine. Hadn't started working with Troop 1 yet, he would have loved me doing that, and I
had to call Charlie Gaskins to ask about tarps, where you'd get them, how they had rigged them up with
flaps, etc.  Charlie was in Australia.  He missed my classic April fools gag, losing my job as an engineer,
and getting into teaching. That would have floored him, I bet he would have been more excited that I'd
gotten into education. I REALLY wish I could have had conversations with him about trying new approaches to teaching, mixing things up with the curriculum, getting kids to see things new ways. That would have
been the best.        
 Buying a house, starting new in Massachusetts, thinking about going overseas to teach, building docks and a retaining wall. Getting one more Dad Porch.

I don't think he and I ever talked about my birthparents. I don't remember if we did. 
I miss his practical wisdom: me: "Dad, do you think it would be
alright if I got a motorcycle?" 
Dad:(pause) "Well, you'd better wear a helmet." 
me: "Dad, what do you think about ..."
Serving others, keeping my ego in check, leaving a place cleaner that I found it.  Those are the
characteristics I see most from him in me.

I'm sad I didn't get up to Camp Grizzly with you 10 years ago. Every step I take in the woods and
mountains is me trying to find him to ask him his thoughts.


A warning

2 Kings 2 this morning--on the road with Elisha and Elijah, just before Elijah ascended to heaven.
 Something important and fitting strikes me of all days, considering tomorrow's date.
  Elisha somehow knew at Bethel, at Jericho, at the Jordan that Elijah was going to be taken that day, and it took him those several stops to prepare himself.  "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you," he told Elijah.  And he was allowed to stay with his spiritual father/ prophetic master. He keeps pressing to walk on, to keep walking, to continue the journey for just one more stop. See, once in a great while we get a warning about the transitions in life, a time of preparation that we need, even when we don't really want to face the loss.  I had a warning like Elisha's once--on the drive out to the farm the week Dad was lying in the hospital in Pullman.  It broke my heart and prepared me all at once...

I just went and found what I wrote in my journal about the experience...
August 23, 1997
"I drove out to the farm Wednesday night and screamed aloud at God, "Please don't let my Daddy die!" and suddenly there in the car with me, right in my shrieking tears, was God.  "I know exactly how you feel," I heard, as if He'd spoken out-loud, in the quiet, though I didn't feel quiet at all.  And then I was, quiet, that is, because He was there and reminding me that He knows what it is to lose to death someone beloved, to be unable to stop that death from coming.  I was frozen, though I was speeding through the night, and then the scream rose again in my throat, because I am sure now, sure of all that He is saying.  Not only that He understands, though that comforts, but that Dad will die of this.  It's what I dare not say, but I know it, and hate knowing it as I sit here in this hospital room next to my living, breathing, teasing Dad. Please, Lord, please tell me something different.  Not this, please, anything but this.  Just a little longer...Rationally I know there will never be enough time, that I will always ask for a little longer, but emotionally I still ask for it.

And yet, here I understand, finally. Gethsemane. Praying in the garden.  Knowing what lies ahead.  "Please take this cup from me, take this cup from Dad." And yet, side-by-side with that bleeding, sweating, depths pf my soul-plea, I whisper in the dark of this room, where he sleeps, so close I can put my hand on his arm.  Oh, I don't want to say it, but I must. The core of obedience. "Not my will, but done."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Broken and shed

So I've been thinking that perhaps I've written enough of the hysterionics of our household lately.  What with runaways, sick parents, even my own health, it's been too much.  So I thought--at least for today, who knows about tomorrow!!--I'd write my reflections on the passage of scripture I read this morning. This is typically how I do my morning study.  Read, pray, write what God puts on my heart in response.  My plethora of journals are filled with such things. So here you go:

Luke 22:13 and following about the 2 men encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  They're overwhelmingly confused by the events they've just living through: the brutal death, the intervening three days, the missing body and vision of the angels by the women at the empty tomb.  They can't wrap their grieving hearts and brains around it all. The text says "they were kept from recognizing Him" when Jesus wanders up and begins walking with them, even when He chastises them as being foolish, and expounds the whole of scripture regarding Himself to them.  The veil was firmly in place--when they approach the town and He acts like he's walking farther than they were and they have to beg Him to accompany them. It was over their eyes when they sit down at table, God and man together (well, God-man and men together, come to think of it).  But then He took the bread, broke it and began to hand it to them. With that simple act of breaking the bread--as He had been broken--and giving it to them, the veil slipped off their eyes.  "Their eyes were opened," it says.  It wasn't when they ate the bread and wine, when, by some supernatural power, He entered them and they knew Him, it was when He broke it.  His actions opened their eyes, not theirs.  His breaking opens our eyes, His pouring does.  His breaking of His body, His pouring of His blood.  The work is already done when we take the bread and the wine--our simple, devoted response.

And...He actually didn't wait around to see them take the bread, it seems.  He disappeared the moment their eyes were opened.  In fact, the text doesn't even say they ever took a single bite. They were too busy speaking of the astonishing truth that they had been with the risen Jesus.  That took precedence over food and drink and probably even taking breaths at that moment. I can imagine that.  They probably left their dinner uneaten on the table.  The point wasn't the eating of the bread but His breaking it, their knowing Him.  And off they ran--the long miles back to Jerusalem and the disciples--to be further witness to His resurrection.

This isn't a case for how we should celebrate the Lord's supper.  I'm not trying to undermine the 'take and eat' and as often as you do this' words of Jesus. Leaving bread uneaten? Absolutely not!  But this moment in Emmaus adds depth to that supper in Jerusalem.  Maybe the disciples' hearts began to burn that night as well when Jesus took the bread and simply broke it, and said those unfathomable, still-to-be-lived-out words, "This is my body, broken for you." Took a pitcher of wine and poured it into a cup and said, so mysteriously, "This is my blood, shed for you." Those disciples really had no clue what Jesus meant. My heart burns a little when I hear those words but I know the whole story.  I've read it a million times.  When those men in Emmaus watched Jesus break that bread, they suddenly heard the whisper of His earlier words behind His actions, with the violence of the three days between and for the first time--the very first time--they knew.  Broken and shed.  His body broken for them. His blood shed for them. Every time you do this, think of me, He'd told them.  And they did.
And then He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."  Luke 22: 19 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Run with abandon

The Beve stayed up until after 2am this morning, watching the men's basketball team play Spain for Olympic Gold.  This morning he woke me up to regale me with the highlights.  I remember this, I thought. How fitting that the 'Redeem Team' would be playing Spain for the medal, when last time there was such fervor in our house about an Olympic hoops team, they were playing in Spain, called the Dream Team. I just walked into E's room to grab the mounted commemorative Dream Team sports card tryptic she keeps on her dresser.  She was 7 and J was 5 during the Barcalona games and they sat in rapt attention through every basketball game of those Olympics. Wait, no, they didn't.  They actually played out the games with the TV on the small basketball hoop that lived in our living room.  They could take off from one end of the family room, race through the wide open archway between living and family rooms, stuffing the small basketball through the rim with great abandon. More than one adult who walked into our house was shocked by the 'court' in the living room, and our blase` attitude about the sometimes full-blown sweaty action with arms, legs and ball flying every which way.

When I was a child, one of my mother's cardinal rules was, "No playing with balls in the house."  But Beve had fashioned a hoops from clothes hangers--they even had piecs cut from one of his mom's nylon stockings hanging as the nets--and he spent many rainy hours with them taped to both ends of a hallway, shooting tennis balls through them.  So he was thrilled to buy the first, then the second, indoor hoop for our children.  Also happy to play with them a time or two.  My job was mostly to avoid flying feet as I carried folded clothes and other things down past them as they played.  I'm pretty sure they knocked a laundry basket out of my hands a time or two...and I'm pretty sure I might have been less than nonchalant about that.  But most of the time, I loved listening to them play, with their careful scoring, and competitiveness.

J, in particular, could play for hours.  In fact, he couldn't actually watch a game on TV without shooting his own basketball at the same time.  At five, J learned to count by keeping score and players' statistics, to read by reading the sports page, and listened better to broadcasters than he ever did to me (ok, so I'm exaggerating).  So I loved that he played and played and played.

And I loved watching the Dream Team's unbridled joy at winning the gold medal--Magic Johnson's giant smile, Charles Barkley's boyish enthusiasm, even Larry Bird's understated grimace.  But mostly I loved my children jumping all over the place, so excited like they'd won the gold themselves, like it was ever in doubt.
This is the image of the Olympics for me.  That ordinary people--from 5 year olds to millionaires--get to share in it. It's the same this time too.  Kobe singing the "Star-Spangled Banner," with gusto.  Lebron making great promises and hamming it up.  The entire team dedicating their gold-medal game to Doug Collins who was part of that Olympic Team that lost to the Soviets on the disputed call, and refused their medals.  They ran their race with determination and great joy.  And saw fulfillment.

Most of us are spectators of the Olympics. We didn't work out in the pool hour after hour, day after day, we didn't have to live in our sister's home while we practiced shooting for years at a time in hopes--but we get to share in it.  When the decathelete finally finished the 1500 meter and fell onto his back, winning the most grueling of golds, we get to peek in at his joy and participate in it.  We're my 5 year-old-son jumping around in front of the TV, and the multi-millionaire on the stand.  We're all of them at once, because there's a gold medal at the end of our race.  Not a silver, not a bronze, and certainly not that most dreaded of all, the fourth place finish. There's an eternal prize we're running for.
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." 1 Cor 9:24
 "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (that's like you and me and my 5 year-old son watching the Olympics), let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles .  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,despising the shame, and now is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

What is your race? Let's run with abandon, hope and great joy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


My neighbor, Mrs. Plex,  was telling me yesterday that my last two posts have really struck home with her.  She's a pre-school teacher, so appreciated what I said about he profession, and she also had a long relationship in her teeange years.  I don't know much about it, and it's not my story to tell, but I did tell her this, "I have a lot of regrets about my relationship with AC."  "I know exactly what you mean," she answered.

Now, there are many people in the world who don't like regrets.  Never admit they have any.  I don't know if they see it as a weakness or simply that they don't want to admit they were ever wrong, but I have plenty of regrets in my life.  PLENTY.  And you know what?  I'm thankful for them.  I'm thankful that I can look back on the youthful me and see feel regret that that I was foolish when I was...well, foolish. Those regrets help me to see how far I've come from those foolish days, how much the Holy Spirit has matured me, transformed me.  Regret is a holy help, I think. And I'm glad that I can look back to this morning with the Beve when I might have been a little short (and I don't mean physically--I'm always that!) with him, and have regrets about that.  Those regrets make me move. Move out of my snit and turn around and say I'm sorry.

Now don't get me wrong, when I speak of regret, I'm not talking about feeling guilty.  Guilt is a human emotion that Satan wants us to feel.  Those of us who are in Christ are freed from the guilt of our pasts.  Just yesterday LB and I were talking about how in the Chinese church she's been taught that even though Christ saved her, she's always punished when she does something wrong.  So she sinks deeply into guilt every time she makes a mistake, waiting for God to punish her.  It was a brand new idea to her that when Jesus died, He died for all her sins, yesterday, today and tomorrow. "He won't punish me?" she asked. "No," I said. "He punished Jesus on your behalf. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  "Why don't they understand this?" she asked me.  I don't know.  It's a cultural thing, I suppose.

Regret.  For what I did that I shouldn't have, and for what I should have that I didn't do.  Not to sink down into it and feel guilty, but to be convicted by my actions and inactions, changed by Him, made more into His likeness. Be thankful that He took my guilt, bore it to the cross.  As I told Ladybyrd, it isn't guilt that makes us want to live holy lives, it's love and gratitude.  How can we possibly thank Him enough for what He's done for us?  Love for such love as that overwhelms me.  Really it does.  It makes me want to please Him, like a child pleasing her Father. Yes, just like that. 

Friday, August 22, 2008


It's quiet this morning.  The Beve has gone back to school and is sitting in his large rocking desk chair across from shy very young new students who speak so softly their parents sitting on his long, low couch speak for them, or transfer students, some with cement bricks on their shoulders, arms crossed because they're not new to this game.  But the truth is, the Beve isn't new to this game either.  He's spun around in this chair before, jiggled the schedule a couple thousand times, looking for a hole in a class, staring at transcripts, placement cards and looking for the perfect blend of teacher and student.

Perfect blend?  What am I saying, perfect blend?  There is no such thing.  I come from a family of educators.  Both my grandfathers, both my parents, my father-in-law, my husband, my brother. My two sisters-in-law, a sister and even me for a while.  And I can tell you this, I've seen some great teachers in my day.  My dad was a great teacher. Well, he was a good teacher who became, at the end of his life, a great teacher.  He made a left turn change into a different kind of teaching at a certain late point in his career to be a more creative, hands-hands on, professor of engineering.  One cannot teach except by students doing he came to believe, and he became a great teacher.  And my mom was a good teacher.  Shoot, no matter what I felt about her as a mom, some of my friends think of her as the best teacher they ever had.  Though it bewilders me, I've come to simply accept that it's their truth.  And I think my brother and sisters in-law are good teachers.  I know them, their passions, their drives, their pursuit of excellence in what they do. Even these great teachers struggle with students at times.  Have failures.  Kids they couldn't reach, ones they wish they could 'do over' or not have in their classes. But these teachers--the best ones--spend their blood, sweat and tears on students, even when the blend isn't right, and doesn't work out.

But I've also known some really lousy teachers.  The Beve struggles as he sits at his desk having to place students in classes, because sometimes he simply has to place them in the classes of those lousy teachers.  As a counselor, he has no choice.  He has to fill every class.  And in those classes, students will struggle to learn, will not pass their tests, will come back to Beve's office, begging to be moved and there's little he can do. Those teachers end up with class sizes so small they're every teacher's dream, while good teachers--great teachers-- are overwhelmed with so many students they don't have chairs for them all.  It's a terrible system we live with in the public schools, where it's notoriously difficult to get rid of terrible teachers.  But because of poor funding, sometimes it's ridiculously easy to lose very good ones who have done the terrible wrong of simply not having taught long enough, or teaching something 'expendable' like music or drama. A few years ago, the school district here wanted to cut the choir teacher at Beve's school, who had single-handedly built the program from two anemic off-key choirs to 5 choirs busting at the seams with over 200 students--all because of funding. Students staged walk-outs, parents wrote letters (I was one of them and it was a superb letter, if I do say so myself!), and just before the school board was about to be bombarded with hundreds of people, the superintendent met with the choir teacher to give him back his job. 

I am feeling for Beve today.  He begins the year with equal measure of hope and dread.  He loves the interaction with students, loves the moments of real connection, when curtains drop in their eyes and he gets to peek in. And he loves getting the chances to point them in the right way, help them in their journey forward. But the moment isn't far off when students will be standing in line outside his door, asking to get out of the same old classes of the same lousy teachers.  That he dreads.

Jesus was called "Teacher" by those who came to see Him, even by His own disciples at times.  And that, it seems to me, implies that to teach well is to be like him. Perhaps the better one teaches, the more one reflects Him.  So, if you teach, teach well, or get out.  And if you've had a good teacher, thank God for him or her. It's a holy, holy pursuit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A blast from the past

I got a phone call yesterday and the entire time I was talking, I was thinking of what great blog material it would make.  That's telling in many ways.  Let me elucidate.  For one thing, I realized that I view everything in my life through the lens of this page, how I write about it, how it looks through the spectacles of eternity, with all the corpus of scripture at my disposal. And I just love living this way. Secondly, I was aware of how transparent I've been and am about to be in this blog in particular.  And thirdly, the past of which I write today is nothing but sand in my life.  Not rock.  Thankfully, God didn't allow me to build my life there.

When I transferred to Oregon half-way through college, on my very first day a boy struck up a conversation with me, and when he walked away, I turned to the girl next to me and said, "That's the one." (it's hard to think of him as a man.  Looking back, he seems very much like a boy to me, and a ridiculous boy at that!). And we did end up dating. In fact, the summer I turned 22, he asked me to marry him. However, our relationship was always difficult.  I was always certain, he was always less so.  What I think is true is that he allowed my certainty about us to spill over and persuade him some of the time.  At other times, he drew back and treated me very shabbily.  He loved Jesus, but we were very different. He wasn't a very good student and I loved to learn.  But I held on with great tenacity, and he used that. But finally we broke up--or rather, he called off our wedding, and it broke my heart.  And though he wandered back into my life, God graciously saw to it that in the end, I made the choice to walk away, and stay away.  And that led me to health, the Beve, to the rock that is my life.

So SK handed me the phone, saying, "It's AC." Great, I thought, mentally rolling my eyes.  Two years ago, out of the blue, on the day after my beloved purebred yellow lab died, he called.  It was a stupid, ridiculous phone call, meaningless.  I never got around to even asking him why he'd called.  I was in a fog that day, home alone and crying for my Jemima and he was a way to pass the time.  Yesterday I was in my right mind, with a house full of people.  SK, the Beve, LB (our Chinese friend).  And, it was 3 o'clock in the morning where he lives in France.  Oh yes, he lives in France and calls me in the dead of night.  What's wrong with his life?  Beve said I should have asked him about his marriage--I didn't want to sound that interested.
On his mind was to ask me, "How is Jesus doing in Washington?"
"Just fine," I answered.
"So do you believe in healing and raising the dead?" he asked.  I remember this, I thought.  The night before my wedding, he and another annoying friend showed up at my house and wanted to talk about language barriers in missions. I can hardly believe I ever felt as I did...but I've had that sensation more than once before thinking of my youthful feelings.
"Are you being sarcastic?"
"No.  I think that people don't teach correctly about healing in the states.  Too many people are dying--from cancer and other things. Christians just pray, If it's God's will, as if they don't know that it's His will to heal everyone. So people die before their time. You people are all weak of faith."
Okay, let me tell you, my blood was boiling. First of all, here's a man who hasn't lived in the states for 20 years--so what the heck does he know about 'our' faith? But I didn't say that.  I did say, "Listen, there are only two ways off this planet. One is when Jesus raises those who are left on the final day. The other is death.
Everyone--EVERYONE--will die of something. (However, when I told the Beve this, he said, "well there are rockets, the Space Shuttle, the Space Station!...) The only question is when. 'Our times are in His hands.' the Psalmist says. There's never enough time, in our economy. I personally prayed long and hard for both my mother-in-law and my father, who each died before I would have liked. One from cancer, one from the scars of it.  You don't think I prayed?  I still miss my dad so much I could cry every day. But I'll tell you this.  Dad knew Jesus, loved Jesus.  And I'd much rather he went home when he did, knowing Jesus, than have been simply healed physically to live without Him for 20 more years.  The healing of the body lasts only so long, the healing of our souls is eternal.  In the end I just have to lift my hands away from it and trust God, the healer for His healing, whatever that is, wherever that is--here on earth, or the complete healing that comes in heaven."
He was completely silent.

And that's my point today. We all die. Knowing and loving Jesus is so much more important than life in the body it doesn't even come close.  "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."  I don't care what it takes, that's what I want for others.  Let's keep things in perspective, people.

When I hung up the phone, I found the Beve and gave him a hug.
And I'm considering changing our phone number

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finally, a bath

This will be difficult to believe, but for the last two nights I've taken baths in our jacuzzi tub.  After the longest remodeling project in history, carved into the space of Beve's job--and second job--it is finally finished.  A year ago, the bathroom off our bedroom was a carpeted windowless mess of a room, with tobacco-stained walls that no amount of bleach had ever managed to remove, a shower so tiny we could barely turn around in it, full of so many cracks we worried that one of those showers would find us falling through the floor, and a jerry-rigged home-made vanity that barely held together.  We lived with the room for 4 years--much longer than either of us imagined--and hated it every single day.  So last September, as soon as we got our last chublet settled in her dorm room across the state, Beve took a sledge hammer to the shower and so it began.

It was not the first time he dealt with kids leaving home by demolishing something.  Two years earlier, when E and J left home for the first time within two weeks of each other, Beve tore out the kitchen carpet.  (Can you believe it? Carpet in both kitchen and bathroom, while the rest of the house is hardwood!)   It was slightly inconvenient because we still had laundry to do to get them off to school.  I wasn't the most supportive of spouses.  Then an older friend of ours told me, "You're crying, he's doing home projects.  It's all the same thing."  And it all clicked into place for me.  For Beve, stress causes adrenalin rushes and he gets to work. So I wasn't at all surprised to see him take a sledge hammer to the bathroom when our baby finally flew. 

And it wasn't surprising that he got a 'bee in his bonnet' (the phrase he used) to finish this weekend.  What else was he going to do while waiting up half the night?  He also trimmed the front bushes, cleaned off the back deck and patio, power-washed the know, I kind of like Beve under stress. And finished our very nice bathroom, a full year (SK leaves a week from tomorrow) after that first sledge hammer blow.  In fact, we both think it's the nicest room in the house.  Too bad it's too small for parties. 

It isn't like the Beve's a lazy man, mind you.  Beve works harder than almost anyone I know (except the farmers, but they're in a class of their own!).  I'm thinking of this today because summer officially ended for him at 11am when he had to meet with the other counselors and administrators.  Tomorrow he'll hit the ground running, meeting new students.  It's always been a sad day when the Beve has to go back to work, but this summer it's even harder.  None of us--Beve, SK or I--were ready.  Beve thinks of the projects he didn't finish, SK thinks of how nothing about this summer was the way she expected, and I...well, I'll just miss him.  I know the rhythm for my work will be better now, but I'd always trade it for time with him. 

Beve's the worker in our family.  I'm the thinker.  He does, I sit.  More than once I've had a case of the 'shoulds and oughts' when Beve works out his stress, because, though the exact stress on me puts me to bed, I think I should help him when he's moving a hundred miles an hour, moving steadily through project after project, sweat darkening his clothing from shoulders to knees.  Seriously.  So I try to help him for a while, until I can't lift my hands over my head or stand on my aching legs any longer, and he'll get a chair for me and say, "I just need you to be moral support."  And I have to tell you, sitting and watching him work can make me feel pretty guilty.  Like a weight around his neck.  But not to him.  He's just glad to have me talk to him.

When I think of Beve in these kinds of moments, I really get those famous marriage verses from Ephesians 5: 25.  "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..."  This is how the Beve loves me.  As a servant, putting my needs over his, caring for me in my weaknesses, loving me in spite of them.  And it's a picture of Christ.  I see him, I see Him, and never take it for granted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hues of gray

Just returned from picking up medication at the pharmacy at our local supermarket.  As I was walking out, in walked V's mother.  Helene was thrilled to see me, grabbed me for an extra long hug, then we stood and debriefed about the tumultuous weekend we'd had with her daughter.

It's an interesting relationship I have with Helene. Life isn't very black and white, no matter how I'd like it to be. I would have preferred not to even meet Helene, given what she'd done to her daughter that brought V into our home.  I can't talk about the particulars, but let me just say, it's gruesome!  To know about it, like about all crimes, one thinks of the perpetrator as a monster.  And there is no question that what it was monstrous indeed.  Like I said, I didn't want to have anything to do with that woman in the beginning.

However, there wasn't a choice.  Because V couldn't be in contact, I had to be.  There's a baby sister at home who adores V and had to be transported between our homes several times a week. As I picked Amida up, and returned her to her mother, I began to converse with this African mother.  I learned that as she became agitated, her already heavy accent became almost impossible for me to understand.  I watched the tell-tale signs that she was about to break down into tears, or ramp up into anger.  Helene is absolutely African--from her dress to her sensibilities.  Even her 'punishment' of V that day was based on her life experience, what parents do to correct their children in her homeland. Punishment, not discipline, is the word she uses over and over to describe the parent's job. To me, Helene crossed so far over the line it's anathema, to her: "V act like a woman, I fight her like a woman."

Helene, like her daughter, is a liar.  I caught her in lies on several occasions.  Straight out, bold ones.  Shameless ones.  And, like her daughter, she is winsome and charming.  She called me on more than one occasion and screamed at me.  I began to dread seeing her name come up on my cell-phone.  And yet...nothing is ever simple.  It would be easy to paint her as merely a monster.  I cannot. Life is painted in hues of gray. We are all made up of sin and God's image together.  Good and evil in parts.  We're all the woman caught in adultery, thrown at Jesus' feet and we're the people in the crowd with stones in our hands. I've learned how complicated this all is this summer, how I can judge a woman who could hurt her own child, and love her all at once. Yes, I said love her. I didn't expect it to happen, but when Jesus writes in the sand, then lifts her to her feet, He fills me as well.  The Holy Spirit in me, enabling me to see that Helene and I--we are the same.  I can be horrified by her actions, could never imagine, have never come close to such violence, but we are the same.  Made the same way, made for the same purpose--to be His, to worship Him.  I might not ever do what she did, but I sin and fail, and also love my children, hurt for them, am hurt by them, have hopes and dreams for them, am disappointed by them, inspired by them, know them.  "I am her Mama," she'll say, crying, "Only I can take her mess."  And I get that.  That's how I feel about my kids.  Not doing what she did, but feeling what she feels.

 And now Helene sees Beve and me as family.  She can hardly believe we could love her daughter and her as we have.  I might hardly be able to believe it as well, but that's the Holy Spirit for you.  He loves them, just as they are, in all their garbage.  Thankfully, what Helene feels is not my incomprehension, my hesistancy, my disdain, but His 'just as you are' love.

Walking out of the room

Not surprisingly, I've been thinking a lot about V the last couple of days. Specifically, the words she texted the Beve Saturday afternoon have really haunted me.  "I wasn't disobeying, I just need my space."  It's pretty impressive, the audacity of a 15-year-old to say such words to the adults in authority in her life.  When Beve read them out-loud to me, my jaw actually dropped.  I couldn't imagine such a thing.  Or maybe having the gall to say it (write it!) outright.

When I was her age, though, I often created my own space from my parents, especially my mom by developing what I call the "walking out of the room syndrome."  It entailed mentally leaving my body while my mother lectured or yelled at me. Or even simply tried to have a simple conversation.  I'd walk into the house after being with friends, go down to my parents' room to say goodnight, and my mother would want to know what we'd done.  I'd tell her some simple facts about my evening: "We went bowling, then over to the Methodist church, where we sat and talked." and she'd start pressing;"Who all was there? What did you talk about?" and suddenly a switch turned off in me, and I'd 'walk' out of the room.  My body stayed, but my eyes glazed over as I tried to make my get-away as quickly as possible.  Something about how she wanted to get into my world made me want to pull back.  And when she lectured me, watch out!  I could sit there on the couch but in my brain be saying, "I have stood up, walked out of this room and down the stairs.  Putting on my t-shirt, getting into bed.  Reading my book.  I can't hear her."

Interestingly, the first time I saw E's eyes glaze over when I was disciplining her was when she was four years old.  I don't remember the offense, but I snapped my fingers in front of her face and said, "Don't you do that!  You stay right here and listen to me."  I just asked SK and she tells me she's never 'walked out of the room' though she sometimes spaces out when we're talking, but "Mama, you do that to me, too." (Hmm, I think that's called simply not paying attention.) 

But these words of Vera's, this idea of "I wasn't disobeying, I just needed my space;"  is a step farther than what I did.  Maybe it's 50 steps farther.  I'd never just have had the unmitigated gall to say that to my parents.

But then again, perhaps those words are a perfect definition of sin.  Don't we say this to God by our actions all the time?  Whenever we choose our ways over His we are saying it to one extent or another.  Rationalizing, justifying.  I told our friend J and K last night that it can go back to the Garden, and J said, "I wasn't disobeying, I just needed 'taste.'"  RIGHT!  It's about everything.  The very last thing we need is space from God. And the opposite of 'space from' is 'connection to.'  The closer we are to Him, the more we obey.  We obey Him, we are connected to Him, we are in relationship with Him. And then--then--we "taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed are those who take refuge in Him." Psalm 34: 8

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Call it a day

A woman named named Seda walked into our house this evening, pulled me into a hug, and I immediately felt released.  Seda's from the Ivory Coast, was in Africa for the summer or would have been in our house two months ago.  Warm, friendly and grateful to us, she is also a teller of truth, and before she left our house, Seda told some hard ones to the 15-year-old daughter of her best friend. V sat quietly on our couch and listened to her 'auntie Seda' tell her how hard this summer had been for us, how grateful she should be, how wrong she'd been to have run away from our house.  Then she said, "You need to apologize to them.  I hope you already have, (she hadn't!) but even if you have, you're going to again.  And I'm getting out my cell-phone to record it."  V, who had texted Beve last night, "I wasn't disobeying, I just needed space," just sat there, but Seda crossed her arms across an expansive chest and gave her the hairy eye-ball, and finally V turned to me and actually said she was sorry--for the first time all summer. Not just those words, but those words with meat behind them.  I was moved.  Where had this woman been all this time?

Then Seda laid down the law in her house.  There's going to be a tight rein on V now.  She's blown it, big time.  And, as Seda said, "I didn't move 25,000 miles away from my home for education not to be important."
V's life is going to be study, study, study.  But there's so much love in Seda for this girl.  Where had she been all this time?

We carried V's stuff out to the car, hugged her good bye, and walked away.  And J drove up just then, so we were all a little giddy, standing around in the house.  Then then Seda knocked on the door again, and I went back out the help her move her car.  Beve told her we'd just been asking where she'd been all this time.

And she said, "I had to be gone so she could live with you."

From my journal on June 21st:
Last night, after reading Psalm 51, which spurred thoughts of repentance, I asked God to forgive me for wanting things different with V, for not wanting her here, to be blunt.  And I heard that voice that I've come to recognize as His say, "She needed to live in your home." Just that.  No long paragraphic explanation, but I was stopped in my tracks, so to speak.  She needs to live here.  It doesn't matter if I'm called to do this work, have the gifts or bent of hospitality.  This girl at this moment needs to live in our home.  It is His purpose for HER.  Not against/counter to His purpose for us, but our purpose at this moment is to embrace that she needs to be here. 

I don't know if you feel chills reading this, but I do.  These kind of things always give me Holy Spirit chills.  It would be easy for me to feel at this specific moment that V's time with us was a failure.  It certainly seemed to ended that way. But seemed is the operative word.  And in God's economy, we never know what is contained behind the seams, do we?  Right now, I am awed that God chose this moment to reveal Himself so profoundly to me.  At the very point where I could be chastising myself as a loser or determining I will "never".... (there are so many things at the end of that sentence I can't even begin to list them all) He reminds me that He was in this beginning, middle and certainly ending, as difficult, stressful and painful as it was.
And for that I will rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Have you ever said no to a kid?  Or been said no to?  What did it make you do?  Plead? Beg?  Last night V asked if she could go to a movie and I told her no.  While we were in Sequim, she'd been running loose, playing SK for all she was worth, so the Beve and I wanted to have a conversation with her. Expected her home for the day.  When she called (from an unknown number) and asked us to go to a movie, I told her no, told her to come home.  She begged, which blows a fuse in me. We give reasons for our answers (in fact, I used to regret the fact that I was such a proponent of giving my children reasons for my answers to their requests.  I envied the "Because I'm the mother," answer, but always believed they had a right to understand my reasoning). But once said, no means no. The end. We waited until after midnight, then locked the door and went to bed.  It's now after noon, and she still has neither called nor come back.

Amazingly, as I told her on the phone last night, "I've almost never said no to you."  She agreed.  She knows this.  One of her friends came by this morning to pick up something.  She said V had indeed gone to the movie last night, which, of course, we knew, and she thinks she's with some other friend.  This girl was pretty cagey--protecting V from what she probably sees as our terrible tyranny.  It's time to cut our losses here.  We've spent nine weeks on this child, investing in her, sacrificing our summer.  Beve called Child Protective Services, and they suggested we called the police to report a runaway.  A cop called back to get the particulars, told Beve they'll return her to us.  But we've decided that we've done all we can here.  If she doesn't respect our authority, what more can we do?  It's like she's a boarder, maybe has been no more than a boarder the whole time.  I could tell stories...this latest thing is just the latest thing. But what would be the point?

 Sometimes we enter into relationships, take on ministries and they aren't successes.  They don't end with people entering the Kingdom, or transforming, or remaining in our lives.  I'd like to never have to do anything that doesn't turn out well.  I'd rather sit in my living room alone unless I know I can impact the Kingdom for good, and make no mistakes.  But it doesn't work that way.  We interact with people, people who have free will.  V showed that.  She heard what I said, and made the decision to disobey, to be a 15-year-old runaway.  Alright then.  But you know, I don't know that I'm all that different from her.  Every day I make choices whether to runaway from what my Father asks of me, or whether to obey.  A thousand times a day.  There was a moment this summer when I knew--I KNEW--He was asking me to stick with V, and I had that choice to obey or not.  I said yes then.  I don't always.  And He told me I'd know when that time was over. That I find easier to obey.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Slanted left

I sprained my wrist this morning, my left wrist.  Dominant-hand-wrist.  Talk about a bummer. I do have the strange talent of being able to write with a pen in each hand simultaneously-- the left backwards and the right forewards.  And they both look legible. I know, I know, I'm either very gifted or have entirely too much time on my hands (get it, on my hands!)  Other than that, however, my right hand might as well be just for show.  I'm so left-handed, I practically walk slanted to the left. I can hardly hold a spoon with my right hand, let alone get it to my mouth without spilling.  I know, I tried at lunch today.  And don't ask me to throw a ball.  It practically dribbles out of my hand, a mere four feet from where I'm standing.  Poor Jamaica runs all the way across the yard, hunting where the ball usually lands, so I have to call her back.  Not a pretty sight. 

It's a funny thing, being left-handed.  I was the only one in my immediate family who was left-handed, the only grandchild--my grandmother was about as prejudiced against left-handedness as she was everything else.  I was always pointed out as odd, or even wrong, for not having conformed to the proper way to do things.  She could would never have allowed it, if I'd been her child, and thought it was poor parenting on my mom's part (never her beloved son's) that I'd turned out that way.  My parents always said they gave a shot at trying to put spoons and balls in my right hand, but I was having none of it.  So, I've been left-handed all my life (which might be one of the most obvious statements I've ever made here, but just go with it):  at crowded tables I instinctively looked for the left-handed corners so I wouldn't bump elbows with anyone; in school I wrote dragging my bent-sideways arm across my pencil and got lead all over the side of my hand, and was terrible at using scissors until "Lefties" were first produced; in gym class,
 I batted left, threw left, and in vain tried to golf right-handed (I'm still waiting to try my first lefty clubs).  And in India, I made the colossal mistake of eating with my left hand when in public.  Feeling every eye on me, I realized my error.  Left hands are used for taking care of other business, if you know what I mean, and it's completely impolite to use them for eating.

One of the few people I knew growing up who was also left-handed, was the boy across the street.  The Beve was an amazing athlete--dribbled, shot and pitched with his left hand, and 40 years ago, it was even harder to stop a left-hander than it is now.  More people were like my grandmother, pushed utensils right until it stuck.  But Beve and I married, proud to be left. I remember seeing a t-shirt one time that said, "If the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, it must mean that left-handers are the only ones in their right minds."  We've taken that to heart.  When it came to our children, we just put those utensils and crayons down in front of them, let them choose to pick them up however they wished.  E's right-handed, except when it comes to sports--but she'd rather go left on a basketball court than right, anyday.  J's about as right-handed as I am left, and SK?  She's one of the most truly ambidexterous people I've ever known--eats right-handed, writes left, and everything else is up for grabs.

One day my sister, the Dump, and I were talking about the things that separate people.  I'd told her that I sometimes wonder what would happen if people from each race had to marry a person from a different race. Eventually we'd all be the same color, a sort of dusty beige, with darkish hair.  How then would we divide ourselves?  Would handedness be the thing that determined that one person is better than another?  Perhaps. It's instinctive to divide into groups, to make distinctions one way or another.  I can wish all I want that we weren't like this, but it's cell-deep.  I do it myself.  I am drawn to people who are educated as I am, have the same fundamental philosophies of life that I do.  If it isn't ethnicities that do it, it'll be something.  And though I've rarely experienced the downside of prejudice (though sometime I'll write about being a young white woman in India), I get it.  I'm left-handed.  I'm a woman.  And I'm aging. There's something for every one, isn't there?  And if we think about it, that alone should make it a ridiculous thing that we cast aspersions on people because they're a minority.  After all, the only people in the entire world who aren't minorities are white men. and in truth, they're really a minority as well.  So let's hear it for minorities.  Let's hear it for our differences (especially for being left-handed)!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

5th Avenue

The Beve and I have come over to Sequim (WA), where Grampie and his wife live in an apartment at 5th Avenue, a retirement complex.  Grampie came home from the hospital yesterday so we're here to help.  Beve will do the heavy lifting, and I'll do what I do best--boss everyone around.  I am an oldest sister who became a mother--telling people what to do is written in my DNA.

So here's what life looks like at 5th Avenue.  Meals are promptly at 8, noon and 5.  And God forbid that a person be late.  There have been times when I've been on the phone with Grampie or Thyrza, and am cut off mid-sentence because they look at the clock.  And once sitting at the carefully set tables at a meal, it's forbidden that one leaves her seat, no matter what.  After all, you might get in the way of a server carrying a giant tray.   So we sit there, wishing we'd gotten a little tea, or more salad, but those are the breaks here at 5th Avenue. Looking around the room, with all those curious eyes on us, I'm aware of how well they all know each other, this community.  Beve and I are interlopers.  Not Grampie, though.  He's always been a larger than life personality--at 6'8" he could hardly disappear in a crowd.  You should have seen it last night when Grampie walked in after 8 days in the hospital.  First a whisper, then a murmur swept through the room: "R is back!" and then a man stood up, spoke those words aloud, and they all cheered. At their age, it's more common that people leave in an aid car and never return, so it was a wonderful, sweet moment.  Through the entire meal, folks waved, and on their way out, stopped by our table to welcome him home.  But leaving--let me tell you--it's like a parade of walkers.  During the meal, myriad walkers are crowded outside the dining room, like a bunch of aliens, waiting for their turn, but afterwards we walk down the hall in slow motion, lined up behind the slowest one, who somehow manages to be first to leave--every time.  Beve and I have to practically walk standing still, so we don't step on the heels of those in front of us.

Then we come back to their apartment and sit around, watching Grampie try to navigate life after the hospital.  He's under the mistaken impression that his release means that he's back to 100%.  Just looking at him I know how far  that is from the truth. His eyes are drawn, his hair mussed, his legs shaky enough when he tries to stand, that Beve has to help him stand.  I just told him he couldn't take a nap in his chair, but had to lie down completely, and he obeyed me. As I said, that's what I'm here for.  It's pretty warm today, and these apartments are seem tight.  The elderly have poor circulation--shoot, Thyrza was wearing a turtleneck and sweater vest yesterday, and was slightly appalled at my bare shoulders.  She couldn't imagine I was cold.  But I've been without my replacement hormones for the last week, so I'm telling you I'm the opposite of cold--especially at unexpected moments through the day.

Last night Beve and I stayed in an empty apartment--which co-incidentally used to be Grampie and Thyrza's.  It seems a whole lot bigger now that it's empty.  We opened the roll-away bed for me to sleep on, and it hadn't been changed from the last person who used it.  Yuck!  I'm a person who changes her sheets twice a week, so sleeping on a bed used by a stranger is more than a pet peeve, it actually grosses me out. But I shook out the sheets, re-made it and climbed in.  This morning when Beve told the head of housekeeping, she was as horrified as I felt.  She runs a tight ship around here, and it reflects badly.

We survive all these things, though.  Slow walkers, rules about eating, the closed up, warm rooms, unmade beds. It's a picture of what is in front of us, though.  There are only two choices, after all.  Dying young (I suppose my kids might say 'youngish' at this point, since we seem pretty old to them already) or living long enough that our backs bend, our legs weaken and our balance tips.  Beve's  hair is already gray, my face is wrinkling more by the month. It's coming, people.  For all of us.  These relationships, this kind of community.  Living out the end together.  And I can learn from them.  From the grace of my in-laws, the spirit of hope his return signaled for those around him, the joy they all feel in each other.  What it looks like to me is that at the end of their days, these people have let go of the things that isolate us from each other--the idea that doing life alone is ideal.  They've let go of one thing after another--jobs, homes, cars, cooking.  And now what they have left is what counts in life--each other.  It's a rich life here at 5th Avenue, and I'm inspired by it.  It gives me hope.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pet peeves

We all have them, don't we?  Things that set our teeth on edge? All those habits, practices, actions of others might seem benign to them make us instantly angry.  Yeah, I have a few of these.

  • Towels left on the backs of wooden chairs
  • condiments left out on the counter
  • cars that are parked haphazardly on streets, narrowing the driving lanes
  • punctuation used incorrectly--especially apostrophes and quotation marks
  • improper grammar--"me and Joe are going to the store!" or "She gave the gift to Beve and I." (growl!)
  • unfolded laundry
 I admit, even now that they're young adults, I still correct my children's grammar.  I can't help it. I notice those improper use of words every single time.  That's what comes from having studied and taught English, and having written for all these years.  Imagine my editor, if you think I'm bad.  It's her job to make sure we get these things right.  Sure, I bend (ok, break) the rule about sentence structure--I use incomplete sentences all the time. Purposely. But I know what I'm doing, and why.  That's a far cry from ignorance or laziness.

Wow, I guess I have strong opinions about these things.  But the truth is, once I start thinking about what bothers me, both in grammar and in life, I get all worked up.  It changes the way I feel about people--the Beve, my kids, everyone around me.  Then life becomes about what they're doing to annoy me (as if it's about me!!!), rather than who they are.  These petty annoyances, are they 'hills I want to die on?' as J would say.  Is this what I want to focus on?

Colossians 3: 13 talks of this.  "Bear with each other, and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."  Forgiveness about actual sins is something we're pretty conscious of in the church.  We talk a lot about it.  And most of this verse is about those real, done-on-purpose hurts we get from (and give to) others.  But this phrase, "Bear with each other," speaks directly to the pet peeves we have with each other.  Bear with the roommate who leaves dishes around, the husband who (like Barack Obama) throws his dirty socks on the floor, the sister who doesn't hang up her clothes, the dad who chews loudly.  Allow for the foibles of others--as they allow for those habits in us. Bear with the truth that we're all sinners, all made up of flaws and quirks. And beyond this, Paul tells us to forgive, yes, even these things. As Christ forgave--as He looked at Peter's rashness, the Sons of Thunder's arrogance and gall, and He forgave them those integral pieces of their personalities.

"Forgive as Christ forgave you."  Hmm, as He forgives me--for smacking my gum, looking at my split ends, annoying my family when I harp about their English.  He looks at these things--and whatever they are in you-- and says, "I see you, I know you, I made you to be mine.  Despite your various flaws and quirks, I love you."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Loving our parents

Beve's been on the phone with his dad this morning.  The confused elderly man lies in a hospital bed, uncertain of where he is, what he's supposed to be doing, and when he can catch a ferry back to Bremerton--the town where he grew up, became a basketball legend, but hasn't lived in almost seventy years (just so you know, it doesn't take a ferry to reach Bremerton from where Grampie lives).  Beve says, "Why would you need to go to Bremerton?" "Oh, I guess I meant Spokane."  Grampie's never even lived in Spokane, though I guess he's been there a few hundred times in his life.  There's an urgency about his desire to leave--but he can't even understand why.  Grampie's wife has been getting frantic phone calls from him as early as 3:30 in the morning. And she's almost 90, so definitely needs her sleep! 

And I talked to my mom the other day, and she told me some realities about her life now. For instance, she can no longer tell time and isn't even sure what the round thing on her wrist is for, but she puts it on every morning--like clock-work--because she's been wearing a watch for oh, about 70 years.  And she can't identify things by how they look.  Oddly, Mom can still read, so if she reads something, she knows what it is, but show her a picture, and she's lost.  For example, when she goes down to eat, and a waiter brings a tray around of breakfast choices, she has to ask--demand--him to tell her what's on the tray.  He'll say, "Just look," and that does her no good.  "What do you see?" I ask.  "There's a yellow one and an orange one, maybe a brown one."  I figure the yellow is eggs, but orange food?  Maybe it's a glass of orange juice.  Brown bacon?  I ask, "If I say the word eggs, do you know what they look like? What color they are?" "They're eggs," she answers, a little huffy, but I'm pretty sure she doesn't have a clue.

These diminished parents of ours make my heart ache.  These are very smart people, Beve's dad, my mom.  Teachers, both of them. And this disease--it's unbearable.  Oddly, some doctor at the hospital where Grampie has been for a week, told his wife that Grampie doesn't have Alzheimers or dementia.  But Beve told her, "It doesn't matter what he says.  We know."  This doc comes in for a couple minutes, and Grampie's lucid.  He's not the one who gets a dozen phone calls in a single hour, as I do sometimes.  Doesn't hear him trying to figure things out, over and over and over--like using his cell-phone he always carries but can't answer, or get lost in his own home. I don't know why doctors are so quick to make these judgments without talking to the family. But in the end, as Beve says, it doesn't matter what they call it.  It's families who have the responsibility with their elderly parents, husbands or wives, siblings. No matter where they live--Mom in an assisted living home, Grampie with his wife in a retirement complex--we have to be there to help.

It can be arduous.  Grampie lives three hours, and lots of water, away from us.  And the Beve will have to make that trip repeatedly this fall.  I can feel it.  But he wouldn't do less.  He loves his dad.  Would do anything for him, for both of them.  And I live even farther away from my mom--7 hours drive.  I mostly help on the end of the phone, but the time is coming, and perhaps now is, when I'll have to spend more time there.  Help my sister help her.

The thing is, they're our parents.  They did for us, for more years than are left for us to care for them.  There is no paying back to parents.  Not really.  My dad always said, "Pay us back by giving to your own children."  And we've followed that wisdom. But now is the time we turn around, dig in for whatever this 'haul' will be with them.  Help the ending of their days be graceful, dignified and full of love--even if they lose the ability to understand that love.

It's Ephesians 6 about children honoring their parents.  It's John 4 about our love coming from God, extending to each other.  Whether the parent has been the best dad in the world, as Beve believes about his father, or an always difficult one, like my mom, we love them as we love Christ.  In giving, and doing, and sacrificing our lives for them, we give a sacrifice of praise to God.  No matter how hard it is, no matter what they become--how far from their 'real' selves they already are.  Love is from God, and he who loves is born of God, and knows God.  The end.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Feeling very Olympic

Around here, we're feeling very Olympic.  I warned V the other day that when the Games started, she could expect life to wrap around the TV--all Olympics, all the time.  With a daughter who's been living in Colorado Springs for the last eight months, working for the USA wrestling, which is part of the United States Olympic Committee, we're pretty invested in these games.  However, truth be told, we're fans of the Olympics, anyway. We watch sports we wouldn't even dream of watching otherwise, just because a medal is on the line.  We'll watch wrestling, of course, even though I've never been a fan of sweaty bodies pounding around on a mat, because E has kept us up to date on the stories behind the matches.  But beach volleyball, women's weight-lifting, single-shell rowing, white-water kayaking--yep, we're in.  And when the big ticket sports come on--the Redeem Team trying to recapture gold in men's basketball, Michael Phelps swimming for eight (the hoarder!), the men's gymnastic team without the Hamm brothers--these make us stop whatever we're doing and settle in for the vicarious ride of our lives.

Friday night, we were like a United Nations of Olympics watching.  Of course, Beve, SK, J and I were sitting there--about as American as they come. Beve is half Norwegian so always looks for his country-folk in the parade of nations, though he's only visited the homeland one time, and that as a tourist.  But with us was V, and she got very interested when any African nation walked into the stadium.  Her own country of Zaire had no team, but others--Guinea, where her little sister's dad is from, the Central African Republic, where she lived in a refugee camp for eight months before moving to Seattle, Senegal, the homeland of one of her closest friends--and all the others are personal to V.  And we've had visiting for the week-end LB and Sam.  LB is a former student of the Beve's who has stayed with us many times.  LB and Sam are Chinese, from Hong Cong.  Though not part of the People's Republic of China, they understand both the language and the culture.  It is their own, after all.  Watching the opening ceremonies with them was enlightening and refreshing.  They are proud but honest about China, translated the words and cultural references for us as we watched. For example, they explained how the nations were lined up to walk into the stadium--determined by the strokes of the pen in the first character of the name.  I loved it.  It was a profound experience to share the opening ceremony with them.

And we've watched a whole lot of opening ceremonies over the years.  A whole lot!  And Friday night we gathered extra chairs in our family room to accommodate all of us here to gaze at the pagentry.  And it was worth the price of admission.  I've never seen anything like it, really.  15,000 people creating that art.  Of course, if China has anything it has people, so it shouldn't be surprising that people was the mode used.  Not computers, not structures, but people.  Did you see it?  Those people with lights on their suits making doves, the bird's nest itself, the globe around which people on wires ran--some of them sideways and upside-down.  But for me, the most amazing part was the series of boxes that went up and down to form graphic designs, waves like the sea and Chinese characters.  I honestly thought that had to have been done mechanically, until the lids of the boxes were flipped and the people inside waved enthusiastically.  Spectacular.  That one section of the ceremony had been practiced everyday for four months, and that night was the only time it worked perfectly!  As I say, spectacular.

It was a great picture of what the Body of Christ could be like.  If we all work together we can create great works of the Kingdom--works of beauty and power.  One person moving a box up and down on that stage, might look--well, like a person moving a box around over his head. And one person in a lycra suit covered with blinking lights would be an interesting dance, but not nearly as moving as 2008 people dancing together. Only in the sychronicity of many people working together that such a profound visible effect was created. And so it is in the Body of Christ.  One of us can move boxes around, even touch people's lives, but we need each other to make a profound impact.  We are told this over and over in scripture.  "The eye can't say to the hand, 'I don't need you."  And those people were all moving under the direction of one man, the artistic director who had the vision of the whole event.  One director, in charge of all those people, getting them to respond.  It was their job to follow his vision, not to step out of place, or think of their own autonomy.  That's exactly what we are called to do in the Kingdom.  It's not our vision that we follow, but His.  We're under the direction of the Holy Spirit, responsible to do our part, stand on our mark, and follow.  We're given tools (boxes, lights) to do what we're asked, but we must obey His orders.  Profound, huh?  Simply follow and stand on your mark.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I've hinted around at this before, but I'm not the strongest tool in the shed.  In fact, my maladies are rich and varied.  As more than one person in my family has said, "C never gets normal things like colds and flus..."  True story, but I don't have life-threatening ailments either (though there have been moments when I think I'd like to shake off this weak body once and for all--but only for the best possible reason!).  No, I'm beleagured with things that interfere with quality of life.

Like today, the world is black with migraine.  And migraines have been a default setting in my head for most of my life.  Actually, come to think of it, I started getting migraines at about the same age I gave my life to Christ.  And I've become quite a connoiseur of headaches over the last forty years.  But many people crossing my path have felt the urge to give advice about them.  "I find if I take one aspirin and one Tylenol, it does the trick."  "Have you ever tried putting a wet washcloth on your forehead/back of your neck/ under your armpits? (well maybe not under my armpits!)"  "All it takes is lying down in a darkened room for an hour, and you'll be good as new."  And my all-time favorites: "Have you ever asked God for healing?" "If you have enough faith, God would heal you?" "If I/we pray for you, God will take them away."

Now I love advice, really I do...well, ok, not really.  But I do have strong reactions to these well-intentioned words for people.  First of all, any headache that disappears via one hour in a dark room, or washcloths on the head (both of which I've done--especially the darkened room.  I mean, that's standard operating procedure for migraine--turn off the lights and put a pillow over one's head, reduce the noise and lie still.  It's just the 'one hour' that I object to.  One hour?  Not for this head.) isn't the kind of migraine I'm talking about.  And by migraine, I mean any headache that make a person nauseous.  If you've had them, you know what I mean.

And the praying thing.  I've had oil and hands and loud, certain voices laid on me or lifted on my behalf before God.  Pastors and lay-persons, elders and youngsters have been sure that there was something amiss with me that God hadn't healed me from such pain.  Finally, I began to say no to such prayers.  My faith isn't the issue, my body is. I do not suffer from lack of trust in God, or even a specific lack of belief that He is the one who heals, and could heal even this, even for me.  What  I have learned over the years is that He has met me more in my suffering, become more to me, and allowed me to become more in Him than I can imagine being if I was strong.  I can never make the mistake of thinking I can live my life by my own strength.  A body that fails as often and easily as mine, makes that way of thinking an impossibility.  And I'm okay with this.  No, I'm more than okay.  I wouldn't be simply whole and strong for anything.

Because I believe these things:
Firstly, I believe that everyone--absolutely everyone in the world--suffers one way or another.  We live on this earth, where sin and disease and Satan seems to have the upper hand.  There are things to be discovered in suffering that one cannot learn any other way.   God uses for good what the enemy means for ill, to grow us into the likeness of the One who suffered ultimately.  How can we become like Jesus, who suffered to death for us, if we never suffer at all?  It's that simple.

So, secondly, physical suffering is not the worst suffering there is. Was the physical pain of the cross the worst that Jesus suffered those three days?  Obviously not.  The spiritual pain He endured, God turning His back on Him--that was the pain that killed Jesus, I think. Likewise, there are far worse things than what I deal with daily.  God has let me off the hook with my daily pain.  I don't know why, but I am thank God both that He allows me to suffer, grow, be transformed into a Christ-one, via this means.  And also that my suffering is so paltry.  He knows what I can endure, He never allows me to suffer beyond that. Sometimes when I get to feeling sorry for myself, I think of these words from Acts 5:41-- "The apsotles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."  To suffer for His Name: the worst suffering, but considered a privilege.  It turns me right around, puts whatever pain I experience into perspective.  Being worthy to suffer for!

And finally, unlike Jesus, He never turns His back on me.  Whatever the suffering we endure--no matter how unbelievably painful our lives are, God is with us in it.  I believe this.  Where was God in the worst moments of life?  Kneeling beside us, crying with us.
"For I am convinced that neither life, nor death, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 8: 38-39