Monday, June 30, 2008

Lifeguarding

It's been really hot the last couple of days--summertime hot, fans-whirring, skin-sticking hot. Even Jamaica can barely summon up the energy to play ball for more than 15 minutes before she has to go lie in the shade and go pant with her tongue dripping below the tennis ball. The rest of us move from room to room, vying for the best seat in front of the fan. My hottest moment of the morning came when Grampie walked out of the bedroom clothed in long pants and a long-sleeved turtleneck. It reminded me of all the days when I'd tell a child to go put on a sweater because I was freezing! I found a shirt of Beve's for Grampie to wear, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Thankfully, he's always been a very amenable man.

Anyway, it all makes me long for the days of my first real job--being a lifeguard at the Rainey Park pool. No matter how hot the day, I lived in swimsuits, and could jump in the water at 20 minute intervals. Though I had to be a very good swimmer and pass a Water Safety Instructor test to be a Lifeguard, for the most part, lifeguarding isn't anymore than glorified babysitting, consisting of two important skills. First, there's the ability to raise one's voice over the din of a crowd in water and speak these two words, "Don't run." Seriously. "Don't run." Those words are spoken a dozen--a hundred?--times a day by lifeguards at public swimming pools. I could speak them in my sleep in those years, really I could. And secondly, one must be able to twirl a whistle. Not blow it (though this is assumed), but twirl it. First, clockwise all the way around a finger, then counter-clockwise all the way back. Once that skill is mastered, for the really, really advanced lifeguard standing at the edge of a pool full of splashing children, twirling the whistle around each finger one at a time can be tackled. But I wouldn't try it the first day out, if I were you...because every once in a while, that whistle has to be blown, and getting it unwrapped is critical. I mean, after all, someone' life--or running!--might depend on it. This is a very, I mean VERY, important part of the job, and I'm proud to say I had a Master's degree in it, after five years...

OK, so I was a lifeguard for 5 years, and for all the yelling, whistle-spinning and swimming I did, I participated in exactly two--yes, two!--actual lifesaving events. And trust me when I tell you, I wouldn't have minded having skipped either of them. Most guards feel the same way. The first time at an indoor pool up on campus where I was guarding, a young man dove off a high dive and split his nose open. I didn't quite see the actual collision with the wall far beneath the water, but definitely saw that he was in trouble with a capital T there in the deep end, so went in to help. When I pulled him to the side, and another guard helped him out, I had blood all over my arm from his face. Fortunately, I never even saw what he looked like. It wasn't a pretty sight, I was told. I was busy catching my breath from having put all those classes to the test saving him.
That same summer, right in the shallow end of the outdoor pool, a ten-year-old had an epileptic seizure, and that time I saw it. I could tell she wasn't simply splashing. I can't tell you how I knew now, but it was a very, very scary thing. I went into auto-pilot, though. Walked in to get her, while another guard used a whistle to clear the pool. We laid her down, called a medic. It was all pretty exciting...she'd never had a seizure before. When the aid vehicle left and I got to my next station, at the deep end of the pool, my knees were shaking so badly I couldn't climb up into the chair. Another guard took my shift, and I dove straight into the cool water and began to breathe more easily. I think I swam the length of the pool without even thinking about it. By the time I stood up at the shallow end, I felt calmer. It was my natural habitat, after all.

Lifeguarding--guarding others' lives. Most of the time, simply pointing out troubled spots. Not running on wet cement isn't simply adults being autocratic, but about avoiding danger, or (to be positive) keeping them safe. And perhaps, lifeguarding is what we should be doing for each other. Maybe we should all be outfitted with whistles, as we walk this life together, so we can point out wet cement or where the water is too deep for our abilities or whatever it is that will make our swim best for us. And, with all this simple pointing and whistle whirling, we must be ready to dive into the deep water at any moment to save our friends when they're drowning. Just be ready for it. Always at the ready. That's what we're about as lifeguards. And as spiritual friends --it's the primary job we have with each other, being at the ready--swimming together, lifeguarding, and life-saving each other. Get your whistles out!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Giants in the land

The giants are here! The legal height for giants is 6'7, so the Beve just hits that mark and his brothers, at 6'8 & 6'9, stretches over it. And they're standing in our rooms, taking up the oxygen. Or sitting with their legs stretched halfway across the carpet, so the dogs have to jump over them like it's all a complicated obstacle course. Now I like my brother-in-laws well enough, find them very amusing. And my father-in-law, as I've written, is one of a kind, but in our narrow-halled, narrow-bathroomed home, they can make a regular-sized person feel slightly claustrophobic. That's what comes of these giants all in the same airspace. I am not making this up.

I was thinking the other day about how Beve looks tall until he gets around his brothers. Then he looks downright small--short and almost petite (OK, not petite, but at least trim). And it occured to me that the reason the three of them stand in a room around rather than sit when they get together is that they don't often have the privilege of looking eye to eye with people when they have conversations, so they take advantage of it. Most of their lives, they get cricks in their necks from staring down at people. I should know--I have a couple of bulging discs myself from the two and a half decades of conversing with a husband 13 inches taller than me. (And just think--these men would be considered small if you put them on a basketball court with the typical NBA team! Sometimes Beve says, "6'11--that's really tall. A lot taller than 6'7." He has no idea what the world looks like from where I stand. Why, even 6' would be tall to me!)

This week we're housing R Sr and R Jr, which means we'll eat a lot, hear a whole lot of stories, a few Burma Shaves, and talk about all kinds of sports. Jr lives in Finland, so he's converted from being a hoops fan to a hockey fan over the last couple of decades. It's okay, we like him anyway! J will hang out with his Uncle R, and we'll hear "Bar Mitzvah!" ring through the house, because for some inexplicable reason, that's the nickname R gave our son many years ago, and continues to call him. Uncle R and J have private jokes, books they both like, go places together and when R boards the plane back to Helsinki, J will say, shaking his head with a smile, "Uncle R--I sure love him."

These giants. They have hearts as big as their hands. That's true, you know. You put your two fists together, and you can see how large a person's heart is. I'm telling you, these men have huge hands--and their hearts match. They'd do anything for family or even total strangers. It's what they're made of--these men who love God, and love the people God loves, who serve without thought to cost, who live with integrity, as their giant father taught them. Giants among men in every way, I think that's what they are.

The land of giants--it's a good place to dwell for a week.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I took a walk in the world today

Last weekend my mom sent me a manilla envelope, via my brother. I recognized it instantly--a poem I wrote over 31 years ago. About a month after I wrote it, on New Year's Day, 1978, I read it aloud at my parents' church, when my sister and I were asked to speak on the topic of "Our Numbered Days." Later the church printed the poem in their newsletter--so I suppose it's my first published work. When I first read it again after 30 years, I was amazed it's as good as it is (I can critique myself from this distance, can't I?) so thought I'd copy it here, and try--try hard--not to revise it from the original. I'm tempted to add the caveat that I'm not really a poet, but maybe you can decide for yourself...

Eugene, Oregon
December 1977

I took a walk in the world today, Lord
The world of sights, sounds and smells
I saw children climb into a bus
and took a moment to smile.
I tried to climb a tree a bit too tall
And got mud on my pants in the effort.
I looked at the cars racing on a busy street
And wondered where the people were going.
I smelled Christmas in the evergreens
And caught autumn in the deadened leaves.

Lately I've been wrapped up in me.
I've looked at the unopened pile of books
And frowned my smiles into worries
I've been caught up in the academic part
of the world to the point that
I forgot that You created life out there.

My words have become meaningless chatter,
redundant utterings of foolishness
My relationship with You and others
has been a copy of what should be
instead of a masterpiece of You in me.
I talk, laugh, even pray, Jesus, but
the focus has been on my time, not Yours.

So I took a walk in the world today
and remembered why I'm here.
I took time for...
Children who aren't afraid to show emotions,
Who say what comes to mind,
Who clap and dance in wonderment
and greet strangers gladly.
They teach me again of life in You,
no inhibitions, no facades of joy,
just honest feelings.

I took time for...
Trees--with squirrels scurrying to gather food.
Sometimes I'm a squirrel, only worrying about
food and survival.
Trees that smell of holidays and make me
think of festive times ahead and behind.
Trees that don't struggle to grow, but sway and
bend as You make them hardy.
They teach me of life rooted in You, growing
stronger, taller, closer to You.

I took time for...
People. People who may not
know you, and certainly don't know me but
are still considered precious in your eyes.
People to love, to cherish, to hope for.
People racing forward, backward, running out of time.
People who need to slow down for a moment
and take a walk in the world. Just as I did.

I took a walk in the world today, Lord
Your world -- and You gave me again
the gift of Life.
Now I can look at my books,
study for my tests,
And know what my priorities are.
People, nature, but mostly You.
You, Lord, alive in me,
Because I am alive in You!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Riding

We bought an electric scooter today. It's called an eGo. I rode it from the seller's home across town to ours, trying to remember to stay to the side of the streets, my hand signals, and all the other rules of the road. This is our third, and by far our smallest, scooter, and I have to say, I LOVE IT! It's exactly what I've been dreaming of to run down the hill to the grocery store, the library, all the little errands I do during the week. And to think, I'll just have to plug it in to a regular outlet at the end of the ride.

I rode my first motorcoycle at Young Life's Woodleaf camp in northern California the summer after my sophomore year in high school. Little Hondo 80's, and I tore up the track, if I do say so myself. I loved them. In those days, my only goal was to keep up with whatever boys were around. Whether it was go-carts, those little scooters, or all-you-can-eat pizza nights down at Pizza Haven, I didn't hold back and let them win. I know, on this very blog I've indicated otherwise, but if you'll remember, I said my competitive juices flow when I think I can win...and in my youth there was nothing that told me a boy--by mere virtue of gender--could ride a go cart faster, or eat more, if I put my mind to it.

My college boyfriend's family was all about motorcycles. And though I'd ridden those little bikes a lap or two around a track, AC and his dad thought I needed a lesson or two to really get the hang of a real bike. So one hot, dry summer day down in Grangeville, Idaho when the air was barely moving and AC was off at his summer job, I climbed on the back of a big ol' bike (the kind now escapes me, but it was a giant sucker!) with his dad, who was a rather intimidating, rough-speaking, grease-under-his-finger-nails kind of man, and we rode far out on the gravel country roads (actually, there are nothing but gravel country roads near the tiny town of Grangeville, Idaho, but he told me that if I could ride on gravel, I could ride on anything), and then I got my motorcycle lesson. Ray (his actual name--and doesn't if fit?) showed me where everything was, how to shift gears with my foot, to accelerate, brake, and then we got on the bike. I got on first, and he got on behind me. He'd taught all his kids to ride just this way, but I don't think a 'girlfriend' had ever come out to stay before, ever been his student. And poor Ray wasn't about to touch me, in any way, shape or form. Certainly not to put his hands on my waist--not when I was driving straight down the country road, not when he was trying to tell me I needed to lean with the bike, rather than against it, even if it felt counter-intuitive, not when I practically turned it over, and my face was blushing in shame! I wanted to tell him it was ok to hold on--and even HELP! But I was also kind of thankful that he didn't, if you can understand that. How embarrassing would that have been? Really? Ah, poor Ray. He just held on to the back of his seat and prayed (though he wasn't much of a praying man) that I wouldn't harm that mighty beast. Fortunately, we both survived--both the ride and the embarrassment--and I learned to be a pretty good rider. We spent a couple of afternoons at it, and by the end, though he couldn't give me a legal endorsement, he felt comfortable enough with me that he let me take one of their bikes off by myself for the first of many long rides. Riding fast into the wind...

Years later, the Beve and I bought a little Honda Elite to run back and forth out on the flats between our house and Grampie's when we lived in Sequim--a mile apart. It was great fun. The Beve would take the children for quick spins on it on those quiet (paved!) roads, and they loved that. When E was ten, he decided she was old enough to try riding it herself for the first time. Unfortunately, she didn't have Ray as a teacher. She got on it, Beve helped her start it up, and she drove full speed ahead. plowing it straight through our neighbor's fence. I was in the house, heard this giant crash and when I got outside there was a perfect cutout of scooter and head in the fence. E was apologizing (such a oldest child!) but I was TICKED at the Beve for not teaching her better than that.

The reality is, we need teachers. I think of Ray teaching me versus little E plowing through that fence, and I know that. We need to trust that those who have been doing a thing have something to teach us. We need to listen to those who are ahead of us in the faith, those who know how to ride better than us. Not standing on the side telling us, egging us on, but actually getting on the bike with us, and guiding us as we learn. Are there people in your life like this? People who are willing to get on the back of your life and lean with you as you corner? Listen to the Holy Spirit wind with you as you are riding along? Hopefully they're even willing to put their hands on your waist to pull you up short when you need them to, or even simply to hang on for the ride. If not, there's One for sure. Will you invite Him along?
Hmm. Maybe He should steer.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A surfeit of hours

A day alone...just hugged J out the door to drive my car across the state to Hoop Fest, which he's only been anticipating for an entire year; practically shoved the Beve and SK off to mow. V's out with friends for the day, so I have this day--this whole day!--to do with as I will.

The thing is, I have grown used to a surfeit of hours, the luxury of time alone. The dogs and I settle in--they to sleep, and I to read, write and pray. To be with God for as long as my tea lasts--and trust me, my tea is stone cold by the time I finish it. Then I get up, pull out the book revisions and get down to 'business.'

In the early years of my children's life, I was never alone. A mom never is. I remember the first day of kindergarten for SK, after taking the three to school. As I stood outside the door of her classroom, watching her bounce through the door and into the world of school--which she'd been dreaming of since 'Sissy' had started many years before--other moms were crying. Not very quietly either. In fact, there was an aid there to reassure them. But what made SK so excited, couldn't make me sad, could it--not for long, anyway. When I got home, I began the regular tasks of my life. And as I walked down the hall of our house with a large laundry basket of dirty clothes, I dropped the basket and let out a whoop. Freedom. There were no demands for snacks or a different game, I didn't have to help with clothing or coloring or fighting. I stood there a moment. For the next two hours I could do whatever I wanted. The laundry would get done--there are plenty of hours in a day. I grabbed purse, keys and Bible, and went off to have coffee with Jesus.

And you know, I've been a better mom as my kids have grown. It's not a hard equation. The more time I have with Him, the more I have to offer the rest of the world. And the better me there is to offer. Lately, with the house full, even though I love our company--both those who left yesterday and the ones coming Sunday--and especially though I adore having SK home from college, and the Beve out for the summer, time alone has been whittled away, or edged into the post-midnight hour when my brain is full of cobwebs. And when there is ministry to be done, especially right here in my home, that isn't enough for me. Hearing God's voice is a muscle to be exercised, I think. Practiced in the quiet so that when there is cacophony, I can recognize Him under the din. I've been mean-spirited and sarcastic lately, quick to find fault rather than to extend grace. It is not well-done of me, reveals an absence of dwelling in His Spirit.

So these hours, these precious hours--like balm to Gilead.

The question is begging to be asked, however: what about those whose lives are like mine with those three little children, hovering at my knees? Or with a grueling job and no respite at the end of the day? I wish I had an easy answer for that. A friend of mine would say, "Simplify, simplify, simplify." Maybe there are things that take up space in your life--your time and energy--that have little or not value. They're just clutter. Maybe those things need to be sent off to Goodwill, metaphorically. I don't know. I only know it's better for us--well with our souls--when we spend intentional moments with Him, when He has the time with us He longs for and waits for. It's like a balm to Him as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gastronomic traditions

Food traditions in our family:
Tea at a quaint (which means both tiny and cute) tea room, where we stuff ourselves with scones, pasties (not pastries!), pots of tea (duh!) with lots of milk and sugar and three large tea sandwiches. Part of very visit home for my little brother, and now that he's introduced his wife-to-be to it, and she enjoyed it, she's made the cut.

Bean, cheese and rice burritos--otherwise known as BCRs--from a small, local taco joint. Almost a once-a-week meal around here. Cheap and very tasty. Eaten with lots of their on-site made salsa and our sour cream. One of the few foods I could eat daily.

Thai--E and I once decided we'd go to every Thai restaurant in town just so we could objectively evaluate which was best. There are 10. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. I LOVE red chicken curry. She's more of a pad thai woman, herself. Last time she was home, we ordered take-out from our favorite, and SK, V & I sat at the counter long enough to watch one of the employees have a melt-down in front of us. I hate to say it, but that left a sour taste in our mouths and we have found a new top choice Thai restaurant now.

Homemade ice-cream--The Beve's a big fan of ice-cream. Any day, anytime. Heavy cream, sugar and fresh fruit or chocolate, cinnamon or citrus. What's not to love about this? Of course, if, like SK and me, you're lactose-intolerant, then it's an enter-at-your-own-risk kind of tradition. But the metal container spinning in the loud bucket of churning ice and rock salt, rushing out to unplug it before it burns up the outlet when it stops turning--this is all part of the tradition for the Beve. Then he scoops out luscious, dripping bowls of sweetness, and even allows the dogs a portion. This is as much summer for us as flowers in our pots, and sitting on our patio, watching the sunsets.

Cinnamon rolls--do I even need to say this? I am married to the baker of the world's best cinnamon rolls. I'm not kidding. Not to mention Swedish tea rings, sour cream pecan coffee cake, Kringle and bread. He's an amazing baker. Ask anyone. No one who has tasted his baking should be a bit surprised that I have a weight problem...but seriously, butter is one of the one good things in life. At least when the Beve bakes! He bakes for people at his work, friends, people he simply wants to serve...so our house often smells like cinnamon and butter, one way or another, just like it's the fragrance of our lives. But sometimes when we get up in the morning, there's a pan of cinnamon rolls sitting on the counter simply for us.

Calzones--if you're really special, the Beve will offer to make calzones for you--and I'm telling you, they're worth waiting for! Plus, they're a tradition. We've been making them together, two per pan--as big as the Beve's outspread hand, since we had kids in diapers. I can't possibly eat a whole one anymore, though the Beve can still manage, and J's been known to knock back one easily enough (well, E can too, but I don't want to embarrass her by making it sound like she's a big eater or anything). We always think we'll make them a little smaller, then we never do. I mean, there are just so many veggies, and cheeses that have to be piled on. It's hard to practice moderation when the Beve's in the kitchen.

So why am I talking about these traditions? Well, in the car as we drove home from some friends' tonight, the Beve and I were talking about the things that get eschewed in our lives. Our eating habits are one of them. The Beve is a big guy, and he needs a lot more food than I do. But sometimes he eats a lot more food than he needs. And I sometimes forget to eat at all. When I get to working, I can go all day without thinking about food. Then I'll wonder why I'm so hungry that I want to stuff myself. We eat out of boredom or stress or to be social or to avoid being social. The reasons we eat are so many--and so few of them are related to our bodies needing food. So thinking about our food traditions and what they mean in our lives helps. Because traditions ground us to the past, make us stop, take a breath and say, we've gone this way before and it is important enough to repeat. It meant something.

But along with the food, these traditions have to do with being around the table. The sitting and laughing, the sharing of hearts. We always have a sharing question at the ready, particularly when we gather with our closest friends plus all our kids. It's part of the tradition, that we go around the table and speak purposely for part of that meal. No one is overlooked because of age, no answer is considered silly or random. We pay attention, acknowledge dreams, hopes, even heartaches. I remember once when J took a risk and spoke of his fears about his future, and that opened the door for everyone to speak deeply, profoundly, not skimming the shallows. And I think we were all changed by that meal, in more ways than mere food.

And that's what it's about, I believe, when we sit down together as believers. As Christians, we have the best food traditions in history. Think about it--all the intentional meals of the Israelites in the wilderness, eating only what was provided by God for that moment, no more and no less. They had to trust GOD for how much food would fill them, not listening to their stomachs, but trusting that whatever He had provided was enough--no matter what their stomachs might be saying.
And, of course, Jesus took bread, blessed it, and told us to remember Him when we take our bread. And so we say grace. But maybe He means how we eat, why we eat, what we eat. What our traditions are. And our drink, the same way...remembering Him. Listening to Him speak--"Do this in remembrance of me."

Not just tradition, but communion. That's what food is ultimately about. Not merely feeding our bodies, but nourishing our souls--that's what we do at the table. That's what He is talking about, promising, if you will. "This is my body, this is my blood." The bread we eat His body muscle on our bones, the wine we drink His blood coursing through our veins. His Holy Spirit given to nourish us, fill us, as the richest of meals.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Calling

Little brother (who is neither little nor all that young--sorry, bud!--so the pejorative is only in relation to history) is visiting with his fiancee. His--how shall I say this--PERFECT fiancee. She is startlingly right for him--she likes to run, play soccer, they went canoeing in January, they're going camping for their honeymoon and she's excited about it!, she's laid-back and relaxed about most things. I told them yesterday it's like they were always on the way to each other, through all the twists and turns of their separate lives, and now here they are. Like they were called to it...

What are we called to? We sat on our front patio yesterday in the warm summer sun, with the blue sky above, the garden surrounding us, the bay in the distance, and the word calling came up. To tell you the truth, I bristled when it did, and here's why. We were talking about the current situation in which I find myself, ministering in a way that suits me like a wool shirt on a hot summer day, and someone said to me, "but you're obviously called to it."
"I don't see you doing things like this," I answered, like a ten-year-old on a playground.
"That's because I wasn't called to it."
"Neither am I," I said. "I am obedient to this moment, but that doesn't mean I'm called to it long term."
"If it's this difficult, and you're this resistant, it's God calling you," she answered.

I don't necessarily buy this. I know, I've heard such reasoning before. Many times. From godly people who love Christ and spend much time on their faces before Him. But I think it's bad theology to think that God has to use a big stick to push us in directions contrary to our temperament, desire and spiritual gifts. Is this really how He works? Really? Why do we think God is so negative with us? The God of love who saved us dragging us kicking and screaming against our will, our hopes, dreams, and inclinations. It churns me up to think of this. And I wonder where in the gospel we get this idea (no, don't remind me of the Rich Young Ruler, that's about coming to Christ, not about life in ministry).

So this morning, after wrestling with this matter through the night (like Jacob with the angel?), reading Abraham's call, Moses' call, every 'call' verse I could find in the NT, I remembered a conversation I had with a wonderful professor at Regent College over a decade ago. He was an courtly English gentleman who had helped found the 'Unseminary,' and in my first semester, I took a class called "Spiritual Direction" from him. One evening a friend and I were sitting at a table when he stopped and sat down with us. We'd been discussing this very question of calling. In his beautiful British accent he asked, "To what have you been called?" My friend (who shares my first name, which isn't all that common!) began to describe many things she believed God had called her to, but Dr. Houston (James Houston--some of you might have heard of him...if not, look him up, read his books. They can be life-changing!) kindly but firmly cut through her words and said again, "What is your calling as a believer?" And the light began to dawn, slowly but clearly. Then he said, "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1) Our calling, it turns out, is always, first and foremost, the same for each of us--to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:27) We are called to this--to believe, to act, to live as the Christ-ones He died and rose, and lives within us to make us. To be His.
Sure, He calls us to specific acts, specific roles (partners!), careers, lives. But let's be perfectly clear, the real calling is to be obedient to Him, and live a life pleasing to Him in this moment.
And that's what I desire for this situation in which I find myself--to obey Him, not simply with the grit of my teeth, but with the Holy Spirit-empowered joy floods when I couldn't feel it on my own.
And, let me say this, I believe--I am confident!!!--that if He desires me to begin a ministry other than what He has shown me to date that I am gifted for, temperamentally suited for, and desirous of, that He will do a good work in me to change my heart to be suited, gifted, and desiring of that ministry. I believe that. It's been borne out in my life. There have been calls a plenty. But in the meantime, I'll be a broken record about living a life worthy of the LORD. This is our calling. Get it?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Epistles

Remember before emails, texting and online chatting? There used to be these things called letters that required pen and paper (or a typewriter, if you actually knew where the letters were arbitrarily placed on the keyboard, which I didn't, and could use it), and an envelope, stamp, mailbox and waiting several days for the recipient to read it, and many more to get a response--if you ever did. Remember such things? I was a huge proponent of letters. I still love the notion of them, love the feel of pen in my hand and hand moving across the page. I have a fundamental belief that my hand (or hands, now that I actually do know how to type quickly and without thought) writes. Seriously, there have been more times than I can count that my hand has written something that I didn't know I was thinking, and I'm amazed by it when I see it on the page. See, I still keep my journal with pen on paper--there's just no other way to do it.

But epistles. I was a great believer in them as well. My sister, the Dump, and I used to write each other once a week all through college and beyond. Her letters were always exactly the same length--one sheet of notebook paper, front and back. No matter what was going on in her life, it had to be covered in two pages or it wasn't worth saying. And her handwriting never changed. In fact, I'd say her handwriting hasn't changed significantly since the day she learned those cursive letters--every single ABC she ever writes is identical to the ones on those giant cards that are tacked over the chalkboards in second grade classrooms. That's the Dump for you. Me? Well, I covered pages and pages with stories about my life--sometimes the dramas, sometimes the joys. And my handwriting--well, it can't be pinned down, either. Always legible, just always changing with my mood.

And the Beve. Well, he can write amazing letters. His letters made me fall in love with him. That year I left Finland he went to the trouble of writing me a note for every day for the rest of my trip around Europe--just to encourage my friend and me as we traveled, like a blog we could hold in our hands. What 26 year old man does something like that? Seriously, I ask you. And the next year, in Holland, we wrote notes and letters to each other almost every day. His examined heart in those letters--love letters, yes, but mostly to God. I tell you, absolutely amazing. (I have them all saved and might even let my kids see them, if they're so inclined.)

My dad wrote me a couple of really good letters in my life as well. Once in college, I began to get cash--a 20$ here, 50$ there-- in letters from my Mom. It didn't make sense to me, because she'd just written me that I was spending too much (and trust me, she was right!). So in a weekly call, I asked about the money. And Dad wrote me a letter. It went like this:
Dear C--
Spend the $
Love,
Dad
I pinned that up on my bulletin board--and you can imagine that it became my motto for the next few years. (Dad had been mailing the letters from Mom, sticking the money in!)
And in Holland, when Beve and I got engaged, we got the best letter from my dad that I've ever gotten in my life. Dad never wrote me as many letters as Mom, but he was across the state from home getting cancer treatments when we wrote him of our wedding, and he wrote us back. He told us that he felt we were made for each other in a way he'd seldom seen, though he'd seen a whole lot of people marry. I was overwhelmed by his letter (especially with the unexpected news of his cancer...I was missing him fiercely!), his strong support and love for us. The saddest thing is that, somehow, we've lost that letter, in all our moves. But I have it in my heart.

However, for all these great letters, there have been hard ones. My mother has been the scribe of pain in our family. A couple of months ago, when most of us siblings were together comparing notes, we realized that we'd all received at least one scathing letter from her, condemning actions, choices, our kids, our spouses, our very lives. Sometimes in the middle of it, I couldn't begin to understand my mother, but looking back I know she wanted us to change, to become something other than we were. But these letters did the very opposite of what she intended with them. They made us dig in our heels, be firm in our positions, despise her even more, certain she was out to lunch and we were right. Her attacks came so often out of the blue, so often on the basis of something she misunderstood, or misread, that judging us continually diminished her in our eyes. The power of those letters to destroy these relationships...

It does me no honor to say such things about my mother. I know this. I wish it different. And when I think of the power of the written word I always picture two letters in my hand--one from my father, the other from my mother. My mother did write cards (when she could still write them) on birthdays, mother's day, etc. telling us what she appreciated about me. However, I didn't believe my mom's words for a long time--the negative ones had been too loud, and too many. And I am certain that there were also things about me, Beve, my children that Dad struggled with. We are human, after all; we struggle with each other. But Dad chose his words, and his life was equal to his words. So I believed him.

It isn't wrong to write difficult letters. Sometimes it's the only way. But as a last resort, not a knee-jerk impulse. And maybe that's what we need to learn about speaking and emailing and texting and everything else. When asked the other day what an ideal Christian would look like, I said, "Someone who lives a seamless life." That is, a life that is the same everywhere--privately, publicly, always asking, "May your Kingdom come--in me." What kind of letters do you write? What kind of letters does your life write?

Are they seamless? I pray so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy 20th

Just posted, then saw the date. So I must post again. Because today is June 20th. The 20th of every month was a big day in our family growing up. My parents always--literally ALWAYS--told each other "Happy 20th!" and often went out to dinner alone on that night. Maybe not every month. But every month they did something--to acknowledge each other. Because they were always looking forward to this day. June 20th. They got married on June 20th, 1955, and every single month for their whole marriage, they acknowledged it. Can you imagine that?

My parents had a very good marriage. They really loved each other. There have been times when I've questioned how that could have been so, but I wasn't between them, and from where I stood, it was really true. And these are the things I saw:

They were very affectionate. My dad always kissed Mom goodbye in the morning, and hello when he got home at night. And dozens of times between, he'd pat her back, give her hugs, touch her. He let her know that she was important to him. Even when she was in one of her frightfully black moods--and those happened five out of seven days a week--he just leaned in and hugged her, told her he was sorry she'd had such a bad day. They weren't afraid to show us that they loved each other physically. OK, sometimes Dad would tease her, pulling on her zipper, and she'd slap his hands away. "Please," she'd say, "The children." But she was laughing too, and I felt very safe in their love for each other, at least until I got to be in middle school and began to be embarrassed by it. You know how that goes.

They supported each other's passions. My dad was very involved in Boy Scouts, had camp-outs once a month, hikes every Spring Break, camp and 50 milers every summer, went to National and World Jamborees. Dad's troop had 67 (I think) Eagle Scouts in the years he was Scout Master, under Dad's 'gentle' prodding. And Mom supported this. She could have made it miserable for him--I know her personality--but she didn't. She made heavy cake for the 50 milers, sewed neckerchiefs, made casseroles for potlucks, even after her sons were out of the troop. She was a pretty good scout about the whole thing. And Dad was supportive of all of Mom's various hobbies--passionately started, less passionately finished, but still...the macrame plant hangers in the seventies, the cross-stitch in the eighties, the Bible studies in the nineties (she stuck with that, but then he was a believer by then and engaged in them as well!)They went on diets together sometimes, or he watched her diet and somehow lost more weight than she did. But they were each other's biggest fans, one way or another.

They never fought. It's impossible to explain to anyone who isn't one of my siblings how this could possibly be true, but I am not exaggerating one whit. My parents never had a fight. Granted, my mother raised her voice--on a daily basis, mostly at us kids, but sometimes at dad as well. But my dad didn't fight back. He simply said, "I'm sorry," every single time. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Do you understand what I'm saying? No matter what the issue, no matter who was really at fault, no matter how out of control she was--and trust me, she could get out of control--he said he was sorry. Now I know, I know some of you reading this are thinking that such a man was a wimp for not standing up for himself. But I'm here to tell you, my father was the exact opposite of a wimp. He once said it didn't cost him anything to apologize. He knew the truth of the situation but if it made her feel better for him to apologize, that was the best thing he could for her. But let me tell you something about this non-fighting I saw growing up. It kind of scarred my parents' kids and was VERY hard to replicate. When Beve and I got married, our first fight just about did me in. I was absolutely certain Beve no longer loved me because he'd actually answered back when I disagreed with him. Didn't he know what he was supposed to do? [Our fight was over panty-hose, by the way. He accused me--he, a mere man!!!--of putting it on wrong, and therefore, getting runs in them, thus creating the need to buy new ones. I was--as you women might guess--quite angry. "You don't know what you're talking about. You can't put them on like pants!" I told him. "Just try it," he said. "You try it!" I yelled, throwing the panty hose at him. He stomped out of the house. Both sooo mature.] We had to learn how to fight fairly, with love and forgiveness. Not merely with words but with truth.

They were each other's best friends. My parents weren't social creatures. They didn't entertain a lot, have a plethora of friends. My mother didn't have BFFs whom she called every afternoon to gab about her day. They had each other. They liked nothing better than to sit down every evening with giant (and I'm talking GIANT!) bowls of ice cream--maple nut for Mom, mint chip for Dad, both drowning in chocolate sauce--and talk over their days at the elementary school and university. Mom would tell him all about the issues with her kids, and he'd tell her his struggles with the University senate he was trying to develop. And they talked about their kids. After they griped about their days for a while, they'd watch TV together until Mom couldn't keep her eyes open. Dad always stayed up hours later than she did. Dad knew a lot of people in town--he was pretty popular on campus, but they just never ever entertained. Mom didn't have it in her, I think. And he lived with it. He was a quiet man too, so it worked out. Mom retired ahead of Dad, and she was waiting for him--so they could go off and do things together. People asked him what he was going to do when he retired and he told me, "I tell them I'm going to watch your mother read." Dad's sense of humor, gotta love it.

All in all, I think those are pretty good clues to their marriage, which lasted 42 years. I paid attention--one way or another--and my marriage is better for having lived with theirs. And I guess that's what most kids do, after all. We watch our parents' marriages, and then we make our own from that model or the opposite of it, please God. Makes you wonder, though--who's watching you? And what do they see? Is what they see someone you are proud of? Someone God is proud of--in the best possible sense of that word?

Books

The other day J and I got to talking about 'A Life in Books,' the column in Newsweek where an author lists his/her five most important books. Many of the books in this column week after week are ones 'old faithfuls', so to speak. Just this week, Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball (such a brilliant book about baseball I actually included it my novel), chose Huck Finn as one of his five books. Huck Finn, the one novel practically every one of us had to read in high school. If you didn't, don't tell J--he really hated that book, for some inexplicable reason, and will be very envious. But I liked it, understand why it's on this list and so many others, as well as the required reading lists of high schools. It was something new, said something deep and true about its world, deeper than its dialect.

But I digress. My point, and in the words of Ellen Degeneres, I do have one. J prompted a list from me, and I came up with one that sunny afternoon as I pulled weeds from my garden. Now, four days, and one Newsweek later, I have a revised list, which might just be as it should be, since I'm all about revision in this season in my life. When you think of it, even pulling weeds is revision, isn't it?
My Important Books (an annotated list, and without either the 'five' nor absolute 'most' in the title, because, first, I realized I had more than 5, though just barely, and trust me even limiting to what I did was excruciating!!!, and 'most' is impossible' because, after all, I might find some wonderful book tomorrow when I use the gift certificate E gave me for Mother's Day!)

1.A classic I can't live without:
The Complete Works of Shakespeare--you should have heard him howl when I said this. I really am cheating. Because that's 33 plays, not to mention the Sonnets. But I love Shakespeare, and find so much in him every time I read him. SK, our theater major, who was also sitting there, asked which ones I like best, and once I got started, I couldn't stop listing them. The tragedies have much to say for themselves--"Out, out damn spot" of MacBeth, with the notion of guilt killing you. Othello's jealousy, Lear's incredible madness and his daughter's perfect love "I love you as is your due...". Oh, don't get me started...Why, we say things every single day that we should give old Will credit for, and we barely know it.
2. A sentimental favorite:
Persuasion by Jane Austen--if I had to choose just one of her books, this would be my choice. And I'm telling you, it's not an easy choice. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 12-years-old, and I took everything literally. Years later, when I had to read it for a college class, I wondered how all that irony had managed to be inserted in the last six years! I found it wonderfully dry--as dry as my own dad (and the Beve and his friends!). Persuasion, the best of them, ends with this beautiful moment where Anne speaks of her constant love, Wentworth overhears her and writes of his...ah, I could swoon right now, thinking of it. And I sometimes think God knew I was a sucker for such things when he made my own romance so complex and unique.
3. A book that changed my life:
The Brothers K by David James Duncan--it's hard to explain the impact this book had on my life. I had to lead a seminar it in my first term in seminary, just after my father died, and it was no easy task--the connections for me in this novel were eery--to my hometown, to baseball, to a father who was the loving one... If you like baseball, you'll love it. But even if you don't, it won't matter, because it's funny and sad, and tackles religion and abuse done in the name of religion with both a light and heavy hand (which is powerfully difficult to do!)
4. A book I often recommend:
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell-- I've almost decided that when I recommend this book to people, that if they don't read it, we can't be friends anymore. I feel this strongly about this book. Now I'm not a science fiction reader by first choice, but this is something new. Though it has all the best elements of science fiction, it also has a theological undergirding. No, it's more than an undergirding. It's also the walls and roof. It's the whole structure. You simply have to read it. I can't talk about it with anyone who hasn't read it, but I love it so much, and the sequel--Children of God--that I'm willing to make it a dividing line in relationship. It's ok if you don't like it. I just want you in the conversation.
5. A book and author for our place and times:
Fidelity by Wendell Berry--Fidelity was the first of Berry's books I read, which is the reason I list it here. Since then, I've visited Port William, his fictional, yet true, town as many times as he's let me, via Hannah Coulter, Jayber Crowe, That Distant Land, and others. These stories are slow and quiet and tell of a people and place I know exists because I grew up there, but many people can't imagine. And Berry has a whole lot to say in his non-fiction about how we should care for this earth, and I've been changed by those words as well.
6. A book I have on my bedstand:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
by Barbara Kingsolver. This book is changing the way I think about buying and eating locally. Also what it means to eat with the seasons. I am a huge Kingsolver fan--I LOVED The Poisonwood Bible but also love her non-fiction like High Tide in Tuscon & Small Wonder. She helps clear my head . When turning green is the new color of choice, she has been earth-keeping for two dozen years. With my own sister, a wise seminary prof, the Beve and I began making changes years ago--smaller house, increasingly smaller cars, etc. And she continues to inspire me.
7. A book I read to my children:
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. If you know me, you knew this was coming. I first visited Narnia in (wait a minute, let me check the date in the front of the books my mother's parents gave us) 1964. Yep, a long time ago. I have one of the oldest sets of them, with the original art work. What can I say about these books? I love, love, love Narnia. Loved it so much I used to read them all over the course of a weekend once a year. Just say I was going to Narnia, hole up and not come out until I waved across the great divide at the parents at the end of The Last Battle and heard Aslan say, "Don't you know where you are?" Sigh. I named my first dog Caspian, used to play trivia with the other Narnians among my college friends. Loved lions (but would NEVER name a pet Aslan--that would be like naming one God!). Bought and read every book by CSL written at the time, knew all the important facts about his life too, and plenty that weren't important as well. And--I made sure my children knew and loved Narnia. Of course I did. I fed Aslan to them with their baby food. Told them of Reepicheep, Puddleglum (I adore them both for distinctly different reasons!), and made JESK good little Narnians. It was part of my job. I couldn't fail them in this.

Finally--The Book I must have to breathe:
The Bible--Of course it kind of goes without saying, but I can't go without saying it. J laughed because I actually named it first that afternoon and reminded me that actually the Bible is composed of 66 books so it's sort of cheating, so he asked which of 66 would be most essential. All of them, I told him first. But then I said Genesis and John, but today I'd add the Psalms and Romans. These aren't necessarily my favorite books, but they would provide everything needed, if locked in a dungeon. Think about it--creation, the calling and covenant with Abraham. The gospel, the theology of Paul, and the Psalms.

There you have it...but really, I want it all. Just like, I don't really want my bookcase to be limited to these few books. I want more and more and more. I'm hungry that way. Read, people, read.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Garage sale treasure

Here's a news flash (for those of you who don't know him!): the Beve loves shopping--especially shopping for deals. He knows all the cheapest stores in town, and trust me, there are many. And when the weather gets warm and people begin clearing out their houses, and they put those little sticky circles on the junk they don't want, and the giant signs at the end of the block, he can turn the car on a dime to join the throngs of those who are salivating at what might be sitting on the tables in the driveway. Yessirree, a bonafide, card-carrying, garage-saler, that's my Beve. It's the thrill of the hunt, mostly. He loves the whole idea of a bargain, buying in bulk, and even getting things for free that we didn't know we needed a few minutes before. Beve loves seeing what others didn't notice, and recognizing the quality in it. Now I've gone to a garage sale or two with him, I admit. But my standard operating procedure is to head straight for the book table. Those books tell me everything I need to know about the sale, my interest and whether it's all worth my time. If they're junk--and trust me, I know junk books when I see them--I head back to the car and wait for the Beve, who's pawing through kitchen utensils, tools, and a whole variety of things you can't even believe.

He has come home with some amazing finds. I have a beautiful 19th century trunk sitting beside me as I write that he bought for 75$ at a garage sale ten years ago. That was a great day. And someone was selling an authentic (there's some information with it inside) African mask from the Ivory Coast that now hangs in my living room. An original painting, a sideboard someone made from a kit many years ago that we loaded into our tiny Toyota one day on Capital Hill in Seattle because Elizabeth wanted it for her apartment. But here's the thing. For every great find, there have been several questionable ones. More pie plates than you can shake a fist at that he plans to take to some friends in Canada someday, but they just keep piling up. Pitchers of all shapes and sizes. Tupperware, plates, towels, books (oh...ok, that's my fault...), those kitchen utensils, tools.

I can handle this hobby of Beve's on good days. It keeps him off the streets, after all. Literally off the streets and in other people's garages. But these treasures have cluttered up our lives, and today, when I have to shovel it out to make room for guests (exaggerating for effect here, folks--but just barely), it can annoy me. Overwhelm me. Our house is pretty dusty as well, after a long season with the pellets running through the stove. And our dogs bring in dirt, pine cones, and even the occasional rock and boulder to drop at our feet as an offering. All in all, with the various piles, the dust and grass (did I mention the grass from the lawncare business that travels through the house on the mowers' socks?), if one doesn't stay on top of things, it can begin to look like a pig sty around here.

Or a stable. I was thinking of that this afternoon as I was dusting. Pondering how my own life is that stable where a young couple stumbled in after dark, looking for a place to bed down for the night, and give birth to a child. The child, I should say. Even in the dirtiest, dustiest darkest places, Incarnation happens. In fact, my life--each of our lives--is always like that stable, dark, dingy and full of straw until He's born into it, bringing light and life and an angel chorus telling us who He is. We fill up our lives with treasures, garage sale or ones our world labels expensive. Meanwhile there He is, born in us, already in the stable of our lives a living treasure--"A Savior has been born to you."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My war story

We watched a movie the other night that J had recommended--The Valley of Elah, about a father trying to discover what had happened to his son who'd gone AWOL days after returning from a stint in Iraq. It was a movie that kept me awake half the night afterwards, thinking of what happens to our sons when they go to war. And I thought of my son. In the years since J's presence in my life, I've seen many war movies, beginning with Platoon, which I saw a mere weeks before his birth. That was a memorable experience because the baby jumped every time a gun fired on screen. I don't know if you saw that movie, but if you did, you'll realize what was happening to me in that movie theater. Beve and the young male college student we'd taken with us to the movie both ended up touching my stomach because they couldn't believe the way he was flinching from those explosive sounds. I think it was only our hands on my belly that kept me from fleeing. Looking back on it, I can't believe I stayed. What on earth was I thinking to expose my baby to that horror? My baby son and war--

Twenty years later, which would make it last June, that baby son walked into my house and informed me that he had joined the marines. I was sitting exactly where I am right now, and as I write this, I can instantly feel the same tears that clouded my eyes, and the same fall off the cliff in my heart. I could barely speak. J believes in this country and its military as protector of the world. He believes that military service is a prerequisite of public servants, and though he doesn't know what his highest ambition might be, he didn't want to disqualify himself from anything at the age of 20. And he knows that his parents do not share these beliefs. He knows particularly that his mother is pretty close to a pacifist. He knew this that day when he walked into our living room, already having made the decision. Made it without discussing it with the Beve and me. There was much discussion in the next few days, though, I can tell you that. When he took the military test and got such a phenomenal score that the marines swore him in on the spot--telling him that it didn't matter that his dad had made him promise NOT to do that. When the recruiters wouldn't even talk to Beve or me. We just kept talking. And when the departure date was given as a mere two weeks away!!! I was furious, scared and felt impotent. Then J said, his voice a little trembly, "I know you're mad. Will you still write me?" And that changed everything. I became on his side. "NOTHING would keep me from writing you," we said.

But I'm his mother. And I know my son. I know--I KNOW--who he is. What 20 year old enlists, thinking they'll die, or change so much they'll bear no resemblance to their previous self by what they see, do and live through? But I knew him. This was our sensitive son who hurts for the hurting and could never bear to see kids picked on. I couldn't imagine him in war. All the things that are making him a man I am proud of the marines would try to stomp out of him. The world doesn't value what God does. True? But I also didn't want to see J fail. I didn't want him to not make it through basic. I began to pray that somehow God get him out of this in such a way that would surprise and make J feel good about himself.

A couple of days later, I was sitting outside one morning, drinking my tea, when J came out (very early for him!). He said, "I have to call the recruiter. I have to change an answer on my application." He hadn't slept all night, thinking about it. See, years ago, J had a very serious shoulder injury. It left him unable to play sports all through school. He saw specialist after specialist. But on his application, when asked if there were any medical problems that might preclude him from joining the marines, he first said yes, but the recruiters suggested he change the answer to no. But our truth-teller, who had always been a teller of truth (he used to climb into the car after school and tell me every thing he'd done wrong all day, even when no one else knew about it), couldn't live with lying. So he called the recruiter who tried to talk him out of changing that answer. The recruiter was MAD that J would decide to tell the truth. Then, not one but two people up the ladder of command called J also to talk to him about keeping his 'no' answer to that question. But J stuck to his guns. "This shoulder will probably disqualify you from all military service," he was told repeatedly. "Do you want to risk that?"
"I can't live with myself if I don't tell the truth," J said.

We told him he became a man over this. Yes, he was ultimately disqualified from all military service, as predicted. And yes, I belted out not one but a whole Broadway musical of thanks for it. He was changed by this experience. He never held a gun, never looked any death in the face except the death of a dream--and that's been plenty hard. He's taken a long year to try to figure out how to get to where he wants to go without it. But in the end, God was faithful. Did you notice that? He didn't have to go, and it was through his very own strength that he didn't. So I have every confidence that 'faithful is He who has brought J here, and He will also lead him on...'

Sometimes, our very present help in times of trouble is simply remembering that God has been faithful in mighty ways in the past.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ed Jackson

The Beve's favorite character in my novel was murdered by the delete button almost a dozen drafts ago. He was a retired presbyterian pastor who grew up out in the rural community where my story takes place. I wrote everything I've ever wanted in a pastor--deep thoughtfulness, an ability to love, give hope, to listen and not judge. I had him walk into the worst of moments--a family struggling with a father's suicide--and leave that family grace and peace and no solid answers that we could see through with dime store glasses. This was Ed Jackson. Later on, Ed became the best counselor anyone has ever been. He could sit on a front porch and wait out a 13-year-old girl, wait for her to speak, and then quietly help her take the deep, piercing thorn from her heart.
Anyway, ol' Ed got chopped from my story in one of the earliest touches of my editor's hand. And, in some ways, the Beve has never gotten over it. I wonder if it's at all telling that the person Beve likes the most in OA hasn't even been present for most of its incarnations?...Actually, I think the Beve has spent his life looking for a pastor just like Ed. But then, haven't we all? I know I have.

This morning I'm thinking about Ed because in my latest (probably last) revision, it looks like my ideal friends, whose names are Adrianna and Kellen, are facing the delete button as well. They are the kinds of friends I imagine being, the kind who sit with a person in sacramental silence when that's what is needed, who push hard when that's what is called for, whose foibles and quirks make them endearing. I like them, I want to know them, just like I wanted Ed Jackson to be my pastor. And now, they're on the verge of disappearing. Phoof...just like that. Well, not exactly just like that. With sweat, and agonizing tears, and walking holes in my carpet, but, from a reader's point of view, gone as completely as if they'd never existed.

Murdering our babies--that's what Hemingway called revision. I've lived this a long time now. I know it. The Beve still grieves Ed, but I don't even visit his grave anymore. And the same will be true of Adrianna and Kellen. I know that. It's just today when my fingers hover over that button that it's hard--though I can't quite make a case to argue, even to myself.

Interesting thing happened to me, though. A few months ago, we were talking with some friends at dinner. We'd talked about my brother who died in January, my preaching at his memorial service, how hard that was, and how I'd ended up saying I didn't have all the answers, but what I did know was that God loved him... Later, as the dinner wound around--you know how conversations flow with food and beverages, we were talking about my book (of course, eventually, it always comes up) and Beve mentioned Ed Jackson. Our friends asked about him so I began to quote some of his lines, and as I did, I stopped mid-sentence. What I had said--without thought--at my brother's memorial service, were the words I'd written for Ed years ago, then deleted from the pages a few years later. It was a stunning revelation. "Why, you're Ed Jackson," the Beve said. Maybe. Maybe I'm writing my hopes of my own best self. I'm not as good as Ed by a long shot. But I'd like to be. By God--and I say that purposely, as in, by His Holy Spirit--I shall be.

Who do you dream of being? Sometimes (well, more often than you can imagine) people suggest to me that I write about their families/write their stories. And I always say to them, "Only you can write your own story." Write it. Write who you dream of being, and grow into her. Or him. It's a way of getting there, I think. Write your life and see.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Over my head

Thought it was time to come clean. I'm not a type A personality. I know that for sure. I know what they look like. I've had occasion to cross paths with them, but living that way doesn't suit me at all. When I transferred across state-lines halfway through college, I did so with the distinct purpose of going to a Christian college. However, my academically oriented, driven, employed parents felt--rather strongly--were a bit uncertain about me not getting a degree from an 'actual' university. As a result, I went to 2 colleges at the same time, got two degrees--and considering out of state tuition, for the price of four. It was quite the bargain for my parents.

In high school, I' was a fairly average student. Ok, not average exactly, but average compared to some people I know--namely my siblings, many of my friends, alright, most of my home town that is populated by university professors' kids. I just didn't put any effort into it. Did well enough without. You know how that goes. I didn't care about grades. And worse, I didn't care about learning. That wasn't what school was about. And the first couple of years in college, while I was still in town, I continued that pattern. Same people group, same activities, same ministry preoccupation. School was low on the list. Every grading period of my life I'd hear the same lecture from my dad, "You are underachieving. All I ask is that you do your best, and I don't think you're doing that." I'd dread those sentences. Maybe I wasn't. Maybe I was doing the best I could. Maybe it was all over my head...I'd try to say this, and he'd look at me and say, "I know you. I know you're capable of better than this 3.2 you have this term (or whatever it was)." I hated disappointing him, but before I knew it something would come up that seemed more interesting than studying biology or nutrition (are you kidding me? Everything seemed more interesting than studying those things!).

But then I went away to school. Added classes upon classes. Sometimes up to 24 credits (12 at each school, in order to be fulltime and get the best tuition break), which is impossible, if you know anything about credit loads in college. And I really was over my head. But you know what else happened? I figured out that I couldn't put anything else first. That I had too much to do. I had to make a schedule, stick to it, not waste a moment. I didn't have time to procrastinate. I couldn't wait until the night before a paper was due to write it, because there would likely be two others due that day as well. I had to work early, work steadily, and never let anything get ahead of me, or I'd be lost.

And of course, you know how this story ends. It paid off. My grades improved. My dad was right, I was capable of much better, even when I was over my head. Being over my head was, in fact, the best thing that had ever happened to me. It made me realize who I could be, what I was made of.

I'm feeling over my head again these days. Really over my head. I don't know how to navigate this world in which I find myself. I don't want to navigate it, to tell you the truth. I want to hole up in my life and have things go my way. I don't want my house and life to be invaded the way they have been, not just by a single person, but by the army of social services that feels a right and obligation to every aspect of what I considered sacred territory. In the last few days, I've been downright sick--physically and emotionally--with all of it. And there is no let-up in sight. All of my previous experience, my ability to plan ahead, work at my own pace, do things in a slow, clear manner are not helping. Every day I get up and am at the whim of whatever phone call comes.

I feel like I'm back in college, taking 24 credits. Full-time at two lives at once. And I'm not sure how to make a grid for it all. "Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you." That's it. That's all I got.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Doc the Rock

I've known some great fathers in my day. Was raised by one of them, whose presence looms largely over my life and this blog. I'm married to another of them, for whom I daily thank God, for whom our children daily thank God. But on this Father's Day, I thought I'd write about the man who made the Beve the man he is. And, of course, impacted the lives of our children, my father-in-law, Doc-the-Rock. I call him Grampie.

I've always called Grampie a 'roasted marshmellow'--crispy on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. He's the most generous person in the world with his time, hospitality and service but that's clothed beneath the skin of a good Scot who was raised in the depression, who never left a piece of food on the table and couldn't bear to spend a penny more than is needed. Recently he's given up his car at 84, and when others might be whining about the inconvenience after a lifetime of independent driving, he's raving about how riding the bus from one end of the county to the other for a mere .75 or hitchhiking rides from anyone leaving his retirement complex, thrilled by all the money he's saving on gas and insurance. By his preoccupation with thrift, one might think that Grampie is on the edge of being in the poor house, but he and Beve's mom were prudent enough along the way that he should never worry about money! But by the way he talks, you might be tempted to lend him a dollar or two, just to help him out.

Grampie is a great dad, the neighborhood dad, really. The Beve talks about how when he was really little, he would come into the house crying because Grampie was outside with on the bottom of a pile of neighborhood kids, and he couldn't get near his own dad. Kids flocked to him, who loved to play. Grampie was a jokester in those days and he passed that on to his kids. The Beve learned well from his dad, that's for sure--sometimes I might like all of them to be more serious, but if you want to laugh, those lumbering giants are the ones you want to be around. Later, when the Beve was in high school, playing basketball, Grampie would wait up for him to return from the long bus rides (where we lived every away game meant a long bus ride!), fix him a full-fledged meal at 1am, to talk over the game and be with his son.

He is the kind of dad who is always--I mean literally, always!--there for his kids when they need it, but doesn't tell his kids what to do, no matter what he thinks of their decisions. His kids haven't always chosen paths Grampie might have chosen, but he listens and keeps his own counsel. There have been times when I've wanted him to tell one of them a thing or two--see, I come from a family where advice is dished out, asked for or not, wanted or not. Grampie struggles, hurts and grieves for his kids. Wants the best for them. Calls the Beve and me up and asks me what we think. I tell him--like I say, I come from a long line of 'Dear Abby's'. But then he ponders and waits, and finally, when he's suffered, he might carefully speak to his adult son or daughter what turns out to be wise, wise words.

And he absolutely loves every one of his nine grandchildren. He's just plain crazy about them. He'll call me up full of excitement about something one of them has done--the artistic talent of one of the Finnish granddaughters or the computer expertise of the youngest grandson or the great career potential of our oldest child, and anyone listening would swear that child was his favorite. He just raves about these kids. He's awed by them, and doesn't care who knows it. He never told us how to raise them, never complained to us about their behavior, just enjoyed them. When they were little he let them crawl all over him, found great projects for them to do at his house, and took them on great outings. This from a man whose own father refused to come in from the backyard when Doc came home to visit with his family of four children because Doc had two more children than the old man thought were appropriate.

In large part, Grampie's to thank for making the Beve the father he is, and I honor him for that. He learned nothing about being a dad from his own father, but somehow he became the kind of dad and Grampie that every man should be. He's elderly now--confused enough that he tells the same stories over and over, loses things by the hour, drives us all crazy. You live long enough, and dementia hits just about everyone. We tell our kids that if I take after my mom and the Beve takes after his dad, they'll be calling each other up daily, saying, "What are we going to do with them now?" But Grampie's still a man of integrity, goodness, and humor who taught his children and grandchildren those values.

It's not a hard step to get from Grampie to Father God. The way he'd do anything for his children, the way each of his grandchildren is his absolute favorite, the way he lets us all make our decisions without telling us what to do unless we seek his advice but then is so wise. No wonder the Beve and his siblings came to Christ so early, they'd already known a father like that. I am sooo glad. Thank you, Grampie--have a happy father's day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The deck came tumbling down

We hosted a last day of school barbeque for about 60 people this afternoon. By hosted I mean, we provided the house, bowls, garbage bags and deck. Oh yes, we provided the deck alright. And after about 30 of those teenagers managed to crowd onto it, while I was down in the yard throwing for Jamaica so she'd calm down a little (I know sounds counter-intuitive, but I know my dog!), there was a sudden crack or pop, and the deck dropped. All the conversations came to a single crashing halt as well, and then there was a pop of noise as 30 high-pitched voices immediately retold the last few moments--I like that we humans always instinctively tell each other our stories, even to people who are living those moments with us. I shook my head, walked into the house to find Steve, and when I came back outside, all the kids were standing down on the grass.

We've known for a year that we have to replace our deck this summer. It's on our 'to do' list, actually. Just yesterday--literally yesterday--the plan and materials list came in the mail. Our delivery date for the lumber is June 20th. So that the deck is 'soft' and bouncy in places is not news to us. The places where people shouldn't walk, we've just strategically placed tables so no foot could step through the boards. We thought we had it covered. Apparently we were dead wrong.

After the party when we went out to check the damage, it was clearly tilting away from the house and toward the yard. So the Beve got down on his belly (and Maica puppy thought it was quite the game and joined him immediately!) to check the beams holding it up--and discovered they're too thin and too far apart. The deck was poorly built. My engineering father (who built more than one deck in his life) would be turning over in his grave, if he had one to turn over in! All this time we thought the worst of the problems were those we could see, when, as bad as those were, they were only cosmetic.

I stood there looking at the steps that no longer line up, thinking of how those kids could have been hurt, how we could have been sued (I know, I read the news), knowing we procrastinated last summer (rather chose to remodel our bathroom instead!), and shook my head. If we hadn't already planned to do this, we'd have to do it now...

It's the simple thing to say that the foundation must be solid in order for the structure to be firm. This is both true in the physical world and in the spiritual world. But building a solid foundation, and keeping it solid after it's been lived on for a while--those are the keys to living on a deck. And the keys to most of what we do in life, when you think about it. Marriage, parenting, certainly life in Christ. Of course, you can't keep something solid if it wasn't solid to begin with. But you can start over, break it down and rebuild with better materials--right on the same footprint. I love that. We always have the chance to build from where we are. Right now. It isn't too late at 50, for example, to shore up my foundations--not with the Beve, not with my kids, and not with Christ.

Now I'm not an engineer. I don't know how to even build a little deck. And to tell you the truth, I'm not very good at thinking in terms of lists and 'how-to'. It's too dry and systematic for me. But for some people, that materials list, that pile of lumber stirs their blood. They see those concrete blocks and can hardly wait to get hot and sweaty setting them in place. And theologically, I tend to live more intuitively than objectively. I can't stand bullet points that all start with the same letter of the alphabet. Like, the Christian life involves confession, commitment, community. Things like that--they really annoy me. They just miss so much, I think. But whatever helps you build your deck, build it strong enough to live on, strong enough to hold a whole community along with you--that's what your goal, your life with Christ should be about. Just picture it, our lives in Him, strong enough to hold whoever He walks through our doors. Whoever He walks through our door, we'll entertain because we're strong enough to hold them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer vacation

The sun is out today! BIG news here in the Northwest where I live--I'm talking BIG! Lately we've been having March in June, if you know what I mean. There's still fire burning in our pellet stove, still sweatshirts on our backs. Baby, it's cold outside. Sure, there are June flowers blooming--the rhodies and perennials are waving magestically in the wind--they don't realize they shouldn't be poking their heads out in such terrible weather. They bloom by the calendar, not by the weather. And we got out the patio furniture a few weeks ago, set it out, looked at it longingly, then hurried back in the house before we got frost bite. Apparently, we do certain things by the calendar as well.

Meanwhile, oldest daughter E called me from Las Vegas where she's working the Olympic Trials wrestling tournament this weekend. She was lying out by the pool over her lunch break--the temperature was in the 90's. I almost hung up on her.

Now I love all the seasons, really I do. I like winter in December, when the first snow falls and everyone presses their noses to the windows, then drops what they're doing to run out and play in it. Most of us become children at the first snowfall. And I love the winter days when the air is cold and biting, the sky is brilliant blue and the sun shines so brightly the snow glistens like it's made of tiny diamonds. A couple of months later, I love the hope and promise of the first buds of spring, the array of color with which God paints the flowers and even the gradations of green that I can see just from my own backyard. And I love the crisp change of that green to brilliant hues of orange, red, vermilion, puce that happens half a year later in autumn (and what a beautiful word autumn itself is!), when trees rain those colors all over the world. I really love them. But summer--I crave summer. The heat, the glistening water, the burgeoning growth of the plants, the approach of harvest--it's all summer. The best time of the year for me.

I think it's the freedom from school--can you tell I'm excited that the Beve gets out tomorrow? When I was a kid, we'd throw off our school clothes that last day, climb into our brand new swimming suits, and ride our bikes at laser speed down the hill to the outdoor public swimming pool, and only get out of the pool in time to go back to school in the fall. OK, so I exaggerate. But just barely--I do know my fingers were wrinkled all summer long, my skin was brown as a berry (whatever that means) and my feet were tough as leather from going barefoot. And all without sunscreen, just so you know! And I loved it. I lived for it. Every moment, every day. I do remember being at the pool on the first day it was opened every year and the last day before it closed, I was on the swim team, did synchronized swimming, and in college, was a life guard for four years. I guess you could say, Rainey Park Pool was my summer home. But I also swam in lakes, the Sound, the ocean--you name it, if it had water, I was dipping my toes in it.

There's something about summer that changes how I look at the world. Do you remember this? It's the freedom from routine. Opening car windows and letting the breeze flow through our hair. It's the smell of chlorine--or lake water, or salt water--on bodies, and not caring about having to look 'just so,' and just plain being comfortable with yourself, for better or worse. It's about living as though you have all the time in the world to do whatever you have to do. Now I know that most of us in the grown-up world don't have long summer vacations anymore. And most of you have 'to do' lists that are longer than your right arms, and more important than I can imagine. I'm sure I can't understand the pressure you're under every single day.

But what if, what if, just for a day or two, we lived as if it was summer vacation? I mean, what if we really jumped in a pool somewhere for a moment, floated on our backs, and let God hold us up? Sometimes I think that we get so caught up in what we ought to do that we forget that that's how He wants us to live--floating in Him, letting Him hold us up--being comfortable with ourselves in Him, just as we are--just the way He made us. What it we lived like this all the time? Maybe, just maybe we're approaching life like we have to do it all, and He wants us simply to live--live whatever He's called us to live, with whomever He's called us to live with, doing whatever He's called us to do--like it's summer vacation.

"Consider the ravens" They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will He clothe you--you of little faith!" Luke 12: 24-28

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A teacup and tablecloth

There's a tea cup in my china hutch from a woman named Zula Cott. Zula lived in Springfield, Oregon when the Beve's parents were young and living on M Street right near her house. She was already old then and took a shine to this tall, stately young couple, popping out kids. By the time the Beve came along, the 4th in five years, she was praying for those larger than average children. But what am I saying, average? The Beve and his brothers and sister were so much bigger than average their mother was once called up by the local theater owner for sending the Beve down with only 75 cents to get into the movie, when the 12 and over price was 1.50. Beve's beautiful and always honest mother told him a thing or two. The Beve was 9 years old. Yeah, those kids were tall, alright. When the Beve got his Eagle scout in my Dad's troop, he towered over my 6' tall dad. Beve was all of 15 then.

But I've gotten off track here. Their height can do that to a person--mesmerize you. It's just so overwhelming, especially all of them at once. Beve, at 6'7", is the shortest male of the bunch. And I think old Zula Cott was a little mesmerized by this family of giants, even back when only the parents were tall, and the four kids were just 'young punks' as their dad liked to call them. And Zula? She loved Jesus, loved Him so much she wanted the whole world to love Him. So she prayed for Beve and his family. I guess you could say she prayed them straight into Jesus' family. The towering giants moved away from Springfield--away from M street, away from Zula Cott. They moved up to Eastern Washington, to the Palouse. From one University to another, so the Beve's parents always called themselves "Webfooted Cougars" (which struck a chord with me, because 15 years after they moved northeast, I moved southwest to Eugene, and finished my education where they'd begun theirs). But no matter where they lived, Zula never stopped praying for those tall children, never stopped asking God to draw them into His family.

Ten years later, Beve, then his siblings each in their time, opened their hearts and lives to the King of glory, invited in the One who was seeking them. And they have Zula Cott to thank. A little old lady for whom nothing was in it but jewels in her crown. But come to think of it, that's plenty!

And right across the street, as the Beve was coming into the Kingdom, I was living in a house with two parents, five siblings and one blind grandmother. And my grandmother also loved Jesus. By the time my grandmom moved in with us, I knew Jesus. I loved Him. But when I think of someone praying for me, I think of her, down on her knees beside her bed late at night when I came home from wherever I'd been. No lights would be on in her room, of course, but I could see her in the streetlight, and always said goodnight. "Goodnight, honey," she'd say, and go back to talking to Jesus. Talking to Jesus about me, about my siblings, about all those she loved--praying them into the family of God. But all the years before--all the years of my childhood--she'd been praying as well. In fact, I'm willing to bet that all the years of my mother's childhood she was praying for my life too--before I'd taken a breath or had a name. With every tablecloth she croqueted, every quilt she quilted, every pie she baked, she was praying for my life--and the lives of my also unknown siblings. And, though she only met one of them and only as a very tiny baby, she prayed for the lives of my children. Because she was a pray-er. First, last and middle, she lived her life in prayer.

I woke up this morning thinking of these women. Thinking of these old women saints praying us into the Kingdom. Thinking of the rock solid truth that behind every person standing in His presence is someone else on their knees who prayed them there. There were tears on my face without my even knowing I was crying, thinking of the centuries of people in the Kingdom because people pray. Not because people go or do or speak, but because they pray. No one comes to Christ unless someone is praying for them--I honestly believe that. If you're in the Kingdom, someone prayed for you.

I lay a fancy croqueted tablecloth on my table, place a red, cream and gold teacup on it, and sit down for a cup of tea. Invite Jesus to join me as I thank Him for these women who gave me such gifts. Will you join me? Who was it for you? Who do you have to thank?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fingerprints

The Beve's half Norwegian. Yep, his mom's parents were both from Norway--Stavanger, to be precise. Me? Well, I have some ancestors who came over in the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, but can also trace my roots on American soil back to the 1620s when an Englishman named David Thompson settled on an Island in Boston Harbor that's named, naturally enough, Thompson Island, which just happens to be my mother's maiden name. You can visit Thompson Island now, it's an Outward Bound School, and they give David Thompson the central place in their history(as well they should!). On my dad's side, I'm a European mutt--French, German, English, Scotch, Irish. But all those people wound up in America long enough ago that I'm mostly just American down to my Pledge of Allegiance and Star Spangled Banner-knowing soul.

And I've obeyed this country's laws. The Beve has too. You know we have. Clearly, if you could guess anything, you might have guessed that. OK, I've gotten a speeding ticket in my life--I was late to take a science project made of layered jello to SK, and hurried past an elementary school. The cop who stopped me said he often made high school students write an essay rather than give them a ticket--he thought that a more meaningful punishment. I volunteered on the spot to write the essay and he laughed, but didn't bite. Dang! And once I rear-ended a car on a jam-packed free-way, because a car hit me. The cop said I'd been following too closely! Gave both of us tickets. Dang again! But I'm a law-abiding citizen. And the Beve? He's the straightest arrow you've ever met. He's a Eagle Scout, after all--that's not hyperbole, either.

But yesterday we found out that we have to race down to the police station to get finger-printed, in order to care for V. Interesting thing, this. Now the world allows any old person to take their own child home from the hospital after giving birth. In fact, the only--the only--restriction on a birth parent is that they have a car seat. Sure, deal drugs right next to that baby, speed around the corner away from the hospital with guns waving out the window, but put the baby in a car seat and you're good to go! Who cares if you know how to feed him, diaper, care for her in any fashion? Just get a car seat, mama and the world is yours...

But take a 15-year-old into your home, when you've raised three great young adults, three you-should-be-so lucky-to-even-know-these-people-young adults, and the agencies clamp down on you so hard, you'd think you didn't know up from down, had just cut through the back woods into this country as illegal aliens, and were endangering her life at every turn! See, we've already had not one, but TWO background checks by each of two different agencies in the ten days she's been with us (that's 4 total, for those of you scoring at home!). And still--still--the fingerprints that are already on file because the Beve is a school counselor, and I have worked for school districts in the past don't count--might not be valid. Shoot, we might have run out and robbed someone in the last 4 days since the last background check--we might have wiped clean our finger prints in the last few years; well, we really could have...

I'm telling you, gotta love this country. This country that my ancestors clearly helped found. Clearly left countries to come to in high hopes for. The truth is, I struggle with my country. That's the honest truth of it. When I'm faced with these situations--with overbearing government that makes no sense whatsoever, I struggle. In a few moments the Beve will pick me up to go sit in another waiting room for another unbearable length of time--I've already been told it will go this way. I'm already mad about it--can you tell? And then they'll enter those fingerprints in the system and discover--to their shock and amazement--that they already have our fingerprints on file. Or maybe they won't because why should the right hand ever know what the left hand does. I wouldn't put that past them either.

But the bottom line is that I think of myself as a citizen of heaven first (middle and last, too, come to think of it)..."no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone." Ephesians 2:19-20 I don't think our heritage is nearly as important as our hearts. This means there are different borders in my life than there are on maps. I don't think God looks down from heaven and sees those lines on maps anyway. I think He sees people, and loves them all. I think I have to look at us the same way. In the Kingdom together--some of the household of faith, others who we want to love into his Kingdom.

P.S. Just got home from the sheriff's office. After a wild goose chase to find the right place--the police department only fingerprints in the afternoons, the sheriff department only in the mornings, and God Himself forbid you fill out the form with blue ink, or sign your name without them staring at you!!!--we sat in a tiny waiting room. There were people filing complaints about stolen cars, those wanting to carry concealed weapons, even a sex offender reporting his address change. Finally, one by one, we were called back to have our fingers, single digits at a time, pressed in ink and pushed onto the paper. My fingers were too dry, so on went lotion, the prints covered, and a few do-overs. Can you imagine that job? Standing in a windowless hallway, holding strangers' hands a few hours every other day and pressing them to paper? Not much human contact for all that we were finger to hand. When I mentioned that to the Beve afterwards, he said, "Cleaning septic tanks is a lot worse than that." Leave it to Beve to find the silver lining. He should have told the young woman she had a lot to be thankful for--she could have used a smile.

Maybe you could, too.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Good news, bad news

The Beve called Friday afternoon with 'good news, bad news.' I never really like it when he plays this game; my stomach sinks at the sentence and doesn't come back to sea-level until he tells me 'there is no bad news,' which is sometimes (though not often enough!) the case. Friday though, it was just plain bad news. V had gotten into a fight, and would 'get to' begin summer vacation a week early. My stomach, heart, and just about everything else sank at that one, I have to tell you. It's foreign territory, dealing with this kind of thing for me. If it had been one of our three, I know exactly how I'd have handled the situation--because I've known JESK since they were womb-attached to me. (OK, so I can't imagine one of mine in this situation, that's beside the point!) But this one? I hadn't the faintest. A heart like a rock within me, I drove over to pick her up, stopping to pray with my neighbor before I went, and when I got there, I found a broken-hearted little girl, with a Berlin wall up all around her. And there I was, the only one in the room to help her.

I've known her exactly one week--and have to try to take the place of everyone who's ever loved her. Imagine that. Imagine your whole world being ripped away from you in an instant and being stuck with a bunch of strangers. No wonder she's mad, I thought. There's a faultline of pain right beneath the surface. I knelt down beside her and said, "I'm really sorry about this, but I'm all you've got." And she let me hug her. Then as we drove home, she began to tell me what happened. And sure enough, the crack opened up to reveal pain upon pain that had led to that fight. There are no band-aids for such large wounds, I can tell you that. I didn't even know where to start...

That night I told the Beve how panicked I felt, how out of my element. And he said, "Isn't that great? That's where God wants us." Of course, it wasn't what I wanted to hear. But it's really how Beve looks at life. And it's true. If we only do things that are easy for us, what good is that? Will we ever reach for Him? But if we are out of our comfort zone, we must rely on Him for everything. The Beve says life always comes down to control--our wanting it, fighting for it, having to let go of it. No matter what the situation, no matter what it costs, this is the Christian life. These days, as I feel out of control, I do rely on Him more. Absolutely. It's a good thing to learn--I know this in my head. I would love not to have to learn it in certain kinds of fire, but...fire does the job that nothing else can do. Refining us, making us Holy! Like it says in 1 Peter 1:7--"These have come so that your faith--being of greater worth than gold, which perishes, though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Time

Who taught you to tell time? For most of us, the answer is either a parent or teacher. Me? Well, my mom was a teacher, so teaching us to tell time was one of earliest 'schoolings' we got. You know, the big hand means the minutes, the little hand means the hours, and together they tell us when it's time for Daddy to come home, lunch, 'Captain Kangaroo,' our naps, or whatever we were waiting for. Long before digital watches and clocks, we had to learn to count by five, had to read Roman numerals on some clocks, it was our first skill (along with tying our shoes), but only one in a long, long line of things parents teach us. For example, my elementary school teacher mother taught me how to fix my left-handed penmanship so I didn't get pencil all over the side of my hand from writing upside-down (Beve, also left-handed, still writes that way).

But now, with the gift of Alzheimers, telling time is failing for my mother. The hands on the clock mean nothing to her. She has charts in her room to compare with the watch she wears so she'll know when to go to meals, but she doesn't know what those numbers mean. She no longer remembers why we count in values of 5 with the big hand on a watch; in fact, "she's never heard of such a thing." And those numbers on a digital clock--they don't mean what they should either. She looks at them and wonders why they're there. So she'll get up in the middle of the night, and look at the clock, think she's slept the whole night and see 3:15--but to her it's just a blinking light to distract her. She'll get dressed, go sit in her chair, not even care that it's pitch black out, and see the clock on the big bookcase across from her--3:32--and wonder who brought that thing into her room--that 3:32 that she never saw before. But then moments later, something suddenly clicks in her that those numbers are values of time, and she'll look out the window and know that the world is dark, and she's gotten up in the middle of the night.

To lose the ability to tell time, to lose the value of time, means she sits for long, empty moments while time--yes, time--passes. Not asleep, not thinking, just sitting and gazing out blanking into the space where her life used to be. The activities that engaged her months ago no longer hold her attention because she can't remember when to go, and doesn't know how do do things on her own. This woman whose hallmark was telling generations of students, not to mention her six children what to do, every single day of their lives, can't get out of her chair unless someone tells her. All that education, all that bossiness, disappearing through the holes in her brain.

'Time's awasting' takes on new meaning now. Sure she has good days. Days when she gets out, when the conversations are almost familiar. Yesterday I caught her the very second after she's watched Hillary Clinton's suspension speech on TV, and Mom talked about it. She actually talked about it--it was pretty amazing...at least for the first few moments. But when I asked what Hillary had said, she couldn't remember a word. I was kicking myself for asking even as the words came out of my mouth. Most of our conversations are full of scrambled words and such confusion that I have to try to guess her meaning. She points at things I cannot see, tries to find words she can't pull up, sputters and spits out half-words and phrases that don't make any sense to me. And then suddenly has to go.

Time's up. Because she can't tell time, she panics about it. Thinks she doesn't have enough, time, that is. Worries she'll be late to whatever is coming--even if nothing's coming. And unfortunately not much is ever coming in her days anymore.

This panic doesn't bode well for me, I have to tell you. I'm a prompt person myself. Hate--with a passion--being late. I can see my future and it isn't pretty. But that's not my point. It's about the other kind of time. There's chronos--chronology, or linear time--that Mom is losing. And her choice is limited about that. But then there's kairos, which is 'the time between.' A moment of significance--qualitative time. In a sense, this is ALL Mom has. She only has this moment, every single moment. I'm pretty sure she's not living kairos time--in fact, I know she's not. But what I can learn from her wasting away, her sitting in space, is that I--we--have daily, hourly, momently opportunities for kairos. We have these moments in every conversation of significance, every time we extend grace to others, including to my mother with Alzheimers. None of us, when you think about it, can do a dang thing about chronos. It just passes as relentlessly as the clocks Mom can no longer read. "My times are in His hands," says Psalm 31:15--God is in charge of our chronos. Praise Him for that! But in the between times, how will we live? I hope my moments--my kairos--to mimic Paul's: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."