Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A shower curtain and bubbles

So here's the moment of the day:
This afternoon I decided to take a bath. It's been a hard week, nerve pain-wise, and our jacuzzi tub is great for relaxing me, taking the weight off (it's deep enough that I can literally be weightless in it), so I filled the tub with  bubbles and sank in, even turned on the jets against my aching neck and back.  Ah, luxury.  I was alone in the house, Beve having taken the dogs with him when he went to fill my car with gas.  It's one of our numbered arguments--the Beve, and all three kids, would drive 50 miles past the empty light coming on on a gas gage, whereas I start thinking about a fill-up when there's about a quarter of a tank left.  I've only run out of gas once in my life, but that was a doozy, let me tell you, and NOT something I'd like to repeat--EVER.  It began in rain with my oldest child beside me in Beve's VW vanagan, and ended with E (a fifth grader at the time) having to steer, while I pushed the car out of an intersection on a well-traveled (but unfortunately empty at the time) country road.  I neglected to give her more than rudimentary directions, and apparently I was stronger than I look, because the vehicle ended up in a ditch with E crying, and me futilly hopping in at the last minute in a last-ditch (so to speak) effort to save it.  Then there was some walking in a downpour, knocking on a house and my mother-in-law leaving the two younger, sick children to come and rescue us.  I still have nightmares about the whole thing.

All that to say, I start nagging at Beve that I need gas well before it becomes an emergency.  So off he went, the prince that he is, while I happily floated in my tub. 

About twenty minutes later, the back door burst open, our bedroom door burst open and the bathroom door, not completely closed, swung wide to admit our two dogs, somewhat like small children, looking for their mommy.  And there I was, naked in my tub, the bubbles having dissapated.  Oh, did I mention that these three doors are in a straight line?  And that the tub is completely visible from the street?  Yep.  I grabbed the shower curtain and basically wrapped it around me, and the dogs were peeking around the edge of it, trying to lap the water.  And...my blessed husband, whom I love, I swear I do, whom I'd been yelling for since the first door was banged open, stood there, laughing at me.  Laughing at our curious, interested dogs.  And there I was in all my middle-aged glory.  Not a pretty sight, my friends, NOT a pretty sight. 

But after he drug the dogs out, closed every door, I let go of the shower curtain and sat back, thinking of how I use shower curtains with God as well.  I try to cover myself up, as if He can't see the real me, doesn't know my flaws and flab, metaphorically as well as physically.  Why do I do that? Why do I bother to pretend that I'm better than I am, more loving, less judgmental, more merciful, less selfish than I am?  It seems to me that all the masks and coverings I put on hide no more than that shower curtain and dissapating bubbles.  He looks down on me, sees me in all my nakedness, my made-in-His-image nakedness, and says, "You're the apple of my eye.  You are engraved in the palm of my hand." 

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The girls

We have a full summer ahead of us.  Family from across the country and across the world will bed down at our house over the next two months.  And we have a trip or two planned ourselves.  In acouple weeks, I'm hosting my high school girlfriends at the property my grandparents bought back in the 40s.  I'm looking forward to that weekend.  I love Whidbey, love the large meadow full of apple trees, surrounded on every side by foliage so deep not a single other home is visible.  It's a private oasis just an hour out of Seattle, and I spent part of every summer of my childhood there, in a cabin with no plumbing or electricity (though both were added after I grew up), with a large extended family, learning to cook on a wood-burning stove, and to sew on a treadle sewing machine.  We swam in Deer Lake and in Puget Sound, and went to sleep every night to the sound and smell of kerosene lanterns.  While we were lying in our sleeping bags, the grown-ups in the next room were eating some luscious dessert set aside only for them, and laughing as they played cards and told old familiar stories.

"The girls", whom I'm meeting at the cabin next month are women I've known since before we each had our first kisses, since we were flat as boards and barely interested in boys. Some of us were friends in middle school, where we had slumber parties together on birthdays and borrowed each other's clothes.  In high school we used any excuse we could think of to get together, taking pictures, eating together, doing strange and inexplicable (but innocent) things, like coating our hair with jello in order to make it do what we wanted (in the pre-jell and mouse days, where the only hair product was Dippity-Do).  The only result was that the blondes among us went to school the next day with a slightly raspberry tint to their hair.  There was a ditching class episode that resulted in a few of us being suspended for a day--because we were school leaders, our principal decided to make an example of us.  And there might have been a streaking event too, though I'm not willing to admit it as fact.  But through it all we laughed, told each other our secrets, and generally helped each other grow up. 

And though we went our separate ways in college, the core of our friendship didn't really change.  For many years, we only saw each other at strange intervals, especially class reunions. But we began getting together in the summer about a decade ago, taking turns hosting.  This year, it's my turn.

These women remember me talking about Whidbey from my childhood, but this will be the first time I've ever had friends there.  When I was young I was never allowed to have friends at the cabin because my aunts didn't want me to exclude my cousins (which I totally would have done if any of my friends had been present).  So they're pretty excited about seeing this place I raved about 40 years ago.  Forty years.  Can you imagine?  We pretty much know the good, the bad and the ugly about each other.  First periods, first boyfriends, marriages, babies, and now menapause.  That a whole, whole lot of stuff.

It's not common, I know, to have such old friends, to still be in relationship with people from childhood.  But no matter what the distance between us, these women are part of my geography. They are, I suppose one might say, the gravity; they keep me rooted to the soil of my life.  I love the fact that I don't have to tell them the background of every story, or explain who I--or my family--is.  There is goodness the knowing we have of each other.  And though we're very different from each other now, what we share is a gift. I look forward to our time together each year as deeply as I look back with gratefulness to who they've been in my past.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Stained hands

Did I mention that Beve and the girls picked strawberries yesterday?  They came home with 30 pounds.  Yep, thirty pounds of luscious, large, perfectly dimpled and crimson berries.  The angel food cake was made, the heavy cream was whipped, and we had ourselves a feast of deliciousness.  I spent so much time de-steming, cleaning and cutting berries, my hands were also crimson last night.  We all love strawberries around here--at least when they're fresh and juicy.  Oddly (or maybe not), I don't like strawberries in any processed form.  Not strawberry jam, not strawberry candy, not strawberry popscicles.  Just the fruit fresh and unadulterated.  But around the curve of the week, however, raspberry season opens, and that really makes my mouth water.  I could eat raspberries any way, any time.  And then come the blueberries, which we have right in our own backyard--Beve bought 4 large bushes last summer and though they weren't supposed to bear fruit this year, somebody forgot to tell the plants themselves, because they are heavy-laden, my friends.  Daily as we're out back, throwing tennis balls for the dog, we check their progress--their 'blue-ing up' process. 

And we have one large tomato plant out on our front patio, and it makes me happy just to smell it.  There's an unmistakable smell to tomato plants, evocative of summers past when we had a whole row of tomatoes growing in our garden.  Just this one plant, though, is like the little engine that could--it's huffing and puffing its way toward harvest, with more fruit on it every day (I was happy when I saw the first two; now I can't even count the number of green tomatoes on it).

Wow, I really digressed today.  Just can't help it.  The idea of all these beautiful growing things in our own yard that will feed us in the next few months is a delight to me.  A year ago, I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, about her family's great experiment of trying to eat off their own land over the course of an entire year, only supplementing with VERY local foodstuffs they couldn't grow themselves.  It made me really think about eating in the rhythm of the year, and trying to think about what vegetables and fruits are produced near enough that a refrigeration truck or airplane aren't needed to transport them.  It's an easy proposition in the summer, when our farmers' market is set up every Saturday downtown, where today E bought me three pounds of cherries, many of which I've already consumed, cherries being another fruit I adore. Yes, we're gladly eating off the bounty of our own neck of the woods. 

But I did have a point, when I began to write about the strawberries.  As I was washing off the stain from my hands, I thought of the chapters in Revelation where I've been living lately--chapters 2-3, God's words to the seven churches.  What stands out to me is how stained the hands of those churches were (except for Philadelphia--but I've never actually been in a church like it--my experiences have been in churches populated with just plain folks who lose their first love or are critical or are lukewarm).  Churches full of sinners were those St. John addresses.  A whole lot like our churches.  But in each admonition, each exhortation, all is not lost.  It isn't the size of the sin that will determine that church's fate, but the size of the repentance.  THE SIZE OF THE REPENTANCE. 

It's what God asks of His people.  We tend to categorize people by sins, instinctively turn sin into some kind of hierarchy of evil (if that makes sense).  But from God's point of view, the wrong we've done is far less important than our repenting of that wrong.  In some ways, the Roman Catholic church has it right in the idea of confession, the notion that it's important to get right with God before worshipping Him. We are all asked to confess--to God and, if necessary, to each other.  But at least to God.  However, it's not repentance to simply confess.  "I stole the apple pie from my neighbor's window sill" isn't enough.  What is needed is "I am walking in the wrong direction, God. Please, help me turn around, and walk with You."  It's not just saying we did a wrong, but wanting to turn from that wrong toward right.  Admitting guilt and asking to be transformed.  And..."He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  He takes the stain from our hands, and washes us white as snow. 

I know I don't practice repentance to the degree that God intends.  I don't see it as important as He does.  I confess this.  I repent of this.  I want to be changed so that I can't bear--really can't bear!!!--the stain of sin on my hands, the dye of it across my life.  I want to practice repentance like (ok, this is crude, but it works), like I wash my hands after using the toilet.  To do it instinctively, automatically, with the same strong desire to be clean.  To see repentance as the reprequisite to all communion with God and others.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sand castles

Beve and the girls are off strawberry pickin' (for some reason, it seems right to drop the 'g' when talking about harvesting anything), and I'm out on my back patio, enjoying the sun.  Thinking about the deaths of cultural icons Farrah Faucett and Michael Jackson.  Fame is an odd thing, you know?  Sure, Michael Jackson was a phenomenally talented performer, sure, Farrah inspired an entire generation of haircuts, but their fame made them larger than life. And it's the general public that does it.  I mean, there is a plethora of people who are famous for nothing more than having money and a type of look (think Paris Hilton, who, from what I can tell, has never actually done much besides shop and show up), or have the misfortune of needing invitro to produce a litter of children at once (You know--I know you know--who I'm talking about--J + K + 8), and allow cameras to document their lives.  Then they're shocked, appalled and finally distroyed by the very media that produced them.

And think of Michael Jackson himself.  All that talent (though, to be honest, his voice was too high to ever appeal to me), which seemed adorable, then brilliant, eventually helped turn him into a strange freak of a human who bore very little resemblance to his former self.  The stranger he got, the stranger any of them get, the more they become like car accidents on freeways that stop traffic, mostly because we can't help staring at calamity.  We're fascinated with tragedy, fascinated with lives imploding.  It's why tabloids exist, isn't it?  A record number of people tuned in to watch the parents of 8 announce their divorce?  Yep, just like stopping in traffic to watch bloody victims be carried off on stretchers.

It all re-enforces my conviction that a quiet life, an ordinary life, out of the limelight, away from media, with enough money to live, but not enough money to count on it rather than God, is the best way to live. Fame is dangerous, fortune can kill us.  We begin to think we're something special because of it, entitled to our lives.  When our specialness, our lives are given by God.  All the rest--all the mansions on earth, all the gold records, the TV specials, the cameras on every corner are human inventions.  All a house of cards that will topple at the slightest breeze.  Jesus calls all this worldly acclaim and glory "A house built on sand."  That 'Neverland' of Michael Jackson--the one he was being foreclosed on? It's nothing but a sand castle, when you think about it.  And that's just about the saddest thing of all--that these lives amounted to nothing more than what the tide can wash away. 

Yes, an ordinary life built on the rock.  Let this--not fame, fortune, acclaim or glory--be our aim.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Family

As Beve and I drove across the state Sunday (the kids were in E's car), we debriefed the weekend.  Of course.  I absolutely love driving with Beve.  It's always been a golden opportunity--hours on end with no distractions are the perfect time to communicate about any and everything.  He does most of the driving, for a couple of reasons.  In the days when our children were in two seats behind us, buckled into car-seats, he drove primarily because it was easier for me to move around in the van to meet their needs.  In those toddler days, we often drove in the evenings so the children would sleep.  When I asked our pediatrician the secret to long hours in the car, he told me to wait for the first sniffle, then give them all Dimetapp. And I confess we did that...we called it "tapping the kids."  Worked like a charm.  I shouldn't confess this, probably, but they all seemed to survive it without a Dimetapp addiction, which is something.

But after those early years, they often governed the conversation, when they weren't reading their way across the state.  It's only been in recent years that we sold our last van because we're not carting our kids around.  We've only been sorry we downsized our vehicles a few times. A couple of years ago, we celebrated Christmas on the Oregon coast, complete with a stack of gifts.  J had to drive home alone the evening of Christmas (he works in retail), and we didn't send  nearly enough stuff home with him, so we were like sardines in my Matrix at the end of the week.  I'm not kidding--there wasn't one spare centimeter of space in that vehicle.  I had to drive because we couldn't move the driver's seat back far enough for Beve to fit behind the wheel, and the girls had to sit cross-legged in the back seat because the floor was filled with stuff.  It was truly ridiculous!

These days, when we travel by ourselves most of the time, Beve still does the driving.  I have a very difficult time sitting in one position for that long, and even as a passenger, long car trips are hard on my body. By the time we get home, it takes me at least three days to recover.  And Beve is going deaf in his left ear from Meniere's (an inner ear problem), so if he's the passenger, his bad ear faces the car, making it difficult to converse with him.

Anyway, all that to say, we had a great conversation as we traveled Sunday.  About his work, of course.  About which home improvements we want to tackle this summer.  And, of course, about my family, who we'd just spent the weekend with.  Now every family is disfunctional in its own way.  Beve often quips, "Let's put the fun back into disfunctional."  But my family's disfunction is familiar to me, even endearing.  We're a little more sarcastic than some folks believe is good.  We bring out the same old lines to tease each other with--I tend to be a typical oldest sister, an expert at ordering others around (my older brother, not withstanding).  We can argue about sports teams (my older brother and his family are rabidly anti the University I graduated from, and I try not to take it personally, but really...!), about music (part of my family really loves country music--primarily the ones who actually live in the country), and there are subjects that we avoid: politics, for one--we're a divided down the middle lot when it comes to party affiliation; religion, for another--we're made up of evangelicals, agnostics and Catholics.  And there are subjects we completely agree on: Mom, for one.  We were practically tripping over each other to help her move from car to wheel-chair, to pew and back.  We're united in supporting my sister who has the lion's share of the work with Mom, too.  Sure, we offer her advice--well, her and everyone else in the gene pool.  We were raised by inveterate advice givers (Dad always said, "We'll give you advice, you decide what to do with it"). 

But the point is, we're family.  We know each other's jokes, each other's stories.  And we'll show up for each other's stuff, good or bad.  And that's what it's mostly all about, isn't it.  Being there, I mean. Showing up in kilts, if that's what it takes.  Isn't that it?  Putting on the clothes that says, "I belong to this family."  And isn't that what it means in the Family of God?  Putting on Christ like a cloak, so that the world knows just by looking at us that we belong.  Living in such a way that our very being, our very presence proclaims to our neighbors that we are different, that we have set our minds, hearts and lives on things above.  Even if we don't 'feel' like it, we put on Christ, put on Love, and go out into the world, wearing Him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Country wedding

Home from a wedding weekend in the Palouse.  A farmer/rancher/ kiltish wedding in an old church in a pint-sized town, and a reception in a big red barn converted into an event venue.  Quite the time, complete with horse drawn buggies and wheat-filled centerpieces, a bride wearing cowboy boots, and a groom in a large cowboy hat.  The bride (my oldest niece), a Palouse-country farm-girl with a master's degree, who works in the beef industry,  and her Kansas farm-boy, hog-turned-cattle-rancher groom stood in front of God and everyone and pledged their lives to each other, pledged to make each other the first priority, and to love their neighbor  in the bed before they love the neighbor in the world.  My oldest daughter stood as a bridesmaid, my younger ran her feet to bloody pulps in high-heels as the wedding co-ordinator and we all ate steaks as large as the horizon (and no, thank you, I don't feel like sharing!), and laughed together beneath the rafters.  My family is slightly more citified than my brother-in-law's, and our kilts were quite the contrast to the ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots, but we raised our glasses together in toast, as my nephew encouraged the just created newlyweds to look around the room at all those raised hands. "All these hands belong to people who love you, and are here for you, to support you now and in the days to come."

My niece's wedding day was the 54th anniversary of the day my parents married.  Mom was in attendence Saturday.  When Beve, the Dump and I got to her nursing home to pick her up for the ceremony, she burst into laughter at Beve's kilt and immediately tried to lift it.  I'm pretty sure she didn't know where we were going, and I'm positive that she had already forgotten where she'd been by the time we took her back, but she was there for the moment.  For the photographer, having Mom in the pictures was like dealing with a toddler.  Everyone else simply held their smiles, while he clapped and made faces at her.  Mom doesn't have vision problems, but sometimes now, ever when a person is right in her grill, breathing on her, she can't see them.  Her brain just doesn't tell her eyes what she's seeing.

Just before the ceremony began, my niece and almost husband called the families all together and lit a memory candle for those who weren't present, the ones we wished could be there with us.  It was then that my eyes smarted, thinking of the man who loved his first grand-daughter, who would have smiled quietly at her and given her a long, firm hug.  As we walked back out of the church to await our cue,  I knelt down beside Mom's wheelchair on the front steps of the church, and reminded her that it was her wedding anniversary. "Do you remember?"  I asked her.
She shook her head, instantly crying. "I forgot," she said, suddenly completely lucid. "I thought it was  a dream."
"No, Mom," I answered. "It was your real life.  And you really loved Dad."
"I can't remember," she said.
"It's okay, we all remember.  We remember your marriage, and your whole life." I said. "We are holding your memories for you."
"Oh, I'm so glad," she said. "Thank you."

So it w as a good day.  A day to face forward, honoring the wedding of this lovely new couple.  And a day to face backwards, remembering a wedding we hadn't attended, of the ones who began this family.  How thankful I am for both.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rain

It rained this morning.  Now normally in our rain-drenched part of the world, this wouldn't be worth mentioning.  Indeed, June is almost always gloomy and dark and no one minds being in school most of the way through it.  Our summers usually begin (with something of a whimper) in July, pick up steam in August and are gloriously sunny well into September.  But this has been no ordinary year.  In deep mid-winter, we had snow and sub-freezing weather for quite a spell--long enough that my weeping rosemary died.  The other day, after a fruitless search for a replacement (I use rosemary all the time in cooking!), I finally found some and commented to the nursery owner about my once beautiful trailing rosemary which had died an untimely death in the deep snow.  The owner (60 years old and newly sporting a pierced ear in celebration) told me that EVERYONE's rosemary died this year, and the tiny plants I'd bought were the first ones his suppliers had grown.

But, as usual I digress...my point is, it's been warm and sunny here in the Pacific Northwest, so much that we were all sporting our summer tans (complete with sock and t-shirt lines for my mowing family) by the first of June, and the weather didn't break. Just last night my nephew (visiting from So Cal) told me we'd had 27 straight days of sun.  Twenty-seven stinkin' days, 27 glorious, life-regenerating sun-flooded days.  And I've loved every minute of them, though I have had to water the heck out of my herbs and potted plants (shades of, "What do I look like, a potted plant?"--Name that reference! Hint: think the Watergate congressional hearings).  My flowers are blooming wildly but we sure could use some rain.

So we were sitting in our family room last night, watching "Slumdog Millionaire" when, through the open windows, I heard a suspicious sound.  "Is that rain?" I asked Beve.  "I don't know," he answered.  He'd clearly forgotten what it sounds like. 

And this morning, the ground is clearly soaked, the lawn furniture covers are dripping with water and the blue sky has its own cloudy cover on it.  And I'm grateful for it.  Love the sun, recognize the need for the rain.

There are parts of this world that have gone without rain for a really long time.  Here, we kind of take our cloud bursts for granted.  But the truth is, rain is a gift, and our rain-heavy corner of the world is green, and lush with trees that soar overhead and ferns that cover the earth and enough water to do whatever we need or want only is what it is because of that gift. 

We have to trust the rains in our life, I think. Trust that Father God (and 'mother nature--which is really Him) knows what He's doing in the storms.  No matter how hard the rain falls, there is good in it.  And that makes me glad.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knit hearts

Beve and I had dinner tonight down at the marina, at one of our favorite restaurants with two of our favorite couples. Beve and I didn't get the message that the time had been changed for our meal together, so we were a half an hour early, and wondered if we'd gotten the day wrong.  Then just as we ordered, intent on enjoying the view, the food and each other, we were rescued from our own company by our friends.

 One couple is about to embark on a new phase of their lives in a town a few hours away from here.   We sat there tonight as the sun went down out over the water, and laughed together, reminisced a bit, and generally enjoyed the fellowship as well as the great food.  Our lives have been pretty connected over the years, one way or another.  Our kids were in the same youth group, the husbands were in a men's group together, and in some form or another, we've been praying with these people for the last decade.  Praying for our children, for our spouses, for our church, and very often for our own lives.  Prayingfor people is the life-blood of the Body of Christ.  I've learned this a time or two along this pilgrimage of faith.

Almost half my life ago, I visited a country halfway around the world where an old friend was teaching English and coaching basketball.  Because of one thing and another, I was in that cold, north country for a month just when sunlight began to disappear, not to return until spring.  It was a rather gloomy place, though my friend and his older brother were gracious hosts, and as warm as the missing sun.  During that month, as I watched my old buddy navigate a culture he hardly understood in a language he couldn't begin to speak, I felt the press of the Holy Spirit to pray daily for him. A simple thing, I thought, and it certainly was to begin with.  But as I left that country, traveled south on the trains of Europe, then flew home to Eastern Washington, the impulse weakened.  So I asked God to keep me faithful to those prayers, to wake me from a dead sleep if I hadn't remembered to pray for him during the day.  And God did awaken me some nights. And as I prayed for my friend, an unexpected thing happened.  I began to love him.  At first, it was merely the love of a friend for a friend, but God used those prayers to create a profound agape inside that I'd never felt for anyone before.  My friend was a treasure, I felt.  A man after God's heart for whom I was simply grateful to know.  That he was actually in the world--this was a gift to me. 

You have guessed the punchline, I'm thinking.  This old friend, this boy I'd known since I was 9, somehow morphed into a man I loved.  Really loved.  Those daily prayers became the vehicle for my falling in love with the man God intended for me, the one who's sitting right beside me petting our Springer Spaniel.  It was prayer--not that he love me, but simply that he continue to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel--that was the foundation of our relationship.

And I've been called to pray for others in that same kind of disciplined way.  The daughter and son-in-law of one of these two couples we broke bread with tonight (and it was mighty fine bread!), I committed to praying for for the first two years of their marriage.  Now I didn't fall in love with that young couple as I had Beve, but I certainly love them, certainly feel a connection to them that I don't usually feel to kids of my friends, or friends or my kids (both of which describes this young couple).  It's an investment that reaps benefits not merely for them but for the one who prays--that's what I've learned in the prayer closet.  I've been privileged to be the support for folks, even when they didn't know it.  And that's no small thing.

The other couple, the one that is packing up their beautiful home in the next week or so, I also had a season of praying for.  Unexpectedly, one day as I stood in the shower (isn't it interesting how God speaks to us in the shower?  When we're naked before Him, intent on cleaning off the grime of life?  This is no accident!), I had the strongest impulse to pray for this couple.  The strange thing is that what I really wanted to do that morning was pray for Beve and J. They were flying across the country that day, one day after Beve had spent ten straight hours in J's dorm room, spinning with a Meniere's dizzy spell.  I was more than a little worried about the men in my life that morning. But as clearly as I've ever heard God's voice, I heard Him say, "Lift your hands from your family.  Trust me with them.  You pray for this couple."  I physically lifted my hands off the shower wall, unclenched my fingers from the worry beads I'd been figuratively stroking, and told God yes to praying for this couple, these friends who were in the center of ministry, in the center of what would sometimes seem like a firestorm of ministry.

The daily praying for this couple (and for their kids, their areas of influence, etc) knit them into my heart.  There were times when, feeling slightly foolish, I called one or the other of them to say, "I think maybe God has given me this scripture for you..."  To their credit, they didn't laugh at me, listened, pondered, and God did what He did.  I don't remember those scriptures, or the words He spoke through my voice.  I don't know why I should expect to, He wasn't talking to me.  I just had the privilege of listening in as He spoke to them.  Well, I actually do remember one.  I called my friend one day--probably over two years ago now--and said, "This may seem strange, but I think you're moving to T-town."  Both my friend and I tried to figure out how that could be--maybe it was just a visit, just a quite trip to a conference or something.  But here they are, and there they go.   And though I will miss them, I'm here to witness that God has continually moved on their behalf, even when they didn't feel it.  He used them in my life--through the amazing gift of JT's transparent, Holy-Spirit-filled teaching, and through M's inspiring, constant hunger to be more like the Lord, to be faithful in all her ways.  And, maybe He used my little, foolish words in theirs.  Knit hearts, indeed.

I know that for some people, such 'words' seem a little 'out-there.'  Ok.  But I'm here to say that I've stopped trying to limit what/how God will speak or work or move.  He is God.  I am willing to be foolish, if He asks, because the alternative is downright crazy.  And the truth is, I'm grateful that He's called me to pray, full of joy at the love He's given me for those I've prayed for.  The best things happen in a prayer closet!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On my bedside table

Summer has definitely come to our corner of the continent, and I'm thinking of all the books I have sitting beside my bed to read.  Summer's always been a reading season in our family (ok, let's be honest, every season is!).  Almost as soon as school was out, we hit the city library to see what the summer's reading contest would be.  You know the kind of contests I mean, don't you?  After reading a set number of books, each child put her name on a colored-paper car, pinning it up on a bulletin board with a highway drawn across it.  My sisters, brother and I read our little hearts out.  Of course, the Dump always dashed ahead in the contest, partly because she's organized enough that she kept careful track of the books she read, but mostly because she happens to be the most brilliant person I've ever known.  (One of the most amazing gifts God ever gave me was that I was never jealous of this younger sister who did math in her sleep, got perfect grades and had almost perfect recall.  In a different life, I can imagine feeling quite intimidated by this younger sibling, who impressed teachers enough that they stopped me in the hallway to ask if I could possibly be from the same family.  I was always incredibly proud to say she was my younger sister, even though I knew those teachers were shaking their heads over my more average brain in comparison.  An extraordinary gift, to simply be glad she was a genius.)  But I always read through a heaping pile of books myself.  Shoot, you probably wouldn't believe me if I told you how many books I read each week.  So I won't.  Nevertheless, in honor of my favorite activity in my favorite season, I thought I'd just mention a few books sitting on my bedside table.

1. The Rasputin File. Edvard Radzinsky. This is a book J gave me to read, the account of the peasant prophet who had such a strong influence in Russia during the reign of the last tsars, Nicholas and Alexandra.  Intrigue, political manuvering, miracles, lechery, drunkenness and piety all in this one strange man who was at the center of the downfall of the Romanovs and rise of the revolution.  I knew nothing about this story before J gave me the book, and it inspired me to research and read several other books about the Romanovs. 
2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  A much, much better book than I expected from the title.  Written in what is usually my least favorite form: letters--it is the story of the small island between England and France during the German occupation of WWII.  My neighbor lent it to me and I opened it as my plane lifted off from Bellingham Int. Airport and basically didn't put it down until the passengers began disembarking in Los Angeles.  A great--perfect--summer read.
3. Same Kind of Difference As Me. Ron Hall and Denver Moore. The true story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy international art dealer and an almost-slave in Lousiana, and the woman who tied them together.  Written by the men, in alternating chapters, it's quite gripping, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
4. Skeletons at the Feast. Chris Bohjalian. I loved this book.  I loved Bohjalian's Midwives, and this--an entirely different novel, about a young woman from a loyal German family and the family's Scottish worker who is actually a prisoner of war during WWII ( I promise I don't normally read war books). Along with her mother and younger brother, they walk west toward liberation, even though the mother is fiercely loyal to Hitler and both believes in him and disbelieves (for a long time, anyway), the reports of the extermination camps in the east. I've never read a book written from this perspective and it's very enlightening.  Of course the average German family would be patriotic, and likely ignorant of the atrocities going on. 
5. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. Brady Udall.  I haven't begun this year, but this is the starting sentence, uttered by the narrator, Edgar Mint: "If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.  As formative events go, nothing else comes close; my careening, zigzag existence, my wounded brain and faith in GOd, my collisions with joy and affliction, all of it has come, in one way or another, out of that moment..."  Isn't this a evocative opening sentence?  I can hardly wait to see where it goes.

So there you have it.  I'm thinking that as the summer progresses, I'll add to this list, even fill you in on the book-busts, so to speak, the ones I open and can't bring myself to finish.  There are always a few.  I'm not at all afraid to put down a book that makes me yawn, even if critics love it.  So I'll read a few, count my hours and pin my little car to the bulletin board...Say, if you have any great reads, let me know!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Flying irritations

A very long day of travel yesterday.  After a wonderful buffet lunch at my sister's favorite Indian restaurant in Ventura, we went to the beach and sat in the sand, watching the Pacific ebb and flow in all its perfect majesty.  Sigh.  Then she drove to LAX, where I waited for my one-stop flight home.

As I sat waiting to board, I tried to read.  However, there was a major disturbance right by the gate I'd have to walk through.  A two-year-old little girl, who in other circumstances would be completely adorable with her nappy hair pulled into several springy pigtails, was throwing a fit.  Crying, screaming and literally pounding her arms and legs on the floor, when she wasn't hitting the young man holding a doll over her head.  it's pretty hard to concentrate with that kind of noise going on, even when the book is as compelling as The Rasputin File.

I boarded the plane, sat down in my seat and watched as this young man and his now loudly talking and pointing little girl walked past me.  As more and more people filed on, it became clear that I was alone in my row--not a sorry state of affairs.  But just before the doors were shut, inexplicably, an attendant helped this young man and two-year-old move into my row.  The young man said, "I'm taking her back to her mom...not a moment too soon, either."  The little girl was his daughter who doesn't normally live with him.  He'd taken her to meet his mother in LA--a mother who, he told me, hoards plastic bottles and aluminum cans in her house so that the house always looks like a recycling center, with every surface completely covered.  His daughter allowed for our conversation just so long, then just after take-off, became louder and louder, her voice indecipherable to me, now that I'm not fluent in baby-talk.  Then the talk became yells, then screams.  About that time, my nose began to drip, and I grabbed a kleenex...and discovered that I was having a bloody nose. In the middle of trying to tip back my head, holding kleenex to my nostril, block out the baby's screams...another passenger tapped me on the shoulder and told me that the seat behind her was completely vacant. Without another thought, I dropped the kleenex, grabbed my stuff and moved.  Fortunately, the seats on Alaska airlines are leather because by the time I moved into my new seat, there was a drop of blood on the middle seat.  Sigh.  I managed to get my nose to stop bleeding about the time the crying two year old was joined by two other toddlers also screaming hysterically.

It was a relief to land in Seattle, with just enough time to catch my flight home.  As I waited, one rather large purple-shirted man was holding court in the waiting area.  His voice carried to all and sundry whether we were interested in his job, his vacation in Hawaii, his great investments or not.  As I walked to my flight I was happy to note that purple-shirt walked up the front stairs while my seat was in the back, requiring me to enter from the back door.  However (you know where this is going, don't you?), when I entered the plane, looking for my 20A seat, who do you think was sitting in 20B?  Right first time.  Turns out the man across the aisle (whom I actually recognized as someone who used to go to our church, was once the employer of one of my friends' daughter--and quite a difficult employer at that) is also an entrepeneur, so they  engaged in what was essentially a pissing contest (as boys of all sizes are wont to do!).

The good news...the really good news is that all these kefuffles completely, utterly  distracted me from feeling panicked about flying.  Isn't that great?  Not exactly the peace I might have wished for, but I really sensed His peace in it.  Not the peace the world wishes for, in which there is no conflict, but His peace, that overcomes the conflicts.  The peace that transcends human understanding.  My greatest fear completely overcome by things that most people would only see as irritating.  But that's God for you.  Never working the way we might expect, but working none the less.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Weather, winds and word choices

Got off the plane in So Cal yesterday to overcast skies and drizzle.  I somehow never manage to pack correctly to come to my sister's, even after checking with Accuweather before I load my suitcase.  A few years ago, we flew down here on Christmas Day (just about the time, across the international date line, that a tsunami was creating havoc and destruction in Thailand--we didn't get the news until a couple of days later in this TV-free zone that is my sister's home), and it was cold and pouring.  Record-setting rain, in fact.  SK and I had brought clothes for sun, and had to run to Target for sweatshirts, which we wore every second for the entire week.

Up in western Washington, it's a record-setting start to June--highs in or close to the 90s.  Last night when I called home, Beve was still out watering our pots, at almost 10 PM.  We aren't in Alaska, where the sun refuses to set this time of year, but we get used to living and playing outside until 10.  There have been many times when The Dump has called me, shocked, because down here it's night three hours earlier.

So last night we went to younger nephew's band concert.  K2 (both boys are K--K1 is graduating, K2 is finishing 8th grade) plays the tuba, well enough that his parents and trombone-playing older brother are a little disgusted, because K2 doesn't practice.  K1 is a fine musician but he's also quite disciplined at daily practicing.  Anyway, dump and I sat at this concert laughing hysterically, while making sarcastic remarks about all and sundry.  Loving every judgmental minute of it.  Most of that judgment was aimed at ourselves, but honestly, not all of it.  There were gifts for the parents who have been involved in the 'band boosters' this year, and though the Dump pretended to rise at one point, she was never in the running for parent of the year...She chose the 'if you give 100$ to the band, you don't have to do any fundraising' route.  I've been a fan of that route myself a kid or two over the years, but Dump's a grand master at it.  Once, years ago in pre-cell-phone days), she got a phone call from my oldest, just asking her to call back.  Dump was so certain E was going to ask her for a pledge of some kind, she didn't return the call for two days.  Imagine her chagrin when she discovered that E was calling on my behest, while Beve and I spent our nights in the hospital with SK, who's appendix needed removing.

But as often the case, I digress.
The band teacher was irritatingly verbose.  He liked to hear himself, I guess. He spoke of how difficult it is to get beginning band members to focus for their first period rehearsal, how he was sure the concert would be a failure until just this last week, but he hoped they might actually pull it off.  Spoke, pointedly enough that I wanted to rush home and get out my clarinet, of the need to practice in order to improve.  Then said, "But I'm going to miss these kids a ton."  A ton?  One of my least favorite modifiers.  Is he implying that he wants them fat and happy musicians?  It is a measurement of weight, isn't it?  Does he want them to stay around and sit on them the way, back when she was called 'husky', the Dump used to sit on my older brother?  I'm sure R really misses that 'a ton' too.  The band teacher, complete in tails, also said, "But now they're doing really good," which seriously sets my teeth on edge.  I know, I know, people use this phrase all the time, but it's incorrect.  There's no other way to say it, good is wrong in that context.  The proper word is 'well.'    Or perhaps fine, but not always.

And at the end of every talking interlude, he'd say, "That's all," as he turned off the mike.  Kind of like saying, 'the end,' after conversing with someone, or maybe, "over and out."  I'm sure none of these things, which aren't REALLY such big deals, would have made us giggle, if I hadn't been so blasted tired.  I got up at 4 AM yesterday, after all.  For Beve, that's just barely earlier than his alarm goes off, but for me, it's a mere two hours after I've finally managed to stop thinking and start dreaming.

At the end of the concert (and the wind ensemble, for which K2 plays, and was given 'Musician of the year' award), the parents clapped lustily and even gave them a standing ovation.  The second to the last piece was gorgeous, but then they played "America the Beautiful" which is fine, but why is it that so many school bands feel the need to end with patriotic pieces? It's like patriotism is the only 'religion' allowed in public schools, if that makes sense.  But the rather un-objective crowd loved it, and just as we were gathering our purses, looking for extra programs to take home, the 'missing you a bunch' director strode back onto stage and they played an encore.  Seriously?  Oddly (or maybe not!), no one stood up after that piece.  I think the parents were looking at their watches and wondering if they'd get home for their 9 o'clock TV shows.

I have to say, I've been to a whole lot of music concerts over the years, but it's been about 6 years since a middle school one.  Last night was highly entertaining, but I'm rather glad to be beyond that stage. But don't worry, my sister and I will find more things to criticize today...or maybe I'll actually catch up on my sleep enough that I'm more merciful.  If not, I'm blaming it all on her--like I've been doing ever since I learned to talk.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Out of my comfort zone

On my way to Southern California tomorrow...leaving here at the obscene hour of 5:40 in the morning.  In fact, I'll get into LAX about the time I wake up most days.  And I'm NOT a morning person.  Have I ever said that before?  And for someone who's terrified of flying I sure seem to do a whole lot of it these days.  Sigh.  So, up to early, spending my morning on a plane, then my 18-year-old nephew will pick me up and drive me up to his home town on crowded So Cal freeways.  Yep, tomorrow I'm pretty much spending the entire day outside my comfort zone.

When I confront such things, I always have to take a deep breath and realize that this is a good thing.  Living outside my comfort zone, I mean.  I spend too much of my time doing what I can control, being the boss of house and husband and life. Fortunately I have a calm, stable family who tolerate my idiosyncrasies; yes, my failings pretty well.  Living with someone in chronic pain is no picnic for the family, I can tell you that.  On the days when just getting vertical is difficult, let alone doing anything else, they bring home Mexican food or pizza and don't complain.  When Beve has to take care of the yard and garden, the dogs and laundry after spending his day with needy kids, he rarely complains. I often think I don't deserve him...

The other day E was telling me that one of the classes she transcribes lectures for is an anthropology class.  The prof was saying that marital happiness is related to the age of people when they marry (older is better), and, interestingly enough, whether the household chores are shared evenly between the partners.  E said she realized what a unique home she grew up in--there are few things Beve won't do around here.  He likes cooking better than I do, loves to shop (go figure!), is johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to laundry and the garbage, takes care of the cars, and is quite the hand with the vacuum cleaner.  I've long said he's a better wife than I am, and I'm not kidding (though he really doesn't like me saying it, sounds weird to him, so don't tell him!). 

When I'm feeling most insecure I wonder what I bring to this family.  In the old days, I took care of a whole lot more, but these days, it feels like I'm ballast. 

You're waiting for a 'but', aren't you?  Well, not tonight.  Tonight you just get my honesty.  I'll go away for a week, and when I return, having had great conversations with my sister and her kids, having feted the graduate, seen artifacts from Pompeii, maybe dipped by toes in the Pacific, I'll be better, will sense a different hue about my life and usefulness.  Til then, see ya.