Monday, August 31, 2009

The worst thing I ever did

There are a whole lot of things on my mind tonight.  And most of them I can't bear to write about.  It's like that sometimes.  I get frustrated with people, situations, attitudes, which is ridiculous, if you think about it: I mean that I have a bad attitude towards people who have what I consider bad attitudes about situations or people.  There are folks who would rightly call that being hypocritical.

I am a hypocrite.  And what's more, so are the rest of you.  I always find it a bit strange that being a hypocrite is one of the chief criticisms of Christians, because we are no different than anyone else in the world.  We judge what we don't know, judge what we do, and maybe even especially judge others who fail in precisely the same ways we do.  Or maybe it is just me.  Maybe I'm the only one who looks around the world and evaluates others' behavior based on my own failings.  But I don't think so.

I think about all the things I've done, and all those I haven't done.  I look back over the half-century in which I've been making mistakes, acting unjustly, doing wrong--sinning--and think it's a pretty ugly record.  As the Psalmist says, if my sins were counted against me, I couldn't stand.  If you asked me (and I trusted you enough) I could tell you the worst thing I've ever done (from my point of view), the things that make me shudder to remember, the things that were mean, petty, cruel, and it's no wonder that anyone might call me a hypocrite.  I am every bit as 'bad' as my worst sin.  But that worst sin isn't the worst from God's point of view.  Or it is and it isn't.  The lies I told, the gossip I spread, the things I stole (as a middle schooler!), the bad attitudes I've held onto--these are merely the symptoms of the true sin in my life--my selfish, prideful sense that I am the center of my own universe, rather than God.

The worst thing I ever did put Jesus on the cross.  But so did the plethora of bad attitudes, unrighteous anger, critical spirit, and soooo many small things I have excused or rationalized or justified.  It's all of them.  Or one of them.  Yes, just one of them, the smallest thing I don't even think of, is enough to call me a sinner.  And the worst thing others do--the worst thing anyone has ever done--if repented of, is forgiven.  Completely, utterly, no-holds-barred forgiven.  If the worst thing I ever did put Him on the cross, the worst thing I ever did was to put Him on that cross.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that, "The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, 'who has know the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ."
We have the mind of Christ.  The mind of the crucified Christ.  The mind of the one who knew what we were and and died for us, anyway.  We toss around the word grace a lot, but doesn't having the mind of Christ mean we extend grace toward all those who have done the worst things?  Even them?  Even those who continue to make bad choices, live in their sins, and rationalize their behavior?  Too those who (like us) are culpable for putting Him on the Cross?

So, what's the worst thing you ever did?  Hold that in your right hand, and His blood-stained cross in the left.  Then open your right hand and let it go!  But that left hand? It's the only thing worth holding--against yourself or anyone else.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The last word

Memories are associative for me.  For instance, I hear songs on the radio and am instantly thrown back to a moment when such a song had particular meaning for me.  If I happen to hear the 70s song Mandy, by Barry Manilow (which I don't very often), I remember a summer spent painting curbs in my home town.  When American Pie is the background music in some store (or dentist office, where I actually did hear it), I remember the first time I heard it, riding in a car down the Lewiston Grade on the way to a football game my freshman year in high school.  And when I hear Neill Diamond's Sweet Caroline or James Taylor's Going to Carolina in My Mind, I think of college and the boys who used to sing them to me, corny as that sounds.

 So yesterday because I spend simultaneously watching the memorial service for Ted Kennedy, and working on a new quilt for E, Kennedy's life will be forever associated with E's quilt. This may seem a very odd connection, but we can't always govern where our mind goes, how it responds to stimuli.  But I'll tell you, there is plenty of time to think while quilting with only the tv and our dogs for company.  And there was a great deal to ponder as I followed that funeral processional from Boston, Massachusetts to Arlington, Virginia.  I've thought of the frailty of men--the frailty of a particular man--and the ability, the drive to live with one's failings, to live beyond them, in fact.

When I was a little girl, back in the early sixties when Teddy's older brother was president, I felt a visceral connection to JFK and his family.  See, Caroline Kennedy was exactly my age, and we shared a name.  I was six when he died, and it is one of the first non-personal memory I have.  I remember being out at recess in Ypsilanti, Michigan and having the news trickle across the playground.  After recess, when my first grade teacher told us the president had died, she cried.  When I went home from school that day, our black and white televison was on, and didn't get turned off until after the the casket was lowered into its resting place on that hill across the Potomac from Washington.  Later, my parents bought a commemorative book about the assassination and I turned its pages so often I practically memorized it. Five years later, our tv was turned on again when the next Kennedy brother was shot in a Los Angeles hotel.

But aside from how Caroline captured my imagination, and those television vigils, the Kennedys didn't mean much to me.  But I have to say that these last few days, as I've read about Teddy Kennedy, and watched the latest death coverage by our media, I've been increasingly impressed by the youngest of those brothers.  Not because of his politics but because of his character.  This is a more publicly flawed man than most.  His failings have been well-documented, and I have to admit, I allowed those flaws--those sins--to color how seriously I took him.  But here's the thing, this is a man who knew and lived with those sins.  But one who also knew he was forgiven.  He believed in the gospel, carried his crosses, and was transformed by them in the best possible way.  At the burial site yesterday, as dusk then darkness fell, just steps away from the eternal flame, a letter was read that Teddy wrote just a few weeks ago to the Pope.  In it he wrote that he lived every day determined to become a better man, to live by his faith.  To live larger than his sins.

I was hit very hard by these words.  Though we might believe in forgiveness, it's also easy to point fingers at others whose sins are writ large across the news.  Pastors who sin, politicians who fail. Neighbors who make messes out of their lives.  But the life of this scion of an American political dynasty reveals that it's possible to live better beyond such sins.  His is a Kingdom story.  It is all of our stories.  Or can be.  Though perhaps we won't fail as spectacularly as Teddy, most of us probably won't impact our country in such a profound way either.  And though this man was more liberal than I am, and far, far more liberal than most who read this blog, in these last days after his death, I have come to admire him--for all the small, unseen ways he ministered to his world.  The weekly reading he did with second-graders at an inner-city school in DC, the thousands of letters he wrote to people in his constituency who'd lost loved ones to war, terrorism, disease.  His great privileged life propelled him to care most for those who could do nothing for him other than cast a vote--or not.   

It makes me take stock of how I impact the world, or even my corner of it.  A life of service is a Kingdom-come life.  It is the Kingdom life He calls every disciple to.  This is the legacy we should all endeavor to leave.  To live our lives knowing we fail, but believing in resurrection, believing that sin is never the last word--for ourselves and for all those we come in contact with.  The last word is our very own resurrection life, the one that begins the moment we take the leap across the chasm of sin and death, to the bright life on the other side. 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Plundering the Egyptians.

A couple of days ago, a young man looked around our living room and said, "I don't read much.  The only things I might be able to read are books about how to make money investing or other practical kinds of books that I could apply to my life.  But novels?  Why would I want to read about fictional lives, when my own is so interesting."  As I write that, I'm aware that this makes the young man look self-involved and superficial, which he in no way is.  Nevertheless, his words instantly categorized him in my mind as 'other.'

Far be it from me to criticize such an attitude toward 'stories', because Beve, my very own, beloved Beve, is also not inclined (though not entirely opposed) to reading novels.  Beve would say that he doesn't have time, which is an indication that he isn't drawn to fiction.  Of course, he also tends to attempt reading at precisely the wrong time of day for his body's daily clock--when he gets into bed to sleep.  Beve has always had the problem (or ability, depending on one's point of view) of falling asleep easily and quickly, and reading is as good as a Tylenol PM for him. For Beve, an early riser who greets the sun as it rises most mornings, reading at dawn would be a much better idea.  That is, if he was actually interested in doing so, and most of the time, he is not.  Having lived with him a long time, I've gotten used to the fact that if I've read a great book, a life-changingly great book, and believe me, I've read many of those in my life.  In fact, it's just possible those very books have taken up residence on every available wall of my house, and, if I had a 100,000 dollars or so, I'd put on a whole second story with soaring walls in order to be able to add to this volume of volumes, very few of which I'd expect Beve to even crack open, let alone read.

This, I think, makes Beve, and our insurance agent (the young man in our book-filled living room), 'other' than me.  I cannot imagine a world without fiction.  A world without other lives in which to first (and foremost) I simply enjoy, and find myself falling into as if the characters had actual addresses, actual lives, (I just read a review of a book that began with a quick antedote about the reviewer's mother who once prayed earnestly and lengthily for Irwin Chance, and then his older brother Everett, then began laughing hysterically when she remembered that these are characters in one amazing novel--which I knew the second I saw the names, but won't tell you).

But it's also part of reading fiction that  certain truths can be gleaned about life--truths which make me more than I would be otherwise.  I told this insurance man exactly this: that reading novels can be 'plundering the Egyptians.'  "Every woman is to ask her neighbor...for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters.  And so you will plunder the Egyptians." (Exodus 3:22) Moses' instructions to the Israelites before they left Egypt to take things of value from the culture in which they'd been enslaved for the last 400 years is exactly what we do when we read these stories of worlds not our own.  There is great value in this practice, truths that God uses to draw us closer to him.  Yes, sometimes those truths are like photographic negatives, where we learn how not to live by reading of how others do live.

I have learned to live with a man who doesn't read, I deeply love this man.  He has been tolerant, even encouraging of my reading over the years--buying or building more bookcases as I run out of room; gently suggesting, but not pushing me, that I cull some of my thousands of books (I think he even laughs at himself for the impossibility of such a cull).  But there are times, like at the candle-chandeliered table of my favorite professor and his wife, when we've talked literature until those candles were stubs and our heads were heavy in our hands, that I've longed for Beve to be more like me.  Longed for him to hunger for literature as I do.

But he plunders the Egyptians in his own way. He has made sport his own, made it the outlet for his creativity, made his passion for it one of God's vehicle to grow him up.  And just as I long to suggest a book to him that he'll actually stay up all night to finish--the Brothers K, Jayber Crow, The Poisonwood Bible, Sparrow, to name a few, I know he wishes I would--was capable of--playing some sport with him--tennis, bowling, basketball (!).  Other. These may be the most significant differences between us, more than the physiological differences, more than the temperamental ones.

And I'm mostly satisfied with that. Yes, I look around my house and wonder that anyone--anyone!--could live a life without books, but we are what we are, made as we were.  What is important, in the end, that we plunder the Egyptians--that we allow God to use whatever He will, in culture, in creation, in others, to teach us about Himself.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nerves

SK left yesterday, Beve went back to work this morning, leaving me with one task of the day.  Well, probably more than one: there is that file cabinet Beve wants me to go through before the weekend, but I have plenty of time for that tomorrow, don't I?  Don't I? It's not even my file cabinet, it's my grandfather who, had death not stopped him in his tracks at 67, was planning to write a naval history.  The other day Beve brought in just one box from one drawer, and instantly overwhelmed me.  And apparently every drawer is stuffed with such things.  I don't exactly know how I'm supposed to sort this stuff, but as Beve said, it is my grandfather's.

But the real task of the day was going to a neurologist.  My once and future neurologist, it turns out.  Years ago, when I began this journey of idiosyncratic neuropathies (which just means nerve pain of unknown origin), Dr. Morris was my traveling companion.  By traveling I mean I drove to the various neurology clinics where he practiced one day a week here in town, until he stopped coming up here, and I had to drive down to Mount Vernon (Washington, not Virginia, in case any of you thought I was driving across the country for a doctor's appointment).  I saw him about once a month for 4 years, while he changed, upped, reduced, generally messed around with medications for me.  For a while there I was taking nine different drugs trying to find a combination that actually made an inroad in the actual pain I felt.  And, of course, there was blood-work, MRIs, Cat-scans, nerve conduction studies (there's torture for you--sticking needles into the nerves of arms and legs, then stimulating them with electricity!), and every test confirmed that my left arm and leg have nerve problems, but discovering why, which for some ridiculous reason, is the one thing I'd dying to find out, seems to be impossible.  The most likely cause happened on my 7th birthday, when I ran across the street without checking the traffic, and was hit by a car, causing my left hip to be pushed toward my backbone.  The resulting scar tissue, as the injury healed, interrupted the nerves or something.

But I don't know any of this for sure.  No one can.  So I'm left with the mystery of cause, and the non-mystery of pain.  But I got tired of taking medications that didn't actually dent the pain, so a year or so ago, I stopped taking them.  And guess what?  Over the course of the last year I became increasingly aware that those drugs actually were making a difference.  I know, I know, I'm a slow learner.  But, and this is no small matter, I didn't actually talk to a doctor about stopping the meds.  So when my family-practice doctor suggested I go back to Dr. Morris, I wasn't completely thrilled.

But back I went, then sat in the hot waiting room for about an hour and a half before being taken to a room.  This after I was called yesterday to see if I could come in earlier.  I'd have been better off keeping the original appointment.  Sigh.  And Dr. Morris, who is nothing if not thorough, wanted me to give him a detailed history of what has been going on with me since I last saw him, in 2006.  Are you kidding me?  No wonder he runs behind constantly.

Needless to say, he wasn't pleased that I'd stopped the drugs (which in other contexts, might make someone throw a party!) and--surprise, surprise!--I came home armed with a new perscription, a two lab sheets.  Yep, here we go again.  He says there are much better drugs available now, ones that have been quite effective with neuropathies.  It's hard to imagine not having this pain or being able to lie on my left side, sit on hard chairs, walk more than a few blocks without my leg giving way.  I'm still a little skeptical, as you'd be if you'd been on this journey.  Beve's a little skeptical as well.  But I've packed my things (my hopes, my fears, the myriad emotions between) and am on the road again.  If my nerves can take it, so can the rest of me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Year

Lots of stress going on around here.  T-2 days and counting until SK returns to college, so there's laundry running, piles forming, lists fluttering on counters, lists in her head...and guests in the house.  Good guests, guests we love and are glad to have around, but they were sleeping on the other side of a sliding door from SK's building panic about what she has to do.  And that panic usually propels her to frenzied packing, or cleaning or whatever else she needs to accomplish, even at 1 AM.

Our guests leave Tuesday night, SK drives away Wednesday morning, and Beve goes back to work Thursday before sunrise (not that he has to, but he's an early riser who always feels there's more to do, and trust me, I'm not awake and missing him at 5 AM!).  So we have to cram the rest of the summer into the next two days.  But what I'd rather do is lie in my bed and hope the pain goes away.  The stress, the pain, the loss I always feel at this time of year.  Something's ending.  And even though something new is about to begin, it's what I'm about to lose that I'm feeling this morning.

For me, the beginning of school has always signaled that it's time to change the calendar.  Growing up with educators as parents, September was our "New Year's", not that snowy winter day right in the middle of the school year, right at the end of our Christmas holidays (that was long before it became politically correct to call those weeks off, "Winter-break", and anemic term for something so full of celebration, no matter who you were and what you believed).  It's a natural rhythm for us to align our brains with the nuts and bolts of our daily calendars.  We all do it, I suppose.  For accountants and corporate business people, the year begins July 1st, though I really don't know why.  It's anathema to me to plan my life around numbers, so the idea of a 'fiscal' year is something I avoid thinking about as much as possible.

For athletes, when a new year starts depends on the sport, and their 'years' (ie, seasons) can be much shorter than 365 (6) days, though I think their bodies age like dogs--for every hit in football, a month is taken away, and every season, they're seven years older than the season before.  That's why they typically only 10 years, and at the end, they move (at least off the field) like a 70-year-old.  Afterwards it's about all they can do to sit on their porches in rocking chairs, with a walker close at hand.  Their faces may be 32, but their bodies are broken.

There are always high hopes at the start of a year--whether that's a calendar, school or sports year-- high hopes and goals and great expectations. For Beve, this year might be the one where something breaks loose in a student and they begin to believe in themselves, believe in the possibilities learning has to offer, believe that there is healing for all the wounds inflicted by others and themselves.  For SK, there's now a house to live in, rather than a dorm, bringing increased responsibility and privileges.  She's a worrier, our Bug is, and this new year will bring many things to worry her: a piano proficiency test, upper-divisions (her vocal test), recitals, plays, worship team, work, a Jan-term trip to London.  Not to mention relationships with old friends and new, with housemates and teachers.  And  finances.  As a student at a private Christian university, finances are always an issue.  I don't know why private = expensive, but it certainly does.  And even though she has great scholarships, great aid, there still seems to be a gap between what she has and what she needs...sigh.

But, as Beve would say, "It's God's problem." This doesn't mean we sit back and hope a winning lottery ticket will float down our chimney.  Recognizing that God is sovereign, that He will provide doesn't mean we're passive in our own lives.  He made us with brains that plan. We pray, and think, and do the work, then lift our hands away from those plans, trusting that He's work in and through and even in spite of our work.  It's a paradox, of course.  Our working and our lifting our hands away from the work, but many, many things in life are such paradoxes.

So a new year, with worries, hopes and dreams sticking out of every box SK packs, out of every folder on Beve's desk.  And out of my empty pockets.  Happy New Year, loved ones; ultimately, may He be all your dreams come true.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The step-dad

I'm probably too tired to write this, but tomorrow we have our final guests (my beloved baby brother and family) of the summer coming, so it's tonight or who knows when...
We spent the day down at the family cabin on Whidbey, with a subset of my family of origin (namely, my two brothers, their wives and a couple of sons), sprinkled with a couple cousins, and an aunt and uncle. We'd all gathered because Baby Brother brought his wife and her sons out to see his homeland, which includes people, places and all manner of frenetic activities.  BB is nothing if not frenetic, a great big boy at heart.  The way he plays with those two step-sons, the way they respond to him.  It's something to see, alright.  This is a man who set up a compass-point Easter egg hunt for them the first year he knew them.  He sets up a tent in their backyard and takes them camping, made a sunburst pillow on the sewing machine (without ever having taken a sewing lesson, as far as I know) for his wife because she likes them (both pillows and sunbursts, I think), and has made this trip west the adventure of a lifetime for these boys. The rest of us may laugh, roll our eyes and wonder if BB will ever grow up, but when I watch him, when I see how these boys respond, delight in him, I wonder if the truth is that the rest of us actually grew up too fast, having forgetten what it's like to be a kid.  BB hasn't, and it's making what might have been a difficult, tenuous relationship with step-kids healthy and fun.

That's not to say there aren't some difficult moments along the way.  Every journey has such moments.The three I carried for nine months and have known since they first opened their eyes have sometimes seemed inhabited by aliens and I'm pretty sure they think the same about me.  We stare at each other across an abyss of generations and cultures and sometimes need a translator in order to understand each other.  The other day we decided that E is fluent in Beve, and SK is fluent in me, so they have to help each other understand what their dang parents are saying.  So I guess it's a good thing they have each other.  But if this is the case with these young adults Beve and I actually had a hand in raising (and I say a hand, but often I think they grew up to be the amazing people they are in spite of our best intentions), step-parenting must be a mine-field almost impossible to navigate without losing a limb.  It takes a lot of thought to step into it, if you'll excuse the pun.

I guess you have to know it's what God wants for your life.  And He certainly understands step-parenting.  After all, He allowed a simple carpenter the task...er, the privilege, of raising His only Son.  So BB, and all the other step-dads and moms out there, have quite a heritage, straight back to a man who went to sleep one night, thinking the best thing, the noble thing, would be to let his pregnant fiancee go, and by the time he awakened the next morning, was ready to be a step-dad for life. And what could be more noble, more honorable, than loving, caring for, and raising someone else's child? BB, when you get right down to it, is just following the giant footsteps of a man from Nazareth, the same footsteps that Jesus Himself followed, because I'm betting Jesus tried on His daddy's sandals a few times as a little boy.  Boys do that.  And when Jesus needed to laugh hard, play wildly, it was Joseph, the step-dad, who got down on the floor and wrestled with Him.  Or crawled around on his hands and knees, letting Jesus ride him like the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem.

Joseph, the step-dad. And  BB, following hard after him.  And all the other honorable, noble ones who crawl around with the children God gave them to parent.

Keith Green

A young man in a gray pin-striped suit walked into our house this morning, right on time for an appointment he'd made with Beve to talk about insurance. Talking about anything mathmatical, especially first thing in the morning sometimes sounds like the other people are talking underwater, I see their mouths moving but none of the words make any sense.  Fortunately, we know this young man well.  Beve teaches with his father, was an assistant coach when this 22 year old married man was a high school point guard on Squalicum's basketball team.  He had classes with our son, was in music with Sk--including Cinderella, in which he played the prince and Sk was one of the step-sisters causing havoc all over the place. I've sat with his mom at many a high school games in the last dozen years, sat at high school music concerts with her as well, when SK performed in the same choir with Aaron and his brother.  So we've known Aaron a bit over the years.  Watched him play, sing, become a man a little.

But now he's a college graduate, has a job selling insurance back home.  His dad talked to Beve about him, so Beve talked to Aaron, and some numbers were crunched and hopefully, we'll be saving money about the time SK goes back to school on Wednesday!

After visiting with Aaron for a couple hours, after having him show us the numbers for about 5 minutes, he noticed our new piano.  Have I told you about this piano Beve and Sk bought from an estate sale earlier in the summer?  They paid 150$ for it, but had to get it moved up some stairs out of a basement.  After several false starts, Beve found someone to do the heavy lifting, and I looked up this particular piano online.  The piano we had to sell to move this one into our house turned out to be one of the worst pianos ever made on this continent.  And we'd sold a heavy old piano my parents had given me long ago--a strong, sturdy upright with beautiful tones, though the wood was dinged a little--to buy this little console piano that always sounded tinny to me.  But this new-to-us piano weighs about 700 pounds, has beautiful strong sound and (thanks to the tuner) is now pitched to key.  That tuner told me that some perivious tuner had turned it to itself...which made it about half a step flat all along. When he finished tuning it, he said, "You got a really nice piano here!"  And my internet research revealed that it was made by the company that is considered "The Steinway of Canada". It's not one of their top pianos, but it's plenty good enough for my playing alone in our house.

And after we finished our 'meeting', Aaron sat down and played for us.  He plays really well, is completely comfortable preforming.  He played a couple songs Beve and I both knew.  "I love Keith Green," I told him.  "You know Keith Green?' He asked, a bit incredulously.  It dates me--us--that's for sure. But then Aaron already thinks we're dated.  His mom just got a puppy, and Aaron said, "It's good for them, keeps them young." and his parents are younger than us, I know that!  But we're all ancient when it's kids in their twenties looking at us.

The first time I heard Keith Green play was at the church I went to in Eugene, Oregon.  He'd taken a bus up from Southern California to sing and play.  I don't mean a tour bus, either. Just an old greyhound.  Our church had invited him up to play during a service.  He was amazing.  Not just his music, which was plenty powerful, but his words, his prophetic voice about our nation, the responsibility of Christians.  Like many prophets, he wasn't always an easy guy to be around.  But there was something about him that drew us to him--something about WHAT he said, and something about the certain conviction in his tones..  About a dozen of my friends followed Keith Green back down to LA over their spring break, so they could go to his practically empty apartment, sit around and learn for this teacher/prophet.  They came back, talking of 'the upper room' and being disciples.  They were rather profoundly changed.  The jury's still out, but I think it changed them for good!  For good, as well.

A year later, Keith Green returned to the Willamette Valley, and by then, his first album was out.  By then, our church, as large as it was, couldn't hold him.  So he performed in Mac Court at the University of Oregon.  And I was lucky enough to be an usher for the show, helping set up, helping take down.  It was quite the experience. He'd influenced us in such powerful ways.  Just telling the truth, he did that.  It was almost like we'd never heard anyone simply tell us the truth about our lives, and our world before.

Fast forward a couple of years.  I no longer live in Eugene, but have planned a European trip with a friend who'd been there to hear Keith on his genius tour, and again when he returned--a larger personality, larger 'star' but also with more urgency in his words.  SKC and I went to Europe, and in Finland, got in touch with my old friend and neighbor, The Beve.  While we were there, staying with Beve and Rog sometimes, Beve showed us the Last Days Newsletter (Keith Green's publication) about the horrible plane crash that caused Keith, most of his children, an entire other family, the pilot, etc to lose their lives.  A lot of people had squeezed into that small plane that day, took off on earth, and ended in heaven.  That's really something to consider, isn't it?

In the article about Keith, there was a challenge to young people.  He was always on about mobilizing our country's youth.  He quoted the parable of a grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying.  But unless it does, nothing else will spring up. And that's exactly what happened. Talk about prophetic words.  I don't know how many people went overseas at least as a partial  result of that powerful message that he actually lived out--falling to the earth and dying.  But at least one because a grain that sprang up in his place--me!  And Beve too, for that matter.  And then we went farther afield, and signed up to actually BE missionaries--looking toward the fields ripe for harvest.  Our ministry, indeed, our ideas about ministry have many people to thank, but for Keith Green, our lives and those we've touched have been jewels in His crown.  A crown he's already wearing in glory.

It was sooo good to hear Keith Green's music in my house this morning.  Good to know that today's youth are still hearing and being changed  by him, still emboldened in those powerful words.  And it was good to by reminded of who he was to me--the link he was between Beve and me especially.  And a push toward the life I've lived since he lived and fell to the earth 26 years ago.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lessons from my grandmother

Wiped out...after a car-ride across the state, I often feel it.  But I was just silly enough to spend the day at the sewing machine.  I'd much rather sew than cook, because in sewing there's a finished product, something that doesn't have to be redone the next day, or just a few hours later.  I took an online Meyers-Briggs test the other day, and one of the questions was, "Do you like starting projects or finishing them?"  Easy to answer for me.  I'm all about finishing things. Of course, this begs the question "What about your book?  You haven't finished that!" which is a good point, in one sense.  In another sense, I've finished that dang book about a dozen times, and it actually does have an ending...just not the one wanted, apparently.

So I finished SK's red and black quilt this morning, and began one for E.  E's become very excited about this project--she bought the fabric, picked out the pattern, and spent the afternoon helping me piece it.  She doesn't know how to run the sewing machine, though, which would make my grandmothers roll over in their graves, if they had graves to roll over in!  I learned to sew on the treadle machine at our cabin on Whidbey Island; the first project I completed was an ugly brown pioneer costume meant for Pioneer Days in Seattle.  My grandmother loved dressing in period costumes.  But I really hated that brown dress, especially because my sister had pretty black and red fabric for hers, and a far more interesting pattern.  Hmmm, come to think of it, I think the bridesmaid dresses I made for my wedding were from almost the same pattern as that brown dress.  And guess who coerced me (as only she could!) into picking out that pattern?  Right first time, my grandmother. And you should have seen the wedding dress she thought was perfect for me:  dotted swiss with puffy sleeves and a full skirt.  The only things missing were a staff and a few sheep, and I would have been a nursery rhyme, and I'm pretty sure that isn't what is meant by 'fairy-tale wedding!' But that was my Grandmother for you-- with her steel backbone, and manipulative skills, I found myself agreeing with her choice that day. It wasn't until I went to bed that night that I realized just how ludicrious it would be to walk down the aisle as Miss Bo Peep. Unfortunately, the bridesmaid dress material had already been bought, so my attendants were stuck with hoop.  Sorry to say--though I suppose I should be apologizing to those women for what I made them do! It was all because Grandmomie was a force to be reckoned with. Most of my childhood, and clearly through my 20s I found it easier to go along with her than cross her. But it wasn't just me. The whole family reacted that way to her, except the one person she adored above all others--her son/my father!

I've grown far more assertive in my middle age.  I say what I think most of the time, maybe more than I should.  But I learned a long time ago that it was more important to tell the truth than to aquiesce and regret it later. It's not that I like conflict.  I do not.  But who does?  I come from a long line of conflict-avoiders.  Grandmomie's husband, my grandfather, spent his life avoiding conflict with his wife.  Took responsibility for whatever troubled, annoyed, angered her.  Said he was sorry any time she fretted at all.  And my father learned to do that at his father's knee, and was a master of "I'm sorry," with Mom.  A true master.  He said he was sorry practically before Mom even opened her mouth.  Maybe he just walked in the door at athe end of the day and apologized to her as a sort of prophalactic measure.  Well, probably not quite, but close.  Dad always said it didn't hurt any to say he was sorry. That's because he knew that he wasn't really responsible for Mom's bad moods, knew that it was often (usually) her own issues.  So calming her down by apologizing was an easy thing.

Too easy, maybe.  I've done the same thing in my marriage.  It's like a reflex to say I'm sorry when something goes wrong, even if I had nothing to do with it.  But here's the thing: just saying I'm sorry doesn't mean I'm...well, sorry.  Doesn't mean I really take responsibility, doesn't mean I'm repentant.  It mostly means I want the peace restored, want Beve not to be mad at me.  Saying I'm sorry so easily doesn't mean I'm asking (or even think I need) forgiveness.  It's just words.

So what I've learned in the course of this long life with the Beve is to hold my tongue more...or at least not say I'm sorry so quickly.  Not to say it until I'm asking forgiveness.  The only way through conflict is to confront it, and my knee-jerk reaction to apologize is the opposite of that.  That's what my grandfather, my father (and my grandmother and mother for that matter) never quite learned.  Confronting things, THEN taking responsibility and asking forgiveness--this is the pattern of the Kingdom; so that the asking is heart deep and Spirit-led.  Not easily come by, but worth the journey to get to.

I learned a lot from my grandmother--a lot about sewing, baking (which didn't stick!), about playing cards.  And by her marriage's example, by my parents' example, I've learned how not to be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rush Minute

The town I grew up in is quite a small community--during the summer months!  When it's empty of students, it's a berg, of only about 10,000 people.  The last several days, when I was there, it had only begun to re-fill--students coming back for activities, for greek rush, to move into their apartments and havetime to play before classes begin next week.  Traffic backs up a little--think rush minute rather than rush hour!--, and parking places are harder to find.  But the majority of students won't return until this next weekend, so the flavor of sleepy town lingers.  Year-round residents love the feel of the place in the summer, even though most of their livelihoods depend on the extra 20,000 young adults who tip the scales of population, the preponderance of them living on College hill--making the geography tip to that corner of the square that is Pullman and its 4 hills.

When I go to Pullman during the school year, I assume that most of the people I see will be complete strangers, be of a certain demographic, will be self-involved.  But in the summer, I always run into people I know, hear about people I had some kind of relationship with somewhere in my 52 years.  This trip was no different.  Though most of the people I grew up with left town after high school or college, some stayed.  The Palouse was an enchanted place to grow up, even though we complained about how little there was to do, compared to more urban locales.  But to run free as a child, to have all the advantages of a university--its athletics, its concerts, theater, facilities--is an attractive proposition.  Our doors were never locked when I was young, there were few, if any, unsavory characters or 'other-side-of-the-tracks'.  Sure, there was a street or two where rather dubious activities took place (Oddly, one such street was where the public swimming pool was located, where summer was rooted, at least for me and my friends, and though we were all aware of those junky houses, and hippies wandering in and out, I don't remember any fear associated with walking past them), but for the most part, Pullman was safe and good and the kind of home-town I wanted for my own children.

So some of my contemporaries stayed.  My sister, for one. But classmates and aquaintances as well.  While perusing Brused Books on Main street the other day, during a brief respite I had from the labors of the week, a man walked by, dropping off a bag of old plastic grocery bags.  I recognized him immediately, as a boy I'd gone to middle school with.  He'd been a good buddy of Beve's until he moved across the state-line to the east and went to our rival high-school.  But he and I had been on work-crew together at Young Life's Malibu Club, and he'd led the worship at our wedding.  He came back across the state-line in college, married and took up permanent residence on one of those hills.  We had a nice chat in front of the counter of the used bookstore, him asking about Beve, our kids, and--unfortunately!--my writing.  The proprietor of the store was more than a little enthralled on the other side of the counter once the subject of my 'book' came up.  In fact, he put in his two--or twenty--cents worth about the wonders of being published.  You'd think I walked on water just because I've put a sentence--or hundred-thousand--together in the last decade.  It's not much to write home about from my point of view anymore.  In truth, I'd rather go to the dentist than have to talk about it these days (and I know what I'm talking about because I went to the dentist this morning, and it was AWFUL! Just getting x-rayed put my gag-reflex into overtime, so had to have my entire mouth numbed.  I have a cracked tooth all the way at the back of my tiny mouth, so I'll be going steady with both the dentist and the novacain in the next month.).

By the time I ambled out of the store, we'd caught up on twenty years of life, and I was aware of how small our community really is.  He'd been in contact with other old friends, which is how he heard about my writing in the first place.  I wonder what it'd feel like to be completely anonymous!

At a different store, my sister (who really does know practically every full-time resident) introduced me to the daughter of a teacher I'd had in middle school, a teached who'd also taught Sunday School at our church, served on committees with my parents.  This daughter is retirement-age now, which I found really hard to believe, but I guess her mom would be in her late nineties, if she were still alive.  Talking to this daughter, I felt ancient myself.  Like an old dinesaur (or a three-year-old computer!).

But the next evening, when my cousin, who lives down the road from my sister, came down to RE's for pie, I felt young.  Too young, really.  We were talking about my mom, then an aunt whose husband just died, about women outliving their husbands.  You know, really encouraging stuff.  Then she told me about a couple in her church--a couple just about our age.  The wife was on a mission-trip to South America last month when she received news that her husband had died in a car accident.  He was on his way to a fairly new job, commuting an hour + from Pullman.  "There were about a thousand people at his memorial," she said.  "He worked for a long time at the Bookie."  The Bookie? Hairs were standing up on my arms.  "What was his name?"  And when she told me, I gasped!  I knew him.  I'd gone to college with him and his wife down in Eugene, only a few years ago.  It was only a few years ago, wasn't it?  When we were young and immortal.  His wife had lived in the same dorm I did, just across the hall from me, actually.  He and I were both attendants in a wedding together during those years.  And when they moved to Pullman, I saw him often at the Bookie, sat with her a few times while our kids took swimming lessons together at the pool.  They were the ones who first coined the phrase, "rush minute" about the traffic, actually.  When I use that term, I always think of them.  And he was one of the nicest men.  Seriously, a REALLY, REALLY good guy.

I remember having a conversation with him about, of all things, high cholestral a few years ago. We thought we were aging. All my friends think that.  We're feeling aches and pains, and take medication for blood pressure or cholestral, or arthritis or all three.  (Not me, but I'm just saying!)  Yep, we're getting old.  But when my cousin told me Mike had died, all I could think of was how young he was.  How young we all are.  And now his college-aged kids are fatherless, and his wife, a widow.  At our age.  And his life was like a rush minute, moving too quickly by.

I know that "Our times are in His hands." I believe this.  I know that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones."  And Mike, by all accounts, was a faithful one.  A truly humane human.  But what I'm thinking of today as I read the online articles about him is that his life was shorter than he'd guessed it would be, shorter than his wife dreamed.  And it hurts, I'm sure.  Grief is real and lasts a long time.  I think this hits me hard this week because of Mom, who's outliving her life, if that makes sense.  And from my point of view (as small as it is), Mike certainly hadn't.  So here's the wrestling question of my day?  How do I let go of my timeline for people and trust those words I say I believe.  Those words about God's sovereignty and His perfect, good, acceptable plan?  It's not easy to trust God about these things.  Not when it comes down to life and death and those I love.  My father, though a decade older than Mike when he died, was taken too soon, yet Mom lingers in a twilight she doesn't understand. 

And yet I will trust Him. If you think I'm saying this lightly or tritely, think again.  It's a flesh and Spirit struggle to be honest and True. But, in the end (and the middle, actually), I put on Christ, put on trust from the outside-in, until my spirit catches up and trusts from the inside-out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Counting steps

My sister, her daughter, E and I went through a storage unit this afternoon.  When E was in Colorado last year, living in dorm-like conditions, RE and her daughter, L, moved all of E's household goods and furniture into a large garage.  Now my little car is filled to the brim with E's boxes, and we still have to somehow push our clothes into one tiny rectangle of space left.  It will take a feat of engineering to do it...but even those of us in my family who aren't engineers (like E and me) are gifted at packing.  When our kids were little, I'd pack up our van, pick up Beve on the way out of town for the long drives we took through mountains and hills...taking our chublets to Grandmother's house for holidays.  It was no mean trick to fit all the gifts, accutraments of babies, and Beve's giant shoes into the small space behind the back seat of the Voyager, but I did it every time, using every nook and cranny.

At the storage unit, we also sorted through the boxes of Mom's stuff that my nieces and I had haphazardly stuck in boxes when Mom fell the last time and was moved to half a room at the nursing home.  Though we left all her photo albums, wedding book, medical records, we tossed old calendars, huge baggies full of emory boards (Mom was always very finicky about her finger nails, keeping them clipped and buffed, but when I saw her Saturday, they were extra-long, yellowing and beginning to curve around the ends of her fingers.  I clipped them back this afternoon, reminding her of the many times she'd done the same for me as a small child.  It was quite an odd sensation to clip her nails, though, because my hands look exactly like hers.  Eerily like hers, actually.  So it was like my two hands were clipping my two hands...), gum wrappers, pieces of paper with strange phrases on them.

And this is one of those sticky notes:
" 17 steps of stairs. 95 steps from the steps to my room or visa-versa..."

I don't know when she wrote this.  But it tells me that even a few years ago, Mom couldn't easily find her apartment at the retirement complex, and was trying to give herself hints, so she wouldn't walk into someone else's home.  Maybe she even did that a time or two, after forgetting this reminder she'd written for herself.  Mom was quite the writer--of lists, letters and starts of journals.  She noted everyone who called her, everyone who came to visit, and particularly the days when she didn't talk to anyone--or didn't remember that she'd talked to anyone.  For so much of the last decade, she claimed that the only symptom she had of dementia was the 'trouble with words', not being able to remember them.  But when I look through her calendar, her ubiquitious notebooks, I see a woman who knew more than she admitted.  Last summer, when my sisters and I decided that she couldn't possibly make the trip to Boston for "MY YOUNGEST SON'S" wedding (emphasis hers!), she wrote that she'd already decided not to go, and she resented that we'd taken away the one thing she had--the ability to make the decision for herself.  I find this very interesting, and entirely recognizable.  How many times growing up I decided that I'd clean the bathroom some weekend morning, only to have Mom ask/tell me to clean that very bathroom.  Once she asked, even though I'd already planned it, I didn't want to do the task, felt resentful that it had become something I had to do, rather than something I chose.

What all of this tells me, though, is that Mom chose not to admit what she actually knew was true--that she wasn't well, that things were worse than she admitted, that everything felt out of control.  One of the central truths about the human condition, Beve often says, is that losing control is one thing all of us most fear.  Losing control of where home is, one's ability to choose, or just the length of one's own finger-nails.

This afternoon when I left her, she said, "I feel so anxious," and I nodded. Of course she does.  When control is gone, we all feel anxious!  We all feel the need to count our steps and number our days. And maybe--no, probably--this is a good thing, a blessed thing.  After all, isn't numbering our days considered wisdom?  Psalm 90 says so, and I'm inclined to believe it.
So I tell you what, I'm going home and counting the steps from one end of my house to the other. A simple thing like this probably isn't the counting steps or numbering days the Psalmist is thinking of, but watching where our feet take us? Counting the steps we take in all our dealings?  Wisdom, for sure, and far be it from me to eschew anything that can bring His Holy wisdom.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Harvest

Time slows and stalls here in the Palouse, especially when it rains during harvest and keeps the machinery from the fields.  It's been that kind of harvest this summer.  Too much rain fell too hard and fast, and only today--three days later--did combines get back into the wheat.  All along the road to town are fields half cut with small stands of wheat still ripe within already cut fields, left when the farmers felt the heavy drops of a summer storm pound their machines and flatten the grain.  Those stands of wheat,  now wait--with the farmers--to be leveled to stubble.  It makes grown men impatient and grumpy.  Thinking of contingency plans, revised harvest schedules; it makes them anxious to do what they've spent the year planning for.

Imagine that.  Imagine working a whole year for a single pay-off.  Laying all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.  Or maybe all your wheat in one elevator.  Imagine the waiting and the worrying, and the second-guessing one does to get it all cut, all in a timely fashion, all sold for the best possible price.  The farm I know best here on the Palouse isn't much of an eggs-in-one-basket proposition--they're half-farm/half-ranch, and one half can save the other's bacon, when times are tough and pay-outs meager.  They're one of the few like this here on the Palouse--or maybe anywhere.  Most farms deal in wheat and other legumes, with varying success, at various geographies across this region. So this time of year, it's their livelihood they're treading water for, they need to harvest at exactly the right moment to get the best price for their yield.  It's a science and an art, and more than a little theology all at once.

But for me, a part-time visitor right at the center of THE time of the year, I am filled with wonder.  The fields are breath-takingly golden, as glorious as any snow-capped mountain or frothy sea, rolling with waves.  There are waves in this land-locked region as well, when the wind whips the grain like a golden ribbon across the tops of steep hills. It's almost like the wheat is having its own harvest dance.  And I love the sound of the wind in those stalks, the very sounds of creation in the fields.  But I also love the deep bass rumble of combines coming over a hill, blades whirring, wheat stalks being chewed up and separated--divided into the very wheat and chaff of the gospel.  I love the smell of freshly cut wheat, especially as it showers down into a wheat truck with dust and grass and kernels together.  I'd like to ride in those grain trucks just to watch the wheat cascade into the large bin.  In middle school, when I'd become friends with a farm-girl, I remember jumping in such trucks, dancing my own harvest dance beneath the spray of grain on top of us.  I'd go home, itchy from the chaff in my clothing, and teeth clean and sparkling from the kernels of wheat I'd chewed like chewing gum.  And over the decade of my post high school, pre-married life, I rode in quite a few combines as well. Old open-air combines, on blazing hot days, where I had to scream to make my voice heard over the mighty engine and the whirling blades.  I loved it all.  Give me half a chance and I'll climb up into a combine tomorrow.  Really I'd like to.

Except that harvest is the worst time of year for me here.  See, I suffer from hay fever.  And by that I mean that I am allergic to dust and grass pollen, wheat and hay in its original form.  In fact, as we drove into town Friday night, my eyes knew sooner than I did that it is harvest here.  A sniff later, and I was hanging my head. It doesn't matter how much I'd like to live harvest from within the work, I can't.  A few years ago, when we'd brought E over to start school, we drove out to where my brother-in-law and farmhands were cutting a field so enormous it took 4 combines, a couple of trucks and a flatbed semi to haul away the harvest.  We wanted to take some photographs, maybe to frame a few pictures of the home-land.

But I'd only been out of the truck about 3 minutes when I started coughing.  Except that it wasn't really coughing, but was more like trying to suck a miniscule amount of air into my lung (or so it seems).  It was a little disturbing that it was so difficult, but far more disturbing to Beve and my sister. While I still saying, "I"ll be --wheeze--fine---wheeze--I just have to--wheeze--catch my breath."  Yes, a college graduate and as dumb as a post, that's me (especially when my health has an impact on others' behaviors).  I really hate that, REALLY.  But Beve and RE weren't in the mood to argue with me.  They simply forced me back into the pick-up and drove me back into town, making me use someone's inhaler as we went.  What amazed me at the time, and even more now, is that that asthma dissapated as quickly as it came, once I was out of that poisonous environment.  What a lesson that is, isn't it?

I don't know why it is that I am drawn to something my body is clearly allergic to.  Why I always have to take a bite of cantelope, for example, even though it always makes my mouth and throat itch like crazy.  Why I can't quite bear to give up melted cheese, even though it does the same thing.  The things I don't like?  Like peas, mayonnaise, oatmeal, high mountain roads?  Why can't I be allergic to them?  Deep sigh.  But, as kids would say, 'It is what it is.'

And 'what it is' means that I'll watch harvest from the safety of my air-controlled car, and experience it through E's photographs.  It's not quite like watching it on TV, but certainly isn't the real thing.  When I was young and foolish, I rode in combines any way.  Paid for it the next day, but didn't count the price too dear for getting to do something that so appealed to me.  Now?  I count the cost differently.  With Paul, I say, 'I have the right to do anything--but not everything is beneficial.  I have the right to do anything--but I will not be mastered by anything."  (1 COR. 6:12)
So what I get of harvest--the sight, the sounds, the smell, even the taste (we had fresh blackberry pie tonight that E and her cousins picked/harvested)--is enough.  To be here again, to watch the big machines in the fields, to listen to the harvest stories--of accidents, breakdowns, near misses, successes--all this is enough.
Yes, enough--good enough that God uses these simple, humble people, with work ethics as strong as steel rebar stiffening up their backbones for the long days and sometimes back-breaking work.  It is good indeed.  And I'm just plain lucky to get to be a spectator for the show.

Winding road

In the old hometown again this weekend.  When we walked into the nursing home where Mom will live out her days, she was at lunch. A week or so ago, my sister told me that Mom's taken another 'turn for the worse', and sure enough, seeing her sitting at a table with chicken-strips and salad in front of her, holding a fork idly in her hand, I realized this might be the most telling 'turn' to date, on this long winding road of Alzheimers:  Mom wasn't eating.  My mom who, as far back as I can remember, not only never left a morsel of food on a plate, but ate by the clock (meaning if 6 pm came around, she headed toward the kitchen, even if she'd just gotten home from a big smorgasboard an hour earlier), ate when she was stressed, when she was sad, when she was happy--well, whenever anything--seems to have lost her taste for food. 

Just last week, after talking to RE, I emailed our other sister, and said, "How many more turns for the worse can there be?"  There have been so dang many switchbacks, I feel like we're clinging to the side of a canyon with only half the wheels of the car still on the road.  When I said hello to Mom as she stared blankly into space, holding a fork, there was no recognition in her eyes.  For the first time, she had absolutely NO idea who I was!  Even when I told her my name, nothing changed.  Every other time, she has either broken into a smile or tears when she sees me.  But that's all gone now.  This winding road is a one-way street, I'm pretty sure, even if she can back up a little now and then, for a single strange moment in the middle of her incoherent life.

But she's malleable, Mom is, and didn't resist when I wheeled her away from her half-eaten lunch down the hall to her room.  RE, her daughter, E and I sat and had a conversation around her.  Mom was having a 'good day', though so she made a statement or two as we talked. Barely recognizable, of course, but sounds that had a rhythm of conversations to them.  But she also easily flickered out of the conversation as well.  It may sound strange to you, but I had honestly never considered that (even though she's forgotten words, how to speak, just about everything else) she'd also 'forget' how to hear. When she 'flickers out', so to speak, she doesn't seem to be able to see the world around her, or to hear it.  She can be looking a person straight in the face, and doesn't see them.  What a pervasive blankness it is, as cold and hard as a blizzard.  Sometimes it's all I can do to breath when I'm around her.

In the middle of our conversation, and between unfathomable jabbering phrases, Mom said one whole sentence crystally clear. "I want to go upstairs."  My eyes filled when she said it.  I know what she's saying.  "I want that for you, too, Mom," I answered.  'Upstairs', where the holes in her head will be filled back in, where she'll be able to walk, and speak and think with clarity.  I sometimes try to imagine what it's like to live in her body now, to be so bewildered by even the most ordinary of events and people.  Her lips are permanently quivering now, her unfocused eyes brimming with tears.  Everything scares her!  It's more often the case with this dread disease that people get violent, that they lash out in their confusion.  But Mom's fear comes from her true self, I think.  It's organic to her nature to cry and be scared and feel like the world is out to hurt her.

It occured to me last night that this winding road she's traveling is one big loop back to where she began, 79 years ago.  She can not longer walk, speak or control her bodily functions.  She's been reduced to the age of infancy, where needs and desires can only be expressed through sobs and full-out wails.  And...the only name she knows, the only voice she responds to is "Mama", who, at this end of her life, is my sister, RE. 

It's an odd thing to feel nostaglic for the way she was six months ago, to miss the 2-year-old, little girl mother she was then, when she could still communicate and laugh and eat.  But I do miss that person. But mostly, along with her spoken and unspoken cell-deep desire, I wish she could just go 'upstairs,' that she could leave this broken brain and body sitting in that odious wheelchair, or lying on that low hospital bed.  I wish she could simply, utterly 'fly away,' fly to Jesus.  That will be a sweet, sweet flight off thislong and winding road.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bus trips

Beve rode the bus down to Renton this afternoon to spend one last night with his brother before R and his wife fly back to Helsinki.  Beve will take them to the airport, and retrieve my car, which they've been using during their visit.

I got to thinking of famous bus rides from our past.  My first long bus trip was across the state one New Year's with my sister, the Dump.  We'd gone to Seattle to visit our relatives after Christmas, and got stuck for an extra day because the whole state was socked in with snow.  68-69 was the hardest winter we ever spent in Washington...until this year!  And that trip across the state was arduous, took many, many hours, the Greyhound stopping and all sorts of little bergs along the way, dropping off all of us who were snow-stranded in Seattle.

Beve, though, tells a story of a bus trip he took half-way across the United States one summer when he was in college.  He'd gotten a job selling books in Iowa, and let me tell you, he wasn't a very good salesperson.  Some whole weeks he had barely enough money for food, he an the other college-students who'd signed on with the Southeastern Book Company.  They shared ratty motel rooms and offered a nickel to potential customers for a piece of bread, and another nickel if they threw in a slice of bologna.  One day when Beve (6'7" even then, and weighing about 180 lbs.) knocked on one such door, the woman inside gave him an entire loaf of bread, just thrust it out the door at him, shooing him off.

It was a long summer and at the end of it, Beve spent three days on a bus, trying to get home.  One night, after curling his long body into those seats all day, there was a lay-over in St. Louis and Beve was so tired that despite the heat and humidity, he lay down on the cement sidewalk and went to sleep.  I've always imagined how he felt...and I've imagined how his mother would have felt if she'd known--her youngest child, the one she often thought she wouldn't get to keep because he was so good (makes me wonder what her notion of God must have been for her to think that Beve's 'goodness' meant that God would take him from her early), passed out on a sidewalk, and everyone walking past would sniff, thinking him a drunk.  His mother hadn't wanted her little boy to take that job, but Grampie said it'd be a good experience for him, and that he'd learn a lot.

And he did, of course.  He learned what it was like to be hungry for the first time (and only) time in his life.  He learned what it felt like to be desperate enough to sleep on a city street.  Every experience in life carves itself one way or another into a person.  When I first got to know Beve again 7 years after we graduated from high school and went our separate ways, I thought he was an innocent, the straightest of arrows.  I didn't see complexity in him in those days--just a plain old American jock who loved Jesus: that's what I saw.  But Beve had traveled on buses, he'd gotten to know truckers, he didn't only root for, but helped the underdog, the disenfranchised, the hurting.  When we lived in Holland, he befriended an older man named Bert, who'd lived a hard life but had a sweet spirit.  Beve saw that when no one else even looked.

It's the great equilizers like Greyhound buses or the Great Northern Railroad, even airplanes (if you sit squeezed into coach), that allow us to meet and rub shoulders with people whose paths we might never cross otherwise. On a bus, a healthy, middle-class, athletic boy can sit right beside an out-of-work, broken-down man who spent his last dime to buy a ticket home (or away!), and these two men--with such different histories--stare out the window at the same scenery.  On a train, one sits down at table with total strangers--who might well be anything!--and break bread together.  Participating in a meal, participating in life together, even for a moment.  And in that moment, it doesn't matter what past a person has, it only matters that they're in it together. 

And this, I think, is exactly what the Church is meant to be--sitting together, breaking bread together, participating in life together.  Not one's history, but only the view ahead.  The View of Him, I might say. One of my nephews and his wife have been attending a church in which they--white, middle-class Americans--are the minorities.  Practically everyone else they worship with thinks in a language other than English.  They left something--somewhere!--to live and work and worship where they do.  I find it a beautiful picture of what Christ's Bride actually looks like from God's point of view--hands of different hues raised to Him, people with different accents, different hair color, different passports all staring at Him!  Imagine the texture of such worship that will be the throng in front of the throne.  In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis writes of a bus trip in the after-life, and of the glorious destination where the grass is sharper, the air thicker, the water fresher than we experience here on earth.  Such churches as my nephew's make me dream of such a trip, such a Place. He says they've never felt so at home in a church.  And that, I think, is what awaits us at the end of our life's bus-ride.  Can you imagine?  I can.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quilts!

Here are a few of the quilts I've been working on:  This orange and green quilt (with Jamaica enjoying it!) was my first full-sized quilting attempt with the sewing machine Beve bought me for Christmas.
 
This quilt was made of some of the plethora of tee-shirts E accumulated in college.  It includes her hoop proctice jersey, a mission trip T, and many WSU event Ts.  My favorite, at the top in this picture, says, "Going Dancing," and in very small print beside it (originally on the back of the shirt) "No tie required!" This is from the first year the WSU hoop-team made it to the NCAA tourney, with their 'coach of the year,' now defected, Coach Bennett.

This quilt I made for my Berkley-bound nephew, KCK.  Varigated blues of various widths--actually straighter than this picture makes it look. I loved working with a monochromatic color scheme, and even made a couple of pillow-cases to match.
And this shadow-box red, black and white quilt I just finished this afternoon, still needs to be quilted, made for SK, and we all love it.  It's my best attempt to date, and now I now am officially addicted to quilting.  Apparently I like 'contemporary' quilts, rather than the styles my grandmother quilted.  It's an expensive hobby, but what the heck, it's only money, and the satisfaction is sooo refreshing after months of feeling like I'll never finish anything.  Next on the docket is one for E, but first, I need to have a drink of something cool and sit out on the patio under an umbrella.  You're welcome to join me...we have a couple of rooms free for the next few days (don't tell the girls I said that!).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hair story

For my birthday, E gave me a gift certificate to the fancy hair salon where she gets her hair done.  I've always been really, really cheap with my hair, going to discount 'walk-ins accepted' joints with high turn-over by beauticians.  My hair is one of my least favorite features (ok, so once I wrote that I realized the list is long--stinking long!), baby-fine with only a tiny bit of curl and even less body. Actually it's been the bane of my existence!  But thankfully, none of my kids inherited it.  They all have Beve's thick, gorgeous, strong hair, with varying amounts of curl.

Speaking of Beve, his brother brought a pile of photos from the year Beve lived in Finland (BC--that is, before me!).  And I'm here to tell you, my husband was drop-dead gorgeous in those days.  I'd kind of forgotten.  He still looks good, is aging rather sickeningly well, but back then...I remember thinking about his looks the winter before we married, about how it was kind of like there was a light shining on him, one that attracted people to him.  I wondered how if I could handle living in the shadow of that glow, if I'd feel frumpy and awkward in comparison.  Honestly, I wondered if people would be surprised when they found out I--just plain, old me--was Beve's wife.  It worried me, I admit.  And so did the many times in the first few years we were married--especially when I was hugely pregnant, undoubtedly with some kind of spill across my maternity shirt--when women would stop me to say something about or to Beve. There was the cashier at Costco who told me he was the most handsome man she'd ever seen, and the saleswoman at Nordstrom who thought he should become a model.  There were friends who told me they had little crushes on him, and even my mom acted silly around him (still does, actually!).

But I've long since gotten used to Beve, and realize that we're both treasures.  Beve married me.  He loves me, limp hair, chubby body and all.  And that's good enough.

So back to my hair. I've permed, colored, clipped my hair so many ways I couldn't even list them.  A few years ago, I got it cut as short as it's ever been.  But then I went to Starbucks, and the woman making my latte asked me out on a date.  I'm not making this up.  Needless to say, I started growing out my hair that very day, and have only had it trimmed since.  So when I went to this salon Friday, I was putting my life--er, my hair--in the hands of a young hair dresser named Amy. The very gifted hands, it turns out.  She knew exactly what to do for me.  She confirmed that layers only serve to make my thin hair look thinner, just like I've tried telling stylists for years. In the end, she gave me the best, maybe the first hair style I've ever had.  And I'm here to tell you, I LOVE IT!  I actually love my hair.  If you only knew how novel that is, how unexpected. And you women out there will understand this: you know how you get your hair done, like how it looks, but the instant you shampoo it, it become impossible to replicate?  This has only happened a few times in my life--like every single hair cut.  But I did exactly what Amy showed me, and my hair turned out perfectly. 

And I say, HALLELUJAH.  Sure, hair isn't such a big thing in view of eternity. But sometimes it's temporal things, like the very hairs on our head, that can keep us from gratefulness.  How many parts of myself have I abhorred?  Do I really believe that I was created purposely?  That God's design extends even to my hair follicles?  Today I believe that.  God didn't make a mistake.  Not in my hair, not in my nose, not in my essence.  He meant me to be me, just the way I am. And that's how He made you--to be you.  Only you can do it, just the way you are, too.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dual citizenship

The Finns are here...along with Beve's non-Finn father.  Actually, Beve's older brother isn't either, but after living in Finland for 27 years, he seems Finnish to us.  Except that he also seems like the quintessential American.  Big Brother (and I mean that literally--both older and much larger than Beve) speaks in meters, Euros and hockey, but he also keeps track of WSU athletics, knows the Seattle Mariners well enough to be able to explain to me the differences between their home and away jerseys (Home say Mariners, away say Seattle...in case you're interested).  Big Bro likes burma-shave slogans, can repeat dozens of them at a time, (just a sec, I'll ask him for an example: "Don't try passing on a slope unless you have a parascope!";  "If you find hugging is your sport, trade your car for a davenport!"-- courtesy of Beve).  After all these years in Finland, R says he still isn't fluent in Finnish, but his wife says he does pretty well.  They don't speak Finnish to each other, though, because she is fluent in English.  She told me this is because English is a much easier language than Finnish.  And having seen it written many times, I can well attest to this.  I'm telling you some of those Finnish words are about half a paragraph long, and one must pronounce every single word. I can count to ten in Finnish and say "I love you," (mina rakistan, I think.), both of which have served me well.  Here's how:

Many years ago when I was traveling around Europe with my friend, SKC, we were stopped on a street in Konstanz, Germany by some 'young punks' (as Grampie would call them).  These boys tried to engage us in conversation, first in German, which we both had studied in high school and college, but we weren't interested in going to a bar with them so we pretended ignorance.  Then they tried English, and again, we pretended not to understand.  Finally, we began reciting the Finnish numbers we'd just learned from her cousins in Finland, imbued them with such inflections that it sounded like we were having a conversation, and raised our voices to say "Mina rakistan!" Shaking their heads, the young punks walked away, and we felt incredibly proud of our facility with languages. 

Anyway, Beve's brother, R, is--for all intents and purposes--a citizen of two countries.  He has all the benefits of the country he's called home over the last quarter century, but carries the passport of the country of his birth, half a world away from his life and immediate family.  And even his daughters, who were not born here, and have only visited for weeks at a time over the last 25 years, have all the rights and privileges of this nation.  By virtue of who their father is.

Just like all of us who are heirs of Christ. Because of who our Father is, we are dual-citizens, when it comes right down to it.  Sure, we're citizens of some nation or other on this earth.  We have privileges and responsibilities accordingly.  The rights to 'life, liberty and pursuit of happiness', if Americans.  But there's that other country, the one none of us have ever seen, the one that all of creation awaits and leans toward.  And that citizenship takes precedence.  The privileges are myriad--forgiveness, grace, mercy, joy, peace.  All of the privileges of favored heirs, in fact.  But the responsibilities also true--"Whatever you do...; live your life worthy...; it's to freedom You have been called...; Be Holy as I am Holy, says the Lord."  Just to name a few.

When it comes right down to it, if we give precedence to the Kingdom-passport we carry, if we with that passport in our pockets, like a sharp nail reminding us of the nails that pierced Him, we will be the best of citizens on earth as well. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Downed tree

A tree came down in our backyard today.  It was a giant Douglas fir, probably 60 feet tall, that loomed over our back deck, shed its needles and cones onto said deck, our roof, and kept grass from growing beneath it. Long before it was 'our' tree, someone had had it limbed and topped, which only made it grow two tops rather than one.  And it had every possibility of going down in a bad wind storm with those two heavy tops up in the atmosphere, perhaps straight into our dining room and kitchen, or, worse, into our downhill neighbors bedroom.  So it's been on our 'list' of things to deal with for the last six years.  Our deck needs replacing, but we felt that the tree needed to come down first.

So today was the day.  Three men from Hosanna Tree Service put on quite a show for us this afternoon.  We stood watching a man climb straight up the trunk of a doug. fir with only ropes and spiked boots.  The other two were on the ground with more ropes (I counted about seven different ropes coiled in our yard at one point), moving limbs as they fell, pulleying up increasingly large chain saws (Note to self: Beve would really like a chain saw--and Christmas is coming!).  When most of the larger limbs were filling our backyard, the trunk was sawed into, and we were amazed at the tree-climber and colleagues precise cuts and pulls so that that massive tree fell in the only open space in the yard.  Any variation would have destroyed something on our property or the neighbors'.  E took photos of the big crash and let me tell you, it was impressive!  Maybe she'll let me post them one of these days.

But was perhaps more impressive was the view that opened up before our eyes. For us and our uphill and backyard neighbors.  We've always had a view of the water from our front patio, but now we have an equally inpressive view of the mountains in British Columbia from our backyard.  We also have more sun in the dining room, more sun on the deck and, best of all, more sun on our ancient apple tree that has produced very little fruit since we moved here. 

Though I've never been a fan of cutting down trees, I readily see the good in this.  It makes me think of the tall, ugly trees that might be obstructing my view of God.  There are so many things in my life I've resisted toppling.  I allow them--my attitudes, my actions, my whole self--to just stand there, blocking the beauty beyond, keeping the Light from assisting me in growing fruit; spilling needles and cones from such attitudes and actions all over my life.  But like what happened this afternoon, my life is brighter without that tree, the world opens up once I finally allow a chain saw wielded by God Himself, to cut down the old ugly tree that's keeping me from Him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A long road

I'd intended to write this yesterday, but with one thing and another (none of which I can remember at the moment, because the last two days have been a fog of migraine!), I didn't get around to it.  The thing is, I'm big on anniversaries, birthdays, occasions.  I remember them...as I've mentioned before.  If I didn't rein myself in, practically every day of the year would turn into a retrospective post about my life.  Instead, I contain such musings to only the most significant...really I do.

Anyway, yesterday was such a date.  Thirty-eight years ago, I was at a camp for handicapped kids on a lake in northern Idaho.  I wasn't handicapped but the camp took non-handicapped kids as well, kind of like paying aides. 
As I wrote a year ago, I prayed a prayer that August 3rd, and gave my life to Jesus, and it was sort of like my world went from black and white to color over the course of those two weeks.  A hunger burned in me, one I still remember vividly.  Every flower, every tree, every person somehow took on significance...and to one extent or another, that significance has never left.  Being inhabited by God Himself in the third person of the Trinity--whether I feel him or not, whether He's silent or speaking clearly within, here He is, Hallelujah.

But here's the rest of the story: working at the camp that August was an older girl who lived across the street from me, so my parents arranged that when camp was over, I'd get a ride home from this neighbor's mother.
When Mrs. W showed up at the end of camp to drive G and me home, she wasn't alone.  Her youngest son was with her.  Her youngest son whose birthday was the day before mine, in my grade, a friend of sorts. We'd gone to elementary school together, where he'd chased the girls and pulled their hair, worn wing-tipped shoes in the winter in order to 'ski' down the steep side hill at school while those with smaller shoes (like everyone, including every teacher!) had to sit on their coats (when that school was remodeled long after us, the new addition destroyed that hill, and we mourned it as if we were still 5th graders!). We'd ridden to middle school together in a jam-packed Carry-all driven by my mother, he was in my father's scout troop.  

So I piled my suitcase and sleeping bag into their pale blue station-wagon and we set off for home.  But no more than 15 minutes down the road we were limping to the side of the highway with a flat tire.  So after trying to put on the spare, this boy and I walked down the highway to the next bump-in-the-road town, to use the phone and buy milkshakes.  And we had a conversation, this tall boy I'd known for years, this boy who, amazingly, had become a Christian just a few months before.

And so it was that the first person from my home-town, the first 'friend' I talked to after my life-changing experience was the Beve!  My very own Beve.  If I'd had a crystal ball and could have seen where life would take us from that moment, I would have been shocked, maybe even appalled.  But looking back from here, there is a pefect symmetry to Beve (who, of course, wasn't the Beve then) being my first Christian friend.  Even in that hot afternoon walk along that dusty road, God was there.  Maybe even looking down and smiling at us, all-knowing as He is, knowing who we'd become--to Him and to each other.  It's been a long dusty road walking with Jesus through through these 38 years, but what a gift that the first human to walk beside me is still walking there today.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Beve's bed and breakfast

I write this from our new bed, approximately 50 feet off the ground, give or take.  And I don't exaggerate.  As is often our practice, Beve and I bought a birthday gift together, and I'm telling you, I'm one happy woman tonight, even if I have hit the corner of the footboard three times in the last two hours, causing huge welts to rise on my easily bruised legs. It was a herculean task moving it, because this frame weighs at least 700 pounds (like I said, I don't exaggerate).  And setting it up in the heat of the evening made for some tense moments between Beve and me. I'm tired, cranky and irritable--and that's on my good days.  But now it's up, the bed remade and I'm lounging on top, like the Princess and the pea (and yes, I've been known to tear my sheets apart to find the one tiny pea that's gouging into my back).


It's nice to have a good solid bed frame.  We have a lot going on in the next few weeks, and being able to retreat to this bed will be a welcome respite.  The Finns (Beve's oldest brother and his new wife) have landed, and will visit us in the next week, along with Grampie and Thyrza (we don't actually have enough room for everyone, but that's never stopped us!).  Tomorrow night SK picks E up at the airport, after E's ten-day trip to Costa Rica.  E's had a really great time, and you can read about it on her blog:
eisrandom.blogspot.com

And our Chinese 'daughter', LB, is coming for the week as well. Bringing two friends with her. They're going to stay in a tent for a couple of nights, but will then move into the house (our girls don't know this yet, but they'll be sharing a bed for the next several weeks, I think, sorry to say!).

We've always had lots of summer guests. It's just part of who we are, I guess. Maybe mostly it's part of who Beve is. He got that impulse directly from his mother, and will treat our guests with buttery pastries, pots of tea, and plenty of graciousness, just like Grammie! And though I'm wired more to look at my home as my refuge, rather than a hostel, I'm always glad (afterwards) that Beve's stretched me toward hospitality. And one of the things Grammie taught us both at the very beginning of our marriage is that even if all the doors of our home are wide open, it's important to sleep in our own bed. (I know, I know, we have amazing friends who insist we sleep in their beds and we are truly humbled by their sacrifice!) But this has been our practice--one that keeps me sane, keeps Beve limber, and allows us the space from which to give.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A beach home

Just got home from a wonderful, amazing, relaxing, invigorating time with our friends at their new home on our favorite body of water--the one we can see from our house but rarely put our feet in, the one that surges with tides and gleeks salt and is almost always referred to with a direct article before it.  A few years ago, my well-intentioned editor kept changing my "The Sound" to "The Puget Sound," which instantly identified her as being NOT from our region.  The Sound, or Puget Sound, are both perfectly acceptable, and let me tell you, more than acceptable is being on a deck directly above it, on a beach bordering it, or--so much better, you can't even qualify it--being in a boat skimming its surface when the day is hot and the sky light blue and those with you in the boat dear friends.  And maybe, maybe the best of all--at least for me--was the moment when I jumped off that boat and plunged cleanly and deeply into that salty water and swam for shore! 

When we reached our friends' home Thursday, M was in the driveway, jumping up and down to greet us (J was picking up their boat, which we were privileged to help launch later in the afternoon).  It was fairly standard-looking, beautiful landscaping surrounding a grey-painted with white trim well-kept home.  But then she said, "Come on in," and opened the front door.  Beve and I gasped.  A wall of windows lining the entire south side of the house and beyond those gleaming windows, there was the water.  I'm telling you, it instantly, completely, made me think of the glorious riches of the Kingdom of God. Simple and nice from the outside, but a treasure waiting on the other side of the door.  A treasure big, broad and full of adventure seen from every angle.

And I was struck by God's faithfulness, specifically for our friends, who have come through a vail of tears in the last few years, but for all of us who know and follow Him.  God was so far ahead of these friends, He hinted that this move was coming, and actually protected this house, kept it from selling for an entire year so that it'd be theirs when they  were ready.  This isn't the only time God has to wait for us to catch up to His vision, but what I've seen repeatedly in my own and others' lives, our hearts move from reluctance to ambivalence to imperative as we discover His proposed plan of Good for us.  He's so patient, so gentle in His nudging that often when the time comes to step out, to move away, or whatever, we can imagine no other path but the one He started!  This gives me great hope.  Hope that my dreams might also have feet to them, haven't been amputated at the knees but are simply broken and need to heal.

This house on the water will be a safe haven for our friends, a retreat, and a place to build community for them.  It will be a place from which to launch new adventures on the water, to sit by fires and build memories with their kids and grandkids.  And this is exactly what the Kingdom of God does for us. In our friends' new house on the beach, which is already their true home, their "Thank-you, God" place in all the earth, I was reminded again--in the food (simple, plentiful and exactly right, even that amazing fresh blackberry pie which I definitely over-indulged in), the quiet, the penetrating conversation (especially this morning!)--of His always- working, whether I sense it or not, intimate presence in our lives.  It was a reminder sorely, sorely needed, and thankfully received!