Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jars of clay and lit coals from a fire

I spent the last two days with a group of women my sister has been in fellowship twice most months for the last eleven years.  Shoot, I can hardly think of anything I've been doing for eleven years.  Oh wait, maybe writing my book (just kidding, it hasn't been that long, not a year over eight).  These women are older and younger than my sister, come from two different towns here in the Palouse, and, on the surface, don't necessarily look to have much in common.

Except Jesus.  The one and only reason they've come together for more than a decade is to bury their hearts and minds in the Word of God and to come up, not only smelling like a sweet aroma, but more ready to live whatever God has called them to live.  And it is a sweet aroma to see how they care for each other, how they finish each other's sentences, know each other's foibles, love each other anyway.  I felt privileged to sit with them. Privileged to listen to their stories, to laugh and eat, and...well, sit with them.

And, yes, privileged to get to share some words about the Word, some thought about He who thought us all up to begin with.  It's a dangerous thing to handle the Word of God, to even think He would entrust it to me, and entrust me with sharing it with these women, with any group.  It's something like handling a coal lit from a fire.  It really is.

Except that it's what He asks us to do.  This is what we talked about this week end, that He takes the clay pots that we are, and fills us--each of us--with the inexpressible treasure that is Himself.  Ordinary, average clay pots filled with glorious, eternal treasure.  Those women, me, each of us, just plain old ordinary pots.  But what is within-- that's the lit coal from the fire of God Himself. His all-surpassing power, enough to be the Light of the World, to vanquish death itself.  That's the treasure we're given.  I'm overwhelmed by this tonight.  Overwhelmed by the Word, by the words we shared together about the Word, and about the Incarnate Word who is always present when such a company is gathered.  I know I'm gushing, but I don't take these moments lightly, or complacently.  It's no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I love to talk.  And I love Jesus.  So when the two intersect and I get to talk about Jesus, especially with people hungry and thirsty for Him, it's a balm to my spirit. An honor and a joy. To get to--to be allowed to--handle His word, to bring this lit coal to others...I'll never get used to the privilege of it.

And the responsibility.  The deep, humbling responsibility.  Watching women take my words seriously, write them down, ask me to repeat them.  If I thought it was something I had made up or was doing myself, it would be my undoing, if you know what I mean.  It's with light hands that we must handle His word, teach it to others.  Only in surrender to Him should one--should I!!!--attempt it.  In such set-apart moments--like Sundays, during worship-- we are the church, when we speak together, it's words of eternal value.

Yes, clay pots.  Ordinary, trivial clay pots.  It's only what's inside, where Christ is, that the extraordinary, powerful treasure resides.  And...only in broken-ness, is that treasure revealed.  Think about it. 

"For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
2 Corinthians 4:7

Friday, October 30, 2009

In the eyes.

Though I should be sleeping, I'm seeing eyes tonight.  The blank green with large brown specks eyes of my mother as she stares vacantly toward me, hugging her new plush puppy, kissing it on its stuffed head.  Those eyes crinkle in laughter but then the pendulum swings violently and they cloud with tears.

The eyes of one of my oldest friends, still baby blue, filled with joy that he gets to live the life he does,flooded with love for his wife, his kids, his job.  It might have taken him long years to grow up, to grow into the man God intended him to be, but he's getting there.  As we all are getting there, further up, higher in, closer to Him.

I'm seeing the eyes of the women around the table tonight, the ones I broke bread with, ate lasagne with, those older eyes who have seen more of the world than I have--so much more of its heartaches--that I only dare speak to them from this chair of weakness, these words of fear and trembling.  The eyes of the women younger than me, eyes still empty of the spectacles we all get to eventually.  Eyes who cry buckets over their children, their health, myriad other woes.  I look at those eyes, staring hopefully back at me, longing for some piece of wisdom that will lighten their load, or even only make sense of it.  But I look back into their eyes, and pray that His power will be made complete in my weakness, that His grace is, as He promises it is, sufficient for me.  I watch them as they tell their stories, watch their eyes move from pain to hope to acceptance as I speak.  Yes, their eyes tell a story, maybe even one they try not to speak.

I'm seeing the bright eyes of my daughter and her rejoicing roommate for the growth that wasn't cancer, for the quick recovery of that roommate, and the still available promise of bearing a child someday.  I think of how weary that 19-year-old's eyes seemed earlier in the week as she waited for this surgery, worried about it, fretted about it.  And I imagine her eyes tonight, still in the hospital but fully at peace, maybe even tearfully at peace.

And I see the eyes of my gentle giant husband, who has the more beautiful eyes in the room, who isn't afraid to let tears run, isn't afraid to admit he doesn't have all the answers.  Without all the answers, he lives the questions, and I see that curiosity living in his beautiful blue eyes as well.

And, somehow, in some way, I see all the eyes--of the hopeless (in my mom), the content (in my friend), the troubled (in these women), and in the joyful (my daughter and her friends).  And I see the love in my Beve's.  So much can be learned just by the eyes.  So much of God can been seen in their eyes.  I just have to look.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And so it goes

It snowed in the Palouse today.  Frankly, I was glad to see those flakes.  I've been hot.  Stinking hot, I tell you.  My chemistry is all messed up, so while everyone else in the world is bundling up, I'm so hot I'm flushing from it.  And I never even blushed when I was a teenager and boys teased me.  Having my cheeks cherry red and burning does NOT appeal.  So this afternoon when those first flakes floated down from the white sky, I was encouraged that wearing my coat wouldn't overheat me.  But later in the day, the snow turned to rain, and my cheeks grew pink again.  And so it goes as my age.

At lunch, RE and I ran into the woman who'd been the secretary at our church just about our whole childhood.  And she didn't only know RE, she knew me.  I mean she really knew me, not just that I was one of the other sisters.  She asked about Mom, and we got to talking about her, about this dread disease, about the unadulterated sadness of it all.  Charlene said that though she's known other people who died of Alzheimers, somehow Mom's case seems even more tragic to her.  "She was just so intelligent, always reading, always pushing...to know more, study more, be involved.  That she should get so bad, it's just terrible."  She said her own mom who'd had it, hadn't been like Mom is.  I suggested that perhaps those other people died of something else before it got like this. We spoke with Charlene a little longer, then were off to visit the poor woman herself.

On our way to Mom's, we made a detour to a local store to buy her a new cardigan sweater (the nursing home staff seems to dress her in the same clothes, the same ratty sweater day after miserable day.  And don't get me started on her greasy hair!  But apparently her bath night is Thursday, so we'll see how she looks tomorrow).  We also bought her a very soft, stuffed puppy, just about the size of a newborn baby.  She only had two tiny teddy bears, and we noticed yesterday that when she's extremely upset, cuddling one made her feel a tad bit better.  So off we went, with new toy and new sweater.  And found her just wheeling herself into her room.  By the time she'd stopped by the window, she was already crying.  And I'm just saying, this time it wasn't my fault.

In fact, I don't think she could tell us whose fault it was, or what it was, or anything else.  She was just crying.  RE handed her the plush puppy, and she instantly put it against her shoulder, just the way she used to hold her babies and ours, patting them on back so they'd birp.  She patted that puppy, and we chatted with each other, and she didn't take her liquid medicine.  Another day, another refusal.  And so it goes.  At one point, though, I told RE I'd remembered the phrase Mom had said yesterday that made RE laugh because it was Mom through and through.  The phrase was, "Yeah, right!"  As RE repeated it, in exactly Mom's cadence, Mom said, without missing a beat, "If that ain't the truth!" though she didn't look up or at us as she said it.  We both laughed then, thinking how peculiar it is that some of her real self comes through the garble.

After a while, Mom turned her wheelchair and moved herself away from us.  She'd barely seen us anyway.  Whatever presence was there yesterday was surely gone today, which I suppose is how it goes.  At least it's how it goes in the movies.  I know, when my daughters watched "The Notebook," I saw it too.

And so it goes.  Ruth'll keep visiting her (as I will when I'm near enough to do so).  We'll all keep praying for her, surrendering both her life and her death to God's strong, firm hands.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Now you've done it"

"Now you've done it!" is a phrase I've heard my whole life.  When I spilled my milk on the freshly laundered terry-cloth table cloth, skinned a knee, broke a shoelace or melted my boots on the fire.  It's a phrase straight out of my childhood, straight from my father's lips.  "Now you've done it," when I made one of my siblings, or (even worse) my mother, cry.

And that last, making my mother cry, is something I have a particular knack at.  One might even say, a gift, if one were also gifted at sarcasm, as the Beve and my siblings are.  I started being able to make my mother cry just about the time I stopped liking her, which was also just about the time she bought me my first bra, when I was still flat as a board (which boys in my class called me more than once, and for longer than you might believe. But I'm not bitter!).  Yep, I've always had great facility at causing tears in my mother.  But then, I'm not alone in this.  Don't throw me under the bus.  All six of us could do it.  Did it.  With increased regularity as the years--and our need for her--flew by.

So it should come as no surprise that once again (imagine me bowing here), I made her cry today.  And when I say cry, I'm talking great, body-wracking sobs that went on and on and on.  What made it so extremely unexpected was two things.  First, RE has told me that she's increasingly vacant.  Neither speaks, nor even seems to see visitors.  But (and this is the other thing), today when we walked into the dining room where she was eating spaghetti, and definitely actually eating it, she looked up and zeroed in on my face.  Knew me.  Smiled at me as if she'd been waiting for me.  She not only allowed me to hug her, but put her arms around me and patted me on the back.  RE and I sat at her table with her, and her rather vociferous table-mate who didn't make any more sense than Mom ever does, and we tried to get Mom to go back to her meal.  It was not to be, however.  She was too distracted by our presence.  There were large wet spots on the tablecloth, which I didn't pay too much attention to until she tried pouring her cranberry juice into my eggnog latte.  I should have known better than to place my latte within her grasp.  She's a great one for pouring these days, apparently.

So we took her to her room.  And set to work on the business of the day, making our mother cry.  OK, that wasn't the goal when we walked in.  We had some hair-brained idea that it might be a good thing to pray with Mom.  But before I was three sentences in, praying that she recognize how much God loves her, she said, "NO!" rather angrily.  Then began to sob.  She had plenty to say about it, however, if we could have but understood it.  Finally, RE mouthed to me "Worthiness."  And that's it.  Mom doesn't feel worthy.  Not of our love, nor of God's.  Especially of God's.  Never has.  Clearly, even though though there isn't much left of her brain, that feeling has stuck like glue to her.

A few moments later, she was trying to express herself, and I finally asked, "Are you afraid?" "Yes," she answered clearly.  "Afraid to die?"  Sobbing more, she said, "Yes."  And there we had it, just as we might have guessed all these years.  Mom's two core feelings, even in her greatly reduced state are that she doesn't feel worthy of love, and therefore, is afraid to die.

Nothing we said helped her today.  We couldn't divert her from crying or calm her in any way.  It's clear that  she really thinks she is dying, and though we told her that she isn't--not today, at least--she didn't believe us.  Anymore than she believed us when I said, repeatedly, "God loves you.  No, Mom, God loves you.  God loves you." 

Now I've done it.  I made my mother cry again.  The good news of the day is that she was more present than she's been in the last ten months.  Completely present from beginning to end of our visit.  The bad news is she was completely present.  She knew, she really knew, that she wasn't where she belonged, was stuck there, and was sorely scared by this terrible thing going on in her brain.   We sat with her a while longer, letting her cry, having no answers that could comfort.  What answers could there be?  What a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day: that the real her came to the surface for a moment, and the surface was this.  Now she's done it--my mother's made me cry...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cheesecake to my soul

In the Palouse now, resting my head against my pillow on a real bed--a bed complete with pillow-topped mattress, box springs and frame, so that I don't have to make myself fall down in order to lie down.  I loved hanging with SK for half the week, but (sorry, Bugaboo!) I'm too old and stiff to sleep on the floor, even if there is an inch thick hidabed mattress between me and the hard concrete.  I think we've had carpet pads thicker.

I'm not complaining, really I'm not.  Last night I hung out with a couple of my close high school friends.  We sat around a cheese cake...I mean, we sat around a table, eating small portions of cheese cake.  Who us, overindulge?  You must be joking. But let me just say, I could have eaten the whole thing, so I really was holding back.

We had a fine time, my friends and me.  I laughingly told one of them as we met outside the front door, that I haven't seen them in winter clothes in a couple of decades.  All of our get-togethers seem to occur on the hottest weekend of the summer, when all we can do to sit and talk and move toward the shade as the sun shifts.  Oh wait, I guess that sitting and talking isn't one bit dependent on weather.  Not one bit.  We always have so much to say, one evening together isn't sufficient for all our words.

All in all, the last several days have been rich and meaty.  Cheesecake for my soul, one might say.  Conversations that had girth, that stretched from births to deaths and encompassed everything in between.  After such days, such single moments all in a row, I am so broadened, so heartened to simply be in this world, that I'm overcome by it.

I love--love--the life God has set before me, Like that cheesecake on the table it's full of variety and texture, and compells me to make choices between good and good and good and good.  If that makes sense.  Now here I am in the Palouse, surrounded by my beloved hills, dark chocolate and ready to winter, and I'm content.  Thankful to my baby, SK, for a full, rich time.  Thankful to her roommates who gave me a peephole into their lives, even into their hearts. What a privilege.

I spend many hours alone these days.  More hours than I might wish, though I need solitude like I need air to breathe.  Like I need to write.  Like I need God. And yet, I also hunger for community, for life-giving conversations that never last long enough, like last night, like the one this afternoon as a friend drove me halfway down the road home.  Like the many of the last week, leaning against kitchen counters, or curled up on a mattress a single inch wide.  I need those conversations, those kinds of interactions like I need air to breathe, like I need to write.  Like I need God.  Because in them, just as sure as in those solitary moments, I see and hear and event taste Him-- truly cheesecake to my soul.

Hands up

 I went to SK's choir rehearsal yesterday, where I met a dozen of her friends, was re-introduced to the director, and sat in an uncomfortably prominent position, right where every eye in the room looked when they got distracted from looking at the director.  The choir sounded beautiful to my clearly untrained ear (I almost wrote eye there...and that's quite the thought, that one might see sound!).  Without so much as a scale, they launched into one of my all-time favorite Christmas pieces--Candlelight.  Also, without so much as a syllable spoken by the director.  In fact, it was half-way through the rehearsal before that director uttered a single word.  He clapped, moved his hands, pounded the piano keys, but didn't speak.  And when he finally did, the word was, "OK."  A few minutes after that he said, "Sit down," and it was like the flood gates opened.  I mean he began speaking in full sentences.  Elaborate sentences such as, "Are you ready to work?" as if they had been simply standing around with their fingers in their ears or even sleeping.

The other thing that caught my attention was that during the first song, a boy on the edge of the front row raised his hand.  And the director didn't so much as slow down, let alone call on him. This caused me a little consternation.  So a director who doesn't speak to but actually ignores his students?  This was not sitting well with my soul.  However, during the next piece more students raised their hands, and immediately put them back down, and after the director asked if they were ready to work, many students seemed to continually have hands in the air.  Some much more often than others.  I surmised (being the excellent surmiser that I am) that they raised their hands when they were confused about their parts.  I wasn't too far off the mark.  Later I was told that they raised their hands when they made a mistake.  This practice of owning one's mistakes meant that the director didn't have to stop and ferret out the culprit who was making the sound off in his perfect-pitched world.

What an amazing thing this practice would be for us.  Just owning one's mistakes by the quick raise of a hand.  Meanwhile the music of the whole goes on without interruption. Smooth and generally sweet, with rhythm and purpose.  Just that simple raised arm before God and humans alike, the owning of our sins could keep conflicts from getting out of hand (so to speak).  And, with our hands in the air, we could be assured that we were forgiven, because the music didn't stop, because the large outstretched hands of Christ's crucifixion tells us so, without speaking a word; and the glorious triumphant music of the resurrection never ends.  Do I hear a Hallelujah?

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 1: 9

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'd forgotten...

Um...I think I forgot something.  Yep, I'm almost sure of it.

Several weeks ago when I was finalizing plans to allow Beve to drive off without me early on the Sunday morning of parents' weekend at Whitworth, leaving me to bunk with SK and her four adorable roommates, I thought it was a great plan.  A genius plan.  Allowing me to spend more time with her, do the finishing touches on my retreat for next weekend, see some friends of my own, yep, what could be wrong with this plan?  And all weekend, it continued to seem quite intelligent.  Beve got to leave before the sun rose yesterday, while I was still deeply in REM mode.  We met the other parents of the girls here, all of whom seemed great at first, second or third glance.  And yesterday was quiet because the girls in this house were studying--I mean, seriously studying.  It allowed me to sew costumes for SK, and study myself.  And all this time, I was patting myself on the back for the wisdom of my decision to stay with these amazing young women.

But I'd forgotten something.  I'd forgotten that in college, life doesn't really amp up until about 10:30 or 11PM.  Yep, that's right.  About the time I'm lying in bed next to a slumbering Beve, reading quietly--amping down!--the residents of this house, and a male visitor, were beginning to laugh, talk loudly, stare at silly pictures on the computer.  There was a karate demonstration by one of them with her guy friend, during which she told him (who was the 'assailant'), "You're doing it wrong," as if in a dark alley, there's a particular way to attack a female so she can do the proper defensive move.  And, when I asked this young man if he'd watched the football games of the day, two of the non-athletic types (including my daughter) got online and decided that they'd become fans of an NFL team, based on the following criteria: cuteness of the mascot, color of the uniforms, and looks of a designated 'favorite' player.  They chose the Carolina Panthers, for their darling panther, and the black, white and teal combination--always a good fashion choice.  SK did a short dramatic prestentation, which she has to do in class today.  And there may have been some conversation about whether Zach Efron is good looking or not.  And there was laughter...unabated, burbling like a stream, laughter.  The girls were all kind of lying on each other against one wall, and the boy was across the room, staring at them as if they were animals in the zoo.

I know all this because they were right outside SK's room.  The room where I'd intended to go to sleep.  The basement room with NO insulation, and VERY hollow walls. So I did what any reasonable person would do--'when you can't beat 'em, join 'em." 

Yep, I'd forgotten that life just gets going around midnight, that these young adults needed to let off steam after a whole weekend of being on their best behavior, around parents, friends' parents; and after having spent most of the day doing the studying college kids tend to put off until Sunday night.

And I'd forgotten what it's like to live in a house with peers who are going through the same things, who need to study but don't want to, who have similar senses of humor, who eat the same ways (mostly!), and--even though it's only October--finish each other's sentences, speak in the same vernacular, "I'm doing it like a job," "I know, right?" and the like.  I'd forgotten how it feels to have friends who are your family, who care about the big and little things of life, who will stare at the ceiling with you, or curl up against your bloated stomach and laugh when you belch. And you know what?  They welcomed me in.  They allowed this flabby old, wrinkled-faced mom to laugh with them.  And it was great (for a while...I ran out of steam far before they did!).

I'm a grown-up.  My friends are also grown-ups.  We talk and pray and share a lot--a lot about our kids, too.  But we don't play together.  We aren't silly together.  And somehow, even though it kept me from sleep,  I think it was a good lesson to learn.  We're called children of God, after all.  And maybe, just maybe, we need to play like children, to be silly enough that we let off steam.  And come to Him with the honesty, the earnestness--about big and little things--and allow ourselves to curl up against Him and laugh.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

That something

I walked into the student-led worship service at Whitworth this morning, glanced at SK on stage, as part of the music team, then turned to find a front and center seat, where I could gaze at her with abandon.  SK was part of the worship team at our church during much of her high school years, and I tended to take my glasses off when she was in front of us. It was too easy to stare at her, you see, thereby NOT participating in worship.  But this morning I didn't care.  I haven't listened to her voice leading a congregation in a long time, and was perfectly happy to bask in it, and her lovely face, so intent on seeking God.  Beve left to drive home VERY early this morning (I think it was 5 AM), so I was all by myself in that auditorium full of Whitworth parents and students.

Sitting there before the service began, I did my usual--watched all the people around me.  Right in front of me, just below the stage, was the university chaplin and his wife, talking to a sandy-haired woman.  A woman I instantly recognized...someone I haven't seen for about 30 years.  But 33 years ago, she was one of my first college roommates.  It was the first time I ever lived away from home, and though it was only across town from my parents, and I went home quite frequently--to borrow a car, do laundry, dig through my closet from some necessary article of clothing, and one very late, memorable winter night, tried to borrow the family's toboggan--I felt incredibly grown-up and independent when I lived with this woman and two other friends.  I'm pretty sure this woman was in the car that infamous tobogganing night, a night I won't ever forget, but won't write about here--at least not today. But then, she was often in the car, or in the room, or along on whatever adventure I was about in those days.  There were four of us in a tiny apartment--an apartment so small, there was only room for a couple of love seats (furnished by the university) in the living room, bunks in the bedroom, and a miniscule table.  But we were quite happy there.  More than happy, I'd say.  We were living our dreams, deeply involved in the lives of teenagers, social activities, Bible Studies, and...oh, now that you mention it, our studies.

Our classes did seem to be footnotes to our real lives in a way.  But that may have just been me.  My roomies certainly seemed intent on the myriad projects that were cornerstones of all their classes.  All three of my roommates were elementary ed majors, and the industrial carpet on the floor of our place always seemed to be littered with bits of construction paper, glue bottles, and cleverly created posters meant to stimulate student learning.  Now I'm creative in my way, but my brain just doesn't work the way their brains did.  The lesson plans they had to plan, the artwork they had to do...I'm telling you it gives me a shudder just thinking about it.  But those three women were all suited for the profession they had chosen.

This isn't to say that they were peas in a pod, Siamese triplets or even very much alike.  They weren't.  As I think back about them now, I am struck by  their differences. But those differences--in background, world view, interests (and if you add me to the mix, whoa...), personalities--didn't add up to a hill of beans, as the saying goes, when it comes to how we lived together that year, shared the single bathroom, cooking duties (we put 60$ a piece into a coffee can in the back of the refrigerator, next to old jars of mayonnaise, pickles, and juices, and called it, "share and share alike for everything").  We played tricks on guy friends, once took off on a Friday evening, just so we could stick our toes in the Pacific Ocean for a few hours on Saturday. Considering we lived on the opposite side of the state from said ocean, this way quite a journey.  We all got soaking wet and freezing from the salty waves, but only in college do people make such a trek--especially in February!  On the way home that Sunday, we blew a tire on the little fiat we were in, and realized not one of us had ever learned how to put on a spare.  We sat by the side of that lonely road in eastern Washington, praying for some Good Samaritan to come and do it for us...and along came a pick-up with a young man, whose name I want to say was Roy, though it could have been anything.  He changed the tire, got us back on the road just as the sun was setting to the west.

That same month, we all had the best Valentine's Day of our lives.  No less than a dozen rings of the doorbell came that day.  The one florist in town must have chortled by the end, seeing our address come up so often.  I'm not enough of a girly-girl to want flowers for every occasion, or even for the most special moments--buy me a book that will last, I say!--but there's something about a small apartment full of every kind of flowers that makes a girl's heart thump loudly.  One of my roommates that year was dating my best guy friend, and his single rose to me came with the most memorable sentiment: "C--what can I say?  K"  Whatever else was sent, given to me, that's the one that's remained with me.

Yes, all this we shared that year.  And so much more besides.  The ministry of Young Life, the leadership trainings with teaching that still--STILL--resonates with me.  Loving kids, loving the world, loving each other.  It was John 10 life--lived abundantly.

So running into this old friend, with whom I had life, did life, lived to the fullest, made worship sweet.  After the service, we moved toward each other as if pulled by magnets, and stood there talking on top of each other while the auditorium emptied of people.  There wasn't enough time, and we didn't have enough breath to cover the lives we've lived since that shared year.  But something compelled us to try.  Something compelled us to let my daughter and her family stand to the side, making small talk (it turns out her daughter and SK had a class together last year; it also turns out that when I called her name, it took her a moment to remember me, but her husband knew instantly who I was).  That same something compelled us to live together, be in ministry together 33 years ago, to laugh about moldy yogurt, silly boys; to cry about other boys who were missing the boat with us--amazing, beautiful us!  And that same something is what makes each of us (and the other two as well) tick.  Has always made us tick.  In all the years, in all the choices, in all our hopes and dreams for our kids.  You know, those dreams that our kids will live their dreams, will live with people who share those dreams.

"For the love of Christ compels us." 2 Corinthians 5:14

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thrift stores, pizza and Henry David Thoreau

Settled into SK's house in Spokane for the next few days.  SK lives with four other girls in a very nicely kept home near her campus.  They call this house "The Infirmary" because they've all dealt with health issues, either acute or chronic.  Beve and I are bunking in SK's basement room on the hide-a-bed mattress which she and I drug down from the living room.  It came from the plaid couch that once lived in our living room, then was shipped off with E when she moved across the state.  In fact, SK has much of E's furniture and kitchen ware.  Now that E's living with the parental units, she doesn't need her glasses, a few pans and random mugs.  It's interesting to see all these things continually used.  Makes me feel like we're helping the planet, keeping things out of landfills, and our basement!

We're here with several other parents of the girls in this house. We (meaning the parents) seem to have done a lot of shopping for our daughters.  Not surprisingly, we found every thrift store in Spokane this afternoon.  SK's room, while very nicely decorated and clean, is definitely a basement, complete with styrofoam ceiling only covering part of it, cement walls and floor as well as exposed duct work!  And merely one tiny rod for a 'closet'.  Considering we brought ALL of SK's dresses over (she claims she needs them for costumes for the theatre department, but who really knows?), we had to find a free-standing clothing rack.  However, thrift stores are NOT the places to look for such things.  We did, on the other hand, find several buys we couldn't possibly live without!  A better frying pan, since Beve made breakfast for everyone this morning and was HORRIFIED by the quality of cookware.  A side note: the roommates and mom were amazed and appreciative that Beve went off to Safeway before 8 AM, then cooked for everyone.  "Including me?" the girls kept asking.  SK and I reassured him that of course he was cooking for everyone.  It's how he does things.  My servant-hearted Beve.  We also found glass containers for flour and sugar, a few really cool glasses, and (for us!) a key holder, which Beve has been looking for for monthes!

This is exactly Beve's kind of day. The hunt for specific things, several great bargains, and time with his little Bug (SK). Beve's passionate, relentless search for bargains has always reminded me of this Henry David Thoreau quote:
"I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove and am still on their trail.  Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to.  I have met one or two who have heard the hound and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the turtledove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if if they had lost them themselves."

This is the vigor with which Beve peruses the shelves and racks at Thrift stores or the offerings on Craigslist.  As anxious to find bargains as if those things were his to begin with. I tease him that he finds things he didn't know he was missing, but has clearly been searching for his whole life.

But it's also true that we look for connections this way, with passion, vigor, valuing their worth.  We had such a time tonight with some of our oldest, dearest friends. Around a table-full of pizza and rich laughter at moments, we dove deep, barely coming up for air, hearing the hound between us, the thing of value we're always--ALWAYS!!--looking for.  These moments make us better than we are, as we look for Kingdom moments, relish them when they rise between us.

And, I dare say, SK is on the verge of finding her own hound and horse and turtledove, her own passionate community with the young women in this house.  Shared interests, shared laughter, but even more, deep life and death issues have caused them to reach for something--and to find it!--that kids their age rarely know they're missing.  Community is what I'm talking about.  Community with our dear, old friends, whom we don't see very often, but know very well.  Community in this college house that has already become a home.  Yes, this house on this busy street, like that table in the pizza parlor is Thoreau's hound and horse and turtledove. 

What are you searching for?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hard prayers

The other day I had a conversation with a woman who is no stranger to dying parents, having traveled back and forth to the east coast to sit with a father on Nantucket, of all amazing places (shoot, I'd have sat with him, just to spend time there!).  She's met Mom several times over the course of our time here in Bellingham, and always asks about her.  When she asked the other day, it spurred a conversation about assisted suicide.  Sue said, "If I ever get to that place, just put me out of my misery."

We all say things like that now and then.  Beve'll get stuck behind one of the walker-brigade at the retirement complex where Grampie lives, inching along like Tim Conway in the old Carol Burnett sketch.  Once he's finally past them, he'll whisper to me, "Just take me out and shoot me when I get like that."  I smile and nod, saying, "Beve, you're almost like that now, on your bad days."  But neither of us mean it.  We absolutely believe in God's sovereignty in all things, particularly that He is in control of our living, and, perhaps even more, in our dying.  Sue doesn't have our world view, though, and there was an earnest conviction in her voice when she spoke to me. I suggested that Mom is already too 'gone' to make any kind of decision, even if she (Mom) was actually of a mind-set to believe in assisted suicide.

But  this has led me to think hard about my equally earnest prayers that God take Mom home, that HE put her out of this misery.  Earlier in my Christian life, I would have been aghast at the idea of praying for someone to die.  It somehow felt wrong. Shouldn't I always be praying for healing? Sure, sometimes healing comes after life on this earth ends, and that I have seen clearly.  But the actual, fervent, active prayer for someone's death?  Doesn't even reading that sentence turn your stomach a little? But that was before Alzheimer's took up residence in Mom's life.  That was before the deep, horrifying cruelty of this disease stripped Mom of everything that makes a person a self.  Now, it seems to me that the only loving prayer, the only active participation in seeing Mom well again, herself again--or, hopefully, a better self than she has ever been--is to pray for her death.

This prayer no longer worries me, makes me feel badly, or weak.  As hard as it sounds in the abstract, this prayer is the strongest, truest thing I can do for her now.  In the last semi-well years of her life, Mom became preoccupied with spending time in the Word.  First reading and doing devotionals, and then--when her capacity for understanding diminished--simply copying long passages of scripture.  That year it became my practice was to call her every morning to pray for her.  Some days that's all I did.  We had no conversation, not extra words at all, just that prayer. And I have to tell you, they were hard prayers.  I mean, some days I didn't know what or how to pray so that she could understand.  So mostly I prayed that she be marinated in His love, that He protect her and give her peace. And she cried--almost daily. Many times she spoke of how much she loved Him.  I've thought recently that it was like she was storing up 'food' for the winter. All those hours immersed in scripture, all those prayers. It wasn't long after that Lenten season when she told me she could no longer pray, and had stopped reading.  Now she's in a great hibernation, and I'm pretty sure she has no idea who or what God is.  But it's in there, in her real self.  And, as I told her one day, "It doesn't matter if you forget God.  He won't forget you."

So today, as every day now, I ask Him--boldly!--to remember her, to marinate her in His love, to grant her peace for today, and to PLEASE take her home, where she belongs.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Past tense verbs

I've been thinking a lot about my parents lately, about the past tense verbs which must now be used to speak of them.  When we were in the first months of grief after my dad died, 12+ years ago, one of my sisters told me, "When a parent dies who you lose is your grandparents."  And that's true.  I've noticed it lately as I've been going through pictures and writings of my mother's parents.  I keep wanting to ask her about my grandfather's naval service in WWII, wanting to chart the trajectory of his movements over this earth.  But there's no one left to ask.  The shell who sits in Avalon Nursing Home in my home town, the shell formerly known as my mother, wouldn't have the faintest idea who "Chief" is, let alone understand the entire sentence.

Though the fact is that our mother still breaths, the truth is, my siblings and I no longer have a mother. We have to get used to this.  But oddly to those of you who aren't my siblings, but less so to the four of you who are, the loss of our mother even while she still breathes, makes me miss, so acutely I swear it's a cramp in my heart, our dad.  I would give anything for us not to have to be the adults in this winter of our mother's life.  I would give anything for a long talk late at night alone (or at least without Mom) with Dad, hearing his calm, reasonable perspective, his loving tenderness (which he often tried to mask, but it was always there, especially late at night, especially for the troubles of his kids), his humor and his wisdom.  I'd love to have him available to take those endless shifts in that sterile room at the nursing home, so my sister didn't have them cutting so deeply into her shoulders, there's a worn groove in them.  I wish for a spouse for my mom--for all the hard moments, the doctor's appointments, the stubborn refusal to take pills or eat or move.  He would have done this well, I think.  Dad handled a difficult mother all his growing up years, and a difficult wife the rest of his life.  He could shake their difficulties right off his shoulders, those shoulders broader than my little sister's, for all that she looks exactly like him.

I'm also thinking about all this because I've gone through pictures my sister sent over to me--pictures of the house we built high on a hill in that hometown.  Those are pretty cool pictures, actually, a progression through the building process: the empty lot, the concrete forms, with the four of us kids were like chimpanzees climbing all over them, while Mom didn't even seem to notice that we could have fallen and broken our necks.  She was too busy smiling at the camera in her cat-eye glasses.  Obviously Dad took the picture! Then came the framing, and more chimps on ladders, window frames, even the roof line, then the house took real shape, with walls, a roof, windows.  Looking at these photos, I'm reminded of how strange our house was in that neighborhood of spec-built homes. Most looked very much alike, the same kind of siding, roofs, room sizes.  Ours had pebbles on its semi-flat roof--seriously, it did.  I walked up there more times than my parents needed to know.  High windows, sharp interior corners so that only a couple rooms were rectangular, the rest merely (but oh, not merely!) quadriladerals (I think...I've never been great at geometry).  These pictures make me think of Dad as well.  They make me think of how proud he was of that house, and of how I wrote a spiritual formation paper in seminary using that house as the vehicle for talking about the people who helped form me!  Dad was the living room, not only because every important conversation with him in my pre-married life happened in that room or because he was often my gymnastics horse over which I practiced vaulting, but because he was the absolute heart of our home.  The gravity which held us all--especially Mom--to earth, kept us from flying apart.  That house is still a loss in my life, even though what I really want back is something that couldn't be recaptured if that house still belonged in our family.  It's my dad I'm missing, and the family we were when that unique house was our home.

And I'm thinking about this because once again I'm heading that direction at the end of the week.  I'll spend part of next week there, sitting with the shell formerly known as my mother, trying to have a monologue as she stares blankly into space; sitting,too, with my sister, if only to lighten her load a bit.  To do a bit of teaching--retreating, if you will--with the group of women my sister's been meeting with for just about as long as Dad's been gone from this earth.  That's a whole lot of knowing these women share together, a whole lot of living they've done. And I'll probably drive up the hill past that house of the oddly shaped rooms, and in my imagination I'll walk through the front door, maybe all the way out to the balcony to stare at the view my parents loved.  In fact, right now I'm standing there, staring at those hills, remembering.  Missing them, feeling orphaned...even though I have gray hairs of my own now.  Or maybe especially because of that.

And maybe I'll go ahead and have that conversation with my dad I'm longing to have, all about his grandkids who have grown up well--so well.  One's across the ocean right now, using God-given gifts in Africa no less (dang, I'm so jealous!), another across the country working hard, living well, loving Jesus.  Three are married, one about to be, five have graduated from college, two have advanced degrees. Four more are in college, leaving just the youngest grandchild to get there.  All in good time, I'd tell Dad.  That youngest, well, I wouldn't be surprised if he's the best of the lot (and he's NOT one of mine). But their accomplishments aren't the main thing.  Aren't even important from where Dad stands these days.  It's who we are inside that counts, both here and in eternity. So this is what I'll tell Dad in my imagination tonight: We've all suffered--to one extent or another, but all endured. We've all had losses (you most of all!) but also great joys. All treat others exactly as we were taught at your knee-with generosity of spirit and kindess even to those who irritate us. In short, all are growing up into our true selves, I think.  He'd be proud of us, I know.  And he'd be proud, too, that even when her true self is also past tense, we're (especially RE) still taking care of Mom, just the way I promised him we would in the last face to face conversation I ever had with him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lessons learned from our dogs

I could write a book about the lessons I've learned throughout the years from our various dogs.  From Toby, there's his incredible ferociousness in guarding us from would-be intruders, much like the Holy Spirit guards us from the enemy, while we stand and stand and stand; from Sassy, her intentional watchfulness, exactly what Jesus spoke in the parable of the ten virgins and their lit lamps.  From Jemima of the peaceful heart, there are so many lessons, I could spend this whole post and the next dozen talking about her--her instant obedience when her master called, her focus on the one thing (tennis balls), no matter what extraneous distractions there might be, her hiding her treasures (stuffed animals she culled from our kids, the neighbors, whoever) under bushels, bushed, dirt of any kind (have I written about finding one with its head sticking out of the ground--a teddy bear--the winter after she died, and I cried to see it, wanted to leave it but Jackson grabbed it and immediately tore it apart!  And the one we found just a month ago, likely three years after she buried it!); from Jackson, there's the recent lesson of living with reduced abilities with grace and good humor and a continual wagging of his tail.  How I can learn--should learn!--from this.  Oh, that I were as easy-going, as cheerful in pain as he is.

But today I want to write about Jamaica.  A week or so ago, E was outside throwing for her, while I watched.  Ever since Maica began retrieving balls, we've noticed that now and then, but not every time, she spends a long time sniffing the grass on her way back across the lawn.  I've always gotten a kick out of this behavior, since it's so clearly the exact same grass she's sniffed, done her business on, run across her entire life.  What in the world does she expect to discover this time?  E said, "She's just trying to figure out where it all went wrong."  And the light went on for me.  That's exactly what she's doing (though Beve, the counselor, astutely pointed out that it's also more than a little OCD to do this!).  She only bends her head to the ground when she fails to catch the ball on the fly, or on a single hop.  When she misses that catch and has to go chasing the tennis balls, she detours all over the lawn until she picks up the scent of where the ball landed.  Seriously, every time she messes up, she retraces her steps until she has it figured out, then she lifts her head and runs back to the thrower.

Searching for where it all went wrong.  That's a lesson I could do well to study.  Retracing my steps spiritually to discover where I sinned, where I got off track, where the ball bounced and I didn't pick it up.  I don't believe that everything that has gone wrong in my life has a one-to-one correlation with my sin.  I know we live in a fallen world, I know that the enemy wants a foothold in my life.  However, I also believe that sin has consequence, that I compromise and make grave (yes, putting Jesus in the grave, I mean) errors that have changed the course of my life.   Even though I am forgiven, not 'held in contempt', so to speak, for these sins,  at least, not legally in God's courtroom.

But when I miss the ball, when I get off track, I would be wise to do as Jamaica does--to retrace my steps, to turn around and smell the earth of that missed ball.  This, in theological parlance, is repentance.  Far more than simply saying I'm sorry, it's actually turning around and going the other way.  Going back to where the sin was, and beginning again from there.  Asking God to throw to me again--which He will gladly do--but also, asking Him to help me catch whatever He tosses in my direction.  Make me sure-footed, give me soft hands, give me keen eyes.  This is Spirit work, to aid us in doing what God calls us to do.  Not sticking out my chin and saying "I can do it better, I am able," but admitting, "I need You to make me able."  That, my friends, is a significant difference.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Redundancy

I just have to say a word about my post last night.  Er, the title of said post.  'But still'.  Hmmm.  Once I crawled out of the fog my brain was in, I was flushed in embarrassment to have used such a redundancy.  Many such word combinations fly around in everyday conversation.  You know, like "but yet", one I really, truly hate (did you catch that?  'really truly!').  There's no reason to use these words together, because they have the same function.  Another one, which I hear often is "literally true".  Tell me, is there a way something could be figuratively true?  Symbolically true? 

Then there's 'not hardly'.  My grandmother used to get on us about that one.  I can't remember what she'd say, but whenever I hear that phrase, I think of her.  Is there a difference between not hardly and hardly?  I hardly think so, any more than there's a difference between unravel and ravel.  Am I wrong here?  Literally wrong?  Or just symbolically?

But we allow these phrases to creep into our vocabulary without thinking about them.  Well, I think about them.  I'm the one who internally corrects people when they use the word 'good' rather than 'well'.  Yes, I admit it, I do it all the time, even when the person is on television.  "I'm doing good,"  really, truly I am.  'Good what?' should be the question.  'Good works' might fit, but I'm not sure what else does. 

All this to say that I repent in dust and ashes for having used the redundancy 'but still' last night, when my head was thumping and my body aching.  Not hardly an excuse, but yet I wasn't doing good, so you'll have to excuse me. And that's the truth.  The literal truth.

Indeed, I really and truly thank you for your patience.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

But still

It's been a bad week, healthwise.  Painwise.  It's been the kind of week where I have to lie in bed for an hour or so before I can manage to make myself stand on my weak legs, my aching feet, my tender skin.  The hall through our house, which has been used as a bowling alley once or twice, seems extraordinarily long this week.  So long I have to put one hand out to grab the wall so I don't fall over before I reach the kitchen.   That's the kind of week it's been. It's been a "I can hardly hold my head up on my shoulders or raise my hands high enough to throw the ball for Jamaica" kind of week.  And I'm living it.  Yes, I'm living it.  A lot of times when it's this bad, I don't live it.  I curl up in my bed and stay there.  Wait it out--I can do that--but one would have to make a huge leap off a cliff (and we know how that ends!) to call it living.

But still, here I am.  Still breathing, still raising those arms to play with dogs, cook for my family, read, write, pray, work on quilts, try to hold conversations as the need arises.  Most people call that living.  But it's hard on Beve.  It's hard when he wants me to do things in the evenings, and I have to be left at home because walking across parking lots is beyond me.  He's understanding.  Really understanding.  But still.  And it's hard on these two young adults who live at home, because my sense of humor seems to be on a break too.  I'm telling you, a sensitive mom drives these sarcastic young adults crazy.

But still, I'm living.  And if one was inclined to take the broad view of such things, the eternal view, even, one might consider it no coincidence that pain has reared its ugly head right now, because I've just re-opened the study I did last spring about suffering.  In a couple weeks I have the opportunity to share this study with another group of women.  I'm really looking forward to spending a weekend with these women, one of which is my youngest sister.  But revising, refining, re-studying these truths at this exact moment is nothing short of profound.  Almost too much to bear, actually.  Gifts of the fire, when the fire is my very body?  Easy, right?

But still.  God knows exactly what I need, even if what I need is pain in order to study pain.  Now that I've written it that way, of course it all makes sense.  Orderly, in the way of God.  There will an authenticity to the words I share because I'm also living them.  In every sense.  And even as I can't hold up my head, walk on my feet, or do any of the most ordinary of tasks, there is comfort because He is here and He is not silent.  This comfort...yes, this comfort that He is purposeful in everything He allows me to suffer.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble iwth the comfort we ourselve receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."   2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Super power

I listen to sports radio.  At least some of the time, depending on the time of day when I'm driving my car.  Never at home, rarely during the morning...ok, so there are a whole lot of variables.  Anyway, a couple of days ago, all those variables aligned, like the stars or something, and I had the radio on.  And heard one sports show host ask his partner in commentary, "If you could have any super power for a day, which would you choose and why?"

And his cohost, whom I would have characterized as erudite most of the time, said, "The ability to swim with the fishes, so I could communicate with them."  The questioner had not a single word to say in response to this answer.

But I did?  Ridicule and disdain.  Seriously, buddy, communicate with the fishes?  Those cold-blooded creatures that don't even breathe through their mouths, let alone speak through them?  Those deep-water slimy things whose brains are about the size of a pea?  That's the great mystery of the universe you want to uncover--what fish 'think' about?  Wow, how impressive.

OK, hotshot, I imagined this man answering my mockery.  What would your answer be?  Quick, no thinking!  But it was already too late, because I've thought of this many, many times.  Not comic-book super-power, which is flat as the pages those 'pows' and 'bams' are written on. T hat I've given nary a thought to, but what I would answer, if God Himself asked me, as He did Solomon, what He could do for me is a question  which has pre-occupied me more than once.  It seems like something that is worth considering for any who wish to follow Him.  Solomon answered, "Wisdom," which is an asnwer I've contemplated once or twice.  But what really comes to mind, because it's the deep cry of my heart, now as much as ever, is the words from Exodus 33 (especially vss. 12-13).  I'm pretty sure I've quoted them before, but it's a passage worth repeating. Here's Moses speaking to God--as one would speak to a friend, the text says.


"You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with Me. If You are are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you." 

That's it.  The one thing--the Super power of eternity, so to speak: 'teach me your ways, Lord, so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you.'  Every other thing I might wish for is summed up in this thought.  Teach me your ways--that in itself contains the wisdom of Solomon.  Let me know You--and in knowing You, I will love and care for, and engage with all of humanity, all of the cosmos--because You do.  And Let me continue to find the favor with You that created this relationship.  His favor--the favor that created me in His image, led through a stable to a cross to a grave to a throne--rests on me already.  On all of us who believe.

What is a super power compared to that?  Teach me your ways, Lord.  What would you answer?  Think about it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Being there

SK didn't go to work this afternoon.  I know this because she called me--all the way across the state--asking me to get on her college's website and give her the phone number of her work.  I was more than happy to do this for her, didn't even second guess her decision.  In fact, I applauded it.  You see, SK was sitting with a friend in an oncologist's office, ready to hold her friend's hand if she needed it, available to drive back across town, in case her friend was too shaky, even hysterical to manage to drive.

I've held a lot of hands in difficult situations, I've listened to friends sob about broken marriages,  moms whose kids whose decisions both perplexed and troubled them, held teens who admitted they'd been hurt--in every way imaginable--by a parent who should have only loved and nurtured them.  And I've sat with a friend or two while poison dripped into their bodies, poison that was the only long term hope of healing them, even if it seemed to be killing them in the short term.  And I've been in the room when a woman heard the word cancer for the first time.  But I was in my forties at the time, and my husband was the one who held and cried with that woman, he was the one she reached for--she is his sister.   While they cried together, I stood off to the side praying for both of them.

But I have to tell you, when I was SK's age, the most serious thing I ever went through with any of my friends was a painful break-up (and I'm pretty sure it was mine!).  I'm awed by the maturity of my twenty-year-old daughter.  She gets something it took me a decade or two longer to learn--that the most important thing you can do for someone suffering is simply being there.  Holding the hands of someone who's hearing the hardest words one can imagine.  SK didn't have any profound words for her friend today.  But she didn't need them.  Being available, dealing with the practical issues--like driving--so the one hurting doesn't have to think when thinking is beyond a possibility.

I've been thinking a lot about this kind of work recently.  The Kingdom-come work of sitting with people in suffering.  Most of the time our instinct is to turn our heads away, isn't it?  But that turning of our heads is a whole lot like the people who crossed by the side of the road when they saw the man lying in the ditch.  Isn't it? Maybe turning our heads toward someone in pain--whether that's physical or any other kind--is the most important, profound thing we ever do.  And believe me, I remember a moment in my life when I said, "If I was this hurt physically, rather than emotionally, I'd be in the hospital, maybe even in ICU. Come to think of it, perhaps this is the perfect time to thank all those friends who flew, drove, just came into my room, to sit with me when I needed it most.

SK's friend doesn't have any answers today, but when the day comes--when the surgery happens--I know SK will be sitting in that waiting room, just being there.

I could learn something from that girl of mine.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weather

As we backed into our driveway after church today, I saw a most astounding sight: our neighbors across the street had sprinklers running.  Sprinklers--here in the usually rain drenched terrain of the northwest on the second weekend of October.  If you don't live here, you have no idea how remarkable this is.  Remember the line from Sleepless in Seattle--"It rains nine months of the year in Seattle."  And it's true of our medium-sized berg two hours north of the emerald city as well. But not this year.  This year the sun started showing its face in May and has barely hidden it since.  Oh sure, we've had a day or two of rain, even as long as a week's stretch, but nothing like normal. Usually about this time people have pulled out their fleece and gortex and are happily covering up for the duration (though very few people carry umbrellas, unless you have to watch a child's soccer match in a downpour--then all the giant golf umbrellas we keep in our closets come out.  Believe me I've stood under them a time or twenty...but as long as we keep moving it takes far too much effort to use umbrellas nine months of the year).

Yes, there's often a week in September or early October we call "Indian Summer" for some unknown reason (it sounds a little pejorative, doesn't it?  Kind of like the Washington Redskins, which really needs to change its name).  So called Indian Summer  means the sun shines, we take off our jackets for a day and pretend we still have all the freedom of summer.  But it doesn't last.  We don't expect it to.  One of the reasons we don't mind "Falling back" to Standard Time is that we might as well hole up in our homes earlier, I mean what would we do outside in all that rain?  But this aberrant year, if the sun continues to make its appearance, we're all going have trouble setting our clocks back.  We'll grieve this long, beautiful summer, remember it fondly for years to come. 

But oddly, yesterday, when I ran to the store, I saw lots of fleece.  More than I expected.  Sure, it's not 80 degrees now, but when it's this warm in March we pull out our shorts and flip-flops.  It made me wonder, though, if all these northwesterners have begun longing for the rain, longing for the weather to change with the season.  Longing for life to be what we expect, right down to the temperature.  Sprinklers running is NOT part of the norm.  Much to my personal chagrin, I stopped watering my pots mid-September, expecting the weather to turn any minute.  Now I have a whole patio full of dead geraniums.  Quite the welcoming sight for anyone wanting to ring our doorbell.  Hmmm, maybe not such a bad idea, if only to discourage people selling magazines, knives, window-coverings, religion.

We're creatures of habit, even of weather.  We want there to be a rhythm to our days, a pattern to our years.  And even if we absolutely LOVE these sun-drenched days (I'm telling you, this continent would tilt to the northwest, if everyone knew how magnificantly beautiful it was here when it's sunny!), it takes rain to make it so.  It's because of rain that Seattle is the Emerald City, it's rain that gives us these flowers, and heirloom vegetables and glorious evergreens.  Not measly sprinklers, not watering cans--unless that sprinkler, that watering can comes from heaven.

I never thought I'd be saying this, but God, bring the rain.  Please.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

In a crowd

Spent the evening in a room full of big spenders.  Actually, Beve spent last night in a room like that as well.  This is the 'raise funds' season of the year, and every foundation, organization, church, radio station seem to have their hands out.  There's "Praise-A-Thon' from the local Christian Radio station and "Jazz-a-thon" from the foundation Beve was at last night (a dessert action where a case of wine went for 1100$.   As I said, big spenders. Tonight we were totally in our element...NOT.  It was a wine tasting event for the community scholarship organization here in town.  Wine tasting: just one of the many things I know absolutely nothing about.  Along with automobile mechanics, marine biology, extra-terrestrial beings and...well, the list is inifinite.

The thing is, these kinds of events practically give me hives.  A whole lot of people I don't know, or know just barely (who likely don't know me!), standing around drinking sips of wine (did you know they only give one tablespoon of wine in the glass at wine-tastings?), eating pretty spectacular hors d uvres--which was nice considering we hadn't had dinner.  I can preach a sermon in front of 500 people and  LOVE it.  But put me in a room with a hundred people I don't know and I want to crawl into a hole.  How ridiculous is that?  But I'm not very good at small talk, not very comfortable with chit-chat.  I'd rather have 4 other people sitting at our table, digging deep, that 50 who only want to talk about the food, the weather, hairstyles, and sundry other topics I barely have an opinion about.  And there's always the person who asks a question, then looks away (or even walks away) before getting the answer.  You know that kind of person--they're always looking over your shoulder at someone more important to talk to. When that happens, Beve and I turn to each other and so, "Really, how fascinating."   If we were only going to talk to each other, we could have stayed home, wearing our pajamas.

Beve doesn't really mind large groups like that.  He could make conversation with just about anyone.  He likes the challenge of getting strangers to really open up.  He's interested in people--all people.  In groups we know well, I look like an extravert.  And Beve seems like an introvert.  But the true test is a room like the room tonight.  He navigates it easily and I'd like to hold his hand every second (though I don't!).  Or be home wearing my pajamas.

God made us this way.  It may seem peculiar to people that I could speak to a crowd I don't know, but not want to make conversation in a crowd I don't know.  But that's how I'm made.  Beve would rather have conversations with people than speak to a crowd.  And that's how he's made.  But really, come to our house for dinner (if you're not allergic to dogs).  We'll have a real conversation, meet minds and hearts and eat good food (Beve will make cinnamon rolls--and we'll all be happy.  Wear pajamas, and we'll be even happier.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unaccompanied youth

Last night long after Beve seemed to have begun the leg-twitching and deep-breathing that signals that he's asleep, he rolled over and began talking about someone he'd met during the day, someone who came from nothing, and was grateful for the smallest help.  After he rolled back over and resumed leg-twitching, I thought again about how much I take my life for granted.  My life, my home, my family.  We are so solidly in the middle, I usually think, but the reality is that we are blessed beyond compare. We are definitely among the 'haves' of this world.

Beve spends his days with people who have not.  Unaccompanied youth is what these kids are called, in the parlance of the system.  It means that they have no adult in their lives.  They're either in the foster care system, or are homeless.  And I mean literally homeless. I remember Beve telling me about one of his students who were squatting in an empty house, having broken in through broken windows.  The things they were doing in that house I don't want to know, the things that all of these kids do to survive--it's all pretty hard to hear.  But Beve has heard it all.  He's taken photos of bruises caused by parents, he's listened to stories of unwanted pregnancies, drugs, parents or siblings in prison.  And most of the time, he just carries it around in him.  I've watched him talk to a kid who is suicidal, make the calls to help this kid, take care of that, then, with a small shift of his shoulders, call the next kid into his office who simply wants a bus pass.  And he's equally attentive to each of them.

Tonight he's down in Seattle because he's on the board of a Foundation that raises monies to give students who might need athletic shoes, school supplies, a winter coat.  The person Beve told me about last night is a grown man who once lived barely above the poverty line, and every school activity was off limits for him because the family had no money.  This man grew up to be fairly wealthy, and he wrote a check for this Foundation large enough that it surprised Beve.  This man knows about giving back, knows what it might mean to a student to have the money for lab fees, or a P.E. lock.  He gave enough for many such locks.  And it will make a difference.

The thing is, if not for Beve, I'd live a fairly homogenous life.  Most of the people I know, am friends with, are in our tax-bracket, share our educational background, have white collar jobs.  And it's probable that I walk past people in the grocery store who are trying to decide whether to get bread or pasta with the change in their pockets. And I know I drive past some on the corners who hold signs pointing to their homelessness. Our town has many such corners, many such people with signs.  You know what Beve does?  He'll drive through a Jack-in-the-Box or MacDonalds, buy some burgers and hand them out through the window of the car to these hungry people.

And I know kids--kids my kids' ages--who could teach me a thing or two about living the gospel when it comes to caring for the poor.  I have neighbors who are neighbors--in the most Biblical sense--to the down and out.  As I sit here tonight in my comfortable house, with my life full of things, and therefore, full of dreams, I'm thankful for what Beve, these kids, our neighbors do.  And I'm wondering how God would have me put on my shoes and put feet to my faith.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Memorabilia

Another quick visit with my aunt and uncle this morning.  My uncle's brother, who lives here, is quite ill, so they run up here every few weeks.  Today they brought a couple of unexpected treasures.  When Beve saw them, he said, "This is what happens when people begin emptying out their houses: they fill up others' homes."  What they brought was a large bag of valentines given to my dad when he was his parents' only child, meaning, in the first half of the 1930s.  They're pretty amazing valentines, for the most part, with moving parts, intricately drawn children, sappy verses, and even sappier things written to my dad when his name still ended in 'ie.'  He was called 'sweetheart,' 'dearest one,' 'my darling,' which I believe my grandmother last called him when she was standing in front of his silk-lined casket.  I know (well, I've pretty much always known) where the sweet sentiments written on all my birthday cards came from.  Rather, I should say the ridiculously, even sickly, sweet sentiments.

However, there was one rather horrible valentine, right there in the middle.  Shockingly horrible.  It came from my dad's maternal grandmother (which is pretty shocking all by itself), had a drawing of a small african-american boy in patched dungarees on the front steps of a house that has a sign on the front door. "Boy wanted," the sign says.  Inside are these words, "Ah's lookin' fo' someone to earn mah' lovin!!", spoken by a little girl with nappy hair.
Isn't it incredible? Can you even believe it? Yes, I suppose some of you can.  Some of you remember what things used to be like when actors dressed up in black face, spoke in dialect, were called 'boy' or 'girl' even when they were older than the people they were talking to.  I really hate thinking about such things.  I hate that it used to be okay to mock language and color and poverty.  And I really hate knowing that my grandparents were as biased as anyone you'd ever meet.  Oh sure, they loved their own children, their own kin. But anyone else--of a different ethnic origin, religion, race, or those of different economic or educational background--were seen as 'less;...just like this old, terrible valentine reveals.

On the upside, my aunt also brought an old wooden baseball bat with my dad's name carved into the handle.  His name after he lost the '-ie' ending.  His name as I remember it.  That bat must have spent the bulk of its life at the acreage on Whidbey, where fly balls could sail across the meadow and land in the blackberry bushes.  My aunts say my dad taught them to hit and field and pitch, that he made sure they had good form, rather than throwing like 'girls.' Come to think of it, that's pretty derogatory, too, isn't it?  I mean, what's wrong with throwing like a girl if...for pity's sake, if you happen to actually be a girl.

In the last several years, we've become the depository for Beve's dad and all kinds of World War II photos of him in burma, newspaper articles of his athletic exploits (both in the army and afterwards at U of O), and so much more cr--er, stuff, we've yet to go through it.  We have my photo albums from my dad's earliest years, and now, boxes full of photographs of my mother and family.  I'm telling you--Beve would certainly tell you--we're being overrun by all this memorabilia.

But here's the thing:  I like history.  I like thinking of my dad as a little tyke with an 'ie' at the end of his short name. I like holding that bat and knowing he not only held it, but carved his grown-up name in it, probably before anyone was calling him by that grown-up name. I like how the past grounds me, how it gives my life heft, if that makes sense.  I come from some place, from some people.

I have a spiritual history as well.  We all do.  Those people who bore us in the faith, who fed us milk and raised us.  These people--SA and KB, CR and so many more--they give my spiritual life heft. Weight, significance, importance.  We are not our own, we belong to a family.  The church, yes, but also a smaller family of believers who believed in us when we were not old enough to believe for ourselves, and believe for us now when we can't quite believe at some moments now.  We're connected to these people, in our past, and in our present.  And that's a very, very good thing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The waterline

A conversation with a friend reminded me of what I'd intended to write here today.  We were talking about the desert we're both in these days.  Some seasons are like that, we reminded each other.  And we've had the unique pleasure of His company more often than not in these long lives of faith we're each living.  The inexpressible joy of His presence--beyond all that we could ask or imagine.  And I think it's perhaps also true that we thought that way of living with that Sacred Presence was the norm of this pilgrimage we're all on.  And, speaking for myself, probably something I took for granted more often than I'd like to admit, certainly more often than I wish, thinking about it from here, from this Sacred Absence, I suppose one might say.  It was a good conversation with my friend.  She cried a little speaking of it. She's more of a crier than I am even at the best of times but I told her I don't have many tears these days, it's like this desert has dehydrated me.  There aren't tears to squeeze out.  But the conversation lightened each of us, I think.  It reminded us that we aren't alone in this place.

But I was also reminded of something I'd intended to write this morning, before the day and life got away from me.  I was thinking about the green, fiber-glass canoe my dad built in our garage one year.  I really loved that canoe,  loved the way it was so smooth and quiet across the water, loved how my oar felt in my hands as I dipped and pulled it, and, with barely a ripple, could turn the canoe, even if I was alone in it.  We launched it first at Spring Valley Reservoir, where we'd taken a picnic lunch to enjoy while each of us had a turn.  We swam in the shallow water, and paddled out deeper.  I became a proficient canoe-ist over the course of that canoe's life.

And that proficiency enabled me to participate in a long canoe trip one summer at the same camp where I first met Jesus.  We canoed up the Coeur de' Alene River.  And I remember one very specific moment on this several day trip--a certain bridge that looked mighty high to me from beneath it.  We stowed our canoes, climbed the bank, then up onto the bridge, and one by one, jumped into the river.  Now I was a good swimmer, always was.  But that bridge was higher than any high dive I'd ever jumped off of, and that water darker than any pool I'd ever dove into, and believe me, I was a bit daunted.  I'd felt safe and secure when I was paddling above the water's surface, skimming the waterline, so to speak.  But I climbed over the barrier when it came my turn for one reason, and one reason only.

In our group was a teenaged boy whose name was Dallas, and he was blind.  Up on that bridge that sunny August day, Dallas had no hesitation.  Sure, you might say, it was easier--he didn't know how far below the water was, or how deep gravity would take him.  But I didn't think of that, that day.  I only saw that this boy, who couldn't see where he was going, had faith that he'd be okay, that this adventure would be fun.  Worth the doing.  Even if he dropped deep beneath the waterline all the way to the bottom.  So he jumped.  And he fell deep.  Really deep, I can tell you.  Two counselors were waiting to help him find the shore.  But a minute later, those two counselors were still there to help me find the shore when I jumped.  Because I did.

Hitting the water was hard, and I remember how gravity propelled me downward.  I remember how dark and cool it was beneath the surface.  How silent it was.  But there was light above, and, almost instantly, arms to pull me, clap for my accomplishment, to point the way back to my safe little canoe.

And what occured to me when I was thinking about this earlier, and again, talking to my friend, is that there may be silence beneath the waterline, but that's where real work happens.  So much more of God is beneath the waterline of our lives, beneath the surface where we live and work and laugh and cry.  It may be dark, may feel even lonely, but there He is, in the silence, in the depths, still reaching out to show us the way.

I liked being above the waterline, in a gently moving canoe, I really did.  But what has stayed with me is what it felt like to plummet the depths. I don't want to live my life above the water line, only skimming the surface, content when it's easy, when He's paddling with me--present with me.  I want to dive to the depths, learn what His depths have for me.  Even if it seems silent.

(PS.  You can now go to October Afternoon simply by clicking on the photo of the Palouse--the one labeled October Afternoon.  I posted a new chapter earlier. I guess I'm really doing this...)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Economy

"Oh, the wind does blow and oh, the waves they roll..." Yup, we're living in an old campfire girls song here in Northwest Washington.  From my front window I can see the froth on Bellingham Bay, and our neighbor talked to Beve this afternoon about the tree across the street that looks in danger of cracking and falling in the heavy wind.  We no longer have a fir tree in our yard, but somehow we have MANY fir tree branches and pinecones lying all over the grass.  Beve's out there right now cleaning it up--with one of his many self-propelled lawn-mowers.  Why rake, after all, when a mower will do the job much more easily, and cut the grass at the same time.

I'm all for this economy of energy myself.  When I'm doing laundry, I grab as many piles as I can carry--towels for both bathrooms, the kitchen, Beve's and my clothes.  Why take several trips to do what I can manage in one?  I fill up my pockets, load down my arms, have been known to hold things in my teeth if I can, just so I can be judicious in my work.  I even do errands in an expedient manner; that is, before I leave the house, I figure out the order of my errands so that my route doesn't have any back-tracking in in it.  I did mention the other day that I'm slightly OCD, didn't I?  It just always feels like I'm wasting time if I have to double back on myself, or make several trips through the house in order to put things away, or do things the slow way, when a much quicker way is available to me.

All these things aren't because I'm energetic, though.  I live, work, move thusly because precisely the opposite is true.  I actually am more than a little bit lazy. For a long time I saw this laziness as THE sin in my life.  The sin of all sins for me, my biggest stumbling block, the block in my eye, the cross on which I must die...well, you get the picture.  Laziness, of course, is a manifestation of selfishness, a putting of self and my interests, desires, passions at the center, by neglecting others' interests.

But as I've matured in Christ, as I've gone to the cross over and over with this, allowed Him to bend and mold me, I've seen a slow change (of course, it takes 70+ years to accomplish and even on my last day I'll still be learning)in this flesh called myself.  This economy of energy and effort, the intentional way I work through chores so I can get through them, just get through them, is okay.  It's still work done heartily.  Still done to/for Him.  I do them, after all.  I do the things set before me to do. My essential nature hasn't changed.  God hasn't made me like Beve or my farmer brother-in-law who just can't sit and relax, have this drive to work, accomplish, finish just one more task.  I will never be like them.  But what I'm responsible for doing, I can do.  And who I'm responsible for being, I aim to be.  That task will also last the rest of my life.  And I'll tell you what (to quote E, who quotes a north country farm boy with a distinct twang when she says this), in that--in the learning to BE who He's made me to be--in that, there is no economy of energy or effort.  It will take what it takes, through slow seasons where I'm walking in cement as well as the ones where it's like I'm walking without gravity. The wind, He tells us, will blow where it will...in my life, through my life, through my work and my simple being.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Excess Baggage

My niece and her fiance drove a big rig (though in their neck of the woods it's kind of like volvos and priuses are in this tree-hugging college town, the standard vehicle) across the state today to bring us furniture and boxes.  Then we (by 'we', I mean Beve, E, and the two Palouse-dwellers, not me!) loaded up their rig with furniture from here.  We were laughing about this procedure, which has happened too many times to count over the course of our lives.  We've transported kids back and forth, clothing, dogs and furniture.  Today's cargo was an entertainment center (going east) and a futon--the frame of which Beve built when J was just a baby. The westbound furniture was a coffee table, which went east from here a few years ago, and now has boomeranged back to our carport, and a daybed from my mom's house, which we intend to put in J's room.  It's white metal, with a little flourish and gold, and J will love sleeping on it, beneath the pretty flowered sheets and comforter Mom picked out a decade ago.  But he lives in a cell or perhaps it's even smaller than a typical cell, and his double bed takes up too much space, space that's totally overrun with books, clothes and the occasional empty pop (soda) can.

You should have seen me this afternoon, offering everything in our carport to my niece.  This seems like a reasonable, even prudent, way to get rid of excess baggage.  That's what it all is, I think.  We've carried around some of this stuff all our married life.  We've carted it into U-Haul trucks, unloaded it into garages and storage units, then moved it again when we relocated.  It's really ridiculous.

But worse is the spiritual baggage we (and that means you as well as I) carry around with us throughout our lives.  The tapes that play in our head which tell us we aren't good enough,  pretty enough,or are doomed to fail, or all the other negative messages that have been recorded from poor experiences and relationships.  It makes me think of the homeless people in our town who push shopping carts piled high with black plastic bags.  Who knows if those people, who also wear layers more clothing than they actually need most of the year around here, even know what's in the bottom of those bags, but they keep pushing those carts.  Up hills and down. And that's exactly what we do.  Isn't it?

And I think about how airlines now charge for baggage, or, in the best cases, excess baggage.  What is the price we pay for the excess spiritual baggage in our lives?  What does it cost us to push that dang shopping cart full of all our past biases and self-loathings (sin, one might call it!)?

God, I can say with confidence, wants us to let go of that shopping cart full of garbage.  He wants us to stop carrying around all that excess baggage.  He wants us to travel light, to let go of anything we don't really need. And He alone knows what we need.  As Beve would say, quoting Jim Elliot, "He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep, to keep what he cannot lose."

October Afternoon

Ok, so I did it.  I've started a new blog that is October Afternoon--my novel.  Tonight I'm too tired to have copied anything but the prologue, but it's a start.  I'll put the link on the sidebar, so if you're interested, feel free to check it out. Or you can go to it from here: October Afternoon

And that's about all I have to say tonight.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An incident

The other day I mentioned this rather unnerving (and by that I mean, terrifying in the extreme!) incident in college when a homeless man pushed his way into my apartment.  My roommate was already asleep, and I'd just returned from taking my boyfriend (who shall remain forever nameless here) home.  When I returned I noticed that the nameless one had forgotten his backpack.  So when there was a knock on the door a few moments later, I was pretty sure it was him, because he needed that bag for school the next day.  Our door didn't have a peep-hole in it, nor a chain lock but I knew who was knocking, right?  So, even though it was after midnight, I opened the door.  And a rather tall, very broad, very bushy (long hair, long beard) man pushed his way into my apartment.  I was instantly as terrified as I've ever been. He told me he was homeless and needed a place to sleep for the night.  While I was praying with every fiber of my being, from the marrow of my bones to the follicules of my hair, and what I couldn't pray, I was asking the Holy Spirit to intercede on my behalf.

I couldn't get him to leave.  Instead he picked up the dictionary that was lying on the table, and he asked if I knew the definition of rape.  I'm not making this up.  By then I was sitting in our rocking chair rocking back and forth like I was the crazy person.  And he was pacing the room.  He talked about how in the French Foreign Legion, they just took women, straight out of their homes and did whatever they wanted with them.  As he spoke, I answered more calmly than I was capable of being.  I told him I was a Christian, that God wanted me to extend grace, and even love to him.  He was startled by me, but simply ratcheted up his words.  And as his barely veiled threats grew more insistent, my calm disappeared.  My voice rose to an octave I don't believe I've ever reached before or since in my life.  And just when the whole situation was going to...well, you can imagine where it was going, when this man had reached out and grabbed my arm, my roommate walked out of the bedroom.  She stood in the hallway with her curly hair frizzing all over her head (which she normally hated, but thank God for it, really!), her arms crossed and her voice rough with sleep.  She honestly looked larger than I'd ever seen her.  She said, "You need to leave right now!" And that man (probably 6'4" and at least 250--at least that's what we told the cops) picked up a blanket we had sitting on the couch, and he left.  He really left.

I don't think either my roommate or I slept the rest of the night (after we'd reported it to the police).  But I have to say, I have never felt more certain of God's intervention.  He was present, in the words I spoke and in the calm He laid over my fear.  He awakened my roommate, and created the illusion that she'd grown about a foot and had gained 100 lbs. In all these ways He kept me safe when I was in such danger.  And I really was--in danger, that is.  The police told us that the description matched that of a man who'd raped several college students in that town.  (Oh, and our landlords had a peep hole put in that door that very week, which we were incredibly grateful for when the bearded man returned early one morning a few weeks later--his unfinished business with me remained unfinished, thank GOD!)

I was reminded of this incident because tonight SK and her roommates opened their door to a young man supposedly selling magazines, a man who pushed his way into their house and asked them whether they had boyfriends. Finally they got him out of the house, and then I think they all began calling home.  It's been a rough week for those girls.  SK walked into her college's health care center and half an hour later walked out wearing a mask, with the instructions not to return to class for the next two days.  And one of her roommates may be facing something even more scary. 

But that incident from my college years is a promise to my daughter in hers. And this post is for her, and her friends. No matter what happens, even if the worst happens (and sometimes it does) He will be present, He IS present.In your relationships and in your academics.  Between you especially.  And I know--indeed, God Himself knows--that He is praying for you.  Really, always praying for you. "He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways." (Psalm 91:11)  There is no safer place to be.