Sunday, November 29, 2009

Buckle your seat belt

"Here we go," we heard on the phone today. "Hold on for dear life," I answered.  I got two phone calls this afternoon from Grampie and Thyrza's community health care workers.  Apparently things have grown increasingly difficult for these parents of ours. After talking with this Wendy about safety issues and fire hazards, I gathered the boys (Beve and his Finnish brother) and we called Thyrza's daughter, who completely concurs with our decisions: to travel back to Sequim tomorrow to put what Beve calls a band-aid on their living situation.  Last week we tried to de-clutter their office, but though they'd been thrilled about the option in theory, once we started messing with their things, they weren't very happy about it.  But Thyrza's declining daily, and Grampie's memory is on the downslope as well.  Yesterday he was so amenable to everything Beve suggested, he was ready to get in the car and come home with Beve then and there. But just a day later, he's jutting his jaw, throwing up his animated hands in disgust at the idea that his kids were telling him what to do.

The time has come, however. It comes in every life, if you live long enough.  The children whose diapers you changed will be the ones to change yours. The ones who were taught to obey your word, respect and trust your decisions are the ones who will take away your rights--to live alone, drive, pay your own bills, and a myriad other things we take for granted in the middle of your life.  It came for my mother.  We sat her down and told (not asked) her what our plan was for her life.  She cried a little, tried to argue (she was a great one for arguing), but in the end, agreed to all our decisions.  What choice did she have, after all?  A few weeks later, she didn't really remember some of those decisions, but, just like small children, she didn't have a choice.

And that day has come for Grampie and Thyrza as well, though they don't know it yet. They will tomorrow when we sit them down and tell them some hard facts.  When we spend the day de-cluttering their apartment so they can actually get their walkers around better. When we get Thyrza's daughter on the phone and have a conference call about moving them up here to our neck of the northwest.  It's too far to go running out there every week, or more often as things progress.  And they will progress.

The decision we've all agreed on without the parents knowing is that Grampie and Thyrza will move here.  And by here I mean to our house.  At least until we find a good assisted living place for them (or one of them as the case may be).  We have to do some fast rearranging around here to accomodate the elderly, or I should say, Beve and E will have to do the rearranging. My job is to do the directing. E's offered to find someplace else to live for a few months, though I hate to think of her doing so. I mean, I'm looking forward to her competent, steady, strong help.  I don't think Grampie and Thyrza will be in our home for that long, though. Either God will help us find a home here in Bellingham or...He just take them home.

In any case, a new season is upon us.  Buckle our seatbelts, hold onto our hats, here we go.

True North

Beve's 'Finnish' brother is here for a few days.  Not really Finnish, but he's lived there so long, he's taken on the cadence in speech, in world view, in counting money and measuring size.  He's all euro and metric, which leaves us trying to convert on the fly.  No easy task for someone like me for whom counting in any way makes me break out in hives.

The other day, while talking to my sister, the Dump (so nick-named, if you don't recall, because she is a genius, which probably doesn't make sense to you, but it did to me 40 years ago), the subject of directions came up.  In my head is a compass that almost never fails me.  I seem to have an instinctive knowledge of where north is, as well as which way to turn a car in order to get where we're going.  Beve doesn't have this and relies on me completely.  I'm not so good that I can go somewhere I've never been without a map, but once I've driven a route, I can almost always drive it again.  It's just one of those things that I came to this life with.  I take no credit for it.  My father had it as well, and at least one of my siblings.  But the Dump doesn't have it.  She just can't do it, which means that the GPS her Prius came with is an invaluable aid for her, especially because she lives in southern California and on occasion drives to many locales outside of her home routes.

Without rancor or sneer, I told the Dump that my instincts are so core in me that I simply don't get how others don't have them.  And she said, "I completely understand that, because I have that ability with anything mathematical.  It's just in my head immediately when a problem comes up, the necessary equation and only answer."  It's true.  I've seen her.  We might be talking about a recipe and need to make it 3 and 1/2 times bigger than the original.  It's like she turns her gaze to the always available calculator in her brain and punches in the numbers in a split second, comes up with the answer before I can snap my fingers.  Seriously, it's that fast.  Ridiculously fast, in fact.  Makes me sick fast.

I think it's part of the fundamental difference between my sister and me.  See, she thinks in letters and numbers.  Especially numbers, it seems to me.  And I think in terms of images.  Oh I can see words in my head, but they're always on a printed page.  I don't even know how one might see them otherwise.  And I don't get, just plain don't get how people don't see pictures in their brains.  You call up a moment of my history, and I instantly see it, right there, complete and almost present.  I think it's why I'm so certain (for the most part) of my memory.  And why I trust that compass in my head.  Somehow, I fit all of life into the giant compass that lives at the ready within. (Just to be completely candid, however, I must confess that the last time I was in my home town, sister RE and I got into a small disagreement over the placement of the nursing home where our mother now sits in her wheelchair.  I had it turned at a 90 degree angle from its true location.  Once I got up there, I understood how I had misplaced it.  Repented of it to RE.)

We come with these things, you know. The ability to remember things, the ability to do complicated math in one's head.  The ability to know, most of the time, true north.

True north.  This is an important tool--for all of us.  Learning to read a compass.  I remember fiddling with a compass before my dad taught me the skill.  I watched that half red arrow spin and spin and I hadn't the faintest idea why it was doing so.  But then Dad showed me that the red tip always pointed north, no matter how I head the compass.  In every situation, with a compass, even someone like the Dump could re-orient herself to the world, and find her way home.

Beside me as I write this, is our spiritual compass.  The amazing compass that always, always shows us the direction we need to walk, always points the way home.  I'm speaking of the Bible, of course. This God-given red-lettered book, that, like that red-tipped arrow, is God's eternal magnet, keeping us on course.  Over the years, there have been times when I've heard believers speak of how much they love God but have trouble with His compass.  They like praying but not reading His Word.  It hits me again this morning how easy it is to get lost--especially in this world--without that Compass of God always pointing toward True North.  Though we all go through seasons where that Compass appears to be simply spinning and spinning without making sense, I think--no, I believe--that if we might be the ones spinning.  If we stop, let it have the chance to do its work, it will always point toward Him, our true North.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Resilience

A few days ago, when I couldn't sleep, I dug into my bag of library books and pulled out Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards.  Now, generally speaking, I'm not a fan of celebrity books.  You won't catch me with a copy of Going Rogue or it's sarcastic counterpoint, Going Rouge.  Sure, I read People magazine in doctor's offices (it's either that or Sports Illustrated ,which I already get at home), sure I peer at those ridiculous scandal sheets in the grocery store, although mostly to snicker at them (as well as snicker inside if anyone in front of me--and why is it always a woman?--buys them.  But actual memoirs about celebrities don't appeal at all. Not one whit.  I would like to read Tony Dungee's book, but haven't gotten my hands on it yet, and all the long dead rulers of this country or any other, fascinate me.

When I saw  Resilience on the new book shelf at the library last week, I grabbed it.  I often toss a book or two into my tote bag (tote nothing.  It's a bulging giant of a bag, crammed with fluff to tomes every week), books that I might not read.  It used to be that I couldn't start a book I wouldn't finish.  I felt compelled to finish, just the way I feel compelled to finish everything on my plate at a meal.  I was raised to finish food, raised to finish books exactly the same way.  And I've read a whole lot of books.  Own a whole lot of them, to be clear.  I've known a few people who have more books than me, but have also known a few libraries who didn't have as many.  One of my least thoughtful question ever, I asked my favorite seminary prof (a man with about a thousand more books than I have.  Maybe ten-thousand!  "Have you read all those books?" I asked.  He was slightly disappointed when he raised his head from the row of onions he was checking in his garden.  "Some of them more than once."

And I learned from that.  I am not only a reader, but a re-reader.  No longer a clean-plater, but a discerning, gleaning, willing-to-toss-out-the garbage kind of reader.  I can start a book and toss it back on the pile. Check out a book from the library, and never pull it from the bag.  Life is too short, the saying goes, and if I've learned anything lately, with three deaths in a week of people I've known, loved and admired, it's definitely too short to waste my time with what doesn't count.

That was a long--excruciatingly long, I might even admit--intro to Elizabeth Edwards' book.  When I picked it up the other night, I didn't expect that what I was holding would be what it was.  Not a memoir exactly, and definitely not a celebrity tell-all.  A thoughtful, probing, examined look at herself, her life and the struggles she was unprepared for.  A son who died in a car accident at 16, breast cancer, the surge to the spotlight, her husband's poor choice, and the return of cancer with the word 'terminal' in front of it.  She doesn't tell all, as I said.  She isn't about  throwing stones, or telling other people's stories.  What she's about is trying to understand how the life she expected to live was a fantasy and the life she is living, the one with pain and suffering in it, is real life.

Her words resonated with me.  So much that I didn't put it down until I'd read the last page, and it was 3 in the morning.  So much for helping me sleep.  The next morning,on our way to Sequim, I read some of her words to Beve.  Words that could have been written about our Glo. Words worth keeping.  He said, "That's a book worth owning." 

These are the paragraphs I read to Beve:  (Edwards is writing about her father, whose debilitating stroke left him barely able to speak, and having to relearn to walk.)
"There is nothing about resilience that I can say that my father did not first utter silently in eighteen years of living inside a two-dimensional cutout of himself...through all the setbacks of a body on which he had relied that subsequently failed him little by little, he held on to whatever he had, however meager it was.  He managed somehow to turn whatever he held on to into precisely what he needed to survive...he kept narrouwing his life and his expectations to what he had left, and in doing so--no matter how small his world--he always reflected the sheer majesty of living.
     "Too many times I have had to use my father's strength--or my mother's grace as she stood beside him--as a touchstone.  I suspect we each have someone like him, someone whose personal courage in the face of impossible odds inspires us to do something we thought we could not do, who reminds us that what seems like a mountain in front of us can in fact be climbed..."             Elizabeth Edwards, Resilience, 8-9

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey moments

We had the traditional turkey feast at a retirement home with Grampie and Thyrza and about half of Beve's clan.  There are some advantages to meals here.  No work is the main thing.  But on the down side, also no smells through the house, and no leftovers, which J would surely say is the best part of Thanksgiving.  This isn't the first time we've celebrated this wholly traditional holiday in a somewhat non-traditional setting.  The year Glo was diagnosed with cancer, and had just lost her hair, we all stayed in a hotel near her home (including her and her family), and feasted at a local restaurant.  Beve's clan always makes quite spectacle walking into any building enmasse.  I remember this from when I was a little girl, living across the street from them.  When the shortest person in a family is 6' tall, and none of the men under 2 meters (figure that one out!), eyes pop and heads twist to see them coming.  Though the brothers didn't marry giants, some of the next generation are also inordinately tall.  Our girls are the short grandchildren.  The boys--tall.  Those Finnish cousins (both girls), also tall.  Shoot, even our dogs are oversized for their breed.  And these people can put away the food.  A Thanksgiving buffet is the perfect venue.  One of my nephews wrote a post today about the feast his church will put on tomorrow, and I thought--shoot, let us at it.  With Beve's family in the room, leftovers won't be an issue.  But that Thanksgiving in the Silver Cloud, it was more about hope than food, more about saying, "I've got your back," to Glo and each other, than stuffing our faces..

The most famous of our Thanksgivings was Beve and my first together. (This is also Glo's all-time favorite Thanksgiving story, so bear with me if you've heard it before). Now when I say together, I simply mean Beve and I shared the same table, sat down as friends, stood up as friends, and nothing but friends.  It was a start, though we didn't know it at the time.  That year (the olden days to our kids) Beve and his brother were living in Finland.  The living there stuck for Beve's brother, and he's called no other place home since, though none of us knew that then either.  My Europe-traveling friend and I had made our way north like we were following the twilight, getting to Helsinki just about the time the sun went over the horizon for the year.  At least it seems that way as I look back on it.  So after hanging with Beve and his brother for a few days, we decided to put on the bird, so to speak, for a few of their friends.  None of the four of us had ever cooked a turkey before, but we'd seen between 24 and 30 years of them cooked, so we thought we could do the job well enough.

 Unfortunately, Finland in November isn't exactly a turkey farm. While my friend S (actually, she was the original SK, the one whose middle name we gave our own SK) and I made a shopping list, Beve went turkey hunting.  When he walked in the door, grinning, he said, "I looked all over Hell...sinki for this turkey."  Inimitable Beve, one our kids would recognize as Vacation-Beve!  That night we went grocery shopping for all the ingredients of an American Thanksgiving.  More easily said than done, however.  Looking for specific items like 'french-fried onion rings' and sage and thyme isn't simple when most store clerks wouldn't admit they spoke English, and we couldn't make heads, tails or anything else of the ingredient labels.  We managed, but just barely.  Looking for sausage for the stuffing I intended to make, just like dear old Mom, was the hardest task.  However, with the help of a clerk, some highly inventive sign language, including pushing our noses up like we were pigs, we found a package similar to good ol' Jimmy Dean's, so we were set.  The clerk seemed to find us odd, shook her head at us a bit, but we'd gotten that a lot since we'd stepped off the Viking line ferry into the land of the reticent Finns.

While Beve and his brother duly worked that Thursday--after all, it was no holiday there--S and I cooked.  First things first.  The sausage for the stuffing.  After frying up some onions, adding celery and herbs, we peeled back the packaging, and discovered Finnish sausage is maroon. I'm talking a deep crimson that has always been my father's favorite color, but has almost no resemblance to the ground sausage (or any other meat) we were used to. And it didn't fry up like ground meat either.  It kind of clumped and stuck to the spoon.  However, with enough seasonings, it began to taste okay.  Then, with the bread, it actually tasted quite good.  So we stuffed the bird, put it in the miniscule oven and went on with our preparations.  When Beve got home, there was still some left in the pan, so he had a taste as well.OK, so it's just possible we spent the day tasting that sausage stuffing. Dang, we were good cooks! At some point, after many spoonfuls, we decided it was so tasty, we might need another roll of sausage--leftovers, you know.  So Beve went back to the store for that amazing crimson Finnish sausage.

While the potatoes boiled, and the turkey cooked. we moved every table into Beve and his brother's small living room, created our own banqueting table. And then, just as we were folding napkins into festive triangles (I never have learned the art of napkin folding), Beve returned with the largest grin on his face I'd ever seen, and I can tell you Beve was always a great smiler.  He could hardly contain himself. Really.  "It's not sausage," he said, exuding glee like a little boy. (This may have been the moment I first saw him as more than a friend)

"IT'S DOG FOOD." 
Dog food.   Dogfood, stuffed in our gullets all day long.

And dogfood, stuffed--gasp!--in our turkey we were about to serve our Finnish guests.  So our moral dilemma--should we serve it to them?  I mean, we'd been eating it all day and were still alive to laugh about it. Or should we take it out of the turkey?  What would you have done?
 Can you guess what we did? 

Months later, back home in the states, I got all my film developed, and the picture of the trip for me was the one of my friend S, standing at the stove in Beve's apartment, holding a large spoonful of that dogfood stuffing, about to take a bite.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankfulness

Thankfulness.

Today we got a phone call from my aunt who lives in New Mexico.  Her spouse of 50 years died during the summer and she is still feeling it.  Deeply.  She's always felt deeply about things, though.  It's her way.  And we're in the town where Grampie and his lovely wife live.  Just down the road from where one of my friends is with her mom because her dad died just four days before Glo.  Across the state, another friend is sharing Thanksgiving with her father, a widower of two weeks.  So when I think of our loss, think of all these others who have also suffered loss this year, I'm struck by what we gather to celebrate tomorrow.  And struck by how that very first post-harvest celebration, the numbers of that band of intrepid pilgrims was greatly reduced. The natives who came to share their corn and other delicacies with them were also greatly reduced.  For everything they were grateful for, there was also a silent place beside them at the table where someone they had known and loved couldn't raise their voice or a glass, or even a heartbeat. 

So it strikes me that in their thankfulness, there was also grief.  In their words of celebration, there were nuances of loss.  And maybe this is how it always is.  This is life, after all.  Isn't it?  For what we have, we are grateful.  For what we no longer have, we are sad.  For what we hope, we speak softly, and what we regret, we whisper.  We come to the table with a mixed bag, don't we?  All we've done, all we haven't done. 

So for me, this year, in my thankful, wistful heart, there is also this mixed bag.
I'm thankful for Glo, for the life she led, the conversations we had, the warmth of her bright self.  And sad to be without her at this table.
And for my mother, a shell still sitting in her wheelchair, but absent in every other way.  I'm thankful for the small moments of clarity we've shared in the last year, thankful for the love that God so clearly gave back to me for her.  And I'm sad for what she's become, so less than human in her still human flesh.
For my father-in-law, I am grateful for the toasted marshmellow of a man he's been for me, and our children.  You know, crusty on the outside, but warm and sweet within.  And I'm sad that he's no longer the "Doc-the-Rock" he used to be, strong and steady.

I'm grateful for good friends--the exceeding abundance--who have so expanded my life.  Deepened it, broadened it, lengthened it, heightened it. Yes, all at once.  For the friends we can call at a moment's notice and ask for giant favors they feel privileged (!) to give us. And I'm sad for the distances between us and some of those friends.  No loss of anything but geography, but I'll bet the pilgrims understood that sadness as well.
Far more than me, of course.

And I'm grateful that I get to walk this uneven terrain of chronology with my Beve, with my adult chublets, with siblings, siblings-in-law.  Even dogs.  And I'm sad that...nothing. For them, I'm just thankful.

What doesn't make the list strikes me as well.  Not a dang thing.  That is, nothing material.  With the death of a loved one, this hits hard and clear.  It isn't things that count.  They never did, never will.  We'll leave an empty spot at the table tomorrow.  Drink at toast in honor of those at the great banqueting hall in the King's court.  Just think, our loss is truly--truly!--their gain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"What are you going to do with it?"

Tonight Beve and I ran a few errands, leaving our three grown-adult offspring to clean the kitchen after I used every pot and pan available.  Ok, that's a lie.  The other night, during his 'craigslist devotional'--his-just-before sleep perusing of the area's online 'want ads,' and the numerous emails he sends off to ask about things like "laquered coffee table" or "willing to swap my Mazda Miata for a pick-up" (he had a three month romance with this one, only ending last week, when the Miata man/horse trader dumped Beve for a better pick-up. Dang!  Not that Beve could quite fit into the Miata, but I could.  I absolutely could!), and most recently, a "Free crock-pot" which Beve intended to send back to school with SK, until he brought it home last night and told her she could have ours.  This is really the luxury of crock pots, so I just had to use it today.  Made my 'famous' (why do people call their recipes famous?  I mean, no one but my family and those I've cooked for actually even know this as 'mine') Mexican chicken soup.  T-A-S-T-Y!  My point is, there wasn't really much for the kids to clean up.

So we ran our errands, which I'd put off until someone could go with me, because I put out my back the other day doing something really strenuous, like bending over to unplug my new short-arm sewing machine (another craigslist find).  Instant spasm, and now I'm walking like I'm Tim Conway.  Or one of Beve's parents.  Bent over and hardly lifting my feet.  Wincing with every step.  Gotta love it.  But I'm just about finished with a quilt top I'm making for the Dump's younger son, one made solely with batiks.  It's gorgeous, if I do say so myself.  But I needed one final fabric for the wide border.  Went to the local chain fabric store, which I tend not to frequent that often.  Supporting local economies and all, you know. But after hours, it's the only choice.

Anyway, I found the fabric I wanted, took it to the cutting table, and, as ALWAYS, at fabric stores, the woman cutting the fabric asked, "What are you going to do with it?"  I'm not kidding. Every fabric cutter asks this question, one way or another. After I told her and walked away, I began thinking what it would be like if the checker at the grocery store, as they swipe your artichokes, toilet paper and fish oil, and place them into the bag along with your marshmellows and gravy mix, asked, "So, what are you making?"  "A science project," is the only possible response. (I actually thought of a different answer, but decided against it here, so you don't think my mind is full of potty humor!) What if they actually asked the sixteen-year-old girl carefully concealing her Kotex under neath a people magazine, two packs of gum and three bags of peanut m&ms, "What do you need these for?"  Can you imagine?  Mostly in that situation, it's young attractive men those girls have to stand in front of, checking out their stuff.  Completely embarrassed.  Even if I'd carefully scoped the situation and stood in the line with the older gray-haired woman, by the time I reached my turn, she'd gone on break and had been replaced with some good-looking college boy.  Those boys always turned their heads away as if they didn't see me, let alone see the box they were holding.  Yep, no such conversations happening in that line.  Or if you go to the Macy's home store to buy pillows...can you imagine being asked, "What are you going to do with these?"  "I'm going to put my head on them. Sleep on them, sweat on them, drool on them until I have to come back--a year or so from now--and buy some more."  Yep, this would be a good answer.

Or clothing stores--"Why are you buying that sweater?"  "I'm going to wear it/ give it to my daughter."  But really what this question would make me think--in any other store than a fabric store--"why do you want to know?  Don't you want me to buy it?"  We assume the right to buy things.  Whatever things we want, anytime we want, without having to explain it to anyone.

But across the world there are places where people are always asked why they are buying things.  Or only allowed such purchases, even if they have the money--so many times a week, because quantities are limited.  About 15 years ago, my sister, the Dump, lived with her spouse and small son, in Uzbekistan for a year.  My parents went to visit them for several weeks over the Christmas holidays.  And many days, their prime occupation was trying to buy food for the family. Just enough for a single day.  They'd go to this store for bread, but it'd be gone, then to another, until they found it, then off to another part of the city to find milk, and so on.  It was truly a full-time job.  And excruciating for these Westerners who were so accustomed to buying whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.  For no particular reason, either. Yet, in many places, my sister and her family's experience is the norm.  Trying to find food is the only thing, the everything for people.  And if they find it, and have the money for it, are used to having to justify their needs.  Let alone wants.  Maybe there's no such thing as wants.  Want is a luxury they've never known.

So walking out of that fabric store tonight, I thought of how much we take for granted that we can want things.  That we don't even differentiate very often between needs and wants.  That fabric I bought?  Not a need.  But I wanted it, am happy with it.  A conversation I had today with my baby brother came to mind. I'd told him "Our God shall supply all your needs."  That's how the verse goes.  Not "all your wants."  We can't expect God to supply our wants, though because He loves exceedingly abundantly, beyond all that we ask or think, He does bless us with our wants.  However, He is in the business of caring for our needs.  Of caring for those needs more than we do. And--and this is the salient point--He knows what our needs are.  He knows how little those needs are. Less than we think, when it comes down to it.  We could do with so much less. Perhaps we should always be asked this question--"what are you going to do with it?"  If we ask God for something, maybe it would help to hear Him asking this back.

What do we need?  And--what are we going to do with what we've been given?   If we're given it, what are we going to do with it?  Extend the Kingdom?  Bless others?  Or simply grow fatter ourselves.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stormy weather

SK is home for the holiday.  She told me last week that this is the first time she's ever wished she wasn't at Whitworth.  From the moment she set foot on that campus, she's felt like she found her place in this world.  All through high school, though she had great friends, people she could be honest with about her faith--which is no small thing in a public high school--but not many who actually shared her beliefs.  Then she went to Whitworth.  And discovered a whole campus full of people with similar passions, interests, and for the first time in her educational life, she let out a long breath.

Beve and I took for granted that our kids would have great high school experiences.  We did.  We had friends who so informed our lives that we have never lost contact with them.  Friends who challenged us to be better selves, who thought deeply, sought the Kingdom, and continue to even to this day.  But none of our kids found friends like this in their high schools.  E has one great friend from that time--and she was a church friend who became an everything friend along the way.  A couple others who have grown into better friends.  But nothing like the large group of girls I still think of as 'the girls'.  Nothing like the group of guys Beve broke bread together with weekly back then, and talks to on the phone monthly even now.  J also has two friends from his youth (not that he's ancient now).  One from grade school, one from high school. Everyone else, even those boys he was so close to just five years ago, have slipped away.  J wouldn't go back to high school to save his life.  Not for all the gold in the treasury (admittedly, not as much as there used to be).  And I wouldn't want to go through it with him.  No way, no how.

And the large crowd of friends SK had?  They moved on as well.  This is how life works for most people, I know.  And she has certainly developed life-long friends beyond the pine cone veil, as those who live there call Whitworth.  An abundance of friends.  A surfeit.

But in the last two weeks, all she's wanted was to be home with her family.  Be home with people who get who Auntie Glo is.  Who get that she's not "just an aunt", not some peripheral character on the edge of her life, but the auntie who sent meaningful cards, loved to watch SK sing and act--even just in the living room.  Four years ago, when Glo was in the middle of radiation treatments for her brain tumors, we gathered for this exact holiday, and my girls, my precious, beautiful, thoughtful E and SK, sang "Praise You in This Storm" by Casting Crowns.  It was the fall of Katrina and that song resonated with many people.  But for us, it was all about Auntie Glo.  Her heart to praise even in the most severe storms.

"I'll praise you in this storm, and I will lift my voice
For you are who you are, no matter where I am.
And every tear I cry, you'll hold in your hand.
You've never left my side, and though my heart is torn,
I'll praise you in this storm."

Those girls sang, Auntie Glo sobbed, and we all sobbed with her, at the storm in which she found herself, and the strength with which she faced it.  I've been thinking of this song for the last two weeks, especially when I think of SK, across the state among people whom she loves, but didn't want.  So she's home, and we're still praising God for this storm.

Check it out!



Friday, November 20, 2009

Tears

Tears.  I'm not a fan of them.  For one thing, they tend to give me headaches.  Though they also make my eyes look even more green than usual.  I think it's the red streaks across the whites that do it.  Anyway, it's apart from the green, it's really not a good look on me.  And considering how much I care about my appearance it's an important consideration.  I know you'd all agree if you saw me in my current get-up.  Silk undershirt with an extra large button down shirt over it, and no pants.  Yup, sitting here in the family room with the whole clan in only my underwear.  See, I put out my back today, and after my shower, couldn't manage to pull up my pants.  It's a window into what old-age will be like.  See, I really am the picture of fashion.

But tears.  Now I have friends (of both sexes, actually), who tear up at commercials.  Well, to be honest, those Humane Society Ads with the heartwrenching music and mournful dogs in chainlink kennels put a major lump in my throat. But I really don't cry easily.  I mean, in comparison to many women I know. And neither of my daughters like crying anymore than I do.  After a certain age, every time E teared up, she claimed she was "just really tired."  This still makes me chuckle thinking about it.  And me?  I like to do my real sobbing in the shower where I can make noise, let my face run, and still come out clear-eyed and clean...albeit with a throbbing head!  And trust me, I've spent a whole lot of time in the shower in my life.  And not just because I have to wash my hair.  Just this week, I've stood under the rainhead shower head, and didn't touch the shampoo. 

I'm thinking of this because people keep asking me how Beve is doing.  And he's okay.  Beve makes me look like a veritable fountain of tears.  He cried when his mom died, but while feeling sad, tears don't come easily.  He keeps saying he'll be a mess at Glo's memorial.  Maybe.  I will be, that's for sure.  And even E won't claim to just be tired that day.

What comforts, though, is something my older brother reminded me of the other day...that we know God cares about our pain because Jesus wept with Mary when Lazarus was in the grave.  Just five minutes before Lazarus walked out of that tomb at Jesus' call, Jesus was sitting with Mary, crying. Even knowing what was ahead, He was so present with her in her reality that he mourned with her.  God is always above our chronology.  He always knows our past, present and future at once.  But within His great love for us, is His ever present compassion.  Not only does He understand when we mourn Glo, He mourns with us. At the very same moment He's calling her to Him.  Welcoming her home. 

Our tears aren't hard for Him to bear.  We don't need to hide them from Him, ask Him to excuse us, shake them off, feel ashamed of them.  He's okay with tears.  You know, we don't have a record of Jesus laughing with His friends.  I guess we didn't need that picture.  We get that He laughed, even if we don't see it, because laughter seems inherent in the joy-filled, God-filled life.  But that He cried--we need this.  We need to know that in our darkest hours He is present, mixing His tears with ours.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing my life

After a quick trip across the Sound to check on Grampie and Thyrza yesterday, we stopped for dinner with some friends at one of our favorite locally owned Italian restaurant (local to our friends, that is.  It's in their town, not ours).  The talk wound around from Glo to Grampie to Beve to the price of tea in China (what is the price of tea in China, and why do we always care so much about it, anyway?).  At one point, Beve was talking about how Grampie talks with his hands.

Grampie, it's important to know, used to be the chair of a department at a state university.  He spent his career not just teaching, but managing people, soothing ruffled feathers, mediating between factions of professors in his rather divided department.  In short, he spent an inordinate amount of time in meetings.  What makes this odd to me is that his youngest son is positively allergic to meetings. When Beve became an elder of the church we attended with the kids were chublets, he was horrified to discover that this position had very little to do with any spiritual mentoring and a great deal to do with sitting around a conference table, talking ad nauseum about business matters.  But Grampie, who was also an elder of that church at the same time, thrived on it.  He thrived on clearing his throat, gesturing with his oversized, broad, nails-bitten-to-the-quick fingernails.  He'd slice the air with those hands to make a point, draw complex graphs and flow charts in the air and exclamation-point to his words.  And people listened.

These days, even though Grampie's confused and forgetful, he still seems addicted to meetings. He's always trying to sit the family down to talk through his investments, will and other less clear agenda items.  Actually most of his family meetings have no clear agenda items.  But he keeps clearing his throat, waving his hands through the air, and talking in undulating circles that are very hard to follow, let alone get to the bottom of.  And when he takes a blow--like the expected but painful one Glo's death brought him yesterday, his words and punctuating gestures are a corn maize so high and complicated it would take better person than Beve or me to get out of them.

So Beve was telling our friends this last night, his equally large and oversized (but not bitten) hands waving madly in the air.  And our friend J said, looking at me, "You do know how much you talk with your hands, don't you?"  And thinking a moment, I said, "Not really."  I've never really thought about it.  Then both Beve and J began waving their hands in imitation of me.  J put his first two fingers together with his thumb and said, "Like this," and they all nodded.  And I thought, I do that? Really?  It didn't seem one bit familiar until a few sentences later in the conversation when I began to make a point and realized I was holding my left hand in precisely that way.  J said, "I think you're writing in the air."  And that was one of those "Ah-ha moments" people often speak of.  Writing in the air as I speak.  The fundamental truth of me hovering right (I almost wrote 'write') there in the air of that restaurant.

This morning, as I send off a few emails, including an incredibly rough and shabby 0-draft, as writers call it, of Glo's obituary, I thought about that ah-ha moment of our meandering conversation last night.  I thought about how, even when I'm just speaking, I'm also writing my life.  Many--exceedingly countless--times in my life, upon hearing that I'm a writer, I've heard someone respond, "You should write about my life, my family, my... whatever."  And my knee-jerk answer, culled from some source too many years ago to remember now, but I think it was a creative writing prof in my first sojourn in grad school (pre-marriage, pre-everything), "No, you should write it yourself.  Only you can write your own story.  I have to write what's in me to write."

And thinking about this apparent default gesture, and the trouble I'm having writing someone else's vision of such a simple thing as an obituary, it hit me how true my own response really is.  I have to write what's in me to write. And it occurs to me that even as I'm living, even when I'm having a casual conversation with someone, I'm writing it in the air.  Life is meant to be lived, the saying goes.  But for me, it obviously isn't lived unless it's written as well.

This is who God made me to be.  No matter what.  But He made me to write what He gives me to write.  Now, obviously, I managed to write papers in school--a whole lot of school, actually--and write them competently enough, but even as I was writing them, even if I was paid to write such things every day for the rest of my life, such papers, such articles would barely count.  I'd still be writing my my life, by any means available. And where there is no computer, I'll write on paper.  And where there is no paper, I'll write it across the air of my life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gloria for Gloria

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day."  2 Timothy 4:  6-8

"It's over.  Call it a day.  Sorry that it had to end this way."

Somehow this morning, I can barely think of my own words.  The words of others--both transcendental and earthy--keep coming to mind.  Gloria left this home for her heavenly one a few hours ago, and even though we've been preparing for it for a couple of weeks, the news--delivered by Steve to me by a soft hand on my back when I was dead asleep but he was already ready for work, news which the hand made me know before he ever opened his mouth--still took my breath away.  SK, across the state for the whole of this death watch, has said repeatedly that she's felt like she's holding her breath, but now it feels like I can't find enough air.  Glo has been the cat with nine lives--survived nine deadly diseases--so I think there was part of me--all of us--who didn't really think this would kill her. But she died.

 Death comes.  It always does, which reminds me of the famous Emily Dickinson poem:
"Because I could not stop for death
It kindly stopped for me
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality."

This is the way of things. Sooner or later.  Peacefully or not.  Surrounded or alone.  Only once...unless, of course, you happen to be Lazarus, and then you have to pass this way twice.  Boy, what stories he could tell.
Of all the 'near death' stories we hear, his might be the one worth its weight in death clothes.  He knew what the passage is really like.  Wouldn't that be something to hear?
 And it makes me wonder--do you think he went  bounding back to the other side, once his life was finally used up for good?  He was going home to a place he'd already been.  The tale he can tell could ease a lot of the prime fear people live with in this sorry old world, I'm guessing.

But then, so does the tale Jesus tells.  He knows about death from the other side, too.  An amazing thing, when you think about it.  Born of earth, also died on earth.  And lived to tell about it.  Everything we suffer, everything we go through: that's what He shares with us.  Including life and death.

And now Beve's beloved sister.  Life and death, and now the veil is ripped to life beyond.  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Gloria for Gloria this cloudy November morning. Gloria to God that all those extra parts are no longer needed and she's not only running on two legs, but can feel her toes as well.  Glory to Him that she can see out of two eyes, and breathe without having to bend over. I've honestly never known a person more ready for a new body than Glo.  And never known a broken one that glowed like Glo's either. So Gloria to God for Gloria. Today, as we travel out to Sequim to be with Grampie on this first, sad, Glo-less day, I'll be crying for our loss.  And laughing about her life, and being thankful for having laughed and cried with her. All three all at once.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an obituary to write.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Foolish

Another day, another drive down the freeway in pouring rain.  And when I say pouring, I mean think of driving through a full blast spray from a garden hose--for 40 straight minutes.  It's the kind of rain where you think your windshield wipers are completely ineffective, but if you turn them off for a second, you realize they really were making a difference.  Without them, it's like you're driving at the bottom of a swimming pool.

I had a very important, "Don't sit down, I'm going to take you right back," five minute doctor's appointment.  As I left, perscriptions in hand, the woman behind the glass window (and don't ask me why they have a closed glass window, but in the middle of the summer's heat wave, when the woman opened the window to talk to me, a blast of arctic air hit me, though she closed it even to write out a receipt to me, letting me go back to sweating with the rest of the waiting room occupants) said, "I should have called you this morning to tell you not to come down if you hadn't had your blood drawn."  I said, only slightly grumpy,"I kind of wish you hadn't told me that."  Then I paddled my boat back across the parking lot, got into my car, and hydroplaned back up the freeway for another 40 minutes of clenching my hands against the wheel, and, without even noticing, holding my shoulders in a rigidly raised position.

I do that, you know.  I hold my shoulders tightly when I'm a little anxious.  Or angry.  Or stressed.  And I hold my breath as well.  Blow it out at intervals with a long sigh of breath.  My jaw juts when I feel like someone is condescending, not taking me seriously, doesn't give me credit for having a brain.  Especially, I have to say, if men roll their eyes and say in response to something I've said, "Isn't that just like a woman?"  Even thinking about such things makes my jaw jut right this moment.

I could make a list of my faults, the way I act foolishly at moments, the way, now and then, someone thinks I'm foolish when I'm not.  If that makes sense.  Last week at the hospital, in a conversation with a medical professional who was absently doing something for G-J, I was describing her. "She isn't perfect, though," I told him, "She doesn't suffer fools."  He answered, "You mean she doesn't suffer foolishness.  Nobody suffers fools."  He walked out of the room as he said that--getting the last word, I suppose.  But he was wrong, you know.  In truth, some of us do suffer fools.  In fact, if we take Paul's words in 1and 2 Corinthians seriously, we'd be glad to both act foolishly--in the eyes of the world, and to be counted as fools.  For Christ's sake.  Read 1 Corinthians 2, read 2 Corinthians 11.  Paul doesn't mince words.

And here's the reality of my human-ness.  Sometimes I act very foolish.  Sometimes I take offence when I shouldn't.  Sometimes I think things are about me when they aren't.  Right this minute, as quickly as I can write this, I can think of half a dozen times in the last two days when I've made mountains out of molehills.  Taken myself or someone else too seriously.  Held on to grievances, then justified why I was holding on to them.  Driving up I-5,  I was having a conversation in the car.  Well, perhaps I should call it more of a shouting.  And I was alone in the car.  If there hadn't been a watering can turned upside down on top of all of the cars alongside me, I'm pretty sure anyone trying to pass me would have considered me not merely foolish, but a dang fool.  And I have to admit all that tension I feel in my shoulders tonight?  It didn't comes only from the drive, but from the anger I unleashed alone in that car.  Man, was I mad, and I let the person I was mad at have--even though that person was nowhere near my rampage.  Foolish?

Or...healthy?  I've always been a screamer, you know.  I've buried my head into my pillow to yell, opened my mouth with I was alone on the hills above my home as a child, even learned to scream without making a sound.  Somehow, the catharsis that comes through such release has served me well.  Sometimes I yell at God as well.  I tell Him why I'm mad, what I want Him to do about it, I remind Him that He is, after all, God.  I mean, very God of very God.  And though the world would call me foolish, I feel better for it.

I think it's okay to be foolish, to look at life, at our struggles as ways that we are commended before God.  And it's okay to tell Him it's hard.  Foolish.  And if the world doesn't suffer such behavior, that's just fine with me.  We are citizens of heaven, after all.  And as far as being a fool,  or suffering them, I'm reminded of what fools were in medieval courts.  They were the ones who, by story and song and acting silly, pulled the court out of dark thinking.  And  in their 'foolishness,' they broke through to tell Truth.  Always truth.  Yes, I'll be a fool, and I'll be foolish.  For Him and to Him.  And through Him to whoever He puts in my path.  To tell the Truth and to tell the Way and to tell the Light.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Siblings

Beve and I went to Seattle today to visit his sister in the Bailey Boushay House, a hospice facility in a beautiful little neighborhood in Seattle.  In the morning, while I listened--rather disinterestedly--to her husband and one of his Boeing colleagues talk about Boeing economics, I watched Beve across the room stroking his sister's sparcely haired skull, whispering quietly to her.  It made me think about siblings and how they know the stories, they share the history, they've lived through the same things.

Later, after a wonderful lunch visit with some of our favorite people, friends we love deeply and no longer get to see often enough, a lunch that lasted two hours, and could have gone on for another two weeks, we went back to G-J's room, where soft music was playing and the lights were low.  After the nurses finished moving her (carefully turning her head so that her left ear was in the hole they'd creatively carved in her pillow to stop sores for increasing), we sat beside her talking to each other, and sometimes to her.  The day grew dark, closing in on night through the incessant rain, and we sat there, just being with her this last great day we will probably see her breathe.  At times she opened her eyes or moved her left hand, but though a thump of hope pounded in my chest, those eyes were blank, her mouth in a sharp frown I'd never seen on that laughing, cheerful face.  Finally, Beve suggested we read some scripture to her, then pray with her. 

We chose Psalm 139, a psalm about the presence of God from beginning to end of a life.  The presence of Him in the best of moments, and when the darkness covers like a cloak.  When Beve read the words, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb..." I began to tear up, thinking of the womb that had carried both the woman lying in the bed and the man reading beside it.  Their mother, who waits for her daughter in heaven.  "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be," the Psalmist said.  True for G-J, and true for Beve and me as well.

One of the sweetest sounds in my life is listening to my Beve pray.  I am always blessed by it, comforted and strengthened by it.  But today, when he began to pray for his sister, the tears that had swelled, spilled, and before he'd finished a full sentence, I was sobbing.  His peaceful, compassionate love for his big sister, his hand stroking hers.  At one point as he prayed, her hand swung into the air and he grabbed it, and I imagined that same hand holding her baby brother's as they walked to school 48 years ago in Springfield, Oregon.  I imagined that hand in that boxing glove I mentioned ten days ago, pummeling him, and clapping for her brothers as they sweated on a basketball court.  Throwing rocks into lakes on family vacations, squeezed between two of those giants in the back seat of the family wagon truckster.  That hand that looks a whole lot like her dad's, and a lot like Beve's himself.

Then I thought of how my siblings and I share the same kind of history.  How I'd be feeling if it was one of them lying in that bed.  Before spouses, children, friends, were our siblings.  So as I watched my Beve with his beautiful sister, I thought of  my sisters, my brothers, and the fullness they bring to my life.  And I thought of the hole already is in the middle of Beve's family without his sister.  G-J has been the heart of her family, the rubber band that keeps them together.  That hole never goes away.  It's a mistake to think otherwise.  And the worst thing we can do is pretend that hole doesn't exist.  Better to do something with it--maybe a reflecting pool, perhaps.  Allow ourselves to live with the hole.  That's what we have to do with G-J.  Live with the hole.  But see ourselves in its reflection.  See God in it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sympathy in choice

Just ran out to get some caffeine sustanence for the afternoon.  I didn't fall asleep until about 4am, so am incredibly groggy today...even though drinking a caffeinated beverage this late in the day will probably doom me to another sleepless night.  Sigh.  Then, as I was driving home, I noticed I was being tailed, by one of our city's finest. And, though I was carefully following every traffic law, once we were on a quiet (ish) street, sure enough, that inimitable red and blue flashing light turned on.  More calmly than I would have expected to be in that situation (I knew I hadn't broken any law), I rolled down my window, retrieved insurance card, my license and dug through the glove box, trying to find the right registration.  There were four of them in there.  He asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?"  "I haven't the faintest idea," I answered.  "Your tabs are expired." Ahhh.

When I'd left the house, keys to my car in hand, I realized that Beve's Toyota pick-up was parked behind it in the driveway.  So I exchanged my keys for his, and took the pick-up.  I rarely drive that rig.  For one thing, Beve takes it to work every day.  And, I can't drive it when Beve and I are together (or even J and I, for that matter).  If I move the seat forward enough to drive it, neither Beve, the legal giant, or J, who's 5 inches shorter but has the incredibly long legs of my mother's family, can fit into the seat.  But I drove it alone today.  And had a pleasant conversation with a friendly policeman. 

I think I dodged the 126$ ticket by perhaps--perhaps!--exaggerating how annoyed I was with the Beve.  I did feel slightly annoyed. I told the cop that my husband would be hearing from me about this. The cop laughed.  I laughed as well. However, I know Beve has more work than daylight most days, and I get that he's absent-minded.  Trust me, I get it.  As Mr, Bennet, the father in Pride and Prejudice tells his wife, "I have a high respect for your nerves.  They are my old friends."  Likewise, Beve's foibles are my old friends, just as my countless faults are his.  But, just so you realize I'm not a saint about these things, after I didn't pass go, but got myself to the DOL to buy tabs (the DOL just happened to be a block away from my interlude with the cop), I pulled out my cell-phone and called Beve.  May have even exaggerated my annoyance with him. But he knew I wasn't really mad. Just as I am used to his foibles, he can certainly read my tone of voice.  Now, if I'd gotten that ticket--plus having to buy the tabs!--that would have made me mad.

Marriage. That's what I'm thinking about today.  We got an email this morning from a friend who has had her parents in her home a couple of months.  Her dad has been caring for his wife for years.  Decades, really.  Maybe four of them. Since my friend was a young girl.  A couple of months ago, my friend, who became a nurse in part because of her mother's poor health, in part because she's by nature the most nurturing woman I've ever know, told her dad that he needed more help, that she was taking them home.  "Did you talk to your husband about this?"  "I don't need to," my friend told her dad.  "We've already talked about it.  We already knew this day was coming."  That's a marriage I admire.  But so is the marriage of her parents.  The servanthood of her dad to care of an ill wife for decades.  This morning that service ended as my friend's mother died peacefully in her sleep, the servant-husband beside her.

I think of these marriages, of this man who suddenly has a life-long weight lifted from his shoulders.  It's a whole new world for him this afternoon, and I'm wondering how he will navigate it.  Will he feel released?  Or will he feel at loose ends?  Each are equally possible after such a life.  Maybe both at once.  And will my friend who has waited for this day with her dad, not merely for the last two months but for who knows how long before that, feel a peace and freedom?  Or will she begin to grieve the mother she lost to illness when she was only a child?  I hope for both for her, even if that sounds odd.  I'm thankful that she's been there, that she's the amazing, intentional nurturer she is, that her marriage is such that she knew these privileged last days would be welcome in her home, even if they've been hard.

And, I'm thankful that my own marriage is such that we care about each other's families.  Even if we find them slightly odd. I'm thankful that Beve is the one I'm walking through all these hard days with.  I'm thankful that God sent us across the world to find each other, and has never given us an out since.  His family is my family, just as--of course, but hallelujah for like-mindedness--his God is my god.  Sympathy in choice.  For my friend, her parents, Beve and me...and all those sympathico people we take for granted.

No news on G-J. We're going to sit by her bedside tomorrow.  I'll keep you posted. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

The fiercest storms

I've been crouched over my dining room table for the last two days, working on a t-shirt quilt for my baby brother.  I keep thinking that such a project will keep me from thinking about G-J, but the opposite is true. Piecing a quilt, even if it's as complicated as this one, doesn't engage my brain.  So my brain is left to wander south to a hospice home, west to a retirement complex where Grampie lives--Grampie who fell in the bathroom earlier this week and landed in the hospital himself for two days, or east to where Mom stares vacantly out the window, not seeing a single thing.

There are seasons in life that are like the calmest of rivers on a lazy summer afternoon.  You simply allow the current to carry you along in your wide, tractor-tire inner-tube, trailing your fingers through the quiet water, content and cool in the heat.  Days where the rhythm of schedules is predictable and easy, unless a child forgets her math homework, a son forgets his soccer shoes, or the casserole burns in the oven.  But for long patches no one forgets anything and you drift along, carefree in your relationships--careless in them even.

But now and then, most of the time without much warning, life is more like a rolling ocean in the pitch of a thunderstorm.  There is nothing carefree or careless about it.  You hang on for dear life and wonder if you'll make it out of the next wave alive. In the worst of such storms, maybe you'll end up in the angry sea with nothing to hang on to but hope.  Hope and faith.

We're living there at the moment.  Right as we were going about our lives, just as we settled into another school year, with the steady rhythm of week-day and week-end, right in the middle of another ordinary week, meandering on the calmest of rivers, we were thrust into a storm we knew would come someday, but please God, not this week, not right now.  Not yet...

But here we are, and the truth is, if we hadn't been living well during those seasons of calm, if we hadn't be practicing our faith in the mirror for just such moments, these things would surely catapult us into the raging water--and we'd find ourselves drowning in it all.  Mom, Grampie (and fragile Thyrza, for that matter), and G-J, of course. G-J, whose name, I will tell you is Gloria.  Gloria.  As in Glory, as in glory to God in the highest.  Can you imagine?  This woman, this broken, beautiful woman was named for Glory.  Because that is what she is.  That is what we all are, after all--we are the glory in His crown, we are His sweetest creation.  Anyway, we spend our days--our lives, come to think of it--preparing for such days as when the hardest things hit.  Every day with Him is a rehearsal.  It is.  I know the world thinks life isn't a rehearsal, but as believers, we know otherwise.  We know that we practice and rehearse, and prepare, not only for when the hard water hits, but also for what comes after.  If we hadn't been practicing our faith--practicing His presence, as Brother Lawrence put it--how could we be able to live it now? 

So today, as I worked on that quilt, waiting for the next wave of this storm we're in, I'm thankful for all the practice He's given me.  And I can tell you, I'm leaning into the words I learned by heart before I ever needed them.  He will not give us more than we can handle (don't tell anyone, but I've taken this slightly out of context...); that, even in the fiercest of storms, He's in my boat and can--with a word--calm the storms;  that blessed in the sight of our Lord is the death of His saints--his saint Gloria, Grampie, Thryza, Mom.  Whenever they come. Blessed...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A nudge

Oddly, this autumn I've become interested in hospice.  Now, it's important to note that I often pick up interests of far-flung subjects, pick them up as if they're on the clearance rack at Nordstrom, and, even though I didn't know they existed a moment before, once they've caught my interest, I have to have them--have to know everything there is to know about them, read every book available, watch DVDs of them, research online, etc.  I caught the Antarctica bug one year, having heard an NPR piece about a woman who volunteered to be a doctor at the South Pole base, and while 'wintering over'--the season of total darkness where no plane can get in or out--she discovered a lump in her own breast, did a biopsy, and began treatment right on the spot.  The story intrigued me enough that I not only read her book, but also went back in time to read about the race to the South Pole between Scott and Armundsen.

Then, of course, there is the now famous (at least in my family) love-at-first-sight fall I had into African Elephants.  I saw a National Geographic Special many years ago about a particular elephant family, whose matriarch's name is/was Echo.  I'd never really considered elephants before that, but suddenly, was all about them, all about them as models of community, all about their shrinking homelands, and by extension became interested in all things Africa.

But along the way, there has been the sojourns in the deaf world, missions in India, the Lewis and Clark corpes of discovery, concentration camps, Jane Austen's world, early manuscripts of the Bible, John and Charles Wesley, and most recently, the last of the tzars of Russia (a truly sad story of misplaced faith, temperaments not fit to lead, and a misunderstanding of the true climate of the country). And, of course, whenever I read a novel that I really like, I immediately set out to read everything that writer has written.  My family would say I'm compulsive.  And I suppose I have something of an addictive personality--I get 'hooked' on something, and go all in, all the time.  It could be worse, much worse, obviously.  But at the dinner table during one of my sieges, my children don't necessarily think so.  There's a whole lot of eye-rolling and chortling, but in my Russian tzarist stupor, I don't notice--any more than Nicholas did to his country's increasing discontent.  In those moments, however, I try to make sure there are no sharp objects available to my family.  Just in case...

So, a month ago, for a reason I can't quite explain, hospice.  Something pushed me even to inquire about volunteering, but I actually called the Monday after the fall training.  So I did what I always do when such urges hit me, I went to the library.  Put books on hold, checked out several others.  And set them all in a pile beside my bed for the week after I finished the retreat in eastern Washington. Didn't pay any attention to them until I was looking for a book to take with me to Seattle.  Grabbed one off the stack, and there we are.  Me sitting in an CCU room or waiting room, reading, of all things, a daughter's memoir of her mother's last days.

Of course--of course!--in the Kingdom I believe in, there are no such things as co-incidences.  Today my sister-in-love is lying in a hospice facility.  Still breathing but not moving.  And the very volunteers I thought to become one of are carefully turning her body every two hours, the very nurses I'm reading about are checking her IVs.  And mostly, they are watching her end days.  It shouldn't surprise me that God intersects my interior life with the 'real' world, but I confess I am surprised by it.  I can't explain why that nudge came last month.  I explained it to my sister after we left Mom one day, that perhaps it was about giving back, sitting with others who are dying because I'm too far away to sit with her daily.  But now I see it.  Often we don't get to see how the threads of our lives are sewn together for years and years.  This time, that thread is more like a braided rope, not only visible but too heavy to lift by myself. 

I'm thankful for it, though.  I'm thankful for the tiny 'heads up' God gave me about hospice.  And I'm especially thankful for this deep, hard, precious ministry itself.  I'm thankful for those people who are standing by G-J's bedside even as I write this, thankful that each felt that nudge and acted.  It humbles me, while I sit here and read.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"How's your day going?"

It's come to my attention that I've been a bit heavy, even depressing, in the last several posts.  Perhaps the last dozen posts, for that matter.  The thing is, when living through a time such as this, a time in which doing everyday tasks seems strange, and conversations with salespeople in stores seem surreal and almost impossible, finding a light and easy topic is equally impossible.  The other day when I went into an Eddie Bauer to pick up some XLT long-sleeved shirts for Grampie who had cross the Sound in two places to get to his daughter's bedside, without any shirt but the purple (think Huskies) turtleneck--complete with a hole right at the base of the neck--he was wearing, a teenaged girl behind the counter cheerfully asked, "So how's your day been so far?"  I answered honestly, as I am wont to do.  "Not that great--my sister-in-law is dying."  You should have seen the look on her well-made-up face.  You'd think she'd never heard of death before, certainly had never had a run-in with it.  Didn't expect someone to be so rude as to mention it in answer to what was clearly just the question she'd been trained to ask.  She didn't want to hear such an answer.

It seems to me that there are only a couple of acceptable answers to the query casually put forth as a Starbucks barista prepares a drink, a grocery checker scans canned corn, a salesperson helps you find the XLTs, a phone soliciter tries to get you to buy new windows.  The best answer is "Great!" or "Fine." So they can answer, "That good," and go about their business, small talk finished.  It's also possible to say, "So-so," to which they respond, "I hope it gets better," with a meaningful inflection tone.  Often, when I say, "Fine," I'll add, "And how's yours?" which, for some reason, seems to catch them off guard.  Or, I'll say, "You look like you've had a long day," which really throws them.  A girl the other day (at a different Eddie Bauer), said, "Yeah.  I just came on here, straight from my job at Barnes and Noble."

But it's really a rare thing to tell the truth in business transactions.  Yesterday in a fabric store, I also played the 'dying sister-in-law' card.  And I admit, it was with an agenda.  See, this little store, which I love and am on my way to spending a fortune in, had a 30% off everything last Thursday through Saturda'[y.  Exactly the same days I was sitting in a CCU in Seattle.  I secretly hoped that my admission that I'd wanted to come to the sale, but a family emergency had kept me from it, would create such sympathy that I'd be given the discount a couple days late.  To no avail, however.  The owner, who was waiting on me, was more humane than most, though.  "If you don't mind my asking," she said. "What's she dying from?"  We had a good, simple conversation about her father and G-J, and I left the store with no sales fabric, but glad to have made a real human connection.

That started me thinking about how rare such conversations are when we're doing business.  I made it a point to tell the truth every place I went yesterday, and beheld more uncomfortable people than I've seen in a long time.  Death is such a hard thing to talk about.  Even among strangers.  But somehow I think, because of the way our world is now, that it's harder than ever.  There are too many ways to avoid human contact.  And, of course, too many ways to put death off, at least momentarily.  Not permanently, of course, not for one of us permanently.

It seems to me that if the gospel means anything, it means we should engage with each other in truth.  We should actively seek ways to "seek the Kingdom", the Kingdom which is love for God and love for our neighbors, wherever we encounter them.  Start with--at least start with--meaning it when we ask, "how's your day going?"  And meaning it when we answer.  See where it goes from there.  Perhaps that small thing, that easy start, is the first step toward the Kingdom for someone.  Someone with whom we had an honest conversation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hard decisions

Stormy here in NW Washington.  Our long, hot summer has finally ended, giving way to the rains and winds and winter of our discontent.  Yes, I am discontented as we approach this winter. I'm still at loose ends writing-wise, just as we're at loose ends about the life ending in that hospital in Seattle.  These end of life issues are easy to speak of in the abstract.  We all think we know what we want, and what we'd do should our spouse or child be in that situation.  But after the last several days, I can tell you none of it's as simple as we imagine when we're talking theoretically.

I'm not talking about assisted suicide, which I am against.  I'm talking about the measures taken to keep a person living who would not live without those measures.  I'm talking about the extra-ordinary things doctors can do to keep someone breathing, even if it takes a machine to do it. Doctors, we heard nurses and others say over the weekend, tend to do whatever it takes to save someone.  They look at patients through the myopic lenses of their own specialties and say, "I can fix that--that breathing problem, that blood problem, that kidney problem," but somehow miss the larger picture of the person lying in the bed, the person who bears little resemblance to their true self.  Comas do that.  They freeze a body so that the real person is trapped.  Neither here, nor going home to heaven.  Ventilators do that, as well.  Though those machines are brillant at keep a chest moving, breath inhaling and exhaling, ventilators do nothing for the missing self, if that makes sense. 

And as much as I might say from here--from my comfortable living room where I can see the sun set through the clouds, where I can watch the fire in our fireplace and feel my fingers clatter against the keys of this computer, where I sip peppermint hot chocolate, and where I think, especially where I think--yes, as much as I might say from here that I do not wish to be kept alive by such machines, it's very hard to tell until one gets there.  Or perhaps I should say, as much as Beve doesn't wish to be kept alive, what I would do should he be the person lying straining to breathe is very hard to tell.  Knowing how I feel about him, knowing how the prospect of life beyond him does not appeal (in fact, is so far from appealing I can't even see it from there), even though I do know, believe, trust that I will see him again, I think it's just possible, maybe probable, that I would say, "Do whatever it takes to keep him alive."  I think maybe it takes a tremendous amount of strength to let go of one we love, if we have the choice not to.  Even if all we really have of that person is a body breathing in a bed. 

So far be it from me to judge a husband who isn't ready to let go.  Far be it for me to think my timeline, my view of things, even my sense of what she might have wanted before this ever became an issue is right or even applicable.  I'd like to think others would have that kind of grace with me, should the decision be mine.  And I'd like to think that God, who has our times in His hands, will make it abundantly clear to all of us, if we ever are the ones to face such a hard thing.  That's what I'm praying now for this spouse.  And I hope, that should it ever be me--in the bed, or at the end of it watching--that others will be praying for Beve and me as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Position of weakness

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the dogs have been left a little too long to their own devices.  Even the gimpy one is romping like he's a puppy.  And the smaller one, the one who's always a rascal, always seems like she's a toddler, has found a tiny piece of a tennis ball, and wants someone to throw it for her.  I'm telling you, if I believed in reincarnation, I'd almost believe she's our beloved Jemima returned to us.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to post about tonight.  While we were removed from the world, sitting in an ICU waiting room, havoc was wreaked in Beve's world here in town.  One of the middle schools in town burned down Thursday--burned beyond salvaging. This is a horrific event in this small city where we live.  Many--most?--of the old timers around here went to that school.  And some of the current students are third generation attendees.  So it was a very sad thing to see it burn.  And I'm guessing those misplaced middle-school students (separated by grade in a high school, a middle school and an elementary school) will mourn their loss for the rest of the year.  And the teachers, whose lesson plans, curriculum, grades were housed in that burnt building?  They'll be starting from ground zero come tomorrow morning.  Teaching from a position of weakness, in a way.

Closer to home for Beve, a student from his own school died in a car accident Friday.  So tomorrow, Beve has to put on his "Crisis Intervention" hat and go to his own school to be available to bereaved kids. 

He's put on this hat many times in the dozen years he's worked in this school district.  He spent an entire week at an elementary school one when an eight year old had been murdered.  He's been at each high school after a suicide death of a student.  And the grief of high schoolers when a classmate has killed him/herself is pretty hard to deal with.  Even if the student who died wasn't a close friend, barely said a word, sat with his hood up over his bent head at the back of one's geometry class, the very idea that another 15-17 year old had taken his/her life is painful.  Painful especially when one has had the same inclination, when one feels lost, friendless, misunderstood.  Being a teen is a rough time.

And it's also true that many people actually become counselors out of their own desire to make sense of the world.  They operate out of their weakness, their need to be needed, they want to make everything right in their own lives, making things right in others, they hope, will aid in this process.  Over the years we've seen such people like this working alongside Beve.  They tend to have strong personalities, talk a lot about their own issues, and maybe, as the years progress, they heal themselves.  But not usually.  When crises arise, these people rise to the occasion, but never quite with the health and empathy of someone who is operating out of their strengths.

And over the 23 years of Beve's career as a counselor, he's heard many times how unusual he is because he's so healthy.  Without a doubt, he didn't become a counselor because he wanted help himself, or even because he'd had any experience with counseling.  He just loved kids and wanted to be with them in their worlds a little.  And, he'd tell you, because he was a terrible teacher.  Now I don't know if this is true, his teaching days were pre-me, but I do know he didn't have a strong passion for teaching. For talking with kids, for wanting to understand what makes them tick?  Loves it, never tires of it, always sees the wonder in them--no matter how bruised and damaged those kids are.

But tomorrow, when Beve talks to bereaved kids, he'll be feeling bereaved himself.  Under every conversation he'll also be thinking of the quiet room in that hospital in Seattle, where the woman who lays there, unmoving, unspeaking. bears only the slightest similarity to his sister.  For once, Beve will be working from a position of weakness. 

But even though we've long thought that isn't the best way to counsel for the most part, it is true that Paul often--always?--lived in just such a position.  1 Corinthians 2 says it just this way, "When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom...I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power..."

So I'll believe for Beve tomorrow.  And so, after all, I believe for all of us.  We all live in that position of weakness in one way or another.  And it's there, exactly there, that we are imbued with the Holy, holy power of our Holy, holy God.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The interminable wait

Just got home from our latest sojourn in a Seattle hospital. Hanging around hospitals hasn't never been one of my favorite activities, but we've done a whole lot of it in the last ... I was going to say year, but when I really start thinking back I realize that with G-J, parents, and occasional friends, we've had many such times.  And mostly what being a visitor in hospitals consists of is waiting.  Sitting around, wandering into the hallways to talk on the phone, going down the elevator to Starbucks in the lobby for an injection of caffeine at undesignated intervals--ie, when one of us grows bored with the sitting and waiting.

Oh, and there is this, innumerous logistical discussions about when to eat, what to eat, how to transport the family (especially the two senior members who need extra assistance), whether to take a car, the shuttle, a taxi, who will stay, who will go, how many coffees, "Oh wait, I wanted to talk to the nurse," "No, I told you to leave it in her room." "Hey, you need to go with them or they'll get lost."  These discussions can take place in a proliferation of ways in the 21st century--by text, cell, email, and, when all else fails, in person.  One of our favorite leave-taking phrases is, "We'll be in constant radio contact."  Unfortunately, about half the time, Grampie has either lost or forgotten to turn on his cell-phone, though none of us would dream of texting him.  Not only is such new technology beyond him mentally at this point, but his large digits at the end of his large mitts would have trouble hitting the correct tiny key.  I mean, why are those keys made for seven-year-olds unless 2nd graders are actually the target demographic (and I'm assuming most parents do not want this!)?

All that waiting, all that sitting around (all that uncomfortable sleeping in chairs, if you're J or Grampie, with a little Beve thrown in!), all that passive hoping, and, in a world that has gone haywire, the quest for such information that will clear up the clouds, or at least bring a rainbow such as the one Beve and I saw on our way home this afternoon, the combination of all of this is enough to wear a body out, to weary our brains and hearts and everything between.  Not to mention that the copious amounts of hand sanitizer at every door, on every wall, and the large bold signs reminding visitors about flu symptoms, coughing, remind us not that we're in a place of sickness but that we are possibly the greatest dangers to those critically ill.  This is sobering, indeed.

Yet, we do it.  We came home today because things are status quo at the hospital.  And likely to be so for some time.  This is not to say that things are good, improving or even hopeful.  None of these things are near the truth.  Not in the same city as the truth.  But tonight as we sit in our family room with our dogs, watching football like it's a normal Saturday afternoon, we are comforted by thefact that she breathes.  And that's all I can say right now. 

I know--I KNOW--there's some spiritual truth about all this waiting, sitting, the sheer boredom of hospital stays such as these last three days, but really, I'm just too tired.  So imagine those words here, and turn to Him, just as we had, have, will have to, in the coming days.  And, maybe, live this day as if it's your last one standing, walking around and speaking the words you want your loved ones to hear.  Because I can tell you, to hear one more cheerful word, one more, "Hey guys!" from G-J would mean the world to her family.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A room

Beve, E and I are lying here on our beds at the Silver Cloud, just blocks away from the hospital where Beve's sister lies deeply asleep.  That's what it looks like, that she's just deeply asleep, with tubes and IVs running in and out.

I've been in ICUs or CCUs before.  Twice, actually.  Beve's Mom spent several weeks there before she died.  And my dad spent the last two days of his life in a room very much like the one in which G-J breathes in and out, in and out, in and...well, you get the idea.  To say that it's hard to be in such a room understates how it feels.  To say that there's no place I'd rather be also understates it.

I wonder if it's because I have lived this before, stayed in a hotel down the street from an ICU where a loved one breathed that it shortens my breath until I'm holding it, that this hurts so deeply.  Or if it's because this loved one, this woman, with her husband standing at the end of her bed, her father leaning heavily on his cane just outside the door and her brother, with tears in his eyes, sitting beside her, this woman has meant so much to me, so much to my children that they would have moved heaven and earth to also be here.

It's both, of course.  I carry my past with me in every situation.  We all do.  Well, all except someone like my mother who no longer has a past, and only has each moment as they come, and those only tenuously, though I'd like to believe that they're there inside that Swiss cheese brain.   And G-J, even in this coma, even with a radiated brain, holds within her all her own memories.  They're there in the "Life is good," hat.  There in the guest book quickly filling up.  Those memories run rampant on the pages of her address book, so full a names, slips of papers, reminders.  Her husband handed that book to me and I felt a surge of laughter at this woman, so committed to others and, I dare say, so very like her mother, whose address book long not needed, sits in a drawer in my house.  I can walk into that room, where computer monitors line her bed, where needles and latex gloves are available in every size, just open a drawer, pull them out of a box, and I can look past those things, because to me, this is her room.  A room where an angel sits on the window sill, a gift given by one of her myriad friends, and flowers appear from a colleague of her husband.  But these are not the things that make this room hers.  It's because she lies in it, deeply asleep.  I look over at her and and imagine walking into that sterile, medicinal beeping place tomorrow morning and she'll be sitting up, asking for a Starbucks, with just the right amount of cream--"Do I need to give you a color swatch?"--laughing at all of us for being so worried.

But I've a night like this before.  And I know how it turned out.

But until that room no longer has her name on it, one way or another, it's what I'll imagine, what I'll believe and hope for.

Pile of peanuts

Just got home from the high school where Beve works.  Periodically he asks me to come in and meet with students who are working on their college essays.  I've been doing this for years--in fact, back in our Tacoma days, I actually got paid for this work.  But that's before even E's memory (I don't want to cast aspersions, but she inherited her father's memory), and even I have forgotten what it's like to get paid for such editing.  I keep doing it though.  Keeps me sharp, allows me interaction with kids.  Bonus, bonus.  So this morning there I was, waiting for these nervous high school seniors, for whom everything in the universe rests on these two page essays.  Well, that and SAT scores, GPAs, and teacher/counselor recommendations.

But this morning, only one of the three students was actually in the building.  Beve tracked down their classes, one at a time (unfortunately pulling the wrong girl out of a Math class. Whoops!), but they weren't there. And  the single boy who showed up simply put his essays on Beve's desk and began to walk away.  "You're here to meet with me," I told him.  "But I'm in AP Spanish," he answered.  "Can I just come back and get it later?"  I nodded.  I mean, who am I to get in the way of AP Spanish?  These are the things that will make or break his life, after all.  Or so he thinks now.  He--and all the other anxious seventeen and eighteen year olds can't imagine the day--not so far in the future--when nobody cares how they did in AP anything.  And they don't understand that their college essays only count for a single day--the day they're read by those university admissions officers who decide 'yay' or 'nay'.   After that, those carefully crafted essays, which I assist in perfecting (or somewhere in that vicinity, if possible) might as well be filed in the recycle bin.  Done and done.

But then we're all pretty short-sighted, when it comes to that.  We take ourselves and our petty concerns sooo seriously.  We think that whatever we're engaged in today, this week, this month have huge implications for the world.  But mostly what we do--our occupations--are, as Beve would call them, "Our pile of peanuts."  This allusion comes from our two-month time in New Delhi, India back in our pre-marriage, pre-anything but friends days.  Every day as we walked toward the bus that would take us downtown to our ministry sites, we'd see men sitting on the streets in front of tiny fires and piles of peanuts which they were peddling.  Beve observed how seriously they took their work, how important it was that they had those piles to make their living from.  I'd like to point out, though, that Beve could have called this metaphor "Our pile of ear wax," because we also saw men with small trays of said wax, along with strange retrieval devices for the procurement of such wax, but you'll be relieved to know that neither of us, nor any of our housemates never availed ourselves of this wax-removal service.

But our pile of peanuts.  We all have them.  The work we are called to, no matter how earth-shaking or trivial.  The next step toward those jobs if we're students.  But in one sense, most of our decisions aren't all that critical.  Which car to buy, what to have for dinner, what to write on a college essay...yes, they matter.  But no they don't.  If that makes sense.  They're our pile of peanuts.

However, there are also things that count.  Things that are as far from a pile of peanuts as one could get.  How to treat those around us, especially to those we do not naturally care for. How we respond to adversities and how we live when the chips are down.  Especially who we are when we're alone in the dark and don't have our public faces on.  What we hold onto when we're alone in the dark--what we hold against each other.

My sister-in-love, G-J, whom I wrote about yesterday, slipped into a coma late last night.  We're on our way south in the next half an hour to be with her if this is the end.  And it makes me take seriously only those things that last.  At times like this, I'm ready to dump those pile of peanuts.  And then it occurs to me that that's how I should live all the time--with that pile of peanuts held very, very lightly, so that I'm only serious about what lasts.

"His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'  The words, 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain."     Hebrews 12: 26-27

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

G-J

A long time ago in blog time, when I first began this blog, I posted about a woman I know who has more physical problems than all of the rest of us combined.  This unidentified person, it turns out, is Beve's only sister.  G-J, as I'll call her, grew up the only daughter in a family of giants.  Beve, who is her one younger brother, used to call her a six-foot midget, which she was...in his world.  But then, most of us can only wish we were six-foot midgets.  I know E does, and blames me every time she thinks of it that she's no where close.  Ah, the things to blame your mother for.

Anyway, Beve and his sister have always been very close.  So close that when Beve was given boxing gloves one Christmas as a kid, he and G-J would tie them on...and she'd punch the stew out of him.  While it's true that G-J was a husky girl, her biggest advantage came from Beve doubling up in laughter as she started pummeling him.  And that's an image I've always loved--Beve laughing because his sister did something he found hilarious--with boxing gloves, no less.

By the time I entered the picture, G-J and Beve had been close for a very long time.  27 years, to be exact.  G-J thought of Beve as hers in a way.  She leaned on him, and he was always there for her.  And, to be honest, G-J knew me too, but probably not my best self.  Certainly not a very current one.  She graduated from high school when I was a freshman, and I don't believe I had a single conversation with her after that.  So her impression of me was more than a decade old by the time Beve and I returned to the states, engaged and planning a wedding in six weeks. G-J, I've come to know, is not a person to mince words.  If she struggles with something, she lets them know.  And she let Beve know that she had some concerns about me.  Beve, with his patience and ability to laugh, told her to wait and see, that I was exactly right, and wouldn't take anything away from her.

It was well said by the Beve.  In fact, G-J and I became fast friends.  Sisters of the heart, one might say. We laughed together many times, at the most ridiculous moments--at dinner tables, and hot tubs, watching movies, or watching our children, like when E was flower-girl at her wedding, a darling little princess dressed up in satin.  And we've cried together too, the day their mother died, the day we cleaned out that mother's closet, the day we heard their dad would marry again.  And I've sat with her through some terrible struggles, been there when her son was born and there when she practically didn't come out alive from one of her many surgeries.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

See, G-J has struggled with illness for a long time.  But for the first part of that long time, she didn't want anyone to know about it, treat her differently.  She didn't want disease to define her back then.  But eventually she stopped having a choice.  Her health failed more and more, and the world crept in to know it.  And it was in that creeping, I think, that she discovered the richness of the body of Christ, the best of what the Body can be. More recently she's come to see a different side of being so sick.  I asked her once if I could use her as an example, and her answer was, "Of course, what is this all for, otherwise?"

G-J was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 20, and lived with that for a long time.  By the time she wanted to have a child, doctors were hesitant to allow the strain on her kidneys.  But she persisted, had her beloved son, and has never regretted it.  The doctors were right, though, and her oldest brother flew across the ocean to give her a kidney the same summer my dad died.  Beve and I played caretakers--he of oldest brother, me of her son.  Alas, that kidney scarred, so about five years later, she got another kidney, this time with a pancreas thrown in, creating what she laughingly calls her 'used parts store' within--4 kidneys and 2 pancreases. Such humor, I have to say, is typical of the giants I married into.

About three years ago, after eye problems left over from the no-longer-present diabetes, a broken foot on a leg she couldn't feel, G-J began to have debilitating headaches.  When she went to the doctor (practically a hobby for her!), she was sent immediately to the hospital, and from there to ICU, which is where Beve and I found her the next day.  Just about the time the neurologist showed up.  This unknown woman was struggling with tears, could barely speak.  It was a moment when a life flashed before our eyes.  For Beve and me, it was G-J's life.  For her, it was the life of her son.  That afternoon counts as one of the privileged moments of my life, watching my Beve cry with his G-J, his first best friend.  I cried my own tears, but really the sacred moment was theirs.  We spent a week in that hospital with G-J.  A week in which Beve rode herd over his dad, we stayed at my aunt and uncle's house, a week in which we sat in G-J's room, and I took copious notes every time a doctor (and to be clear, she had no less than 5 doctors caring for her various issues) walked into the room.  The surgery went well, God be praised.  And G-J went home to full-head radiation treatment that burned her hair permanently off her head, but saved her life.

And, burned her memory to a certain degree.  She knows it, but those lapses are hard for her.  By the next summer she was mostly well, though she'd had more than a few hospital visits for infections, and the like, always staying on 11E, where the nurses all know her. All love her.  But really, who couldn't.  Self-effacing good humor, a deep well of grace, and compassion for others. She's amazing, really she is.  She got sepsis that summer, another thing that almost killed her, but didn't.  Just plain didn't.  Then a year or so later, after another broken leg, that septic infection which never really goes away, cause such havoc in that leg, it was amputated below the knee.  And still she kept sending cards, making phone calls, loving people from her completely reduced life.  Orchestrating family get-togethers, being Grampie's chief cheerleader, long-distance care-giver. 

But now she's back on 11E, has been having TIA's.  Little strokes to us lay-people.  Nobody knows why.  Every one of them leaves her a little more forgetful, a little more reduced in abilities and faculty, less able to communicate or laugh.  It leaves one wondering how much a body has to take.  But when I think of her, think of the incredible ministry she's had to her family, her church community, her large circle of friends near and far, I am awed by her.  Completely awed.  And this I know, if she had merely been healthy, merely been strong and funny and bright and friendly--and she is all these things--she could not, would not, have the impact on the world as she has had.  Mere physical health could not do, in Kingdom terms, what all her difficulties have done.

Do I wish she'd been healed?  Yes.  Of course I do.  It's been excruciating to watch what she's had to bear.  But I've never--truly, NEVER-- heard her ask, "Why me?" and never heard her want to be anything but a light to the world.  And I think God knew this about her.  I think He looked down and saw that, with her large heart and large sphere of friends, He could use her in an especially hard way.  He could break her body, because her soul was intact. And in her broken body, He has shone brightly, laughingly, eternally. And even now, as her life gets harder and smaller and perhaps close to its completion, He's looking down at her with love and pride at what's she'd been, who she's been, and how much brighter the world has been because of her broken, brilliant life.