Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The eagles have landed

The eagles have landed.  The elder eagles, complete white pure white on the top of their heads, also known as Grampie and Thyrza.  All the preparations of the last month have come to fruition in this move from 3-4 hours away on the Olympic Penninsula to just 8 or so minutes across town.  They are, I hope (it's almost midnight) sleeping deeply in a guest suite at the Retirement Complex where they will make their new home.  The moving truck comes tomorrow.  Today, while that van was packed up, overseen by them and middle brother, B, we were setting up the new HD flatscreen we all (her kids and his) went in together to buy them for Christmas.  Moving over a recliner to replace Grampie's, which we wouldn't cry about if it fell off the truck.  Washing up dishes we brought over for them to use until theirs get unpacked. 

The dishes we took over used to be my mother's.  She bought them one Christmas when our whole family would celebrate together.  For years afterwards she was frustrated because she meant only to keep them until a majority of them broke.  But she couldn't manage to break the darn things.  When we moved her, J got those dishes for his first apartment, and he couldn't manage to break them either.  And now Grampie and Thyrza have them.  When Thyrza saw them tonight, she decided they seem more durable than the yellow china dishes that used to live up at the lake place Beve's parents owned.  More durable is right.

Thyrza and I walked around their new apartment tonight, mentally placing their furniture.  She's excited by the larger space they have to work with here.  As we were leaving (until early tomorrow when we'll begin the hard work of unpacking, organizing, being their maintenance folks, their taxis, their...everything), Thyrza said, "I'll probably be calling you a lot for a while.  I have a hundred questions."  That's why they're here, I told her.  And that, I think, may be why my life is as flexible as it is. I told them we'll make sure I'm programmed #1 on their phones.

It's a relief to have them here.  And it kind of takes my breath away that it actually happened.  Even though we knew it was best, and Thyrza's daughter saw it as an answer to prayer, I knew in the end, they might have second, third or fiftieth thoughts about it. But here they are and we're ready. 

At least I think we're ready.  But here's the thing I told them tonight, when they were thanking us for our hard work (which wasn't really that hard).  When our children were little, I knew I could call them at a moment's notice and they'd babysit our chublets.  When I had to work, and a child had a fever, Grampie and Thyrza always had an open door, plenty of Top Ramen, and the futon in the back room made up into a bed by the time I'd driven the mile and a half from our house to theirs. We're a little farther away than that now, but it feels like full circle, to be able to take care of them.  Exactly what we should be doing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Urgency

The family (minus J who had to work) drove through the bleak and snowy winter yesterday to a winter-wonderland wedding last night.  Except that it barely raining, let alone snowing.  Inside, where the wedding was held, it was definitely a wonderland, full of ribbon-wrapped trees and twinkling lights.  The bride (youngest daughter of our closest friends), looking spectacular in a dress only she could pull off, gazed adoringly into the eyes of her tall, militarily-clad young lieutenant, whom she had barely seen since he went off to Kentucky last July to train.

We've been at the weddings of all three of these beautiful daughters of these friends, and I was struck last night at how carefully God chose the men to be partners with these women.  The oldest is married to a scientist, and he's loved and balanced her amazing creativity, her flights of fancy.  He's helped organize but also allowed her to be who she is--exactly who she is.  She sang an orginal composition last night while her little sister danced with her groom. The second daughter is now married to a gentle-eyed, warm musician, the perfect foil on his saxaphone to her jazz-loving soul.  They're silly and affectionate--I can't imagine anyone better for her than this musician husband.  And the bride last night, the music educator, has always been organized, matter-of-fact and willing to do what it takes to make her life work.  Being married to a man in the military will give her plenty of opportunity to work out of her strengths.  Her sisters couldn't (wouldn't) have done it.  And K's strong brain will be challenged by the equally strong brain of her husband.

All this reminds me again of how engaged God wants to be in that important aspect of our lives.
And a short conversation with the man who helped our friend officiate at the wedding last night reminded me--convicted me!--of how God wants to be active in EVERY aspect of our lives.  This man has completed all his school work and all the denominational hoops needed to become a pastor in the Presbyterian Church.  He's only waiting for a 'call' from a church in order to be an ordained pastor. So we talked process for a bit, then he said, "We (meaning his wife and him) aren't in a hurry.  When God calls, there's no denying it. There's an urgency to obey when God calls."

And I was caught short.  This isn't news to me.  It really isn't.  In fact, Beve and I have lived this truth SO many times in our lives, we should know it chapter and verse, should have it written on our foreheads, on the doorposts of our home, on the dashboards of our cars.  And we definitely, absolutely must teach it to our children.  Jobs, homes, MATES!, ministries, have all come as a result of that sense of HIS call, paired with that urgency to obey it.  We can't NOT obey when we know something is Him telling us to do it.

But this came as a bit of a revelation to me last night because lately I've been working hard to figure out what God wants me to do.  I have been trying so hard to figure it out, and coming up empty, that I've worked myself into something of a funk.  Maybe I should go back to school (just one more time, which would make it 4 different colleges, and four degrees!) to get a Masters in Education.  And weekly (or daily) I check for jobs online in our area, or any area, that I might be qualified for.  Since I'm over educated and under qualified for just about everything out there, this can be an exercise in not just futility but also depression.  Then I expand the search to the entire nation for the areas in which I actually AM qualified to do--women's ministry, mission-training, etc.  And I try things on for size, try to work out what Beve would do if we moved to Nebraska or Texas or the Oklahoma panhandle.  Sigh.

And then I go back to whatever book I'm reading.  And sigh again.
I've been assuming this is MY job to fix.  My job to find a job.  The world tells me so.  It's my job to figure it out.  And all this work of trying to find work I can actually do has put in a pretty bad place spiritually.  A place in which I've rarely dwelt.  I don't like it very well, to tell you the truth.  I've felt such urgency about all this, that I've completely forgotten the urgency that comes when God is moving.  When HE'S calling.  And there's a world of difference in those two kinds of urgency.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying I shouldn't be doing my part.  But I am saying I should stop beating myself up about the inability for fit my square self into a round hole. Keep looking, but also--primarily, constantly, over-archingly--keep praying.  Trusting God to do His work, which is, of course, most of the work. 
This man I talked to last night also reminded me of this: when God came to earth, 30 years of the Incarnation were spent in preparation for the three years of public ministry.  That's a pretty lop-sided ratio.  So who knows how long the preparation time God might have for me.  Whatever time it takes, it won't be that long.  So I wait.  I wait.  I wait for the urgency I've experienced many, many times, that urgency which I know well.

I think of how last night's bride had to wait for this day, waited and watched for the day when her beloved would come home to marry her.  She lived her life every day, but also--in that daily ordinary life--her head was cocked toward Kentucky. Cocked toward the calendar counting off the days until he'd be home, until their wedding day.  She waited with an urgency.  And that's the urgency I--we each--must bring to our waiting for God's call.  Stillness without, but urgent with. And all together, a trust that the Beloved will come, the call will come. He will answer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Be

For Christmas, I decided to take a moratorium from the computer.  Sometimes in our house, all five of us can sit in the same room stuck behind our laptops, not communicating.  So I turned mine off.  Didn't say anything about it to anyone else, just did it for myself.  Instead, because my hands itch to be active, I took up my knitting, which is something I only seem to do in the winter.  Maybe it's because most knitted things are winter-wear/use.  Maybe.  But there's been plenty knitting going on around here, because the weather's been frosty all day, every day.

But that, my friends, is NOT my point today.  My brain seems to have been on a hiatus along with my computer use, even though we've just celebrated the high Holy day on which we celebrate Christ's birth, though, as most of you might know, He was more likely born in springtime.  The dead of winter date was chosen back in persecution of Roman Christian days, to coincide with an already existing festival.  This was done so that Christians could celebrate Christ's birth without fear of reprisal.  We didn't have a very spiritual Christmas this year.  My fault as much as anyone in my family's.  We didn't go to church, partly because Beve and I are dead tired from the long, hard fall.  Partly from just plain inertia.  Sorry to say. 

And partly from what Denise Levertov (taking words from a man confronting Jesus during His earthly ministry) writes of in this poem.

Opening Words
I believe the earth
exists, and
in each minum mote
of its dust the holy
glow of thy candle.
Thou
unknown I know,
thou spirit,
giver,
lover of make, of the
wrough letter,
 wrought flower,
iron, deed, dream.
Dust of the earth,
help thou my unbelief. Drift
gray become gold, in the beam of
vision. I believe with doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,
beloved, threatened world.
Each minim
mote.
Not the poisonous
luminescence forced
out of its privacy,
the sacred lock of its cell
broken. No,
the ordinary glow
of common dust in ancient sunlight.
Be, that I may believe. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peace on Earth

Lying in bed this morning (and I don't mean telling lies to whoever happened to be near, which was NO one!), I got to thinking about this whole Peace On Earth thing.  And I know you know what I mean.  You ask every second person what they want for Christmas and they answer, "Peace on Earth."  It doesn't matter what religious persuasion they are, whether they're of any persuasion at all, they still answer Peace On Earth.  It's the common answer for young, beautiful, skinny, overly coiffed women prancing around on stage in evening gowns and swimsuits.  When asked what they want in the world, they answer (or at least this is the answer they all give in "Miss Congeniality," and I'm pretty sure that's a documentary!), "Peace On Earth."

Anyway, it hit me this morning that like so many things we say, so many expressions used or misused in the world, this has its root in the gospel.  You know that famous, now stolen, sign above the entrance to Auswitz?  "Arbeit machs frei," it says.  Works makes free is the literal translation, but it implies that your work will set you free, which wasn't true at all, as we now all know (unless we're deniers of the Halocaust).  This is bastardized from the verse, "The truth will set you free."

And what about the clause we use very often, "By the way,"?   This comes from the verse (very near the one mentioned above, actually) where Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."  Originally when someone said 'by the way', they were saying something serious, by the Jesus, in fact.  Like an oath.  It wasn't a throw-away remark almost forgotten to be mentioned.  "By the way, I picked up the toilet paper.  By the way was an oath of the most serious nature.

And so this wish for peace on earth.  A phrase first uttered in the sky above sheep pastures outside of Bethlehem.  A phrase offered to shepherds--shepherds, who weren't in the first rung of their society, but the bottom.  Shepherds who had no actual power in their world, but did what they did because they had no other options.  These were not people who could effect peace on earth.  They were only concerned with peace in their pastures.  Peace from the tyranny of wolves, not of nations.  But to them, the angel offered, "Peace on earth."  On all of earth.

This peace of which the angel spoke was NOT what the shepherds--or the entire world--expected.  Not what they thought they wanted or needed.  It was peace with a price.  Peace with a whole lot of negative things attached.  Peace with misunderstanding, denial, cursing and a CROSS attached.  Not as the world gave/gives, but peace with eternal perspective.  Peace with repentance, forgiveness and transformation.  Peace on earth, it turns out, can only be inacted one person at a time.  Peace not by lack of hostility, but by the entrance within each person of the ONE who can overcome such hostility the enemy might level against him/her.

So when we hear--over and over, ad infinitum--those words, "Peace on earth," what is being wished is the Incarnate One, the One who is our peace.  The holiday wish, the beauty pageant peace, the peace wished for in every second remark on every momentous occasion on this planet, it turns out, is Jesus.  Don't you just love this?  Don't you just love that all sorts of people who have no idea of what they're really asking for, are pleading for Jesus' presence in the world.  Jesus! Just as He was the One the shepherds ran to see after hearing those words in that dark night outside of Bethlehem.  So when I hear it--from wherever direction the words come--instead of rolling my eyes (as I've been known to do)--let me join my voice to it, and breathe a prayer for peace to come, er, for Jesus to come.  Again and again and again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Break

It's winter break.  That's right, the innocuous-sounding 'winter break' for those employed in this country's public school systems.  Not Christmas vacation, or even 'holiday break'--though that is inclusive of whatever holiday a person wishes to celebrate--but just a plain vanilla break that happens to occur during winter, just as the other one occurs during the spring.

At Beve's school, it used to be that food was collected the week before this break with some presents thrown in for some needy families in the area.  But a few, rather vocal teachers were vociferous in their protests.  Most of that protest came in the form of mass emails sent to all and sundry, objecting loudly (if a written form or communication might be called loud!) to such charity, because it was connected to a religious holiday.  Sure, celebrate Halloween, which, if you ask me, has plenty of religion attached to it, and I'm not talking about the day after which is All-Saints Day.  And definitely celebrate Thankgsiving which is only an American one.  But Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza (a recent addition)?  Heck, no!

Beve helped set up a pre-vacation potluck for his staff last week, and called it a 'holiday bash', and as anemic as that sounds to me, Beve got one of those emails.  A colleague told Beve he was deeply disappointed, that he expected more from Beve.  Beve told me about it and we shook our heads.

It makes me wonder at this world we live in, er, I should say, the country we call home.  We are guranteed the right to bear arms, the right to gather in protest, the right to speak what we believe, even if what we believe isn't sanctioned by our government or popular with our peers.  So this man Beve works with has the right to protest Beve's use of the word 'holiday', but has forgotten that Beve also has the right to acknowledge that holidays lie ahead on the calendar.

The thing is, it isn't just a winter break.  It isn't merely a holiday.  It's Christmas.  For us, it is. The year before we married, Beve and I were in India on Christmas Day.  It was one of my favorite Christmases, where we'd worked hard to fix dinner for our small international community.  We took a walk that afternoon, while our turkey was cooking (a butterball picked up at the American embassy! and without sausage OR dogfood stuffing), and on the street, several Indians said, "Merry Christmas" to us.  I loved that.  Obviously we were westerners--our skin-color, clothing and Beve's enormous size pointed that out everywhere we went--and from the point of view of these Indians, it was our holiday.  Not theirs, but ours.  Nothing was closed that day in India.  It wasn't a national holiday, just an ordinary Tuesday (or which ever day it was), but they knew, and were glad to wish us the traditional Christmas greeting.  "Merry Christmas!"

This attitude, it seems to me, is more enlightened than all the political correctness this nations tries to practice.  Paying attention in what's important to others, acknowledging that.  Maybe even allowing what's important to others to pave the way for real dialogue about our differences.  Paul did this, you know.  He saw all the shrines in Athens and acknowledged them.  "It's plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously," he told them.  "And I found one [shrine] inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I'm here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you're dealing with." Acts 17: 22-24 (the Message)

We won't get anywhere by pretending other religions don't exist, by pretending there is no such thing as Christmas, Ramadan, Yom Kippur.  We need not only to acknowledge these holidays, but to give those who practice them respect.  And, if and when, the moment is right for conversation, speak of our similarities rather than point our fingers at what is right and wrong about all others.


As the angel said, "Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please Him."

And who pleases Him? Or, let me ask it this way, who doesn't please Him?  If you can think of one person, one who was not made in His image, let me know.  Because I think this means all of us.  And if it does, if every person has the right to this day, this most holy day in Bethlehem, then don't we owe it to them, to Him, to that God squeezed into a human baby's skin, don't we owe it to all people to start with what they celebrate--the unknown gods and goddesses--and point them toward The ONE we know.

Because, for our God's sake, it's NOT just winter break.  It's Christmas, the day we celebrate this KNOWN God we love.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Keeping off the streets


Just thought I'd post a few photos of my most recent quilts.  I think I'm developing a style.  That is, I really like contemporary colors and patterns.  Maybe it's because I'm not confident enough to make quilts like my grandmother, or mother-in-law made...or maybe I wouldn't make them even if I could.  They just don't appeal, except to add warmth to my bed at night, and as the heritage they are for my children and me.  These are quilts all hand-pieced and hand-quilted and I'm telling you, the patience such work takes--well, I can't imagine.

 First, the legacy quilts, like the sunbonnet quilt above.  And the butterfly quilt at the bottom...and the Irish chain, made by Beve's Mom. With them are my latest creations, definitely a different ilk.  BB's T-shirt quilt, which I really need to get mailed.  He went to University of Washington, but I might have added a logo or two from the old home-town, cross-state rival.  Then a quilt I've made for a nephew who loves the colors of the sunset, for which I used all Batik fabrics, bordered by black, so it wouldn't look too girly for an almost 15-year-old.  And finally, a quilt-top I just finished, the recipients of which I'm not ready to disclose.  But I have to admit, I've fallen in love with the brown/blue combination!  Can you tell which are mine and which were crafted by a generation (or two) now gone?

The point of all this work is that it keeps me off the streets.  Though maybe I should be more on the streets, more willing to get outside of my house, my little concerns, my own head.  In fact, if this season is about anything, isn't it about that?  About getting outside of our own lives to give gifts, share a cuppa cheer, share--for His sake--life itself, as it came wrapped in whatever clothes the young mama had managed to cart on that donkey with her.  Isn't this the point? Sharing that however we can?  Maybe.  Probably.  Surely.  And now that my own words have convicted me, I'll simply share these quilt pictures, share what has been keeping me off the streets, much to my own chagrin.

And what about you?  What has been keeping you off the streets?


Friday, December 18, 2009

Presents and presence


The other night while watching something on television, certain commercials (like every single one of them) made me think about Christmas.  And thinking about Christmas inevitably made me think about my mother.  See, Mom loved Christmas.  She loved everything about it, including the laundry list of traditions, especially rlelated to Christmas Eve, which involved a family talent show, the hanging of the stockings, the piling of presents under the tree, the soup dinner, the readings, and the Christmas Eve service late that night, after which she and Dad filled our stockings (and trust me, we knew it was them filling them.  Santa was only make-believe at our house, and we all played the game).  And the buying of presents, oh my word, the presents.

See, Mom loved--LOVED--buying presents. She schemed and planned, kept lists, checked it far more often than twice.  She worked at it like a job, the present buying.  And heaven forbid she come up short for someone of Christmas Eve. I'm telling you there were times when she sent Dad down the hill to the grocery store to snatch up something at the last minute just to make sure it was even across the board--for all 6,8,9, 19 of us as the family grew.  And she did about 95% of the gift buying.  Dad had to take care of her, and when my youngest sister got to a certain age, she demanded at least one present from him, which he complied with.  And he bought any outdoor or camping kind of gift someone wanted.

So we had enormous Christmases as I was growing up.  You-can't-believe-it enormous.  Mom was more about quantity than quality, you see. She loved the large pile under the tree Christmas morning and the mounds of wrapping paper it took to wrap them all (though Dad did most of the wrapping!).  She was like a kid about Christmas, like a great big kid.

But she won't know Christmas this year.  It's the first one in my life where there won't be a present from her under my tree, even if she's far away from that tree.  And that breaks my heart.  I began this post with a picture of Mom with her four oldest kids at my niece's wedding last June.  I don't know if you can tell, but she was barely there for those pictures.  The photographer had to keep clapping his hands to get her attention. Like she was a little girl who didn't know what was going on, which in fact just about sums it up. By the way, I'm the tan one in the back row--always have tanned more easily than anyone in my family, other than my mom. My youngest sister, RE, the mother of the bride stands beside me in back, and my middle sister, the Dump, stands in front of me with her eyes closed.  Ah Dump!  Older brother, R, is in front of RE, wearing a kilt.  When I look at this picture the most telling thing is the difference between Mom's face and the four of ours.  Even though Dump's eyes are closed, she's present.  We all are. But Mom.   Mom, dressed up in her church-going best, with the new blouse I'd put on her that morning, doesn't look present.  Her eyes are as vacant as them come. 

And it's her emptiness that made me think of presents the other day. Her lack of presence, and her lack of presents, if that makes sense. When I thought about not receiving gifts from Mom this year, I felt sad.  But a huge-pile-of-presents sadder was the idea that she wouldn't understand the day or understand the gifts we give her.  You see, I can't bear NOT to give her something. Even if she doesn't know. So I spent a whole lot of time thinking about what she could receive that would carry any kind of meaning.  I can't bear that the one person in my life who most cared about such things no longer knows what Christmas even is, or why there are presents in the first place (though I'm pretty sure a whole lot of people don't quite get that).  Then I thought of a perfect gift: a baby doll.  Sounds strange, I know.  But she's been carrying around this stuffed puppy we bought her the last time I was in town, holding it like a baby.  So why not a baby doll?  Why not a doll baby for my little girl mother?  Every doll I ever got was given by her.  And the oldest dolls I ever played with were the ones she'd had as a little girl, her two dolls (named by her when she was a child because she thought the names lovely and elegant),Virginia Lucille and Delores Eileen.

She no longer knows what Christmas is, and no longer knows whose birthday we celebrate.  But when we read the story from Luke that night, I'll think of her, of our home lit with candles and Dad reading the words.  I'll think of her great anticipation for the morning, her child-like joy in awakening us early, her love for every part of it.  And though I won't be there when she opens that doll, I'll be imagining her face, usually so empty of emotion and presence, suddenly--for a moment at least--filled with joy.  Joy and wonder.  A baby doll might do it, just the way a baby fills the the whole earth with joy.  Joy and wonder.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bits and pieces...

It's been a ragged morning...and since I just told you how my mornings go, you should know that if I say ragged, it's pretty close to close-the-shades-Harry-I'm-climbing-back-in-bed awful. And hard to see God in any of it.  So don't expect it.  I'm just saying...

First, E wasn't home for Jamaica to cuddle with so the second Beve closed the door behind him at some pre-dawn hour, Maica was up on my bed, curled up on my back and I'm pretty sure she hyper-extended it, if such a thing is possible.  Then I started having dreams about SK's Theater History paper, which she had a panic attack over last night right as I was drifting off to sleep.  Last night when I got her worried text, I reached for my robe and pressed 5 on my phone at the same time, then walked out of our room to where my laptop was waiting for me.  We spent about half an hour going over her paper, then I went to bed.

But clearly didn't stop thinking about it, since I was still considering edits she could make this morning.  I'm telling you dreaming about a college research paper--hers or anyone else's--is not the way I like to start my day.  As I was talking to her this morning (she's in a much better place with it, will finish it ahead of its due time tomorrow, though she does have 50 million other things to complete by tomorrow as well), Beve called.  I didn't interrupt SK to talk to Beve, so he called the house phone.  Then J stumbled out of his room talking on his phone.  Apparently the emergency had reached critical proportions for him to awaken J! 

When I finished talking to SK and called Beve back, he asked me to run across town (in the next 20 minutes!) to pick up pizza for him.  Oh, and by the way, when he drove my car yesterday, the gas light was on.  But not to panic, he was pretty sure I'd make it to a gas station without running out of gas.  Let me just tell you, one of my chief (though trivial) anxieties in life is running out of gas.  One dark and stormy night (wow, that sounds like a good opening line for a novel!), when E was a fifth grader, she and I did that, right in the middle of an intersection of  Old Olympic Highway and a county road that had the ridiculous name of 'Kitchen Dick' road, don't ask me why.  Given that we were truly dead center, with no one in sight, I had to push while my 10-year-old drove... right into a ditch. A show of hands if I've told this story before!  That so traumatized me that Beve was apologizing about the state of my car's tank before I'd even said a word.  He knows me, that Beve does.

 I did make it to Costco to get the pizza, where the lines were horrific. Standing in line, I thought I saw a woman pulling her baby by its leg out of her cart.  Just about had a heart-attack.  I whipped my head around to stare straight on, and it was merely a baby doll which she handed to her small daughter.  Then I tried to pick up the pizzas, forgot that my stupid back is still out and I'm a complete wimp if I can't lift pizza boxes without pain!. I lugged them to my car, then went to the pumps where the lines were even more atrocious.  Dropped the pizza off at Beve's school, and drove home.  All before I had a single cup of tea this morning.

And now I'm exhausted.  I know, doesn't seem like much to those of you used to 47 thousand appointments and errands before I'm out of bed, but without caffeine?  Really?

Now I'm waiting for E to get home so we can decorate our beautiful Noble Fir we cut down yesterday in a torrential downpour. But there was one moment that made my entire day.  When I went to the little out-building to pay for the tree, the proprietor of the tree farm (who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus, complete with red suspenders!) invited us in for some hot cider and popcorn.  I declined--we had other places to go in our rain-soaked clothing, and Beve and E were idling their vehicles impatiently (yes, I know, two cars. Sorry, but two different places to go!).  Santa said, "Your kids will love the cider." To which I answered, "My 24-year-old daughter will be fine.  She's on her way to a party."  Santa said, "What? You don't look old enough to have a child that old.  Were you 4 when you had her?" Mrs. Claus hopped up to take a look as I laughed. "More like almost 30," I answered, though I was really only 28.  She said, "That makes you my age. That's impossible."  And that, my friends, made it all worth it.  That one moment made my day.

But I'm telling you, if they could have seen me this morning, they'd have guessed 20 years the other direction!
Some days are like this. I only hope there's tea in my immediate future, or there's likely to be a headache in it.
And that will make the ending worse--far worse!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Split second

Pushed a shopping cart out of a store this morning, congratulating myself that I'd spent less than I'd estimated. Like many--real!--mathematicians, I keep a running total in my head so that my purchases don't exceed a certain designated dollar amount.  This is particularly true when I intend to pay with cash, as I did this morning.  I always round up when I'm figuring, too, so that I'm never short.  Off the mark on the topside? All the time, especially in the grocery store, where there's no tax involved.

But this morning, I was off.  I mean almost 10 dollars off.  So when I got into the car, I rechecked my receipt, and sure enough, two flat pieces of plastic to be used as quilting templates weren't on the receipt.  I had failed to put them on the counter, hadn't even seen or thought about it until I itemized the receipt against the purchases.

And then I did a terrible thing.  I sat in my car a moment, contemplating turning the key in the ignition.  Just driving away.  Then, of course, I got out of the car, walked back into the store with the sheets of plastic.  I happened to get the same checker who'd just rung up my other purchases, and she was impressed that I'd brought them back.  "I hesitated," I confessed, needing to confess--to someone then, and apparently to someone else now.  "Anybody would have," she answered.

That did absolve me for a moment, I admit.  But as I drove away, I thought about that hesitation.  About that furtive glance around to see if anyone had noticed that I'd walked out of the store with things I hadn't paid for.  No one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me.  In that life-passing-before-my-eyes instant, though, I'd seen large, burly security guards hitching up their pants as they came after me.  I'd imagined handcuffs and humiliation.  But as I imagined, I also knew I'd actually 'gotten away with it.'  I mean, I could seriously drive away with goods I hadn't bought.  And I'd never be found out.

"The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out," said Thomas Babington Macaulay.

So then came the second split second, the one that had me opening the car door and walking back into the store (leaving my keys in the ignition even! Ah, my memory!).  Somebody would find out.  Somebody already knew.  He was sitting in the car with me, holding His breath to see what decision I'd make.  Intimately present as I chose right or wrong. And He let out that held breath (and protected the car) as I actually did that right thing.  The only thing.

We're talking here about two items that added up to 8.74, which I know because I paid for them.  8.74's worth of reminding me that sin--all, any, each--is against God.  He's the one who knows, who always knows.  Sometimes the only one who knows.  But that's the whole point.  His knowing, and my desire to please--not disappoint--Him, is the basic motivation in my life.  I'm not ashamed of it.  Not by a long shot.  I'm grateful for it, because I know--I absolutely know--that it comes from the One who holds His breath watching, and the One (the same One) who indwells me, pressing me to make that choice, and the One (also the same One) who gave His life so that my wrong choices--and they are aplenty!--are not held against me. Three in One, and I would please them all at Once.  Please, God, please You.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grow up!

Sunday night as we watched "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition", Beve began chanting, "Two hours late, two hours late."  It snowed on and off all day Sunday, making him hope school would be delayed Monday morning.  He got his wish.  However, that didn't stop him from leaving the house before 7 AM, which is late for him (he often leaves before 6), but about the time most teachers show up for a normal day.  Beve is usually either the first or second person to his building.  He's an early riser (sometimes an extremely early riser, say 2 or 3 AM) and wakes up quickly, ready to tackle the fires of his day!

On the other hand, I slug my way out of sleep. After fighting my mind to tumble into it.  Trying to make the old brain slow down enough to turn off. Once asleep, however, a fire couldn't wake me. And I don't feel rested even when I finally manage to get my eyes open, stumble down the hall to put the tea kettle on, sit staring out the window, not focusing, for a good hour before I can make my body catch up to the day.

It's always been like this for me.  And like that for Beve.  As a child, I was the one who didn't fall asleep in the car as our family traveled across the state late at night.  I'd sit between my parents in the front seat of our Carry-All while my siblings sprawled across the platform bed my dad had built behind the back seat.  You'd never get away with such a thing now, but that was before seatbelt laws, took the headaches of traveling away from my parents.  Their goal was to get us all to sleep so they could have a few hours of uninterrupted conversation.  But I tended to squelch that possibility by being too bright-eyed and open-eared far into the evening.

Beve, on the other hand, learned to sleep on his mother's lap as they traveled.  He was the baby of the family, and called her lap his domain far longer than his siblings.  Again, driving thusly isn't something we ever did with our children.  It almost seems criminal that our parents were all so cavalier about our safety, except that I know them. I know that Beve's mother was a stickler for laws, rules and the like.  She would never have broken one purposely.  And my teacher mom and Boy Scout dad were the same.  And there's a part of me that longs for those more innocent days when kids piled willy-nilly into cars and only a parent's quick hand held them in place.

But as usual, I digress.  (Perhaps I should have named my blog that, since it's such a common occurance!) The thing is that Beve and I are opposites when it comes to sleep.  Sometimes, if we each have a difficult night, we are both awake in the middle--me just drifting off about the time he's waking up.  This happens more often than I wish.  For both our sakes.  But we manage to muddle through this difference well enough most of the time.

Our differences.  They spring up like weeds everywhere we look.  Back in our 'courting' days, which makes it sound like we lived at the turn of the century (and I'm not talking 20th-21st), we patted ourselves on the pat for being so alike.  But those similarities were primarily external: our birthdays a day apart, both being left-handed, both having professors for dads, living on the same street, having become believers within a couple of months of each other, having the same social group in school. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But what it adds up to in a relationship is a hill of beans.  A whole lot of nothing.  In fact, our differences are more telling than those similarities.

 And those differences, even the morning, night difference, has led to difficulties at one time or another.  For example, I want to--NEED to--talk about the day at night.  Late into the night, if I have to/get to.  Beve could no more do that than fly (which reminds me, I had a dream last night that I could fly...love those dreams!).  He's drifting off before I've finished making my first point.

And you know the Bible verse that says, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger?"  Well, at every wedding shower I've been to (and trust me, that's been PLENTY), that verse has come up.  Always with the notion that a couple should stay up and work it out before sleeping.  Well, I learned a long time ago, that if I was going to work out my anger at Beve before sleeping, I would have to do it with God, not with him.  He just couldn't keep his eyes open for it.  And what that did was force me to go to the source.  To deal with Beve the best possible way--with God.  When I felt hurt by something, angry, or just annoyed, I learned to tell God all about it, allow Him to work in me alone, and then, by morning, I almost always feel more kindly inclined toward my Beve.  Especially if I allowed that Holy, healing Hand of God to place my hand on Beve's back, or arm to pray for him.  Praying for Beve late into the night as the answer to the differences between us.  And touching him physically--to God--as the surrender of my negatively feelings.

Sometimes that has failed me.  No, that isn't quite the truth.  Sometimes I haven't done those things. Sometimes I've held on to the anger, hurt, my own stubborn pride through a troubled sleep into the next day.  That's when the sun has really gone down and come up again on that anger, and I've walked around thinking, "how the heck can I get over this?  It's all him, after all..."  And those days, those cloudy, dismal days have been the ones where our differences have seemed insurmountable, my feelings completely justified, and life pretty bleak.  But by the time I've tried to sleep with those differences another night, I can't do it.  I have to put them back into perspective.  See them as provisions God has made for each of us, made so that in the chipping away of our most stubborn selves, we grow up.  For His sake--each other's sake, our children's sake--not to mention the world's-- Grow up!

*I don't want to imply that Beve and I don't also work out our differences together, but that working out, just like the working out of our salvations, is always better--more successful, if you will--if I also give Him room to work them out in me--for HIS good pleasure.  See Philippians 2:12-13

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Caught napping

While I didn't know it, the season changed.  Suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, it's Advent.  While we were busy burying a sister, relocating aged parents, trying to keep up (not very efficiently) with our daily tasks, the air turned cold and the leaves on the ground blew away.  Winter descended while we weren't watching, and with it, came this silent, waiting season of our Christian year.

Some years (like last, and the one before that, and all the ones before that back to my infancy in faith), I'm completely caught up in this December wait.  When our children were small, we participated in plenty of Advent activities--at church, at home, at friends' homes.  While I drove them to school we'd talk about Mary growing big with child, and as I drove them home, they speculated about the wise men, ask me what why they brought those particular gifts (explaining that myrrh is used for embalming, frankinscence for perfume somwhat complicated when they were very young, and wishing for toys for birthdays.  "But wasn't he too young to die?" my six year old son asked once.), wondered how that baby got into Mary's--or any other woman's--stomach.  We lit candles, read the stories, talked, talked and talked some more.  And waited.  With bated breath we waited for that day to come.  Waited for the evening service at church where we held candles (even the littlest among us), had a birthday cake at dinner for that baby we'd been waiting for.

But this year, it's half way through Advent, and I'm just now noticing. While we was busy going about the business of grieving, the Incarnation was in process.  While we were doing the work of elder care, the Star was lighting the sky.

But then it hits me, it always catches us unaware.  Flatfooted, so to speak.  We aren't already on our way to Bethlehem.  That's left for only the wisest among us, the prescient who needed a whole lot of warning to drive their camels all the way to Bethlehem from wherever it was they were coming.  And most of us aren't prophets, like Anna and Simeon, who held on to this earth until they beheld Him.  No, we're just your average shepherds, just taking care of the sheep in our fields, doing whatever it is we are called to care for.  And some of us, sitting around the fire late at night, trying to keep warm, might even be napping.  It's a long cold season for some of us, and a nap can refresh as well as anything.  No, we aren't expecting anything supernatural in the night.  In the season.  Right in the middle of our busy working lives.

But there it is--a voice.  One strong, heavenly voice.  I can't even imagine what that voice must have sounded like, but I can guarantee this, it got those shepherds' attention.  A single voice, then joined by a choir spread out across the night.  And suddenly, whatever those shepherds were doing just a moment before--walking among their sheep, huddled around the fire, sleeping against their own crook--is completely forgotten.  Forgotten like they didn't have a job, a responsibility, a single sheep.  They might have been caught napping, but the sound of that voice shook off sleep so completely, they never looked back.

So maybe, just maybe, it doesn't matter what I've been doing this month or how caught up I've been in my own concerns, how busy I've been with the sheep in my own flock.  Whether all I do it stare at the night, watching for the slightest change, or simply go about my business--business certainly He is in, He still comes.   Maybe all that matters is that the night of my life--even the dark, grieving night of this time--is lit up by His coming.  A supernatural star is shining in the snowy night, and perhaps, even if He has to awaken me from a sound sleep, He will come. Even now, I hear an angel chorus singing, and a voice telling me to run--yes, run!--to Him.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold

I had a code.  My node id running and my throat id sore, and I think I had a feder.  Sniff, sniff, sneede, sneede, cough, cough.  Last weekend, spent in very close quarters in cars and hotel rooms, J was fighting a mother of a cold.  Because Beve elected to spend the night in his dad's hotel room, E and I slept right beside J.  And guess what?  She's sniffing and sneezing and clogged up as well.

Man, I really hate being sick.  Whine, whine, whine. Having just buried--er, consigned to a sacred wall--the remains of a woman for whom a simple cold could land her in the hospital, I should be hesitant to complain.  But I am who I am, and colds can annoy me, seriously annoy me.  I'm a weeny about them (and I believe that is a real word--weeny).  They start with a whimper, a graininess in the eyes or a scratch in the throat, at their apex they bang loudly, and end with a seemingly never ending flow of...well, you know, used tissue.

So I'm sitting by the fire in the living room this morning, thankful that at least the  100+ degree fever I was running yesterday seems to have abated a little,  remembering the good old days--say, Monday--when I could breathe through my nose.  So until further notice--and by that I mean the end of this blasted thing--I'll go back to sipping my tea and NOT writing this or anything else.  I'm at least smart enough to know that my brain is too clogged with snot hold a thought, let alone see God at the intersections.

By the way, Beve's parents slapped down a deposit for a Retirement/Assisted Living apartment here Wednesday and are moving north for the duration.  That mere ten minutes away versus 3 1/2 hours will be a luxury to all of us.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Matchmaker

Disclaimer:  Just got off the phone with SK, who said I could write about this.  I promised I wouldn't march too far into her privacy, just enough to give a general impression.

Saturday evening, while on her choir concert tour to this side of the mountains, via a comment she herself made, SK was ambushed by her ex-boyfriend. After the friends they'd mutually been hanging out with had slinked away, SK and Ex had a long overdue conversation about why the relationship ended, why there'd been so much avoidance and meanness in the year since, and other sundry dirty laundry that caused both those things.  At different points in the conversation each of them got flaming mad, each of them apologized, and by the end, SK was feeling a closure that was also a long time coming.  Listening to her recount it Monday, I got the feeling that it might be more closed for her than for him, but hopefully he's on the way to that same peace.

 After talking to her, I started thinking about my kids and relationships.  My kids and my dreams for them.  Every mother's--every parent's--dream for their kids. We want to see them married, with children, fulfilled and content in a two-by-two way. We especially want it when it's what we have. We envision their futures as being like ours. Happily married. And we want to have a relationship that would-be spouse so that we can have wonderful relationships with our kids and their families for the rest of our lives.  And--yes, I admit this--we want grandchildren.  We want to put our hands on babies that have sprung from our babies.  I think moms ache for this, especially. So I have to admit, I was sad when this relationship ended for SK.  I really liked Ex, though it was early, and all these things were a far off fantasy (apparently of mine more than SK's). When I saw him again this fall, I still liked him.  But it's not my life, not my relationship, not my choice.  And SK didn't like him enough.  That was clear for quite a while before the end came. Clear enough that even he knew it.  Certainly I did.

But the thing is, we often try to manipulate these things.  I certainly did when I was SK's age, liking a boy more than he liked me.  I worked soooo hard to make him stay with me, and I was persuasive enough that he actually did--a long time beyond his own feelings.  He broke up with me just about once a month for a long time, often enough that I began thinking it coincided with his period...but oh, wait, he didn't have one.  But he came creeping back each time, allowing my stronger feelings to be enough for him, as I manipulated, cajoled and wheedled him back.  Yes, I was every bit that stupid, every bit that petty.  When I think too hard about that period in my life, I'm ashamed all over again.  SK was a stronger person than he was when she made sure that break-up wasn't followed up by a boomerang back, and it certainly could have, I think. 

See, what I didn't get was that God is a romantic. God loves romance.  And He wants to be our matchmaker, if we let Him.  There is a strong trail of His matchmaking successes in the Bible.  Adam and Eve.  Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel.  Even, I dare say, Joseph and Mary, though we don't see their courtship.   His coming to Joseph in that dream is telling about how clearly their coming-together was purposeful.

I experienced God as matchmaker in my own life in a more obvious way than most people.  He manipulated Beve's and my plans so they dovetailed, changed our long-held attitudes toward each other, basically kept putting us in each other's ways until we actually saw each other.  It took Beve about a year longer than it took me, but E learned in a class the other day that the male cerebral cortex (home of decision-making skills) doesn't fully mature until the late 20s, so I'll cut him some slack.  God kept intervening in our lives until we got it, and got the spouse He intended for us.

I've always thought He did that for me because of what I'd done in my early 20s (maybe my brain hadn't fully matured yet either!), trying to make that boy not just 'right' for me, but actually God's will for me.  God had to do something really obvious to show me who He really meant, and how He really works.  And, in the process, He revealed to me that I'm a treasure worth having--both to Him and to my partner.  The God-intended and God-given spouse.

And this is what I want for my kids.  They've grown up with the 'around the world' romance of their parents.  The notion that God wants to be intimately involved in this most important of life's decisions is rooted deep in the earth of their lives.  And though they all wish to be in relationships, none of them are interested in random dating.  They're far more discriminating than I was. Cut from the cloth of Beve, is more like it. Beve who waited and prayed and waited some more.  Until the right one was placed under his nose and he had to be hit over the head to see her.

I'm glad my kids aren't willing to settle for less, even though I am antsy for them to be in relationships, to have mates.  I admit that. See, we're in the season of marriage around here.  Their cousins and friends are having weddings by the dozen.  And I remember that season in my own life.  It made me nervous at times, scared that I might never walk down the aisle, never have a family. But God works differently in every life.  Sometimes with a whisper, and sometimes with a hammer to the head.

The other night, Ex told SK, "I hope you wait for someone who will light your fire, someone you can see yourself growing old with." I'm sure he thought he was giving her sage advice, but the truth is, she knows that.  It's what she not only wants, but expects.  But here's the thing: I want her to wait until God lights that fire, until He shows her the one she'll grow old with.  I know that He works in many ways, and I know that my impatience for this just might exceed theirs, but when I sit back and calm down, sit back and pray, sit back and trust not just their lives but their romances to the Lord, it's what I want too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Call button

I'm feeling young this morning.  Young, full of pep, certain I have most of my life ahead of me, and that, given the opportunity (aside from that one small hiccup of fear, which one might go so far as to call a phobia), I could leap tall buildings with a single bound.  Yes, I could be a super hero right here at my computer.

And all this from a woman who can barely raise her head from a pillow, take a step without flinching, be touched without pain.  It's quite the conundrum , isn't it? By the way, I've always liked using that word--just the sound of conundrum appeals to me, like kerfuffle, juxtaposition, catatonic, Jallolly (a city in Afghanistan), and my alltime favorite, bellachalech ( Dutch word meaning ridiculous, though I might have the spelling wrong).  So why am I feeling so young and spry?

Because Beve and I toured a Retirement Complex yesterday, have another to visit this afternoon.  I'm checking into doctors who specialize in the elderly, finding out about transportation options for senior citizens.  And all that gray hair we saw yesterday, all those walkers just lighten my steps, make me feel youthful--probably far more youthful than I look to anyone else.  Yesterday, on the third floor of this building, we walked past a couple riding their adult-sized tricycles through the hallway.  But even they looked older than I'm feeling today.  We also talked to a woman  by the elevator who lost her husband in May after 58 years of marriage.  We were staring at some photos of veterans on the wall, and she told us she and her husband were both up there.  Yep, they both served in World War II.  She was rummy-eyed, with a trembling voice, but there was pride in her words and a love that lasted, continues now while she waits to see him again.

Of course, we're doing all this in preparation for Grampie and Thyrza to move here.  And even though we've spent many, many days with them in the walker land of 5th Avenue (the complex where they now live across the water), we haven't ever learned about the inner workings of the place. Yesterday and today, we're learning much about the advantages of such places.  Rooms with wide doorways so walkers can move easily.  Bathrooms with no lips on the showers and no drawers under the sinks so that wheelchairs can be used. Closets without doors to aid in accessibility. Every room, every hallway, every feature is designed to help residents not only enjoy their new home, but to also be safe. We  heard about the call systems, the wrist band residents can wear that will instantly tell the staff where they are should they fall--anywhere in the facility.  Press one button and ten people will come running within seconds.

A safe place, a place where all it takes is one pushed button and help comes running.  Though I'm feeling young and spry today, far from needing such a place, I also realize we ALL need this.  A safe place, a button to push so that help comes.  A safe place is what the body of Christ is meant to be.  The aid that comes at the push of a button--the cry of a heart, the outstretched hand--is what the people of God are meant to do, not only for fellow believers but for the whole world.  For widows like the woman at the elevator yesterday, for orphans like Glo's son, for the poor like the people who populate our streets.  No matter what those people believe.  And no matter how autonomous they want to be.

The push of a button, the cry of a heart.  All around us each day are people who are pushing those buttons, crying out for help.  Just today I got an email from a friend asking me to pray for some folks who are besieged by illness on every side: husband, parents, children.  Catastrophic loss facing them.  And my friend pushed the button called 'send' one this marvelous instrument of help called email.  And I'm betting that for all of us, for every person who reads these words, the image of someone comes to mind as I write them.  Someone who has fallen and can't get up.

As I was writing the last sentence I got a call from an old friend who has kids the same ages as ours. Their daughter was E's first friend.  She's a very worried mom today, has been a very worried mom for a while now.  She was wondering why boys seem so much harder at in this first flush of young adulthood than daughters.  Had pressed a couple buttons on her phone that would connect us.  Help buttons.  And this is exactly what I'm talking about.  Who comes to mind as someone who needs help in your life?  How will you answer?  Go running.  Run to the one who can meet every need, understands the cries of the human heart.  If you're too far away to put your hands on these folks, you can still be their safe place, their call button, and lift them up.  Put your hands together and lift them up to Him.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Snapshots from the weekend (in no particular order)

  • Early morning all carb breakfast at the quality inn: sitting around a four person table are Beve, Grampie, Beve's brother, B (the PE teacher), B's wife N, and me.  B having earlier checked out the lack of carbs along the wall, has brought down some sort of powdered protein thing, which he mixes in a paper bowl with a plastic spoon, and somehow in the process, though without apparent knowledge, manages to send protein powder into the immediate atmosphere.  Across the table Beve and I watch the powder's progression toward Grampie. As it lands in his face, he scrunches up his face in preparation for a huge sneeze.  Beve laughs hysterically.  I laugh at Beve.  But then I think of the things I might be lofting into the atmosphere around me by my thoughtless inactions, my impulsive words, my selfishness.  What does the powder of my life cause in people around me? 
  • In the church foyer before the memorial service to celebrate Glo's imperfect, perfect life, worlds collided.  Our close friends from Bellingham recognized Beve's uncle and wife as friends from a life two cities earlier.  At the reception these same friends heard the name of a son-in-law of our other close friends, and realized they had shared many lives with this young man's parents, had known him as a very small boy.  My brother found friends from a former church, the husband of whom had been in nursing school with Glo.  Grampie's old friends are now best friends of Beve's oldest friend's parents.  The incredible smallness of the world kept blessing me all afternoon.  We are always part of something larger than ourselves, and the lives we touch have touched lives who also touch ours.  The circle of life, as the Lion King sings it, with a whole new meaning
  • The stories told of Glo (ably started by my own eloquent Beve who I could gladly listen to for an entire afternoon) were carbon copies of each other.  The story I could tell of her is the story everyone else told as well.  This is the true seamless life, where what I see is what everyone else sees.  And what that seamless life was is a powerful testimony, one which made me laugh and smile more often than it made me tear up.
  • Have you ever had a piece of music touch you so deeply that there were tears on your face without knowing why?  I have.  Actually there's a particular piece that does it in exactly the same place, one perfect note in the middle of that beautiful piece that draws tears from me precisely the same way, every single time.  The first time I heard it, with our friends' oldest daughter singing the soprano and a teenaged member of our youth group singing the alto, I was caught off guard by the glory of it.  But even yesterday, or maybe particularly yesterday, that piece sung, by the same friends' middle daughter singing that note, and her father, our friend J, the tenor, both Beve and wept.  It was the most moving part of the service for us, especially that it was them singing, the way J and K, his wife (my friend!), sang at my dad's memorial.  And beautiful as well was the way they stood above and behind us in the balcony, so their soaring voices floated down on us.  Pie` Jesu. (by Andrew Lloyd Webber).  A requiem for the dead.  Glo loved it, I love it.  Find it, listen to it.  If you can't tell what note I'm talking about, you're made of sterner stuff than I am.  
  • We've spent 8 nights in the last three weeks away from home.  Not all in one place as if we're on vacation. But deeply engaged in ministry.  The ministry of being with those we've needed to be with, sleep where we must to be with them, even with them when they do not know we're there, nor want our 'help.'  The 'being' that comes in such seasons of grief is very hard work.  Friday night, we spent the evening in Glo's home with her husband and son. As I wrote yesterday, it was a harrowing moment when we first walked in.  My sister-in-law, N, and I had to take a moment alone in the back hallway so she could wail and I could sob.  The house was clean and ready for company, the napkins on the counter bore her inimitable mark, but she wasn't there.  A party there without her...impossible to do without first a cry in a corner, away from these stoic men.  Then we shook our heads, squared our shoulders and enjoyed the photos on he'd put out on the dining table (the table the giants had sat around all of Beve's growing up years), laughed at how young we'd used to be (but N doesn't!  She actually looks exactly the same as she did 25 years ago.  Don't ask me how!) It was good to be together, especially for Glo's men, who are finding the living there without her a little empty.
  • Grampie stood up at the service twice, voice catching both times, to tell the story of having found 10 messages on his cell-phone from Glo.  It was dear and sweet, and also quite telling that his story was identical...just forgotten and repeated five minutes apart.  Beve leaned over to me and said, "Glo would be so pissed at him right now."  Then he leaned forward and told his brother to tackle Grampie if he tried to stand up again.
  • We drove away from the memorial after standing in the icey cold talking to Glo's oldest, best friends.  When they walked into the church, that's when I cried.  I'd never seen them without her before. And this is VERY hard for them, all nurses, all having seen death a time or two.  We finally hugged our last goodbye and headed off to sleep in Seattle at my aunt's home, visiting, talking, eating, catching up.  Good family fellowship. Beve and my uncle made a quick trip to Value Village this morning because Beve had given his fleece to Grampie (who was still wearing it tonight when we talked to him) and his coat drove home in the car J took last night. And I'm telling you, it was far too cold to be outside today without a long sleeved something.  They found an XLT sweater, which served well enough.  And made Beve's day because it was a 50% off tag!  Another small moment.
  • And the grand finale of the weekend was SK's choir concert in downtown Seattle.  Amazing choirs, amazing sound, and several quick hugs from unexpected encounters with friends we haven't seen in years, also there to listen to the worshipful sound.  One of those friends saw SK's name in the program, and asked her husband if he thought we were there.  He pointed us out--in the pew directly in front of them, so close we could have overheard our name in her query.  We had about 5 minutes with our Bug then she was off to help take down the stage, load up the buses and travel through the mountains back to the frozen eastern side of the state.
  • And now we're home in our own bed, with Jackson up on it between us.  Beve had to lift him up here to join us, but he's staying now.  I'm deep sighing with delight at our soft sheets, soft mattress-topper on our very expensive mattress.  And am looking forward to being home for the next five nights!  Until we go out to Grampie's again.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dancing in heaven

Down in the Quality Inn for Glo's memorial service.  Surrounded by the giants, we'll troop in at the last minute tipping the room toward the front.  I know, I've seen it happen before. We spent last evening at Glo's home, where my sister-in-law and I had a teary moment among the boys (and E).  I couldn't bring myself to walk into the back room overlooking the valley, because that's where Glo always sat after she was no longer capable of meeting us at the front door.  The emptiness in that room, the emptiness in her leather chair--the chair that bears her narrow dent--was haunting.  With her husband, we looked through her jewelry, laughing at some of her inimitable pieces, pieces we'll wear this afternoon: earrings made of titanium shaped as the globe, silver coffee mugs, long slender spheres.  It was a gift to receive them, a gift to simply touch the things last touched by her.

And this afternoon, friends from every season of not only Glo's life, but ours will gather.  It's a testament to her amazing relational gifts that our friends knew, remembered and loved her! Of course, many of Beve's relations--uncles, aunts, cousins--will sit in the front pews with us. Her husband's family--people we sat with, ate with, danced with at their wedding, when E was the flower girl, and Beve stood up beside them as well--have flown in from across the country to join us.  One of my siblings will be there, Beve's first post-college roommate, others who have populated our world for the length of our time on it. Our closest friend will sing with one of his daughters, just as he sang at my dad's memorial.  I told his wife that we've already booked the whole family for ours.  So, if one can look forward to such momentss--though with a lump in my throat--I look forward to those hours.  Talking with our friends, talking to hers.  Many of her friends we've known a long time as well, people we've broken bread with, kept track of, via Glo, so much track we feel like we're part of their family and they're part of ours.

I'm taking tissues, of course.  Wearing minimal make-up (which just meaning leaving off the mascara I almost never wear, anyway!), preparing myself.  But it will be a great send-off.  One with food and flowers and all the folks she loved.  Exactly the kind of party Glo used to plan for every holiday, parties she learned to plan at her mother's knee.  There might not be dancing at the party this afternoon, but I can guarantee she'll be dancing with the angels on her TWO strong legs as she watches.

PS.  Beve has just been retrieving messages from Grampie's cell-phone.  There were 35 messages on his phone.  So far all but two of those messages have been from Glo.  Hearing her cheerful, loving voice is wrenching.  Grampie keeps saying, "Gosh all Friday!" every time he hears a new message.  After about the tenth, it's slightly humorous.  But, of course, he wants to keep every one of them as long as he can. I know how he feels--I would give anything to have had such messages from his dad after he died.  But someday there will be another conversation, face to face.  For Grampie and Glo, and Dad and me.  We await...we await that glorious dancing day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

An answer

Oh, the waves they roll, and oh, the wind does blow...(if you can sing the rest of that song--and I'm not talking to you, Dump!--you're my age, and, chances are, you were in some kind of camping organization as a kid).  But that's not my point, and as is often the case, I've become distracted.  The wind and waves are growing around here, to tidal waves or hurricane heighths.  I don't mean the wind and waves outside our window: the air is still and cold, the bay smooth as glass this early December day.  But the wind of change is blowing through my family, my birth family this time.

This is a change I've been longing for in my heart, praying for in the shower.  Last night when I stood in the shower, I found myself saying, "Thank you, God, thank you, God!"  You see, yesterday when my in-my-hometown sister had her quarterly meeting at the care facility where my mother is barely eking out an existence that no one would actually call life. And when I say eke, I mean only chronological terms--she's stretched out her existence long past its time.  Anyway, RE met with the team of people who care for Mom on a daily basis.  These are people who see RE daily as well.  Though there are a host of people in care facilities across the world who have little or no visitors, Mom is more blessed than most.  She doesn't go a day without one. Every single day, someone who loves her stops by and tried to 'visit,'  RE told me the other day that she needs to start taking knitting or something, because sitting with Mom is like sitting with yourself--just as quiet, just as empty of human communication.

At this meeting, it was suggested that Mom be put on end of life 'comfort care.'  By this, they meant that they will no longer force her to eat, try to add carbs to any day she refuses to take a bite.  They will not try to make her exercise or even get out of bed if she doesn't want to.  Once an Alzheimer patient gets to the stage Mom is at, when she recognizes no one, doesn't know what food is, cannot communicate, this choice is offered the family.  Our family has already conferred about how we want the end to come--not when, but how: with dignity, or at least as much of it as is left to a person in Mom's place.  Other families are less ready to make this choice.  They want their loved one kept alive as long as possible.  The care-takers who talked with RE yesterday told her that such people can live up to five years.  Five more years of this?  Five more years of less and less and less of her?  What could possibly be left at the end of that time, when so little is left now?  Little, other than her still healthy body.

To me, this meeting, this decision was an answer to prayer.  For Mom.  More for her than for me.  I've written of this before, written of the fear and sadness in her eyes, the agony of being lost within her own body.  Yes, that fear also extends to death, but I'm sure that once she crosses over, to use one of the many euphemisms for death, all that fear will be wiped away! 

What I've long thought is that a hundred years ago, the end would have come more gently, with less medical intervention.  A woman in Mom's situation would have already been completely bedridden, and if she couldn't/wouldn't eat, couldn't speak, couldn't exercise, the family would sit with her, would  wash and care for her...in a comforting, quiet way.  Comfort care.  The exact comfort care proposed by the nursing home where Mom now lies in her bed, refusing to get up. 

I don't know how long this 'long goodbye,' as one famous daughter called it about her famous ex-president father, will last, but we now measure it in months, not years.  And even though I have other months to measure, other parents to give comfort care to, I am grateful this morning for this boon in my family's--my mother's life.  Amazing how something like this becomes God's answer to our heartfelt cries.  I'm awed at the way He works, really I am.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The legal giants

Just in case you were curious about these legal giants I've been talking about lately, I thought I'd post a couple of photos to clear up the matter.  For perspective, Beve is 6'7" tall, weighs about 240 lbs, give or take a pound or two.  In this photo of the three stooges, no footstools have been used.  This really is their size.  Beve looks downright puny standing between his brothers, the Finn on his right, the PE teacher on his left. (He's also the youngest and best looking... at least in my mind. I'm pretty sure the wives of the other two would disagree with me about the best looking part!)

Also a photo of Grampie and two of his sons on Thanksgiving.  Grampie used to be 6'8" but now his hamstrings have tightened, his back has bent, and he looks like a walking S.  He's almost 86, though, so I suppose he has the right to be a little worse for wear, making him a mere 6'3 or 4", the scrawny little thing!

By the way, when I call them legal giants, it's not because any of them have or aspire to have a law degree.  It's because there is actually a heighth at which a person is considered a giant, and that heighth is 6'6 1/2".  Beve just sneaked in, but the big brothers are plenty large enough to be called giants--by more than just me!

Anyway, these are the men who have been populating my life for the last...25 years.  No wonder I have bulging discs in my neck. As you can see in this third picture, I'm the short one, short and chubby, sadly. Short and old.  Short and...well, you get the idea.  I do love knowing that God doesn't measure by one's external looks, but the size of one's heart.

Who knows what J's looking at, he hates--HATES--getting his picture taken, so it could be he's looking for a getaway!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Three Stooges

By that I mean my husband and his two brothers.  Now I love my Beve, like his brothers, but when it comes to this grieving stuff, they might as well be in some movie where th protagonists go from one bad thing to a worse thing, to an even worse thing.  Think John Candy and Steve Martin in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles".  (Or don't, if you're like me and hate that kind of stooge-like comedy).  Their way of coping with all of the upheavals in this season is to a) talk about sports; b) crack jokes; c) drive off on unrelated errands; and d) seem to pay little or no attention whatsoever.  Meanwhile, I'm crying copious tears, tearing my hair out about the parents, and trying to keep all the plates in the air.  Excuse me if I get a little steamed for a moment.

Now I know these men are capable of deep feelings.  I've heard rumors of it from Larry's wife, seen evidence of it on Mo's cheeks, share a bed with Curly (he's curly because if he let his hair grow, it'd be just as Curly as the original!) who has sobbed deeply once or twice in our quarter century of marriage.  But get them all together, as they were last Friday night, and they're liable to stand around, blocking the fire, and talking in half sentences.  I suppose it's so seldom that they actually get to look people in the eyes, they don't want to waste time sitting or getting blurry-eyed from tears.

But to me, surely created on a different day of the week than such giant stooges, this is a season to hurt.  To dwell in the hurting until the hurting begins to fade.  To allow the sadness to sweep over me, to color the season just as frost covers the earth.  I miss Beve's sister in all this.  I need her to help balance out these stooges a little, to bring a little female perspective to the table as we deal with their dad and his wife.  I am grateful for my sisters, who speak the same language I do, who communicate and cry and don't have to watch football games as a coping mechanism.  Maybe my brothers are part of the stooge patrol as well.  They certainly have all the testostrone for it.

OK, so I'm complaining.  So sue me.  This is a hard time, and there's nothing to be done but live through it, live through it with these three stooges and their families and hope we come out the other side still liking each other.  And the truth is, we're all stooges in a way, all fumbling our way through this life, doing the best we can with what we've been given.  And asking God to make up the difference.  I know there are times when I'm as clumsy as they come, saying things that are insensitive, falling on my face, making a big mess of it all.  But thankfully, God doesn't mind stooges.  He doesn't mind one mess after another, one pratfall after another, as long as we also fall on our faces before Him, seeking His help.  So these three giant stooges I share a last name with?  I fall on my face and thank God for them as well.  I hope they know that--all three of them.  I thank God for them.

As my stooge, Curly, would say, quoting Jim Eliot, "We're just a bunch of nobodies (or just a bunch of stooges!), trying to exalt a Somebody."

Resistance

Spent a week with the in-laws yesterday.  And it was hard.  Just plain hard! Aging isn't for the weak, that's for sure.  Giving up independence one year at a time, until suddenly all autonomy is yanked away.  This is what we faced yesterday.  Or, perhaps it would be more precise to say that we were the yankers (which isn't the same as being yankees or from Yonkers).

We sat down at lunch with the aged parents and before a word came out of our mouths, one of them was saying, "I don't want a single piece of furniture taken out of the living room."  And this from the parent we've always seen as mild mannered and accomodating.  And that, my friends, was only the beginning.  While the alleged stubborn one agreed to everything we suggested, the alleged people-pleaser resisted every move we made.  Didn't want us going through the large pile of papers on her desk, certainly didn't want us throwing anything away, although was happy to allow us to toss everything of her spouse's cluttered mess. Every step we took, there was an argument about, a reason not to do it, though the reasons were a bit like a child's when, holding on to a melting popcycle, he says, "I don't want it in a bowl.  I want it this way."

We kept up a running conversation--about how we understood how difficult change is, how, of course, she was uncomfortable with us going through her private papers, how we'd react exactly the same way.  And that's absolutely true.  I get it, I completely get how painful it must be to have all choice taken away, how it feels like one is no longer in charge of one's life.  We crave choice, crave control from our first breath.  All those "no's" of a two year old are the beginning of taking one's life into one's own hands. Shoot, it's even earlier than that. The first time E chose something for herself, something contrary to my will for her, she was about seven months old, sitting in her brand new high chair.  I said, "Don't tip your cup," (she learned to drink from a tippy cup when she was about six months old, never used a bottle at all) and she looked at me for a moment, very seriously, very intelligently, then calmly turned her cup upside down. And just like that, made her own choice. I was shocked, I tell you, more shocked than angry.  And I remember thinking, "And so it begins."

From that moment on, whenever that moment comes, a parent's job is to allow more choice, to loosen the tight ropes binding our children to our wills, so that by the time they're adults, they're capable of making good, solid choices on their own.  It's why I always said, "We're not raising children, we're raising adults."
But fifty, sixty, seventy years later, we yank those choices away from these people who have been adults, making adult choices for far longer than they were children, ascenting to their parents' wills.  But even if their brains aren't functioning well, even if their bodies are failing and refusing to allow them to do what they will to do, people hang on to choice.  It's part of being human, this decide to choose.  This desire to resist choice being taken away--by anyone.

What we understand when our children are small is that they aren't capable of choosing. They need guidance, boundaries, safety in order to grown up well--even if they chafe against those walls.  And what we regretfully understand as we look at our parents (all three of them), is that they have lost the capability to choose well.  They also need guidance, boundaries, a degree of safety--even if they chafe against us as well.  The only way to soften what must be--and must be against their wills--is to continually remind them that we love them, we understand, and that we are working with their best interests at heart.

Just like God.  Funny, I never really expected that being an adult child of aging parents would teach me something about how God deals with us.  Being the parent of a small child? Yes.  Being a pet owner even.  But this is a new place, and once again He tells me about Himself by making me live it.  There are times when God takes away choice because we aren't capable of making an eternal one. This is when He answers 'No' to prayers we pray, even prayers we pray while sweating blood.  He knows that to answer such a prayer, to give us what we want, to give us control or autonomy or our own will, would be disastrous.  We need His boundaries around us as protection. Maybe all we get from Him is, "I understand you're frustrated, I understand why you would want what you want."  But He still doesn't give it.  And maybe there are more frequent times when those unanswered prayers are accompanied by His seeming silence.  Sometimes, of course, He lets the chips fall where they may, He allows us to go off half-cocked, (how many cliches can I use in a sentence?)--to get our own ways.  Then we discover we're not really adults yet, we will fall and get bruised, and be a little worse for wear.  Maybe we resist and get hostile and are downright afraid to lose our autonomy.  I think He'll show us how dangerous that is.  I believe He will.

By the end of the day, when we were putting on our coats and heading for one more ferry line, the parents decided that the living room was much better rearranged, that it was okay to remove some of the excess furniture and papers, that they really could live better this new way. And that moment, that thankful moment, makes me hope--believe!--that God will do that in my life too. When He doesn't answer my prayers, doesn't seem to even hear my concerns, I have faith that it will become clear to me--a week, a month, a lifetime from now.  And then I'll thank Him for all the unanswered prayers that made a difference in my life.