Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Brunch

Have I ever mentioned that I'm married to a rather large human being?  A legal giant?  Hmmm, didn't think so.  Well, I am.  And this extra large, extra tall man, and his extra, extra large, extra tall siblings have always been able to eat.  I'm talking Eat with a captial E.  They learned it at their father's knee.  Back when Grampie was a growing boy, growing up faster than everyone he'd ever known, he used to go to Country Buffet Restaurants with his buddies.  Or The King's Table.  Or whatever they were called.  There was one somewhere in Bremerton when Grampie was a teenager, and Grampie ate there all the time.  All he could eat for 3.99 or something like that.  Maybe less.  It was, after all, just after the Depression, and prices were cheaper then.

Grampie learned a few things from the Depression--and he reminds us of them all the time. The most important was to be a 'clean-plater.' See, back in the depression, all his family had sometimes was potatoes.  We should be grateful we have food, he'll tell us.  Finish what we take!  Seriously, he chided Thyrza about her plate just today. But Grampie never left food on his plate.  In fact, after he'd filled his plate to heaping about seven times once at the Country Buffet in Bremerton, the manager came over to his table and asked Grampie to stop eating!

That's the kind of family I married into.  We've been to many, many buffets over the years.  Chinese buffets, country ones, Sunday brunches, seafood smorgasbords, taco bars...well, you name it, we've tried it over the years.  And Beve, I have to say, can still eat like he was Grampie at 16. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating, but just barely.  This morning, after church, we took Grampie and Thyrza and Thyrza's son, who'd flown in from Albuquerque, out to Chuckanut Manor, where we ate one of the best Sunday brunches it's been our privilege to eat.  Yes, privilege.  E and I started drooling before Grampie and Thyrza had even gotten in the door.  I can't begin to tell you everything on those tables, but let me just hit the high-points.  The three of us agreed the the oysters were to die for (if you like oysters, otherwise you're on your own).  The blinzes, also spectacular.  Omelets made in front of you, prime rib, salmon,  and the desserts...oh, darn, I'm drooling again.

Beve, my beloved, my still-in-great-shape Beve, piled two plates so high they were like four of anyone else's.  I should have taken a photo, I really should have.  When one of those giants gets to a buffet, it's a sight worth seeing.

The lushness of that banquet this morning, the variety of the food, the grandeur of the location (right on the edge of Puget Sound), the graciousness of the staff (it was so sweet watching our waitress trying to help the older manager take the pictures Grampie had demanded of him), all made me think of the great banqueting table we're invited to in the Kingdom.  Here we are, measly little us, still in our grimey, sinny selves, and we're invited in.  And what's spread out before us, what's on the table is so delectable, so filling, a gastronomical delight.  But also--this is His Kingdom I'm talking about--far more than simply food for our bodies.  The sustenance, as glorious as what we tasted on our tongues this morning, lasts.  It is made of eternal substance, our banquet, of heaven-given food--the real angel's food!--and lasts.  Belly up to that table, people. Take up your fork, your soup spoons, and dig in.  He's right at the head of the table, waiting.

I can hardly wait. How about you?  When He invites you, will you answer?
"The Kingdom o heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son...
For many are invited, but few are chosen."  Matthew 22: 1, 14

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Repaying debts

As I was driving Miss Thyrza  yesterday--okay, to another doctor's appointment, and yes, it really is a full-time job!--she said, "I don't know how we'll ever repay you."  The night before, Beve and I had spent a couple of hours organizing her desk so that she has many baskets, slots, tubs and holders for all the many piles that have accumulated on their kitchen counter in the last eight weeks. And she's grateful for the help.  Both the elders are. She told me that when we left, Grampie spent about ten minutes talking about how blessed they are to have us.  Then she said it, "I don't know how we'll ever repay you."

My instinctive answer was: "You don't." The instinct of that answer came deeply and quickly from a conversation over twenty years old.  Many years ago (and I know I told many, many people this, probably written about it here) I told my father the same thing Thyrza said to me.  The day I said them to Dad, he had just written a check to a company that had torn up our sewer pipes, re-piped them, then re-laid asphalt on the driveway of a house we'd bought 'as-is' from a bank, and taken possession of just the weekend before.  We had signed, closed and moved into that old farm-house when our sewer backed up.  Backed up all over the garage floor the very first morning in our very first owned house. I was ready to toss in the towel, if only a towel could have helped! Dad was there that morning because he'd driven across the state to help us move just across town--which makes sense, if you'd known him. When it became clear that the Roto-Rooter wasn't going to do the job (in fact, when the giant bit got bent in the effort) and a whole re-plumbing job was in order--all the way to the street, Beve and I panicked. And Dad stepped in. He handed me a large check to cover a large unexpected cost (welcome to home ownership!), and I said, "I don't know how we'll ever re-pay you."

"You don't." Dad answered. "Don't pay us back.  Just take care of your children."  He said he'd learned that from Chief (my Mom's dad), who had told him the same thing when Dad was getting his PhD with a wife and four kids, and our family had needed financial help.  "Just do the same for your kids," Chief told Dad back when Dad was in grad school. So Dad was doing it for us. Dad had already learned the concept of paying it forward and was passing it on to me. That was a huge moment in my life, to realize that the way I paid my parents back would be paying for/caring for my children, even when they are adults with children of their own.  That, in this sense, that movie was right, we always 'pay it forward!'

But yesterday was also an 'ah-ha moment' in my life. When I told Thyrza, "You don't," I couldn't say, "You take care of your own kids," because she already had.  She already has.  And that's the point.  She took care of her own kids.  And now we get to pay it backwards.  And you know, that scale doesn't balance.  When I think about all our parents have done for us--from giving us birth, clothing us, paying for all our activities, teaching us everything we've learned (even our bad habits)--what we can do for them at the end of their lives is small enough.  Yes, Thyrza isn't my mother.  But I do not live close enough to my mother to do the daily things for her that need doing, so I will gladly do them for this mother.  This lovely, still-clear, bright, smiling-voiced mother who introduces me to all of her doctors as her daughter anyway.  This mother who is, after all, the only grandmother my children remember.  And for this father, who isn't my father, but surely is my Beve's great rock of a father, this bent, good-natured, marshmellow of a dad who has done so much for Beve, our kids, and yes, me.  No, there's no way that debt can be repaid. But the debt isn't theirs.  It's ours.  So we'll do whatever small things we can do.  For them.

And for our children...because, unless the Purple-Line bus that runs at the bottom of the street takes us out, what we see in our parents we will also live someday.  And what our children see in us, I pray they might live,  or even better--with more grace and more love--than we have, if that makes sense.  I suppose, after all, the paying goes both directions, doesn't it?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Story and truth

Fiction. I'm a fan.  Always have been.  When I was a little girl--and by that I mean back when we lived in Michigan and I was only going to school in the afternoons, and had an at-home mother--I told my siblings (probably just older brother and just younger sister) that we had a much older sister named June.  Yep, I had a whole story made up about her: she was in college out in Washington back where the rest of our extended family lived, which was why my siblings didn't know about her.  They were, as you might guess, somewhat skeptical about this sister.  I mean, why would my parents name a daughter June, anyway?  Not to mention the fact that our parents were only in their early thirties at that point, making a college-aged child mathematically impossible.  But my older-brother was only in second grade at the time, and the Dump not even in school yet, and though I have smart siblings, I counted on my ability to spin a story.

And then there was this:  I suggested they ask our mother, knowing the truth would out.  But that would be okay as well.  They'd still been told the story, and told it well enough that they had to ask.  But it must have been a slow day when they asked Mom.  She must have been bored with all the domestic tasks she always hated, must have longed to teach, or do anything creative.  When Mom was asked about big sister, June, she answered, "Why yes, of course you have a big sister June.  June Joanne.  If you give me a minute, I'll find her last letter."  I remember this so well. And I'm telling you, I think my mouth dropped as far open as the Dump's.  Later, I asked Mom if it was really true, what I thought I'd made up, and she looked straight at me, and said, "What do you think?"  Then she went back to her ironing.
Wait, no she didn't.  My mother would not have been ironing. See, there I am making things up again.  Changing the story.  She probably went back to her reading.  Maybe doing the laundry, or fixing dinner, but not doing the ironing.
But she definitely did, that one time, back up my invented older sister.  And I've never forgotten.

But she also learned something about me from that early story that I should have learned as well.  Mom learned that I like fiction.  That I embellish even true stories to make them sound more profound, important, powerful, pathetic.  Whatever it is I need them to say.  Perhaps that isn't something I should admit here where all this blog is is my stories, and my reflection about them. For most of my childhood and youth, my mother was inclined to question my word. She got it--straight from my mouth, and off the sheets of the many pages of notebook paper I left lying around--that I was more interested in telling stories than in telling the truth.  And that came back to bite me more than once.

However, I've learned in my more than half century on this planet, and 37 years of walking with Jesus, that sometimes I learn truth most through story.  Sometimes through the stories I've told that have gotten me into hot water, but many, many times through the everyday stories that call me to truth.  But I've also learned that mostly I love true stories that reveal truth, so these are the ones I hunger to tell.

A show of unexpected grace that radiates across a room, like the one in the doctor's waiting room today with an old man and a younger one.  The older one almost took a header going out the door and the younger man (and by that I mean someone about 40) leapt up, and caught him before he landed.  It was quite an athletic feat, one I couldn't have made in the time allowed.  I barely putting down my People magazine and climbing to my feet when it was all played out.  The young man grabbed the old man, then touched him gently on the shoulder. Then he continued out the door, where a paratransit bus waited in the rain.  The younger man went back to his seat.  Moment over.  But I love such moments, even when they are small ones.  There's truth in them--gospel truth of love lived out between humans.  A small story, and truth. God is in these moments, in these stories. Yes, it's in the stories of life that I most see God in action.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meant for life

Another day, another trip to the doctor.  Wow, who knew that people in their eighties and nineties needed so much medical attention?  So much blood work?  Took so much medication?  Hmmm.  Maybe I'm talking about myself.  This morning when our doctor, who has now become Grampie and Thyrza's doctor, talked Thyrza through her long list of medications (and knew every single one of them without having to look them up in his handy Palm Pilot with the PDR stored on it), Thyrza was hoping she could drop one of them.  The dr told her that she's actually quite healthy for someone her age, and that she takes a manageable number of meds.  I'd hate for her to know that I take almost as many, and I'm almost 40 years younger.  Even though she'd been warned, Thyrza thought our doctor was a mere baby, told him so.  Asked him how he'd enjoyed the Olympics.  He was impressed that she knew he'd been up there this week.  They spoke of their mutual Canadian heritage and American citizenship (but shush, don't tell all those folks yelling U-S-A! everywhere right now, you know, the ones who could care less about the luge and bobsled most of the time, have never been to a nordic event in their life before, but are just rabid enough sports fans to take their shirts off and paint letters on their hairy chests and stand out in the snow like idiots, thinking this is the way to show their patriotism!).

This is the third time we've been to the doctor's in a week, which doesn't include the physical therapy appointment Thyrza takes the shuttle to.  For the longest time, I've wondered if our doctor, who has many, many patients remembered me from one appointment to the next.  Everyone remembers Beve, of course.  Me? Not so much.  However, from now on, I have a feeling none of us will be anonymous.  There's a whole clan of us with our doctor now, which somehow comforts me.  It makes me think of the way life would have been a long time ago, when a doctor who delivered a baby at the end of his career in a small country town, had also delivered that baby's mother, maybe even the grandmother...though maybe that's stretching it.  The point is, that doctor knew the family well enough that he knew family histories better than the family itself.  He knew that Aunt Mary had had a stroke, Uncle Cal died from congestive heart failure, a couple of the sisters had breast cancer, and there'd always been heartburn when too many peppers were served at the 4th of July picnic.

These things were known because the doctor was part of the community.  He got paid in those heart-burn-producing peppers from the Clarkes, in bacon from the Beacons, in zucchini from everybody and their brothers.  He didn't need a whole complicated computer system to keep track of his patients, because those people he cared for on Friday, he worshipped with on Sunday--unless they went across the street to the Lutherans, which was fine with him, they still needed caring for when they took ill or had babies, or needed sitting with when all they were doing was dying.

You know, I miss those days.  That might be a funny thing to say, considering I didn't live them, and wouldn't have survived them.  If I'd been alive back when there were only country doctors who drove around in buggies, and no hospitals anywhere near, I'd have died sometime between childhood and when I was about to deliver E.  I can think of three specific situations that would have killed me if I'd lived any time earlier than God gave me life, but particularly when I labored with my first child who was too big from my mis-shaped pelvis.  We'd both have died that day, leaving Beve a widower, and no E, J, or SK anywhere in sight.  So though I long for the simple community of a hundred years ago, I am glad to be alive today to long for it.  Glad my family is alive today, with all the conveniences, the advances, the ease of this life in this world.  I long for the simplicity of an earlier world but am convinced that my life was meant for here and now, and has purpose.  And as Robert Frost would say, that has made all the difference.

I've been thinking about this idea of life having purpose and meaning because a week ago, one of J's closest friends tried, for the second time, to end his life.  J said last night that this young man feels not only worthless but so unloved that no one would even notice if he were gone.  I know this isn't true.  For one thing, J would notice.  But I am certain this young man's family would as well.  However, in the dark, empty, sad place where this man exists, he doesn't believe that.  And unless something changes, unless some healing, some great doctor--the great Physician--comes along with healing in His hands and wings and whatever else it takes, this friend of my son will try to end his life again. And eventually succeed.  No human aid will stop him, if he's so determined.  Only a supernatural One can get in the way of this ghoulish goal.  This young man's life was given for this time, this world, as purposely as yours or mine.  And I pray, and I ask you who read this to pray, that he learn it, know it, recognize that that purpose is good, from God, and is meant for Life!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What I'd say

Awakened by a text from the Beve this morning just after 7 AM.  Seriously, Beve?  Do you still not know me?  And I answered it.  Sigh.  Awakened from a dream in which my dad was apparently alive.  Had just been in a deep sleep for the last thirteen years.  Boy, did we have some catching up to do.  Somehow, Beve and I got it into our heads that we could clarify that whole time by taking him out for lunch.  Just catch him up to speed, as they like to say (whoever 'they' is).  But after I was so rudely awakened by Beve, and the dream was cut short, I started thinking about what we'd have tried to explain to Dad about the decade + since he died.  Kids grown, graduated, in college, out of college, kids married, grad schools attended and completed, jobs gotten, jobs lost, more jobs gotten, moves across the country, moves back, moves across again.  houses bought, sold, bought, sold.  Illnesses, deaths.  Mom.

Yep.  Mom.  What I'd tell him about Mom.  A few days ago, my sister-in-law called me, said she's been thinking for months that she needed to encourage me to clean up my blog posts about Mom, then consider getting them published.  So this morning, as I thought about what I'd tell Dad about Mom, that conversation with my sister-in-law was also in my head.  Dad knew I--we all--had difficult relationship(s) with Mom both growing up, and more especially once we were adults and parents ourselves.  I think that was the hardest time.  Mom hated, really hated the way I parented.  It both angered and threatened her that I did things so differently than she did.  She felt like I was judging her every time I didn't make SK drink milk (even though SK is lactose-intolerant), because she always made all of her children drink milk at every meal, when I didn't make E take naps (E would lay in her bed, flat as a pancake, trying to obey me, but unable to sleep,even as a two-years-old), when I didn't make my children finish every single bite of food on their plates.  Mom either got mad at me for not doing it right, or retreated into "I was a terrible mother," in reaction, when I disagreed with her.  Believe me when I say that the years of my children's childhood were extremely difficult between my mother and me.  She wrote me terrible letters that I never responded to, said terrible things, that I tried not to take personally, told me to "stay out of it, it's my house," when we were visiting them.  I hated being there, hated being around her, and yes...hated her.

And my father knew this.  Obviously.  At some point early in my parenting life, I felt--with Beve and God--that it was important that I stand up with Mom.  This caused some pretty hellacious scenes.  I used to say it wasn't a trip home if I hadn't made my mother cry.  "Mom," I'd say. "I'm their mother. Shouldn't I get to decide what they eat and how much?"  "It's my house, my rules," she'd answer. "And I say they need to finish everything on their plates."  "But food helpings are arbitrary.  If you get out a scale and determine the daily allowance for kids their ages, I'd make them eat that, but as it is, my system (making them take the same number of bites of things they didn't like as their age) is as good as any."  "I must have been a terrible mother to have made you eat all your food," she'd answer, and start to cry.  Then go off in a huff.  Ah yes, the leaving the room in a huff.  I learned that from her.
 (Just so you know, these conversations were held when the kids weren't around!)

So this was the tenor of our visits during most of the last years of my father's life. At exactly the same time that my father had become and was growing as a Christian.  My relationship with him, which had always been good, was also growing better and better in those last years of his life. 

I wonder now if he started praying that things would change between Mom and me.  Maybe.  I have to say that they grew far worse before they got better.  After Dad died, Mom became almost unbearable for me for several years.  She was sooo needy, so unreasonable, so entrenched in any position.  And she'd over-react catastrophically to the smallest of slights.  Or non-slights.  I remember once, not so very long ago, when she was staying in this house, that she wanted to show me how a tree out back formed the shape of a cross against the sky.  Unfortunately, at exactly that moment, the oven timer was going off, some pasta needed to be drained, the front doorbell rang, and several people in the living room were trying to also claim my attention.  Mom got so hurt that she burst into tears and stomped down to the other end of the house.  At the time we didn't know that she was on the cusp of Alzheimers, but looking back we should have.  There are so many of those moments.  So many times when I thought, "If she's not crazy, I must be!"  One of us had to be.

But during these same years since Dad died, I've also been praying to love her.  Praying hard for the love that God surely has for Mom to swamp me so that I could love her too.  And I remember the moment when I realized I did.  Love her, I mean.  It was after a brunch at E's apartment at WSU.  Mom was sitting off to the side, and was upset about something--as usual. And, without thinking, I knelt in front of her and put my hands on her knees.  Asked her what was wrong.  Really asked her.  Really cared.  Felt compassion for my own mother.  The same mother whom I'd despised for as long as I could remember.

If that's not answered prayer, I don't know what is.  And this is what I'd tell Dad, at a dream lunch.  Not the terrible, horrible, agonizing parts of Alzheimers, though I'd tell him all that too.  But that I love her.  That I love her so much now that I hate that she has to go through this.  That I can't bear it for her.  As I've said many times, as I told my sister-in-law the other day, it's the redemptive part--the redemptive journey-- of all this.  The only redemptive part.  Here is my mother--sitting in a wheelchair with bits of food on her blank face, juice splashed down her clothing, her hair long and greasy and pulled back by a barrette, holding a stuffed puppy--and I love her.  The woman who stood upright with a stern frown on her face (my mother's face in repose was always a frown), with her hand held up like a stop-sign, keeping me from doing something--that woman I still find hard to love.

And God knew it would take this.  That's the sad, hard truth, that he knows what it will take for each of us to get to the right place.  I always said that I didn't want her to die unloved, and I really believed she wasn't loved all those years after Dad died.  Not really loved anyway.  And it took this.  I'm both sorry about that, sorry it took that, and glad that it took, if that makes sense.  And I'd tell Dad this: I love my mother. And that's miracle enough for this day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Experiences

Have I mentioned lately that I really love living where I do?  I suppose most of us feel some kind of regional pride.  Years ago when E was a pre-school student she became friends with the daughter of a member of the airforce.  He and his family were only in the northwest as long as his tour of duty forced them here, then they were hauling...er, all their worldly goods back to where they belonged--the deep south.  They didn't understand how things work in our neck of the woods, the traffic, the rush, the crowds, the unfriendliness, the rain.  Above all, the rain. Beve and I, serving them tea and cinnamon rolls in our living room, just shook our heads.  We couldn't imagine wanting to leave here for the deep south, where the humidity equals or surpasses the temperature, where things move so slowly they seem to be going backwards.  We stared across a cultural divide at these southerners.  What we love, they could hardly wait to shake from their feet.

But just now as I watched Bob Costa fly in a seaplane across the bay in Vancouver, rhapsodizing about Stanley Park (a gorgeous urban park with a wonderful aquarium!), the Lion's Gate Bridge, the soaring mountains to the north and east, the glowing sunset to the west, and...us--our little city just south of the border.  I continue to feel proprietorially toward Vancouver, having spent three (or was it four?) years of my life studying there.  I loved those years at Regent College.

Regent College was like a three year long study leave for me.  Talking about eternal matters on a daily basis with folks so much more learned and wise than me that I was constantly running to keep up.  Teachers who believed in me, challenged me to think more, study more, BE more.  Other students with whom I bent my head over the Word, and words, and the words that grew between us were always a revelation of the Incarnate Word who was clearly sitting at those tables with us.  For those who want to experience Christ, there is no more glaring--in the best sense--place to experience Him than with others who are also bending their heads to make sense of what He's doing in the Word, the World, the marketplace.

I was thinking this morning of this whole idea of experiencing God (partly due to some thoughts from a nephew).  Thanking God for all the ways I've 'experienced' Him over the long course of my life with Him.  It's about like trying to identify all the ways I've experienced marriage--there are just sooo many ways, many of which might be too private to share!--but what is always true is that 'experiencing Christ' is not simply a feeling, anymore than being love is just a feeling.  Corporate worship can be one way to experience Christ, but so can silence.  Corporate prayer is another way to experience Him, but private prayer is also just likely.  Wherever He is that we settle ourselves to find Him--yes, wherever He is!
  The words we speak with each other, the words spoken to us by the ones called to 'accurately handle the Word of truth' --ie, pastors.  When we sit down at tables together, pouring over books together, we can share Christ together just as we can when we break bread together, both physically and sacramentally.  All these ways are ways we 'experience Christ.'  And I've been blessed enough to have lived all of them, sometimes all in the same day.  And my time at Regent, more than any other time of my fifty-odd years on earth, gave me all this in abundance.

But it was also at Regent when I had a conversation with a young man, earnest and desiring of God, who said he loved Christ, but didn't have much use for the word of God.  He loved experiencing God via fellowship and worship, but not through the Bible, which was just so dry it put him to sleep. I was stunned by his confession.  Yes, I realize that I am a person of words, in love with words, bent toward words, but still, literally stunned. Since then, I've actually had similar conversations several times with people with something of the same attitude. God knows what each of us needs in order to know Him, in order to be transformed by Him, conformed, made new, whole, complete.  To be His.  Not simply experiencing, but Being His. The words that came to mind that day in the Atrium at Regent College are the same ones I think today:  "All people are like grass,
                                         and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
                                         the grass withers and the flowers fall,
                                         but the word of the Lord endures forever."  1 Peter 1: 24-25 (from Isaiah 40)

PS.  Did I mention that I really love living here?  I'm pretty sure those mountains where they're doing the aerials on TV are the same ones I can see when I drive down our street.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Photos, Harry

Whenever I think of photos, I always instinctively add, 'Harry' at the end.  Like, "Take another photo, Harry!" And, "Did you get a photo of the cathedral, Harry?"  "yes, Myrtle, I got it."  Deep sigh.  So here are a few of my photos, Harry!  First, My sisters outside of the theatre where we saw...you guessed it!

Love the clouds right through the middle of the spans! Taken by my 15-year-old nephew, who got some really good shots.  But who is also now taller than me. And this fact makes me just a little bit sick, to tell you the truth (just kidding, KCK).

Then KCK told me to hold up the bridge for him, which I did.  Whew, such hard work, too.  No wonder I came home so tired!

There may have been some hot fudge Sundaes of various kinds at Ghirardelli.  It had to be done...like a job!

 This is LD, her two sons and me at dinner on Valentine's Day (RE took the photo).  We were pretending we were two couples, because the waitress at the Thai restaurant had just brought us a little red candle for our romantic dinner.  We started hamming it up--here it looks like the KCK brothers are actually a couple. Anyway.  We got to talking at this dinner about our last trip with Mom, how hard it'd been.  We weren't sorry not to have her with us.  However, instantly the thought came that if we could have Dad too, we'd have taken Mom--anytime, any place.  No question!  Great meal, thanks to our long distance tour guide, SK, who out-sourced it with her house-mate, CJ, at San Francisco native!

 OK, so I completely forgot my sisters tee-shirt.  Soooo sorry.  I had it out, I really did.  Right on my dresser, ready to go.  But then something happened, then something else, and you know how it goes.  Sorry little sisters.  I'm still the oldest!  And had a great time with my two little sisters.

Seamless

For years it seemed like every time we turned around, we were buying a bigger vehicle.  Having three babies in three and a half years will do it.  Only a few cars a large enough for three carseats--and all of them are vans.  At least, that's the way it seemed at the time.  Then there was the gigantic tent-trailer we bought that required an enormous engine to pull it.  Hence, our conversion van.  But since we moved into this house seven years ago, we've been downsizing.  Everything.  House-size, car-size...well, unfortunately, not my own size, but that's another story.

I drive a Toyota Matrix.  Love my Matrix.  It's small, easy to park, gets reasonable gas mileage.  However.  However. Sigh.  Deep sigh.  We have a bit of a problem now. (Every time I use that kind of sentence, I think of my mother, how it was a harbinger of the invading holes in her brain.  "I have a big problem," she said once when we were staying at my sister's house in Ventura.  It turned out she couldn't figure out where/how to plug in her breathing machine...the outlet was behind the end-table.  Yep, a BIG problem).  Anyway, our problem is that our small car just isn't big enough for two walkers, two extra-large men, and two women. And Thyrza's single, fancy, mechanized walker doesn't fit in the small trunk of the Matrix if more than three people are in the car. So, every time we go anywhere with Grampie and Thyrza,  we have to take two cars.  And when I take them by myself, Grampie insists that 'his bride', as he calls her, sits in front, but his size 15 shoes don't fit between the open back door and the front seat, so I'm always practically breaking his foot in half trying to get him in there, while Thyrza's in the front seat with her knees in her nostrils so Grampie has enough space.  Ah, the gift that keeps on giving.

So we went car shopping again today.  We've done this a time or two.  A dozen times or two, to tell the truth.  But this set-up just isn't working for any of us.  But...I HATE car shopping.  I don't like shopping of any kind very well.  That's a secret of my life with Beve.  I don't like shopping--and he does.  He loves to find deals.  Loves hunting for bargains.  Me?  I'd rather be reading.  I get impatient.  Easily distracted.  Want to make a decision and get out of there.  I don't like the dickering, don't like feeling uncertain about whether I can trust a person's word.  Trust that what he says is really what he means.  Shouldn't we be able to trust that?  At least be able to trust that?  We got out of my beloved Matrix this afternoon and a little (seriously, smaller than me!) man, born and raised in Uganda, if you can believe that, came walking rapidly toward us.  I was rolling my eyes, hunching my shoulders, trying to disappear (rather difficult in the company of my legal giant husband), and would have gotten back in the car if Beve hadn't locked it.  Beve loves these kinds of transactions.  Loves the back and forth bargaining, knowing that he isn't in it to buy, only to look, and there's NOTHING the salesman--or the manager, or the manager's manager--can do "to get you into this car today!"  Me? Just let me look at these cars, for Pete's sake.  Let me see how big the trunk is, see if Beve fits in the back seat, behind the wheel.  Just let me browse, like I'd browse books in a bookstore.  If I find something right, you won't have to work to sell it.  I remember once telling a car-salesperson that.  I told him, "You know all those things you usually say to people to get them to buy?  Think the opposite of those things. We don't want bigger, flashier, fancier.  Not in a car, and not in a sales-pitch."  He couldn't do it.  We walked away.


It makes me wonder what it would be like to live in a place where we could trust the word of those we interact with.  Can you imagine?  No contracts, witnessed and stamped by a notary, no intialing thirty-thousand pages for every transaction.  Just, "Yes, I will do it."  Then do it.  Or "No, thank you."  And that's the end of it.  I get tired of not being able to believe people when they say things, don't you? In the last 24 hours, as we've watched the Olympics and Saturday hoops, we've heard commentator after commentator speculate about whether a certain golfer's announcement of apology was in earnest or not.  "He sounded wooden," they say.  "But he always sounds wooden," another intones. "He struck the right balance."  Unfortunately, this man's life is no longer seamless.  So how can his word be believed?  Yes, our heroes have clay feet--that is, they all stumble and fall and are made of things that fail and break...just like us.  But perhaps the best thing we might say about a person is that his word and his life are one. This is what I mean by seamless.  That he is who he says he is.  That she is who she says she is.

God knows.  Let my word be true of my life.  Let yours.  For your own sake, but especially, primarily!, for His.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Related to _____

I'll post some photos of my trip to San Francisco sometime soon (the best ones were taken by my 15-year-old nephew who had to tag along with his old aunts and mom because his dad had to take a trip north due to a family emergency, also some great shots by my youngest sister who loves taking pictures, which I do not.  Never quite get the hang of it, or care enough to try), but for today, one quick story.

Yesterday, after dropping Thyrza off after the clinic run, I stopped by a fabric store.  By the way, in downtown San Francisco, there's a fabulous, four-story fabric store which was holding its yearly sale Monday!  We were in shock and awe.  By the fabrics and by the crowds.  And by the way those city women (and a few men) can push.  My gracious goodness, they're aggressive.  We tried giving our opinion to a lovely young soon-to-be bride who was trying to decide between two red satins for the second of her wedding dresses--I assume for the Asian portion.  She texted her family the photos of them, though, and her family voted on the more traditional, while we--and the retail clerk--had urged her to go for the more unusual.  Oh well.  Don't quit our day jobs (if I had one!).

Anyway.  ANYWAY, as I was saying, I was in a fabric store yesterday, grabbing just one piece I needed for something, then had to say my name for the good customer discount card kept behind the counter.  Another customer at the counter then asked me, "Are you related to the W____ who works for the Bellingham School District?"
"I am," I answered. "He's my husband." Then I paused. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Oh," she said. "Definitely a good thing."
The clerk helping me chuckled. "He's a high school counselor," I told her. Most people love the Beve.  They find his patience exactly what their kids need to navigate the rough waters of adolescence.  Beve doesn't raise his voice, looks for ways to help kids, looks for ways to step into their shoes--and into the shoes of their parents at the same time.  No easy trick, it seems to me.
But sometimes kids can't be helped.  They are hell-bent (excuse the pun) on making choices that lead them farther and farther away from right and good and health.  And when they make those choices, sometimes it's because their parents are behind them, having made exactly the same kind of choices, their parents behind them...and so forth back through the generations.  And yet, those are often the parents who blame the system, blame Beve, blame everyone they can think of for not helping their kids.

So there have been times, and granted not many, when people have had a bone to pick with the Beve, and they are more than willing to pick it with me if that's their only choice.  I'm not proud of it, but I was a little tired yesterday.  Not at my best.  Not up-to-speed, so to speak, so wasn't sure I'd be capable of handling someone who wanted to take a shot at my husband.  So I was wary. Almost ready to deny him, if she was about to raise a gun and take a shot.

Our conversation didn't go that way.  She loves the Beve.  Loves what he's done for her sons, how he's been calm and steady with them, how he's had a talk a time or two to set them back on track, and how those talks seem to be taking.

But here's the thing.  I got out to the car, and had a moment.  Quite a moment, to tell you the truth.  I heard some pretty hard words in my head.  "I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times."  Now I'm pretty sure I'd never deny that the Beve is my husband.  But I also know that sometimes I just don't want to get into it.  And isn't that the way it is with Christ?  Isn't it true that sometimes it's easier to just keep silent when others around us disparage the name--whose Name we wear?  Isn't sometimes simpler to 'hold the peace' when we know that someone who is a believer isn't living up to that Name?  How do we most honor the Name? How do we show our neighbors who we're related to?

Maybe you've never denied Him.  Maybe every action and word and gesture of your life is seamless.  If so, could you please teach me how?  Teach the rest of us how?  Because I want to honor Him.  I really do.  I don't want to deny Him.  But sometimes I hold my peace when I should speak.  So I pray, Father God, just for today,  give me the courage of my convictions to speak your name, speak up for your name.  To speak the Name of Jesus. I believe, I know, I love, I am related to Jesus.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I left my heart...

All the way home yesterday--on the walk, the BART, the Air-BART, the sit (our flight was delayed due to the ubiquitous fog in the bay area), the flight, the bus, the drive home yesterday--I had it planned.  I was going to be loquacious--no, make that articulate, NOT just chatty--about my trip to San Francisco. However, this morning, I was still in my REM cycle when my cell-phone rang.  Across town Beve's small group (which is what he's taken to calling them) was having an emergency.  Thyrza had fallen in the shower.  Blood was spurting everywhere.   "I'm on my way," I said. And on that way, I called Beve to find out where the closest walk-in clinic might be.

Hours later, we returned home, leg duly wrapped, ointments duly bought, just in time for lunch. I'm getting better at loading and unloading walkers and wheelchairs, though am less proficient at maneuvering that chair through a closed door.  I mean, seriously, how does one open a door from behind a wheelchair, anyway?  Any suggestions would be helpful! 

My trip really was fun. I have a few observations:
San Francisco has a lot of hills.  We walked them  My calves noticed.   All very well and good until we stopped walking them and sat for a while.  Then those calves ceased to work.  Wanted to stand and graze.  chew the cud, so to speak.  Anything but move.  However, once I directed them to get a move on again, they stopped protesting until the next time we stopped.  We should have just kept walking.  I wasn't smart enough to figure this out.
The musical Wicked is wonderful.  Worth seeing, worth pondering, worth contemplating.  We did all three.  I just bought the CD, which SK already told me she's going to steal and burn onto her computer.  The suggestion that wickedness is sometimes in the eye of the beholder is a provocative one, the idea that we each impact each other and the only question is whether we will change each other for better or for worse is a gospel one.  We talked of these things.  It was a breath-takingly glorious couple of hours. Sped by.  Thank-you, the Dump, for such a great gift!
College campuses, even those in the middle of enormous cities, are almost always beautiful.  I've been on many campuses on this side of the country, and those campuses are mostly large parks.  There's the city of Oakland.  Then there's the campus of Berkeley.  And it's like entering a different world to go from the one to the other.  Berkeley is an oasis of serenity and beauty (particularly early on a weekend afternoon most students are still sleeping--or perhaps at the basketball game).  My nephew, who has been a student there for all of four and a half months, already uses the personal pronoun to speak of Berkeley, speaks of Cal as though he could count the time he's been there in years rather than months.  When asked why this has happened for him, he answered, "I found community."  Of course, I thought.  That's always it. We're made for it, find it most easily in those short years as college students, then--when we've divided ourselves into subsets and small units-- spend most of the rest of our lives hoping to reproduce the community that came so easily when we lived it in our early twenties.
My sisters--They know me, I know them, we are different, we are the same.  Here's a moment that speaks volumes (at least to me).  RE and I, who traveled together, were just about to board our much delayed plane, when the Dump and her younger son walked past, just getting to the airport for their later flight south.  We called to them, so they came over for another round of hugs before we separated again.  As we walked off, Dump yelled, "See you in June" (when RE's middle daughter gets married).  Without thinking, I hollered back, "Unless Mom dies first."  "Yeah," she said. "If only."  Then we turned and walked our separate directions.  As I sat in my seat, I thought of how we all got it--what I was saying, what the Dump answered.  Why it wasn't mean, or rude or anything else. We live inside our lives together.  We know.  We know in ways that only siblings can know, more than spouses, more than offspring, there are somethings only siblings get.  And somethings, only sisters.  And I'm glad I have mine.   No matter what, I'm glad I have mine.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A doctor's appointment

Beve took his father to the doctor yesterday.  Oh, the adventure.  Oh, the gift that keeps on giving. And speaking of gifts, this might be a good time to remind him that I was at a local luxury spa having a hot stone massage courtesy of our kids' Christmas gift to me.  But then again, maybe the torture would be too much.  Anyway, Beve and Grampie went off to the doctor--an appointment that had been quickly found when it was discovered late the day before that Grampie had been off his blood thinner since sometime mid-December and was in danger of stroking out. Beve had a rather long conversation Wednesday with the agitated and worried nurse at Grampie's doctor over on the Penninsula, then another conversation with our doctor's 'assistant', as she likes to be called, who found a spot for him on a busy schedule.

So, armed with a host of questions, only about three of which were actually about his own health, Grampie went to the doctor.  He queried our doctor on his medical training, his family background--including size and support--where/how long he'd practiced before. Our doctor, it should be noted, is in his mid-thirties (though he looks younger than that!), is slight, and probably barely taller than me (say, 5'7"?). Patiently answering questions by this old bear of a man.  Beve said, "It was actually rather cute."  Cute.  But I have to tell you, there's something about this man, at this stage of his life that is cute.

Finally, they got down to business.  Beve didn't tell me the whole story about the medical stuff--blah, blah, blah--as Grampie would say.  Something about a foot, and a pediatrist referral, which I'm pretty sure you aren't all that interested in.  I mean, feet!  Are you kidding me. Yuck!  But then came the interesting part.  Grampie told our/now his doc that a few years ago (at Beve and sister Glo's insistence), he'd  taken an Alzheimer's test and passed.  Grampie likes to take that information out now and then and metaphorically wave a finger and Beve about it.  When Beve told me about this, I said, "But did he take one today?"
"No, and I don't think he needs one."
"But.." I began.
"He admitted that he wouldn't pass that test today." Beve told me.
Oh.  "Not only that," Beve said. "He said he's been feeling anxious."
"WHAT?  Feeling ANXIOUS? Grampie? Your Dad?"
"Not just once.  He said it three times."
"WHAT?"
You have to understand.  I've known Beve's dad since I was in the 5th grade (Not that that actually counts), been part of his family for the last 26 years.  And I've NEVER, EVER heard him talk about feelings. Not when his oldest son married a woman from Finland, moved across the world, never to live in this country again. Not when his wife of 43 years got cancer, not when she died a year later. Not when he told his family about a new woman he was going to marry the next year.  Not when the next son, up and quit his job, took his wife and sons to a Christian compound because he thought the world was going to end with the year 2000 (Don't get me started!).  Not when his only daughter died--well, sort of when his only daughter died--but that was about her, not about him.
The point is, he simply doesn't say he's worried, sad, afraid, angry, happy, scared, or ANXIOUS.  ANXIOUS.    ANXIOUS.  Three times in one semi-short doctor's appointment.

Grampie's always been about as steady as a rock (hence, Doc-the-Rock as his nickname).  And that steadiness has been handed down to my Beve and my daughter, E.  It's in their genetic code.  But something is scrambling Grampie's code these days, I'm sorry to say.  Something I'm very familiar with.  Something Beve doesn't quite want to admit.  It's a road I've been walking a while now with my siblings.  We're a lot further along it with our Mom.  But having Grampie live in our town has given us a better vantage point from which to see him, and I recognize the signposts of this familiar trek pretty well.  My mother was given to anxiety, even in the best of times. But there's something about holes in the brain that makes one anxious, I am sure.  Something about not being able to count on what one always counted on before--the brain--to scare a person half to death.  It's no wonder Grampie's frightened.  I'd be frightened to. I think I will be, if I'm the one to walk this road with my children holding my hand.  I don't think there's anything to keep that fear at bay, I'm sorry to say.  Very sorry to say.

I have to tell you, I've never been a person to ask why.  I recognize that evil is implicit in a fallen world.  That where there is sin, there is sickness.  Where there is sin, there is crime and poverty and all kinds of horror.  But there's something about this losing of one's faculties that makes me ask, "WHY, God?" And, yes, I ask this too. "Can't you just take them before you allow them to sit around in a shell of a body, empty of all their humanity? Nothing more than a plant?  Will you take me...if it comes to that?"

On that awful note, I'm off to play with my sisters in San Francisco. See you Tuesday.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An apology

After I wrote that post last night (early this morning), I went to bed, tried to sleep. Couldn't.  It was poorly done, you see. What I wrote last night, I mean.The idea wasn't bad--to practice and practice the Word of God, to let it shape our lives, rather than try to mold it to us.  But my assertion that I actually know a verse in every chapter from Matthew to Revelation is a gross exaggeration.  A shameful one.  If there was a test on such a thing, I'd fail.  It is fair to say I try.  True.  But a lie, nonetheless.

Also true that from Romans to Colossians I manage well, though 6 different translations are used (sometimes in the same passage) to recite a verse.  For example, Romans 12: 1-2 "I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrificies, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold but let God remold your minds from within so that you will approve in practice what the will of God is--His good, pleasing and perfect will."
 I just looked through several Bibles to figure out what translation I've memorized from, and here's my amalgamation:
What I've done here is join the Revised Standard (the version I had to memorize from in college), with the JB Phillips Translation (the translation of choice in high school), a bit of the Living Bible thrown in, and a clause of the NIV which I've used most of my adult life.  And I can't seem to make anything else stick. 

But then there are the gospels.  Oh, the Synoptic Gospels.  For those of you who didn't spend 7 years getting college degrees in the Bible as I did, this phrase might not be familiar.  It simply refers to Matthew, Mark and Luke.  They come from a similar source, scholars believe.  A source named "Q".  This is why there is so much cross-over in the stories of these three gospels, though the purpose, audience, and authorship of each make them very different books.  Mark was probably the earliest written, and Peter probably stood behind Mark (John Mark was the author's name) adding to the telling.  The idea in Mark was simply to 'get it down.'  Just the facts, ma'am!  Matthew and Luke had both had Mark's gospel in hand (as well as "Q") when they penned their God-breathed words.  Matthew's focus was to show how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Israel, how He was the Messiah.  Luke, written with Paul at the physician's elbow, was written to reveal the Incarnate--God in human flesh.  There are more healings in Luke.  But also many--many more parables.  In fact, from chapter 11-18, basically, Luke is one parable after another.

Anyway, I can get lost in these gospels.  They sound alike.  They are alike.  Of course.  The Lord's prayer in Matthew 6 is also in Luke 11 (though in a more succinct version).  And--and this is the most shameful part--I've always been more drawn to the epistles than the gospels.  At least I was when I was younger and memorizing came more easily.  So I don't have the synoptics in my head very well.  Or in my heart.  So I misrepresented myself last night.  I absolutely DO NOT know verses in every chapter in Matthew, Mark or Luke.  Some, yes.  A few.  Not all.  Not even close.  Forgive me for saying I did.  That was a lie.


The truth is, I often make myself sound better than I am.  More holy.  I am not.  Holy, that is.  I am a sinner, saved by grace.  Thank God.  Thank God. Thank God.  And if His Word is hidden in my heart at all, it's because--and ONLY because His Holy Incarnate Word dwells in that same heart.  Is working in me.  Changes me. Restores my soul, even when I sin.  Like when I misrepresent myself or the Truth.

Change my heart.

Sword drills

With the Olympics just around the bend chronologically, and just over the hill on the map, I've been trying to figure out some kind of sport I might good enough at to stand on top of a podium in sweats, and get a little teary-eyed while our national anthem is played.  Oh yeah, and actually win said event.  Alas, I've never even strapped on a pair of down hill skis.  Been cross-country skiing a time or two, but was faster walking...even through snow-drifts.  I've been ice-skating, as well.  But not well.

No, I'm not much of an athlete.  Come from a long line of 'not much of an athletes', as a matter of fact.  We tend to be better with our brains than our muscles.  Beve's family?  Just the opposite.  Shoot, those boys--Beve and his brothers--they were profound athletes in my hometown.  You have no idea.  And their dad.  The other day we were going through some old clippings from when Grampie played basketball at the University of Oregon in the 40s.  Amazing articles about him, about his high school career in Bremerton, winning the state title in 1942, leaving Oregon to go fight in India/Burma during WWII (that's a story:  He was too tall to be accepted by the army because they wouldn't have any uniforms to fit, so got a special dispensation and his mother had to make all his uniforms, and he had 4 special extra long cots made for him to sleep on, which we still have in our basement--they're actually really comfortable!). 

My point is, those legal giants are good athletes.  But compared to these Olympians, Beve and his family are just ordinary.  And the difference is more than just talent.  It's practice.  It's dedication.  Olympians train and train and train.  It's all they do.  They do it like it's their job.  All day, all the time.  Yes, it's talent, but it's also practice over and over and over.

I hesitate to confess this, for fear of how it will sound.  But here goes:  Sometimes in small groups, people are surprised that I know scripture as well as I do.  But there's no secret to it.  This knowing of the Word of God comes from practice.  Over and over and over.  Sometimes late at night when I can't sleep, for instance, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and try to think of a single verse from each chapter in the New Testament.  Matthew 1 "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife."  Matthew 2 "We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." Matthew 3 "But after me comes one whose sandals I am not worthy to carry."  and so forth, through the Beatitudes, the whole Sermon on the Mount, the rest of the gospels, etc, until I fall asleep.  The next night (or next sleepless night--there are 262 chapters in the NT so it can take a while, especially when I get to Romans through Colossians because I know/love all those books so well), I start where I left off.  I get stuck, usually in the middle of Acts, which I admittedly haven't spent as much time in, but pick up again in Romans, and speed straight through Colossians, get bogged down a bit in the pastorals, chuckle a bit at Paul's sarcasm in Philemon, then push through until I get to 2 John.  From there...well... not so good. Anyway, it's a great exercise, and keeps my sword  ("The word of God is ...sharper than any two-edged sword"--Hebrews 4:12)  sharp.

See, this is my sport.  But so much more than a sport.  The Word of God is living and active, the writer of Hebrews tells us.  Active, which means that if we allow it to act upon our lives, it changes us.  We go to the Bible to read, know, and understand God, which is true. But our lives must also be understood in light of the Word.  We must allow Its Light to shine on us, to make sense of us.  We must live beneath its light.  See ourselves from that vantage point. From His--the Living Word's--vantage's point's.  We are the object, He is the subject, even of our own lives.

 But there's another reason why I go to such trouble to work on the Word of God so diligently, to "hide Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee," as the Psalmist says.  These are the words I want filling my brain.  These words of eternal life, these red-letter, Kingdom-come, grace-filled, Bride-of-Christ Words are what I need to have rattling around in my brain to counter-act all the other dirty, filthy, lying words of the world that the enemy would have us believe every single day.  I don't know about you, but I need to hold on with every single brain cell to the Word of God, so the more I can memorize, meditate, read, marinate myself in it, the better off I am.

Then, if the worst comes, and God help me, if the worst comes and I lose my mind, like my poor demented mother (or--and don't tell Beve, but maybe his dad, as well), maybe just maybe, the last words in my brain will be the best words of all--words of eternal life.  As Peter said, "Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Are you practicing your sport? As we used to call it, your sword drills?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I'm the big sister

A couple of years ago, my sisters and I planned a President's Day weekend get-together in San Francisco.  We picked that spot for a couple of reasons.  First: well, duh! it's San Francisco.  Second, there's a vacation property there we have 'points' for.  Third, it's somewhat between where the SoCal middle sister lives, and us Washingtonians.  And because we come from the same genetic pool, were raised by the same parents, have been accused by more than one spouse of over-planning everything, we had our plane tickets bought before Christmas that year.

But in January, our older younger brother (meaning the older of our two little brothers), died.  Many families, I've learned before and since, have a sibling like this brother, who was a troubled little boy, a troubled teen, and a troubled man, before he walked out of our family's collective life a decade before his death.  But, no matter what the issues, when he died, we flew down to Southern California (where he'd made his living and his homeless life) to find out what we could about him.  It was a long hard week together, that my siblings and I had, laying our brother to rest.  I remember the moment the Friday of that week when, via some things we found in his few belongings, the realization hit that our brother had been gay.  Andrew was gay.  Of course!  Of course he was. It was like a whole lot of pieces of a puzzle fell into place with that one piece of information.  And a sweeping sadness hit that he hadn't felt he could tell us that.  I know why he couldn't tell me.  I know what I was like in my early twenties--all judgment and certainty, and not, I'm ashamed to say, very full of grace toward the least of these.

Anyway, it was a hard week.  There was a whole lot of anger to face from those our brother had worked with all those years.  People he'd told about his family.  They wondered why we'd rejected him, wondered why we didn't help him when he was homeless.  They didn't have the whole story any more than we did.  That was our brother--a life so full of secrets we'll never never them all.  By the end of that week, after putting on the memorial service, my sisters and I lay in our beds in a hotel near the airport, and collectively said, "No offense, but I don't want to see you again in two weeks!"  We'd had enough of each other.  More than enough.  We'd snarled at each other--more than once--and needed to retreat to our own lives, breathe the air of our own lives in order to clear our heads from the garbage (I'm sorry to admit this) that was my brother's.

So now, two years later, we are going to San Francisco.  The tickets bought, the plans made...my middle sister, the Dump, emailed today to remind us to bring our tee-shirts.  Oh yes, our tee-shirts.  See, several years ago, we bought these tee-shirts in order to surprise Mom when we took her to the beach for her birthday.  Here we are, wearing them at our cabin on Whidbey Island.  I'm in the sunglasses, and my shirt says says, "I'm the big sister," and has a picture of a girl shopping.  The Dump's says, "I'm the middle sister" and hers has a girl sunbathing, which is the most farfetched thing imaginable for her!  And RE's says, "I'm the little sister," and has a picture of a little girl in a stroller.  Anyway, the Dump always wants us to take our tee-shirts when we go anywhere together, because, as she puts it, it's so 'nerdy and dorky,' two things she delights in being, whereas I try to avoid.

So Friday we're off to San Francisco.  I haven't been there since J was a baby, and E was a little girl on my Dad's shoulders.  My dad had a sabbatical in Palo Alto that year, so we flew down for Christmas.  My parents put J's portable crib in their gigantic walk-in closet so Beve and I could sleep and my mom could get her baby-fix in the morning.  I was happy to let her!  And my Dad didn't put E down that the whole trip, I think. But I'm hoping I won't be seeing his ghost around every corner.

I'm looking forward to it, looking forward to time with my sisters, to being in the city, to seeing the show 'Wicked', to all sorts of things I don't even know yet.  But I have to tell you, I'm NOT looking forward to wearing that dang tee-shirt! But because I'm the big sister, I'll set a good example and DO it!

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Prayer

A Prayer:

I've said this before, I know, but not for me just gentle Jesus calming His hand across a child's hair.  I also need--especially need!--the stern, even angry Jesus who yells at storms and overturns temples.  I need my storms abated, the ones I cause myself, especially.  And I most definitely need the temple of myself upended, the money-changers and defilers of my soul rooted out.  Spare me nothing, Lord, in your great love fore me.  Love me so much You do whatever it takes, so there is NOTHING left that dishonors You this day. Even only for this day.  Start here.

I know of course.  I know that the most-beloved-of-God-people of the scriptures were also great sinners.  Abraham, trying to out-figure God when it came to an heir by laying with Hagar, not to mention, passing his wife off as his sister.  Noah, the one God saved when God destroyed the world by flood,  slept with his own daughters-in-law while in a drunken stupor.  Jacob passed himself off as his brother.  And David. Well, his most well-known sin--Bathsheba--resulted in a string of terrible events/sins in his family (though his repentance was profound, powerful and is used as my model weekly, daily, hourly--"wash me with hyssop, create in me a clean heart!" There is no better Psalm, in some ways, than Psalm 51). Then Peter.  Oh, Jesus, Peter.  And Paul as well.

Sinners all.  So do I dare to dream I will be less a sinner than these?  Ok, yes, I do.  But not because of myself.  I dare to pray for the Holy Spirit to keep me, to hem me in. I do not for one minute, for one milisecond, believe I am as great in His master plan as any of them--how ludicrious to even write such a sentence--but in my own minuteness, I do believe that the Spirit dwells within me, just as He did them.  And that His presence within me gives me exactly the same access to God as the giants of the faith--ALL the giants of the faith--today, yesterday, and for all time.  I may live the smallest of lives (thank God!), but my small life counts exactly as much as the largest life that has ever been lived.

"Take me, Jesus, as I am.  I can come no other way.  Take me deeper into you, teach me how to walk Your way.  Meld me like a precious stone. Crystal clear and finely honed.  Light of Jesus shining through, giving glory back to You."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The harvest

I was looking through old journals for something I really want to write about, and came across this entry.  Not what I'd intended but a pretty strong word for today, and worth sharing. I'll keep looking for the other.

February 15, 2006
"After a farmer plants wheat, he does not lie awake nights worrying lest radishes come up.  He knows that it is the nature, or we might say the virtue, of wheat to grow wheat.  It is the virtue of acorn to grow oak trees.  And it is is the virtue on prayers that are based upon that which is true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report, to come to fulfillment."     Glenn Clark, Celtic Daily Prayer, 116

A farmer leaves crops in the fields--seeds, I should say--for months and months, allowing them to germinate, root and grow.  He is content to work on other things without going out every hour to check on the progress of his seeds.  Most of that progress is barely discernible for a long time, covered with dirt, then snow, then is merely a dandruff of color in the ridges of sown ground.  The farmer works on other things during those waiting seasons (winter and spring and half of summer), on readying for harvest.  Planning for what he knows will come. Repairing machinery, making sure it's sharp and ready for the work it was made to do.  The work it was made to do--harvesting exactly what was planted in the earth!  There is no uncertainty in it at all.  Sure, maybe weeds and drought and lack of snow cover or too much snow or rain...or too soon.  Things happen to cause worry.  But he sprays the weeds, then waits.  Trusts in the land and weather.  And most of the time--in the Palouse, ALL of the time--the harvest is yielded and it is very good.  The farmer's certainty is true.  His faith is rewarded.

How much do I live this way?
How much do I trust that what I pray--when I pray for His harvest in the lives of those I love, those He loves--how much do I wait for it, trust in it, work with expectation that it WILL come?  How much do I prepare to participate in what I have prayed He will bring?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tape-delayed

I feel I need to apologize to the folks on the eastern part of this country.  The folks across the world.  All those who are having the worst winters in recorded history.  Like the other Washington.  England.  Even Finland where our relatives say that the snow plows have just given up, the icebreakers in the water never stop churning and with both dark and snow, it's pretty dismal, indeed.

I feel the need to apologize because the last few days I've been out of the house in shirt-sleeves and our daffodils are shooting up in the garden.  Last year we had more snow than we'd seen in our kids' lifetimes, but this year nary a flake.  All this while within view of our north windows in our very house are the mountains which will host the world starting next weekend.  Those mountains could have used the snow being dumped in the east today.  Instead, dump-trucks full of snow have been hauled across British Columbia to shore up all those courses skiers and snow-boarders will fly down in reckless abandon after that distinctive "Dah-DAH,du-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH, dah-dah-du-DAH..." is played by some distinguished Canadian orchestra, a flame is lit over downtown Vancouver, and a flag with interlinking-circles is raised into the sky.  Yep, the world is coming to our backyard for the winter-Olympics and, oddly, our mountains don't have enough snow.

Here's another thing about the Olympics coming here.  Though Vancouver is the nearest large city to us, and though I commuted there to grad school for several years, and know part of the city well, know folks who live there, etc., not only do we need a passport to get there now (which reminds me, I have GOT to get mine renewed--it expires in April!), but because we have a satellite dish, we will see all events a full 8 hours after they've taken place.  I'm not kidding.  This has got to be the most annoying, strange part of these Olympics.  We could drive up there, see two events, have a nice meal, and get home in time to watch the same events on TV.  How ridiculous is that?

But sometimes I think that life in Christ has some 'tape-delayed' elements to it.  Not that God doesn't HEAR us the moment that we talk to Him.  Of course He does.  And He definitely walks through our lives with us moment by moment as they happen.  But much of what we experience we don't understand AS it happens.  We lose jobs we thought God had intended for us, relationships are broken we expected to last a lifetime, we begin ministries we think God has called us to and think will be successful.  And when these things happen we're at a loss about what God might possibly be up to.

But later, when we live a little more, when time passes, when another job, ministry, person, home, whatever are presented to us, one way or another, it's like what happens when we see that tape-delayed event on TV.  When you're sitting in a stadium or ski slope at an event, you only have your own eyes to see what's happening.  You only have the public-address-system announcer giving any kind of information.  But later, with the gift of hind-sight, you have the opportunity to see things you missed.  It's like having instant replay to catch that triple-salchow in slow-motion. Or another angle to see the puck actually go through the goalie's bent knees and into the net.  And there's the advantage of others--experts--who were at the events and can help explain what happened.  There's a wisdom, God says, in a multitude of counselors.  And all these things are those 'counselors', perhaps.

I still don't like the idea of tape-delayed games of any kind.  I admit that.  But I'm also willing to admit if that's the way things come--in the Olympics or in life--I'll take them. And trust that God doesn't delay things unless it's for my good.  "The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:24

PS.  For the young woman who had to get rid of an adorable white puppy nine years ago, and still misses him, I just want to say, thank you.  We never expected that when we said we'd care for him until a home could be found, that ours would be his forever home, but we're very thankful it has been.  In a way, it's one of those tape-delayed things, that you couldn't keep him because he was meant to be ours. So perhaps--when the time is right--you'll someday have a big ol' lug of your own.  Until then, here's another picture of your Jackson:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Schooling my children

Ran a few errands with my oldest child--the one who is almost a quarter century-- this afternoon. For her willingness to come with me, I offered to buy her a drink, which she said she wouldn't pass up...then did, when we couldn't decide whether caffeine or carbonation was more in order.  So we just came on home to discover the dogs had eaten the delicious red velvet cupcakes E'd made last weekend.

Anyway, usually when I go anywhere with a member of my family, I am the passenger in the vehicle.  Almost two decades I drove them around like it was my job, carted them to and from school, to and from this event, that practice, this play-date, that game.  The other day my eye-doctor asked if we'd homeschooled our kids, and I told him, "No, but that doesn't mean I didn't do plenty of teaching.  Every time they buckled up their seat-belts, we started in on some kind of learning."  It's true.  In fact, I've always felt annoyed that our culture seems to the only parents who teach their kids are the ones that don't send them off to a school.  I can guarantee that most parents--at least the best of them--spend a whole lot of time teaching their children.  How to tie shoes, how to write their names, how to read, how to behave with others, what respect means and why it's important.  I absolutely believe that my car was my classroom with my chublets for many, many years. I liked being the one to pick my kids up from events, because that was when the floodgates were open, when they spilled all the thoughts and feelings and ideas of their day. It was when I had their undivided attention, when they could ask the questions burning in them that their school teachers didn't explain. Or even explain things they'd heard on the playground.

I didn't say all this to the eye-doctor.  However I did tell him that Beve and I had always wanted our kids to be engaged in the world around them, agents of change and good, agents of the Kingdom among their peers.  This can't happen where kids--where whole families--are never around people different than themselves.  I remember thinking that I didn't want my kids to be like other Christians, I wanted them to be like Christ. 

I still want that.  For them and for me.  The world is full of Christians who are small-minded, so afraid of what the world might do to them or theirs that they close themselves off from anyone unlike themselves.  They forget that 'greater is He who is in [us] than He who is in the world.'   Judgment and rules govern their lives. And it seems to me that this is the worst face we can turn to the other inhabitants of this planet.  It certainly isn't very much like the Man from Galilee who ate with sinners, healed on the Sabbath, wrecked havoc on the Temple.  This Son of Man was moved by the plight of those around Him.  I don't know what He'd say about the disenfranchised of our day--homosexuals, for example--but I do know He'd say it with love.  Always, first with love.  He kept His anger for the religious, and His annoyance for His own disciples.  Those who were not, He treated with compassion and love.

I want my children to be Gospel-loving, Jesus-emulating Christians.  I hope that this is what Beve and I taught them in all those car rides, around our dinner table, as we prayed beside their beds at night.  I want my children to be schooled in the best that He has to offer this world--faithful, hopeful, but above all, loving.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Job

I spent yesterday sitting in chairs while people with a whole lot of education poked around at my face.  By that I mean, I had a dentist appointment followed by an eye doctor appointment.  And here's a mystery: why do dentists and hygienists put their hands/instruments into one's mouth, then ask a question that needs more than a yes or no answer?  It happens every time.  I like our dentist, he's a good friend, and I like the hygienist who's been cleaning our teeth for the last decade, but even for me, a gifted talker, it's asking too much to carry on a conversation with my mouth so full.  "Rinse, please, and how is your mom doing?" 

But we did manage to converse a little.  As always, when talking about a parent with Alzheimers, she made appropriate clucking noises of sympathy.  So I told her of the difficulty I'd had in loving my mother in her pre-dementia days, and the change in my heart toward her since she's become increasingly incapacitated.  "So something good has come from it," she said.  "Well, not for my mom," I answered.  And that's true.  With my myopic, earthbound vision, I can't see any good about Alzheimers for the sufferer.  But Mom won't die unloved.  And maybe that's all that matters.  Of course, she doesn't know she's loved now.  Doesn't know much of anything anymore.  So how do I reconcile the horror of her suffering with a loving God?  Indeed, how do I reconcile any suffering on a large scale with the God who is actually love incarnate?

It's a mystery I don't hope to solve with only my own mind.  All the suffering in the world is unsolvable for the human brain.  When Job, who had a phd in suffering, tried to explain it to his friends who offered explanations somewhat like Pat Robertson offered about Haiti--"It must be a direct consequence of sun," he came up short in a real explanation, but did avow that he had not sinned, but also trusted God.  He trusted God was His redeemer, and knew that he had a right to ask God, because he'd always obeyed Him.

And finally God did answer.  Chapter 38 through 41 is God's answer to Job's suffering.  Er, not His answer, because He never actually tells Job why he's lost so much, but His explanation.  And in the cliff notes version, it goes something like this:  "Who do you think you are to understand God?"  These chapters are a sweeping catalog of Creation. "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?  Tell me, if you understand who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!" (38:4-5)  The comprehensive list here is overwhelming.  Just as it was intended.  Basically, God's saying, "If you didn't create the universe and everything in it, you just aren't big enough--aren't God enough--to get it.  Aren't big enough to get God, one might say.  The end.

About halfway through this catalog, Job pipes up, his voice squeaky with shame: "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you.  I put my hand over my mouth.  I spoke once, bu I have no answer--twice but I will say no more."  Job gets all that is possible to get--that God is God and he is not.  That blessing and suffering and everything between is up to the Creator, not to the created. 

What is our part is to bow to His power and Sovereignty.  Even when the earth shakes, the tides rise, the wind swirls and the mountains rumble.  Even when illness, pain, loss of mind and limb and life come, when poverty overtakes us.  Even when our lives are mixtures of some or all of them.  Even when--when everything.  God and bad alike.  If you weren't there at the creation of the world, you have to trust that the One who was (and the Incarnate One who was with Him, was Him). 

Read these passages in Job.  They'll cut you right down to size, give you proper perspective...At the end of God's speech, Job says, "I repent in dust and ashes."  Exactly where any understanding of God, life, our place in His Kingdom have to start.  If you want to know why God allows the world--or even just you--to suffer, there's no better place, than to start with repentance.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The overcoat

While sitting in line at my local coffee stand of choice (and by that I mean, the drive-up window of Starbucks, because, after all, didn't Starbucks start in Seattle?  And doesn't that make it local to me?  And why in the world am I trying to justify this paranthetical thought, anyway?), my baby brother called.  I'd just sent him a text about finally having mailed his t-shirt quilt to him, so how was he to know I was involved in something important--like trying to order a vanilla latte? What came out of my mouth, for no apparent reason, was, "Cinnamon dolce latte, please!" just because I was reading it on the board while trying to talk to BB on the phone.  Just goes to show you I should never try to do two things at once.  Fortunately, I don't completely hate cinnamon dolce lattes.  Don't love them either, but what was I to do?  I didn't take a swallow of it until I'd driven over to a Drug Store parking lot and turned off the car.  Oh well.

I did have a good conversation with BB, though.  Something he said made me think of a conversation I'd had with a friend in WSU's Holland Library back when I was a sophomore in college.  Yes, for some unknown reason, I really am able to reproduce whole conversations from my past, complete with the exact location where the conversation took place, what the other person was doing, and in some instances what we each were wearing.  For instance, I can tell you exactly where we were the day my former campaigner leader told me she was pregnant with her second child (on the mall, just down from the CUB--student union building at WSU). And I can tell you about a chance meeting with the boy who would be the Beve outside of the Bookie on that same campus one Christmas break more than 4 years before we walked down the aisle together, having pledged our lives to each other 'for as long as we both shall live'.  Why I remember such things I don't know, but they're filed carefully away.

So this friend and I (a boy who was named Mark, but went by the name of Wetzel, for some unknown reason) were talking about the verses in scripture that say, "Put on Christ" or "Put on these things [attribute of Christ]". We talked about how putting on Christ was something like putting on an overcoat--a special, super-powered overcoat (of many colors?!) which we put on no matter what the weather or how we're feeling.  We put it/ Him on, and somehow, by the power of that coat, we are changed beneath it, until those characteristics (identified in Colossians 3, starting in verse 12) actually become a part of us.  We put on Christ (Romans 13:14), and who He is becomes how we act toward others.

Yes, in the beginning of this kind of dressing, we might feel inauthentic, like such actions, responses, feelings--clothing--are not really ours.  But acting more Christ-like, dressing more Christ-like, creates authenticity within us.  We are changed by it. Changed from the inside out as we put Him on.  This is because the action we take participates with the action of the Holy Spirit on the inside, until it's all of a piece.

This was the sum of my conversation on the second floor of Holland Library back in the spring of 1977, and also the sum of my conversation with BB this afternoon in the Rite Aid parking lot, my cinnamon dolce latte growing cool beside me.  As true today as it was 33 years ago.  Something I need to be reminded of.  My actions, my responses to others really indicate whether I am wearing Christ.  No matter what I feel, no matter what I think I deserve, I can choose to wear Him, to act and speak and live as His.  And the so doing will bring about the change I pray for. 

I was sharing this with BB, but I have to admit, it was as important for me to hear as for him.  Maybe more so.  "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity." Colossians 3: 12, 14.  Hmmm, sounds like love is the thread, doesn't it?  Without it, there is no garment.  Love.  No matter what, put on love, which is the same (1 John 4: 8 says) as "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 13:14