Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An health update

Went to the after-hours clinic this evening, because I've been just short of coughing up a lung all week.  And I thought that was hyperbole until I got there and the doctor listened to my chest.  A nebulizing treatment, and five medications later, I escaped with my life, but just barely.  Apparently one is supposed to be able to take deep breaths without feeling like there's a corset cinching one's ribcage.  Who knew?  We take this breathing stuff so much for granted, don't we?  It's only when we can't do it easily that we realize what a pleasure it actually is.  The daily, ordinary pleasure of breathing in and out.  Ah, sweetness.

I have friends--and a mother--who have struggled repeatedly over the years with bronchial problems.  Not me. So I didn't recognize it when it hit me.  It's just a cough, I thought.  People get coughs.  Don't they?  But not coughs that make your chest close up tighter than Fort Knox, complete with security guards.  As long as I don't cough I do okay.  Or talk.  Or breathe deeply. So other than that, I'm good to go.

Except that I'm not going anywhere.  Not tomorrow or the next day.  Not if I don't want to find myself landed in the hospital--which I don't, thank you very much.  I haven't been sleeping here, but I know this--it's better sleep than I'd get in the hospital! 

Yep, at least bronchitis, and maybe walking pneumonia (whatever the difference is).  In any case, I'm walking around with it, alright, but I probably won't be posting for the next few days. It wears me out.

P.S.  Just glanced down and realized why the doctor had serious concerns about me--I'm wearing two different color of Crocs.  Yep, she really must be sick. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

A sister's point of view

My youngest sister, who is Mom's main care-giver, wrote this on Mom's birthday. I meant to include it with our round-robin emails, because she didn't have time to write much that morning when the rest of us wrote our...anyway, here it is now.

Today is my mother’s 80th birthday; she sits in a wheel care in a nursing home, her cognitive powers pretty well gone. She has Alzheimer’s. She made it to 80, but if she knew she would hate this existence. She lives each day in her chair, can’t do anything for herself, even eating has become something others help her with. She can’t communicate, enjoy, even hugging doesn’t come naturally anymore.
She was always proud of her intelligence and that she was a professional. She asked us to use our brains and do our best. She was always teaching, that was her profession; but even after she retired she continued teaching; at church, her grandchildren, even her own children. Even when the dementia first started, she read and learned and worked to stave it off.
She was not the perfect mother, but she was our mother. We have not been perfect children, but we are her children. And now her shell of a body lives on, our mother is gone. There are pieces of her in all of us, even in our children. All our children have a love of learning, just like both our parents, most of them love to read, that they got from Mom. She started reading to them as infants, just as she fed my babies ice cream first. She loved her children and grandchildren.
Even our parenting has pieces of our upbringing, some of it as different from them as could be, but some of it very much the same. The value of family, the importance of relationships, the chance to gather for celebrations, the actual “making” of celebrations; all things we got from our parents. The importance of education/learning, the idea of finding what were good at, the need to help other and make things better for those who follow; all things our parents taught us. I should also add respect for other and moral uprightness, we all have and learned very young.
And I care for her, not in my home, but I do. It was the way we were raised to honor our mother, care for her. Dad asked us on his death bed to be there and help her. The pain of this day has been intense, as my sister said, “in another situation we would be having a party for her this weekend, people would be coming, we would be planning”. Instead, I took her a colorful balloon, sat with her, sang her the birthday song, prayed for her, tried to tell her we are all thankful for the life her and Dad gave us, that we love her, that we are sorry for this. She dosed, smiled a little and held her stuffed animal. Happy Birthday Mom.

Friends

I took a mini-vacation for posting the last few days because SK came home for a quick visit, surprising Beve and me Thursday afternoon.  I won't say I sat around staring at her every minute because not only would that be just plain creepy, but I didn't.  But I also didn't feel much like posting.  We're all back in the normal swing of things this morning, however.  Beve and E at work, dogs down for their morning naps.  I'm firmly ensconced  in my favorite chair, nursing tea and a cough that I picked up somewhere last week, and I'm ready to return to the blogging world.

The end of May is cluttered with birthdays of people important to me.  There are several parts of the year with such a clutch of birthdays, actually.  July...like the entire month.  March...again, most of the month.  And this end of May.  Today is BB's 39th birthday.  Wow, he's such a baby still (though I'm pretty sure he feels like an old man)!  And yesterday was the birthday of one of my closest friends in college.  SKC (yes, she was the original SK) and I lived in the same hall together my first year down in Oregon, then shared an apartment with one other friend the next year.  We shared a love of literature and poetry, of beauty that made us want to dance, especially her, who was a dancer, but also me who could just barely remember the five feet positions from ballet.  And beauty that made us weep.  The pain of it, the joy of it, we felt it all. We wrote in similar blue-covered journals of that beauty, but also of the pain.  SKC's pages were full of jagged images that made me envious of their brillance, written as poetry as she worked out her past and how it sliced against her present. My own pages were prosaic in comparison, though also laced with pain.  I knew then--I know better now--that I was not a poet, no matter how much it appealed to the dark hurt in me.

Mostly, SKC and I were friends for a season.  It was a long season, with several cycles, but once we settled into full adulthood, with children and husbands and jobs and houses, her Montana mountain valley life has been far from my Northwest Washington one. But it doesn't take much for us to know each other.  I know that.  I saw her again just a couple of years ago, and there we were, the same us, still looking for beauty and feeling pain, and chewing up we experience until we are ready to let it go.

Thinking about her makes me think of all those I still call friend whom I haven't seen, or had a conversation with, in years.  I think of this one man who was one of my first guy friends.  How much I learned from him, learned about how to simply around guys.  The way they are different than girls, the way they tease, the way they don't talk.  I learned that from EE.  EE, who I haven't seen in--wow, maybe almost 30 years, though I've seen his wife, also a good friend.  I know--I KNOW--that EE and I could find the conversation we were having the last time we saw each other and pick it up as though we'd just put it down to take a drink of lemonade.  I know I'd get him, that he'd get me.

I hope there are plenty of people like this in my life.  I think there are.  The old crush, the other college roommates, those who have impacted me, the ones who are written in the Book of Life because they moved me closer to the Kingdom, these are folks I'd consider friends if I never saw them again.  And some of them I won't.

But there are others.  Others whose lives intersected with mine who I feel less certain of.  The childhood friend who first ran away from home our freshman year in high school, who ran away for good our senior year, and between got involved in things of which I don't even want to know.  When we were in eighth grade, and still friends, Janet wanted me to go with her to one of her new friend's house.  Let's say his name was Ray (because it was!).  Ray lived in a trailer with his brother, on a hill above the bowling alley.  There were more than a couple kids in that trailer that afternoon, none of whom I felt comfortable with.   They made me squirm without really knowing why.  Ray sat down on a broken down plaid couch and pulled an oxegen tank from the corner, a tank like you'd use if you were skin-diving.  He unscrewed the top and pulled out a bag of dried weeds.  That's exactly what it looked like to me.  And that's all it took.  I was out the door and running before even verifying that those weeds were what I thought they were.  I ran and ran and ran.  As if someone would catch me and know where I'd been, would know I'd been in the same room, yes, merely in the same room, with that stuff.

All the way home, I ran.  At least that's how I remember it. The old lady self in me thinks it probably wasn't so.  That trailer was just about as far from our house as one could have run and still be in town back then.  But my fear tells me I ran.  And I ran out of my friendship with Janet that day.  For good.

Sometimes I've felt badly about this.  Sometimes I've felt badly that I didn't try harder once I became a Christian, to pray for Janet, and others like her, who had been my friends. Now don't get me wrong. I don't for one minute feel anything but glad that that thirteen-year-old me had such a healthy dose of fear that she ran for her life that day.  "Bad company corrupts good character," Paul says, and I've seen it.  In the life of my childhood friend, Janet, for one.  And that alone tells me that though it was right to leave, it was also important that I pray, if I'd been a pray-er then, which I wasn't.  But when I started praying, she should have been among those I did pray for...and I can't for that very life of me, remember that I did.

And what about those in college who hurt me profoundly?  I just let them go. Even if I didn't hold the pain against them, I didn't hold them up to God.  Like Adele, who wasn't out to hurt me, but hurt me she did, though I just as surely hurt her in return.  Over the boy we both wanted, both thought we loved.  And what about that boy, Andy himself, who ripped out my heart and gave it back to me dead.  Once I got past trying to pray him into my life, did I ever simply pray for his?  I don't think so.

 Along the years there have been people who I've struggled with.  And sometimes it's been just easier to let them go than to continue to be friends. Today I'm wondering what my responsibility is to those people.  And, how much smaller my life is, perhaps, because I haven't allowed myself to be stretched by those different than myself.  Difficult to love, or with opposing views. When I really stop to think about it, I know that even the Pharisees held on to those who agreed with them, who liked them, approved of them.  What if I'm only friends with people who can do something for me?  Only friends with those who think like me, believe like me, are like me?  How am I any different than the Pharisees?

I am grateful for those who live all over the world who I still consider friends, though we don't speak or write (even the ones I'm now Facebook friends with, of all crazy things).  But the more important truth is that we're touched by all we rub shoulders with, and, as His holy, chosen ones, we have a responsibility to live, act, pray, accordingly. 

Even when it's hard.  Especially when it's hard.  I've said it before, but it's true, I believe.  We are judged in part by how we love those hardest for us to love.  I take a big gulp when I realize that.  I know how I'm doing...how are you?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Special Day

This special day, as my middle sister, LD, put it, is our mother's 80th birthday, and in honor of it, I thought I'd share the round robin of emails my siblings and I have exchanged today:


So here we are, at Mom's 80th birthday, and we might be having a big party in Pullman (RE would be going crazy), and invite her old friends (OK, she has none, but at least people from Simpson), but our mom is a shell. No phone calls, no cards, no flowers, no presents. No toasts, no reminiscences, no thank-yous for whatever she's given us. Just nothing. That's a very weird thing. (I have to admit, I thought about sending something, just to show her family does think of her, but I know it would only be to make a show to the staff, which seems kind of an empty gesture. If they think I don't care, let them.)

Happy Birthday, Mom! Your body made it to 80! I hope it doesn't make it much longer...
LD


Weird is the word. I too have had Mom and all of you in my thoughts this week more than normal. But what to do to commemorate this day we frankly had hoped wouldn't come (at least for the past 6 mo). In that trite thought - we all have some of Mom in us, so she lives on. But she didn't have life for 80 years, so there's not much to celebrate. So maybe the best thing is to remember her from years ago, and be thankful for what she gave us. And be thankful for the children she raised. I know I am blessed to have each of you in my life. Many people I know don't have the good relationship with their siblings that we do. I am always thankful for the family I was put into and for the parents that raised us. Not perfectly, but the results are excellent.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Your body made it to 80! I wish your mind had...
Love,
R


I think you're right, R, we are really lucky to have each other and to still be significant in each other's lives. That's such a boon! And you're right, lots of adults I know don't have that. That's definitely worth being thankful for. Whatever Mom's contribution was to what we are today, I am grateful for it. I've always felt I had a charmed childhood compared to so many people I know, so I have to think Mom and Dad had something to do with it!!
Love to all of you,
LD


Yes, I agree. To all of the above. I've been thinking about it--her birthday-- pondering how one celebrates such a day with someone who isn't even there, though she still breathes and has a beating heart. And I am willing, able to see that the best of Mom is what we carry with us, what we've carried from the life she (and Dad) gave us, the genes she (and Dad) gave us, the growing up she (and Dad) gave us. I'm also realistic enough to admit that there are some parts of her I carry that I'd just as soon not: all those deep sighs, I do that. Why the heck do I do that? And the drama, I definitely have that, though I think it's in a diluted form.
But it's been really getting to me lately, the tragedy of this life still being lived that, for all intents and purposes, is past tense, that there are no questions yet to ask her about that life, no stories still to uncover, nothing, nothing, nothing. So, R, you're absolutely right. What we have of her is exactly what we have of Dad--each other. And, like you, I'm glad it's enough. No, I'm glad it's an abundance. So, perhaps on this day, we should thank that her (and Dad in exactly the same way) that they chose to have all of us. I love you all on this day.
C
PS. you know, of course, I'm going to have to 'borrow' these.


I am going up to be with her in a bit, just sit with her a while, whether she knows or cares, she deserves our presence, if just to acknowledge what we have and where we came from. I’ll take some knitting and sit, try to tell her about all your thoughts and thankfulness. That we’re sorry for this and Happy Birthday.

I too, am thankful for all … Love and hugs, RE


Hey sibs,

I'm with LD, I'd have sent something, but I didn't. But I didn't get as far down the line of reasoning that she did, I don't think it would have had any impact on her if I would have. And that's terrible. One of the things I learned from her (and Dad) is that the gesture of giving is more about the giving end than the receiving end. That the reacting to the need to respond and responding is more important than the response it causes.

T's birthday is today. He is 16 and 6 months away from driving. I've not been pre-occupied, but have just thought that my efforts would be wasted on Mom's empty shell. Thank God He sent His son for our empty shells.

I miss you all, on days like today more than others. My closest people are the farthest away, and I feel like I lose track of the man they raised.

Thinking of you all, with all my love,
D

Convolution

Was awakened by a phone call at the crack of dawn this morning.  I won't really tell you what time it was, you'd be jealous.  But in my world, it was the crack of dawn, the very moment when the first sliver of sun (well, sliver of cloud) was inching its way over the horizon...or between my two eye-lids.  My voice was still gravelly, or phlemy, if you want to get technical (I get that, thank you very much--which I don't--from my dad!).  It was Grampie.  Grampie calls me every day.  Well, several times every day, actually.  But this last week, while Thyrza's daughter has been here, I've been on vacation (or respite care, I think they call it) so I haven't heard from him.  S and J left yesterday.  Hence the phone call.

It was a rather convoluted call, for all its brevity. By its conclusion, I had the impression his need would be accomplished by taking the shuttle from his retirement complex.  However, not ten minutes later, Thyrza called me and said, "Grampie says you're going to be out and about today."  Not that I knew of, actually.  "So when you take him to Michaels," she went on to say. "Could we also go to Macys?" 

Wow, I hadn't even thought I was getting out of my pajamas today, and now I'm certain to be off for a five-hour errand run.   It's not a big deal to me to take them to Michaels and Macys.  Glad to do it, as I told her.  But in a nutshell, that's how things work, when one deals with dementia. A three-minute phone call, a space of ten minutes and the information gets completely distorted.
 
Then it hit me that we do this all the time with people, we're just a whole lot more sophisticated about it.  We listen to what they say, then we somehow turn it around in our brains so it makes sense in our consciousness, and not only sense, but advantage.  Spin, public relations folks call it.  Wagging the dog, is a more caustic was to say it. 

Still, I have to wonder: How many times do we take what God says warp it to work for us? We pray for something--something we really, really want.  Then we watch for signs.  Don't we?  Does this mean He's saying X? We ask ourselves.  Is that the answer we're seeking?  We watch and hope and look and twist.  And I wonder if perhaps we're always twisting and turning things to our advantage. Maybe, just maybe, it shouldn't be that hard.  Maybe--because He loves us, and is our Father, who surely wouldn't give His sons and daughters a snake when they ask for a fish--He will answer us directly.  Without guile.  In the clear way of God.  It's the enemy who likes to make things hidden and twisted.  Isn't it?  Convoluted and confusing.  God is orderly. 

Just sayin'...
Now I have to get going.  I have some errands to run.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Words far better than my own

From Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours:

I read it here in your very word,
in the story of the gestures
with which your hands cupped themselves
around our becoming--limiting, warm.

You said live out loud, and die you said lightly,
and over and over again you said be.

But before the first death came murder.
A fracture broke across the rings you'd ripened.
A screaming shattered the voices

that had just come together to speak you,
to make of you a bridge
over the chasm of everything.

And what they have stammered every since
are fragments of your ancient name.
I,9

And another:

Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you.
And without feet I can make my way to you,
without a mouth I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.
II,7

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A resume

A couple of weeks ago I had an informal interview for a writing consulting job.  Afterwards, she emailed me and asked two things: to come back and talk with her supervisor; and to provide a resume, which practically sent me to the hospital in a fit of nerves.  A resume.  You know, one of those things where you list all the jobs you've had which qualify you for the job you're trying to get.  And, of course, all the education to back up those jobs.  I emailed back and said I'd be happy to meet with her supervisor, and would have my resume with me at this meeting.  Then I went back to my ordinary, frantically complicated life and tried not to think about how I'd manage to produce such a resume out of the scraps and threads of jobs I've actually done, especially in the last decade.

I am not, by nature, a procrastinator. In college, when I was going to two schools for the price of four (the quip I always use), I didn't have time to procrastinate.  I often took so many classes that I had to make a very precise study schedule just to make sure everything got done every week ( 24 credits a quarter--or 12 per institution in order to get fulltime tuition rates).  A couple of quarters, I actually had two classes at the same time at the different colleges, and had to juggle which to go to on a given day.  Fortunately, I had friends in each class, so could borrow notes, and also VERY fortunate, didn't have tests the same day in those classes (can't imagine how I'd have managed that!). But I learned to do assignments as soon as I got them because something else was sure to come along. And it's served me well, but also gets me a little cranky when I watch my kids, or Beve, put off tasks they could do so much more efficiently earlier! 

But this dang resume was sure to have holes in it.  Large chunks of "what have you been doing with yourself all these years?" holes, and I didn't want to face that.  So I put it off.  And put it off.  And put it off.  Until yesterday, when this meeting was staring me in the face--scheduled for early this morning--and I knew there was nothing to do but dive in.  So I started plugging things in.  Bits and pieces, odds writing jobs I've done, other consulting jobs I've taken over the years (often for little or no pay, but who's to know?).  I created a resume, strange as that sounds, even to me.

And I took that resume to my meeting this morning.  And you know what?  Those women said, "You've been working with students and their writing for the last twenty-five years."  Hmmm, I guess I have.  What do you know?  I have.  There's a career there, cobbled with bits of this consulting and that teaching, this one-on-one time with college-entrance essays, and those culminating project papers.   On paper, I actually look like I am what they're hiring me to be: a writing consultant.  It doesn't feel like it from the inside, but there it is. Everything I've done adds up to more than it feels like I am.

But here's the other truth.  I know who I am.  I know that though that resume is completely factual, absolutely true, it's also not really who I am.  I am not really a writing consultant.  I can do that, am capable of handling the tasks of such a job.  But who I am and what I can do are two different things.  I think we get really caught up in labels.  We like to be able to identify ourselves as something.  "I'm an engineer," we say. "I'm a nurse."  I'm a teacher, a lawyer, a farmer, an admissions advisor, a mechanic. I'm a pastor. But I wonder how many of these occupations actually are what we are, rather than what we do. I think perhaps being a farmer is what a person is--all the way from birth until death. Being a musician is like this as well.  But I'm pretty sure this isn't true about most things. 

So this whole business has made me start to think about what kind of things I'd put on a resume if I was looking at my life through Kingdom-eyes. 
Education?  Walking with Jesus for 39 years. 
Work Experience?  Loving Christ--yes, Lord. Desiring to follow Him.  Prayer warrior--in my best seasons.  Heart for the lost--mostly, when I'm right with Christ. Ready with the gospel of truth in season and out?  Well, in season, anyway.  Walking in a manner worthy of the gospel? Lord, You be the judge.  I pray so, though, I pray so.
References? Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord and Savior.

Hmmm.  I have a long ways to go.  A very long ways to go.
But Lord, here I am, use me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Information Exchange

I had a conversation this evening with someone who is just about my age--in her fifties--and in the beginning of a relationship.  This is a strange, unexpected place to be.  She feels a little like an eighteen-year-old, excited, glowy, downright twitter-patered, while at the same time a wise old mother whispers from within her own brain, telling her to act cautiously.  I heard both sides of her as we spoke tonight.  I heard the flush of what can only be called 'young' love, no matter how old she is, and the older mother behind that flush, saying, 'slow down, be careful.'

She told me that the sheer volume of information she and her new 'beau' have to exchange is overwhelming.  When you do it in your twenties, it happens naturally, or without thinking about it, and, let's be honest, there's a whole lot less history to have to share.  But most of life has happened for these two love-birds since then.  Marriages, children, parents' deaths, professions.  Not to mention just all the trivial things that make up a person. Once a few years ago, a friend of mine told me that it was the shared memories that kept her marriage intact.  No one else had them.  No one else knew all the little things, even if some friends might have known the big ones.  And this friend tonight confirmed this.  Trying to reproduce all those little things for a new relationship, it's exhausting.  She told me that if this doesn't work, she can't imagine doing it again.  Not now that she knows what it takes.  "You and Beve never even had to do most of what twenty-year olds do, so you don't have a clue what I'm talking about."  But I can imagine.  And it causes chills to run down my back at the thought.

It made me wonder, though, about all those things I just take for granted that I know about the Beve.  About his family, his friends, his likes and dislikes.  His way of being. He takes me for granted as well. Tonight, for example, we went to Olive Garden, with Grampie, Thyrza, Thyrza's daughter and husband, Grampie's brother and wife.  Quite a crowd of extended family.  And I knew that Beve would get the seafood Alfredo, if he didn't ask the waiter what he'd recommend. I knew he'd bat clean-up if I didn't finish my food, and be glad to finish anyone else's as well.  Beve can really eat when he wants to, though you'd never know it to look at him. And part of having Beve's 'stuff' in my head, means I have Grampie's 'stuff' on file in my head now, too.  I knew that Grampie wanted the chicken and gnocche soup to go with Chicken Alfredo.  I told him what to order when the confusion was screaming across his face.  He ate that soup like he'd never tasted it before, by the way, and loved it. 

Anyway, my point is, I'd never really thought about the information exchange my friend was talking about tonight, because most of my relationships have grown up organically.  Out of some soil or other.  A shared job, shared mission.  And the sharing of lives comes slowly up through the soil without thought or plan.  Without rush.  After the conversation I had with this friend I got to thinking about God hating divorce.  I've thought about this so many times, and have generally seen His hatred of divorce as a hatred of anything that hurts His children.  And divorce hurts.  It always, always hurts. But I was thinking tonight that He also knows that our lives grow naturally in a rhythm that matches the earth.  We grow up, leave one family, begin another, and work to grow that family up.  Divorce slices through that natural rhythm, and creates in re-singled people this need to exchange all this information at an accelerated rate.  Or at least in a less than organic rate.  And He watches us and sees that it's harder.  Not that He doesn't love us where we are now, no matter where that is, or forgive us for whatever we have done today (married or not) that needs forgiving, but He knows that our life might have been easier.

Hmmm.  Makes me wonder, though.  What would be easier in my life now if I hadn't done it yesterday?  Because I'm no different than the next person. There are things I've done that have hurt me.  And those things hurt Him.  They hurt Him more than they hurt me.  They already did.  I've heard that saying before, haven't you?  "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you."  And you never quite believe it.  But here, here is where it's true.  Whatever we do that hurts us, whatever has been done to us that hurts us, we can be sure it hurts Him more.  In fact, it HURT Him more.  Present tense and past tense all at once.  That's the truth.  Our hurts hurt Him to death.

On a knife's edge

It's late.  I should go to bed.  Even the dogs are sleeping now. But who am I kidding?  Dogs sleep most of their lives.  Eat, play ball, sleep, repeat.  If only our lives were that simple.

Not that we want them to be that way.  Not really.  But when I think about what our dogs most want in this life, it isn't so far from what we most want.  They want to matter to someone.  They want to know that their human loves them.  The other day, when our Big Lug was feeling too crowded just a minute too long from this interloper in his life--didn't she know better than to walk into his personal space while he was just lying there on the rug, sleeping?--Jackson reared up and bared his teeth.  No, it was actually more than that, he came at our foster dog, Lacy, with his ears flapping, hackles raised, ready to take hold of her with those large, white incisors.  And Lacy, who had been casually minding her own business, really, decided she'd had about enough of him, so she didn't back down.  Before we knew it, Beve was tossing Lacy down the hall, and kicking at Jackson to get him to get back.  Yep, my gentle Beve actually kicked our lovely dog. 

But here's the interesting part.  Afterwards, he tried to get Jackson to go down the hall away from him, down to me, and Jackson was like glue to him. Beve kept saying, "Jackson, go! Go!" But Jackson literally turned himself in the same kind of tight circle he used to when he was a puppy and would sometimes, unexpectedly discover his tail and start chasing it to follow Beve.  He just couldn't be shaken from the man he most loves in this world, even if that man had just done something he'd never done before--inflicted pain on him.  I watched this and said, "Beve, he needs to know you love him." So Beve just let the Big Lug follow him into the kitchen, and a few minutes later, when they came back down to where the rest of us were watching TV, Beve sat down on the floor to rub Jackson's belly.  You could just about hear the 110 pounds of off-white fur purring. 

They need to know they're loved, even when they're hurting.  Especially when they're hurting.  Even when we're the ones who cause the hurt.  Just the way our kids had to climb into our laps after they'd been disciplined, just to be reassured that love was still the bottom line of how we felt about them.  They needed to be sure they were still the apple of our eyes, and, even when I might not have gotten over my mad (I probably should have been the one in the time-out chair!), I remember feeling worried that I'd damage their psyches if I equated their behavior with their person.  The difference is always deep and wide, but when you're mad, it's easy to put up a dam between the two.  Beve and I made the conscious choice to never tell our children that they were bad.  Decisions are wrong, choices are bad, but our children weren't.  Of course they are sinners, just as I am.  Just as you are.  But for me--for us--to say, "You're a bad boy!" when he wrote a "Duck, Duck, Goose" circle on the new carpet with a permanent marker, wasn't what I wanted to convey.  "That was wrong!" was the message we meant our children to learn.

That was wrong, but you--you!-- are made in the very image of God.  That was our earliest message.  Later we spoke of all not simply doing, but being wrong. Deep down.  It's like a knife edge to balance on as parents, communicating unconditional love with the gospel truth of sin.  But that knife edge is exactly where Jesus stood during His earthly ministry, and it's where He expects us to stand as His ambassadors. 
My dogs teach me this.  My children teach me this.  My God teaches me this.  Maybe, in the end, this is the one message I'm always learning.  That I am unconditionally loved, even though I am a sinner. And even though I am made in His image, I sin.  And there--right there on that knife's edge between those two ways of saying these Kingdom truths--is the Cross, the Resurrection, the purpose of Eternity.  For this He came--that I am made in His image, because He unconditionally loved me, us, that much--to save me from the sin I commit, the sin I have been.  Simple, yes. But not easy.  There is death in it.  But life as well. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

A new view

Oh what a beautiful morning.  I've been enjoying it from my backyard, and from my sewing machine.  But E just walked in and made a great morning even better.  A great morning a wonderful one.

As I've sewn, I've been listening to the sounds of some kind of machinery, but being far from a mechanical type, I didn't identify the machine.  Didn't think to try, even care to. I just sewed along, blythely unaware of the wonder going on in front of our home.

We have, you see, a fairly good view.  Some might say a great view.  We can see Bellingham Bay from our living room, watch fireworks on the 4th of July without leaving the comfort of our patio.  And to the north, we can see the Canadian mountains in all their jagged splendor, though that has nothing to do with this story.  Unfortunately, cutting off our view of the bay has been a large Douglas Fir across the street.  For years we've talked about going over their and asking those folks if they'd mind cutting it down.  We'd pay for it, even.  But we never do anything about it.  It's their tree, after all.  And a living tree.  Hard to cut down just to make our view broader.

But--you've guessed, haven't you?--those sounds I've been hearing all morning came from a chain saw, and even now, with the tree top still in the air, our view has doubled in size.  But don't take my word for it.  Here, see for yourself:

The tree-cutter's legs are visible in this photo.  Hmm, is this why they call it 'tree-hugger'?  Sorry the photo quality isn't better.  I was in a rush.  Excited to share this with you.  And of course I immediately called Beve, told him I think those neighbors--whose roof we now see clearly--need a pan of cinnamon rolls to thank them.  Now, if we can just get them to take down the one beside it...without lifting a finger toward it ourselves, of course.  Smile.

And, an hour an a half later, the gross, ugly, apparently-rat-infested tree beside it is also down. While I was out on our patio, watering my pots, admiring our view, the tree cutters asked if they should drop the invoice off at our house, and would we like them to cut down the telephone pole down the hill.  "For a pan of cinnamon rolls?" I asked.  Sure, they said.  They like cinnamon rolls just fine, thank you very much.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My hand itches

Migraines.  The mother of all headaches.  I've had them many times.  Many many times. In fact, I have one now.  When I try to write about a migraine in my journal, my handwriting veers all over the line, practically drips with pain.  Here, with the magic of a computer screen and perfect font, a migraine seems far more benign.  Like something a single aspirin might take care of.  Or just a cool compress against the temple.  That's the problem with the printed page.  One must squint to find the emotion--the passion--behind the words.  A writer must work harder to convey what their pen alone could do in earlier generations.

Having life so much easier isn't always better.  Sometimes I crave to hold a pen in my fingers and feel the paper beneath my hand when I have to write.  And yes, I mean need.  My fingers and hand have so many times written things I didn't even know I was thinking.  I watch in amazement as it appears on the paper.  This is less true on a computer screen.  Less true where a more recent skill is employed, and so often the delete key must also be used.  I'm not a slow typist, but it's not the same.  And I miss, I really miss the writing that can pour out through the end of a pen.

And I like the feel of a book in my hands, the way it feels to turn pages, actual pages, the way books look sitting on shelves, even the way new books smell.  Well, and the way old books smell too, unless they were owned by smokers, then I hate them.  I realize all these new gadgets like Kindle and Ipad and whatever else is on the horizon are very enticing to a whole lot of folks who love books, but more importantly, to people who might never have picked up actual paper books before.  I admire these instruments as the tools they can be to a plethora of readers.  But not to me.  No, not to me.

And yes, I realize that makes me out-dated in this world, old-fashioned, whatever you kids are calling it these days, but that's the truth.  As much as I use this computer for all kinds of things, as much as I like writing this blog, it will never--ever--take the place of writing with pen and paper. 

That's what I'm thinking about as I'm sitting here with this massive headache.  Yet here I am, writing this post, rather than writing in my journal. Even though my hand fairly itches to hold a pen. And what that tells me is that I'm committed to my readers, whoever you are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The numbers

45: the number of years Beve and I have known each other
22: the number of years our families lived across Janet street from each other
340: Beve's house number on Janet Street
365: Our house number on Janet Street
71: the year Beve became a Christian
71: the year I became a Christian
75: the year we graduated from high school
7: the number of years between high school and when we got to know each other again
2: the number of times we saw each other in those years (and we both remember them!)
82: the year I traveled to Finland and saw a grown up Beve and thought, "Oh wow. Oh, maybe!"
12: the months I waited/hoped for God to hit him over the head about me (thank you, God!)
0: the dates we went on before we got engaged
0: the times we kissed before we got engaged
26: the years we've been married
3: the amazing kids we have
A google: the laughs, conversations, cries, loves we've shared. 
1: The God we serve.

Why I love Starbucks

I'm sitting here drinking an Iced Grande Non-fat No Whip White Mocha, which I'd stuck in my refrigerator yesterday afternoon when I got home from my Starbucks Happy Hour run.  Yes, Starbucks is having Happy Hour--all Frappacinos are half off until May 16th.  And get this: you can totally create your own frappacino.  This is a big deal to me.  I remember walking into a Starbucks several years ago and wanting a Frappe, but without the caffeine, the hour being too late for my delicate system to handle it.  Caffeine past about 2 pm means that sleep which is always hard to come by will come even later (or is it earlier, if we're talking about toward dawn?).  But when I tried to order a decaf frappe, the barista said they didn't make such a thing.  WHAT?  There's actually something Starbucks doesn't make?

Well, not anymore.  Right now it's a "Create your own Frappe" world, with the price cut in half to prove it.  And, apparently, the whole world is buying.  At least that's the way it seemed to me yesterday when I edged my little blue Matrix into the back of the longest Starbucks line I'd ever seen.  A line that reminded me of the gas lines at Costco, of the Star Wars movies lines from 1976.  Incredibly long lines, snaking around a parking lot.  Instantly I hear some of you out there asking, "Why didn't you park the car and go in to order?", which is a very good question.  And I would have, except for one very good reason.

I was in my pajamas.  That's right.  Three-thirty in the afternoon and I was wearing pajama bottoms.  OK, so you've just stumbled onto my deep, dark secret.  When I'm home, I wear pjs. They feel better on my skin. See, my skin is sensitive.  It's part of the nerve damage I deal with all the time.  Clothes hurt, especially jeans.  Well, most pants.  They feel like needles against my left leg, which is quite unbearable.  So I wear pjs, and am not ashamed of it.  However, I don't want to be one of those women who wear them out of the house and wind up on "What Not To Wear", so I change into regular pants when I have to go anywhere. 

But I was only going through the drive-through.  What difference did my jammies make alone in my own car? Huh? Just tell me.  So I sat in line.  It was a beautiful day, after all.  The sky was blue, the sun was warm.  I was listening to a very interesting interview on NPR, and the time went by.  I moved up the line.  Put in my order.  Finally got to the window, and the young man said, "How long did you have to wait?"
"Oh," I said. "I really didn't notice."
"Really?" he asked. "Six people ahead of you pulled out because it took too long. But our computers crashed." 
"Wow," I said. Inside the lobby was a crush of people. "That must be a drag during Happy Hour."  He smiled, "Yeah, it was."
"Well, I hope it gets better from here."
He turned for a moment.  "This drink was made for one of them.  Would you like it?"
"Sure," I said.  Then you know what?  He didn't even let me pay for my own frappe.  Two drinks for free, and all it cost me was being kind instead of grouchy on a sunny afternoon of waiting in line.  How hard was that?
And that, my friends, is why I love Starbucks.  Even if they aren't local.
And why I'm drinking this Iced Grande Nonfat No Whip White Mocha today.

Later, I really must write a different post. Because today, readers, is our 26th wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sometimes

You know how you go about your business, work, worship, say your prayers, minister to those God calls you to minister to, help old ladies across the street (or everywhere!), aren't mean to dogs, and all of life seem smooth sailing?  You know those days?  Everything seems to work just the way it's meant to, just the way you're meant to, you spend time in the Word, speak the Word, allow the Word to speak through you.  Yep, smooth sailing.

But sometimes, you hit bumps.  Choppy waters, to continue that metaphor.  Times when you work and worship, say your prayers, minister to those God calls you to minister to, help the old ladies, aren't mean to dogs, but NOTHING seems to work the way it's supposed to.  Your worship lacks something, when you try to pray, your mind wanders in fifty different directions in the first twenty seconds.  You can't even figure out how God might want you to minister to, and you're just as likely to almost hit an old lady crossing the street as help her (and she'll probably cuss you out for your trouble!), and you'll accidentally kick your dog without even trying.  Yep, sometimes life is like that.  All choppy water.

That's what it's felt like around here lately. And my response to such choppy water?  Elemental prayers like this: "Please God, please God, please God, please God."  That's about all I can sustain lately.  And you know what?  That's all He needs.  I don't have to pull out a doctrinal thesis to explain what's been going on in my life or in my heart.  He knows intimately.  Better than I do, actually.  In fact, it's come to my attention that perhaps I am prone to spending too much time explaining things to Him usually.  I mean, HE'S GOD.

As He's made breathtakingly obvious to me in the last several days.

But there's a back story (as usual with me!). For several years I was very close friends with a group of women who called themselves 'the tablelegs'.  This name is taken from the idea that one person is on a table, while four hold her up, carry her to Christ, ala Mark chapter 2, where the men lowered the lame man through the roof to be healed by Jesus.  We came together by way of praying for our kids, who were of an age, and we stayed together, praying for everything else. But a couple of years ago, one of us got a job that took her out of our weekly orbit, a few of us made the painful decision to leave a church, one of us moved away.  We've drifted apart.  I'm not the only one in a season of dealing with parents on a very regular basis, leaving less time for friends.  I've missed these women.

And, it turns out, God knew it.  My "Please God" was enough.  Last week, the friend who moved away called to say she'd been having a cup of tea, was thinking of me, wondering if things were okay with me.  I spilled more than she might have expected.  And on Sunday, another 'Table-leg', wishing me a 'Happy Mother's Day,' told me that God had nudged her--about three weeks ago, to start praying for the exact situation in my life that has been the area of greatest need--without my having told her a thing!  And yesterday, the artistic leg among us sent me a picture she'd begun several weeks ago that God has told her was meant for my family.  This picture is a dead-on vision that God is here and He is not silent.  He has not forgotten me.  Any of us.  The Tablelegs have reared their precious arms to lift me up once again, and it's so sweet I can hardly speak for knowing it.  And the one who lifts me with my friends, is the one with holes in His hands.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe God loves me so much that He reminds me again and again and again. Even in the hardest moments, even in the worst of times.

Here's my friend's picture...
Rosie Harris, www.gallerywalkoffaith.com

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Those I've mothered

Mother's Day.  It started for me last night when SK texted such a sweet text it made me cry (thank you, Bug!).  This morning, while I was still wet from my shower, Ladybyrd, our Chinese 'daughter' called.  I know she called the other three women who have also helped 'raise' her, whom we call family because of LB's presence in our lives.  Then E and Beve greeted me in the living room with more wishes and a cup of hot chocolate.  J said, "Happy Mother's Day!" while we were driving across town to brunch with Grampie and Thyrza.

This afternoon the four of us (Beve, E, J and I) did our traditional Mother's Day planting of our patio pots. Armed with our Martha Washington geraniums, which always make me think of Beve's mom, petunias, and some trailing annuals of some kind or other, we gather the pots in myriad colors we've collected over the years, and go at it.  Any which way.  Well, within reason.  I want the two identical ones on the steps by the front door to be similar, but other than that...ok, so I might be a little controlling about it.  It's my gift, after all.  And even J, who would rather bite off his tongue than do yard work most of the time steps right up without batting an eye or a single complaint.  Hmmm, wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that he's now 23 years old.

Then E and Beve made dinner.  Pollo con crema.  Yum.  Heart-cloggingly good.  While they were fixing it, I was soaking in the tub with some bath salts E had given me.  Ah the sweet luxuries of life.

And just a few minutes ago, I got a phone call from V.  V, our African daughter-for-a-summer. She sounded good.  V has moved away from Bellingham now.  Back to Seattle, by way of Zaire.  She spent about five months with her dad in Africa while her mom was moving last year.  Word on the street was that she loved being in Africa, which might have disappointed her mother.  Her mom was hoping she'd realize how good she has it here.  But V sounded pretty positive tonight, like her head's on straighter than it used to be, like she has more direction and purpose.  I could be wrong, V's been known to tell people what they want to hear.  But I hope not.  I hope she really is as good as she sounds.  She said she thinks of us a lot, that she has a picture on her mirror of her taken in our living room and thinks of 'the family' all the time.

I got off the phone, and E said, "You heard from all your kids today, Mom."  Though I didn't hear from BB.  BB?  Hello?  Are you out there?  He feels like my son too.  Then there are those three kids from that one family.  Two of them lived with us.  They're kind of like our kids, too.  There was some raising of them, some standing with them when they needed it, some teaching them, some listening to them.  And all those youth group kids.  The ones we took out for cokes, stayed up nights playing silly games or listening to them.  Hard things they told us at times.  Things I sometimes wanted to close my ears from.  Things that made me want to take them home and fix their lives, when all I could really do was just be--simply be--with them. Somethings can't be fixed, and I learned that in loving a lot of kids who don't have my last name, and have never lived in my home.  But I've loved them like a mother just the same.

So today, when a couple of them called, and the three who do share that last name know it (I assume), I'll take this moment to say the names of just a few of those kids from over 30 years of knowing and loving them (most of whom are now adults!): Carrie, Heather, David, Aimee, Shane, Drew, Megan, Sharon, Josh, Laurie, Mark, Colleen, Jennifer, Mandy. Anastasia.  And so many, many more whose names God knows.  Tonight I pray for them.  I pray that those most damaged among them have found healing, and those with the ability to heal use their gifts to touch others. And I thank God for the privilege of nurturing them, loving them, yes, mothering them even a little bit along their road, along mine.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Just in time for Mother's Day

Because it's taken me two days trying to get these uploaded, I'm going to post these photos of my latest quilts tonight...who knows, with the week I've had, the pictures might disappear by tomorrow.  Have I ever mentioned that I'm somewhat slow technologically?

 This is the quilt I made for Thyrza for Mother's Day.  It's made from all the flowered fabric I've kept from the dresses sewn for my daughters when they were little girls, mostly by me, but a couple by Beve's mother.  Thyrza bought some of that fabric for me/them back in their little-girl days, so it's like the circle of life to give it back to her in a quilt.  She loves flowers, and what better way to give her flowers for Mother's Day than these that will never die.  Happy Mother's Day, Thyrza.

This is the first quilt I started when I decided I wanted to learn to quilt a year ago.  It was way over my head.  Ridiculous that I should start with such a quilt, but in for a penny...I put it aside until a few weeks ago and finally finished it now that I'm more proficient.  Here it's all laid out, half pinned, ready to have the batting cut off, so I can do the hard, actual work of quilting.  I don't know what I'm going to do with it.  When I decided to make it, I thought it would be big enough for our bed, but math isn't really my forte.  Or even close to my forte.  It is sadly undersized.  A large lap quilt. Maybe I'll send it to Pullman to my mother...though she won't notice. Sigh.

This is the quilt I made for our Bed.  It's enormous.  120 inches long by 108 wide.  It's in my queue to quilt--er, to lay out, pin, then quilt.   I love, love, love these colors. It's my fourth attempt in making a quilt large enough for us, but I finally got it right.  One of these days, maybe I'll get a quilting calculator, then I won't have to rely on my own brain, and waste all these perfectly wonderful quilts.  Well, I suppose they aren't really wasted, but they sure don't work for the Giant in my bed.

In this year of quilting, I've made 18 quilts.  Not bad for a novice.  And I'm telling you, it's been a good way to work out my salvation in this last year.  Better than therapy, which I would have spent a fortune on, and there's actually a beautiful quilt at the end.  I know--I KNOW--I would not be healthy right now if I wasn't praying at my cutting table and sewing machine.

Sweeping me away

Beve called me yesterday afternoon.  "Hey," I said.  I was outside throwing tennis balls for the dogs, to keep them from barking.  In the five days Lacy's been living with us, she's picked up some alarming habits.  I'm not sure her owners will be very pleased to discover nine years of training has been undone in a single week, but what are you going to do?  She now barks when Beve comes through the door at night, barks at people walking their dogs up the block, and joins the other two in barking for now reason whatsoever.  Along with the barking, she's no long simply slinking up onto the couches but simply climbing up along with the other two.  Yep, we have her very well trained.  But at least the tension is gone.  As long as she doesn't infringe too closely on Jackson's personal space, everyone stays pretty happy.

But there does seem to be a whole lot more poop in the yard, and a lot more tennis-ball throwing.  I don't do a thing about the first (thank God for Beve--though our neighbor did have to move a bag this morning when the wind changed direction; sorry about that!), but I'm chief ball thrower.  So I was out throwing balls for them when he called right in the middle of his day.  "What do you need?" I asked.

"I just called to tell you that I love you," he said.  I was silent for a moment.
"No, really," I finally answered. "What do you need?"
He chuckled.  "I'm not surprised that you'd disbelieve me, but I realize I haven't been very present to you lately and I want to change that."  I was, frankly, dumbfounded.  Beve and I have a good relationship.  We communicate well, agree more often than we disagree and enjoy life in largely the same ways.  He makes me laugh every day, even on the days when I've been close to tears or ready to explode or want to bury my head in a book or my pillow or all of the above.  He's easily my best friend, the person I need to tell all my stuff to, and I know I'm that for him.  And we've been friends a long, long time...since we were nine and ten years old, actually.  About 18 years longer than we've been married, actually.  So, in some ways, our default setting is friendship. And friendship as a default setting for a marriage isn't a bad thing.  In fact, I think it's the best, healthiest foundation there is for a lasting relationship.  Twitter-pation, as we call it around here, comes and goes, but friendship lasts.

However, I sometimes miss romance.  I'm a woman.  OK, I'm a grown-up girl.  And I still get a little gooey-eyed at romantic gestures and sweet words.  I like them when I see them in movies, when I see them at weddings, and when I see them between long-married couples. But Beve, my practical, size-fourteen-feet-to-earth Beve, isn't very romantic.  Not by a long shot.  Not by a half-court-at-the-end-of-the-game-to-win-it-long shot.  He's just not.  Years ago, when I'd ask, "Why do you love me? (I was sooo young and foolish in those days!)", he'd say, "Because you're fun."  Really? Fun? Or we'd be driving along and I'd ask, "What are you thinking about?" hoping that maybe he'd say something profound about us (You should hear me chortle as I write this!), and he'd say, "I was thinking about buying a new mailbox." 

So forgive me--Beve!--if I don't quite believe it when he calls me up right in the middle of an ordinary Friday to say he thinks he hasn't been present enough in our marriage.  I mean, I believe it.  I don't think he's lying.  I'm just surprised.  Then he told me last night that one of his buddies at school asked him what the one thing he'd change about his life, and Beve said, "I'd be better in my marriage."  So his friend said, "What are you going to do about it?" So Beve called me up.  Just like that.

Our 26th anniversary is this coming Wednesday, so he's thinking about it (he never forgets our anniversary, which is, after all, a pretty romantic thing of itself!).  But what I know is that just his call, just his telling me that, and his telling me what his conversation with his friend was--that was about the most romantic thing he's done for me in a long time. That, and the conversation we had last night as a result.  Just the kind of romantic gesture I need--not flowers that will die in a week, not chocolate that I don't actually even like (sorry world, I'm one of those strange, few women who don't like chocolate!), not words that he hasn't the faculty with.  Just his earnest, true self sharing his heart and dreams with me--that sweeps me away. It always has!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Parenting

One May night twenty-three years ago, I stood in a hospital room next to a crib covered by a plastic oxygen tent.  My six-week-old son labored to breathe beneath it.  The doctor who had taken him--a red-faced, screaming for breath but with barely a sound coming from his lips baby--and listening to his heart, had told me, "If he lives through this night, he'll have a fighting chance."  Those were the starkest words I ever heard as a mother.  No cush around them, no comforting hand on my shoulder when the blow came, just the blow, the single word that started the sentence: 'if' and the not-so-much-better word that ended it: 'chance.'  Between those words was the hardest night I'd lived in my life to date.  To watch him breath, to think that with every labored breath there might not be another, it was an endless, terrible night.  Beve had to leave me there alone with the baby because our not-yet-two-year-old was at a sitter's.  When it came to dividing the parenting duties that night, there was little choice.  I couldn't leave my baby.  My very sick baby, who, if he made it through the night, would need me, would literally need me for his sustenance. Friends came and went that night. People prayed around that crib. Respiratory therapists thumped his chest every fifteen minutes, harder and stronger than I'd have guessed a baby should be whacked. Nurses stuck needles into his soft virgin feet,, illiciting wails that made us all flinch. It was a crowd of life around a sick baby, and kept the monsters at bay for me. But finally, the room began to quiet. Eventually even Beve left, and I stood alone with a tiny baby, struggling to live.

Every time he gasped, I wanted to breathe for him.  Every time he labored, I wanted my healthy set of lungs to spill over and do the job they'd done for more time than not since his conception--keep him alive.  And when I couldn't stand it any longer, I climbed inside that small damp tent and curled my body around my tiny son and touched him.  Fell asleep that way.  The therapists came and went through the night and left me there.  The nurses didn't make me get out of that tent.  They all recognized what a mother had to do when her baby was trying to live.

I thought that would be the hardest thing I'd ever live through as a parent.  And, in a way, it was.  I've known many others whose sojourns in Children's Hospitals didn't end with a healthy baby, but an empty nursery.  I cannot imagine what that feels like.  I cannot imagine how a person survives the loss of one's child.  No matter how young that child is.  Or how old.  Sometimes when I think about the human body, and all the parts and intricate systems, all the bells and whistles we were created with, I'm surprised that more doesn't go wrong more often.  I mean, most of the time, babies are born healthy.  Most of the time, things work the way they should.  We grow up and live lives that have meaning.  More times than not.  And when I think about the complexity of mind, body, spirit that God gave us, I'm in awe.  It points to God Himself, even when we don't recognize Him.  I mean, no computer can match us who were made in His Image.  Yes, awe is the only proper response.

However, the truth is, the physical pain of my son in that hospital bed was not the hardest thing I ever went through as a parent.  The pain my children face that cannot be treated with a bandaid or trip to the pediatrician--those hurt this mother's heart in ways so deep it's like that heart has been clawed by a lion.  When I--or Beve and I--cannot do anything about their hurt, when we are helpless against their very real, spiritual, emotional, mental pain, it kills me.  Slays me even as I'm still up and walking around.  I think of how my parents must have felt when my engagement was broken.  How that must have wounded them: the weight I lost so quickly it was like I was teflon (what I would give for a little of that now, I have to admit!), the endless, sleepless nights.  Did they feel sleepless too?  Did they feel helpless and angry and want to lash out at him for hurting their child?

Parenting.  I suppose if we really knew what it would ask of us, all whole lot fewer of us would bring ourselves to do it.  It takes so much.  Asks so much of us.  And even when we think we're through, when we think our babies are grown and gone and on their own and...it keeps asking it of us.  Our love for them keeps asking it, I mean.  Our endless, undying love for them.  Our (also) made-in-His-Image love for our children.  We take after our Father that way, whether we know it or not.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Enemy-territory

It's been a bad day.  A seriously bad day.  A bad day in a bad week.  I won't go into details, since most of the story is not mine to tell, but let me just say this.  I believe in the presence of Satan in this world.  I believe he roams about looking for ways to undermine our faith, our hope, our very lives.  Our eternal lives, as well.  And I am certain he is hard at work in more ways than most of us give him credit for.

However, I also would rather spend my time facing the light that brings hope, gives life, and is the very Light of Lights--God Himself, particularly God who became Incarnate--than in turning around and facing the utter black hole of evil that is the enemy.  That is, rather than looking for him, seeking him, prying up every rock, every dark spot in my life to discover the work of the enemy, I'd rather speak the Name of Jesus while gazing at Him, and let Him do the work of prying up those rocks and dark holes for me.  It just makes more sense to me, given that He is God, all-powerful, all-knowing, and already defeated this enemy once and for all anyway, and only needs to be present in order to remind the little weasel of that defeat--that resurrection defeat, Hallelujah!  Left to my own devices, I am fair game to the snarky little rat, and the best thing I can do is admit it.  Admit that I am unequal to his sneaky ploys, Eve in the Garden (so to speak).  But also admit that--Hallelujah, again!--I am not left to my own devices.  "I will never leave you or forsake you," I'm told.  HA!  Take that, you slimy deceiver.  "You are not your own," I've been told.  I've been bought with the blood of the crucified Incarnate.  God Himself bought me.  So HA, again, wormwood, you can't have me. 

I need to remind myself of this today, because sometimes, even when I don't go looking for enemy rocks to turn over, they come rushing to meet me.  This has been such a time.  And so I stand on the word of the living God that says, "Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world."  For myself, my family, I stand on these words. 

We can, you know.  We can trust the words of Jesus.  And sometimes, when the dark holes crowd so tightly, and it's all we can do to simply speak His name, we can be comforted by the fact that His name is enough.  Jesus.  His name is enough.  Say it with me: Jesus.  Jesus.  Yes, His name is enough.

PS. One small moment from the last 24 hours:  as I listened to a doctor ask questions last night, I realized that had one of those questions been directed at me, I'd have been diagnosed with a mental illness.  The question? 
"Do you believe you can talk to God and that He talks to you?"

I do believe this.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

So you want to hear about my morning?

It wasn't a great morning.  Let me say that upfront.  Use that as my excuse, perhaps.  The morning followed an extremely long night, a night of one restless, wary, 'where the heck am I?' dog, and excessive barking from one wary, 'who the heck is that?' dog, and three very, very disgruntled adults who really just wanted their sleep, and 'who ever wanted dogs in the first place, anyway, for pete's sake?'

And this morning was meant to be all about the elders.  Doctors appointments, Office Depot, the bank.  You know, the typical elder activities.  And I was running late.  When I got in the Highlander, the big glowing 'gas on empty' light was on, which can set my heart a-racing at the best of times.  I hate, hate, hate that little light.  In my ideal world, I'd fill my car far sooner than I need to just to keep from seeing that light, just to keep from the possibility of running out of gas.  But I've been out of town for the last week, and my family doesn't deal with gas gauges as I do.  They like to play it fast and loose with that glowing light signaling empty.

Yes, I got across town, picked up the elders, and got Thyrza to her doctor's appointment. I told Grampie the next stop was gas and he said, "Great, you can drop me at Home Depot (which is what he calls Office Depot) on the way)."  All fine and dandy, I got to the Costco pumps, finished filling my tank, hopped back in my car to go to Starbucks (for caffeine-please, a little caffeine!), and tried to start the car, it only clicked. Click, click, click. Nothing.  Click. Nothing.  With a long line of cars behind me.  A really long line.  You know those Costco gas lines.  There might have been some cussing for all I know. But I was too busy praying to notice.

The scruffy-faced young gas attendant helpfully looked under my hood, though what he expected to see, I haven't the faintest idea.  He didn't touch a thing.  He did, however, get behind the wheel and try starting the engine himself, and I was just sure it'd turn right over for him.  You know, the way these car-things always do.  You take your car in, say it always makes a certain noise or it never starts on the first try, only about the fiftieth, then the mechanic gets in and starts it right up, and you're standing there with egg on your face.  I've wiped that yolk off more than once, taken a car home, only to have to take it back the next day because I was right, there really was a certain noise, it really wasn't starting immediately, it really was billowing black smoke.  But today the Costco gas attendant couldn't get my new-to-us car started.  It click-click-clicked-nothing for him too, so he pushed me across a busy lane of traffic to the tire shop, where an even nicer young man, also scruffy-faced (I think there's a new kind of razor invented that takes off a top layer but leaves about two days growth of whiskers at all times.), pulled out a battery and some cables and jumped me...er, my car.  The Highlander started right up.  Then stopped while I was still thanking him, so he replaced the cables and jumped it again.  And again it started right up, but that time he'd barely gotten the cables off the car before it sputtered and died.  Tried it the third time and by then it was obvious that I needed a new battery.  I mean, even to me.  I'm no car mechanic, but I can figure a few things out, if you lead me to them.  Like he did, by saying, "You need a new battery!"  Then he told me that if I bought one in the warehouse, he'd put it in for me.

So, leaving my car right where it was, semi-parked outside the garage doors of the tire-store, with its hood still up (asking for trouble, maybe), and armed with the right information (ie, which battery I should by, which he looked up for me), I went into Costco and bought a battery.  And you know what?  Those things are dang heavy.  I had no idea, never having had occasion to lug one across Costco before.  All the while Grampie was waiting for me at Office Depot, and I still hadn't had my morning tea, though by now I was ready for a double shot of espresso.

At the back of the incredibly long line at Costco's check-out, the man in front of me volunteered to put my battery in the seat part of his overloaded cart.  "I can't believe you carried that," he told me. "I can't either," I said. "I wasn't thinking."  Then when we finally got to check-out, he put my battery in front of his groceries.  The checker and box-person (a woman who played basketball with E in Community College) asked me about my day, and I had a small rant about how badly it had been going so far.  "At least you were right here," the checker said. "Yeah, I guess," I answered.  "And don't forget," she said, "If you bring the old battery back, you get nine dollars back."  Right, I thought.  Like I have time to do that...

I raced over to Office Depot with my battery, found Grampie, drug him (at turtle-pace) back to the car with me, telling him my sorry story as we walked, found the mechanic who exchanged old battery for new, then asked me for my receipt and said, "I'll go get you your 9$."

When I got into the car and it started, I took a deep breath.  Drove over to Starbucks, got a latte, picked up Thyrza, got Grampie to the lab for his blood work, and had them home in time for lunch.

But you know what?  It wasn't until I was on the way home that it really hit me what kind of morning I'd actually had.  Yes, a dead battery.  But that dead battery allowed me to see grace extended in ways I normally don't. The gas attendant who pushed my car, the mechanic who went out of his way to care for my car, even though it wasn't in his job description, the man in the Costco line who gave my battery a ledge to sit on, my arms a rest, and me a cut in line.  I'm telling you, the whole world extended grace to me this morning and I was so stinkin' busy being frustrated by what was happening to me I didn't notice.

Oh, and at Startbucks, when the baristas heard my little battery story, (which they did because the woman behind me in line had almost hit me with her car when she pulled up beside mine...and she was apologizing to them and to me, and I said that was nothing to what had already happened this morning), they gave me my latte for free.

Yep, it was a great morning.  Only I wasn't quite awake, alert, aware enough to see it.  I do now, though.  And know who to thank.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dog fights

Take one household, three humans, two dogs and add a single extra canine to the mix, and what do you get? A war zone. A canine war zone, I should clarify.  With lots of running and dodging, yelping, growling and hairs raised on the back of necks.  Oh, and sniffing. An unbelievable amount of sniffing--of food dishes, kennels, leashes, not to mention unmentionables.  Lots of sniffing of unmentionables.

Last night some friends for whom E regularly used to house/dog-sit when they lived here in our 'ham, called her.  They were driving back this direction from Arizona where they've wintered, on their way to Alaska where they intend to summer, with a week or two sojourn here to reconnect with many friends.  They'd just discovered that the guest unit at the condo-complex where they intended to stay didn't allow dogs.  They were a day away, dog in tow, and no place to house poor Lacy.  Hence the call to us.

We said yes, of course.  Lacy isn't the first dog we've cared for, of course.  Why our 'Big Lug', Jackson himself was once simply a puppy we were simply caring for.  Hmm, these folks better watch out, this Lacy is a pretty sweet dog.  (Just kidding.  Seriously, just kidding!).  But we've swapped dog-sitting with many friends who shared breeds with us, and just taken them even when there was no sharing involved.  We like dogs.  I like dogs.  I'm downright dog-crazy, frankly.

But we have an old dog here.  An old dog who likes his routine, likes to be in charge, knows he's the Alpha.  The smaller black and white mate knows it as well.  Our smaller (50 lbs is small to us!) Jamaica is scared silly of every dog, no matter what size--except Jackson.  Him, she'll beat up, pounce on, bat at like she's a cat because she knows him and he's patient with her.  But I'm not even sure she understands that other dogs are the same species as she and Jackson are.  Our Maica, she has a very small brain.

Hence, the dog fight.  Even when the interloper is as sweet and good natured as Lacy.  As willing to give way to Jackson, as willing to overlook Maica's fears.  She didn't ask to be left here.  She didn't try to infringe on their turf.  But Jackson doesn't care about her motives.  He could care less that she's feeling unsettled by being left with a bunch of strangers.  All he knows is that she's sitting next to Beve where he usually sits.  That's enough to make the Big Lug growl.  And Maica doesn't understand that Lacy isn't going to bite her ear, that Lacy is actually less a menace tonight than Jackson.  Maica doesn't like strange dogs. The end.

I wonder how often we get into situations and react like these dogs.  Growl or bark in panic without stopping to find out if there's really anything to worry about.  We assume we know how something will go because there's a stranger among us and that changes the dynamic, when, perhaps, that stranger might bring something good out in us that we didn't know was there.  Perhaps, perhaps we're entertaining angels unaware more often than we think, but we're so busy reacting based on former experiences--or our own small-mindedness--that we completely utterly miss them.

I'm not saying we're no better than these dogs, but if the hair rises on the back of the neck, and the bark fits...well, maybe there's a reason human battles are sometimes called dog fights.

At the moment there's an end to the hostility.  A ceasefire, so to speak.  Different than peace, but at least quiet for us humans.  And for that, we humans are thankful.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Comparisons

Yep, I really am home.  And by that I mean barking dogs and rain and barking dogs and rain.  Not just rain, but pouring rain.  And a husband who is jittery because he'd like to be out mowing but can't due to...rain. The cats and dogs (whatever the heck that means) pouring rain.  He's even more stir-crazy than the dogs, and that's saying a lot.  He made a Swedish kringle for our late breakfast and chicken curry an early dinner.  I don't know what kind of food he'll be cooking the rest of the day, but I'm betting it won't be two more hours before he's thinking of something.  Making a chocolate/peanut butter milkshake if nothing else.  I asked him a little while ago if he was going to try to eat his weight today, and he said he was going to 'give it the old college try.'  For those of you playing at home, that's 240 lbs of food, but I wouldn't bet against Beve.  Not on a cold, wet, windy day when he can't think of anything to do but what he can't do--mow all those lawns that are in serious need of mowing!

I always miss Beve  a lot when we're apart.  I miss his razor wit and the way we don't have to explain things to each other.  I miss the rhythms of our marriage that have peaks and valleys, his various quirks and the way they have meshed with my myriad foibles.  Like how if I leave my watch and glasses on the sink in the bathroom at night, they'll be on the back of the toilet in the morning.  Like how if I start a load of wash, he'll move it to the dryer.  And if he cuts the onions for the curry, he can count on me to mince the garlic.   I know his moods (which change about as often as the rain today, which means NOT VERY MUCH).  I know who to expect when his car pulls in the driveway.  I know the dogs will bark in expectation, somewhat like our children when they were small.  No barking, but every bit as much excitement.  Daddy's home, the best part of the day is here!  For all of us.

I just spent a week at my sister's.  I've spent a lot of time in her home, especially in the last few years since Mom moved into assisted living.  And my sister's house is comfortable and easy for me.  And I recognize the rhythms in that house as well.  After dinner every night, my sister makes her husband's lunch for the next day while he does the dishes. Both in the kitchen, it's their time to talk through the day, catch up about their grown kids.  Do business.  My presence there eschews things, I'm aware, but I have a view of who they are together in their empty nest.  And I think they're finding peace, goodness in the quiet of this time in their lives.  But I also recognize that their rhythms are different than ours because they are different than we are.  They have different callings, and different temperaments.  I can visit their home, and feel gladly welcomed and even at home.  But it is not my home, and I could not live there anymore than they could live in my world--particularly without each other.  I miss my Beve too much. Miss my own marriage when confronted with any other.

Beve and I don't always have a perfect marriage.  Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes the big man I live with is just too big, too much in my way.  I remember the first summer we were married and living out of suitcases at a basketball camp.  One morning I got out of the shower and was trying to find a pair of tennis shoes in our closet.  His size 14s had been kicked off willy-nilly and were obscuring any view of my 'tiny' shoes (I wear a 9, not exactly small!).  I took a step back and had to gather myself.  All our shoes co-mingled.  His giant shoes strewn all over my life.  This is what marriage meant.  It just about did me in that morning.  His stuff is just so large, so impossibly large in my life.  His clothes, his body, his body temperature, his opinions (!), his everything--large and overwhelming. But I'm pretty sure that if Beve ever thought about such things (which he doesn't!), he'd think the same thing about me (though my stuff is much smaller than his).  Every time we don't agree with each other, the other's opinions can come across as large and overwhelming, I think.  Or overbearing.  Over-something, anyway.  And yet, Beve would also agree, if he ever thought about such things (which he certainly doesn't), that there is no other marriage he'd be in. For clarification, Beve just doesn't go comparing his life to others.  It isn't in him to do so.  He leaves that kind of thing to me...even though I know--I know!--that 'comparisons are odious'.

That's my point, now that I think of it: Comparisons are odious, as Cervantes said.  Or was it Marlowe? John Donne?  Someone, anyway.  In anycase, it's true. Comparisons are odious.  This is my home, my marriage, my life.  It doesn't matter how anyone else lives, how any other marriage works--God calls me to live here.  Be content here.   This is what He asks of each of us.  To live each day worthy of Him.  Walk in a manner worthy--walk in my marriage, walk in my parenting, walk in my life, worthy of Him.  Others live differently.

It reminds me a little of Peter and Jesus and John on the beach after the resurrection.  Peter has just been re-instated into His service by Jesus' three queries of "Do you love me?"..."Then feed my sheep." Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."  Not surprisingly, this somewhat mysterious statement worried Peter, and he looked around, wanting to know someone else's fate.  'Hey,' he asked,pointing at John.  'What about him?'  And Jesus might well have said, 'Comparisons are odious.'  He didn't, but close.  "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." 

We do that.  We look around for someone to ask about when things are hard in our lives.  In our marriages.  In our homes.  "What about them?" And He always says comparisons are odious.  We are asked to follow Him as He calls us, not as He calls our sisters, our neighbors, our friends.  "You must follow me."... Even when it's hard. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Home

Home.
After a week away, I'm always so glad to get back to my bed, my dogs, my Beve.  But I feel sad tonight as well.  For myriad reasons.  I had a wonderful few days with SK in her busy college world.  Making an enormous pot of pasta for her housemates and her which disappeared much more quickly than I'd imagined.  Talking seriously with one of her roommates about boys, decisions, 'ground zero' in dating--which for her, a committed disciple of Christ, should be whether the young man is also following Him.  Watching SK's choir practice (which I also did last fall, and wrote about then, and you can read about here). 

I fed, cared for, and had lots of time with SK.  All very good for a mother's need to nurture.  And last night watched her in her directorial debut, when she directed The Vagina Monologues.  Something well worth seeing. Usually shown on college campuses on Valentine's Day, Whitworth has shown this gripping drama only twice, later in the spring because of their calendar.  It is provocative, challenging, very humorous, sometimes painful and well worth seeing, for both sexes, and in the end, empowering.  When SK stood up and asked all the women who performed and watched who'd been abused physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually to stand, it was breath-stealing.  Even more breath-catching was the number of those who had known someone touched by abuse--almost everyone in the theater.  One couldn't leave unchanged by the experience.  She did fine work, helping put it together, directing these women.

Hard to leave her this afternoon.  I miss her.  Miss her more thinking she won't be home this summer.  Knowing her life is in Spokane now.  It made me sad all across the state. My baby has grown up.  Exactly as she should have. Exactly as we raised her--all three of them--to grow.  Grow up and leave us.

And speaking of leavings, I think I might have seen my mother for the last time. The swelling in her face, hands and feet imply that either her heart or kidneys or both are shutting down, so the end is near...whatever 'near' means.  And as we drove across the state today, I was surprised to discover that I felt sad about this possibility.  My mother has absolutely no quality of life.  Knows nothing. Recognizes no one, can do nothing for herself.  And yet I feel sad about the idea of her dying.  Were she to regain all cognition, all mental acuity, all personality in particular, I imagine the tremendous stress I would feel in having to re-engage with that woman.  But the idea of this blob of a human organism ceasing to breath somehow feels like a loss.  And when I identify what that loss entails, it is the loss of my childhood.

I realize how ridiculous that sounds.  I am 52 years old.  Not only not a child myself, but am old enough that all of my offspring are also adults.  Yet one's parents are a hedge against old age.  With the death of one's last parent that last wall disappears. We become the oldest generation in our family.  And there is something jarring about that. At least for me.  I cannot help grieving it a little.  I have already lost my mother, of course.  The moment she fell down the stairs and broke her ankle, I lost her.  Any relationship I ever had or hoped to have with her died then.  Now, when I have a question about her life, or her parents' lives, I have to rely on my own memories or those of my siblings to help me solve such riddles.

I think about these things.  As I sewed for my niece's wedding, I thought about such things.  As I tried to take what burdens I could from my sister, I'd think of such things.  It's how I am.  Thinking about my mother's swelling face, wondering how I'll feel when she dies, wondering when it will be, hoping for it, dreading it all at once.  I admit it's a mixed bag.  And strange that it should be so.  It surprises me that it is.  I hate seeing her this way.  But when it's over, I'll mourn.  And maybe that's the biggest surprise of all.