Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A letter

Yesterday I heard an interview on NPR of a young twenty-something blogger who invited older women blogger friends to write letters to their own twenty-something selves. Of course this sparked my imagination, because I have more than a few things I'd like to say to that younger me.  Man, oh man, how I'd like to say them.  So I'm taking this opportunity.

Dear C, or C-squared (as you sign every letter),
     You're 23 years old, and have just driven back to the town where you went to college to be in a wedding--the seventh time you'll be a bridesmaid.  Tonight you and some of your college friends went out for a pina colada.  You were laughing and enjoying life.  It was a great night.  But as you walked out of that bar, someone called your name.  And here's what I want to say--KEEP WALKING!  Don't turn back.  Once he walked out of your life, don't ever, ever, ever let him walk back in.  Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever.  Stop listening to the large part of your heart that still clings to him, and listen instead to the whisper that has been trying to tell you (maybe for three years) that he isn't enough, isn't right, that he actually embarrasses you.  I mean, he embarrasses you when he stands up too preach, he embarrassed you when he told your dad he wanted to marry you.  Seriously, he embarrasses you.  Let that tell you something.  You're better than that.  You deserve more.  And no, you won't be alone, if you don't have him.  He isn't your last, your only, or even your best chance at love.  Not by a long shot.
     And, if you're willing to admit it, you actually know this.  Anyone who thinks he has the right to tell you to lose weight--and is willing to pay you to do so--before he'll marry you is DEAD WRONG, abusing you, and hurting you in ways that will last far longer than he will in your life.  Run for your life, C-squared.  Right now, before it starts back up again, before you fall off the wagon (because if it looks like addiction and acts like addiction, it's a darn good bet it's addiction--er, that he's an addiction!), and he starts controlling your life again.
      But here's the good news, C-squared.  Not two years from now, in a land across the world, you'll renew a friendship with the boy across the street, and that is the relationship of your life.  It's coming.  You won't end up alone.  That's who God is.  He knew all along that this man was out there.  You aren't going to miss it.  Listen to me again--you aren't going to miss what God has for you, no matter how much you mess it up now!  That's not how God works.  If He has a plan for your life (and, I might add for someone else's whose name might be Beve, and for three yet unborn children!), and you earnestly, earnestly seek Him (and I know you do, even when you think you're seeking Him for a specific someone!), your future is secure.
     So, hang in there.  I know you have a few more mistakes ahead of you, including the whopper you're about to make by answering that voice when he calls your name in the bar.  But in three years you'll be a wife to the real man of your dreams, and in four years, you'll be a mother.  You can't see it now, but everything you're afraid you won't have, is right around the corner.  Really, in the long expanse of a life, it's so close you could almost touch it if you just lean in.
     Instead of worrying about this ridiculous boy who you'll be laughing about a decade from now, why don't you enjoy these last few years of freedom?  Lean into that.  Take some risks, let your imagination run wild with what you and God might do together.  Soon enough it'll be all diapers and babies, and there'll be no time for even a thought of your own then.  So don't waste these years. Enjoy them.  Love being who you are in them...then enjoy being who you are in the next years.
      SO KEEP WALKING!
      I'm here waiting for you,
     C

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Learning to live...

It's been quiet around here this week.  And by here I mean my mind.  The deaths of two children of people I know and have had significant relationships with has quieted me.  And that's an odd thing.  People die every day.  People of every age from infant to ancient and most of the time it doesn't touch us personally.  We watch the news and are overwhelmed by tragedy, but we can turn that off--turn off the TV, the radio, the computer.  Those deaths don't touch, don't have the power to penetrate very deeply.

But now and then someone dies that does change things.  A little girl gets into the car with her mother to drive home from Daycare and never reaches her front door.  A boy helps pack his family's van to drive over the border and through the mountains to grandparents' house, and a freak wind on the freeway causes a series of events that ends his life.  And suddenly for those families, it doesn't matter that earthquakes have taken thousands of lives in one fell swoop across the world, or that the news covers such things every single day.  This is different.  This is the life that counts.  This life leaves a hole in the middle of my family, and that makes all the difference.

This is true for all of us, of course.  It's the single lives of those we lose that change the world.  Even when the lost lives come several at a time, we don't miss them in plural.  If an earthquake takes my husband and children, the loss isn't one but multiplies by four.  At least.

And I don't always get all this.  I'm pretty caught up in living.  I think we all are.  And in this country we aren't very good at allowing people to grieve and hurt as long as it takes.  It's like we think there's an expiration date on grieving our best beloveds.  But there isn't.  When Beve's mother died, Grampie seemed to move on very quickly.  This was troubling to Beve and his siblings.  And to me, I admit.  I remember sitting in the back bedroom at Grampie's house, crying with Glo and another sister-in-law because we couldn't believe he'd moved on so quickly, was already planning to remarry.  Grampie made the mistake of sticking his head in that afternoon, and Glo just about bit his head off.  Grampie high-tailed it out of there very fast and we didn't see him again until dinner.  A week later, Beve and I invited him over and asked him some very pointed questions.  And Grampie told us he'd been grieving the whole last year of Grammie's life.  That whole cancer-filled, bed and couch-laying year, when she lost weight, lost energy, lost the heart-of-the-home quality we'd all counted on all her life.  Of course, Beve and I thought.  He'd been living with her, caring for her, watching her die for a year.  Losing her by inches while her children were still begging for her to get better, stop taking those pain meds, because after all she might get addicted (like that was the most important thing, when she was dying).  Yes, her children were refusing to see what Grampie'd had to see, so when she died, he was ready.  He'd let go, he'd said his slow goodbye.

And that's what we all need, the chance to say our slow goodbyes.  If not before, certainly after someone dies.  No matter how long it takes.  No matter what it takes.  I remember thinking that my grieving for my dad was, in a way, the relationship I had with him then--me alive, him dead--me learning to live with the difference.  And growing into a new kind of relationship always, always takes time.

This is what I've been thinking about for my two sets of friends who are facing loss right now.  For me, it's removed, for them, it's up-close and personal.  As I read on one of the sympathy cards we got after Dad's death, and it's still my favorite phrase about such a season, they are learning to "live in the presence of their absence."

Such living is sacred work.  Absolutely sacred work.  If it's sacred for a person to come into this world, it is no less when they leave.  And no less to live without them.  Done with God, done with an eye toward God.  Even if that doing with and toward is sometimes with screams and anger.  And fear and trembling.  And sometimes hysterical laughter. Yes, the hard, sacred work of learning to live in the presence of the absence of loved ones.  The hardest work we ever have to do.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A sad day

I've been trying for days to write a post.  Not having the words to do it, which, if you know me, or read my blog, realize just exactly how unusual a condition this is for me.  But sometimes silence is all there is.

Two days ago, one of my long-time friends, a woman I've known since we were both young and foolish and calling each other silly nicknames, and staying out all night with boys we liked, and as odd as it sounds, sometimes with boys we barely liked, a woman I enjoy so much I've often wished we lived in the same town rather than just be ships passing through the night with each other, a woman whose family I've come to know second only to my own, this woman had a tragedy in her life I cannot begin to imagine.  This generally unflappable, steady, good-natured (though angry when she's too hot) woman has faced the loss of a sister, a father, she's lived half-way around the world, on military bases from here to there and back again (with a nod to Tolkein, if you're paying attention), and little fazes her.  And there have been things.  Let me tell you, there have been things.  Reasons to be fazed.  Lesser people would have been.  Lesser people might have curled up and died at times, but she just kept finding the fun, just kept enjoying life, just kept being her own inimitable self.  And anyone who knows her loves her for it.  In her whole large extended family, she's loved for it.  I know plenty of them, and I can tell you, she's just about the pick of the litter.  She really is.

This friend of mine has a military-chaplain husband of 30 years, and this has affected him, too. of course, I know it has.  I love him too, it's just that she's my friend, and she's a woman, and when I think about them, I first think of her.  I lived with her, after all.  She was the friend I practically flew to in my car, with tears blinding me, the day my engagement was broken.  She let me talk all night, and he, calmly, closed the door to their room and went to sleep.  That's who she was to me in those days.  And today, I'm wishing I was there to be that for her.

But I'll keep you in suspense no longer.  Two days ago, the oldest of their children, their only daughter, was driving a car, lost control and went off the highway into a stand of trees.  In the car with her was her four-year-old daughter.  The little girl died instantly.  The mom, my friend's daughter, was injured.  This young mom has struggled in her adult life with some issues that will make this loss even more difficult than for most, which is so difficult, one can't imagine. And, for three years of this child's life, my friend actually did the raising.  It was only a year ago that she was given back to her mother.

So today my friend grieves the loss of her four-year-old granddaughter, who she's mostly raised.  And she worries about her daughter, who she also raised.  She is mother of the mother who lost. I do not know how hard a loss that loss will be, how difficult the journey to health will be for the living.  I, who have not known such a loss, can only pray for these who bear them.

I believe in the Comforter.  I believe there is One who stands beside us in loss, One who knows it as intimately as we do when we must bury those we love, even the ones in the littlest caskets.  I believe in His Comfort, and I believe in His Hope.  And I especially believe in His great Love for my friend, her family, her daughter, her granddaughter. It would be a bleak day--whenever a loved one died, at whatever age she died--if I did not.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just a little story

Driving home from some friends' house last night, I began a certain familiar sort-of twitching behavior.  Leaning over in my seat until the seatbelt strangled me, angling my head and hands every which way (but loose), until Beve asked, "What is your problem?"  "I think I left my phone at their house."  We were about a block away from our driveway at that point, but just then Beve's phone rang.  Sure enough, it was our friend, with the confirmation that my phone had been left on their coffee table.  He said he'd bring it by this morning.

I'm not by nature a forgetful person.  At least I didn't used to be.  But in my fifties, something seems to have dislodged from my brain.  There are moments when I worry that it's the early onset of Alzheimers, and given my life, it's not surprising that I'd immediately go there. But usually it's just one or two items I forget, and forget them with great alacrity.  Like my cell-phone.  I leave that thing all over the house, and can't be bothered to pay attention to where it last landed.  I really think it's that I'm just not wedded to the thing.  Don't think in terms of instant communication with my 'peeps' every second of every day. Come to think of it, I don't even have 'peeps'.  I do have kids, though, kids who whose favorite mode of communication is texting.  Thankfully, they've learned--at least with me--that all those shorthand texts often used (the ones our girl V used expertly) will not do with me.  Will absolutely not do at all.  But if I want to talk to my kids, at least the ones who don't live in our house, I need to have my phone in the ready position.  So I spend more time than I care to admit looking for where I left the blasted thing this time.

The end of my latest phone kafafel happened this morning when our friend stopped by at some unlikely hour to return it.  Beve was already up and at school (it is summer vacation..Beve, Beve? Can you hear me?), but E and I were both still in bed when the dogs thankfully announced our friend's arrival.  Unfortunately, what they didn't announce--at least I didn't get the translation--was that M had let himself in the front door and was walking down the hall toward our bedroom (door opened by the dogs), before I really understood what was going on.  I leapt out of bed, which probably wasn't my best choice, and hurriedly grabbed some clothes to cover what I sleep in.  Yes, that's right folks, I hate pjs.  Hate them.  Always have, always will.  My mom used to tell of my removing my nighties even in a crib because I didn't like how they felt against me when I slept.  Our friend, M, was about two steps of being startled out of his skin, and I was that close to being so embarrassed I'm pretty sure we'd have to sever the relationship.

But crisis avoided.  At least I think so, though he was in the kitchen when I got out there, talking about this morning's football game, which, obviously, I hadn't seen.  However, his asking about it made me laugh because Beve and I always say, "How 'bout those Mariners?" whenever we're in a conversation with people that grows awkward.

But I got my phone back.  But hmmm, I can't think of where I've left it now.

And that football game?  I'm really sorry I missed it.  So I'm watching the highlights right now!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An overcoat

While driving Thyrza home from a couple of doctor's appointments this morning, she commented that I am always thinking about other people, never about myself. I didn't burst out laughing just barely avoided it.  "No, Thyrza," I told her, "I don't think about myself more than 24 hours a day."  She thought I was speaking in hyperbole. "You spend all this time with us, and all you ever do is listen to us," she said.  Well, of course, I thought.  When I'm with the elders all we talk about is the elders' concerns.  That's the way it has to be.  Their worries, whether they're about some phantom pain in a finger-nail or about some missing sheet of paper, consume these two old people now.  It's like their concerns have shrunk with the size of their living spaces.  Once they each hard large homes, careers, families, church responsibilities, professional and personal relationships to maintain.  Their spheres of influence were quite broad.  Grampie held an office at the national level of his professional society for many years, and I'm telling you, he and Beve's mom collected friends by the hundreds.  I know less about Thyrza's earlier life, but she was an educator as well, lived overseas with her military husband and family, had friends on several continents by the time they retired.  And a hobby that took her traveling to national conventions.

But these days, all their life seems concentrated in those three little rooms.  All their concerns are only about themselves.  It's easy for her to feel self-involved because her life is so diminished that she notices what most of us can hide beneath a plethora of interests.  So she sits in her chair and pays attention to every little pain, or at her desk, and re-shuffles all her scraps of paper.  Then she gets angry when Grampie piles his papers on top of hers, because, after all, her pile of papers is far more important than his.  Isn't it?

It's easy for me to go in and look like the model of patience and calm because my life isn't so confined, my interests are still broad, my brain still functioning at full-strength (at least I hope it is).  But this absolutely doesn't mean I am any less self-involved than they are.  Left to my own devices, I am always, only, about myself.  Looking out for my interests.  Paying attention to every little hurt, every new symptom, every nuance of change in my life and body.

This is, I dare say, the human condition.  The human, post-garden condition.  And as such, without Christ and His transformation, none of us has a chance in hell of being any different.  It takes spiritual discipline on our part, and the Holy Spirit working on His to create that transformation.  Philippians 2:12-13 speaks of this balance: "Therefore...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works within you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. "

Years ago--in college, in fact--a friend and I used to talk about putting on Christ (see Romans 13, and Colossians 3) like one would put on an overcoat.  We'd put Him on over whatever else we were so that He was on the outside where He could be seen by others.  Meanwhile, on the inside, the Holy Spirit would be carving Him into us from within.  And the longer we walked with Him the closer those two would come to touching, until one day we would really BE Christ, inside and out.  I don't for one moment believe I'm there yet.  Nowhere near, though, if you'd have told me when I was 18 that I'd still be saying this at 52, I'd have been shocked.  I was naive enough, young enough then to think I'd be all of a piece by now (well, I wasn't even sure I'd still be alive at the terribly old age of 52), all Christ's all the time.  But now I see how much greater the distance still is ahead of me.  The life long distance of putting on Christ as my overcoat, and asking Him to change me from within.
"Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Romans 13:14

Monday, June 21, 2010

The wrong cell-phone

When I got up and found my cell phone this morning there were two messages on it.  From Grampie.  Both about his printer.  Both for Beve.  This is not an uncommon occurrence in my life-with-Grampie-world.  In fact, I've come to expect that if there's a message on my cell-phone it's likely to be from Grampie, and it's even more likely to be for Beve.

Now I realize that those of you out there with all or most of your brain functions have already asked several questions, and the problem-solvers among you have tried to solve them, so let me just cut you all off at the pass.  Yes, Grampie also knows Beve's cell-phone, and yes, on some level, he realizes--or at least did at one time--that the phone he calls constantly will not usually reach Beve, particularly when school is in session.  We have posted in the elders' very small apartment large lists of our cell phone numbers.  And get this, Beve's is actually the top number on the list.  But it makes no difference to Grampie.  Mine is the number he calls when he wants Beve, or E, for that matter.  In his scrambled brain those lists of numbers must look a little like Peanuts cartoons of adult-speak, just "Blah-blah-blah" with my number right in the middle.  In fact, we've tried so many different solutions for this, we've finally just thrown up our hands and given in to it.  Besides,

Grampie lives in a cell-phone age with a land-line mindset.  That's the biggest thing. Somehow in Grampie's brain, my number is the house number and the one where he's sure to reach us--whoever the 'us' is he's trying to reach.  He doesn't like to bother Beve, even though he can't quite remember whether school's out or not. (Hmm, come to think of it, I have a hard time with that myself.  Beve is at school again this morning, the way he's been almost every day since vacation began!).  And Grampie knows that if he reaches me, the message will get to Beve or E or J or even SK over in Spokane.  After he tells me that message, he doesn't even have to remember it any longer.  And more than half the time, he really doesn't remember it.  I know that positively by the number of redundant calls I get from him daily.  This morning's were about his printer and its cords which he told me/Beve he'd found.  The odd thing about these messages is that when I relayed them to Beve, Beve said he'd already found those cords last night when he was over there.  So I don't know what Grampie unplugged at the crack of dawn this morning--or what two things--so he could 'find' those missing cords. (Grampie's been on a tear because his printer doesn't work, and that means he can't read his email.  Yeah, that's what I said.  Grampie can't read his emails on the screen but has to print them out to read them, even the spam mail!  It's been quite the problem.  He's been forwarding scads of ridiculous emails to us to print out for him to read, so he can then pile it on his desk.  Beve planned to return the printer to Costco yesterday, but couldn't because of those missing cords!)

These are just part of the joys and trials of life with Grampie now.  Missing cords.  Redundant phone calls.  We've stopped telling him he already told us things, or we already did things for him.  What would be the point of that added to his forgetfulness?

But this morning, as I was listening to his second message, I realized that in a more sophisticated, filtered way, I do exactly the same thing.  I'm exceedingly redundant when I pray.  It's almost like I have memory problems, because I'm pretty sure God doesn't.  I mean, how many times have I prayed for something, then prayed for it again, and again, and again, as if He didn't get the message the first, second or third time.  All that repetitive praying is NOT for His sake, of course.  He heard me the first time, He knew what I said, what I mean--even when I stuttered and misspoke and got off track.  No, that praying in such a concentrated, redundant way is for myself.  It's to get to the heart of what I really mean when I speak to Him.  Or if I really mean it, I should say.  What is it I'm praying when I say "Please God, help J."  When I finally get down to the real issue, and tell God where it hurts, what I am asking, that's when the connection becomes true, I think.  It stops being simply a message left on an answering machine, but a real prayer.

I realized this the other night.  Lately, I've had trouble praying.  I admit that.  This has been a hard year.  Perhaps one of the hardest we've lived.  Glo's death, the elders' move, trouble with my health, a few other things which are not my stories to tell, even Jackson's health--all these have worn Beve and me out.  Finally, the other night I lay in bed and said, "God, you have to be God.  You have to.  I can't tell you how to do it, but You have to."  And those simple words broke through whatever the walls were.  And suddenly it was pouring out. The real prayer, the real need, even the real love.  It was like I'd been calling the wrong cell-phone for months, and simply leaving messages for Him with someone else.  Have you ever felt that way?  Like at the hardest times in your life Who you need most you aren't connecting with?

I'm not saying the hard time is over.  I don't sense that.  And I don't even sense that praying is suddenly a walk in the park.  But I think I understand a bit about why He tells us to pray without ceasing.  It's for times like these as much as any.  Praying until the right connection is made, then start praying for real.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jeskdad


For this day on which we celebrate fathers of every ilk, I thought this an appropriate representation of the kind of dad Beve is to our kids (at least some of the time).

From the first moment we discovered I was pregnant with our first child, Beve was the epitome of an involved parent.  In fact, before I got home from work that day, he'd already spread the news far and wide, so excited was he about the new life who we'd call E.  From the beginning, he called that baby 'Bunny' and took to talking to her, though he didn't know it was a her until just a few days before she was born, which was a good three weeks after she was due.  I was more than a little bit ready to have that baby out of me, and he was more than a little bit ready to hold his first child.  From then on, he held, changed, bathed, got up in the middle of the night to bring them to me to feed (would have fed them himself, if only he'd had the proper plumbing to do so!), read to them, talked to them, nicknamed them.  E, as I said, was Bunny.  J was--and is to this day--Lovey, Lovey-boy, or just plain Love, which was a little embarrassing when he started high school at Beve's school and Beve first called him Love in the hallway.  And SK was our cute as a Bug littlest baby, and Beve still calls her Bug all the time.

He was a great big jungle-gym when they were little.  I loved it and was sometimes frustrated by it all at once, to tell the truth.  During basketball season, when he was coaching, he'd get home so late, I'd have already fed and bathed the children, had them ready for bed.  Then Daddy got home and it was time to wrestle.  Wrestle and get all wound up and sweaty and who wanted to go to bed after that?  But I wouldn't have traded it.  Not for a single minute of it.  Sometimes, if he had a late meeting, I tried to take his place, but wrestling with Mama just wasn't the same, not nearly as fun, not by a long shot.  Mama was made for quieter things, and, if I'm honest, I admit, I only had about a twenty-minute window when it came to playing those children's games like Shoots and Ladders.  After just so long, I'd be making a rule that even the shoots were ladders just to finish the game more quickly.  But the Beve?  He was willing to play even the silliest of games, like the one with E and SK where he had to put the tiara on his head and add fake jewels to it, with giant dangly earrings dripping from each ear.  Dang, I wish we'd taken photos of some of those games.

As they grew, Beve made sure he took our children out for 'dates' by themselves.  J was his little assistant basketball coach for years.  One memorable game he heard Beve mutter about a time-out, so J, who was probably about 5 at the time, hopped up off the bench and yelled, "TIME-OUT! TIME-OUT!" complete with correct hand-motions, and the ref blew his whistle. The high school athletic director, who was working the clock, laughed about that for years.  And Beve knew SK was a little princess who liked to dress up, so he'd call up from work, talk to her on the phone, and tell her he wanted to take her on a date, just so she could get herself ready.  In a fancy dress and shoes, they'd do something like go to MacDonalds for a drink and the ball-bin, and she'd be content to be by herself with Daddy.  Later, they simply had those drinks without the ball-bin. And with E?  Well, he coached her basketball team when she was young, put in basketball courts at two different houses where we lived, and started a lawn care business with her.

When I think of what I admire most about this dad I (ha, make that GOD) chose for my children, I think it's his desire to grow with them.  He sometimes feels like he does a great job with them, and sometimes feels like he doesn't--but he always wants to do better.  He wants to get to know them more.  He wants to understand how they think about things, what they want for their lives, and encourages them in those directions, rather than pressing his own requirements on them.  And I admire the sense of humor he's given each of them, the strong sense of that there is always something to laugh about, that we can always find the absurd in the ordinary, and that absurd is worth noting and enjoying.  These three kids of Beve's have that sense in abundance--his wit, his enjoyment of it, the ability to find such things in the most mundane.  And above all, what Beve has given his children is a strong sense of integrity, honesty, honor.     He is who he says he is.  You can count on it.  They can count on it.  They have.  All the days of their lives, they have counted on it, our kids.  They've counted on the fact that Beve lives an seamless life--the same in private as he is in public.  Their lives are the fruit of his.


Happy, happy Father's day, Beve.  I thank God for you.  I can imagine no better dad for these three amazing kids.  You've been funny when they needed funny, serious when they needed serious.  The balance when I was tipping too far one direction, the anchor and the rudder.  How one man can be all these things, I don't really know.  But God did.  Maybe that's why he made your shoulders so wide and your feet so large.  I realize they wouldn't be, if not for you, but I'm so grateful that you are JESKdad.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jack Attack


We have dogs.  Have I ever mentioned that?  And we love them.  More than a little.  It took about half my married life to convince Beve that to get one, but once I managed we took the plunge and never looked back.  Now it's hard for him to remember that he drug his feet for so long, let alone why.  And this Big Lug has been part of our pack longer than any of them.  Sweet and gentle (at least to humans), a pretty boy through and through, we love him to pieces.

But until the last ten days, we didn't know exactly how far that love extended.  See, we've always thought there was a cap on pet love, kind of like a salary cap for pro athletic teams.  We'd pay only so much and no more.  We've watched others take their dogs and cats (cats???) to the vet and come away with shockingly high vet bills.  No way, we told each other.  They're only pets.  Only dogs.  And their life expectancies are short as it is.  That's why last summer, when Jackson tore his CCL, we chose not to get it fixed, despite our vet's recommendation.  3500.00 was just too much to spend on such a procedure, a procedure that, among other things, meant cutting bones, and required us to keep him from using a single stair for six weeks.  We couldn't see it.  Didn't do it.

And guess what?  He recovered.  Grew scar tissue, learned to compensate.  He can now run almost as well as he did before, though he doesn't have the same quick first step.  And his jumping isn't quite as high. But he's nine, after all.  All in all, we've felt good about that decision.  Justified in our inaction.

Then last week he ate not one but two, maybe three beef bones down to nothing.  Swallowed them all.  And guess what?  Our extremely healthy dog was suddenly clogged up with bone bricks in his colon.  And we started doling out dollars.  Taking Jackson to the vet daily.  You've never seen more people more invested in a dog's ability to squat and relieve.  Every time he went outside, Beve, E and I rushed out with him to watch.  To pray for a victory.  And every morning we ended up back at the vet when the medication hadn't worked, the petroleum sandwiches were rebuffed (he's not a dumb dog, though Jamaica is--she happily stole them from him and ate them!) along with everything else we tried to feed him.  And the money.  Oh, the money.

All those people we've scoffed at over the years for spending money on their pets?  They can be laughing at us now because we're right there beside them.  See, I just felt so dang guilty.  I gave him the bones to begin with.  And he was a healthy dog.  IS a healthy dog.  Do you refuse to treat a healthy dog because he acted like a dog?  Did what his nature demanded he do--chew up a bone?  So we paid the daily bill, cringed as we saw it.

Finally our vet--whom we love, really we do--had run out of ideas, and said she had to do surgery.  There was no other choice.  He wasn't passing those bricks.  Beve--more practical than me--wanted the bottom line: "How much more will this cost?" He'd told us that we simply couldn't afford a huge surgery bill, even if it meant Jackson die.  The kids and I were terrified at the thought.  We're emotional about these things.  And Kim, our vet, said, "I don't want to make money on this, I just want to fix it." So she quoted us a ridiculously low price for the surgery.  The lowest price of any of our daily bills.  I felt like crying.  You should have seen how quick Beve's turnaround was.  He was suddenly all over the surgery idea!

Jackson came home this morning, sporting a newly shorn stomach and hind end.  With a spring in his step and a thrill to our hearts.   When Kim called this morning she said that she'd thought he was pretty happy before, but he was really bouncing around this morning, clearly well, and ready to get out of there! She'd found two bone bricks inside him, and the one further up in his intestines had bone spikes and claws.  It would have ripped him to shreds to try to pass.  Kind of makes me cringe to think about.

The folks at our vet's hospital have spent so much time with our dog in the last ten days, they've named him, "Jack Attack."  Love him to pieces.  But I'm telling you, not as much as we love him.  And are glad he's home and back to his own lovely self.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mercy

While in my hometown last week, I visited my mother a couple of times.  This is down from the days when driving to her house would have been the first destination upon reaching town.  In later years, we often 'fudged' a little on the time we actually expected to get into town, because once there there were recriminations and accusations:  "I've been waiting for you for hours," or "I thought you were going to get here at 3," when we might have said, "Sometime after 3."  It was just easier to tell her a couple of hours late and surprise her by being early than to start the visit with her already upset at us.  After all, we'd upset her soon enough anyway.  We might not have a conversation that she considered 'real', or perhaps, by the end, remembered.  We might have said something that hurt her feelings, which, it seemed to all of us, were in the ready position, certain of being hurt at every turn.  Yes, visits with her were fraught with pain, most of it hers, all of it inflicted by us, no matter what our intent.

But we continued to visit, and, while she still had her own home, even stay with her.  It was just easier that was.  Happier for her, and therefore, easier for us.

But things have changed.  I saw her twice this last trip home, for only about five minutes each time, and those were five painful minutes, five long, painful minutes.  Whatever the last stage of Alzheimers is, Mom is in it.  No decipherable language, no expression on her face or in her eyes.  She can't clothe, feed, bathe, toilet herself.  She is still put in a wheelchair daily, but no longer moves on her own, and mostly sits with her eyes closed and her arms crossed.  I don't know if she's asleep or not.  She doesn't respond to voices, touch, or even loud noises.  When my sister, the Dump, and I saw her Saturday morning, she was sitting in the dining room with her back to us.  From the back, she was entirely recognizable.  I could find her hair and shoulders in a crowd of thousands, the slightly slumped way she sits, the way her arms spread out on the arms of her wheelchair.  Yes, it was exactly my mother.  But then we walked around the table to face her.  And saw the adema-plumped face and swollen hands with polish on the fingernails--a ridiculously fatuous thing to add to my mother's hands.  Never in her life did my mother paint her perfectly oval fingernails bright red.  How dare some stranger assume such this right now that Mom can no longer object?

The facility's administrator was sitting beside her, trying to feed her breakfast.  Tipping a glass toward her unresponsive lips.  Holding a spoon of mush against clenched teeth.  It was so painful to see, I wanted to slap his hand away.  Maybe that sounds cruel, but it was my instinct. Mom was not a participant in this breakfast-feeding, she was merely the object.  And it infuriated me that again, he should be pushing food into her mouth against her will.

We walked out of the nursing home and my sister said, "I realize you disagree with this, but...I'm thinking about the shot."  And she's right.  On both counts.  I do disagree.  I know this is murky water I'm about to wade into, but I think Mom's existence is in murky water now.  I absolutely believe in life, first, last and ultimately. I believe it is God's right and responsibility to bestow and withdraw life.  To begin and end it.  And I believe it begins at the cell level and ends at the same place.  And Mom's life is a case in point.  Only the very most strict conservatives could call what Mom has 'quality of life'.  There is very little quality in the very little life she is still inhabiting.  I can hardly tell now what she feels, though I believe she still feels, particularly pain and fear.  However, my sister is completely right in understanding that I am opposed in both the idea of, and the reality of, assisted suicide.  (In Mom's case, even if I were a proponent, she has long since passed the point at which she make any kind of reasonable choice about her own ending.)

However, I also understand, from an emotional point of view, why my sister spoke as she did.  And...I feel it as well.  I absolutely feel it.  I cannot bear to see my mother in this never-never land of neither living nor dying.  It is the unbearableness of this continuing situation that makes me internally react when I watch someone trying to force-feed her.  Why? I wonder.  What is the point of trying to keep her strength up?  To what end do we prolong this torment?  Isn't the most humane, most loving thing we can do to allow her body to go the way of her brain?

See, this is my quandary as a believer.  What is left to me, or, perhaps a better way to say it is, what I must do, is actively plead for her release, exactly as I actively pray for other people, and other healings.  In fact, this is my responsibilty, my most loving commitment to my mother.  She no longer can pray for herself.  But if she could, she would certainly pray to be freed from the empty prison of her brain.  I might not believe in mercy killing, but I do believe in mercy.  Will you pray with me?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Some wedding photos

Consider this my formal wedding post, starting with this adorable (at least to a mother's very biased eyes) picture of my two daughters with their hair freshly up-do-ed for the big event (don't you love how I created a verb of that word?).  They had a very early day Saturday, but were bright-eyed and excited to be bridesmaids (well, SK--on the left--was maid-of-honor).


JESK in their wedding finery.  They do clean up well.  J wore the traditional kilt of our family.  The men were asked repeatedly about the kilts, and admitted that no, we aren't actually anymore Scottish than we are other pieces of our British Isles heritage, but it's tradition, and a good one.  Started by Uncle D (BB, to me) who used to wear them to all kinds of events, from weddings to volley-ball games, just because he had a kilt to wear.  He's missed the last two weddings but the kilts have shown up, and we're all glad to see them!  They help us identify ourselves, remind us who we are, especially when we're surrounded by farmers and ranchers in giant cowboy hats and boots.


My very tall, beautiful niece and her new husband, dancing their first dance together, which they'd practiced long and hard.  L has always been a dancer, and she was determined.  P was happy to make her happy.  I hope he always feels that way.  L is as tall as my Beve's family.  There have been times--more than once--when we've been out all together and folks think she's Beve's daughter.  She has the heighth, the leanness, carries herself a whole lot like him. But she's not.  She belongs to a different pool altogether, owes her heighth to..well, we never have figured that out.  Not her heighth nor her brother's either.  But there they are.  L's first dance with her husband was a lovely dance, made me tear up a little.  Then she danced with her dad, and the tears really streamed.  There are reasons it's hard to let go of a child, reasons a little girl, even one taller than her father, needs to dance with her daddy on her wedding day.  Saying goodbye.  Saying a whole lot of things in that dance that needed saying at least one more time before she drives off into her life.


Here I am with the three siblings who were at this wedding.  We're seated, oddly enough, youngest to oldest here, left to right.  RE is the mother of the bride, and put on one beautiful wedding.  She made that wedding dress, by the way.  Fashioned it not only out of satin and lace, but love and hope and dreams for her daughter.  A prayer in every stitch.  It was a pattern they made up between them, out of L's vision, and RE's ability, and a magnificent creation it was.  I've already told my daughters not to expect such a thing from me, even if I do love them as much.  The Dump, or the original L (who the Bride was named after) sits next to RE.  She and her boys flew up from So. CA the night before.  Like the rest of us, they wouldn't have missed this family wedding, even though her sons were only in town about 36 hours.  I'm next, in the red.  I apparently didn't get the memo that it was a blue wedding. Seriously, I was the only person in our family who didn't wear blue, and stick out like a bright red thumb in the large family photo, which I'm NOT posting here.  And our older brother, R, is next to me.  If you've ever wondered what my father looks like, wonder no more.  He's right there in my brother, especially around the eyes.  Also in RE.  Not so much in the Dump and me.  I look like my mother's mother, and in my father's sister, in the way of genetics.


All my parents' grandchildren, and the four spouses.  See what I mean about the blue?
I won't bother to try to identify everyone, it's too difficult, but you can tell how tall L is, there in the back row with her husband, brother and J.  What I love about these young people and the people they've married is that they all like each other.  It's amazingly cool to see them still choose to hang out together.  Thrills me no end.

Tomorrow--some thoughts about seeing my mother.  So a little more serious...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keeping it real

Last Saturday in a very crowded church at the end of a thankfully short wedding (my niece was white-faced and swaying on her feet from low blood sugar, even with her groom gripping her hands tightly and all the groomsmen, particularly the two military men in the group, were poised and ready to leap, should the swaying turn into a faint), we all joined in saying what we Protestants call 'The Lord's Prayer,' and Catholics call the 'Our Father.' Whatever it's called, it's the one prayer every Christian knows, even the most nominal among us, even those who only darken the doors of a church for weddings and funerals and even then, quite reluctantly.  Saturday, I might have even been sitting by a few in my extended family who count themselves exactly that reluctant.  Still, when the ancient abbot began "Our Father who art in Heaven..." I noticed even those reluctant beside me mouthing the words.  And the whole church said the words together, in the rhythmic cadence so familiar to anyone who's ever said that prayer.  Actually, it's more like a drone than a cadence, if you want my honest opinion, which you get, if you've clicked onto this blog and are reading this post.  Like it or not!

Just a couple of nights earlier, my oldest niece, her mother and I had a great conversation about this prayer as we ate a quite dinner together.  It was probably the only quite moment of a very wild week, was like a deep draught of fresh air amid all the wedding madness.  Somehow, we began talking about how we pray for people.  My niece, always organized, carries that into her prayer life, and even uses the Lord's prayer as a cornerstone of praying for others.  That made us talk about how people pray that prayer without thinking about it.

The thing is, I told her, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and when He did, He knocked their sandals off.  "When you pray,  say, 'Our Father...'"  We don't think about it, because we've known it our whole lives, had it handed down for 2000 years, but to speak of God as Father was so radical, so unbelievably new, that it elementally changed prayer for good.  If He had told them nothing else about prayer, just being about to relate to God, the Holy Other, as the intimately close Father transformed their relationship with Him. Imagine if that was the first time you'd ever heard such a thing?  Your whole life you'd been taught that God was other, distant, far off...maybe so far off you couldn't even pray to Him on your own.  And suddenly here's Jesus saying God is Father, and you can, no indeed, should not only think of Him thusly, but are to address Him so when you pray to Him.  Talk about swaying into a faint!

Think of how radical this was to them, then think of how we pray that prayer together in our churches.  Rote, droning, without any real thought of what we're praying.  Those words, those amazing, unbelievable words have become so familiar we've begun to take them for granted.  They're like so many other words in our lives, like when we say, "I love you," too easily.  Or maybe, "I'm sorry."  We say them out of habit rather than from a deep conviction that they come out of our gut, and have changed our lives.   Remember the first time you said 'I love you' to someone?  Or when you were really in the wrong and had to go out of your way to ask forgiveness?  How it took something from you to say it?  These words, these beautiful, life-changing, world-changing words of the Lord's prayer should take something from you as well.  They're that important.  Every one of them.  His Holy Name, His Kingdom, His will, His bread, His forgiveness, His...everything.

Every time I hear the Lord's prayer, I try to make it new, try to let it speak to God as if I'd never said the words before.  God, be my Father. God, make your name Hallowed in my life and sphere of influence.  May your Kingdom come through me, and may your will be done on earth exactly as it's done in heaven--that is, instantly, with joy.  Give me only what you know I need and not what I think I need--that is Your daily bread--physically, mentally and spiritually.  Forgive me for whatever I've done against You, as I'm busy forgiving those who have hurt me.  And keep a hedge around me (and mine).  Watch us, protect us, lead us."

See, I think it's about keeping it real so we really, really know and mean what we say.  And know WHO we're saying it to.   Our Father, that's who!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Home where I belong

Home.  Dead tired and glad to see my own bed.  Awakened too early to take our Big Lug to the vet.  I should say, back to the vet, because while the kids and I were off partying in the Palouse, Beve was taking Jackson to the vet every single day.  Poor big dog had pieces of bone ground like sandstone into his intestines and couldn't blast it out no matter what they tried.  Poor Beve, trying to deal with a very sick dog on his own.  Now my husband is a capable, independent man, but ask him to deal with something medical, and he trembles in his size 15s.  It isn't that he can't do it, it's just that he hasn't had to.  But our vet said he did a masterful job in a very dicey situation and without him Jackson surely would have died.  For all that, I think Beve was more glad to see me get home than from any other trip...

Well, except maybe from the trip I took with my mom and sisters to Great Britain.  We had a whole entire other family living in our house with us, and it was a very difficult situation.  Beve felt like he did marriage counseling almost every night of the three weeks I was gone, and our kids often holed up in our bedroom just to get away from all the drama.  They were never so glad to see anyone in their lives as they were to see me get home that spring--home to deal with this family, help smooth the waters, help tell them they had to leave!

I'm always glad to get home, where I sleep better, have a set routine.  My body needs that.  My spirit needs that.  My dogs need it-- they have us home where we all belong!

But it was a great time in the Palouse.  A beautiful wedding, a wonderful time with family.  We took a whole lot of photos, ate a whole lot of great food, had many good conversations.  I'll be thinking about it for a while, posting thoughts later in the week.  The bride and groom were tall and beautiful together, fit fit like a glove when they vowed and kissed and danced together.

This bride, my niece, grew up with a plan for her life.  She and my youngest daughter had always talked about their futures.  They are both planners, come from a long line of planners (it's in my family's DNA), and 'knew' exactly what their futures would be, as SK reminded us in her toast Saturday.  L, the Bride, intended to leave her hometown when she graduated from college, go off and work in the hotel/hospitality industry.  She loves the farm and ranch she grew up on, but intended something else for her life.  She didn't want to marry a farmer.  However, God has a way of interrupting human plans.  He always does, if we're paying attention to Him.  The older L grew the more she grew into the place of her birth.  I watched it happen.  When she was a child and even an adolescent, farming and all its accouterments sat uncomfortably on her tall thin shoulders.  But a few years ago L spent a summer away from home, in the hospitality industry, and when she returned, something had shifted.  Home looked better, the land looked richer, the draws where she rode her horses were more beautiful and the sky wider than where she'd been.  She'd been away and learned that, like Dorothy, if she couldn't find it in her own backyard (and her backyard is miles wide, waving with grain), then maybe it's not worth having.  This was her place in all the world.  God grew her out of her childhood dreams and showed her who she really was.  This was her true 'home where I belong' in all the earth.

It wasn't a year later that she met P, a farmer. And not just a farmer, but one who farms in the same county, one who, if you follow the flats just down the hill from her own farm far enough, you'd come to his family's farm, though it's a town, and 45 minutes, away.  A farmer who knows the same rhythm of the land, seasons and life that she's lived, that her family's lived for four generations.  She didn't think she wanted such a life until she grew up and realized it was the only life she wanted.  God interrupted her dreams to give her a reality, because, in no small way, her brand-new husband is also her 'home-where-I-belong'.

As He does.  Because He knows us.  He lets us dream, lets our imaginations run wild, and then, if our flights of fancy soar too far off course, He reins us in, interrupts us by showing us who we really are, and giving us who we really need.  Showing us where home is.  He did for my niece.  He did for me, when He let me wander far, far away, then led me back to the boy next door to spend my life with.  And He does it again, every time He brings me home.  This--yes, this--is where I belong.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rehearsal

Here in the Palouse, I'm surrounded by folks aw-shucksing and gee-whizzing all over the place, not to mention primping and washing and ironing and rehearsing to beat the band.  My favorite rehearsal of the week was when a few of us high-tailed it down to the barn to practice clapping for Turk, the Percheron who will pull the buggy full of bride and groom across Pullman tomorrow.  We clapped to beat the band for that beautiful high-stepping giant horse and I fell smack dab in love with horses all over again, just the way I did when I was a little girl and thought there was nothing better in the whole wide world.  My sister, a fellow clapper, told us that a couple weeks ago when her husband and daughter were driving the buggy across campus, a young man saw them on the street and yelled something at them.  Because of the clomping of the horse-shoes, they couldn't hear what the man was saying, so they stopped the buggy, and asked him to repeat himself.  "Is that a real horse?" he asked. 

Yes, my friends, a real horse, and a real buggy as well.  From a real ranch driven tomorrow by a real cow-girl, followed by a wagon full of wedding party.  We got that horse all rehearsed, got dresses all ironed, the deviled eggs all made (yep, 12 dozen deviled eggs...but don't ask me how I feel about them!).  And in a little while, when the wedding party tumbles out of this house toward town for their own rehearsal, J and I will make our way to Spokane to pick up more family members from the airport. 

Have I mentioned how much I love such celebrations?  I'm feeling a little sad at the moment that my sister doesn't have any more daughters because we may not get to do this again.  I'm not sure her son will want her to make a wedding dress--at least not for him! And who even knows if he'll marry in this town.  And that means that this may be the last wedding I ever go to in my hometown.  And...J and I are staying in a motel tonight.  A motel in Pullman.  My family moved to Pullman in 1965, and tonight will be the first time I've ever stayed in a motel here.  I don't know if I can even explain how strange it seems.

But then I'm feeling a little nostalgic all the way around right now.  Downstairs I hear my son and his cousin-best friend talking sports.  The bride and my youngest daughter, her cousin-best friend, have already driven into town on some last minute errands, and E and her cousin-best friend are working on hair in the bathroom.  I don't think these young adults get how very special it is what they have between them.  They grew up with this amazing community, these built-in best-friends, and it's blessed us all to watch that community grow and expand as significant others join them.  And I love that too.  And I even love that they don't get how unusual their relationships are, the ease and comfort, the ridiculous, sometimes (or often?) off-color dinner conversations, the inside jokes and incessant teasing, the sarcasm. 

These six young people, and their other cousins as well who have joined them in this community, have been quite the picture of the body of Christ.  Standing up with each other, for each other, sometimes TO each other.  Going out of their way when one the others need them, and gladly so.  I love all these things.  And this wedding and this whole week is one more example of that community lived out.  And what I know is that though this may be the last wedding I go to, my kids will be going to the  weddings of the yet to be born kids' of these Palouse cousins, twenty-years from now...and gladly so.  OK, so will I, if I'm not in heaven, clapping my hands.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Going east

On our way east this morning.  My niece marries her farmer soul-mate Saturday (I really, really wanted to say 'the apple of her eye' but stopped myself just in time! Just for her!), and we'll be there in mass.  Or is that en masse. Except for the Beve who has to be at the graduation ceremonies of the high school where he just happens to work.  Details, details.  Call in sick, already.  What are they going to do, fire you?  They don't fire even terrible, I mean really, really atrocious teachers for far more egregious offenses. But then you wouldn't be the Beve, and I wouldn't believe in you if you actually were the kind of man who threw off responsibility for such events.  It's just that both of our daughters are in this wedding.  Yes, both of our beautiful dark-haired young women will be wearing sun-flower blue on Saturday as attendants, and I'm not sure when that will happen again.  They tell me it will definitely happen when each of them marry, but they won't be wearing the same color then, and there's just something about my girls (yes, I know they're women now) in matching outfits that brings tears to my eyes, takes me back to the days when I had charge of their clothes and was just corny enough to dress them that way purposely for every major event until they reared back in resentment when they saw me coming with fabric swatches and measuring tape.

All that to say, we're going to a wedding and I'm looking forward to it.  Family weddings where the men wear kilts and the girls dress in matching colors, and plenty of pictures are taken and plenty of food is  consumed and we all remember why we married as we're sitting in the pews watching.  Beve always reaches over and takes my hand as if to say, 'yes, I do, I still do,' and that, too, makes me a little teary.  I'll be missing him this weekend.  Sigh.

It'll be a computer-free several days for me, unless I can snag a few moments on someone else's computer, since mine is dead in the water.  It may be Sunday night before I hit the blog world again.  So until then, keep walking the life worthy of the gospel.  And know that "I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy...it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, since I have you in my heart...and all of you share in God's grace with me."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An open door

Just pulled up to our house and the dogs came rushing out, frantic to see me.  If they could talk, they would have been saying, "Do you realize the back door was wide open?  Anything could have happened to us?  The whole wide world was out there, ready to get in!"  It was pretty funny, how terrified they both seemed.  When we let our dogs out into our front yard, they happily wander up and down the street and surely don't want to return when we call them, especially the Big Lug.  He's too busy smelling things, investigating this pile of yard waste, marking that telephone pole, sniffing that bush.  He can't be bothered to come home until he's good and ready, if you don't mind.  At least that's the way it appears to us.  The littler one wouldn't roam very far away by herself, of course.  She's too big a chicken, afraid of everything from other dogs to her own shadow.  If she can stay on Jackson's tail, she's safe enough, but the minute she hears one of us calling her name, she comes racing home as if her life depended on it.

My point is, they are used to wandering the neighborhood. Within reason, anyway.  And the neighbors all know them.  Know Jackson's sweet and calm, know Jamaica's chicken little.  Neither of them would hurt of flea (though Maica probably thinks a flea could hurt her!).  However, they are creatures of absolute habit, these dogs.  And they know that the door is supposed to be firmly shut when no humans are home, and they are supposed to be firmly shut inside that door.  Perhaps I should safe safely shut within that door.  The wide open door to our dogs, which I suspect happened because I didn't quite get it latched when I walked out (which reveals a well-known secret in these parts, though I won't spell it out here), did NOT signal freedom to them.  It signaled the exact opposite: danger.  Sheer, unadulterated danger.

It was such a clear picture to me of...well, us, and our predicament. We think we want doors open wide for us, so we can race out into whatever we please, to smell, see, taste that the world is good.  But the truth is, we need parameters on our freedom.  Boundaried to protect us...especially when He doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight.  An unexpected open door leaves us more than a little nervous.  What does it mean?  What does it lead to?  How far should we go?  Sure, we've been out in that world a million times, but that was with the understanding that we weren't alone, that our Master would call us home.  But that same open door without the presence of the Master signals danger.  Sheer, unadulterated danger.  And, like our dogs, it's best to stay where we're safe.  Within the boundaries He has set for us.

And what joy when He shows up.  Then, without a moment's hesitation, we'll go bounding through that open door, into the wide world, straight to Him.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The dividing line

I'm typing this on Beve's archaic powerbook.  The one that came via UPS when we ordered SK's for her birthday her senior year in high school.  Ordered one, got two.  And when we called and emailed the good folks at Apple, they didn't even register that a second had been sent.  Finally they just said, "Our bad," and it's lived in our house ever since.  And you know, this thing has worked like a charm all that time.  The same cannot be said for my PC--or make that plural.  I think I've gone I'm on my third in that time.  There was the widescreen heavy-duty model, the one a dog stepped on while we were away for a weekend, and the one I currently use.  I like it well enough, but my second power cord seems to have shorted out, so I'm stuck without power now.  Not exactly conducive to doing business, writing or whatever else I might be interested in doing.  Hence, I'm using this old dinasaur of a powerbook that lives on the bottom shelf of Beve's nightstand, and happy it's available.  At least when he's not home.

But that isn't really what I intended to write about today (as is often the case!).

Anyway, I've been thinking lately about the one of the most difficult parts parents have in dealing with their adult children, which ours are now.  For the longest time--all of their lives, actually--my children's lives were my concern. More than my concern, actually.  It was like, for all intents and purposes, they belonged to me, lock, stock and barrel.  Sure, I knew they were/are God's, and are their own persons, but they were also mine.  And, as such, everything about them concerned me.  In fact, their concerns were so much my concerns that I was often hard pressed to think of myself as separate from them.  If someone asked me how I was doing, more often than not, my well-being was fundamentally tied to how my children were doing.  And this started from the instant I conceived them.  My Christmas letters, my emails, my prayer requests, my very reason for being were about them. And I would guess that every parent out there, at least every mother, would instantly 'get' what I mean when i say this.

 Now I realize that this isn't really the case.  In fact I remember the times, particularly when they were very small, when I desperately wanted to be more than simply their mother, wanted my conversation to be about more than diapers and babies.  I knew there was more to me and more to life, and was anxious for the kind of adult conversation that allowed me not to forget that I was a mother but to at least explore the parts of me that were also a thinker, a reader, a theologian.  I remember being bored silly at mother/baby groups when all the women seemed to care about were creating craft projects, curtains, nursery ideas and recipes.  I even actually did those crafts, sewed curtains, was known to cook now and then, but still didn't want to talk about them.

But I was also, always about my children.  First, last and always.  My mental, emotional and even spiritual health has been tied by a cord to them.  I don't ask that this is so, it just is.  They haven't dwelt within my body in over two decades but they are still that close to my beating heart.  And I have a hunch that even if I hadn't borne these children, this would be the case.  It doesn't matter to mothers how their children come to them--whether by their own blood or someone else's--once theirs, that's it.  They stick.  Like glue.

So, when my children are hurting, I am hurting.  I've said this before.  When something affects them, if affects me.  The dividing line between us is feather-weight.  An invisible thread.  In fact, I can only see it by faith.  By surrendered faith.  By a laying-them-on-the-altar surrender, which Abraham did with Isaac so that I could learn (and relearn and relearn) what it looks like.  Surrendering them to God, trusting Him with their lives.  No matter what.

But here's the thing:  that dividing line that I only see by faith?  To my adult children, it's as visible as a fence.  Large and clear and completely separating them from me.  From Beve and me.  Their lives are their own.  They have perhaps a conceptual idea of what I might mean when I say these things, when I say their lives are tied to me by a thread--or is it a rope?--, but they don't really get it.  They don't feel it.  They don't get how much I feel what they feel, how everything that touches them also touches me.  See, If you ask a young adult about his/her life, you wouldn't expect them to say much about their parents unless something catastrophic was going on.  You'd find it odd if you did. Really odd.

So there we stand: us (because Beve agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment of our current situation with offspring) still feeling deeply, firmly connected to these three young adults, and them mostly out of the nest, mostly independent and making their own choices, for better or worse.  Don't get me wrong, our kids respect us greatly, show us that in ways that make me tear up, actually.  But they're their own people now, they aren't mine any longer.

Well, not that they ever really were.  And even though I knew it, I didn't really know it.  I guess I'm just a very slow learner.  But then again, I remember my grandmother's tears as she looked at my father lying in a casket, as she touched his face and called him, "My darling."  He was 66 years old then and she was in her eighties.  So I'm guessing this dividing line that my adult children see so clearly will never really be visible to me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Waiting

I'm home alone this weekend. Well, alone but for these two frantically barking dogs who are certain the Big fella's going to walk in the door any minute.  They've been sure of this for the last thirty-six hours, which brings the phrase "Hope springs eternal" to mind.  Poor dogs.  Or poor me, depending on your point of view.  They are driving me just the tiniest bit crazy.  But then, perhaps they feel exactly the same way about my coughing.

Beve drove Grampie over to the Yakima valley to watch the youngest of Grampie's grandchildren graduate from high school.  They're partying with the Latin quadrant of our family, which means loud and long and loud.  Oh, and did I say loud?  Beve and Grampie are sharing a room at the Quality Inn, and when Beve texted me yesterday afternoon he told me that the background noise in their room was Grampie saying "Oh hell," every few moments.  Among other things, Grampie had forgotten to pack any shirts, "Oh hell!"  Fortunately, Beve packed a couple extra.  By the time they get home tomorrow, Grampie will likely have forgotten that said shirts were ever Beve's, and Beve will gladly relinquish them.  I've seen it happen more than once.  I like this about Beve.  He holds his things very lightly.

E's also gone for the night, down in Seattle, with a couple of friends.  I think she was tired of sitting in this petrie dish of germs.  As much as possible I try to go outside to cough, but that only goes so far.  So I'm pretty sure all those nasties are hovering overhead.  Run for your life, E, run for your life.  Hmm, come to think of it, maybe that's pretty good advice on a more cosmic level at this point in your life!  And, as much as you love us (and face it, you know you do!), I know you'd give your right arm, and maybe your left foot, to be doing exactly that. Wouldn't you?

I know.  It's just the way it should be.  You've been a good sport to hang out with us for the last year, to run errands for 'the grands', as you call them, to pick up whatever pieces I drop domestically (where the heck did you get that cooking gene, anyway?), but I get that you're getting tired of it.  I get that you feel like you've been in a holding pattern for the last year, and are anxious to get on with a life of your own.

It takes faith to wait.  I guess that's my point.  Sometimes waiting is central action of our relationship with Christ.  Not the waiting that these silly dogs are doing through the weekend, because their pea-brains aren't big enough to understand what they're doing, but the human equivalent of it.  The waiting we do where we go about our business, act in ways full of grace and obedience but all the while are taut--our very souls are taut--with waiting for Him to reveal His plan to us.  It's us casting our nets out over and over and coming up empty until He shows us where to let them out--that's the kind of waiting I'm talking about.  Waiting and watching and casting our nets, and being ready to go when He finally reveals the way.

I lean in to wait.  With my children who are at the age of waiting, hoping, wondering what their lives will be.  With my in-laws who are waiting for the end of their days.  With Beve.  I lean in with all of humanity to wait.  "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Friday, June 4, 2010

A horse of a different color

OK, so I got bored today and decided to mess with my blog page, and this is the new look.  What do you think?  I love orange, always have. But thought it was time to, as the kids say, 'mix it up a bit.'  So we'll play with this for a while.  See how it feels.  Maybe by the time my cough finally goes away, I'll have come to my senses and return to the one who brought me.  Return to the orange, that is. We'll see.

You are

I continue to struggle with the doing/being balance of walking on this earth. Conversations I've had with people about what they 'do' keep floating through my head.  We live in such a 'doing' world, a 'get-up-and-get-after-it' culture, and our worth seems chained to that single word. Do.  What do you do?  How are you doing?  And yet, here I am, mostly inactive.  My friend, the cement block, has something to do with it recently, but for the last several years, I've been more inactive than active.  More about being than doing.  And often find myself apologizing for that.  Making excuses.  Trying to drum up some kind of doing that makes sense in the world.

And yet I know, even as I drum up that 'doing', that that's mostly what it is--drummed up, cobbled up, made up from a whole lot of nothing.  It occurred to me the other day that if I take the sharpest lens to my life, or perhaps I should say, the sharpest worldly lens, the light would shine on a whole lot of human failure and inadequacies.  To spell it out: a decade of writing ending with an unpublished book.  No career whatsoever that I might toot a horn about at any meet-and-greet party I'm likely to be at.  In fact, no job that has paid more than "gee, thanks, you shouldn't have."

But here's the thing: I don't feel like a failure. Not even close.  It simply isn't in me. Some would say it's because I'm optimistic by nature.  Maybe. Others might say I'm too 'pie-in-the-sky' mystical.  Perhaps. But I believe life is worth the living, that my life--bumps and bruises, cement-blocks-on-the-chest, monumental failures and all--is a gift.  And I wake up every day glad for it.   Now, I know people who feel like failures--some with far, far less reason than I have to feel so.  In fact, I look at their lives and don't see a single real failure.  And that's when I realize what real failure is.  It isn't at all about doing. Or not doing.  It's about something deeper, closer to the heart of a person.  It's about being.

I know that some who feel worthless, who are keeping themselves alive by grit and determination against their instincts, have something wrong with the chemistry of their brains, the way those who are diabetic have something wrong with chemistry of their pancreases.  And I feel for them. My intact, full-of-hope brain aches for them.  But I also know the world does no one any service by telling us in letters written in script as large as the galaxy that we must perform, must do, in order to be valuable.  This is a lie, and I rebuke it.  We are--each of us is--valuable because we are.  WE ARE. That's it.  You. Are.. Valuable.

You were created in the exact image of God.  There is no one else exactly like you, nor more important than you.  Amen.  Hallelujah.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taking it out of us to take them out

Even with cement blocks still perched on my chest, and coughs that knock the wind from me about half the time, I'm back in the saddle, so to speak.  With the elders, I mean.  Tonight, Beve, E and I stopped by there for a few minutes--or so we thought.  E had to put a picture into a frame for Grampie, Beve had to check the messages on the cell-phone, and I wanted to make sure all the doctor's appointments have been carefully put on the calendar.  An hour later, we were somehow all bundled up against the monsoon outside, and going off, walkers and all, to IHOP, for dinner.  I think they saw us coming and thought, "Yippee, we can go out to eat!" just the way our kiddies did when they saw the grandparents a decade or two ago. 

And I'm telling you, it just about took it out of me have to do it.  Go out for dinner, that is.  Sit in their apartment, even.  Try to keep the peace, in a way.  Try to keep the dang coughing at a minimum.  Every time I coughed, Thyrza asked me if I wanted a cough drop.  Every single time!  That's a whole lot of her asking and a whole lot of me saying, "No thanks, I'm okay."  I stopped explaining that coughing is good after about the third time.  The whole thing wore me out. Probably made me more than a little grumpy.  No, not just probably!  But I wasn't the only grumpy one. The ninety-one-year old in our midst was grump-grump-grumpy as well.  Shoot, not a thing could please her tonight, not the food, not the waiter, who was working his hind-end off to try--actually had the cook make a second stack of blueberry pancakes for her, which she also didn't approve of.  And the poor old man who lives with her bore most of her wrath. "Think!" she told him several times. "You just don't think!"

Yes, Thyrza, that's the point.  He can't think.  His brain isn't working the way you want it to. He's trying as hard as he can, but it just doesn't work for him.  And he can't do anything about his brain. But guess what?  Your brain isn't working all that well either, though you don't know it, or won't admit it.  It's how it isn't working that makes you angry, I think.  It's what you think you should be able to do, and can't, what you used to count on, but can't, that makes you lash out.  I'm sorry about this loss, I really am.  But I get tired of your anger.  Tired of your anger at Grampie, and, yes, even at me.  It's hard going with you these days. 

How many of us are there out there who are in this position of caring for their parents as they fail? Or their spouse's parents?  Or their spouse's parent's spouse?  Raise your hand if you're one of them. Or maybe bend your knees.  We entered this season knowing it would be hard, but not knowing how hard it would be.  And I suppose that's how it always is.  After all, what difficult thing would we ever attempt if we knew ahead of time what it would ask of us?

The question, of course, isn't how hard is the task, but who asks us to do it.  I am certain this is what I am meant to be doing, what God means us to do for and with Grampie and Thyrza.  Being their family here at the end of their lives: it's good.  Hard and good. And that's okay.

Accents

When I was sixteen, I traveled with my grandmother 'deep in the heart of Texas,' where she (and therefore I) had relatives. Among many others, I met some cousins of my mother, whose children were already married and in their twenties, and seemed old and exotic to me.  One couple I remember lived in a fancy Dallas apartment, did some kind of boring adult jobs, and cared about things I wasn't interested in yet, like tableware and furniture.  Their names were Eloise and Dudley.  Eloise was thin and dark and beautiful and Dudley was rather chubby and splay-footed and kind, and I wondered at their marriage, but they were affectionate and happy and laughed a lot. I remember one conversation in which we argued over how to say certain words.  Their conversation was peppered with 'y'all', and and 'ma'am's and dropped endings to words, and they thought my sister and I had strong accents when we spoke.  This surprised me because I'd never thought of ME having an accent before then.  As I argued, if you listen to people speak on TV, they sound like us.  That must mean ours is the proper way to speak English, right?  Right?

Years later, when Beve and I lived in Holland, we heard--more than once!--that Beve had the strongest American accent among the Americans.  Every time I'd hear someone say this, I'd tip my head and look up at him quizzically, kind of like a dog, trying to hear what it was in his inflections that those non-Americans heard that characterized as 'strong'.  Strong sometimes meant, you must know, difficult to understand, or hard to comprehend.  They couldn't hear what he was saying beneath his accent.  Beve, Beve, who speaks more slowly than about three-fourths of the people I've ever spoken to!  Certainly far, far more slowly than I do, but sometimes I was asked to re-say, just in English, mind you, what he had just said.

Accents.  I'm thinking about them today.  A month ago, down in Arizona, educators have begun targeting 'foreign-sounding' teachers for removal from teaching English. Apparently years ago, they introduced an entire Mexican-English department to facilitate the learning of English among the Latino population.  Sounds like a great thing to me, but what do I know? I don't live there.  I don't know all the issues involved, of course. And, because I've been a little pre-occupied with my own stuff lately, I didn't notice this, but today I'm thinking about it.  And I'm wondering what exactly constitutes a 'foreign-sounding' accent.  I could say that my cousins from Dallas have them.  Or the Oxford-educated folks who were born and raised in the heart of Britain.  The friends we have from Melbourne who have taught high school for twenty-five years, and the ministers of the gospel from the Baja. And there's my very own Beve, who apparently, for all I can't hear it myself, has a broad, flat and a board American accent that is quite hard to understand for non-native speakers.  Perhaps, and this is just my own puny, coughing brain thinking, someone with an accent one can understand, might be the best person to teach the language one is trying to learn.  But it's just a thought.

The thing is--the thing is (I can hear my father lean forward to emphasize his point here)--Jesus didn't have a very popular accent either.  "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathanael asked about him (John 1: 46).  "How can the Messiah come from Galilee?" others asked (John 7: 41).   Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem (right where the Messiah was supposed to have been born but his accent gave him away as Galilean.  As one not worth listening to. 

At least for those not discerning enough to listen beneath the cadence of the words to the meaning. Beneath the accent.  Hmm.  Beneath the accent.  I wonder if I do this.  Wow, there's a flash. I do it.  Perhaps a little more sophisticated or with a few more filters on my responses than this bald Arizona educators' initiative, but I think I do the same thing.  I think I discount people who don't speak the way I do.  I have some kind of internal hierarchy of accents that says one is good, another not so much.  Why, someone with a British accent could read the phone book and I'd probably think they were spouting high philosophy. But someone who grew up hard-scrabble in the back hills of West Virginia and can think far over my head about all things algebraic or scientific and I'll still imagine them hill-billies.

I wonder, I really wonder, if we'd listen to that man with the thick Galilean accent if he came walking into our town.  Or if we'd think of Him as from someplace too hick-ish, think of Him--just because of that accent (well, and the lack of formal education)-- as too uneducated and uncouth, to give a second listen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What they're worth




My latest quilt offerings.  The top is the one I made for J, which he finally managed to bring home for me to photograph.  He says the cats who share his abode have taken up residence on this black and blue beauty, so he stopped using it on his bed and needs another one.  I didn't have to tell him how I felt about that, how I feel about cats, though I have to say, as cats go, those cats at his house are pretty unique.  Beautiful too.  They're like great-great-great-great to the 16th generation from bengal tigers and have the dark orange and black coloring to prove it. Completely stunning, though I still don't know that I want them sleeping on J's quilt.  However, that's not for me to say, along with most things in his life, as hard as that is for me.

But I digress.  I made these two baby blankets for the new babies in Beve's family.  That's right, folks. Grampie's a great-grandfather now, which gave me a perfect opportunity to make baby quilts, and backed them with 'minky' backs, which I wish had been around when I was making quilts for my babies 20+ years ago.

And there are more where these came from.  It's cheaper than therapy, and lately therapy has been necessary. But it's more than therapy, it's prayer. Groaning and praying some more.  My sewing machine like a prayer wheel--yes, that's what it's like. It's true, as I sew, I pray.  For the person for whom the quilt is being made, for others He puts on my heart, for the fish in the Gulf, the ordinary citizens in Afghanistans. I pray for those who make reasonable laws in Washington, and those who make unreasonable ones in Arizona.  Or the other way around, perhaps (though not from my point of view).

So you might look at these quilts and see color and fabric and thread.  But I look at them and see prayer.  And that, my friends, makes them worth more than what they're made from. It's what they're made into that counts, and I'm not talking about quilts. God alone knows what He'll make from these prayers.

A Facebook story

It's been a hard week since I last wrote.  Coughing up a lung takes a lot out of a person.  And that's only part of what has been difficult.  I can't begin to write about it all.  Not even close.  Let me just say that I feel like I've been swimming in water far over my head, with barely a life raft in sight.  At times like these, beyond my depth, so far out of my league that I don't have the faintest idea how to get back to where I can stand, all I can do is cry out. Cough out, might be the better way to put it.

I can't share everything of this last week, but here's one:  Can I just say, Facebook!  Seriously, a networking system that allows complete strangers to find you based on hometown, high school, last name, whatever?  Then it allows you to send messages to those complete strangers which rip your history in shreds.  This happened to my little brother last week.  The same night I was at the doctor because I couldn't breathe, he was facing a computer having the wind knocked out of him.  Turns out someone recognized his name, asked to be his friend on Facebook, then proceeded to tell BB something about our middle brother BB had never known.  BB sent me a shocked message, and we talked for a long time that night--me wheezing out the confirmation that yes, our brother really had done that dispicable thing this man claimed.  I was startled BB didn't know, then realized that BB had been a 10-year-old boy, an innocent, beloved child whose parents didn't want him to grow up too fast.  So when Andrew was removed from home for his deviant behavior, BB never knew why.  And later, no one thought to tell him, just thought he knew.  Until this total stranger spelled out the whole ugly story in details you certainly don't want to know here.  I don't even want to know them, and I already did.

BB was shaken to his soul about this, shaken that he hadn't known, shaken that this man's venom was spewing all over him as well.  We talked of how BB could alleviate some of the pain this man still feels.  This man has long feared he'll run into our middle brother somewhere, and BB can alleviate that.  With a sensitivity this stranger didn't show BB, my youngest brother typed a note back, extending grace.  My heart aches this man, and it aches for BB.  And BB's kindness touched this man, who wrote back a gentler epistle, acknowledging that BB was, after all, merely Andrew's brother, was not only not to blame for what Andrew had done, but had likely suffered a great deal for having been his brother.

BB told this man who wrote about Andrew, "We are still struggling to forgive him."  And that's true.  And there's a whole new dimension in that for BB now.  There's more to forgive than BB ever knew.  And I'm sorry about that for BB, who was always loyal in ways I didn't understand.  I do now.  

I love the written word.  I do.  And sometimes I hate the written word.  I hated that a total stranger could find and hurt my BB like that.  However, I also love that this exchange of messages brought some small healing to this man--and, I'm guessing, his family.  I love, too, that BB discovered another reason to feel blessed by his parents.  He feels awe that Mom and Dad went to such lengths to protect him, to make sure he continued to have an ordinary childhood in the face of horrific circumstances going on right in the same house.  That they never gave it away, that Dad, especially, demanded that BB see/act as/be Andrew's brother.  "He taught me to love and I didn't even know how hard that was," BB said to me the other night.  Loving those hardest to love.

At the end of the correspondence with BB, this man said, "I won't be home this year for 4th of July, but when I do, I'd love to catch up with you (He clearly doesn't know BB lives in Massachusetts, not Pullman, Washington)...I'm glad to call you 'Friend.'"

Facebook. Love that a person can find old friends.  Hate that a person can find old enemies.  Love that a person can make peace with old enemies.