Saturday, July 31, 2010

53

It's my birthday, I can cry if I want to, cry if I want to...just so you know.  Thankfully, at the moment, I don't want to. It's my birthday, Beve just reminded me, so I get to plan whatever we do today.  This will, of course, include going to our favorite local bookstore with our birthday postcards so we can get our 39% discount (that's as high as they go no matter how old you get, sad to say, I'd be happy to get 53% off a book, really I would).  Then maybe we'll take a walk down at the bay, where the sailboats will be out in force on the water and the coffee-drinkers in force along the paths.

A couple of years ago, when I got an unexpected call from my college boyfriend, he asked me when my birthday was (I, of course, remembered his, but then it is the same day as my dad's, which makes it easy).  When I told him he said, "That's a stupid day for a birthday."  "What?" I asked. "Because it's almost August but it isn't yet."  'Speaking of stupid,' I thought to myself, but didn't say it, especially considering his birthday is July 2, which is just barely July itself. 

Anyway, ANYWAY, I actually have always loved having my birthday on the very last day of a month. And smack dab in the middle of the summer.  My birthday was never going to fall on a school day, for one thing.  And though this meant I never got to take cupcakes to school as a kid, it also meant I never had a test on my birthday either.  Never had to worry about homework the night before my birthday.  Of course, there were more than a few times when one or more of my parents were out of town on my birthday, more than a few times when I wasn't even home. 

The summer I turned 16, I was in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and celebrated my actual birthday with the step-great-nephew of my great-aunt in Denver, driving around in his souped-up red and white Corvair.  He thought he was pretty hot stuff, revving the engine.  I thought, all things considered, I'd rather be in Pullman.  When I got home, three weeks after my birthday, a little worse for wear, my mother spent the whole day trying to get me to take a shower.  I spent the whole day trying to find someone to hang out with.  Inexplicably, not a single one of my many friends was available.  You can't imagine how little I felt the need for Mom's pushed-on shower.  That night, however, one of my friends showed up.  Her boyfriend had canceled.  We went down to my room, where I hadn't even unpacked, and a few minutes later, Mom called us back upstairs.  Our living room was stuffed with friends.  I mean STUFFED.  I was both shocked and appalled that I hadn't taken that dang shower!  All these friends had actually gathered at the house across the street of the boy who would, a decade later, become my husband, though we didn't know it then.  It was a wonderful surprise party. Even 37years later, I remember a few of the gifts I got that day.  The not-yet-the-Beve bought me a book called, How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious. (Earlier that summer he'd also given me a t-shirt he'd brought back from being on workcrew at Woodleaf, a Young Life camp.  Oddly, Beve also gave me Christmas gifts almost every year in high school. Maybe he knew something I didn't know!)  My mother had made a three-tiered peanut butter cake, which was pretty cool, I thought even then.  Now I know what a big deal it was that she knew I didn't like chocolate, and that she went to that kind of effort all the way around.  Mom wasn't much of a party-giver, so it's pretty impressive that she put one on for me. Wow.  I really can't imagine. 

Anyway,  my birthday.  Yep, It's a good day.  I'm glad to be alive, glad to be me, glad to be 53.  Some people (read that as women) don't like admitting their ages after a certain point.  But not me. The truth is, I wouldn't give any of my year up, not even the bad ones.  Every one has taught me something, given me something, made me more into who God intended me to be.  He knows how long it takes a human to become a Christ-one, or maybe a person to become His Person, and I'm willing to admit it's taken me 53 so far.  1979-80? A pretty bad stretch there.  No doubt about it.  I thought my heart had fallen out of my chest and cracked all over the pavement of Eugene, Oregon.  Instead, He was just recreating me, preparing me for the heart meant for my real life.  1997-98, when tears flooded my life, my home, and my daddy-less world shifted on its axis?  I wouldn't have missed that grief-swamped year.  I needed to walk through it, even if that walking was often a crawl.  And this year, which resembles nothing so much as my mother's old pressure-cooker with the metal lid screwed on tightly and steam coming out the top?  There is purpose in this year too.  Gifts I wouldn't miss with Grampie and Thyrza, the final gifts with Mom--thank God for the final gifts.  Yes, I have loved, do love my life, intend to love every year of my life.  All 53. 


I've earned these years, every single one of them.  Yep, I've earned them. As we all do. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

The hidden treasure

Today is July 30.  July 30.  You know what that means, don't you?  It means that the Beve woke up this morning to tell me, "Today I'm two years older than you!" before I could even rub the sleep out of my eyes and wish him a happy birthday.  It means he's one year away from discounts at restaurants, movie theaters and myriad other places--a bonus he's already thought of.  Just one more year and to the good ol' US of A, he's a 'senior citizen.'  No matter that he still has at least 10 years to work, a lot of lawns still to mow and a beautifully-unlined face right under his steely-gray hair.  I asked him last night if he ever misses his dark brown (read that as black to the world) hair, and he said no, without even thinking about it.  Of course, if his hair was still dark, he'd look about 34, I'm guessing.  Seriously, why don't the Norwegians get wrinkles?   He's certainly been out in the sun enough. Sigh.

My favorite birthday gift--maybe to both of us--came yesterday when we were over at the elders', because Beve had to help the elders call their finance man, whose name is actually Peter. Grampie calls him "Morgan Stanley." Fortunately, Peter's a nice guy and even answers to Morgan.  He may have plenty of elderly clients, living in Sequim as he does.  Anyway, when I got there with some medication and milk that I'd picked up for the elders, the call had been made and Beve was busy trying to give Grampie a tutorial on the TV remote.  This is a losing proposition from my point of view, having tried it once or twenty times before, but Beve was determined and Grampie seemed an eager student.  At least for that five minutes.  Then it happened. 

Grampie looked over at me eating my sandwich from Subway (a veggie delite), and said, "Carolyn, thank you for marrying Steve.  Steve, thank you for marrying Carolyn."

Just that.  He thanked us for marrying each other.  Thanked me for becoming part of their family.  Imagine this in context of the man he used to be, a man who never did more than sign his name on cards or say, "You're great," to people he really admired.  No, my father-in-law wasn't one to wear his heart on his sleeve.  He was the epitome of the strong, silent type when it came to emotions.  But increasingly, as the filters have dropped with age and dementia, he's said what he feels, told it like he sees it.  When he sees an overweight person moving toward a buffet, he worries there won't be enough food for him.  When he thinks something isn't fair to him these days, he says it loud and clear, "Thyrza has more closet space than I do.  Is that right?"  And when he loves someone, he tells them.  He shows them.  E knows this by the pile of bills he pulls out of his wallet for her every time she does the smallest service for him.  And I know it too.  He tells me all the time that he doesn't know what he'd do without me.  The other day in a urologist's waiting room, I had the 'pleasure' of asking him about 'erectile disfunction' for the medical questionaire we had to fill out.  I tried pointing to that question, but he asked me to read it, so I did.  He started grinning and rubbed his large, bony hand across his face.  "You're 86," I told him. "Maybe this doesn't matter."  "No," he said. "Not so much."  Not with a 91-year-old wife anyway.  I actually think those two bathtubs on the TV ad would be just about right for Grampie and Thyrza these days (though I've never quite understood how they're right for the folks in the ad). The point is, I know Grampie appreciates me.  I've known it since the days, a year before I married Beve, when I helped Beve's parents (not yet Grampie and Grammie) move back into their home from a year's sabbatical at West Point. They were very appreciative.  Liked me well enough they actually told each other they wouldn't mind if he married that girl (something I thankfully didn't know until we were actually engaged--it would have completely embarrassed me).

But to out-and-out say "I'm glad you married my son" is a pretty bold thing. Beve said last night that it's a hidden treasure of Grampie's dementia that--at least at this early stage--we get to know what's going on inside his head.  And, as far as it concerns us, he's pleased with us, with our choice.  It was like a blessing--in the Biblical sense--to have him say those words in such a straight-forward manner. And I feel that blessing like the mantle of grace that such words always are. This far into our marriage, and he's still saying the same words he told his wife 27 years ago. I feel honored and blessed and awed that this should be so. This father's blessing as a birthday gift.  It'll do.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Two words

I may have mentioned a time or dozen that my mother is failing from the walk in the park known as Alzheimers.  And now that walk is nearing its conclusion. With her eyes dull and hands clenched, speech all but robbed from her, my mother lies in her bed barely moving but for the twitches she over which she has no control. And still, my little sister, my gem of a little sister who has walked every blasted step of this torturous journey with Mom, sits beside her, talking and holding those clenched hands, reminding Mom of the life she actually lived.

I just got off the phone with this sister, told Beve about the phone call, then texted RE to tell her I had to--was compelled to--write about her visit with Mom yesterday...if it was okay with her.  Yes, she texted back, so here I am, not five minutes later, sharing with you.

As RE sat by Mom's bedside yesterday afternoon, watching Mom's heavily-painted fingernails, she began telling Mom how much better she'll be in heaven, with a restored body and a clear mind once again.  "Won't that be great?" she asked the air around Mom's dull eyes.  Then RE was silent for a bit.  About thirty seconds later,  Mom said, "YES!" in a loud, clear voice.  Her eyes never touched RE's but that voice was present and real.  RE sat up in her chair and began to sing some of Mom's favorite hymns.  RE got Dad's musical ability but it didn't matter in that room. There was a sudden hope in her singing, thinking Mom was somehow present deep within her seemingly empty brain.

Then RE spoke of the people Mom will see again in heaven: her parents, whom RE called Mama and Daddy (for a long time RE was Mama in our mother's mixed-up mind), and her beloved husband, D. Our Dad.  Then RE listed all those still on earth who love Mom.  In order, R, me, LD, RE, and D.  Then the grandchildren.  Some spouses.  Sisters-in-law.  The list was quite long.  But when she finished and the room was quiet for a moment or two again,  Mom said something that, when RE told me, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. In her own, ordinary voice, Mom said "Andrew."  Andrew.  Our lost, dead brother, whom RE hadn't listed either dead or alive.  Though it hadn't seemed that way, Mom had been listening.  Mom had been present in the lists, and knew who was missing.

Mom was there.  For a moment or two, anyway, she was there.  RE couldn't see it in her eyes, or sense it in her body, but two words brought her back for a time. Two words, one that says she knows where she's going, and the other that says she knows who she's been.  Short, succinct, and present words: Yes. Yes, I want to go home.  Yes, I am ready. Yes, I need to get out of this prison. Yes.  And our brother's name.  Our missing brother's name that she knew, that she somehow had held deep inside when everything seems to be long gone.  Andrew.  She remembers.  It's all there, waiting to be let free.

What a blessed hour RE spent with Mom yesterday.  Ending with prayer.  If that's the last time, it's sweet.  If Mom never says another word, those words are sweet enough.  Thank you for sharing them, RE.  Thank you for being who you are, the strong, stalwart one, caring for her even in the hardest hours.  I think she was thanking you by saying what she could. 
And it was good!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The thing is...

The thing is that all these things, all these people pulling at me, all these responsibilities, stresses, life-changing, life-slowing-down, life-ending, life-and-death decisions I'm living with these days have begun to weigh on me.  I noticed that last week at Whidbey.  One of our friends would ask a fairly innocuous question and before an answer could even be formed by Beve or me, tears had sprung from my eyes.  I'm talking tears about things I haven't cried about in almost thirty years.  Situations (like a bad job experience--a rather hellish one, even) I've made my peace with and thought I had no residual bitterness about made my voice tremble and tears flow.  And then there were the things I actually am fairly emotional about--like my father-in-law and his precarious health, and my mother and the close of her life--and I was like a gusher, I mean a full-on, Old Faithful geyser.  And all of these tears cursing down my cheeks made me more than a little annoyed because I'm not, by nature, a crier.  In fact, I've always prided myself in how strong I am.

But why the heck is the ability NOT to cry something to be proud about?  What's so wrong with crying when there are things to cry about?  When emotion--strong, deep, crying-out-to-God emotion--is the natural reaction to a serious situation, why do I try so hard to stem those cries?  Why don't I simply let 'em rip, to do the good they're meant to do?

There is such strong Biblical precedence for crying.  For allowing tears and sobs and wails to do a job until those tears are finished.  Think of all the times the Psalmist cries out, with loud impassioned cries.  No dignity, no stoic forbearance.  Just cries naked and natural to the One who made him just that way--naked and natural.  "In my distress I called to the Lord: I cried to my God for help.  From His temple He heard my voice; my cries came before Him into His ears." Psalm 18: 6 says.

I've been trying so hard to be faithful in the midst of an increasingly pressurized life that something has had to burst.  My tears have been more honest than I have been, it hit me today.  A life where all kinds of things are coming at us from every direction all the time.  And I'm working so hard to stay afloat, to stay faithful and trusting of God, that I've forgotten to simply be with Him.  To be whatever it is I really am.  Do I actually think He can't take it if I let down for a moment?  If I actually tell Him that it's too much?  Too many deaths staring us in the face, too many illnesses, depressions, or whatever?  If I tell Him I can't handle it and feel overwhelmed, what is He going to do, say, 'Alrighty then, you're on your own!?  When I carry that thinking to its conclusion, I can tell how ridiculous it really is, but the thing is, I've been raised to be faithful.  I've grown up in the faith to trust and trust and trust some more.  And when hard things come, still go on believing in faith that He is in it, around it, will not allow anything to happen that I can't handle with Him.

The thing is...I've been so busy saying I'm faithful I haven't actually been living it out.  That is to say, I haven't allowed the natural cycle of lament to work itself out in my struggle.  If I look at the Psalmists' cries to God as a model of living in a pressure cooker, what I see is brutal honesty, even to to point of, 'how dare you do this to me?', followed by a lull in which the psalmist remembers who God is, then finishes up by surrendering in complete and lavish adoration.  Read Psalm 18 and see what I mean.  It's not based on a single thing that the pray-er does for himself.  No picking himself up by his boot straps, even in faith.  No, it's far more basic:

       I'm in trouble. Do you hear me? I need you.  But I know who you are.  You have proved yourself-- throughout history and throughout my life. Hallelujah, you are God.  You are God...and I am not.              Hallelujah. Whatever is to be done in this situation must be done by YOU.  Will be done by You.  Hallelujah.

Yes, that's it...You are God and if only one of us has this mess of a life in control, it has to be You, because it sure isn't me.   So I'm going to stop acting like I am--in control or anything else. You are God and I am not.
Now excuse me, I've got a bit (or maybe a whole lot) of crying to do!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Golden


 At the cabin the other day, Beve came up with quite the sharing question: 'What were your best and worst jobs--(and the best can't be the one you have now)?' And there was a very, very wide range of answers, about as wide a range as those gathered.  Cleaning up chicken poop made the worst list, as working as a female in a good old boys system.  Being an oncology nurse made the best list along with working at a sports camp for a summer (which all three men did together at least one year).  But this morning I realized that I had completely left out the most important job of my life, the best one, the one I know I was created for, even though sometimes I've also found it the hardest, even, in singular moments, the worst.

I speak, of course, about the job of motherhood.  Today marks the quarter-century mark of my being a mother.  At about 8:30 pm that long ago day, I met the large, already-half-grown baby who instantly changed my life.  Though some would argue that my motherhood actually began nine months before (and I'd gladly join them), the minute she began to breathe outside of me something changed within me forever.  Never again would I wonder what she'd look like, what sex she'd be, who she'd be.  From that moment on, she was the child I wanted. She (and her brother and sister after her) was the standard by which all babies were measured--their inherent cuteness, their essential baby-ness all lined up against who she was, how she was--and all found wanting, of course.  I learned almost instantly this plurality: that she could make be crazy by not sleeping, then not obeying or not whatever, but was also, to my love-clouded eyes, completely perfect.  It's hard to explain how this can be, but I still understand that it's true.  I see my children quite objectively--see their flaws, their weaknesses, acknowledge their sins--yet also know somehow that they are the most amazing, beautiful, perfect people ever created.  This plurality, I think, is how the best of parents feel about their children.  And the best of parents, I hope, work hard not to admit it most of the time.  At least I do.

That small wonder who made me a mother is 25 today.  25 on the 25th, making this her golden birthday.  She's out celebrating by mowing lawns with her daddy, the same tall man who held her before I did.  The one who had to drive away from us ten hours after her birth, and cried to have to. This is the man who used to toss her in the air, carry her on her shoulders, and play basketball with her before his knees gave out.

She's come a long ways from that tiny bundle, that little bird with her mouth wide open hungry for only one thing. The older she's grown the more hungry she's become, it seems to me.  Hungry for God, hungry for her own life, hungry for whatever God has in store for her own life.  And the older she's grown the more I've had to loosen my grip on that life.  Where I once held tightly, controlled practically everything, now I mostly sit in awe.  

She's changed a great deal from this baby, of course.  But I think she's changed us more.  Beve's hair is gray, my face is wrinkled.  We've put on a few dozen pounds between us.  When I look at these young people holding this child, it's hard to imagine we didn't know she'd be this beautiful, mature, organized, responsible young woman.  I can't look at that child (who just seconds later was putting sand in her mouth--I know, there's a photo to prove it!) and see the woman she's become.  No more than I can look at the parents and see how she has changed their lives. But I feel it.  I live it.  Being a mother is the best job I've ever had.  Yes, sometimes I've been sleepless with worry over one or more of my children.  Sometimes I've sat in hospital waiting rooms praying for one of them (though, oddly, never this one).  There have been days when Beve and I have finally drug ourselves into bed and wondered why we hadn't just had cats.  But we only ask that question because we can, because we've had the inexpressible joy of knowing this baby-grown-to-woman and her siblings.  Yes, just plain knowing them.  For twenty-five years, the best job we've ever had.

Happy Birthday, E.  Thank you for making life so golden for us.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Circles

"Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?" CS Lewis

We returned home yesterday from a week spent with just such a circle of friends, around a fire very like ones I imagine Lewis speaking of.  Each morning at my family's cabin on Whidbey Island, Beve and the professor, both of whom are extremely early risers, made a fire in the large fire circle where I've often sat, danced and laughed late at night with cousins, siblings, children, parents.  A different time of day, but the marshmallows and sticks made their appearance, nevertheless (though I, uncertain breakfast eater that I am, was unable to manage one!), just about the time we sleeper/coffee-drinkers stumbled down the meadow to join the fire, and start the day with smoke curling above us, around us, sometimes following us.  The smoke and conversation in equal measure, I should say.

But then we never seemed to lack for conversation.  Not when the sun was covered with misty clouds, making that fire seem right and in order, not around our 'second breakfast' (a nod here to hobbits), since the 'smores were first, not in the kitchen as six capable adults moved in easy symphony to clean up a rather small space, not later in the day when we'd chosen an activity.  There is always much to say, of course, when friends of 40+ years are together.  Old stories we've heard a time or two, but sometimes only from our own spouse without the full truth that differing points of view can bring.  New stories of how life has changed since last we sat or walked or ate together.

This year, our aged parents were present at our fire and table and lawn-chairs.  Almost as present as if they'd pulled up their own chairs--for good or ill--along side us and plopped themselves down.  Two of the three couples are in the middle of elderly care. Daily, never-ending, life-altering, life-ending (for them) elder care. And the third couple is barely out of it, with the death of a mother.  It seemed this week that no matter what else we were talking about, it came back to those parents: to our care for them, our difficult relationships with them in the past and present, learning to love the unlovable in them.  I suppose when we marry we imagine such days will come, but we don't actually realize what they will mean.  And it's hard.  I don't pretend otherwise.  So there's a fellowship to how we're living life, across the state, across the country from each other.  This is the age--mid-fifties--when the focus of our attention shifts away from the daily care of children to parents, and it's an odd, but reassuring, feeling to discover we aren't alone in it.

We also spoke, naturally, of jobs and spheres of influence.  These are men Beve has known since he was ten years old.  When they were in high school they, with seven or more other boys, were members of 'the Rock' club, complete with rules and regulations.  This club was comprised of the Christian boys in our class who were determined to remain 'bachelors until [the] rapture.'  Oddly, even though I went to high school with these boys and married one of them, this week was the first time I'd heard more than simple murmurings about it.  I'd heard them call each other rocks, of course, had certainly known--first-hand!--that they didn't date girls more than once, but I sure didn't know about this club or the rules.  Tells me volumes about how so many great young Christian boys that I might have liked to get to know a little better managed to elude even real friendship with girls. I'm not bitter or anything...really, I'm not.  I'm just saying, it's nice to know it wasn't that they found us (the Christian girls in their class) singularly uninteresting, unattractive, un-everything, the way we thought they did.

Anyway, listening to these friends speak of their spheres of influence was a bit hard for the Beve.  It's been a hard year for him.  Losing his beloved sister, dealing with Grampie and Thyrza on a daily basis has made him feel like he was not very effective in his job.  It takes a lot to make my very large, very confident Beve feel small, but that's close to how he was feeling. One of these men impacts countless students in classrooms, by mentoring them, in counseling, just walking with them at the beginning of their adult lives.  The other's circle extends across the globe as he criss-crosses it monthly to check on this project in Australia, that one in Japan, another in London.  And I get how Beve feels.

However, as we were talking about it on the drive home, I told him that it's not about how large one's circle of influence is, but how faithful one is in that circle.  Is Beve faithful to what God has called him to do?  Absolutely.  God hasn't called him to an international corporate job.  Never in a million years would that fit Beve's gifts and bents.  Likewise, God hasn't called him to teach.  Not at a college level, not even at at high school level.  What Beve does, he does brilliantly.  Faithfully. He plants his size 15s in the shoes of insecure 15-year-olds and walks around in their worlds with them.  He sits along-side the marginalized--even in his own school--and allows them to feel safe and important.  No, Beve might not get any more than a hearty handshake at the end of his years of service, but he is exactly where he's been called to be, faithfully doing his job.

And that, dear readers, is how one measures success.  Not in the world's terms, but in the Kingdom's.  We came home ready for our own bed (as always!), but so enriched by the time with these four other people.  They make us laugh, made me cry (I was truly on the edge of tears all week...a completely unforeseen, unwanted thing, but then, my mother's dying, so I let it go), and made us plan our next vacation together:  next summer in Jerusalem...er, New Jersey.  And...thanking God for this life-long circle of friends.

"The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are."  CS Lewis

Saturday, July 17, 2010

This and that:

Beve and I are off on vacation tomorrow.  We'll be unplugged for a week, along with Beve's childhood buddies.  Buddies we both went to elementary school with.  I think I might have been in the same third grade class with one of them at least.  Beve, these two men and I lived in about a three-block radius in our home-town, so, even though our town isn't a very large town (especially in the summer when the university clears out), with a real Main street (back then) and we really did know just about everyone, we knew the kids on our hill best of all, the ones we went to elementary school with.

But that's not really what makes these two men Beve's oldest, closest friends.  It isn't that they grew up together but that they grew up in Christ together.  It isn't that they met as children, it's that in some essential ways they raised each other.  You meet one, discover his wit and humor, and you've met the other two.  I've often wondered why Beve is so different from his brothers in humor (though he sure can make the Finn laugh!), but it's because his brothers were quite a bit older than Beve, and with these two men, he learned a razor-sharp wit that bounced around each other, usually while they were bouncing a basketball as well. 

One of these men is a professor at the university where SK studies.  If I'd have guessed back in high school which of these three would be the professor, he wouldn't have been my first guess. I would have imagined him in full-time ministry.  But it turns out that he is in ministry.  One uniquely suited for him.  He gets to spend every day with eager young adults trying to figure out how to have relationships, how to communicate, how to preach the best of all news is the clearest of all language.  He feels privileged to continue this work day after day after day.  The other one--the one we all would have imagined a professor because of his love of study, research, history, voracious desire to learn--is in the world of business.  He travels around the world for a very well-known company, manages people, works from his home.  But also uses his resources to study, give back, lead Bible studies, sit on church boards, give back, give and give and give.  He never forgets where he came from, who He serves.  In the strange, very worldly business world in which he dwells, he could forget, but he doesn't.  It hasn't changed him.  My guess would be that he has impacted his corner of it more than it has changed him.  Because he knows who he serves, even there.  Or especially there. 

So we'll spend the week with them and their equally amazing wives.  Women who fit right in as though they were made for them, as obviously they were.  The professor's wife is a nurturing nurse who was reared in California.  And the business man's wife is a southern belle from Atlanta. But we all fit and fit well. And I can hardly wait to be with them.

We're spending the week at my family's cabin on Whidbey Island, where we'll sit and talk, take walks and talk.  Wander the island and talk.  Eat and talk.  Well, you get the idea.  But we won't be plugged into the internet, which will be a joy too.  So it really will be a vacation.

Until next week, then, here are my latest quilt offerings.  I say offerings, because quilting has become an entirely prayerful pursuit for me in the last few months.  I read a quote from Robert Frost last night that gave voice to what I've been feeling: "It is we ourselves who are not always present."  So much has pulled at me/Beve and me in the last few months that I feel like I've been living in the shallows when it comes to prayer.  So the simple, repetitive motions of sewing--cutting, pinning, even ripping but especially the stitching of the machine--give me focus.  Away from my worries, self-centeredness, and pre-occupations and into the presence.  His presence.  It's a funny thing, but I told Beve last night that I finally kind of understand the appeal of the rosary:  to speak prayers over and over until one has really discarded distractions and is really focused on God, this is very good.  This is what my sewing has allowed me of late.  And when I am sewing for someone else (which is my practice), I find myself praying for them with every stitch.  It's a sweet way back to the ministry of prayer that used to come far more easily.

So there they are:


Friday, July 16, 2010

A found letter

Beve's been riding a red hare this morning. Isn't that a great image?  My tall, well-built spouse on a small, quick mythical creature that makes him squirm this way and that, race from one aborted task to the next?  He's taken apart an old game table that's sat on our back deck for as long as we've lived here, weeded a bed in the back yard, moved some wood, somewhere managed to turn up (though I'm pretty sure it wasn't hiding in the flower bed) a letter written by my mother three years ago.

It used to be that when I saw my mom's inimitable handwriting (and I know it's inimitable because I sure tried imitating it in middle school!), I'd flinch, at least internally.  It almost never boded well to get an unexpected letter from Mom.  However, this morning when Beve dropped it on my lap as I was drinking my tea, I felt a pang of sadness because it's been a long time since she's been able to write anything, let alone so smoothly and perfectly across the page.  My mother's handwriting was once one of the few things I could find to commend her, I'm sorry to say, but despite my inability to see the good in her, that handwriting was one of the most perfect I've ever seen. (Oddly, the other perfect penmanship belonged to Beve's mom.)

Anyway, it's the content of this letter that caught me this morning. When this letter was written, Mom was spending her days--literally all of her days--working through the Bible.  From the time she awakened in the morning, she'd work on her 'writings', i.e. copying Bible verses, copying prayers, and--most significantly, trying to write responses to verses in the Bible.  By this time, which was February of 2007, she'd forgotten that she'd taught Bible studies for years, and trying to come up with responses often took the whole day and a great amount of frustration.  And, because she was who she was, she was always self-evaluating those responses, certain she wasn't saying the right things, wasn't good enough or whatever.

But here it is in her own rather poignant words:
________________
February 28, 2007
"And [Abram] believed! Believed God! God declared him 'Set right with God.'" Genesis 13:6 (The Message)

Here is my response--
If God told me--really told ME--that something would happen for me, would I believe? Of course I would! But if I read a scripture in the Bible which reports something from God--well, that's a different story.  I try very hard to believe promises written thousands of years ago.  It's harder.  Am I like Thomas who needed to see Jesus' injuries?  I trust God to love me always.  I trust--believe--that God is the creator.  I believe that I will someday go to heaven.  I trust in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  But do I believe that God will cure my dementia?  I doubt it.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Dear God, I want to be a new creation; I want to be an ambassador for Christ; I want to be part of the Righteousness of God.  Lead me, please, Lord; show me the way.  Help me be able. Amen.

I put this in so you would see I'm not so messed up.
_______________________________________
 That final sentence really gets me.  Everything else sounds just like I'd write, what most of us might write if we were as honest as she was being here.  She was facing the dilemma every Christian faces, how to trust God, especially how to trust Him with the hard, hard things in our lives.  When we hold up our actual real circumstances against those words written so long ago, do we believe? Mom had doubts. And, I'm guessing, so would I.  Actually, so did I about Him healing her.  But what gets me is that she thought it made her messed up to have them. That last sentence makes me very sad because it speaks volumes about her essential self.

But the rest is encouraging.  For all of us.  Here, for all our family to see is Mom's black and white statement of faith.  And this is a good thing because her life is being measured out in weeks now, unless the reserves in her body are greater than anticipated.  And that's possible. Maybe even likely. Mom always has had hidden reserves despite how she appears. But the end is near. Very near now, for which we are thankful.  God didn't cure Mom's dementia, but He will take her home soon.  And then she will be healed.  She was faithful, as good as soldier as she could be with what she'd be given.  And that's plenty.

And that Beve found this letter this morning is God's timing.  Yesterday afternoon my youngest, in-town, chief-care-giver, sister had a meeting at the skilled nursing facility where Mom's body awaits its release, and RE requested, er, make that demanded on behalf of all of us, that Mom stop being force-fed, force-dressed, force-everything.  In their good intentions, the staff has pried open a mouth that refuses to open, yelled in a face that doesn't know her name nor even responds now to sound at all, has tipped cups down her throat all in the name of keeping her alive.  But to what end?  Why?  What quality is this existence?  I'm telling you I'm not painting the picture nearly as bleakly as it actually is, honestly, I'm not.  So stop already, just stop it.  And that's essentially what RE said.  With our blessing. With our love.  And, I think, given the content of this letter found this morning, with Mom's blessing as well.  It's time to go to heaven for Mom.  Time to free her from the prison of uncured dementia.  Time for Mom to be the new creation in a new body with a brand new brain she prayed for.
Amen. Halleujah!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Babies

Today something happened so real and heart-wrenching that I suggested my cure-all for just such a situation as this: go stand in the shower and cry.  I mean cry long and hard and about everything you ever needed to cry about.  Once you get started, it won't be just this--this one real, sad thing--but every other real, sad thing like when your sister used to bite you then tell you she'd give you candy if you didn't tell Mom and Dad, like how your brother beat up on you, held knives over your head and that surely made you however crazy you are today; how you married too young or didn't marry at all, or had to work or didn't get to work, or whatever comes pouring out once those necessary tears start and combine themselves with the cleansing water out of the rainwater shower head that never felt quite so perfect as it does when it sluices down your cheeks with the salt.

Yep, there was this kind of moment in this day for someone I know and love.  And for me as well.  But it seems to me I've done nothing but post these kind of sad posts lately, and I'm not feeling it today.  There's time enough yet.

Today I'm thinking of babies.  I know, crazy, huh?  I haven't had a baby for about 21 and a half years, haven't wanted one for about half that time, but last night E and I watched some TLC show about a woman--older than me, which is, frankly, older than Methuselah--who was pregnant with her first child.  55 years old, which in our state means she qualifies for senior citizen discounts, and pregnant with her first child.  And dear old dad was ten years older with a 35 year old daughter.  E had to tell me to shut my incredulous mouth more than once during the program.  "Is it disgusting you, Mom?" she kept asking.  Not disgusting, but something.  I kept thinking of all the energy it takes to have children.  Just this summer I've been working with a young man who has a 17 month old daughter.  He came in one day last week and said she'd slept through the night for the first time.  He got up, crept into her bed and peered down to make sure her chest was rising and falling, a behavior I remember perfectly from E's first full-night's sleep.  This young man looks like he hasn't slept in a year and a half.  He really does.  Poor thing.  And, at the end of that show last night, the retirement age dad looked like he'd aged at least another decade in the 6 weeks after their baby was born.  It was shocking to see how exhaustion had aged him.  Poor, poor thing.


Ah, yes, our babies.  Our three-in-three-and-a-half-years babies. They are the reasons Beve and I didn't sleep for six years, the reasons we learned to sleep in small corners of our king-sized bed (before an older sister-in-law told us of their sleeping bag under the bed system, which we gladly began employing for the two in the pink and the blue pjs here--for a long, long time).  They are the reasons I sometimes put my coffee mug in the refrigerator instead of the microwave to heat it up, and were constantly losing our keys.  I realize that people throughout history have gone to therapy to blame their parents for many significant issues in their lives, and with good reason.  However, it's also fair to say that we were far more sane before we had small children, far more able to make lists and stick to them, to dream and plan and check those plans off our lists.

But look at those faces, the bright eyes and adorable smiles.  Yes, E is sporting the very short haircut Beve's mother felt free to give her (I've almost gotten over it, really I have), but even if I wouldn't have cut her blond locks off, I love her face.  And those chubby cheeks of the younger two.  I'd have given every minute of sleep for them, every ounce of food, every drop of blood.  And I can't imagine my life without them.  I can't imagine getting to 55 years old and being pregnant, but I can imagine the burning craving desire that drove this woman to press on despite her age.

I have friends like this woman.  Friends who tried for years.  One, just my age, now has a very special 5 year old son.  A son not of her womb, but certainly intended by God for her and her husband.  He has special needs, you see, and they have both resources and the resolve to give him everything he needs.  My friend is uniquely suited to be this boy's mother, his chief protector, advocate, guide.  She spent years as a teacher, years in the labyrinth of education so that she can advocate for him in the coming years.  It's amazing to see how God has used every part of her life to prepare her for his.

And there is, of course, Sarah.  Abraham's wife.  You know the old lady who hoped and dreamed of a child, plotted for it when it didn't seem to be happening ('Just take Hagar, dear.' Can you imagine?) and finally, laughed in God's face when He told her she was about to have a son.  "You have got to be kidding me," was in that laugh.  But perhaps too a bit of hysterical hope.  Hope-dead-within-her-hope laughter.  "Are you sure?  Really?"  Questioning God because she was looking at her own  wrinkled face in the mirror rather than at Him.

You know those three adorable chublets?  If I had had my way, if my plan had been followed, not one of them would be here.  That's the truth.  I know this isn't everyone's story.  I know many people have plans, and they follow them and they work out just fine.  But I'm glad every time I think of it that God took the decision out of our hands, and gave us who He intended us to parent.  Those three who became these three amazing young adults.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The singular difference

Strangely, I was awakened at about 4 AM with the strong sense that I'd been working on this blog post for hours in my sleep.  I'll attempt to be as lucid as I write it as it seemed to have been in my dreams, but since things in dreams always seem to be more 'real' and clear than they turn out to be when we're awake, I think I'm safe.

A couple of days ago, J and I had a conversation about life, death and the fear of death many have.  You know, just light, inconsequential things like this.  J is something of an intellectual, one could say.  His brain runs circles around mine most of the time, and never seems to turn off, which I know makes him crazy in the middle of the night when he'd rather be sleeping.  I've known something of this myself, but not since I had pneumonia.  These days I'm sleepy about 85% of the time.

But all this is beside the point.  J asked me as we were talking to--just in theory--consider whether one religion really was better than any other.  He knows, of course, who and what I am, who and what I believe.  He's lived with my faith as the gravity in his earth since as long as he's been breathing.  But I understood what he was asking, didn't take offense at it.  My answer was quick and concise, but in my dream this morning, I, backtracked slightly to answer, and so profound that, if for no other reason, the dream was worth paying attention to.

When he was a senior in high school, I went with J's "World Religions" class to Vancouver, BC to several different kinds of places of religious worship.  At the Islamic mosque we removed our shoes, learned about facing east toward Mecca, about several tenets of the teachings of Islam (taught to us, surprisingly to me, by a woman as well as a man) and watched a man demonstrate the positions of prayer.  The devotion was apparent, the values of charity, education, family and community are values we can all agree are good and right.  When the students asked about terrorism, the man and woman spoke of how wrong such things are, how far from the center of the Koran that is.

Next we went to a Baha'i Temple.  We drove up a hill where a very tall statue of an East Indian woman in a fancy sari was looming over the grounds, and got off the bus in what seemed to be an old estate.  The building we were taken into was long with  low ceilings and a tile floor, and windows flanking one side.  At one end was an interior window with a display like one might see in a museum of natural history.  The students, the teacher (who knew what was coming) and I all marched up to the window and there were three fancy-dressed indian dolls, complete with layers and layers of necklaces, earrings and headpieces.  These were the resident gods, we were told.  The Baha'i devotee, an older woman, with closely cropped hair, told us how they were 'awakened' each morning, bathed, dressed, fed, readied for their disciples to worship at their feet. As the woman told us these things, I confess I got the giggles.  Badly. Devotees can't turn their backs on the gods (ie, the dressed up dolls in the glass enclosure), only the most privileged are allowed to see them unclothed, etc.  I had to turn completely away and look out at the gardens to catch my breath, I was having such trouble containing myself.  And then they started chanting.  And chanting.  And chanting.  And I calmed down (which may be the point of chanting, after all, though I think they do it to rev themselves into an ecstatic frenzy), until right in the middle, suddenly a curtain was drawn across the front of the glass 'room' and the woman said, without missing a beat, "they have to eat, and no one is permitted to see them."  EAT?  My giggles started all over again.  I mean, they're plastic dolls.  Dolls that you can buy at the dollar store (except that they bought theirs from Baha'i central back in NY or somewhere).  It just seemed sooo silly to me. So absurd.  But I know I should have been a better example.  I know I should have.  On the way to the bus my own son had to chastise me.  Have I ever apologized to you, J?  If not, sorry I embarrassed you.  Still, you have to admit, as religions go, that's a pretty ridiculous one.

We had lunch that day at a SikhTemple.  Sikhism is a religion that focuses on moral purity, and living in the world without being worldly.  Family, community, education are all important.  The temple where we ate serves a free community lunch several days a week to all comers, Sikhs or not.  And all are welcome in their holy room (as long as shoes are removed) after the meal.  Their rituals didn't make any sense to me, being in Hindi, especially the one where they passed around bowls of sweets (at least I think they were sweet).  I wasn't really a fan of them, but had liked the rice and daal at lunch. It reminded me of my time in India when we had rice and daal every single day.  The power of this daily lunch is profound. It was an ordinary Thursday, but there were people all over the place--eating together, worshipping together, sitting on the steps outside talking, in various rooms, learning.  We asked if something unusual was going on, but our guide at furst didn't even understand what we were asking.  This is just how they live.  In community, every single day.  Imagine if our churches had meals together every single day.  What would that look like in terms of our community? Then what would it look like as outreach--which I think it also can be.

Finally, that afternoon we went to a Buddhist temple.  After the craziness of the Baha'i temple and the crowd at the Sikh one, the quietness in the manicured gardens at the Bhuddist temple was a balm. We wandered through it without a guide, slowly, separately, just doing our own thing.  Making our own way.  About like Buddhism itself.  Trying to find the answer, working one's way through.  It was a lovely afternoon, a lovely place, and I liked it.  What's not to like about beautiful gardens, after all?

And really, what's not to like about any of these (except the one, but I've already ranted about that, so won't be redundant).  But here's the thing.  These religions, and so many more in the world, are good enough.  I mean, they're all fine and dandy, with tenets that I can admire, can see how they make individuals better, communities better, the world better.  But there's a whole lot of work involved in them.  That's one thing, the one thing we've always heard about.  Humans having to kneel in this direction, without their shoes, keep their hair covered or never cut it, wear certain clothes, eat certain foods or not, do, don't, act, don't act, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (as My Fair Lady goes).  And we can't do it.  Or we don't.  Not always all the time.  Sometimes we fail, forget, mess up, lose it.  Sin. Then what?  We're out?  We start over at the bottom rung? Or what?  We just have to keep trying, work harder, make more effort.  Work, work, work.  Sweat, sweat, sweat.

And still, we only hope we've done enough.
But, fortunately, there's one faith that is different.  One faith that knows we'll never do enough. That knows we can't. That knows we'll fail, maybe in the next minute.  A faith that is different because it's not about what but about who.  And that's a huge difference.

As I told J (far more quickly, but this trip down religious lane was fun), that difference, THE DIFFERENCE is JESUS.  That's it.  Without Him, it might be a toss-up.  But it isn't.  Because He came.  He is.  God came to earth. Did you hear me?  GOD CAME TO EARTH. And His name was Jesus.  In a nutshell, that's the singular difference between every religion on the face of the earth and Christianity.  Jesus Christ.  God knew we couldn't and that only He could, so He came and did it Himself.  I mean, He did it all Himself.  Loving us, forgiving us, saving us, drawing us to Him.  He did it. 

Yep, the singular difference is Jesus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Like father, like son

A hundred years ago when Beve and I lived in the Netherlands, I spent about two weeks waiting for word from my family back home about the birth of my sister's first child.  Finally, one Friday night (Netherland-time), while we were at what our YWAM base called a 'Love Feast', where the entire community ate together, I was handed a note that said there had been a call from my mother, and that she'd call back in about 30 minutes.  There weren't many available phones on the YWAM base, back in the olden days before cell-phones, so Beve and I wound our way up some stairs to someone's office and sat there waiting for the phone to ring.  When it did, I fully expected my mother to tell me that I had a new niece or nephew. But the news she had wasn't nearly as celebratory as that.  My sister was in the hospital, laboring mightily, but to no avail yet.  Even worse, my father was also in the hospital.  He had just come out of surgery (home-time it was morning) for colon cancer.

I remember how my hands started shaking as my mother spoke, because I was feverishly writing words on scraps of paper for Beve, who couldn't hear the other end of the phone-call. "Dad--Cancer!!!" I wrote. "Surgery."  "No baby."  I remember him taking the pen from my  hand so he could hold my hand while his other hand stroked my back.  I don't remember the rest of the conversation with my mother or hanging up the phone or leaving that office.  I do know that the next morning, when I got up, there was a telegram from my family--my niece, SER, had made her way into the world.

It just hit me what symmetry this story really has, because that day was February 4th.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last Friday morning, Grampie, his oldest son, R (the Finn), and I went to the doctor together.  Because I have been the designated person for almost all of the elders' medical appointments, I carry a notebook in my purse just for the purpose of recording such appointments. So I was there to take notes, ask questions, keep things straight, I think.  I perched on the seat of Grampie's walker and when the doctor came in, he didn't waste much time in pleasantries.  "You have prostrate cancer," he told Grampie. Grampie nodded, somewhat distracted by a complaint he had about a procedure room.  Grampie can get high-centered on things at times. What the doctor didn't realize is that sitting beside Grampie was a man who also has exactly the same disease.  "Like father, like son," R told me later, shaking his head.  It was a strange experience because mostly we spoke of why Grampie probably wouldn't get treatment, what an 86-year-old man should perhaps think about instead.  I thought of the panic I felt when I first heard the word cancer with my dad, and how different it was with Grampie. There was none of that in this little room. Just calm questions, from me--about Grampie's appetite, weight, fatigue, which are likely all symptoms of this cancer--and from R, who  had the opportunity to ask a few about his own treatment, though the doctor was a little reluctant to offer medical advice to a person not his own patient.  R has to wait until he returns to Finland to make the decision about how best to fight this disease.  Wait and watch, radiate with beads on the inside, radiate from the outside, cut, whatever. Sounds like an overwhelming array of options.  Hopefully, he'll get good advice from a good oncologist--one who stays with him.  (I worry a lot about managed care, but R has a few hard words to say about the speed of socialized medicine too.)

As we left the office, the doctor took me aside and said, "Be sure you take his wife and your husband when you see the urologist.  He'll need all of you supporting him."  He was just sure we weren't properly shocked, teary, overwhelmed or something by this dire news.  But when I told Grampie that, he said, "I'm fine.  I have to die from something."

My father didn't exactly die from cancer, though my mother used to say he died from the cure (and I'll leave that cryptic comment as it is).  But Beve's mother did.  And we were up close and personal with the whole long, painful year she lived with it and finally died from it.

J commented, upon hearing about Grampie and his probable choice "Well, I'd rather die of cancer than Alzheimers."  I suppose we're in the unique position of knowing how each looks, and the toll each takes--on the person and on their family. The bone-aching, excruciating physical pain of cancer is nothing to sneer at, don't get me wrong.  But, like J, given the choice, I'll take having my brain to my last moments on this earth, even if those moment are riddled with cancer.  So, like J, I'm glad that something will fell Grampie before the Alz-hammer (as he calls it) in his brain does it.

R has a fight ahead of him. He hasn't even retired yet, seen his daughters marry, let alone dangle a grandchild on his large knee.  He has a young wife. Yes, there are plenty of things worth the fight in his life. Grampie says he's already been in enough fights.  At his age, every day is 'gravy', as he put it the other day (preferably with biscuits, though he's a bit off his feed of late).  It only makes sense that each of these men should respond in exactly these ways.  Age makes all the difference.

PS. I told you there was symmetry to this story.  The day I first heard of my father's cancer, which was the day my niece, SER (now B), was born, is also the day my dear father-in-law was born 60 years before her. February 4.

PPS.  If you're a man, and you're over fifty, please get your PSA checked every year.  Thank-you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Needing to forgive

I got an email the other day from one of my college roommates.  Hmm, just made me stop and count (no small task)--in my college and post-college, single years I had eleven different roommates.  Yep, I said eleven. Whoa, that's a whole lot of women.  A whole lot of hormone-producing, cycle-aligning, romance-dreaming-for women.  Women with hopes and dreams, most of which involved men, some of which involved the same men at the same time (and sometimes even with me).  Anyway, I heard from one of them the other day, one of the first three with whom I lived in the town where I first went to college, within sight (at least through binoculars) of my own house, where my dad taught, my siblings studied, and many, many of my high school friends also went to college.  This roommate is a woman I've just reconnected with after a couple-of-decades hiatus, and we've found we still like each other, know each other and that our lives have turned out, if not exactly as we dreamed, close enough to those old dreams in some ways and far better than we could have imagined in most of the ways that actually matter in life.

About half-way through the first paragraph of her email, however, I had to put down my computer and go outside and throw for the dogs.  This wasn't because Maica was chomping at the bit the way she often is.  It was because I literally couldn't read past the sentence I'd just read in her email and needed to give myself a time out.  Her email threw a lasso around me and hauled me about thirty-four years into the past.  And I didn't like what I discovered there. 

The sentence was, "I got a call out of the blue yesterday from DY and he asked about you and [Beve]." 

DY?  A person I don't think of from year to year, decade to decade.  But my instant, gut-wrenching reaction was, "Don't tell him anything about me!"  because I was sure that the only reason DY would have for asking about me would be to hurt me. 

So I went out to the back yard, threw for the dogs and faced the very uncomfortable truth that I haven't forgiven this man for hurts done to me when I was 19 years old.  And what a shock that was.  Yes, it's true that he had hurt me, and hurt me badly.  This was a boy whose feelings for me didn't equal mine for his.  And I could have lived with that if he'd simply told me.  But he didn't. Instead, he simply walked out of my life and never spoke to me again, not to tell me why, not to so much as say a single word (and that includes some situations in which we were accidentally, uncomfortably, face-to-face).  He did, however, say many and varied cruel words about me to our many and varied mutual friends, some of whom felt it their duty to pass on. All of this--words, actions, inaction--I have apparently never forgiven. 

As I stood outside in the bright summer sun, I felt dirty and ugly not because of what he did all those years ago, but because of what I haven't done.  That night as I told Beve about it, he asked me what I'd do if DY called me up.  "There's no way he ever would," I said, trying to wiggle out of it.  And honestly, I can't imagine it.  But then, I was shocked that he'd ever ask anyone about me, given how much he hated me all those years ago (or even that he knew I'd married the Beve, for that matter).  Shoot, I'm not even sure he feels remorseful for how horribly he treated me. But Beve pressed.
 "Well, if he seemed really sincere, I would. I wouldn't be able to not."
But later, it hit me that I have to forgive him.  I have to.  Not for his sake, but for my own.  The fact that I hadn't, and the fact that I hesitated at all once I realized I hadn't, tell me how badly I need to forgive him.  I NEED TO.  My inability to forgive him is keeping me from being fully right with God.  It is sin against this man, yes, but more importantly, sin against God.  Whether DY ever asks, or even thinks he needs to ask, is actually beside the point. 

We must forgive.  The end.  Once we know we need to, we must.  Unilateral forgiveness, I've heard this called, which means forgiving someone who doesn't ask or even know they've sinned against us.  Oddly, if you'd asked me two weeks ago, I'd have told you I didn't have anyone I hadn't forgiven.  But it just took a single sentence in an email to make that house of cards topple. And here's what I'll tell you, it's harder work to forgive someone for something so deeply hidden and embedded for so many years.  The tentacles of such scars have reached far into my bones, it seems.  Sad to say.  But I'm working on it.  Kneeling on it, I should say.  I want that filth out of me, the fear of that boy, the clutch of pain in my chest that I associate with his name.  I want it gone.  I want to be clean.

And God, I know, wants that much more than I do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A tall story

Beve pulled out an envelope of photographs this morning.  He'd squirreled them away somewhere but wanted to give them to his big brother to take back to Finland.  But before they leave our house, I thought I'd put my new scanning skills to the test and upload a few of them.  After the photo story of my dad, it's only right, I suppose, that I share these pictures of Grampie at the height of his college basketball career.


Looks pretty tall, doesn't he?

And like he could jump fairly high...especially in front of a short guy, dribbling.
 But the fact is that these were the two starting guards on Oregon's team when Grampie played center, which tells you how things have changed.  Grampie was 6'8" and though he's shrunk a lot, his hands are still as huge as they were when he could easily palm basketballs without thinking about it.

Grampie had a hiatus right in the middle of his University of Oregon career.  A little thing called World War II.  He wound up in the India/Burma theater where he built roads and the occasional recreational facility.  Played in a tournament once in what they laughingly called "Calcutta Square Garden" and his old Oregon hoops buddy (number 3 above), who was an airtrooper at the time, showed up to cheer him on. It was one of Grampie's greatest war memories, having Al Popick show up from who knows where to watch that game.  Then it was all back to the business of war for another 18 mos.

OK, so it wasn't all business.  He didn't take many pictures of the actual business of war.  Why on earth would he, when he could get pictures of riding elephants (which is exactly why I've included them here).
I love this picture of Grampie with two Burmese women (are they nurses? Soldiers? He can't remember).  He's not even sitting up straight, and is as tall as they are standing.  They must have come up to his waist when he stood up.
Grampie with his brother and their proud parents.  Grampie's brother flew airplanes for the navy.  After the war, he finished his engineering degree at UW and went to work for a little company called NASA.  You might have heard of it.  Grampie went back to Oregon and changed from Math to Physical Education.  He became a teacher, coach, professor, administrator.

And met the younger sister of one of his early teammates.
Yep, right there in the middle are Beve's taller-than-you-can-imagine parents.  His mother (whose eyes are just like my E's, and whose nose I swear is in the middle of SK's lovely face), was 6'1" so they definitely made a statement whenever they walked into a room.  They were so breathtaking together.  I can only guess what it was like when they were these two young people with the world at their feet, since I really only knew them well, starting in their fifties (though I'd been afraid of them for decades before that!).  I can guess because their youngest son has that same kind of light in him, that same kind of spirit.  Every picture of Grampie shows it. You know the saddest thing?  He came from a carefully delineated family, where the dad preferred one child, and the mom the other.  So Grampie's brother asked their mom one day why she favored Grampie so much.  And you know what she said?  "He's so big, I just worry that life will be hard on him."

But she was dead wrong.  Life wasn't hard on Grampie.  What his mother thought was a weakness, what she worked so hard to compensate for that she neglected her other child, was the very thing most used in his life for good. God gave Grampie size, was purposeful in that creation.  And the favoritism his mother showed him because she worried that his size was some cruel mistake caused strife between Grampie and his brother for years, and with her husband (who never watched Grampie play a single game of basketball).


Grampie's mother is not the only person to guess wrong about what life will do to her child.  We all guess and often guess wrong about how life will turn out for our kids.  However, what I want to learn from Grandma W (as Beve calls her) is to trust that God doesn't make mistakes.  I mean, this is faith 101--and I'm talking about a woman who was a very faithful woman, by all accounts.  That's the first lesson.  Grampie's size was no accident.  And secondly, the harm she expected from that size, (and I'm not sure it did), God could use for good, which is exactly what He did.  That size became the most valuable asset in Grampie's long life. And God knew it would be so.

This is great news for all of us.  What worries you most about yourself may be exactly God intends to use in your life.  It may be the one asset you will need in myriad ways, with myriad people. God doesn't waste anything.  The pastor who preached at Sam's memorial service reminded us of that.  He doesn't waste sorrows, disappointments, joys or disadvantages.  With Him there is no waste at all.  So what is it that most troubles you about yourself?  Why don't you ask Him what He intends to do with exactly that weakness? Ask how He will help your weakness be used for good.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"You're my Sam"

How long does it take to live life with impact?  To make one's life count?  Some people live almost a century and at the end are still hanging on with duct tape and shoe strings because they're so uncertain their time on this planet mattered, or that it mattered enough in the grand scheme of things.  And in one sense, of course, all of us are only wisps of the wind, and our lives here--even if we hit triple digits--are only the snap of two fingers in light of eternity.

On the other hand, sometimes, one runs smack dab into a person whose light shines so brightly from the first moment, you might swear they were throwing out their arms and saying, "Ta Da!" the moment they left the womb.  "Here, I am, world, ready or not!"  My youngest daughter was a little like that.  It was amazing, almost daunting to watch her, even as a tiny baby, fill up a room with her presence.  I can't explain how one small human being could do that, I simply saw it happen, over and over and over.

So, too, the little girl named Sam who had only four years to pack into a lifetime of living.  And, from every eye-witness, she packed in that century's worth.  Grabbed her family by their hair and took them whipping along for the ride. "Watch out, folks, I only have so much time.  Are you with me or not?"  She not only hugged every person she ever met, she actually chastised them if they didn't hug back strongly enough.  Gave lessons in how to love, Sam did.  She taught folks about loving from every which way, from the the sounds of it.  Calling things what they were, with a bit of salty language she'd picked up from who knows where. "Don't tell my mom," she begged her teacher, staring into a bucket of mixed up play-doe, when she'd just used a "What the hell is that?" in an empty Sunday school classroom.   She never walked when bouncing would do, never talked when laughing was possible, was strong-willed, and certain she knew best. I think she just didn't have time to lose.

In any case, she made her mark. Her family, her church, her school, the small sphere in which she lived and had decided influence held on for the roller-coaster while she was among them.  Now they're left with the very large space her her enormous personality filled to the brim.  Or perhaps I should say that personality that filled and tipped over into all of their lives.  Changing them for good.  And for good, in the other sense of the word.

But here's the other thing.  The person most changed by Sam's life--and death--is her mother.  Her mother who fought harder than most of us ever have to fight to prove we are worthy to be moms.  Imagine having to stand before a judge and prove you're worthy to parent your own child.  With no less than your own flaws as the evidence that you shouldn't.  Imagine fighting that you can actually parent despite your personal weaknesses.  This is essentially what Sam's mom had to do.  Could you do that?  How would a judge rule if he or she looked straight into all the personal evidence of your life?  Sam's mom won that battle.  She's a very, very strong young woman, that one.  But then she lost the one she fought so hard for, fought tooth and nail and every pound from her body, and muscle from her bones for.  Imagine that. 

Then imagine how you'd feel if you had to wake up the next day.  Stand up, get up, continue to live.  A mom without a child, Sam's mom without Sam.  Well, this mom responded exactly how we all might respond at first.  Certainly how I would. I'd crawl into the fetal position, pull up the covers and NEVER, EVER want to get up again.  But then some amazing things began to happen.  For one, the body of Christ did what it does best in crisis.  Her church surrounded her so tightly she didn't have to try to walk alone.  They will help carry her, help carry her memories, help shore her up when she feels alone, but is scared, sad, just plain missing Sam. And, they even answered a desire she hadn't articulated--for a piece of jewelry to remember her beloved, bubbly, beautiful child.  They gave her a ring to wear and remember, an amethyst for Sam's birthstone with diamonds for her 4 years, these diamonds also the symbols of the trinity and the mommy who all loved Sam the most.  What a beautiful, thoughtful, lovely gift.
I love it when God answers prayers like this.

But the thing I keep hearing is something my friend, Sam's grandmother, told her daughter, that first desolate morning when it was so hard to be a mommy without a daughter: "You're my Sam."  My friend, definitely grieving the loss of her granddaughter, was also praising God that miraculously her daughter had been spared.  "You're my Sam."  'There's purpose in your life, sweetie.  God still intends something important for you.  He spared you.  And I love you every bit as much as you love Sam.'

How often do we say such words to our children?  It took a death for such words to flow between my friend and her daughter.  This, too, is part of the gift of Sam's life.  And I pray that the gift of her life will extend to those who read these words today.  If you have someone you need to say such words to, you could do worse than start with: "You're my Sam." Of course, you'll have to explain what these words mean, but I think my friend, her daughter and that little four-year-old now teaching people to hug in heaven--including, I'm guessing, her great-grandfather!--will be glad share.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A new homeland

How often does the temperature go from 60 to 90 degrees in just a couple of days?  A waitress today asked that question as she was wondering how her dog would survive at the groomer while she was working in a restaurant where the air-conditioning hadn't been tested in a year, and somehow seemed a little insufficient to the task.  Her question about the dogs worried me enough that I came home, tackled the dogs and sprayed them down with the hose.  They'll thank me for it later, I know they will.  Along with me kids for all the times I made them finish their food, wear a sweatshirt, brush their teeth, take that shower.  I'm just sure all that gratitude is on its way, from my children, my dogs, my spouse, his parents. 

But probably not when it's this hot.  We got out the fans, and move as quickly as we can from one to the next, and wonder why it is we didn't invest in central air--except that we only need it for about three days a year, and it's a pretty expensive proposition for such a short time.  However, we aren't above finding air-conditioned places to re-locate during the heat of such days, so today we took our Finnish guest down to the Seattle Outlets for what some of my friends call "shopping therapy."  Unfortunately, there aren't many stores at the outlets with large enough clothes for the Finn, who makes Beve look positively tiny.  And let me tell you, my 6'7" husband is anything but small. 

When we walked into Banana Republic this afternoon, I laughingly asked the young woman folding shirts at the first table inside the door if they had any clothes large enough for a man like him (pointing to the Beve, who was steps behind me with his brother).  She said, "You shouldn't talk that way about people."  "Oh," I said. "He's my husband."  Besides, I thought, Beve's a very good-looking man.  I certainly wasn't pointing fingers.  "Well, go ahead then."  Needless to say, nothing at Banana Republic comes close to fitting the Beve, so they stood there like giant mannequins waiting for E to try on the dresses she had no trouble finding in her size (nor buying--and boy, were they cute!).

It wasn't until we got to Adidas, then Nike, that we hit pay dirt for the big boys.  I was reminded of the line Will Smith tells Kevin James in the movie, "Hitch." 'This is where you live."  Don't bother to look in any other shops. Don't try to fit your size 15 feet (or 16, in Uncle R, the Finn's case) into regular shoes. Stay in this zone and no other.  No shirts to fit your frame, no pants long enough for your inseam...

And when you walk through a mall, people will notice.  I'm accustomed to people noticing Beve.  But get Beve with at least one of his brothers, and the looks become stares.  Add the third to them, and the stares don't stop until heads swivel on heads. 

So it's no wonder this young woman thought I was pointing fingers, something equivalent to mocking a disability (which, apart from finding clothes, seats in movie theaters or on airplanes, being tall is NOT!).  Uncle R says that being an American in Finland is to always be a second-class citizen (to which I really want to say, 'But you aren't actually a Finnish citizen at all, are you?' but I've resisted because I don't think he'd take it well). He's learned something something about discrimination in his chosen country that he'd never have learned here, being a tall, white man.  A tall man from a confident family.  But I can see how whatever being a second-class citizen actually means to him has changed him, made him far different from his youngest brother who has always seen the world from a height both physically and emotionally.  There's a hesitancy in Uncle R.  An uncertainty that isn't in the man I live with.  It makes me feel much older than the Finn, though he is 8 years my elder. 

The other odd phenomenon about our Finn is that when he comes 'home', he talks of things that were when he last lived here, about 29 years ago.  He asks about people that pre-date me in Beve's life.  He tells stories that we hear repeatedly from earlier trips, has the same English expressions, the same English jokes.  In a sense, it's like he's 'stuck' exactly where he was when he last lived here.  His life has changed, of course, but that's a Finnish life.  The American life, one on this continent, with this language, has stayed static to him.

The world's psychologists usually think that personality is set by a certain age--definitely long before he picked up his life at 31 and moved it to Finland.  When I'm around this man who was raised with my husband, I can both see how his personality is a set thing: I can see who he must have been in his twenties, because he hasn't changed from that person at all.  NOT AT ALL.  And in another sense, he's an utterly different human being.  It's like he doesn't understand anything about this country at all, because he's Finnish.

Christians know we are not bound by our 'set' personality, not set by who we were in childhood, or even in our youth.  As Christians we are always, always in the process of becoming.  Uncle R is. Maybe his becoming more and more Finnish is exactly the right picture for what happens to us when we become believers.  We leave the land of our childhood to become part of a new country, a new people. Sometimes we go back to our former homeland, and get stuck in former things, things that are no longer good for us.  Like Uncle R. "When I was a child, I spoke like a child,' Paul says.  'But when I became a man, I put away childish things.'  This is what we all must finally do.  Put those former things aside, go on to our new homeland of faith. The Biblical person we most emulate as we do this is Ruth.  "For surely your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God." 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Language

Just when we thought we were going to have to spend the rest of our lives saying, "Oh yeah, I remember the summer of 2010, I think it was a Thursday," the sun with all its magnificent heat finally decided to show up, rest its poor aching feet a bit in our neck of the woods.  Summer's been hanging around the rest of the northern hemisphere for almost a month.  Shoot, even Finland, where Beve's older brother lives, has been experiencing lovely, sweating heat of 27-28 (centigrade) for the last weeks or more.  But here, where, once it appears, there's no where else quite as beautiful as summer, we've had nothing but rain and cold.  March and the occasional February.  With a hint of May just so we don't lose hope completely.

Until yesterday when the sun came out, the wind blew away the clouds and the heat finally began to pound down on us. And it's wonderful. Even as we're moving from fan to fan to fan, it's lovely.  Beve and Uncle R, the Finn, have been sitting under the patio umbrella while E lays in the sun trying to get rid of her sock line.  Good luck to that, I say.  Because of the mowing fields, she and Beve have mower's tans, which they get even in semi-foul weather.  That's what we call them by the way: the mowing fields, as in 'We're off to the mowing fields,' or 'how go the mowing fields?' It's lawn-care lingo, I suppose, along with short-hand like, "the Fosters are at ten days today,' and 'We'll have to dump at Mercers' today.'  After all these years, I've come to speak lawn-care quite fluently, whether I ever wanted to or not.  'How many today?' I'll ask.  And we all know what I mean.

Every job has its language, though, doesn't it?  In my more than quarter-century with Beve, I've learned the language of coaches, counselors and teachers.  In his with me, he's learned a whole lot more about how to talk about writing and editing than he actually has any personal interest in.  We can speak theater with SK, and a little bit of history with J, and a few words of PR have filtered down from E (though they each are really over our heads in their respective areas of interest).

This is true for each person, isn't it?  We have our common language, and then we have our technical tongue, our professional words that we don't often share while sitting around the dinner table with our families.  My father, for instance, was a Mechanical Engineer, but I don't really remember him talking about engineering at our dinner table.  We spoke in our common language.  Or maybe I should say we spoke about the things that concerned the largest number of us, and that the largest number of us around the table could understand.  Certainly my father spoke to my brothers and sister about engineering--they who were inclined toward science and likely to follow in his footsteps.  But not around the table.  Rarely to me (though I do remember him explaining thermodynamics to me when my science teachers could not!).

My point is that in the best of communities (and the best of families are the best of communities), conversation is broad enough to encompass most of the members.  Language is used that will pull the largest number of people in.  Not always the easiest language--I mean, we want our children, each other, to grow and expand--but language that makes us learn more.  The other evening, we all went to dinner with Grampie and Thyrza.  We were having a fine, rollicking time, a great conversation.  Yes, it was primarily about sports, but Uncle R is here from Finland, doesn't get to speak of American sports very often.  And almost everyone at that table was both interested in, and happy to contribute to the conversation about sports.  But suddenly, Thyrza loudly cut in. "Now I'm going to tell you about our world, Spring Creek (their retirement complex), and you're going to be interested."

There was an instant silence around the table.  She certainly did tell us, and we certainly did listen, but it wasn't communal.  It was a lecture.  Something closed up in everyone at her command, and that was sad to me.  I know it isn't what she meant.  She simply wanted to be heard, cared about.  But commands don't do the job very well, you know?

I think that I must learn that Thyrza and Grampie (though he loves, loves, loves talking sports) must now be treated like the least in our company.  Like the youngest at the table, whom we must be careful to include.  It was natural with my children, but I must be retrained to make sure the conversation, indeed, the very language, includes them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

FREEDOM!

Every time I think about the word freedom, I imagine a line of men in kilts, their faces in warpaint, with spears in the air. In print, of course, the word is FREEDOM.  I thought of this word, indeed, this moment again last night with our house full of Beve's family celebrating Independence Day.  We'd given Jackson a freakishly large amount of drugs to keep him sane through all the festivities, ones sanctioned by our vet.  He stumbled and drooled all over the house and just as we all gathered on our front patio for a group photo, the poor dog collapsed in a heap on the porch, so his 100 lb body had to be lifted and carried away.  The rest of us stood together just as families have been standing together for generations to commemorate such a day, well-fed, ready for fireworks, happy to be together.
J with his uncles, Grampie and the Beve.  They really are giants, aren't they?
 But I'm not really sure that this sort of celebration means we understand freedom.  Or FREEDOM.  Often in the last ten years I've seen bumper stickers that speak of our military fighting across the world fighting for our freedom.  And though I have great respect for the very arduous task of our military in the two wars being fought now, I have a hard time thinking of what they are doing as fighting for our freedom.  Our freedom, our nation's freedom, was fought for and won at Bunker Hill and Concord and Lexington, Yorktown and Saratoga.  When those men ratified the Declaration of Independence on July 2, and signed it on July 4, 1776, that was just the beginning of their capital letter yell for our FREEDOM!  It took another 7 years to win that freedom.  Another bloody seven years.
  
And those fireworks we ooh and ahh over every year?  They're bigger and better and more beautiful every year as well, but started as copies of 'the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air' of war. WAR.  Our flag still waving in the dawn after a bloody battle inspired the incredibly difficult-to-stay-on-pitch song we call our National Anthem.   This anthem cries FREEDOM as loudly as anything, if we stop and listen to the words.

Around our table yesterday were some half-Norwegians (the Beve and his brothers), a good German (Thyrza), some half-Basque sisters (Beve's sister-in-law and her sister), and a couple of British Isle mutts (Grampie and me), and our kids, who are made up of all our parts.  Beve had set up a picnic table on the back deck in case our dining table wouldn't stretch, but I wanted us all around the table.  I wanted us to look at each other as we passed our food, to share our meal and our stories. So free, that we simply take that freedom for granted, so to speak.  Knowing we don't even have to think about it.  Because it was fought for once, and won.

Then fought for again.  Every war is a little about freedom.  Either to earn it, or protect it. 
There's freedom and then there's FREEDOM.  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  Galatians 5:1
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  Romans 3:23

Jesus Christ waged a war to win our freedom from sin.  We were stuck in it, enslaved to it, as Paul writes in Romans.  He did it.  Went to war--to ugly, bloody war--for us.  And after all those words He said on the cross about forgiving His enemies, about committing His Spirit to God, what was coming was our ability to yell, "FREEDOM!"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A photo story



It's been wild around here the last few days.  The Finn flew in from...you guessed it, Finland, and the giant from the Yakima valley drove over to help celebrate Independence day with Grampie and the rest of us.  It's a crowd.  To tell the truth, when those three very tall men who are Beve and his taller, larger brothers are in a room, you don't need many more people to feel like there's a crowd.  They just displace so much air.  I understand why Beve's mom didn't like having help in the kitchen--their bodies were just too large to work around.  And my small kitchen is about a quarter of the size of her large country-style open room where they grew up around an extra large round table, laughing and eating copious amounts of food.  I'm pretty sure my weight problems began when I tried to keep up--at least I'm happy to blame it on them.  I mean, might as well.

But with all these giants taking up air and space and needing food in our house, I haven't had much time to myself in the last several days.  I'm way behind posting here.  So you'll have to bear with me while I back up a couple of days.  See, two days ago was my Dad's birthday, and several months ago, when I was conscientiously purging my books from bookcases, I ran into the three photo albums my Aunt gave me several years ago from my dad's babyhood.  I decided then that I'd scan and post a few pictures on his birthday.  They're such representative pictures not only of his life, but of the world of the 30s.  The car, the way of living, dressing, camping, etc.  So when I finally had a few moments to myself this morning, I uploaded them, and will allow them to tell you a picture story.  Dad was born and spent the first nine years of his life in Colorado, and in the summers went up to the mountains to their 'camp', where they had a cabin but lived in large part outside--cooking, washing up, etc.  My dad actually started his life doing what he always, always loved--being in the out-of-doors, in the mountains, cooking on open fires, and washing up in metal pans.  Amazing to think of!

Look how pleased this little boy who would grow up to be my dad looks at the wood he's gathered for the fire?

This looks like a child of the depression, doesn't it?  Dirty clothes and old pan and all.  Except that this little boy, at 3 years old, is wearing a watch, a ring, and is at his summer home in the mountains.  His father was an engineer, his grandfather a pharmacist, his great-grandfather a judge. Sure, even they felt the burden of the times, but not like those who had to pack up cars that looked like this one (but were broken down and tied together with rope and tape), and carry everything they owned away from the dust bowl in hopes of finding life.
And he had a dog.  This is actually remarkable to me, because in my memory, my grandmother didn't like dogs.  My father had a china dog collection because he never had a real dog--at least this is what I thought.  But here's just one of many pictures of my three-year-old father with a dog that must surely have called "Spot."
My grandfather and father.  Senior and Junior.  In the odd way of genetics, when I first saw this photo, I saw a cousin in my grandfather's face, and even the long, narrow panes of my own.  My grandmother always claimed I looked exactly like my mother's family, but I'm here to tell you, my nose, my mouth, my face are just like this man holding his son.

A much later photo of my dad, right there in front with the white hat on his head.  A hike during my high school years, with my brother, my father's namesake, standing in the plain white T-shirt.  I'm the one female in the photo, acting goofy for the camera.  I wasn't what you (or my dad) would call a very good hiker.  Hated it, is more like it. But we'd just conquered a steep 'hill' here, climbing up these crazy boulders just to reach the top.  I was so glad to be sitting, I was about to kiss everyone...except that we had to go back down!
Pay attention here to my Dad's hair. That's all I have to say.

This is Dad's Eagle Scout portrait.  Again, notice his hair, combed exactly the same way, except to the other side.

This is the portrait taken of Dad when he retired for Scouting, two years before he died.  Again, notice his hair.  His whole life, he only had one hair style. Come hell and high water, no matter what, Dad combed his hair the same way. 
A Daughter's Ministry
I take a blue, heavy-toothed comb
To hold over my father's steely gray hair,
Brushed straight back, a caricature
     of the side-parted and gently-flipped
     water-smoothed style
He's worn as long as he'd had hair to comb.
I take the comb from the out-stretched hand
     of an undertaker,
Who has rouged my father's always pale, milk-white face
     a bad sunburn on a man who'd never been that rosy.

I take the comb to minister,
As my grandmother had, 55 years earlier,
Dressing her grandmother on the worn,
     round kitchen table, where meals and laughter
     and wine and bread had been served,
Now a mother's body also sacramentally laid out, offered up.
My mother, eleven years old, wide-eyed, face-to-face
     with death, watched steadily,
A Kansas prairie reality, a daughter serving,
preparing this final loving ministry.
My grandmother washing, brushing, setting, setting,
Sending the child from the room, because
     the brutal, loving act of breaking a rigid leg
     had to be done, to fit a body to a box.

Two generations later, I take the comb,
thinking of Kansas death and Grandma Mac,
In this sterile, plush, flower-filled funeral home,
wishing for my family table, and well-worn life
to lay my father out naturally.

Instead I take the comb,
The ministry I can do, touching his full hair,
soft and smooth, like my newborn son's,
Restoring the familiar shape to my Daddy's head,
A sacrament in this empty room
This is his body, despite the artificially-colored face
     and coldness of skin.

I spray some water,
     my sisters crowding in to critique and direct.
One presses her hand to the wayward strands
     to hold them firmly
The other takes the comb to fix what I've begun.
We climb over each other to make him look
     himself in this box he's too still in,
Participating in his holy space.

Then we step back,
And tears come.
With the hair right,
The stranger in the box has become
Our Daddy, our beloved Daddy.
And there's nothing left to do for him.
But we are glad, grateful
     to have taken him back,
In satin-lined coffin, to a kitchen table,
A laying out and offering up.

This was ours to do, this small thing,
a combing of hair,
a daughter's ministry
As it was 55 years ago, on that Kansas prairie.