Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thompson Island

Today was an auspicious day for many reasons. 
First, it's my birthday.  54 mostly sweet years on this earth.  And I'm thankful for the gift God and my parents gave me of life.
Second, it's the last day of my visit (along with RE) to BB, K and C.  We've loved being with 'Crain-Northeast', as they're known in our far west coast household. It's been a luxury for all of us to share this 'out-of-our-daily-lives' time together.  RE, BB and I all felt the absence of our spouses and what they are dealing with in other parts of the country while we play here.  RE's farmer husband, waiting for a late harvest, is battling a summer flu and trying to work, BB's wife, off in Michigan, comforts a grandmother in mourning, and my own Beve has been sleeping on a cot in our home because the whole Giant clan descended in Bellingham. 

But the third reason today was auspicious was a long time coming.  Many, many generations, in a way.  You see, today we took a boat out to an 200 acre island in Boston Harbor that is now an Outward Bound property.  I can't remember the first time I heard about this particular island, but surely it was before I started school. You see, in 1622, a man named David Thompson was granted 6000 acres and an island by the military advisor to the King of England.  Then his friend, Miles Standish, lately of Plimoth Plantation made a 17 hour trip up from Plimoth in search of the promised island for Thompson.   An island was found, David made the trip, and eventually brought his wife, Amias, and son, John, over to start a fur-trading company on what became known as Thompson Island. 

That David Thompson is my who-knows-how-many-greats-grandfather.  My mother was a Thompson. It was the strangest feeling just to see the signs to the boat and know that it was OUR family name.  We stood in line for the boat next to the head of maintenance for the island and he told us the boat ride would be free if "you catch Carl, the captain, in the right mood."  Today Carl was clearly very happy, and we rode for free.

On the island, most people opt for the nature walk with two national parks guides, but a historical society volunteer named Charlie was beside himself to discover that he had five takers for his tour. Charlie loves his history.  He has his notebook and his little photo album and won't answer questions while he walks, but waits until he's under a shade tree, then half the time forgets to answer the question, but since he's in his mid-80s, and it was 'wicked-hot', it was understandable.  When he found out we are direct descendents of David and Amais Thompson, he was verklempft.  Discombobulated.  Kept telling us he would have brought many more pictures if he'd known we were coming.  'Such important visitors.'  It was the sweetest thing. 

And I admit, I was a little verklempft myself.  The last two weeks have been a kind of 'time-traveling' history lesson for me.  From Ellis Island to Independence Hall to Plimoth Plantation.  And all along, the whole time, I kept thinking that my family has been a part of this.  Part of this great experiment now known as these United States.  The one so often divided it takes the the eleventh hour and the very brink of disaster for each side to compromise and even at that its an uneasy truce.  As it was true with those fleeing war and religious persecution in Europe in the 1600s who had to settle among the real Natives of this land, so it has continued to today--to this very day, when--perhaps, though I'll believe it when I see it, but please, for pity sake, please!!!!--the two political machines in DC actually managed to vote to pay our bills again.  (I mean, can you imagine running a marriage the way they run this country?  Divorce would be around the corner, without a doubt!)

My family landed on these shores in 1623.  One hundred and fifty years before the Declaration of Independence, there were Thompsons here.   Four hundred years ago.  And standing on that island, where my family first lived was chilling. I wish I had better words for the experience.  An unbroken line goes backwards from my children to that very successful fur trader and his even more intelligent and strong wife (exactly as my mother always said, Amais Cole Thompson was the brains and backbone of the family!).  That's a heritage.  When we walked down to the spot where their 30 x 30 foot house once stood, made of 10" bricks from Plymouth, England, the view was what she saw as she worked in front of her home, tending the garden, or cooking over the massive fireplace.  And she was my much-removed grandmother.  And that moves me.  Makes me stronger.  I teasingly told a maintenance man that we'd come to take our island back, and he answered, "There are a few days--in November--when I'd gladly give it to you!"

But beyond this heritage that so moved me that I almost felt like kneeling toward the earth on which I walked, I leaned toward heaven where my true Home is.  In Hebrews it says that the faithful are "looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return."  We did return today.  To the land of our fore-bearers, so to speak.  It was sweet and good, and we were very interested in all we learned.  Glad of it.  However, I am left "longing for a better country--a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a place for them."

That's my true heritage.  He is, I mean.  I am blessed beyond blessed that those intrepid Thompsons came across the sea from Plymouth four centuries ago to trade with the Natives, to dwell in this land and enjoy safe harbor.  It gave me a chance to be not only a Thompson--and I felt very proud of that today, of course--but to be a Christ-one.  One is marked by an Island, stands in a harbor on this earth.  But the other is marked in blood and stands in a book, marked for all eternity.

Who are you?  Do you know where you came from?
It's fascinating to learn.
But where you're going, now that's the story worth telling again and again and again.

PS.  Thanks, BB, K and C, for spending the week with us.  It was a privilege.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beve's birthday

On the far side of the country it's only 5:30 AM. Hopefully, Beve's still sleeping.  That's not at all a certainty, even though it's summer and a Saturday and the man directing the back deck project is on vacation for a week.  Still, I hope he's still asleep. Especially today.

Today is his birthday.  If anyone deserves to sleep in, surely it's on his birthday.  A person should get to do just about any old thing she wants on the anniversary of the day she was born, right? Sleep in, eat his favorite meal, work or not work as the impulse moves them.  Be feted for the sheer joy of being part of this grand thing we call life.  Celebrate a deep, profound wonder of having been made in God's image in the first place.  That's what birthdays should be. 

And every now and then, that's exactly what birthdays actually are.  The significant milestones tend to make us stop and pay such attention.  Sixteen's the first one.  Then, perhaps, 21.  Thirty will do it, but also with--for some people--a sense of 'yikes'.  Forty rolls around, like it did for BB this year, and the celebration comes with a question.  Sometimes a person wants to back-peddle away from that number.  Pretend it isn't happening.  Women stop admitting the number (though fewer now than when my grandmother was alive) and might even get a little work done so that they continue to look younger than the calendar tells them they actually are..  And both sexes begin to wonder what they've made of themselves now that they've reached this mark that just might be half-way through their lives on this planet.  Yep, the older we get, the more difficult birthdays can become.  So, it's no surprise that some people cease wanting to celebrate at all.

Not Beve, however,who turns 55 today, officially qualifying him for senior discounts.  He's been looking forward to this birthday for the last couple of years.  Anything to save a dollar here and there pleases my Beve, after all.  And there's barely a vain bone in Beve's body.  I should say, his very fit and unwrinkled body (though his hair is VERY gray now).  He's aging about as gracefully as a person can age.  Growing in wisdom and stature, I was going to say, though he's had that stature part since he was a toddler!  In wisdom, though.  He is a good man, though.  A good man with a servant's heart.  And on our first married-but-apart-birthdays (mine's tomorrow) is that he isn't sitting around, waiting to be waited on today.  He's out doing because he's always out doing, if he isn't falling asleep. 

That's just who he is.
It's his made-in-the-Image-of-God self.  And that self is the one I celebrate.  Not only because he's my Beve, but in a more global way, simply because he is alive, because he was born in Springfield, Oregon 55 years ago.

Happy Birthday, Beve.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The bride

I've been busy with whirlwind visiting the last couple of days. Visiting family-style, I should say, which means we've been lacing some sightseeing with shopping, eating (obviously), plenty of teasing, a bit of 'I don't care, whatever you want to do' responses with over-planning and great conversation.  It's been fun, rich and exactly what the doctor ordered for my sister, little brother, nephew, niece and me.  No matter what the size of family contingent, we always find a way to make it feel like home.  That's my favorite thing about us.

Unfortunately BB's wife, sons and mother-in-law left yesterday morning for Michigan to attend a beloved grandfather's memorial service or our numbers would have been larger.  We regret their absence, feel their grief and pray for them as they gather with a large extended family.  Having been in those shoes a year ago, I know exactly how important such a time together can be.  Thus the five of us are rattling around this large home with a couple of very small dogs, and one far-too-enticing pool which calls my name every hour of the day and night. Sigh.

Yesterday we wandered through Plimoth Plantation.  We visited a replica of a Native People village where three men, dressed in loin clothes were building a winter home exactly as those People would have centuries before white folks set foot on this continent.  "You are very fortunate to see such building," they told us.  I was a bit too distracted by the small bits of leather covering their most private of parts to appreciate such words. I'm a creature of my age, sorry to admit.  What if one thing or another moved or slipped out or got caught on something?  Wouldn't there be an embarrassing or even painful consequence of such a build then?  It only made sense to hurry on so I could take such thoughts captive to God in the 1627 village of Plimoth, where the characters were over- rather than under-dressed for the day. 

Tonight, in Boston, we ate dinner at a small tavern near Fanueil Hall, first opened before the revolutionary war, a tavern called 'The Bell in Hand.' I'm rarely a fan of taverns and the like, but this one has character.  A history worth the price of the meal.  It was opened before the revolutionary war by a town crier who was like the local newspaper keeping the community informed of weddings, deaths and all things large and small between.  The windows, with giant hinges, were swung wide open to allow breezes from the busy streets, and as we sat there, I could image we were back in the 1700s, drinking our ale, watching life go by outside as we ate and drank and made merry with our family.  And as we watched, a bride and groom walked past with a photographer snapping one shot after another.  In another instant they were inside the tavern, then a couple was quietly asked to move from a table for a moment so they could pose in an open window near us, with a rather picturesque old tavern across the cobblestone path across the way their backdrop.  I was charmed by the vinette, by the rightness of such a moment in such a place as "Bell In Hand."  The town crier of old would have proclaimed their union to all and sundry and now they came to his very door, so to speak. 

Then I thought of how Plimoth tries to show us what life was like back then, how it simulates the ancient ways to the Natives here first and the colonists who made an uneasy life among them. Yet there is something truer in a picture of more timeless moment--a bride in white, a groom (a little nervous, not quite smiling, thinking more about getting through this day than the day itself) and its ancient significance in a real place, than a replica of one.  Marriage goes back to the dawn of time.  It is God's answer to man's deepest needs: not to be alone, and to populate the earth.  It is part of His plan for us.  Every culture, whether they acknowledge Him or not, know and put this in place.  And so even as I sat in awe of all the old things I've seen on this trip, God was reminding me of the more important, older things. He, and His ways, are older.

And then there is marriage as a symbol.  That bride--like every bride--is a symbol of the best beloved of God Himself.  What a privilege it is for a woman to stand in such a place for a day.  I confess I was so busy looking at Beve I took it for granted.  But looking back, I know and appreciate the honor.  And looking at that very pretty bride this evening, I thought of how beautiful the Bride of Christ is.  Even set among the old cobblestones of old cities and worn-out streets of our world.  He loves His bride and she is perfect in His sight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Water baby

Water. I spent the day in water.  And let me tell you, life doesn't get a whole lot better than this.  Not for someone like me, anyway. BB and his wife took RE (who flew in from the Palouse yesterday) and me to Long Beach this morning.  Long Beach.  Hmmm, I wonder how many of those there are in the world: places called 'Long Beach', I mean.  My older brother was born in one such place in California.  Another Long Beach, on the coast of an ocean far more familiar to me than this one, was a place where my middle sister and cousin, at the ages of about eight and nine were caught in a riptide.  My mother, panicking, ran into the surf after them.  My father, a cooler head even in the worst of circumstances, quickly ran OUT of the water, down the sand ahead of the current, leapt into the water to catch them when they reached him. 

This Long Beach is on the Atlantic Ocean.  I'm not sure what it's like in other places, but here in Massachusetts, the Atlantic is a quiet sea.  It reminds me of Puget Sound with its quiet lapping waves.  The Pacific, in contrast, is like the wild rebellious sibling that cannot be mastered or tamed. I was expecting crashing waves to dive through, where the sand tumbles through the water and into the crevasses of my suit.  But this was water to swim in, which BB did, far down the beach.  However, the tide was enough that he felt a bit queasy on his return trip back toward us, when he was trying to do the backstroke.  I, on the otherhand, merely floated on my back, and there's nothing like saltwater to keep a person afloat. 

Like my mother before me, I've never met a sea I didn't want to dip my toes in.  But back down a road roofed with trees at the beautiful house BB and E own with her parents, waited a large, clean, isolated pool.  So it didn't take much convincing for the four of us to wipe the sand from our toes and head home where we slipped into a simple rhythm--doing exactly what we wanted to do--for the rest of the afternoon. With E's mom, B, we shared our stories, spoke of large things and small, floated a little, and listened to the melody of the trees, a little music, and the very quick flutter hummingbirds moving into the garden.  It was sweet and peaceful, and we were our own small community on this summer afternoon.  The sun, the blue sky, the sparkling water meeting so perfectly within me it was a holy moment just to float there.

Yes, that's what it was: a Holy moment.  Floating there in the water, I thought of how simple life can be and how complicated I often make it.  How much I struggle to figure out what I should do, what He's saying, what this means, when what He really wants from me is to float.  He is the pool and I merely float.  Be still, He says in the Psalms (Oh, how often He has to say this!!!) and know that I am God.  "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength," Isaiah says.  In quietness.  In a quiet, restful, floating-on-your-back day I experience this as a living reality.  He is the pool on which I float.  I can trust Him to hold me up.  That is my confidence.  In Him.

I am a water baby. Yes.  But He meets me in the water.

PS.  We had the MOST AMAZING lobster-boil for dinner.  If I wasn't holding out for Jesus (seriously), I'd think I'd died and gone to heaven this evening.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The future

I boarded a train for New England yesterday.  Said goodbye to Beve and our New Jersey friends in Trenton and said hello to my baby brother in Providence, Rhode Island.  And in between saw a whole new world.  Back in New Jersey, Beve read a book, waited through the afternoon for his 6 PM flight home. A flight that was first postponed then, when he and ML (who was driving him) were fifteen miles from the Newark airport, canceled.  CANCELED.  Poor Beve.  Poor me, too, since I'm nothing if not selfish. My first reaction was that he could have boarded that train with me, spent the night up here in Plymouth, Massachusetts at my brother's family's home, then fly home from Boston when we drive up this afternoon to pick up my sister, RE.  If only we'd known.  Sigh. 

How often I have said these words: "If only we'd known."  If we'd known what the future held, we would have planned a different course.  If one step had gone a different way, we could have done this and that and the other thing, and wouldn't that have been grand?  Then I sigh, thinking I've missed out on something, wishing I could have known to plan differently.

That's the thing, of course.  Most of the time, we don't know why things happen as we do.  We live life in a deep fog, with only the headlights of our faith lighting up the smallest path in front of us.  We keep moving, but God doesn't allow us to see in the distance.  He never intends that.  The future would be too much for our feeble brains.  They might explode.  The suffering we'll face just because we're human and live on earth is hard enough--the missed flights, the things that don't go the way we expect, the tornadoes, floods, infirmities, death dates of our best beloveds (from pets to spouses).  But then there's the pain we'll face via sin--either as the trespassed or the tresspasser. It would overwhelm us until we'd be reduced to a muddle unable to move. 

And hence the fog.  Hence, the shadowy headlights God lights before us.  He alone carries out future.  He knows and bears it.  As hard as it is. Our future is safely where it should be.  The Psalmist says we are held in the shadow of His wings.  Since I'm not especially enamored of birds and find their flapping wings particularly unnerving, these words have never comforted me.  However, this morning, there's something to them.  Rather than the full glare of a hot future that would burn us, we are protected in the shadows of His wings.  He soars--with us--into OUR lives.  Carrying us with Him, doing for and with us what we cannot do. 

Yet there is also this.  It cost Him.  Of course.  Carrying us cost Him.  The pain of our lives burned Him.  He knew our days--past, present and future--and it cost Him.  The actual knowing and bearing of our lives killed Him.  Too much sin, of course will do that.  And ultimately, it came down to sin.  And He died.  But even as He died, or perhaps I should say, because He died, we were protected.  We were kept safe in the shadow of His wings.

And then out of His dead, or (as the old myth goes) out of the ashes, He rose.  Out of ashes, came beauty.  His so beautiful, scarred hands and feet, and sword-pierced side.  NOT exactly the same as He was before.  Our God is no Phoenix.  When He rose, it was with a body full of the markings of what that death had cost.  What our lives had cost Him.  That is the beauty from the ashes.  And now, in His resurrection, we live.  We live. Safe within the shadow of those nail-scarred wings.

It's all we need to know about our future.  He knew.  It cost Him.  And it's beautiful, indeed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mending the Bell

I'm from the left coast of the United States.  I may have mentioned that before.  From the patio in front of my house, I can watch the sunset over a saltwater bay that ultimately leads, via a few twists and turns, to the Pacific Ocean.  I've almost always lived on the far side of the Rockies from where I've been visiting this last week. I was born in California, and spent the rest of my life in the Pacific Northwest, other than a four-year sojourn in Michigan while my father got his PhD at the University whose fight-song claims, ridiculously (even to my then 5-year-old ears), that it was/is 'the Champion of the west.' 

All this to say that, though I've traveled to Europe, read countless biographies and have more than a passing knowledge of my country's history, I've seen things this week that have impressed me.  Buildings I could have sworn were merely giant sets for movies.  I mean, really.  And I've learned a thing or two.  I'm telling you, even I have learned a thing or two...

See, today the six of us ventured out into the 100+ degree temperatures and drove down I-95 to Philadephia.  The place of Philly-cheese steaks (which were eaten for lunch, and lived up to their billing), Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  We sat through a presentation at Constitution Hall that reminded us that we all are "We the People".  We walked through a long, round museum of history of this country and the constitution, the people, the changes made, the prices paid.  I kept thinking how much more alive it made a flat document many of us memorized a mere portion of (if at all). I learned a thing or two, like that in the late 1880s, the Supreme Court defined Corporations as "persons", and gave them the same Constitutional Rights as individuals, explaining something I have never quite understood.  Then we walked through a room of bronze statues of the men who wrote the constitution.  Beve and D, both over 6'6", towered next to George Washington, but just by a little.  The other signers were pint-sized in comparison, especially James Madison, the littlest one of all. Yep, Constitution Hall was a high of the day.

A low, of course, was the heat.  The high heat. The never-ending, relentless heat.  The record-breaking heat.  Ridiculous.  Really.  I haven't the wherewithal to handle it.  Nor does Beve whose shirt I watched get wetter and wetter as the day passed.

After lunch, the Liberty Bell.  Being a West-Coaster, I've never gotten the fascination with the Liberty Bell.  I mean, it's just a Bell. Every second church has one, after all.  And this one is even cracked.  I don't know if you knew that.  But today, I began to understand it.  It was forged as a symbol of freedom.  Now I may not truly get the whole significance of its purpose back in the 1700s, but I can understand symbols.  And more than its original intent, I see something profound in the Liberty Bell and that famous crack.  Twice in its long history, men tried to repair it.  Once, they simply reforged the iron together.  The second time it cracked, in the 1800s, it was clear that the flaw was fatal. There would be no further attempt to 'fix' the crack. At that time, men actually widened the gap in the Liberty Bell, placing little balls of steel at two places to hold the gap apart.  The cracked liberty bell could not be rung.

As I stood at the Liberty Bell I thought of how perfect a symbol it actually is of man's attempt to bring about his own freedom.  Throughout history--both of this nation and every other--humans have tried to 'let freedom ring.'  However, our freedom is always cracked.  Our ability to be free has a fatal flaw in it.  That flaw is our own sin.  Our own effort, and our covering of the flaw. Galatians 5:1 says that "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (emphasis mine)."  Christ is the only one who can set us free.  By His death, we are freed.  He mends--eternally--the broken places in our lives.   

The Liberty Bell will never be fixed.  It stands forever flawed in its own human-made sanctuary in Philadelphia.  If you'd like, you can see it. Free of charge.  Just show your bag at the door.  Take a picture or two.  But while you gaze at it, think of how it can be a perfect symbol of the inadequacy of our stab at freedom.  And "stand firm, then" in the freedom He has given. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Game Day

It's been hot today. Dang hot.  Makes me think of Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam," when I say that.  Yep, Dang hot here in the bucolic village of Cranbury, New Jersey.  When the Ps, Beve and I ventured out this morning to buy some games for our designated game-day, we watched county road crews working on the blacktops, holding signs, with their feet so hot against the pavement they had to lift their feet every few moments.  It was grueling out there.  We stayed in doors where the air conditioning ran full-blast and still the temperature crept higher and higher.  Outside, the thermometer claimed it was 109 degrees of moist heat like a steam bath sucking our breaths from us.  As I told D today, the whole village felt eerily quiet like the same moist heat of TO KILL a Mockingbird.  Too quiet and and strange.
So we stayed inside and played games.  Laughed our heads off.  At the old stories and the new ones.  At the incessant comic relief D-boy provides at every table, the card tricks the Professor is mastering, and especially, laughing at the laughter of these men who laugh most at each other. Beve's silent guffaw, RP's red-faced guffaws, the giggles of the wives and,eventually, the out and out can't hold in it of the husbands.  We shared good natured competition--male against female, right-handers against left, couples taking other couples.  And enjoyed the good fortune of the others as much as the unfortune of ourselves.

So we elected to stay inside, to pretend we have all the time in the world and there's nothing beyond these walls that needs doing.  Besides, outside is a dangerous place in heat such as this. Last night, when the temperature had dropped to a mere 89, some took a walk down town to an icecream shoppe, but by the time they returned, they needed a shower to cool off from the sweat shower they'd received from the mile walk. 

So it was a game day.  We went off and bought 4 new games for our sorely deprived NJ-ites.  Some of our favorites.  We laughed our way though all of them.  Listened to D-Boy commentate until we could hardly play the game for laughing (which might have been his goal--I'm just saying!), watching the professor and his wife concentrate with perfect non-verbal communication strategy, and Beve and I bumbled about.  It was typical of these three couples.  Beve made two kinds of bread in a used bread machine we found the other day at Value Village in the poorer part of Trenton.  "I guess this means I shouldn't leave my purse in the car," I'd quipped. The bread machine cost all of 4 dollars, though so was worth the trip, and has already earned its keep.That's my Beve for you, making himself useful in short order.  I love that about him.  So we had home-made bread, granola, tea.  Then later, thought we'd go to lunch 'down town'. Alas, we got there too late.  We were like retired folks, sleeping late, eating late, expecting lunch at 3:30.  In stead we came home, glad to get back in the cool, where that luscious bread was waiting, and more games to be played. 

How often do we stop our lives for a day to simply be with others.  Without plan or agenda, without business to take care of, things to do?  But simply play games, talk and laugh--for as long as you feel like it.  Then take a nap because you feel a little sleepy, rather than pushing through to be more effective.  How often do we take the time to enjoy those he's put in our lives in a deep and glad kind of way, where we follow them around, ask them what they'd like and have no stake in it for ourselves? 

I think it's sweet to try.  I think it's possible that he might give us great hidden treasure we might not otherwise see.  And I don't want to miss them.  So what if it takes playing games? Or if merely sitting alone is the key?  I'll do it.  Gladly.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go to sleep...for tomorrow, it's back to the business of visiting.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

George

The air was thick today, so thick it felt like I could reach out and cut right through it or lift it off my chest, heaving under its weight.  Heat will do that, weigh down the limbs until it's like trying to walk in water.  And I suppose one could make the case that our very sweat and the moist air together are a near kin to water, a second-cousin of sorts.

My first step outside this lovely Cape Cod-style house of our dear friends was into the haze of the late afternoon while those friends and Beve were off picking up a few things for dinner and Beve's much revered (in our house), much anticipated new bread recipe.  The professor, RP, his wife, JP and I were here with D and ML's gorgeous, beloved, golden retriever, George. 

George.  What a magnificant beast this dog is.  This closest-thing-to-an-offspring our friends will have, George is easy going, gentle and seriously devoted to his people.  D, who is one of the funniest men you'll ever meet, tends to commentate for George like he's a sportscaster and George is the superbowl.  It's clever and always entertaining.  ML, while cutting up veggies for salads, saves broccoli stems, pepper ends, and other such delicacies, puts them in his bowl, and George comes running the way our dogs run for cheese.  Yes, George is a vegetarian!

They love him, walk him, throw balls and treats for him.  He lets them know when he needs to go out or is tired or being ignored by bumping against their hands, or--failing to get their attention--pulling on their t-shirts.  When 'Daddy' takes a shower in the early morning darkness, George begins pacing, because it means D is leaving for the day, rather than 'telecommuting'.  He waits by garage door all day long for his people to come home.

This is a dog I could love.  This is a dog who IS loved.  Wholly loved.

This afternoon, while his people were gone, George wouldn't settle.  The folks in the house were the wrong folks.  It just wasn't right, you see.  Finally, J and I decided that he just needed to go out.  We knew the routine.  He'd go out, do his business, and come right back in.  We stepped out into that thick-as-butter-you-could-cut-with-a-knife heat, and before we could get his whole one-syllable name out of our mouths, he was around the corner of the house and at full-gallop down the street. 

I instantly took off after him.  The professor and his wife came after me, but they were barefoot, and the pavement burning.  I ran, trying to keep him in sight.  At one point, as I called his name, he stopped, turned toward me, and I swear he practically thumbed his nose at me.  He was hell-bent for who-knows-where, and we weren't about to catch him.  J caught up to me, though, and we tried to stay on his tail.  Our hearts were racing (only barely from the heat) as we began to imagine having to tell D and ML that we'd lost their dog.

R, meanwhile, was tearing around the house, looking for keys to the car, so our search could be more efficient.  So when we heard a car behind us, J and I expected R to be driving it.  (In this heat, the lovely neighborhood was as still and quiet as a ghost town, so a single car made a huge racket...or was that my echoing heart?)  However, the car carried D and Beve.  George had, by good fortune, providence or the hand of God, run straight toward his people coming home from the store.  They blocked his escape route, opened the door of the car, and he jumped in as if that had been his intention all along, like he was saying, "Just coming to find you, and did you know those other people are still in OUR house?"

It took George about half an hour to stop panting.  He had taken that run/trot in a long, fur coat, after all.  It took my heart about that long to stop racing as well.

But it also taught me a lesson.  I know some people who have tried, and even are still trying, to run away from their relationship with God.  Away from their true home, so to speak.  And even when they are chased by people who care for them, want their best, and call them on behalf of the One who loves them best, they sometimes thumb their noses at those 'chasers.'  They don't know or trust.  Believe, I guess, that these well-meaning, caring 'friends' know the way home.  So the run away takes them farther adrift.

Or so it seems.  From our human perspective, anyway.  However, somehow--because this is how He works, what He's always about--they end up exactly where they were always on the way to.  Right at the one place they most need to be.  With the One they've been looking for when they didn't know they were lost.  With the One who will open the door to them because they're loved. 

Keep running, and you'll run into the Lover of you.  That's what I learned from George today.  Keep running and you'll end up back home where you ran from in the first place.  It's what happened to George, and what I believe (and continue to pray) for the runners in my life.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I'd die for

It was a grueling day of history for us today.  We walked through the doors of the large brick building on Ellis Island where millions of immigrants passed on the quest to find a better life in this great melting pot we call America.  We saw pictures of the hollowed eyes of those who'd endured weeks in steerage like cattle, only to discover that their fate still hung in the balance of an eye check-up, or a piece of chalk marking their worn clothing.  After giving up everything, carrying perhaps only a tattered suitcase, a trunk, or only the clothes on their own frames, they had passed from the waters of the Atlantic, watched wealthy passengers disembark, then made to wait.  And oddly, even the pictures of those who passed out the other side, freed into their future still wore the same haunted look in their worn-out eyes.  Hope and worry in equal parts in their world-worn eyes.

That's what we saw on Ellis Island this morning, after our boat ride from the Jersey side of the Hudson.  From there we took another passenger ferry over to Lady Liberty herself.  All those people, all those huddled masses, those steerage people who'd endured the seas, left home, country, and family sometimes forever, first saw her as a symbol that they had made it.  That there was hope, that life would be better, that all would be well.  I was born a citizen of this country.  I never had to fight for my life, for food or home or a way of life.  I've had more than three-quarters of the world.  More than all those in steerage who passed through Ellis Island could even imagine.  I've lived what the Statue of Liberty promised.  And rarely thought about it at all.  In fact, if truth be told, there have been days when I've been downright ashamed of my country.  Of our arrogance in the world.  We tend to be the school-yard braggarts at times, you see.  And the bullies, come to think of it.  We tend to show our muscle more often we need to, if you ask this peace-dreaming self. 

But we've all come from somewhere.  We're a nation of elsewhere.  Unless we're members of an American Indian Tribe, we're all from some other place.  All immigrants.  One way or another, each of us was taken in. If we look back far enough on our family trees,  Lady Liberty welcomed us (symbolically, at least), and Ellis Island (again, symbolically) processed us.  Perhaps it was only yesterday, perhaps it was 150 years before the Revolutionary War.  Nevertheless, we were weary and were told, 'Come on in!'

This is what the Kingdom of Christ does, in a more profound way, of course.  We are welcomed in.  Told that no matter where we come from, we are welcomed in.  There are no disqualifications, either.  We enter in through the doors of faith and nothing can disqualify us.  This is a fundamental distinction between God's Kingdom and any earthly one. 

After leaving these Islands on the Hudson River, we took another ferry over to Manhattan to Battery Park, where, having spied a spurting fountain, JP and I gave our purses to our husbands and went racing through it, between all the small children playing.  We laughed and hugged each other as the cool water refreshed our overheated bodies, then we raced back through the cement sprinkler like we were every bit as young as those children.  It was perhaps the best moment of the day.  Then we all walked a few blocks along the battery to 'Ground Zero' where our friend and host, D, works at the World Financial Center.  We gazed down at the ongoing work at the Freedom Tower, the reflecting pool, and he and his wife ML retold us their intimate, moving story of that day. That September morning, she drove him to a train in New Jersey, went home, watched the towers fall and calculated that he wouldn't have gotten there in time to be in the disaster.  He rode in that train until it stopped, then spent hours trying to make his way back home with thousands of others. Because the towers were down, their cell phones weren't working, so they couldn't even communicate.  When they finally met at the Trenton train station, at dinner time, they both broke down in tears.

 It was chilling to stand behind that glass wall, a decade later, with the skyline still so different, cranes in the air, so much construction work happening, and think back to that September day, to the smoke, the people, the whole country covered with the smoke of it, in one way or another.  To remember, to wonder.  Something died that day.  More than people, I think.  But something of our sense of safety and sanity and place in this world.

People fought to get to this country.  They believe in what I take for granted, never think twice about.  And other people have died for it.  And across the world, people hate this country so much, they will do inexplicable acts against it.  Will die doing them.  I try to make sense of such hatred.  Try to make sense of such deep emotions that make people die to get here or die to destroy here.  And I confess I am hopeless against the tide of such. 

As I stood at the glass window looking down on what a decade ago I would have had to crane my neck to stare up at, I thought about what I'd die for.  It seems to me that those who came here, risked all for life.  They gave their lives for life, if that makes sense.  But those who flew the planes into the towers, the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania, and all the other places around the world in similar acts, risk all for death.  And while one is clearly good, and the other bad, I'm still not sure even the good goes far enough.  It does mimic Joshua's call to the Israelites, "Choose this day whom you shall serve...life or death."  But life MUST mean, can only mean JESUS.  What would I die for?  Jesus. 

Is this true?  Really?  That's the question I ultimately pondered this evening.  Would I die for Him?  Not to have a better life, not to merely live for myself, my family, my country, the world, or any altruistic reason.  But simply and utterly for Him?  Would I?

Would you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feeling smarter already

The strangest thing about having spent the summer where I have, ie, at home, is that we haven't had summer at all.  Oh, there have been an occasional sunbreak, the odd day when the sun shone more than it didn't but mostly, it's felt like March, and a March with clouds from one end of the month to the other.  So imagine, just imagine the toll on our out-of-shape bodies when we stepped out of our friends' air-conditioned home this morning into the blast of sun and humidity and temperatures tipping toward triple digits--before noon!  Sweat began pouring down my body in places I didn't know there were glands from which it could pour, and it wasn't pretty, folks, I'll tell you that much straight up.

However, that wasn't about to stop me or my fellow, far-more-intrepid-and-fit-than-me, friends from our trek through the lovely and hallowed grounds of Princeton University.  I'm fairly sure my IQ rose as soon as I crossed the street onto the property.  We walked past dormitories that look like churches and churches that must be cathedrals, and grounds where such august persons have walked and thought and studied and lived that I felt humbled to simply put my feet in their paths.  In the church, I stared at the breathtakingly colorful stained glass windows lining the sanctuary, mostly commemorating saints, often given by some class in memory or other, and tested my very old memory of Roman numerals to make out the years written.  Just about in the center of one such window, off to the right side, if one is facing the altar, four windows up and three in from the bottom, is a glass with the words, "What is Truth?" written on it/  What is truth, written between St. Sebastian and St. Aloysious. St. Bartholomew and the like.  What is truth?

This is the question men and women come to such esteemed institutions as Princeton to study, if they come with the right quest.  What is truth?  After leaving the main campus, we went over to Princeton Seminary, where I stood in the bookstore listening to two men discuss several books about social justice.  They were arguing whether a book had value--though both found it impressive and innovative--because it was clearly written by a ghost-writer.  I inched closer so I could see the name of the author, but could not (probably just as well).  But what is truth?  Does the name on the book matter as much as the words within, if the words are true and bring illumination to those who need it?  This was their discussion.  I wanted to tell them this very question is written on the window in the chapel, but didn't want to intrude.

Then we drove past Albert Einstein's home, within walking distance of the place where he taught and thought and thought some more, until all his theories changed the way the world thinks and teaches.  The theory of relativity.  I know so little about his work, mostly that on it hinges much of modern science.  (My father would be appalled that I could say no more than this!).  But he, too, was investigating the answer to this fundamental question, "What is truth?"  He felt he had such an answer in scientific inquiry, though I see holes in such an approach even in my puny brain.

From his home, we drove to the graveyard where venerable men in Princeton's history are buried.  Jonathan Edwards was our primary goal, of course.  The great backbone of the way Americans preach the gospel.  Beside him was Aaron Burr, an American Vice President who was shot in a duel during Jefferson's term in office.  Then we walked over to where Grover Cleveland's grave was decked out with flowers and, oddly, pukka shells.  Perhaps having been the 22 and 24th president will do that for a man.

And though all our traipsing around Princeton, I kept sweating.  And sweating.  Until I was pretty sure I was a puddle of a person in the backseat of the car.  Had to come home for a nap. 

So, what is truth? 

Today, my truth is that God is present here where we are.  Sharing this week with these people, He is in this.  He gave us each other in a unique and blessed way.  We are better for the gifts each brings.  For the gifts of  humor of the men, whom can laugh at a single barely spoken half-sentence from a shared early life, yet dive seamlessly into meaty conversation of the best kind in the next breath, because it's called for.  To live so far from each other, to have so little externals in common, yet to have all the fundamentals in place--this is truth.  This is the Kingdom truth that God has provided.  And they each chose women who bring something unique and expansive to our group.  ML is a planner.  A do-it-in-order planner.  She likes to know what's coming, so she can enjoy it in anticipation as well as in process.  J is a nurturer.  She likes to care for those around her, make sure everyone is well, and whole and neither overlooked nor neglected.  And I?  Well, I'm more likely to go without a meal if a conversation's to be had, and more likely to have a conversation if a meal's in the offing.  In fact, there is nothing I wouldn't give up for a deep-down-where-it-counts conversation.

(Except if that conversation is about my health. And that's the truth. When it comes to my health/pain.  I'd rather not talk about it.  Maybe to Beve only.  I don't want accommodations or allowances.  I want to figure it out my own way, and have no one miss what they want to do because of me.  And that's the truth.  And it's also the truth that I don't want to have to make any allowances at all.  I want to be strong and able to keep up, and not be in pain, even just for this one week.
Short of that...)

Well, again, I come to Him.  It's another Abrahamic Moment, I suppose.  This is what I want.  And what I want, I must lay before Him, and ask Him to do what He will with.  No matter what. Either way.

Tomorrow, a boat ride to Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, and Manhattan.

Yep, NYC.
Who'd have guessed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In the Garden State

Greetings from the Garden State, where we landed after a long travel day across this country.  The northwest is hovering at about 65 degrees F, but when we got off the plane it was a balmy 98 degrees+ humidity.  Our weakened immune systems aren't up for this.  But we're glad to be here, basking in the company with the best of friends who know our jokes, our proclivities, our family histories, our frailties and strengths.  While we drove across the New Jersery Turnpike this evening we talked about what we might do this week.  The consensus is that we'll do a day in Manhattan, a day on a boat out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, a day in Princeton, and perhaps another day in Philidephia.  We can't see everything, but we'll get a taste of what life might be life around here.  And a taste is all we need, I think.

A few weeks ago, one of Beve's brothers told me that he didn't like the people on the east coast.  "Have you ever visited there?" I asked him.  "No, and I don't plan to," he told me. That seems pretty small-minded to me.  How can a person judge what a place is like without visiting that place, I wonder? 

But we do this a lot, don't we?  We make judgments about whether things are good or not based on others experiences, rather than our own, then take them as gospel.  This does not speak well for us. 

In any case, I'd rather has a taste of the world on this coast, in these cities than never visit them at all.  I'm fascinated by the life piled in them, the history that came teeming through Ellis Island, past the Statue of Liberty.  I don't know which--if any of my own ancestors I'd find in those rolls, but the place is surely haunted with our ancestors.

Just as this week is haunted with a different kind of heritage.  These three couples have found a rhythm of relationship that deepens every year, that becomes increasingly family-like, and is an elemental part of our summer.  We need these days together to gear up for whatever God calls us forth to. We are encouraged, strengthened, built up for the work of the year.

Tonight I only know that I'm in Cranbury, New Jersery.  The Garden State.  Ready for whatever He brings to this week.  It will be sweet.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vacation

The family has headed out in the Pacific Northwest summer (which means rainy and cool) to the farmers' market, Goodwill (they are at the mercy of Beve, after all) and other hot-spots, while I take care of business here.  Writing a post, for example, but also finishing laundry, packing suitcases, etc.  Tomorrow Beve and I spend the night near SeaTac because we have a 6AM flight.  Who in tarnation planned that early a flight, when I am patently NOT at my best in the morning.  Not only not my best, but barely a self at all.  But wait, that was me who picked that flight.  Back in the deep of winter when summer plans were merely dates on the calendar and had no bearing on real life and my actual body.  Now that I'm staring it in the face, it has a whole different feel.  We should have booked that red-eye. Live and learn, as Beve's high-school basketball coach always said, and all we do is live!

So we're off to New Jersey for a week of Koinonia with old, close friends.  I've written of them before.  These are the men Beve and I went to elementary school with.  They became Beve's closest friends, and by marriage, mine, though I share a long, deep, wide history with them. The week we three couples share each summer has become, as one of them put it in an email a few weeks ago, 'sacred ground', and we guard it from all that might encroach.  Last summer Beve suggested we spend the next three summers in each home, so we're off the Cranbury, New Jersey where the very successful business executive and his marketing researcher wife live.  They have a list of possible places we might visit while we're there, if we can squeeze in the time between all the conversation and eating required during the week.  The conversation is mandated, of course.  It's what makes Koinonia.  Fellowship--deep, life-changing fellowship! 

At the end of that week, on the 25th, I'll hop a train (with a ticket, of course, though how romantic it sounds to have been a hobo!) up to Providence, RI where my youngest brother will pick me up.  While Beve's back home, hopefully laying on that decking I wrote about yesterday (interesting that I should write about HIS work, rather than something I will personally do!), my sister RE and I will spend a week with BB and his family, and my nephew K and his wife, C.  I have visions of great Boston sights, punctuated by plenty of time by the pool.  All laced with the inimitable Crain-style Koinonia I cut my eye-teeth on--equal parts of wit and depth. Oh, and food, of course.  Always food, if my family's around.

All this to say, I'm leaving on a jet plane and when I get back, it'll be August, I'll be another year older (by a single day!), and since my computer died a painful death a couple of months ago, I won't be taking one along.  So I don't know how often, if at all, I'll be posting in the next two weeks.  But that's what vacation's for, right?

There are a couple of things I'm a little (or A LITTLE!!) concerned about in preparing for this trip.
  • the flying: I am a bit of a nervous flyer. Have I admitted this before?  No matter how often I fly, and how many times I remind myself that a Christian has nothing to fear, I struggle with this.  I know I'm not alone in this fear, which is comforting, but doesn't do much to stop it from making me tense on take-offs, especially.
  • The more significant issue is that sitting in one position without moving for long stretches (like 5+hours) is excruciatingly hard on my left leg.  The last time I flew across the country, I suffered for it the entire five days I was there.  Could barely walk by the time I returned home at the end (though I'm really not very worried about what happens when I get home, because...I'll be home!)  I talked to two of my doctors about how to alleviate the inevitable pain, and have a game plan, but won't know if it'll be effective until Monday night or Tuesday morning when I try to walk. 
  • And walking.  Yep, all the potential walking.  I used to be a fast walker, liked to cram a whole lot in on such trips.  But here's my reality: you know how hard it is to walk when your leg/foot's asleep?  Imagine doing that for 8 years.  Every single step.  I'm used to it in my daily life, but it drains me.  And I compensate on my right leg. So I can't imagine how I'll do all the walking.  But holding my friends and family back makes me crazy.  Sigh.
So there you have it.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Putting on decking

It's summer...or so the calendar tells me.  As do the dirty dishes on the kitchen counters.  I'm not in the right rhythm for everything that's taken me by storm this week.  I'm used to three of us in the house, to running the dishwasher every other day and expecting us all to fend for ourselves five nights out of seven.  But this week, not only is the house full but there's been a crew out back building a deck.  YEP, for real. And all these people have emptied our cupboards of glasses especially.  About the time I want to set the table for dinner, I realize we should have run the dishwasher, and end up using nice glasses.  AGAIN.  But, as E would say, running the dishwasher twice a day is a first-world problem, so I'm really not complaining.

Out back, Beve has put his muscle with a friend's building brain and another friend came over just to be part of the chain gang, I think, and between them, there has been a whole lot of measuring, sawing, pounding and...well, to tell you the truth, what looks to me like just plain staring.  Staring at pieces of lumber to make sure each piece is straight before it's set into place.  Staring at the plans, even at the sky, it seems.  Just plain staring. I walked out there yesterday just to check out what they were looking at so intently, but in some ways, it's a little like looking into a car's open hood.  I just don't have staying power for the tiny details.

But today when the girls (E, SK, M) and I got home from the morning matinee of the final Harry Potter, Beve and his buddy were sitting on our deck.  They'd laid decking across the frame, put our backyard lawn furniture up there and were enjoying the sunshineclouds.  Nothing's screwed down yet, but it's sturdy enough that we enjoyed our lunch out there, basking in our lovely new space. 
One of the few sermons I remember from my college years was about Noah. "Puttin' on deckin'" it was called. And it went something like this (though, now in my own words, obviously): it took Noah a lifetime to build the ark, and, considering the size of that huge boat, a great deal of that time was spent simply laying down the decking on the ark.  Noah obeyed God over a long, long life, doing the most mundane, repetitive work one can imagine: nailing boards to a frame.  Over and over and over.  There's not much glamorous about it when you think of it this way, this building of the ark without power tools or even any paid labor.  It was grinding, mind-numbing work.  Putting on decking, day after day.  And to this--this lonely, slow, difficult work--God called him.  And for this--this endlessly-dragging, blister-raising work--God blessed him.  Noah believed God when God called him, and was faithful to that call. NO MATTER WHAT!

As our decking sits waiting to be set permanently in place, I think of Noah.  Of his faithfulness in the face of sneers and jeers and his own doubts. And I think of my own need to be reassured that God is in something when He's called me.  And reassured again. And again.  I have so little staying power.    We all do.  I mean, compared to Noah, that is.  But "faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass."  If He calls you to something, it only makes sense to keep doing it until He says otherwise. 

That's what putting on decking will always mean to me.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Christ-Haunted

E and M, our Finnish niece (daughter of Beve's oldest brother, R) flew in from Helsinki Tuesday night.  While they battle jet-lag, the girls are mapping their strategy for M's visit here.  This trip is the long-postponed trip she began before Christmas when a blizzard blanketed the entire continent of Europe and stranded her in England for five days.  Last night we exchanged gifts she'd wrapped in December (we hadn't gotten so far as to wrap ours, since she was coming a week before the event...), including Christmas ornaments, and a lovely scarf.  So appropriate for July, you know.  And we opened the plethora of gifts E bought for us along her route.  Between the two of them, it really was like Christmas in July.  Can I just say, Marimekko fabric?  I stare at that fabric online all the time, so to own some is wonderful.  Beve's comment was, "You absolutely cannot use it on a quilt you give away."  He knows me very well...but I did promise.
Because they're both so tired, and because we don't really need too much more of an excuse than that, between tea and shopping, and in order to be prepared for the last movie, which we're going to see tomorrow morning, we're in the middle of a Harry Potter movie marathon.  And yes, I include myself in the group.  I have both read and watched all of them all along.  And had countless conversations with people about them.  In the beginning, some of our more conservative Christian friends were deadset against allowing their children to read them.  This was when I was purchasing them the instant they were available.  "But they're about witches and magic," they'd say.  You know, WITCHES.  Yes, I'd answer.  But the theme, like the best of fairy tales, is of good overcoming evil.  Actually, exactly like the one true fairy-tale, the myth that is reality of God who came to earth as a man and destroyed the power that the evil one had over humans.  These well-meaning people who didn't like HP looked only superficially at the stories.  Yes, witches.  But curses too.  Like the curse sin has over us, perhaps?

I remember such a conversation with a close friend who objected quite strenuously, who was horrified that I not only allowed, but encouraged my children to read such books. "Even Narnia has witches and magic," I told her.  Then I was shocked--SHOCKED!!!--that she wouldn't allow her children to read THE NARNIA CHRONICLES for the same reason.  "Have you even read them?" I asked. "No, and I don't intend to," she answered.  Even when I explained that Aslan was to Narnia who Jesus is to this world, she didn't get it.  Her mind was closed (very much, I'm afraid, like Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew who doesn't hear the animals of Narnia speak because, by definition, animals cannot speak!).  I think at that moment our friendship began to die.

It's a sad thing, I think, to miss such possibilities of God speaking to us in a myriad of ways, both expected and unexpected.  To miss that our God, the ultimate Creator who stands behind every work of art, written, painted, sculpted and danced can fairly shout that He is here and He is not silent.  OK, so there are exceptions.  I admit this.  The odes to filth and garbage written and drawn by deranged and ugly minds cannot point to nor glorify Him.  But many more do.  More than those which say His name aloud from the page or make Him the explicit subject.  He haunts our art because He created us.  As He created the world from which we get our inspiration.

And Christ haunts such works as well.  In seminary, I took a class called 'Jesus in Literature'.  We often spoke of books, movies, etc. being Christ-haunted.  Where good overcomes evil, there is a sense of God, but even more, where a particular character must save the world, one way or another, we call that person the Christ-figure.  Aslan, obviously.  But also Frodo Baggins.  And Harry Potter.  Yes, I said that.  Harry Potter.  Christ-haunted.

Be open to where we can catch a glimpse of Him.  It will expand your mind and heart and spirit.  And perhaps even make you see Him more clearly (as the song says), love Him more dearly, follow Him more nearly, day by day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Compromise

One of my myriad conversations at the wedding Saturday was with a woman attempting to write (and, therefore, get published) a novel about global warming for middle-school students.  Sounds like a real page-turner, though I didn't tell her that.  We talked about character development, because she's been given repeated feedback that hers are one-dimensional.  Also about the idea of story for its own sake rather than a mere prop for a soapbox, which is another complaint about her work. 

And she asked both about the purpose of my novel (she thought that like hers, mine was written to expound on some issue, rather than 'simply' tell a story) and the reason I finally stopped trying to get it published. Like so many conversations before this one, there was a sense of disbelief that I would get so far to then let it die.  I told her of the many twists and turns the novel had taken over the years, the significant change, for example in the age of the protagonist from 12 to 40, and the action which ceased to center around to the death of the father to the dying of the mother (though the father's death rises again in significance, of course). 

But there was one final blow.  Besides the external issues of the economic crash which impacted the possibility of the novel's success, there was one compromise I was unwilling to make.  And I'm not sure I've ever written about this.  The agent representing my work, and the publishers behind her, had always been strongly drawn to my descriptions of the land in the novel.  The beautiful Palouse country, which, while not being the land of my birth, is certainly both the land of my childhood and the land of my heart (and not co-incidentally pictured behind these words).  My agent always believed the Palouse was actually personified in October Afternoon, as important a character as any human one, though this was unintentional on my part.  I had simply written as I loved it.  Her sense of the land as a character in my novel does lead, of course, to the question of an author's intent and the way students (and teachers) study literature, looking for symbols, but that's a question for another day. 

What finally stopped my quest dead in its path was a notion on the part of my agent that, because the land was so important, the--or, at least, a--central action should revolve around it.  Her strong suggestion--no, her pressured ultimatum--was that the crops should fail.  When she told me this, I knew instantly  that this was the death knell for October Afternoon.  I could not, would not, write of a crop failure on my fictional farm on the Palouse.  Because it is false.  The crops do not fail on the Palouse.  They are sometimes less fruitful than other times, but they do not fail. EVER.  And to write otherwise would be disasterous. Not merely for myself.  But my sister, her husband and children would read this book. The whole family would.  That whole generation-after-generation of living and working and loving more than life itself on the Palouse farming family, I mean.  It would shame me to write such a thing.  I told her this.  She reminded me that crops fail, that this is a fictional work, that I can parlay something truth in one place and make it so for me (so to speak).  But this is relative truth, if you think about it, and relative truth is no truth at all.

So I said no.  And my no was a final no.
I have been sad, grieved, and mourned the loss of the book, but never once regretted THAT decision. It was right and good, and even when good is hard, it always brings peace.

For each of us, there should be things on which we cannot compromise.  Times when we have been asked to compromise.  Some compromise is right and good.  Meeting in the middle when each person has only good in mind always moves us toward the better.  Toward the ultimate good--God!  Such things are generally about inconsequential things actually.  Morally neutral things, like I like one couch and he likes another so we meet in the middle to find one on which we both agree.  Or even more important issues about how to discipline a child in a specific situation. 

But there are things on which life turns for each of us.  Issues on which we will not, cannot compromise.  Some of these things are perhaps personal, like whether to drink alcohol or not, or more Biblical concerns such as at what age to baptize a person.  Because believers have been divided over these issues since God the Incarnate walked on this earth, I will not speak to those here.  As I say, they are personal.  I  respect that they may be truths on which people stand.  And there are some such personal things for me.

But then there is one.  One absolute, non-compromising Truth with a capital T.  His Name is Jesus.  Who He is and what that means is not merely my personal truth but the 'whether-you-believe-it-or-not Truth.'  It would be well for your soul to stand on Him.  Yes, His Name is Jesus.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

No matter what.

In a masterful stroke of genius (one of Beve's favorite phrases!), we had another crazy weekend, punctuated with a rather glaring plumbing problem (think no water and the kitchen sink!), and just enough emotional turmoil to...well, to make our hair turn gray, if it wasn't already. Yep, just about your typical weekend in our lives. Sigh.

One of our good friends' daughter was married yesterday.  So we joined a host of friends our friends have collected from all over the world.  We were invited to a BBQ at their home Friday night, but just before we were to be there, Beve came out to where I was watering my flowers and said, "The faucet in the kitchen is broken."  "WHAT?"  "Yep. Doesn't work at all."  Then I realized that with the day I'd had, I hadn't even used the kitchen sink, so hadn't noticed.  He called Al, the plumber, and said, "Here's the problem.  I have a broken kitchen faucet. It's 5 PM on a Friday, and on Sunday my daughter's hosting a bridal shower."  Al, the plumber, who knows Beve pretty well, hustled right over.  Thankfully.  And while he was on the clock, taking out the old--dead as a doornail--faucet, Beve raced to Lowe's and picked out a new one.  Did a bang-up job of it too, I might add.  I didn't go along, because I was busy making napkins. You know, because I could...or wanted to...or at least would never use paper.

Those napkins were for the bridal shower SK hosted this afternoon in our living room.  A tea-party for grown-up women, with plenty of fancy dishes from my china hutch that came from my own bridal showers or wedding or as gifts (mostly from my mother-in-law).  It's fun to get out all the nice things every now and then.  We're very simple people about ninety percent of the time, but it is fun to dress up the table with fancy duds, even if I don't want to wear them myself.  SK did a lovely job hosting the party.  She's a very capable, very caring maid-of-honor, and her best friend felt loved and honored by the event. 

Yesterday we went to the shortest wedding we've ever been to, followed by a nice, long reception.  A crowd of lovely, interesting people, very different from us, with stories.  Oh, my goodness, the stories.  Sometimes I think I've heard them all, and then...here's one for you.  About twenty seconds before the bride and her dad were about the cross the lovely bridge over a creek and up the aisle between the chairs to where the groom already stood, the mother of the groom said, "I hate to tell you, but there is no cake."  The dad, who told us later, said his daughter began to panic, but he looked at her, shrugged and said, "So there will be no cake.  I say we go get you married."  He's a great dad.  You should have heard his toast.  NOT a dry eye, let me tell you.  These aren't believers, this family, but they love well.  Sometimes Christians think that we have the corner on the market on such things, but we could learn a thing or two about marriage from such people as these friends who have worked hard, raised their children well, and expend themselves on behalf of others.  I know God speaks to me through them, though they'd be shocked to hear it, and wouldn't believe it.

There were hard moments of this weekend.  In the last week, while we've been celebrating one marriage and anticipating another, another close friend is leaving a marriage. There is much confusion, speculation, hurt and pain associated with this parting.  But here's what I've been struggling with: almost no one has actually spoken to the person doing the leaving nor to the person being left.  All the speculation, judgment, hurt, confusion and pain are being felt by people outside of those intimately involved in this situation.  I've heard words like, "X isn't the person I thought I knew."  And I wonder how anyone can say that.  Of course, X is.  Still.  No matter what.  My life has taught me that.  Hasn't yours?  I mean, how many people do you know who have really changed their spots?  Really?  We become more like our real selves with Christ.  But without Him, we simply flail around, but can never really change.  At least, that's what it has always seemed to me.  And I always think that a person who 'transforms' herself was always on the way to it, one way or another.  But maybe I'm just too much a Calvinist to think otherwise.

  And all the anger I hear sounds about as far from Jesus as it can get.  We must--we MUST--love those He loves.  No matter what.  Those who hurt each other too.  We must love those who do the hurting and those who are being hurt.  And, while we should take a strong stand against sin, we must handle with love and grace and mercy, those who sin.  Non-Christians have license to judge and hate and hold grudges and pay back evil for evil.  We do not.  We live beyond the Cross of Jesus, after all.  The cross that saved us from those very things.  So no matter what a person does, no matter how hard it is to understand their actions, our course is clear.  Ours is the way of love.  No matter what.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The ridgepole

I'm a little flummoxed at the moment.  After three + years of writing this blog, suddenly--without any warning that I noticed (which is, of course, not to say there was no warning) the 'dashboard' of blog-writing has changed.  Icons, rather than words, are used to navigate between writing, editing and viewing a post.  And, in case you didn't know this about me, I'm a words person.  I can read much more easily than I can recognize someone else's icons. Sigh.

I had a doctor's appointment this morning and got to talking to the doctor's assistant (no longer called a nurse, as though that's pejorative, which seems odd to me, but there it is!) about how using the computer to imput medication, history, etc has finally gotten easier for her.  But it took a while. She likes writing things down.  Taking notes by hand helps her remember them.  Recently she took a CPR refresher class, was given a sheet of paper on which all the information she needed was printed.  She immediately turned over the page and began taking notes. One of the instructors came over to her and said, "You don't have to re-copy what is already written for you."  So she laid down her pen, but it just about killed her to do it.
 "I get that because I'm the same way," I told her."You need your hand writing in order for your brain to think." 
"Yes," she answered. "That's exactly it. I didn't know there was anyone else out there like me." She began to walk out of the room, then poked her head back in the door. "Will you tell my supervisor that?"
"Happy to," I said. 

As I sat waiting for the doctor, I thought about how important it is for people to feel like they aren't alone in this world, that there are others like them, even down to their little quirks and ticks.  In fact, it's when people point out flaws, that we most want to know there are others who suffer them.  Don't we?  When I was young, I was the only left-handed grandchild in a rather large family (one of my uncles was also left-handed, but he was an in-law and that didn't count to my grandmother--and therefore, to me).  And my grandmother believed that being left-handed was definitely NOT a good thing.  She was forever pointing out my differentness, deep-sighing about the allowances that had to be made for me at family meals, about how I couldn't cut with scissors, or sew correctly, and made a mess on my hand by simply writing my own name.  I desperately wanted even just one other person to let me know that being left-handed was okay...
Now I know many lefties, married one, and LOVE being part of that club, which actually proves my point, doesn't it?  It's the knowing I'm part of a club that has turned this 'flaw' into an asset in my mind.

On the other hand, we also wish to be originals.  But, unless we're pyscho- or socio-paths (and I don't know the difference), we usually wish our gifts to be unique.  We want to believe no one else in all of history has been as creative or devout or smart or beautiful or...but we aren't. Well, we are and we aren't.  There's been no one else ever created exactly like us.  But there is nothing new under the sun. 

This is the ridgepole on which we live.  This is the truth from which our made-in-His-Image life begins, that we are created uniquely, but we are also part of everyone else who has ever lived.  We are His by ourselves, but we are His together as well. 

And, frankly, I'll take that ridgepole, I'll walk it safely, not fighting it, not hoping to be different or trying to fly off in my own direction or looking for something new that He never intended. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Auntie Glo

July is a month rife with birthdays in our family.  And today, quick on the heels of Independence Day, is the birthday of Auntie Glo.  Beve's only sister, Glo, was born 57 years ago today.  And if she was still alive to celebrate with us, it'd be one long extension of the 4th of July.  When I first joined this family of giants, the tradition was to spend both days at the family's place on Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho.  And when I say 'lake-place', I'm being generous.  Actually it was a single-wide trailer.  A SINGLE-WIDE trailer for a family whose smallest member stood 6 feet tall--the soon-to-be (because two of her brothers' wives were pregnant) 'Auntie' Glo.  It was sardine city, that little trailer was.  But you know what?  After about two minutes I forgot how claustrophobic I felt surrounded by all those giants in that small place, because the largest personality, the one with the biggest heart, also made that little trailer expand with her.  I don't know how she did it.  She drew me in.  She drew us all in.  That was Auntie Glo's gift.  She gave out "Make-it-to-the-lake" awards, pulled more tricks out of her bag than Mary Poppins. 

That's the way Auntie Glo always was, you know.  She'd call me up when I was frazzled within an inch of my life and say, "I want to come down and take the kids out to a movie."  SERIOUSLY?  Or she'd grab a couple of nephews, bring them to our house, where she cheered them on while they bounced up and down and all over our furniture. And she hopped on planes to get her Finnish niece fix when she hadn't seen them in a while. Because she loved-loved-loved our children.  ALL of them.  Every single one of her eight nieces and nephews she was crazy about.  If you asked any of them, they'd tell you, there was just something about their Auntie Glo that was different than anyone else in the whole wide world.  She was more cheerful, laughed harder, loved life more, cared more about them, than anyone else they know. 

As her health worsened and her life wound down, we'd hear from her by phone.  Sometimes there were long, rambling messages from her on the machine because she wanted to make sure she asked about every one of us, so we knew she cared.  She survived so many significant health scares that it was hard to imagine she wouldn't always win the next battle, that someday something would lick that indomitable spirit.

But life ends on this earth, anyway.
And the last 20 months since she made her last phone call have left a crater in the heart of the giant family I now call my own.  There have been so many times when I've ached to have her help as a nurse with the elders, when I've longed to hear her inimitable laugh on the phone, asking about "Steffi" or "Bethie" or "Johnson."  And I'm not alone in missing Auntie Glo. 
We miss:
Her funny cards on our birthdays, and for no particular reason at all.
Her daily checking in with her dad and Thyrza, and always signing off by saying, "I love you, Dad."
Her chuckling and rolling her eyes at her brothers, and always laughing, never complaining (and believe me, she could have!).  SK just told of a time when Auntie Glo was sitting beside her in our living room and asked, "Is it okay if I put Stumpy next to you?" then, laughing, put her leg that had had the foot amputated on SK's chair.
Her thoughtfulness toward her large (and I'm talking LARGE) circle of friends.
Her incredible thoughtfulness toward her brothers--she always remembered birthdays, and Uncle R (here from Finland) just told me she made him a scrapbook that completely surprised him.

So from all of us, on this birthday, from those in this house, those across the state and those across the globe, we join together to sing Happy Birthday to our dear, funny, sarcastic, clever, faithful, Auntie Glo, now keeping the throne-room of God Himself in stitches. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The work of the day

One might say, if one were the saying kind of person, that I'm an open book, inclined to tell all matter of things about myself, some worth the telling and others a little TMI, as kids call it.  So I've been pondering all day how to share my own part in this story without either A) casting aspersions on someone (I learned at an early age that whatever the heck aspersions are, I certainly better not to go casting them about all willy-nilly) and B) even divulge information that isn't mine to reveal.

However.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with that person, then come and offer your gift.  Matthew 5: 23-24

Over the course of my almost 54 years on this earth, there have been one or two... dozen, (or hundred or thousand) times when I've had to take my hat in hand, set aside whatever work I was doing, leave my gift at the altar, as Matthew puts it, because a brother or sister held something against me.  And whatever it was that they held against me was distracting me from the true work of my life--that of worshipping God in whatever He called me to do at any particular time and place.  Sometimes it's as simple as picking up the phone to call Beve to tell him I'm sorry I raised my voice at him, or stopping a roommate in the kitchen to say I was sorry for small thing they didn't even notice.  But these aren't really what Jesus means when He tells us to make our peace with our brother or sister before presenting our gifts at His altar.  He means the kind of offenses that grow and build and expand until they are rock walls between people.  The Berlin wall kind of walls.  Large and fortified with armed guards and barbed wire and don't even think of trying to get through it, let alone break it down.  Offenses that create such walls are not easily taken down.

There has been such a wall in my life this year.  It popped up without warning, had no discernible cause, and try as I might, I had no success in taking it down.  And I tried.  I did all kinds of things. Was advised to let it blow over (or down in this metaphor).  Backed off, kept my distance, acted as if it wasn't there (which made me feel like the biggest fraud on earth).

But this morning, after my time with the Lord (not during--I've been reading the Minor Prophets!), I was sitting at my sewing machine thinking about this situation.  In the last several days I have been reminded a couple of times that this person is still angry at me.  I kept turning it over and over in my brain as the needle went up and down, and finally I couldn't stand it any longer.  I simply had to go and make my peace with this person.  I had to go and ask forgiveness for the offense that changed our relationship.

The problem was that I hadn't the slightest idea what that offense was.
That small sticking point is what had kept me from asking forgiveness for months.
But Jesus didn't say we had to know what the offense was before going to our brother or sister.  The issue is that we know he or she has something against us.  And this I definitely knew.

As with so many things in life, the steepest path is just getting there, if you know what I mean.  Once face to face with the person, my words tumbled out coherently enough (along with a few tears I'd neither expected nor wanted).  Forgiveness was asked for and granted.  On each side.
Yes, on each side.  Because God does this.  He stands between and breaks down the wall on each side.

I love seeing Him in action this way.  In me, despite my stubborn--"But I don't even know what I did, so why should I ask for forgiveness?"--heart.  And in a room with another believer who wants to honor God with every step.  He is there between us, as we do the primary work He asked us to do--"Forgive one another as I have forgiven you."

Yes, this was the work of my day.
Now, where's an altar?  I have a great gift of praise to offer Him for the fine work HE did in me and in this day.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Grounded

For the last couple of days, we've been surrounded by the giants; that is, Beve's brothers.  Friday night, Beve sat down on the couch and I swear my two-meter-tall, 250 lb. husband shrank to almost nothing beside the mountain of a man that is his next oldest brother.  Saturday night, after dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant out in the county, SK took a photo of the three giants, and poor Beve was the little guy in the middle. These are practically the only men I know (since I'm not personally acquainted with any NBA players) who can make Beve look tiny.  But these older brothers of my husband do it every time. They talk louder, take up more space, indeed, swallow up half the air in the room just by walking into it, are immovable objects in our narrow-halled house (I know, I tried to get by them when they were standing outside the bathroom, just shooting the breeze!).

I'm like an acorn among the the oak trees.

But more than that, I have to say (though perhaps I shouldn't), we just look at life so differently, that I'm often bewildered after a few days with them.  The conversation runs toward information-exchange much of the time, if you know what I mean.  "Did you know?"  and, "I saw..." and the like, without the sarcasm or probing synthesis I cut my eye-teeth on.  Or (at moments) toward spiritualizing without grounding that spirituality in the solid earth of the life we actually life.  Life that had dirt in it.  How can I give an example of this without pointing fingers I don't want to point?  Because, after all, I'm also pointing fingers at myself.  I've been guilty of this over-spiritualizing as much as anyone--maybe more.  Anyone with a seminary degree has a BS in such things. Trust me, I've lived there.

Anyway.

Many years ago, a young person Beve and I were in relationship with confided about abuse in her childhood.  After much counseling, she decided to tell her parents, and it was arranged that they come to our home for this conversation.  As you might imagine the conversation was painful for her. Finally the truth came haltingly out.  And almost instantly one of her parents began turning the most painful thing a person can survive into a spiritual lesson.  The words spoken by this parent made our young friend's eyes glaze over with tears and even more pain, because there was so little connection between the words and the reality she'd lived.  All those spiritual truths may have been true, but what was needed was to hear that she was loved, that she was whole in the sight of her parents and a treasure to them.   And that they were present for her--that day and always.  And maybe that they felt terrible that they hadn't known or been present when she needed them most.

We must, I think, ground our words about God and faith in the soil of life.  The danger we have as Christians is separating what we know of Him from what we live on earth, and what we experience in faith from what others experience without it.  Our biggest gift, at times, is simply to say, "Yeah, what is going on in your life stinks!"  NOT to say God has a plan, even if WE know He does.

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, which reminds me of another story from my past.  When I was in college, a friend came to see me while I was lifeguarding at a pool in town.  He told me that his mom had left his dad that day.  I was struck dumb from the news.  Though this isn't necessarily that surprising in today's world, it was my first experience of such a thing.  In my entire life.  And because this was so, I was absolutely speechless.  Many other Christian friends, unfortunately, weren't struck quite so mute as me by the news, and spoke many platitudes to this friend about what God's plan, etc. in this terrible situation.  And all these words, by all these very-well-meaning believers didn't help our friend.  A couple years later, he told me that my silence had been one of the best gift he'd been given during those first terrible days.  It was a sacramental silence to have just sat with me without words.  But only because I was too dumb to think of anything to say.

I learned something vitally important from that, however.  And have tried to practice it (though, by nature, I'm a person of words).  When a person most needs solace, most needs support and encouragement, the first line is always silence. The Jews have it right, I think, of sitting shiva when someone dies.  This fine art of sitting, simply sitting and grieving with those who grieve cleans out the pores of the notion that words will do the job that only silence can accomplish. This 'mere' sitting quietly keeps us from taking our words away from the ground of suffering and lifting them into some stratosphere where they touch nothing--particularly the person most in need of them.  Grounded spirituality is what we're after, planted in the soil of life and rooted in the earthy truth of Jesus who walked among people, touching them where they lived.

Maybe the reason this is so hard for the giants is that they're so far from the ground...
But then, what's my excuse?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A marriage story

I walked into our kitchen this afternoon, and in the middle of the counter, between the cooling jars of carrot soup I'd made for Thyrza, the cinnamon rolls Beve made for his brothers, and the assorted dishes left from people consuming all sorts of things between, was a bouquet of tulips.  That's right, tulips.  I stepped out our back door, down the jerry-rigged steps and said, "I love you," to Beve, who was sitting next to his dad, Thyrza, brother, a couple of dead-to-the-world dogs (due to the 4th of July meds, you know!).  Beve said, "I love you too," then he muttered, "What do you want me to do?"
"No," I said. "The tulips!"
"Oh. They aren't for you." 
Oh.
"But I did buy them because you like tulips."

Two things about this little story.  First, that he instantly thought I wanted something from him because I said I loved him that way.  To his credit, there is precedence for this feeling.  On occasion, I may have told him I loved him in order to ask for his help.  Most of the time, this was teasing.  Just as his muttering was also teasing today.  But beneath that tease is a germ of truth as is often the case.  It's also truth that I want him to show me that he loves me by doing things I want him to do.  "If you love me, you'll do this," I'm saying, whether by word or by implication.  This 'love me if...' notion is common in marriage, even in the best of them.  Though, thankfully, it doesn't rule the day.

The tulips were bought because we were invited to someone's house for dinner. And Beve is more thoughtful than I am. Almost always.  This is just the truth.  He would think to buy flowers for hosts. I would think to speak words to them.  When I saw those flowers I didn't follow the dots to any future activity, I just saw tulips and was glad.   I need Beve to remember such things because I will not--not until we're almost to the front door empty-handed, when I'm suddenly aware that we might have brought something to show how glad we are to have been invited, to be sharing the day.  I don't mean to be ill-mannered, but I am in this.  Sadly.  I don't think in terms of presents.  Hostess gifts and little thoughtful ways of saying a person means something.  I feel those things but I don't know what to bring to say it.  Except my words.

So I bring the best thing I can bring--Beve.  And let him bring the tulips.  Or whatever else his thoughtful brain thinks up to bring.  I do coax him to do things for me, but I am also grateful for every inch of him.  I do not, dare not take him for granted.  

If you ask me the secret of a happy marriage, that's what I'll tell you, I think. Sometimes coax him to do things for you and sometimes be coaxed to do things for him. But never take him for granted and always be grateful for him. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

80 years

Today, if he'd lived, my dad would be 80 years old.  He'd have hearing aids, at least one knee replacement,  but would be sharp in mind, keen in wit, and...our deck would have been replaced three years ago, because he would have seen to it.  Yes, that breaking-down deck would have been sticking in his craw for months until he got it done himself.  And he'd have flown back to my brother's in Plymouth to help with a patio project, then up the turnpike to a grandson's to help with some of his remodeling projects.  He'd have made sure my sister had her home in working order, now that she's a single mom, and my other sister's deck stayed in constant repair, since he was the one who designed and built it. And her daughter's house in Dusty, now being remodeled?  His hands would have been all over that as well.  I don't know what he'd have done for my older brother, but there'd have been something.  Dad was no discriminator when it came to helping out his children.

And, if he'd lived, Dad would have gone on the short hikes my siblings have taken together, and the long one they took in Alaska one summer, and he'd have reveled in the scenery and the company--of his kids, his grandkids, and the others on the trail.  And there would have been more hikes he'd have organized, and more of us would have joined them, even those of us mighty reluctant to join any hike.  Somehow he had the ability to make such things palatable, the hauling of belongings along a mountain path, the smelling of campfires that lingers in one's hair, the taste of dried foods, and even (oh the horror) oatmeal, that one consumes with vigor and even joy because the hunger of the trail creates such a need.

And at 80, he'd have been through a few more things with us. The marriages of his son and a few grandchildren, he'd have rejoiced in.  And the divorces in the family he'd have felt deeply because he loved so much. And the deaths: his sister, his mother.  The long absence of a son, then his strange and sudden reappearance in a phone-call telling us he'd died.  Dad would have been with us that long, hard week that tore at us and between us as we said goodbye to that brother.  And most of all, of course, Dad would have been with us in the journey of losing Mom long before we lost her.  He would have watched her forget words and her wallet, forget to turn off the water and the heat, forget TV channels, and what the TV was, forget how to read maps and how to tell time.  Forget the way home and forget what home was at all.  Forget who we were and forget who she was.  Forget who her children were and forget who her mother was.  Forget how to walk, eat, use a straw, take pills, pee, speak....

Dad would have been there for all of that if today was his 80th birthday, rather than simply the anniversary of his birth.  And if he'd been here for all of that, I wonder what if would have meant.  For my sister, who bore the brunt of the burden, life would have been immeasurably easier.  Dad's broad shoulders would have carried the load--as they always had.  She could have simply leaned into him and helped, and who she'd be now, I can hardly imagine.  Maybe it's better not to try.  But the question today is, who would Dad have been?  What would carrying that hard burden have done to him?  What does it do to a spouse to bear the weight of so heavy a load?

I think Dad was spared the end of Mom's life for two reasons: For his own sake, he wasn't built to be a nursemaid.  He wasn't built for quiet pursuits and patient activities. He needed to do and act and move.  He died before he even retired and I have a feeling this is exactly as it should have been for him. The quiet life wasn't going to cut it for him.  He would have gone crazy.  And Mom's diminishing capacity would have been increasingly hard for him to manage, though he'd have been valiant in the attempt.
And for our sake.  Had he lived to blow out 80 candles on a cake today--and I'd give a lot to be baking that banana-nut cake for him!!!--we wouldn't have learned what we did with our mother.  Some of it was hard.  The roughest terrain a person can travel, for RE and her family especially.  But I have to believe, because I believe in a Sovereign God who does all things purposely, that He used it to grow and change and expand us. To change us from what we were with Dad among us to something more that we could not have been if we'd been able to lean on him.

And I believe that whenever He takes away (or takes home) something from your life, He does so because He intends to change and shape you into something more.  From glory to glory, scripture tells us, He is changing us.  So of course that means--at times--the removal of something good to shape the better in us.  And eventually, despite the pain of it, we can tell it's worth it.