Saturday, April 28, 2012

His peace

We took Grampie out to dinner last night. E, J and I had a hankering of Thai food so we thought it was worth trying. We wouldn't have tried it a few months ago when Thyrza was still living here. She didn't like anything spicy and claimed that Grampie didn't either. But Beve has always maintained that this is a recent development. Perhaps a projected development, because the dad he grew up with loved spice and hot and was game to try just about anything--as long as there were no olives involved.

So we went off to "On Rice," one of 10 Thai restaurants in town, which we chose not for the quality of food but for its accessibility for wheelchairs. This is our number one criteria for dining these days, though I have a hunch there will be others in the days to come--if in fact, there can even be another restaurant experience again. On Rice, to our great sadness, did not meet certain other unforeseen criteria. Grampie was exceedingly bewildered by the whole experience. I'd begun the meal sitting on the other side of J from him but as he asked me question after question, I leap-frogged over J so I'd be across from him-- which we hoped would calm him...but only increased his ability to voice his confusion. He was perplexed about where the water (we'd be served) would come from from (we surmise that he thought they were flying the water in from Thailand,) to what was on the ceiling (pressed tin tiles), to the age of the waitresses and why they got the jobs, to how to eat the soup (a fork or a spoon and whether dip the salad in the soup), and why he had so many things in front of him. He even wondered if we could just get up and leave after eating, and who would get our money. Yep, we're going to have to think of some other kind of outings, sadly.

 At the end of the meal he almost enjoyed his coconut ice-cream-- oh, what a muddle that was! He wasn't happy that he was the only one with a dessert (we were all full!) and was determined to share it, though he was the only one with a spoon. "I'll just lick it off and pass it on," he said. Oh, yum! (He'd also offered to lick off his straw for me earlier even though we both had the same drink) Finally, Beve simply raised his voice to the stern "Daddy voice" he used with our obstinate children to say, "Dad, eat your ice-cream!" and his father calmed down and ate his ice-cream.

Meanwhile, it was the first time since Jackson's death we've left Jamaica home by herself. The first time in her whole life she's been left home alone, actually. It had to happen sometime, will happen plenty the rest of her life. But by the time we got home, our little (to us) Springer Spaniel was frantic. She let us know that it was the most terrifying experience of her life. She jumped at me, put her mouth (gently) around my hand, trembled and wove around our legs, didn't even want to run after tennis balls, presumably afraid we might run off and leave her again while she wasn't looking.  Then she burrowed into one lap after another, mine, Beve's, E's, just reminding herself--just reassuring herself--that we were REALLY present, really back and hers and available for whatever she needed us to be.  Then she fell asleep, finally secure that we were back, and she was safe. And we decided that she'd probably spent the entire time we were gone sitting straight up in terror pressed against the back of her kennel, her heart pounding.

This morning I was thinking about this. We're so often like Jamaica. There are times when we feel like we've been left all alone in this world--abandoned. Our brains are little pin-heads in proportion to God so when He seems to go away for a bit, we panic. We walk around our lives, trying everything we can to make ourselves feel safe, padding our kennels (so to speak) with things we can control so that we can survive that absence. But we continue to dwell on the emptiness--worry about it. Question it, think about it constantly. Assume the worst. We just don't know all His purposes, we can't possibly see every bit of His plans and His grand design.
He hasn't really left us. That's the reality. He doesn't leave us any more than we left Jamaica last night. He might have work to do that makes it appear that He's not answering us the first moment we ask (and often  His silence IS the work most necessary for our growth). But He's always paying attention. Always aware of what's going on with us. Always present.

Then there's the confusion of Grampie and the way it was finally not my constant answering of his questions but Beve's strong, Daddy voice that calmed his confusion--even though that Daddy voice was telling him something different than what he was after.  This is exactly what we need from God. His strong Daddy voice, just speaking to us. Sometimes we want certain answers--the specific ONE answer--to our prayers (prayers we usually ask redundantly, just the way Grampie asked me the same question on a loop last night at dinner). But our Father cuts through all of this, slices through it exactly as we ask-- to speak our name. His voice calms our fears. His voice--our Daddy's voice--that's what we need to calm our confusion and give us the peace we need in every situation.

"For He Himself is our peace..." Ephesians 2: 14
"Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you." 2 Thessalonians 3: 16
Wait for it. Trust in it. Even if you don't quite know it, He's coming back for you. He said so.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14: 3

Friday, April 27, 2012

The ear of a disciple

E came home for a quick visit to cuddle with Maica, do some laundry and generally just be for a couple of days. That said, she's sleeping in the tiny room where, along with extra pillows, boxes of books, various other piles we've been shoving in there while sorting through another room, is the lawyer's bookcase which houses my journals.  Interesting story about that lawyer's bookcase: it once belonged to a certain William Gates. No, not the one you're instantly thinking of, but his father. His father, who went to high school with Beve's dad, our beloved Grampie. Through its own journey, that bookcase made its way to our home and now holds my recorded history within it.

By the way, I began using these notebooks in 1977, because I wanted something easy to take with me when I transferred to (two) colleges in Eugene, Oregon. Before that, I'd always used three-ring binders. These lay flat (an advantage for a left-handed person!) and a whole lot of words can be written on a page (an advantage for a verbose person!). I have only been able to find this particular size at the Washington State student bookstore in my hometown (though I'm sure there are many other places to get them) so these days I have my sister but them in bulk and send them to me. At the moment I'm down to my last three spare, so will need a new shipment in the next year.
Ok, enough preface...

Anyway. I ended up with a journal just a season after the INDIA one I wrote from two weeks ago, written in Holland, February 3, 1983 (morning):

Isaiah 50:4
"The Lord has given me the tongue of disciples, 
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. 
He awakens me morning by morning
He awakens my ear to hear as a disciple."

The tongue of a disciple
To hear as a disciple
These are the desires of my heart: to be a disciple, to hear and speak as a disciple, to be able to sustain the weary. With one word. That's pretty strong. ONE WORD. Not a wealth of advice or knowledge poured out, but one word. The word of a disciple.

I'm not very spiritual and sometimes I'm sure my immaturity hangs out like a slip too long for my dress...but I love the Father. I'll plod along, being challenged by those around me, learning from them, listening with the ear of a disciple. I do want to learn. Because I love Him. And my heart's desire is to 'sustain the weary' with whatever word He gives me. Please God. 

If you could see me now. This word, this small section from my far away past is exactly the word--THE WORD--God needed me to hear this day. This season. It is my future self I was writing to that morning in Holland. I am the weary one who needs sustaining. You have no idea. And my young self (who doesn't sound so immature that her slip was showing) is having her prayer answered right this moment. Praise God. I am sustained--because I learned, I grew, I became and am still becoming, His disciple. No matter what it takes. And I remember this morning what I learned that morning. Yes, His very present Help is that He has been faithful all along. And will continue to be so. No matter what it looks like in the short term.

For other such words, from others who have found great hope and gifts in their journals, check out this LINK.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I've been crying a lot in the last few days. Well, let's be honest, a lot in the last couple of weeks. And it finally hit me that these tears, which have been triggered by the death of Jackson, encompass many other griefs as well. Of course. Those of you familiar with the details of my life are probably not surprised at this, but from within, I can be slow on the uptake. Grief about the loss of Grampie, the ongoing pain of J, my own health challenges (even of this one year) are all enough to break a person. But we've gritted out teeth and kept walking. Until this. Until this too, I should say. But the sense of 'even the dog' (as in--"We must even lose our dog this year?") has felled me.  Absolutely felled me. And once the floodgates were opened I've had a very hard time closing them up again.

Perhaps, you might say, this is healthy. These are the words I'd tell you if it was you who was crying so copiously.. However, I also find it important--imperative--to reclaim some land, so to speak that I'm losing by this erosion. That is, that I re-position myself within the context of God's purpose in my life, see all of this as His work rather than something merely outside my/our control (because frankly, that's almost completely how it feels).

You see, I grow impatient to get beyond the unending tears of today back to the faith of my 'real' life, the faith I know will return tomorrow. Despite the words I wrote yesterday about living in grief as long as I need to, I am a person built for joy. It's just my natural habitat. This probably won't make sense to those of you who don't know me, but though I'm sarcastic (I am, after all, my parents' child), I'm also deeply in love with life and God and all that He does in it.  It's just how I roll--being glad and thankful. He gave me this temperament. It's His gift, I'm well aware.

It's just that it hasn't been simply this week that life's been hard, but the longest season. How far do we go back? To September when Grampie broke his hip and we began our dozen trips to the emergency room? A pace at which we'd never seen before? Every other week there was another crisis of epic proportions, it seemed.  A non-responsive Grampie, a suicidal son, me with a heart attack. These are not mere broken arms, easily set in casts and sent on our way.

Or do we go back to 2008 when my mother broke her hip, then her ankle, and I began to spend so much time in Pullman, then Beve's sister got sick and sicker and died at the end of 2009, and we moved Grampie and Thyrza here. And, at almost exactly the same time our son began his duel battle with physical and mental illness.  Where do we start?

And where will it end? With this? With our beloved dog dying? Because I have to tell you, I don't know much, but I'm pretty sure the answer is NO to that last question. There are a whole lot more difficult days ahead. It just stretches so far out ahead of us. And if I'm honest, I admit that I get scared to think of what more might be required of us. There are some of you out there who are saying I don't live by faith to say such things. But I say, walk in my shoes for a day, then tell me you wouldn't have such thoughts. Walk in my shoes without tripping, without falling. Without crying.

You ask Beve these days how he's feeling, and every single time, he'll answer, "Overwhelmed."
And that's perhaps the best answer. Overwhelmed.

I'm not the only one living in such a season as this. In some measure or other, almost every one of us is wounded. Worried about something. Wondering how long it will last, Or when the other shoe will drop. Or, if you aren't, you're looking up and thankful that it's not you. But it might be. None of us gets out of life without it. So where does this lament end? What do I do with it? What does any of us do when we're in such a place?

But this I know. This I believe. On this I stand. "God will not allow us to suffer beyond our power to endure."  I do know this. Unfortunately, I think He thinks I'm stronger than I think I am.  Thankfully, He's stronger in me than I am in myself. Thankfully, He's in me. Yes, thankfully He is in me. Thankfully, HE IS.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I'm sure it seems a little silly to some of you that I could/would write about grief in relation to a dog. And I get that. I know that there are many people in the world who just aren't dog people, who haven't had them, don't want them, don't understand the whole thing. But then there are others of you--and you know who you are--who so completely understand you are already nodding as you read this. I've talked to a few of you in the last couple of days. You've teared up when you've heard about our dog, you've thought about your own, about what it meant when you lost her, what it might/will mean when you have to put him down. We're a company of human companions to these loyal, loving creatures who not only share but enhance our lives. That's how we look at it.

But even those of us who love our dogs--even right this moment when the loss of mine is palpable in every room of this house, so fresh it cuts by the moment--I know there's a quantifiable difference between the loss of a dog and the loss of a human whom we love. There have been moments in the last couple of days that have torn at me. The worst, I think, was when Jamaica climbed into his bed and began to whimper. Simply lie there and cry, not understanding why he wasn't coming back, but somehow knowing it was true, I think. That moment seared itself into my broken heart and blurred my vision so much I had to lean over and catch my breath.

But when my father died, those moments came at me, multiplied by the thousand. By the millions. Fast and furiously and were my own moments. My own keening knocked the wind out of me, my own knowledge--that he wasn't coming back but not quite wanting it to be true--broke my already broken heart. My kids would tell you (as I have told you before) that I cried every single day the first year my father died. EVERY day, and it felt like there were canyons carved down my cheeks from the rivers of salty tears that poured down their contours. I had to carry a hankie (one of his) because tissues were too rough on my face.

 In the beginning, it was by faith alone--by the words of scripture that I had read and continued to trust with my brain--that the fact that he was in heaven mattered to me. I knew--I KNEW because I knew when and how he'd become a Christian, had watched his growth and seen his love for Christ flourish--that he was in God's throne room, worshiping with all the saints. But that didn't matter to me. I wanted my daddy back. I wanted him for me. And even though I know that I will see him again, that someday we will be together singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy," if I'm honest, I'll admit that I would have him back. Right here, right now.  Fifteen years later, and it's still true. I would have my father back if that possibility was open to me. And no matter how long I live on this earth, that will never change.

That's the truth of it. That's how life works on this earth. We lose people we love. We are separated from them for a while. It may feel short once we get there, but from here, from living minute by hour by day by week by month by year, that separation is long. It can never feel anything but long. The sharpness dims, we grow comfortable living with the hole of it in our lives, but it's there. And God understands this. Our lives are only this long and no longer on this planet even when we are promised eternal life. There's paradox in that. It means, of course, that there is more--far more--on the other side of the veil than there is on this side. That what we hold on to is merely the prelude, merely a flicker of time.

But let's start with the understanding that it's okay to weep. "Weeping may last through the night but joy comes in the morning," the Psalmist says. Okay then. There is night first, a dark night of separation and sadness and yes, even grief, first. We don't have to rush through it to the joy. We don't have to pretend not to feel, or fall back on platitudes that are worse than the pain. Though it may be absolutely true that our loved one (canine, but more importantly, human) is no longer in pain and in a better place, is with God, and we will see him/her again (though I honestly don't know about pets--sorrry, I have no theology of pets in heaven), grief is not about that. Grief is about OUR loss of that relationship. And that loss is real. Painful. Worth mourning.  A hole that must be lived with. Soon we learn to live with that hole, learn how to live and laugh and get on with life. And we get to the place of feeling blessed not only that our loved one was in our world, but we remember. The hole reminds us. I believe that.

But let's start with grief. Shall we?  And allow ourselves to weep through the night.

 And then, on that first morning, let real joy--like we've never experienced while in this world-- abound.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I have a friend whose motto is "Simplify, simplify, simplify."  So I'm thinking about simplifying on this tmorning when less is more, when one fewer dogs grace my heels, when the one I have is sitting on those heels, demanding that I be everything to her in such a way that all that I might do is given over to being with her. Simplifying the tasks and the work and the 'things' of this day.

We live in a culture that more is always better, that the newer is the one we should surely upgrade to own. Upgrade itself only became a word in tandem with multi-tasking, texting and more recently skyping and Kindles, Nooks. We have Ipods, Ipads, Iphones, Ibooks, I...well I just about everything. All created to make our lives just a little easier, a little more streamlined, supposedly.

But last night, I was tripping over cords on my way to bed and thought how ridiculous all these things are--how distracting. Yes, how blasted distracting they've become. I just wanted to kneel beside my bed and lay before my God my fresh grief about my dog, my coming grief about my father-in-law, my ongoing grief about my son--and the tangled web of cords was in my way. How has it come to this? We have a very small bedroom, I admit. Most people don't try to have a King-sized bed in a 12 x 14 room. But most people don't try to sleep with a king-sized man--I double dog dare you to try. I did it for our first summer, and finally gave up when I almost lost my mind one night for lack of sleep.

Anyway, all these cords and their accompanying electronic devices have made me consider--AGAIN--how to practice the simplicity so important in order to be in balance with Christ.  At least for me.  Many years ago, Beve spoke of reading a sentence in a book which has been a signpost for us in our marriage: "The tyranny of the urgent." This is the idea that most of us spend most of our time worrying about and working in relation to the critical, the top of the heap issues that are flung our way, rather than paying attention to what really counts. We live this way for long stretches, moving from this task to that one, finishing one so that we can move to the next one, then the next, then flop into bed and do it all over again. And not surprisingly, the marketplace has learned what to do to aid in this practice. The abundance and variety of these multi-tasking, communication, make-your-life-easier, keep-everything-organized and keep-you-entertained devices are evidence that we are an urgent people. We have places to go, important places, and important things to do. And somehow we think we must have all these things to aid us in these vitally important tasks. WE MUST.

We've forgotten how to sit quietly. Just to sit. We've forgotten how to allow whatever is actually going on in our lives to stop us in our tracks long enough so that we feel it, lean into it and let it work itself into whatever God intends from it. I think of that work--that HOLY work--this morning. I woke up this morning and instantly looked toward the floor outside my bedroom door, where, for the last decade, a beautiful soft haired, white lab was curled like a croissant, waiting for me to get up.  I knew he wouldn't be there, but I looked anyway, because I wanted...well, I just looked.

No, I know what I wanted. I wanted to dive into what I'm really feeling. I WANT to feel this sadness. I don't want to move faster away from grief than God wants me to move, whether it's about a dog or a dad. Or a son whose pain bewilders and frightens and makes me want the distraction. But how dare I? How dare I turn my face from what God is doing right now. I don't want to miss what God has for me, to be distracted by all the high-tech, artificial devices that do not keep me face to face with HIM. Though I know--and have been blessed to know--that God uses the Internet (particularly the unbelievably rich blogging world) to create a fellowship of believers across time-zones and cultures, these do not--cannot--take the place of what happens when one person sets down the computer, the phone, the Ipad, the whatever, and clears away every other task, to settle her heart on HIM. But in order to able to have the kind of relationships we want with those around us--whether in person or online--we must be present with Him, not merely for a breath but for the space of time it takes to build that relationship.  Such a relationship cannot be hurried. It must be walked through at a leisurely pace, with quietness within, and the ability to lay down the urgent to for the vital--for Him. Only then can we be present to those who need us. And only then, will there be the wisdom and strength and peace and joy inside He wants to extend to those we come in contact with. And isn't this where we should set our hearts? On the things above, where Christ is? And then on those around us? Paul says so--read Colossians 3, if you don't believe me.

This means, I think, saying no at times to electronic devices, and definitely no to the myriad things that pull at us from all directions. Just saying no and taking our place before Him, with Him. And allowing Him to grow in us the quietness that emanates throughout the rest.  It's only then we can say, with Paul (though this is slightly out of context, he had no more idea of electronic devices and our way of life than he did of flight),
"I have the right to do anything...but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything--but I will not be mastered by anything." 1 Corinthians 6: 12

Monday, April 23, 2012

Last Morning

Jackson's last morning.

Sun on his face, a breeze on his fur.
The world is beautiful
because he's out in it.
 Just lying there in it.
Limbs might fail,
but he's living in it.
breathing big gulping breaths of it.
So we smile through our tears
As we stroke his soft fur,
And say goodbye.

The List

Let me be honest about something here. I'm not always a very nice person. I sometimes have a really, really lousy attitude toward others. No, I mean really lousy. I make snap judgments, consider myself better than I ought. Some girls are raised to think beauty counts, and spend a huge amount of time working at such things. Some boys are raised to think that looks matter too, and spend more time in bathrooms with more products than I have in my whole house. 

But those boys and girls weren't raised by my parents. My parents had certain criteria, kind of like a list hanging on the refrigerator to remind us what really counts in life. They never hung such a list, though myriad other lists made it under those refrigerator magnets--shopping lists, chore lists, birthday lists, school supply lists...oh, the list is endless, really. But the list of what my parents drilled into us about what our priorities should be--we had no written list for that. It was written in our blood. Our blood lines, perhaps.

1. Intelligence. Brains. Academia. Education. Whatever you want to call it. This was paramount to my parents. I remember exactly one conversation with my parents about whether I would go to college. It took place when I was about ten years old. We were driving between one set of grandparents' house in Longview, Washington up the freeway to Seattle to the other set of grandparents' house--while my siblings were sleeping in the back of the car. The conversation went like this, "Of course you'll go to college. All of our children will go to college. And you'll marry someone who's gone to college too." The end. That's called bloodlines, folks. With both grandfathers and a father college professors (not to mention a couple of great-grandfathers as well), it was the expected this. The only expected thing.  My parents were snobs when it came to this.  AND they raised me to be a snob as well. They did. And it took. Sadly, it took. It's one of my chief flaws. This long triangular nose of mine is mighty good for looking down at those who are less educated or smart or cerebral or...whatever it is that all that training tells my flesh they should be. And I grade others in a split second. Honestly. Dang it.
2. Punctuality. This may seem like a strange second thing to put on this list, but in my parents' eyes, it counted. If they told us to be home at 6, they meant 6--or better yet, 5:55. There was no hedge in my family. No 'ish'--as in, "come about 7-ish". That 'ish' just wouldn't cut it with Mom, especially. She planned dinner for 6 PM every single night. EVERY NIGHT. No 'ish' involved. And if she invited someone over (which happened like once every blue moon), she didn't leave space for small talk and appetizers, because she had a schedule. The food would be ready when she said they were to be there. THE END.  This was so drilled into me that when I married into Beve's family, it was the ultimate shock to my system to discover that they were all about 'ish'. Every blasted meal, every single event was fluid. People showed up whenever they showed up, it seemed. Sometimes 3 hours late. THREE HOURS LATE???? I just about had a panic attack that first Thanksgiving, and I was just a guest. But it felt unbelievably rude that anyone would be so late, without cause. And Beve? He was never close to that late, but he tends to run later than me. And it's been a source of irritation for as long as we both have lived...I'm still grading him about that one, too.
3. Confrontation. In my family it was absolutely NOT okay--EVER--to talk back to our parents. Or to slam doors, go off and sulk, say mean things, be disrespectful, impolite, etc. The list here is long. I suppose it all could be summed up in respecting our elders. And it was iron-clad. I'm telling you there was not a chance on this green earth that I would have yelled at, or talked back to my mother or father when I was growing up. No way, no how. No matter what I felt inside, no matter how wrong or unjust or whatever I thought them. It just wasn't my place. They were the parents, the authority and that was that. And I fully believed that they were right in demanding this of me. In fact, I believed it so much that I remember being at a friend's house once when she was yelling at her mother--I was both embarrassed to be there, and angry that my friend would disrespect her mother that way. 

These three things have unequal values, perhaps, but they have governed the way I've raised my own kids to a large extent--kids who also believe in intelligence, who know what I mean when I say 4PM, and who knew better than to slam a door in our home.  

The thing is, God has a list too. But it's a different list than these things that have been ingrained in me.  God's list doesn't have punctuality on it. Even writing that sentence makes me realize how silly it is that I get so 'hepped up' about it (as my mother used to call getting upset, when she was referencing her Kansas farm grandmother). What does the God who is outside of time care if we're 15 minutes late to something? And intellect isn't on His list either. Wisdom is, but that's a completely different thing.  Intelligence is a gift. Education can be attained, but wisdom--that's His.  Given by and sanctified by Him.

Respect--that is on His list. Honoring one's parents? Definitely on the list. But not the way my parents had it. In God's Kingdom the economy is based on a relationship of grace not of fear.  Not of, "You better stay in line."

So which 'list' am I talking about? There are so many lists in scripture to choose from. There's the 10 commandment list, but that's so crowded with what we shouldn't do that it's not very life-giving--though still, always at the core, certainly. Then there's the list in Galatians 5: 22-23, where Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit-- "which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
Or Philippians 4:8-9  "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace with be with you."

It's through these lenses that I should judge those around me--I think they'd be called Kingdom-colored lenses, don't you? How could I judge harshly if I really judged through the lens of what is pure, right and praiseworthy?  Or full of love, joy, peace and patience? 

I have such a long, long ways to go...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

World Views

Here's a picture of our house. Don't come stalking me, now that I've given you my address. I do know that you'll all want to do that, since I am, after all the center of the world. From this view you can see the front slate patio, with thyme we planted between the stones where we sit to watch the sunset over the Bay, and the fireworks on 4th of July. You can see SK's white Subaru parked facing downhill, and the newly finished deck Beve and his buddy had spent the summer putting in behind the house. You can see the expanse of lawn where we've thrown tennis balls for hours for one dog or another, watched our teenaged kids play lively games of soft ball, had BBQs with friends. The day this photo was snapped from so far above me, I might have been sitting on that deck, might have been drinking my tea with my dogs curled up beside me, the way I did in the sun this morning. I like to imagine that, like to think that I was just living out my life, knowing I could be seen so clearly, because, after all, what I do IS the most significant thing to be done and seen.
Well, at least our house is the center of the neighborhood, right? Conveniently located near parks, the community stadium, shopping. Oh wow, now I sound like I'm trying to sell it. Not sure Beve would be very excited about that. Anyway, my point is, we're very right in the center of the world, as you can clearly tell on google earth.

Ok, so maybe we aren't quite in the exact cent of our town, but we're still close enough to get to what we need to get to--to be a part of things. And we know who we are here. We're known here--or at least Beve is. We LIVE in this small city. It's the center of our world. The center of 'the' world, in a sense.
But around here, people also talk about "the County." More than any other place I've ever lived, the county, which is Whatcom, is important. "Do you live in town or out in the county?" "I had to go out to a place in the county to get that." "No, I wasn't raised here, but out in the county (like it was some place so far away, you'd think they had to use their passport and take a rocket ship to get there!)."
This is a picture of the great state of Washington and British Columbia north of it. You can tell how close to the border our little red dot of a home lies.  I'm beginning to feel pretty small in my own home now. A bit less conspicuous than I did a few minutes ago when I started this Google Earth project.
And now we've pulled back so we can see the entire country at a glance (even the dots of Hawaii on the far right).  My own red dot of an address is no longer visible, though I know approximately where we live (as most of us do--don't we?).
And here we are, our little world in the vast expanse of space. I would have made it even smaller but I wanted the boundary lines visible. But it's merely a tiny blue and grayish-green ball reflecting the light of a star.  And we have no more hope of being seen on it than we have a hope of seeing single-celled creatures without the aid of very strong magnifiers.
So there's absolutely no possible way we could be the center of the universe. NO WAY. We aren't the center of anything.

But for one thing. God--who IS the center of the universe--says that we are. He created us
         All of us and each of us.
"What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
      human beings that you care for them?
You made them a little lower than the angels,
You crowned them with glory and honor, 
     and put everything under their feet." 
Psalm 8: 4-6 as quoted in Hebrews 2: 6-8

We aren't the center of the universe, but we ARE the apple of His eye. We aren't the most important people (or nation!) who ever lived but we are HIS people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God. It's in the context of HIS world view that we must see ourselves and those around us.

Talk about a sandwich

People of our age often speak of being the 'sandwich' generation--with kids to care for on one hand and parents to care for on the other. The sandwich in which Beve and I find ourselves in right now is no bologna, that's for sure. No peanut butter and jelly either, for that matter. It's more like liverwurst--something no person in their right mind would choose, let alone enjoy. With aging parents, a son dealing with a whole mess of surgeries back-to-back-to-back, and now even a dying dog. Really? and now even the dog? Yes, I call that liverwurst with a huge helping of UGH!

Then again...we actually do enjoy it, liverwurst or not.  Tonight when Beve and I went over to see Grampie he was in fine fiddle. As Beve put it, "I knew the minute I saw him we were in for a live one!"  Grampie met us at the door of his room, a bit bewildered to see us, because apparently he had places to go. Those places weren't ever quite explained, though he tried and tried. Told us this way and that, with lively hand gestures and facial motions, about all the outings of his day. When Beve told him he hadn't been anywhere, you should have seen Grampie screw up his face in a giant question mark.  "Now I'm all mixed up," he said. And started over again with the outing. Finally, I went out to the nurses' station to ask what on earth Grampie'd been up to that he was working so hard to tell us.

Apparently he went downstairs to an activity in the first floor dining room. And following that, he decided to wheel himself back to his room. Fortunately, he remembered exactly where his room was. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong floor. Fortunately, the woman in the room didn't scream in shock when he came bursting in, asking what she was doing in his room. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time he's found his way into other people's rooms--and using their bathrooms, thinking he's using his own.

By the time Grampie got finished trying to talk to Thyrza, then son B (two different phone calls), not only had Grampie said, "I can't seem to remember my balls," (which made us laugh so hard Beve was crying--and I still haven't the fainted idea what he was actually trying to say, because if there's one thing my father-in-law isn't, it's crude!), and he'd asked how B's "Man-hole was coming along?" By this he meant 'man-room.' But you should have seen Beve trying to hold the phone while his whole body was shaking with laughter.  And even Grampie was laughing. And...pointing his finger at me--
"So it's my fault you're all mixed up today?" I asked him.
"Might as well blame it on someone." He answered. "And you're here."
We all cracked up at that too. He may not be able to find his way home, but his wit is still in there. And he's more than willing to laugh at himself, which helps a whole lot.

I can learn from that. There are some days when it's a whole lot easier to cry than laugh at the sandwich we find ourselves in. This week, tears have been very close.  For a whole lot of reasons. As Beve and I sat out on our deck this afternoon, watching our dog lift his head and breathe in the late afternoon sun, Beve said, "It really makes you think about how fleeting life is, doesn't it?" This is a rare kind of question from my practical, feet-to-earth Beve. Brought on by Jackson, but also his dad, a close friend facing chemo, he said, "We're well past half way through now, aren't we?"

Yes, we are...unless we live to be 100, we're on the near side to heaven, if we live to be old. If we only dwell on this earth the same number of days as our soonest-to-leave parent, Beve and I each have merely a decade left. But as we sat with Grampie tonight, laughing with him, I was reminded again how little it matters the length of our days or how old I become on this earth. I do care what I do with the days I have, and how I respond to those who are living their last days--whether it's a man or a dog. I want to live with the elders like they are treasures given for a whisper of time. For just a sandwiched moment. Between now and then, if you will. So leaning into these days--or at least this day-- and taking a big bite of that liverwurst--and discovering I like it. I like it. Hey, God, I actually like it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Old Friends

Another Random Journal Link-Up Day. My plain-Jane blue journals take me to a Monday in August of 2003, when I'd just returned from a weekend with my seven closest high school girlfriends, whom I first knew when we lived among the undulating wheat fields of the Palouse in Eastern Washington (State--for those of you not from my neck of the country).

"The over-stimulated, but-I-would-barely-give-up-a-second-of-it, weekend with 'the girls' now affectionately known as "The BaBaas. [Little Brother] said this evening, "You must have been cheerleaders."
"Why?" I asked ( because he was dead right--three of us were).
 "Because one weekend and you already have new cheers and secret handshakes."
My kids asked if the water was cold at the lake place and I had to laugh. We never even checked. All we did was talk. On the square of couches inside, on the deck sitting around the lunch table, watching clouds and jet-skis down at the dock lakeside. Beneath the luxurious starry night where an equally luxurious feast had been prepared for us at a home on Hoods Canal by folks we don't even know and will probably never see again--salmon and salad and fresh bread. Candlelight dining til we were stuffed but we still had room to snare bites of shared desserts as the plates were passed between us. Beside a readied campfire on the beach, we watched the night and the fire, listened to more words, or the small silences and felt the home only we can be to each other--yes, such home as our deep, long friendship can bring. Some silly, necessary old stories were brought out like we hadn't heard them a hundred times before, and those stories were as sweet as the dessert. And we told new stories, shared confidences, and opinions--some hard, some not. And there was laughter permeating every sentence.  Because these are the girls.
They are the friends I went through puberty with. We were present for first periods, and first kisses, for boyfriends and breakups...and these women, I think, will be the ones who may well be there at the end of my days as well. When our hair is all white and our teeth are failing with our chests, and we're all using canes and needing diapers. They'll still be the girls to me."

All I can add to this is that ALL women should have such friends. We are made for them, Made-in His-Image for them. I believe it. I am thankful that over the course of my life He has repeatedly given me such a wealth of such women. But that surfeit of riches of female friendships (and perhaps my very ability to maintain them) always, always start with these first and best.

To read some other journal entries, see these posts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

These are for you...

Because it was sunny today (after it poured like the good old Northwest is supposed to pour in April), and Jackson was laying in the grass, I took a few pictures of him. Then a few more. Then called J out to take one of him with our dog, and he took one of me, and then Beve got home and we took one of him...

And because this is my blog and my daughters are not home right now but off in their own lives--either down the freeway (SK's coughing up half a lung from bronchitis) or across the country (E's traipsing across the eastern seaboard following some media trail for some grad. class I'm hopelessly coveting)--, and my youngest brother, BB, is also across the country at his own home rather than here where Jackson would surely try (but fail) to jump at his head, should BB come walking up our driveway, I thought I'd post those pictures of our beloved dog. Who looks old and sad, but young as a pup in a way as well.  So turn your heads away if you don't feel like looking, but for you, E and SK and BB, and for you, M, who painted the lovely painting that we'll always have of him--these are for you.

And for all of you who love your dogs and who face the losing of them, these are also for you. Tonight we moved his bed into our room (and our room is NOT large enough, trust me), so he's sleeping at the foot of our bed.  And, yes, girls, we gave him a good love for you. We pulled out some stray hairs, E, and called him Buddy, SK, and generally loved him up one side and down the other. Just as you would, if you were home to do it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The world comes to my door

Last week, after several rather intense phone conversations, I told E that even when I am home in my pajamas all day, "the world comes to me."  It wasn't something I'd consciously thought, but since then, more and more, God has been hammering it home. And though I wouldn't be so crass as to share other people's stories, there's a gem hidden that fits well for me in this season.

The thing is that I'm an over-educated, under-qualified woman of a certain age, who hasn't quite lived up to her potential in the eyes of the world. Certainly if my father had been alive these last 15 years to see it, he would have taken me out to more than one meal to ask/tell me that I should be doing more with my life than this. That my gifts and talents and education were meant for something. For a profession, an accomplishment. Dad wouldn't have allowed for the weaknesses and ailments that have caused such havoc in body to define me, nor for the failure of the novel (so close and yet so far from being published!) to be the end of that effort. He would have pushed and kept pushing for me to do and be more. I knew him. I know him still.

And beyond him there are those I meet now and then who have heard me preach, sat in classes and retreat I taught, gone on mission trips I led. They are shocked and dismayed that my life is so reduced, that I confine myself to prayer and writing this blog, to speaking where and when--in the small ways--God puts people in my path. To a small, even hidden, life--that's really how I put it. To non-accomplishment, non-whatever.

And then there is me. Me. Who has to live within myself and my own visions for my life, the pulpit I imagined (though never an official one), the book I dreamed of, the ministry and the accomplishments. Yes, the accomplishments. Even just being able to have an answer when I'm asked the innocuous question, "And what do you do, Carolyn?" To know that all that study (two BAs, one whole Masters, and another partial) landed me here is humbling, because it isn't what I expected. Not even close.

I had grand ideas. Name in lights ideas. Visions of greatness for the Kingdom.  I wanted Him to shine through me. When I was 20 I made a list of things I was going to do by the time I was 30. Now, 30 years later, there are more things left on that list than there are crossed off.

But here I am--living this small life. The twists and turns of my story have brought me here. To this place, this moment. And to the understanding of three things:
1. In one of my theology classes in college, a professor spoke of humility as the "Leveling of the perpendicular I". And it seems to me that that's exactly what my small life continues to give me. Exactly the opposite of what I wanted, but necessary to what HE wanted to develop within. I know me. I know the raging pride that asserts itself with such force every single day. With a little personal glory, how much more ravenous that pride would be. I can hardly think of it without thanking Him for keeping me from such a pit of  SELF.
2.  As I told E, the world comes to my door. Almost every day, one way or another, there is an opportunity to minister to someone in need of Jesus. Even on the days when my physical body can hardly move, the Holy Spirit manages to use my mouth to speak to those He sends this direction. I'm in awe of the varied opportunities to speak with and pray for hurting Christ-ones, and searching lost ones who come to my metaphoric and literal door. God shows up, He is working and HE uses me. For that I am thankful. I don't have to make the effort--He does it!
3. Therefore, like Paul, I will glory in my weaknesses. I will praise Him for the reduced and unanticipated, undreamed-of circumstances of my small life. "For when I am weak, I am strong."  And that is why I actually 'delight' (as Paul says) in the hardships and difficulties that led me to this small life. The physical 'thorns in the flesh', the failures (from the world's point of view), and the missed or lost opportunities. Because God reminds me that He has humbled me for the express purpose of empowering me to live and preach by grace alone. In whatever way HE calls me.

Yes, I live a small life...but with a very large God.

But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our Big Lug

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...(house, that is)

about six years ago, our two beautiful labs sat at attention in our carpeted kitchen. And can I just ask, what on earth were the former owners thinking--putting carpeting in a KITCHEN?  Good, got that off my chest. Anyway, the nearer, more golden lab is Jemima, our purebred. She was about seven years old in this picture.  We didn't know it then, but it was the last summer of her life. She'd already had some cancer removed from one leg, and before too many more months passed, she'd get sick one Tuesday morning and be dead by that Friday afternoon.
She was a sweetheart, our Jemima-Bean was. Like here, relaxing on Beve's leg. She'd nudge to be petted, NEVER tired of playing ball, buried stuffed animals all over the yard, bouncing straight up and down on all four paws when she was really excited.  I loved my Beanie (as I always called her).

But that other dog in that first picture is our Jackson. This big Lug. He's been part of our pack for a dozen years now, ever since a fortuitous day when J and I picked him up from the home where he'd been living--a home unequipped for who he'd become. He was a little ball of fluff back then. As pure white as an eskimo pup, with fur as soft as down. And wild--oh, my goodness, how wild that puppy was. He ran laps--around our other dogs (we had two then), around the furniture, around our legs, around EVERYTHING. He just ran. Then he'd plop himself down next to Jemima like she was his mama. And she let him.
He was wild for a long time, our Big Lug was. Sometimes we didn't think he was very smart because he never seemed to know his name. But finally we realized he just wasn't interested in answering. Because he is very smart. The summer we moved out of one home, we boarded him with a family about ten miles or so from our old house. My whole family had flown the coop (literally!)--the girls to Mexico, the boys to Germany, so I was staying in a hotel for about a week (yes, I could have stayed with friends, but there was a pool!...) Anyway, one day, the new owner of our house called and said, "There's a big white dog sitting on our porch baying. I think he must be yours."
Sure enough, Jackson had hoofed it cross-country back to where he knew he belonged. He was VERY glad to see me when I got there. And I was VERY sad that I had to take him back to that farm for another few days.

As I write about him, Jackson's slowly making his way down the hallway, scuffing his toenails on our hardwood floors. There's nothing fast about his movements anymore. Our Big Lug, you see, is nearing the end of his days with us.  It's been coming for a while, but in the last week, the signs are more definite. And our Springer, Maica, is always--ALWAYS--on the alert for him, with a definite, piercing bark to let us know if he's stuck outside, or needs help with something else. It's amazing to realize how much she can tell us about his needs.  He sleeps a lot. Moves at the speed of the slowest turtle. Hasn't caught a ball in months. Yesterday, he couldn't stand up to eat the mush I made for him. Today he's a little better. But it's a fool's paradise for any of us to think better is anything but fleeting. He's an old man, our Jackson is.

So tonight, as I listen to him make his way back down the hallway, I am thankful for the gift of this great dog, with fur that has always been as soft as down (I'm not kidding--he has the softest fur you'll ever pet!), and the gentlest, friendliest heart (as long as you don't try to pet his read end. But seriously, who can blame him?). I'm thankful--SOOO thankful to that family who didn't have the space for him, the fenced yard for him, the room for a 110 lb. lab. We did. We do. We have been blessed.

Today is NOT his last day. But that day is coming. And when that day comes...well, I grieve for my pets. Always have, always will. I will grieve for him. Our whole family will. Because we love him. He's part of our pack. But the one who will miss him the most? our Maica.


Zacchaeus.  Remember him from your Sunday school days? If you went to Sunday school, that is. If you didn't here's my version.  Zacchaeus was the Jewish version of your favorite IRS man. And by that I mean, he was nobody's favorite, because tax collectors were the pariahs of society back then.  Not only that, but poor Zacchaeus was short. Now when I say short, I'm not talking about the relative short we talk about in Beve's clan, where they sometimes poke fun at folks under 6 feet tall (this stems I think from the fact that their sister was the shrimp of the family at that height so they had to tease her about something!). I'm talking about a real height disadvantage--a height so short (wow, isn't 'height so short' an oxymoron?) that the little guy couldn't see over the shoulders of even the women in a crowd. And back then, we aren't talking about people of great stature. So he must have been pretty small.

So Zacchaeus, the pariah whose job made people detest him, whose stature made people overlook him, was outcast in just about every way a person could be an outcast in his world.  The only time anyone even saw him was when he had his hand outstretched taking their hard-earned money, and you can bet your life those weren't smiling eyes across his table. More like tears and grimmaces.  We have people like this in our world of the Christian church. Don't we? People who aren't like us, who like different music or wear their hair differently or have tattooes or piercings or are more bold or not bold enough or...well, are just plain not like us, and, dang, why aren't they?

One day as Zacchaeus was sitting at his table, scratching names off his lists, collecting taxes from the rich and poor and poorer still, the word tumbled through town that Jesus was coming.  And before he could get his work cleaned up and stowed, the parade route had formed and there were no front-row seats left...and no one was about to move over for little old Zacchaeus.  But Zacchaeus wasn't about to stand at the back of the crowd bouncing up and down (like a pogo stick that wouldn't be invented for another 2000 years), just to catch the smallest glimpse of this Man the whole world had been buzzing about.  Instead, he did what any self-respecting tax-collector would do: he climbed a tree so he could see over the crowd.

Really. Zacchaeus, the wealthy, money grubbing, tax-collector, climbed a sycamore-fig tree just to see the Man from Galilee.  I don't know how old Zacchaeus was, but as far as I know, most wealthy business people don't spend a whole lot of time climbing trees. There'd have to be a mighty important incentive to make someone already despised do something that could result in more ridicule.  So we have to assume Zacchaeus was powerfully motivated. That what--who--he wanted to see was more important than whatever horrible things the world thought of him--or would think of him.

But, of course, when Jesus reached that tree, He stopped and called Zacchaeus by name. "Zacchaeus, come down out of that tree. I must stay at your house tonight." And in my mind I can picture Zacchaeus scrambled down so quickly he actually falls in a heap from the last branch and doesn't even care that he gets a little bruised.  All the people along the 'parade' route are muttering about Zacchaeus' unworthiness--"He's gone to be a guest at a sinner's house!" but it doesn't matter because Jesus has chosen the sinner to dine with. He called a sinner from out of a tree.  And that is what changed the sinner... Zacchaeus gives away half of his fortune, pays back those he's cheated four times over! Jesus called his name, came to his house and it changed Zacchaeus. For good. That's the punch line of this tree-story.

Here's the thing. I think we have let a whole lot of people slink up in trees. We put conditions on what is acceptable to Jesus, how we must live or act or do or be before we can sup with Jesus. But we're dead wrong. I think we might be surprised at who He calls from our midst to sup with. I think we might be humbled to discover that it's people very different than those we would imagine supping with ourselves. Who He loves, we should love. Who Jesus fellowships with, we should fellowship with--we think it's that easy. But He said, "From the highways and bi-ways, invite them to come in."  Call them down out of the trees, and from in their homes where they are trying to recover from the hurt they've been caused. Invite them to come in. Let them know that they are welcome among us. Yes, no matter what, let them know that they are welcome. No, more than that, let them know that they are just like us. Because, in fact, they are just like us. And we are just like them. There is no us and them in this whole mess that needed God to come to earth as a Man. We're all sinners. Every one of us. All of us. ALL of us. But as His saved-ones, we also have the privilege of being His voice that calls others out of their trees--so that He can sup with them. And save them.

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." 1 John 1: 8

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Showing up

Lately I've been slowly reading Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton. I say slowly because it isn't a book to skim or at the clip of novels (well-written ones, at least), which seem to have leashes in the pages drawing me at their pace ever onward to the crisis, the monumental moment, the ending.  These are books that keep me up so late at night that when I turn to look at the clock I'm startled to see that it's 2 AM, or ones that keep me from daily work until Beve calls and asks what I've been doing all day, and I can't think of a thing to tell him that hasn't been in a world not my own.  I love stories, of course. Cut my eye-teeth on them. Sharpened a plethora of pencils creating my own as well--for as long as I can remember.

But there are also the other kind of books that are not made for getting to the ending.  I wouldn't dare race through them for fear of losing the meat along the way. I read such things with paper and pen beside me. And the highlighter on my Kindle at the ready so I can find the chewing places later. That's what I do: I chew on certain presented ideas like I really am a cow with double stomachs. Or perhaps a Christ-one with two ways of thinking about things--my selfish self and my Spirit-filled self. These aren't really two selves, of course. A better way of saying this, perhaps, is that sometimes it takes a while before the soil of my flesh is soft enough that what He plants has a chance of taking root and growing.

Such books as Contemplative Prayer has a whole lot of seeds ready to be planted within.  It's not for everyone, I suppose. Years ago, through study and confirmation by people around me, it became clear to me that I'm a contemplative. Probably in a different time, a different space, I might have cloistered myself and devoted myself entirely to prayer. This is not a popular possibility to most people, but I can somehow imagine it--not that I have for an instant regretted my life as it's been lived.

In the introduction to this book--before Thomas Merton's voice is heard for an instant--there is this sentence, written by his friend, Douglas V Steere.
"If, as Thomas Merton observes on his opening page, 'the monastic life is above all a life of prayer,' then personal prayer which involves a growing involvement of the whole powers of the one who prays becomes a decisive affair. It is not enough to have left Egypt. Monastics are called upon to enter the promised land and entry means not with the feet alone but with the heart. Stopping too soon is the commonest dead-end street in prayer."

I have have been chewing on these words for the last week.  First of all, I don't believe it's only monastics who are called to a life of prayer. Let's start with that. Each of us is called to such a life. I am. You are. Whatever else you are called to DO, you are called to do it as a prayer-ful person, a person who relates personally to God. I am struck by the words 'whole powers of the one who prays' because I think of how weak our prayers are. I'm sure you know what I mean. Jesus Himself talked of this when He said we do not have because we do not ask.  The power of God is behind our prayer--that is the 'whole powers'  to which Steere refers here. Whatever we ask, in the Name of Jesus, it will be done. In His Name, by His Will, by faith believing, in earnest thankfulness...I could probably go on for an hour writing such phrases, straight from the New Testament.

But what really gets me, what stops me on a dime and makes me remember in all the awe and trembling God intends, is the last sentence. "Stopping too soon is the commonest dead-end street in prayer."

I hardly know how to write this, hardly want to. But I am guilty of this 'stopping too soon.' I am.  I say my prayers. I'm fairly good at it. I think that's because I'm a talker. But here's the bald and awful truth. I don't do a very good job waiting for Him to answer. I get up from my couch or beside my bed, practically checking that off my list of tasks to be done.  But it's like I stayed on the far side of the Jordan, to use Steere's analogy. I don't sit there and wait for Him to speak back. Or simply to show up.  I don't cross into the promised land.  Not often enough, anyway.  Sometimes I've even stepped into the river, and decided that was the promised land.

Ridiculous.  There is more. That's the point, I think. He tells us so in scripture. He wants to show up. One way or another. He wants to be part of our conversations with Him. He wants it to be a dialogue. That's the point. At least I've been thinking it is. He's here and He is not silent. So why do I act as if He is?

I don't know what His showing up might mean practically for you. I know what it means for me. It's happened often enough that I recognize Him when He comes. An impression, an understanding of scripture or simply a person on my heart who was unlikely to be there. An answer. Yes, an answer!  A sense of peace or joy or calm or strength when nothing in my situation could possibly bring such responses. Or simply a rustling in the room. And then I not only 'feel' Him, but I know Him. With mind and heart and body and strength. The promised land. This might sound a little too...mystical, I suppose. But He isn't. He's as real as you or I. He's right here and He is not silent. He wants to show up.

What about you? Do you wait and listen when you pray?

Friday, April 13, 2012

God does not tease

Today's another Random Journal Link-up, and, because there are enough things impossible to control around here, it would be nice to have the rhythm of making Fridays the day I dip into my past and be reminded of the truth that sometimes our "very present help in a time of trouble" is the One who has been faithful in our past.
To read the words of others who are discovering similar truths, check out these :fellow journal keepers

Interestingly (or amazingly, if you're inclined to look at things in such a way, as I am), the edition I grabbed to day was closer to the left and on the cover, merely says "INDIA". I tried to take a picture of that, but my many attempts didn't work. You'll just have to trust me. Most of my journals are labeled by season and year. "Spring 2001," for example. There were, of course, my early being-a-Mama years when one blue composition book lasted about three years, partly because I was also keeping separate journals for my babies. Ok, enough preface.

Today's "Hectoring", as the Beve would put it. He and his buddies used to go up to the university campus and go through the dumpsters just after the students left for the summer. They'd find the most amazing treasures--sometimes ridiculously expensive ones, like TVs and stereo systems. So this is my day's  "Hectoring" through the India journal to find what treasure is waiting for me (Not a bad metaphor, considering the enormous piles of garbage we saw everywhere we turned in India!)...Anyway, the India journal looks the same, but is seriously NOT!

Oh wow, what a moment this journal opened to (though, perhaps because I've read it a time or two before...or thousand!). I almost couldn't write it, because it's fraught with import. But then I couldn't for the very same reason.

Tuesday, December 20
Awakened before 7 AM when a handful of papers was put beside my pillow. Shuffling through, I discovered a familiar C2 letter. It's funny, but I had a feeling as I was praying last night that [Beve] would write me a note today. His note turned into a letter and it really tumbled my heart. It was good--VERY GOOD--but in some ways very confusing. I read his words but get lost as to why he wants to invest himself in me unless he really cares. I know he does care...but what is he thinking? 

This letter was the tipping point for Beve and me, though I was afraid to admit it. It was the beginning of us becoming who we are today, though the conversation didn't come for two days.

But here's the story (hang on, it's a bit long), for those of you new to my blog (and perhaps some of you very familiar with us, even). Beve and I grew up across the street from each other. We were in the same class, and had the same circle of Christian friends.   He was in my father's Scout troop, I ran through his yard to get to my closest friend's house. We went to Young Life camps together both near and far,  walked home from Bible Studies together, once drove all the way to California together--we both remember singing every song in the Young Life songbook together on that trip while the others on the trip were gazing out the window or trying to sleep. My point in, until we graduated from high school, we were always--ALWAYS--in each other's faces.  But we were never interested in each other. Not even close. It just never occurred to either of us.

Eight years later, while I was traveling through Europe and he was living in Finland, I spent a week in Helsinki with my girlfriend (who is of Finnish descent and has relatives all over that country). And during that time, my feelings for Beve began to change. Really change. However, I refused to believe those feelings were any more than him simply being a familiar person in a non-familiar place. He represented home to me--even when (and this is a kind of spooky, only God could do this thing) one night I actually dreamed we got married. I woke up in a fright and took a VERY LONG walk before I could even face him that day.

After the trip, Beve and I wrote long, self-revealing letters and I began to realize that my feelings had teeth. Then, the next fall, through circumstances that only God could pull off, we each ended up in Holland at a DTS with YWAM, where we were, once again, in each other's faces. By then, I was hopelessly in love. And I do say hopelessly, because I was also certain it would never be, because of my hopelessly terrible 'luck' with romance. See: broken engagement, shattered heart!

Then, again through only God's hand, we each went to India for our outreach, though I was pretty worried about going if he did, and even talked to a DTS leader about it. But there we were, in New Delhi for Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1983. And God was busy. Oh, so busy. I look back on all that now and think. OF COURSE. But then, I really didn't imagine this life with Beve. Couldn't dream God would answer Yes to my deepest hopes.

And my response to the letter Beve wrote that early morning of December 20 bears out my insecurity. Beve was really laying out his heart, and I was misunderstanding at every turn because I was so afraid of being wrong.  To wit: The next paragraph in my journal says this:

The facts from the letter:
1. He cares about our relationship enough that he wants to see us grow, and he's willing to work at it. He thinks about it and seeks God about it.
2. He's willing to become more vulnerable. He wants to step out of where he's safe and comfortable and reveal more, confront more and encourage more.
3. He cares about me. He wants to affirm me, to help make me know the Father more and to encourage my strengths.

Yep, we were already in a relationship--one that led to marriage just five months later--and it took just a single conversation two days later (we were in a busy YWAM ministry) to clarify that.  I'll just give you a couple of sentences from the entry on December 22, 1983.
"The world tipped over at a Lebanese restaurant and when it righted I felt a peace I haven't felt in a long time. Maybe ever.  As Margaret (a woman in the house) told me the other day, God does not tease."

Talk about a treasure from my Hectoring dive.
This is why I keep I have--and will always have, and my children will have--such moments. Even if I follow the path of my mother and lose my ability to remember my own name, these journals will give my children my life. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Looking at the heart

Recently a woman I know went to the doctor with concerns of a rather serious nature. Women of our age have such things you understand. And hers were real. She's not the sort to call a doctor for every ache and pain. Quite the opposite, really. She'd rather tough it out for the most part. But she couldn't in this situation, so she finally broke down and went to her primary care physician. He listened to her complaints, then did the typical exam one expects in those rooms with one's body more exposed than in real life. It's odd, that a total stranger has so much access to the hidden places on and in our bodies that we barely know ourselves. They have a God-haunted profession, physicians do, acting in His place, so to speak. And we give ourselves over to them, glad to have our fears and worries taken off our shoulders for a moment.

Anyway, after this short exam, this physician sat down on his stool and told this woman, "I'm actually more concerned about your heart than these other issues."

When I talked to her the other day, this short sentence really stuck with me. Of course for her, it sent her on an unexpected trajectory, but that's a little beside the point here (though I will tell you that all things point to a healthy heart for her).

"I'm more concerned about your heart."

What a statement. We often go to the Lord about things that seem so enormous that they threaten to take over our lives like tornadoes, destroying everything in their wake.  We cry out from where we've hidden ourselves, asking God to spare us, our health, our loved ones, our things, our...whatever. And of course He listens to us. He hears our every prayer, examines every part, even the hidden places we don't quite know exist about our lives. And then He answers,
 "Actually, I'm more concerned about your heart."

It isn't that the worries we take to Him don't matter, it's that He sees them in proportion to the most important thing.  Obviously this leads me to the story of Samuel annointing David.  Samuel, like Jesse ( and like all of us) didn't consider the possibility of David, the small, youngest, nothing-to-look-at son.  Not when there were big, brawny older brothers around. This is so easy to do. But--  "The Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart."  1 Samuel 16: 7

We get caught up in our worries. Think them the big, brawny older brothers of our lives--the primary focus of our lives (and sadly, we even expect the same focus--on our big brother issues--from everyone around us). But God looks at our hearts--for better and worse. And what He sees there is what matters. Therefore, it's the size and health of our hearts to which we should pay most attention.  What God wants to do is said best in Ezekiel 36: 26-27, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh; And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to follow my laws."  Yes, our God's in the heart transplant business. It's really His only business. It's what He's always concerned about. Transplanting our stony, selfish hearts and giving us ones that are Spirit-filled, wholly His, and therefore, the mostly truly human hearts possible. Hearts able to love and give and serve and be His ambassadors.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Yesterday was the anniversary of the 1905 birth of this man--Hugh Donald Thompson, which would make him 107, if he'd managed to live so long (he died December 6, 1972). When he was 16, he left high school, home, mother and younger sisters (his older brothers were grown and gone college or working men by then). He tossed a napsack over his pack, put on this uniform and went sailing on the seven seas.  Before he retired from the navy, about thirty years later, he'd seen just about every one of those seas, I think. He'd crossed the equator more than once, and celebrated with his shipmates in the time-honored tradition each time (for those of you unfamiliar--such a party involves men in costumes (mostly made of bed-sheets), a tableau and great merriment (libation, of course).  Just so you know, though, when he left home, he not only told his mother, but also changed his name to Hugh O'Hara Thompson--to honor her, because her maiden name was O'Hara (and no, her first name wasn't Scarlett). His dad had long since abandoned the family for different pastures (or a desert, in his case) but that's a whole other story!

Tommy, as Hugh was called in the years when this picture was taken, learned about boredom during the empty days of sailing during the '20s when the world had been declared safe from the 'war to end all wars' and life was calm and there was nothing to see but water and sky. During those years, he saw a whole lot of the world, was a mean hand with poker cards, and smoked cigarettes with great abandon, even in the closed-in quarters of a ship's radio room, where he worked as he rose in the ranks from a mere radio man toward his final rank--still years ahead--of Chief Warrant Officer.

In the middle of the 20s, during a short leave in Los Angeles,  he'd met a young woman from Kansas (who was on her first trip anywhere visiting a girlfirend),  fell instantly in love with her, and by the time that leave ended, he was writing her such sweet love letters that they still have the power to move romantic hearts. A year later, they met again during another of his three-day leaves, and when they parted, they were husband and wife.

The rest of the story, of course, is history. My history depends on theirs. You probably have guessed that this man is my mother's father, the man we always called Chief. The story of him actually being my grandfather is such an improbable one, though. It doesn't end with what some might call a fortuitous meeting of the Kansas farm-girl on her first trip away from home and the sailor who had traveled the world. You see, my grandmother was pregnant five times during her marriage. Only one resulted in a living child--my mother.

I think about that, think about the person my mother was, how she was formed with the odds stacked against her and the absence of her father, how she moved from seaport to seaport, following a father who was almost never in those ports. Not only that these people met, but that they lived as they did, that they parented as they did, that she became who she did has profound meaning because her dad, after his long absences and naval discipline would swoop in, try to parent her with the firm hand of a man at sea, and it was bewildering and painful for her, when she wanted and needed her Daddy's love. And I think about how all these things join together to allow for the possibility of our family--my siblings, our children, the next generation--and make sense of the confusing mixture that was my mother's nature.

Chief, as we always called him, was not a firm hand with us. He was gruff but was a push-over for his grandchildren. Spoiled us, to tell you the truth. I clearly remember him giving me a taste of beer the summer we took the train out from Michigan (which likely accounts for why I can't stand the taste to this day)--I was about 6, I think.  And I remember the day he was in charge of me when I was very sick with what seemed to be the stomach flu. He took me to the doctor but I was 12 and didn't want him to go into the examination room with me. So it was left to my sick ears to remember what the doctor said. By that night, I was in the hospital, having my appendix out. Chief was so horrified that 'on his watch', he'd allowed me to grow more and more sick through that day, that he got shingles from it.

It's an odd  to know that our lives are built on this person having a chance meeting with that person, and an only child surviving to adulthood. Odd that is, unless one believes that God is in it all. God. My grandparents' story is as good a place as any to get how clearly God intends us to be. How determined He is that each of us is alive right this very moment. That--to use the theological word--He is Sovereign. He is in charge of every moment we have on this earth, and uses every situation to form us into who He intends us to be.  There are no accidents. Sperms hitting eggs aren't a matter of chance but of God's hand guiding them. I am confident of this. It's this truth that makes me believe in LIFE. Every step of the way. From conception to His calling us home.

(And yes, I find it slightly amazing how much my face reminds me of his...just saying)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Back to my senses

In the last few months I've been reading a blog by a woman with the provocative name of "Recovering Church Lady."  She's witty and insightful, full of small snippets of real life--her dog, hubby, and all things ordinary--marinated in a transparency that draws me in. A couple of weeks ago, she waved the proverbial carrot in front of my nose...a carrot I could hardly bear not to reach out and bite right then and there, except that our lives were crazy-busy at the time. The carrot, you see, was called, "Random Journal Day." The idea was to take an old journal, flip it open and write about whatever was found there.

Check out the here for some of the other journal keepers.

So because I have a journal or...70 + (I counted), I thought I'd give it a go. The trick will be whether I can actually link back to the other blogs. Being the techno-idiot that I am, that's the rough part. And all those myriad blue journals should explain why I'm more comfortable with pens than computer. Still.

I grabbed 'Autumn 2004' from the shelf, and opened it to 'October 8' (in black pen on the right--I am OCD about my journals. I must use a different colored pen each day; don't ask me why, it's just what I do!) And if you read closely, you'll be able to see that I'm merely copying my exact words--this first time anyway.

To wit:
"Come back to your senses as you ought and stop sinning." 1 Cor. 15: 34
Buechner says this is the essence of repentance: coming to one's senses. A helpful definition, especially if one thinks of the fact that we're already saved from our sins through the cross. It implies that our RIGHT senses are not sin-full.  Not if we are Christ-ones. We don't have to become sin-less (I'm using the hyphen to connote a cup of water image), we already are. Sin pollutes what we do, but we are His, we hold the Holy Spirit. So, come back to your senses--return to your true self. The 'as your ought' implies certain fleshly resistance, which I (as well as anyone) know viscerally.  Sin, unfortunately, is not always uncomfortable in the action. In fact, not even in reaction. If it were, we'd be less apt to do it, right?  But His Spirit nudges, prods and compels and when we come back to our senses; i.e., repent, how fresh the world is. (The word fresh reminds me of that evangelist Benny Hinn, who blew, pushed or touched people in his healing ministry, always saying, "Fresh!" I never understood the word choice."

Lord, I want to concentrate on you but my mind easily wanders. I'm not sure I could empty my mind to save my life, to be honest. I want space to hear you, I just can't seem to accomplish it on my own. It seems to me that returning to my senses isn't even possible without your assistance.  Paul Tournier says "The act of writing prevents me from slipping into wool gathering." Maybe that's what I'm doing as I write tonight--I'm writing my way back to my senses.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hawaii photo dump

And there you have it...our trip in a coconut shell. A very small coconut shell, since I was too busy playing to take many photos.  But my favorite sequence was of the twin giants greeting the waves down in Poi Pu'u, getting pushed around by the forces of creation. I was laughing so hard it was a little hard to focus, so just took my camera, aimed in their general direction and hoped I got something worth keeping.
But in order--the Lighthouse halfway up the island (forgot the name), the canopied drive to our resort, each couple at the Luau at the Kilohana Sugar Plantation (WOW, what a pig--and what a night!), the beach boys  meeting the waves, Waimea Canyon, Vacation Beve (or Beverly as Facebook re-named him, and we took to calling him!) in full hurricane mode. The amazing nuts and roots of the Luahala trees, and us on the beach at Lydgate Park. The four of us above the same water falls our family kayaked to 14 years ago and swam beneath. Ah, how I love the circles of life that bring us back to some place we saw from a different angle at an earlier time. Symmetry, right?

And I especially love the symmetry that means that means we leave for a trip and return to our home. And our bed and our lives. And get on with it all. No matter what that 'all' is, we come home to it gladly.

PS. Did you notice the t-shirt Beve's wearing in the top photos? Later that afternoon, we walked into Starbucks (yes, children, even in Kauai, there is Starbucks) and the barista pouring ice into our water bottles said, "You must be wicked smart." Beve and I looked at him rather quizzically. Then he said, "I wish I was smart enough to have gone to Harvard."
"Oh," I said. "Well, he is pretty smart." Beve just grinned.
"Thanks for the water," I said.
We walked away without telling the man that Beve got that t-shirt for 1.49 at Value Village.  We spent the rest of the week calling Beve 'wicked smart'. Not only that, the friends we were with are about to move to Atlanta from where they've lived for ten years--right near Princeton. Before leaving, D is determined to get himself a t-shirt, so he can be 'wicked smart', too.