Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A little naive

"Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering in this: Your promise preserves my life."  Psalm 119: 49-50

We had dinner the other night with a couple of our favorite people in the whole world.  Before they got to the restaurant, Beve said, "Let's try not to talk about what's been going on in our life but to concentrate on them. I'm just tired of it. After all, we've been living it."

After our hugs and prolonged meal ordering, which is always an ordeal for wait-people because we're so busy talking we forget to look at menus, we got down to the serious business of catching up with each other. We haven't seen each other for a while, so there was a lot of catching to do. Beve and I tried pretty hard to keep the conversation fully centered on them...but if truth be told, that only lasted until our meals were ordered. Then we confessed that we hadn't wanted to unload on them, to let all the air out of the conversation, the booth, the whole restaurant, probably.

They were a little horrified, perhaps slightly offended. I'm not sure. What I do know is that he said, "Of course we're going to talk about your lives. We keep saying to each other, 'Can you believe what's going on up there?'"  And with those words, something loosened inside me. Something that I've held so tightly for the last six months I hardly even knew it was there, certainly didn't identify it.

It really has been hard. This season is worse than any we've gone through, harder than most anyone goes through, with more stresses coming from more directions than we would expect. The elders, our son, my own health, other loved ones whose crises place them smack dab in our living room in life and death anguish, relationships that are broken, those we might have expected to help being absent and angry at us (me) for our care, the practical work necessary, the practical matters that never let up: every time we turn around, something is putting the screws to us, twisting and turning.

I've been naive, I think, in what suffering is, or at least how much one person gets. Like there's a finite quota for a person's life. You only get just so much and you're good. HA. A simple skim of history should have been sufficient to tell me how fallible this notion was. And a glance at Beve's sister's journey--which was legendary--might have been a clue. If I'd been paying attention. But I wasn't. I was purposely building my house on sand. On my own sandy mound of personal pain. That's what hit me the other night. I've lived in chronic pain for a decade.  I thought I had a handle on it, on God's purpose in it for us and through us for the world. I've taught retreats and preached sermons about this. Led Bible studies and talked to 100s of people about suffering and the 'gifts of the fire', as I've called them, the wonderful, amazing riches God pours out to those purified by suffering. Not only after but IN it. Right in the middle of it.

But I've been naive. I have said--a thousand times--that I'm grateful for my suffering because it has revealed His love for me, has grown His character in me. I believe this fully. Right now, this very moment, I believe this is what HE does in suffering--He develops His character in us. AND I believe it not only reveals His love, but that we get to participate in His love--we get to actually participate in the LOVE of God, who suffered. This is a mighty, glorious gift. And my fundamental belief in this has not changed one iota.  What has changed is that I begin to understand how foolish I was to think that my only suffering in life would be my own (not inconsequential except in comparison) physical pain.  These last six months--no, perhaps these last two years-- have opened my eyes to how silly and wrong-headed such a view was. Even how proud and sinful.

I speak primarily of the problem of pain two different people face with whom I live. Grampie (like my mother before him) daily grows dim from his brain out. This isn't perhaps the kind of pain one might normally consider pain because he no longer feels it. He does, however, daily awaken to a world he doesn't recognize. For a whole week, he thought he was on a boat. A couple of days ago, he had Thyrza convinced (long-distance, of course) that he'd moved into a studio apartment and she was a little miffed at this change (since presumably she wouldn't have had to leave).  He doesn't know the day of the week nor even the time of day, and hasn't the faintest idea what city he's in. He does, however, perk right up when a basketball game is put on the TV in front of him (and thankfully this is a perfect time of year for that!), and he always knows us when we walk into his room (even if he doesn't recognize his room!).  Having watched Mom go through this process doesn't make it easier to see with Grampie. In fact, I wonder if it's harder because I know so clearly how the journey ends. And, just as my dad to me, Beve's dad is THE parent in his life and Beve is losing him incrementally.

An aside: It's hard to express to those of you who don't know him exactly who Grampie was, though. It's actually difficult for me to even understand. To Beve, he was just his dad. To our kids, he was their beloved Grampie. But this is a man who made a mark on his corner of the world. Last week when we were going through his papers, I found a memoir of a man who'd served with Grampie in WWII in Burma so I read the chapters the man said were about Grampie.  He talked about playing basketball while in Burma with "The great Roger Wiley who  the University of Oregon," and spoke of his great heart, his large grin, along with his stature and athletic ability.  This quote comes from that memoir: "Fifty years after leaving China, Burma and India I delivered the keynote address at the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. I mentioned that I had a warm feeling for Oregon because of my friend, Roger Wiley. After the meeting, several lawyers told me of how much fun the university had been because of this man. There had never been anyone like him."
That's who he was. And, because that's how Alzheimers works, that's what he remembers best. His playing days, his army days, the days when he looked like this, with strong legs and hands that could palm balls, not shake holding a single spoon.  He is, however, just about that skinny now.

The other pain--so jagged one can't imagine even stitching it up--is the pain our son faces. Daily. Beve looked at me the other night and said, "Did you ever imagine a child with a mental illness?" and I shook my head. Of course not. Who imagines that? But whatever my pain, J's is light-years more. He lives it. In it. There are moments when, in the dark, post-midnight hours, I worry that he is not strong enough or patient enough to do this work. I worry that he will give in to the pain, will allow it to overcome him.  Dare I tell you this? Dare I admit I am anything but utterly faithful in this new, unprecedented (at least for me) pain? But dare I not? How can I start anywhere but with complete transparency?

Especially with God.
Yes, I have been naive about my suffering.
But God knew it. He knew my naivete.
And He also knows the limits. This I also believe.
I have more to learn. An encyclopedia's worth, I think. And perhaps the suffering to go with it. I don't ask for that or about it. However, what I put my hope in--no matter what comes--no matter how much or of what kind--is HIM. I choose, again this day, to put my hope in the character of GOD.

These are the things I know to be true about His character:
He will NOT allow us to suffer beyond our powers of endurance. He will not allow J to suffer beyond his power.
 He gives comfort to those in need of comfort. I believe this for Beve and me, and I believe it for Grampie. Even in Grampie's diminishing cognition. I believe God, the Holy Spirit is leaning in (from within) to give comfort to His faithful one, and Grampie has been that.
What we have or are is in jars of clay--is always, ultimately, in weak bodies. There are some who don't know this. Strong, powerful bodies are surprised when their bodies break down, when things go wrong. They don't realize that the true power, the surpassing power doesn't come--NEVER comes--from themselves or their own strength. This misconception has never been open to me. Nor is it open to J. He knows--deeply and fully--that he cannot be strong in himself. He just doesn't have it. The other night a young woman sat in our living room and poured out her self-loathing and feeling that she is 'unforgive-able.' And our son, our unclear about his own relationship with Christ son, shared the gospel with her while I sat and listened. I mean, he really shared it. Straight out without missing a beat, in a way that many who profess a deep personal relationship are too scared to share. It was awesome to behold.

It was,

"... your word to your servant, for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering in this: Your promise preserves my life."  Psalm 119: 49-50

Monday, February 27, 2012

Because



Because it's a Monday morning,
And because I'm a little tired,
And have a headache
And just plain feel like it,

Here's a collection of my recent quilts. Hard to imagine (even to me) how I managed to make ANY in the craziness that has been our lives, but they settle me, create a rhythm of prayer and meditation that I find increasingly necessary, and I'm enough of my father's child that having a finished product is worthwhile to me. Also enough of my mother's that cleaning my house is NOT the finished product to which I'm inclined.







From top to bottom: A wall hanging for the girls' bedroom, a chair cover for the dogs (which Jamaica is so kindly demonstrating!), a baby quilt, another baby quilt, and a 'Christmas' quilt for my middle sister, which she finally received our weekend at Whidbey.


And I'll leave you with this lovely picture of Grampie and Thyrza surrounded by four of their grandchildren (E is the only female pictured and J is in the middle) and Beve.

Because...
that's as good a reason as any, I suppose.Hope your day and week start better than mine and pick up steam. But more than that, I pray that He walks with you in your day and week, no matter how much energy you have, how much sleep you've gotten or how much work you have to do. May He be more in you than you are in yourself.

Blessings,
C

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Holla!

Last weekend with the family, every time something exciting happened,  my younger daughter exclaimed what I was sure was, "Paula!" Finally I asked her what in the world she was actually saying, and she told me, "Holla!" As in, "Shout!" Still, I couldn't resist saying, "Abdul!" each time I heard her say, "Holla" after that.  So this is my "Holla! Abdul!" post.

In the last month:
We got Grampie moved to the nursing home where his dementia can be managed with care, kindness and dignity. Holla!
With the help of Thyrza's daughter, we helped Thyrza see that moving to Maryland was in her best interest--for her health, her daughter's peace of mind and even Grampie's (when he was lucid enough to remember). Holla!
With the girls' help, we packed up Thyrza's things in time for the movers to take them. Holla!
We saw the elders through their last days together, cried many tears and enjoyed the last moments too. Holla!
Beve flew Thyrza across the country, safely handled her off to her waiting family, stayed with them long enough to find a bread machine (at a Thrift store, of course) teach Thyrza's granddaughter and small (very helpful!) great-grandsons how to make cinnamon rolls and luscious bread, then flew back home in time for our weekend at Whidbey. Holla!
And today we finally finished moving the final boxes and ubiquitous plastic bins (how on earth could anyone have so many of so many sizes as they did in such a small space?), discarded trash, refrigerator goods, and closed the door, just in the nick of time to turn in the keys to make our 'move-out' date. A shout out to BB for his help this week. How timely his 'vacation,' though not exactly what he expected. But it's done. HOLLA!

It's been a long month. By my count, this is the 9th time I've helped sort through and move the belongings for an aging parent in the last 15 years. It's always grueling, but I get a little more ruthless each time. What mattered to them will not always matter to those who come after. This time was particularly difficult and we're pretty sure a few boxes that should have stayed here were sent on the moving van (including the six generation history of pictures J and I put together the summer J was in 8th grade--full of photographs back to the mid 1800s), and I know two that should have gone were left. Sigh. Still, for the most part, we can now concentrate on life. Grampie's life and ours.

So Holla!
Abdul!
Hallelujah!

Friday, February 24, 2012

50 years old

Fifty years ago today my older brother, younger sister and I woke up to a snowy world in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I remember standing at the living room window watching my father shovel snow off the driveway. He was like a human snow machine that morning. If I picture it now, I imagine a Saturday morning cartoon (and it was a Saturday!) in which the man's arms and shovel become a whirl, a windmill, the snow spraying like water...Can you see it?
Usually we were allowed to go outside to play in the snow as he worked, but not that morning. That February morning, Dad was all business. And even though our grandparents were visiting, neither they nor our mother were interested in getting three children bundled up and outside. Their minds were on other things. Or I should say, one other thing: the imminent birth of a new brother or sister.

While Dad cleared the driveway, the car was idling, and as soon as he finished, he came in, barely stomping his feet, and whisked Mom back out the door and into the car and away...to the hospital.  There's something else I remember about that morning, you see. Not my pregnant mother, and oddly, I don't remember her pregnant, though she definitely was. But I remember standing in the bathroom and seeing blood in the toilet. Just when it was time for her water to break, Mom started hemorrhaging instead.  This turned a routine 4th labor and delivery into something far more serious. Especially fifty years ago.

However, hours later, Dad called with the news we had a healthy little sister. RE.  Despite the frantic pre-birth moments, she was fine and Mom was fine as well. A week or so later, they came home. I remember sitting on the rocking couch we had in our living room with a pillow on my lap so that I could hold her. I remember how it felt to cup my hand around her head so that I didn't let her fall. She was just like my doll, only living and moving and squeaking.  I remember watching her being changed and taking her baths and being fed. I was endlessly fascinated by her.  I felt so old--practically grown up--compared to her. I was going on five, you see.  And started school about the time she learned to crawl.

(A little perspective, though: our mother wasn't the type to share her babies. She didn't tell me that RE was MY baby. Never. RE was hers. Often, in fact, we older kids were shooed out of the house so Mom could enjoy the baby. That's how our Mom was. She liked babies. Always. Little kids? Not so much.)

RE grew up. As babies should. Before long, she was simply my little sister.  In some ways, RE had both the advantage of following after the three siblings at the top, and the disadvantages. We paved the way for her in some things. We were never in the same school, and I'd outgrown dolls just about the time she began really playing well with them. When I was young I wasn't allowed Barbie dolls because my parents thought the shape of her too adult-like (I had a 'Tammy', instead) but five or six years later, they'd changed their minds about that plastic woman-doll.  I don't think it hurt RE any--though I do think she started with Skipper, come to think of it.  But she also had to bear the brunt of our telling her what to do, teasing her, generally making life pretty miserable.  I look back at my part in her childhood now and know I was often inconsiderate. I remember Dad telling me once that she just wanted to be like me but I was about sixteen and she was eleven.  And I had no use for an eleven year-old imitating me.  She borrowed my clothes (she grew earlier than I did, and we're the same height now), and clearly teenage clothes that I'd picked our were more interesting than little girl clothes that our fashion-less mother had. But I didn't respond very well to her; I'm sorry about that now. I wish I could go back--to show that little sister more grace. What difference it would have made I'll never know. But I can wish.

Anyway, she kept growing. Most of us know which place we are in a family. I know mine. I'm the oldest sister. The end. Not RE. Before she was through, she reminded me recently, she was the youngest child for seven years, a middle child for about four years and the oldest child for another ten. Pretty startling revelation to me.  But as she grew, the age spread between us shortened. These days, there's no difference at all. One of the best gifts God ever did for us is to have given us children who are the same ages. This is a gift for us as well as for them. These three matched sets of cousins have been confidantes for each other, friends, siblings (without the fighting--except that one summer SR and E went to DC together!). And what they've done for us is...well, they were the deepening place for our friendship, but they are not the end all of it.

RE is one of my chief confidantes now too. In truth, I don't know how I'd survive without her in my life. That's the truth. The absolute truth. I don't know how this family would have survived without her having borne the burden of our mother in the last years of her life, but that's not even it for me. It's RE herself that matters to me. Her self-less service, her always available ear, her way of saying, "Oh C, I'm sorry," when she knows I'm hurting and  "Thanks!" every time I call. It's her knowing exactly what I like and finding it for me--the exact shade of orange I am most drawn to and finding it in candles, the honey I love, the journals I use, a million other things. It's her deep desire to simply, always completely be in my life, however she can. She's a completely present person--stronger than she knows, steadier than she ever dreamed, with the capacity to love deeply and expansively.  And I just want to take this day, on the anniversary of that snowy morning when she first breathed the air of this earth, to say, I love her that deeply and expansively back.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Truth on a fortune cookie

When was the last time you actually learned something from a fortune cookie?
Never? That's what I thought. The most we usually hope for is a chuckle, usually because we've added the phrase "in bed" to the end of the fortune. However, last night Beve and I took my younger brother, BB, to the recently oft frequented (by our clan) Chinese buffet here in town. Beve and BB stuffed their faces (and stomachs) and I managed a fair showing, and when the check was returned along with it were the three requisite fortune cookies. This is an odd custom, of course, created for tourists--not in ancient China, but in the last century, to give a feel of antiquity. I haven't traveled to China, but have been told on fairly good authority that these triangular cookies with papers inside do not appear at the end of meals there.

Anyway, I didn't even intend to take a fortune cookie last night. They are bland in the best of times, if you ask me, and go down only with good strong tea. But after BB (whose real initials are actually DC) took and read his fortune and Beve was calculating the tip (did you know you don't need to tip as much at a buffet as you do at a full-service restaurant?), I grabbed another cookie, bent the cookie in half, and read the fortune:
"Forgive the action, forget the intent."
Then I...
Stopped cold, kind of shuddered a moment and re-read it slowly, as though through water. Or maybe Lecto Divino, the slow, divine, illuminating reading aloud with God the Spirit.
FORGIVE THE ACTION, FORGET THE INTENT.

WOW.

Seriously. I stuffed the fortune into my pants pocket so that I could think about it later, because it's just about the most profound 'fortune' I've ever read. Don't you think?

Right there in 'The Wonderful' (which is the actual name of the restaurant), came a moment of clarity. And the clarity that followed later with God was like the proverbial LIGHT going off over my head. Or should I say Light of the World going on inside me.
Here's the thought: We followers of Jesus struggle and struggle with the issue of forgiveness. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."  It's part of what Jesus teaches when the disciples ask Him to teach them to pray.  And we pray it. We know He's forgiven us. His blood was shed for it. Our very lives are beholden to that shed blood. He forgave and re-gave us LIFE. We live past whatever we were, into who we are NOW in Him. That's the gospel.  And in light of so great a forgiveness as this, we are told to forgive those who sin against us. Exactly in this way. Perhaps we won't be asked to lay down our lives on behalf of those who wronged us, but we are asked to give our rights up for those who hurt us.

But the nagging, always present question, the one so often asked, it must be like a well-worn rut in the path of prayer, is "How do we forget what X has done to me?" Or we might actually confirm it as a statement of fact, "I can forgive Y, but I'll never forget what she did..."  I have heard such statements. I fear I've heard them roll off my own tongue more than once in my life. Perhaps more than once in the last year. Sigh. And even as I've said them or asked God such things, I've felt the deep pit in my soul because there's an inherently sour note to such an idea. Is it really forgiveness at all, said a small voice in my spirit (or Spirit?), if I do hold onto the memory of the wrong?

It was all this buffet of responses that I brought to that table last night when I opened that fortune cookie.
"Forgive the action, forget the intent."
 Isn't motive the core issue in every sin? 
How often have I questioned--and held onto--the intent of another's action, long after I claimed to have forgiven the actual behavior? Isn't this the very substance of the problem of forgetfulness?  I think the answer is very often, indeed. I think almost every time I claim I cannot forget, it's because I do not trust the motive of another's actions. I believe there was some malevolent intent behind the action which possibly--probably--could rise up and hurt me again, placing me on my guard against that person. Destroying relationship. And, no matter what the other person says, I do not necessarily trust a person when they tell me they did not intend to hurt me. I allow their actions to speak, rather than their intent.

Likewise, unfortunately, I too claimed, "But I didn't mean to..." as an excuse against hurting another, and then have expected that to mitigate the offense.  I expect others to take my word at face value, to forgive me on the basis of my intent, yet I do not forgive them on the basis of theirs.  And, if others are like me (as I suspect they are!), they also struggle to forget what they believe to have been my intent, no matter what I say.

This is why it's difficult for us to forgive and forget. And why this fortune cookie is so profound.  Forgive the action, forget the intent.
Perhaps, the two are the same. Perhaps we must forgive the intent and forget the action. Or perhaps, ultimately, it doesn't matter. What does matter cannot be found on any fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant, but must be found in the blood of the one who forgave both the intent and action of the worst of us. Of each of us. Previous to our needing that forgiveness. And asks us to live in that. To practice that.
And it seems to me that where we fall short is that even when we ask Him to help us to forgive our neighbor, or family member, or mate, we don't ask Him to help us move the memory of that hurt into a place where it will not rise up and haunt us again. We don't need to forget a past sin-against-us, as long as remembering does not make us continue to hold onto that hurt.  Maybe asking Him to help us forget the intent of that sin is as good a place as any to begin to really forgive.
At least a place to begin.
But perhaps also a place to end.
Forgive the action, forget the intent.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat

It's Fat Tuesday. Party-til'-you-puke-Tuesday, if you will. Party like there's no tomorrow, because, after all, tomorrow is going to be lean. Really lean. Like 40 days of lean, come to think of it.  Down in Carnival country (where I've never been), they've been seizing the day like it's nobody's business, dancing all through the streets in costumes so outlandish you couldn't recognize your own reflection in the mirror should you happen upon it. The scarier the better, oddly.

Not all of this makes much sense to me. Very little of it has much to do with the Gospel as I've come to understand it, but there's a very long tradition about eating and drinking to fatten up before one begins to fast, as if one could actually store the food and drink and party of it all through the leanness and wilderness to come. But let's not be confused. Though our bodies can readily store fat, our souls do so less readily.  In a way, therefore, this day--this Carpe Deum day--is merely a one 'last round' of excess before the austerity of the next forty days.  And we humans are always looking for another last round, so to speak, of that excess. Aren't we?

I know I am. As usual I am pointing no fingers I don't also point at myself. I've often spoken of my feelings about the practice of giving up things for Lent. I've felt a strange disconnect with the notion of practicing an abstinence--and therefore, practicing His absence--during the season of the Church year when we are dwelling in Jesus' earthly ministry. His walking dusty roads, His eating food with grubby hands and sleeping on dirt floors ministry. That is His Presence among us as a man. This seems an odd thing. Raise your hand if you've heard me say this before. OK, you can lower them. I see you.

I'll probably always feel, as He said to Judas about Mary's act of worship with the vial of perfume, "The poor you will always have among you; you will NOT always have me."  It seems to me that it's in this spirit that we should be living the days and weeks approaching the crucifixion. With a spirit of intentionality in our devotional lives. This next forty days--these forty days the church calls Lent--should be about worship.

But sometimes--often or even usually, I suppose--intentional worship begins with the laying down of something. It starts with getting out of the way of ourselves. This is perhaps where the practices of Lent began. This is the act of repentance on a grand scale. A turning from the things that make us concentrate on us and our selfishness and turn back to God as the center of our lives.  These 'things' can be food, drink, words, or practices. It's what is at the core of them that counts. Giving up one's favorite drink, for example (like coffee or caffeine in general), with gritted teeth and clenched fists is no act of worship. Is not the sacrifice of praise that will lead us to Him and reveal Him to us. It is done with our will and ours only. And comes up empty.  I've seen such Lenten acts done. I've done them myself. By about the second Sunday, I'm looking for loopholes, making excuses, and finally just plain giving up. And it all signifies nothing. Falls so short, God isn't even in the same hemisphere as such acts, let alone the same zip code.

It's only in coming to Him newly each day, knowing that this day, this choice, this act, this surrender is only so that HE will be glorified in my life, my action and inaction, that Lent makes any sense.  It's only as seeing each day as our cross, one given to us by Him--"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Luke 9: 23 Daily. Every single day.
So it's denial and the cross on a daily basis. And this season is as good a time as any to really learn that. But it's also--first, last and always, worship. Paul reminds us of that. And don't EVER forget it. Don't let it drift over into rote practice or willful resolution--you might feel the loss for yourself but you won't feel the loss HE felt on your/my/our behalf. THE Cross.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is true worship." Romans 12: 1

Monday, February 20, 2012

A view from the couch



It's been quiet on the blogging front because I've been busy. Really busy. By that I mean, I've been lying around on couches with my knees up to lift weight from my lower back. However, if one has to lie around for a holiday weekend, I can think of no better place and no better company than where I found myself these last five days.  This Presidents' Weekend marked the second annual winter get-together of my siblings and assorted kids. This year we gathered at the property on Whidbey Island that so featured in our childhoods, so much so that  each of us undoubtedly wrote about it in some "What I did over the summer" essay at least once.  This last weekend, there was such an influx of my family coming at various times that E actually made a spread sheet so we could keep straight how many would be at each meal, and how we'd fit all these now adult bodies plus one adorable baby (the first of the next generation!) into this one bedroom cabin (plus a buck shed!) during rainy February. It was quite a feat.

Last Thursday before I tried driving south to the cabin, I went to a Physical Therapy appointment, where the therapist listened to my symptoms, did a few tests and tried to get me to stay home. She believes I have bulging discs in serious peril of rupturing. Rupture, smupture, I said. I told her I'd lie flat on my back but I was going! I told her I had siblings coming from eastern Washington, California, Massachusetts, and Siberia, so I certainly wasn't going to miss it from as short a distance as I live. "Is your family the kind that helps?" she asked. I laughed. Shoot, they're ridiculously helpful. My youngest sister can't stay out of the kitchen. And her kids, too. Well, come to think of it, everyone pitched in...except that baby and me. And that baby, JR? He did exactly what he was supposed to do--grin and giggle and talk and make everyone laugh with him. He was our chief entertainment, was a good sport when he was passed from pillar to post and back again. It was wonderful to have a baby in that old cabin again, taking a bath in a little tub, just like his mother and grandmother had before him.  Hmmm, come to think of it, every single one of us who was there this weekend (who hasn't married in) once was a baby who took a bath in a tub in that old kitchen.

While I was on the couch, my family swirled around me, playing games, going to the bluff, playing basketball on the court, going down to the beach, driving off to do some clamming, cooking, eating, talking and eating some more. We took out old family stories, dusted them off and passed them around a time or two--as usual. Teased each other a little (a lot?!) and listened to real stuff as well. It's always that kind of mixed bag. We stayed away from politics (mostly!) and veered away from touchy subjects (I think). And one night at dinner, my youngest brother asked us to say who we wished could be with us, and I was awed by the way we completed our family, right there at that table. Filling out the missing places with the other cousins who hadn't been able to come, the sisters-in-law our daughters have come to love, the son still in college, the husband calving. It would do our parents proud that we still like to be together, that they raised such a family.

And so we decided that this will be a yearly tradition. So mark your calendars, family. Next year in...

And maybe by then I'll be the one in the kitchen, and RE can be on the couch.
But I wouldn't count on it. These two photos were taken by RE last fall when she, the Dump and I were out at the cabin for the weekend--it was then that we came up with the plan for this lovely mini-reunion. It was a good plan, a plethora of riches in the time shared. I love you all.

If you're interested in some more photos, head over to E's blog: http://eisrandom.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Flying Away

I was looking for an old post in which I posted photos of my father-in-law, and so doing, somehow, accidentally published a draft which had been languishing in the drafty closet where all my unwanted, unfinished drafts languish. So you got two for the price of one yesterday, and saw all those lovely photos of my mom, sisters and me. And, oddly, my current computer is also on the fritz, I am, once again, using Beve's, and could feasibly have found those pictures just yesterday. But I didn't.

Yesterday was a different sort of day all together. Yesterday Thyrza and Beve got in a car and drove away, the first leg on their trip across the country. Thyrza closed (and carefully locked) the door of her somewhat empty apartment (we still have a bit of moving to do--and she told me three times to 'ship me anything you think I might want!'), then went over to the care facility to say goodbye to Grampie. On Valentine's Day. Their 19th Anniversary. Beve told me later that those last moments were rather anticlimatic after the fraught-with-confusion-and-emotion ones of the evening before, which I think was a huge relief to him. Maybe to all of us. There has been so much sadness in this. So to simply say goodbye calmly, then be wheeled in different directions--it was like God, the comforter, stepped in, put His hand on each shoulder and reminded Him that "this separation is but for a moment...weeping may last for the night (the night of life on earth) but joy comes in the morning (the morning of being in His throne-room with the great throng worshipping Him!)."

They stopped by here quickly on their way south and while Beve retrieved the clothes I'd packed for him and gave me a quick kiss goodbye J and I each hugged Thyrza goodbye (quick and without ceremony, which suited J quite well) then they were off--only two hours later than Beve'd hoped. That's not too bad, considering how slowly this ninety-three year old moves. Off to sit in rush-hour traffic, then to dinner with the girls. And finally to bed near the airport because the flight was early and Thyrza gets up at 6 AM for an 11 AM doctor's appointment, just to get herself ready.

This morning, Beve texted me just after passing security that Thyrza had set off the RED Security Alarm, and her stuff was being combed through. A second text said she'd been taken to a room to search her for explosives. "No kidding!" he had to tell me, because seriously? She actually looks like a security risk? I could imagine her having a meltdown at the people daring to strip-search her. Obviously, they came up empty, and THANKFULLY, she was went with the flow. She was living on one hot chocolate high after another, Beve said. He intended to get her another just for surviving that (making it her third cup of the day).

So now they're winging their way across the country. Enroute to Baltimore, by way of Dallas. Of course. If you look at a map of this country, you'll realize that to get to Baltimore the fastest route is through Dallas. Just like the fastest route to Pittsburgh is through Atlanta, or to Boston is through Charlotte. I wonder if airlines actually HAVE maps of the United States in front of them when they plan air-routes.

Anyway, I'm proud of this work my Beve does today. It's the hard work of a son who loves his father. I guess you could say, it's his Valentine to Grampie--this practically caring for Thyrza. The packing up of her life, and now the actually carrying her to her new life.  He's a good son.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A trip back




For the fun of it, and because I'm using the Beve's computer until my new AC adaptor gets here, I retrieved some photographs from his hard drive.  My sisters and I took Mom to the beach for her 76th birthday, and had a miserable time with her.  She was definitely being Al's hammered by then, as Grampie is fond of putting it, though she refused to admit it, and her reasoning skills were totally mixed up.  She's always been a morning person, someone who rose before the rooster crowed, ready for whatever the day had to offer, so one morning at the beach, she decided to take a walk on the beach by herself before the rest of us woke up.  This was a very, very bad idea.  She got completely turned around, wandered on that beach for quite a while, and when she finally did find our condominium building, couldn't remember which unit was ours.  So, instead of going to the front desk and asking, she simply pulled her key card from her pocket and tried it in every door on every floor until it finally opened something.  She was very proud of herself for thinking this through.  We were quite dismayed with her for such eschewed thinking.  After that, we never let her leave the place by herself.


 It's odd to look at these photos now and see the life in her eyes and smile.   She was looking straight at my camera with no prompting, no clapping like one would clap for a baby, as she had to be clapped for a year ago.  She was very present with us on the beach that spring, even when she was miserable and making everyone around her miserable as well.  The Dump showed up a day late, and surprised her, and when she walked in, for a single moment, there was a pause as if Mom didn't recognize her middle daughter, but it was simply a flash.  Behind closed doors, when Mom had gone to sleep, we commented on how strange that was.  None of us imagined that a day was only four years off when she wouldn't speak or lift her head or be any more than a shell of a human being.


 I love this photo of my sisters and me on the boardwalk at the beach (Seaside, Oregon, for those of you who don't recognize it).  For all the difficulties of that time, we always love being at the beach.  We got that from our mother.  I'm actually surprised at how much we've aged in the last four years as well.  Life has come at us hard, I guess.  As life has a way of doing at times.  But here we are, and still doing it together.  For my fortieth birthday, Mom made me a photo album of pictures of of my sisters and me.  We've been friends almost as long as we've been sisters.  Not all blood relations can say that, so I know how incredibly blessed I am.  These are women I probably wouldn't know if I wasn't related to them--our lives have not run parallel paths--but how much poorer my life would be without them.  I can't imagine.



We're all dressed up to go out to dinner for Mom's birthday.  Look how happy Mom looks.  Unbelievable.  I'm actually posting these photographs today for my family--siblings, children, aunts, cousins--who have lately seen the shell and may have forgotten that she was ever like this: animated, excited, thrilled to be the center of attention.  I know exactly why she's so full of mirth in this picture.  You can tell by the way my middle, tallest sister is standing.  We call that our 'Grandmomie' pose--head up, chest out, which tends to crack us all up, every time.  Mom most of all.

When I first saw these pictures four years ago, they were simply pictures.  In fact, the trip had been hard enough, with enough catastrophic over-reactions from Mom at every turn, that I put the pictures aside and didn't glance at them again. But now...well, now they make me smile.  Now I'm grateful for them.  Grateful that we took this trip, even if it was hard.



A Valentine Story

Twenty-eight years ago was my first Valentine's Day with the Beve. We were in Holland, going to a  YWAM Discipleship Training School. We'd been friends most of our lives, even then, had never had a single date (other than that one awkward one my well-meaning sister had coerced him into the summer before) and...we were newly, though secretly to those around us but not to our families back home, engaged and planning a wedding in May. Our relationship was supposedly secret there because students at DTSs aren't supposed to be in what are called 'special relationships'. However, we were given a whole lot of latitude because we didn't fit the norm. Having known each other since we were kids, having grown up on the same street and being clearly very good friends when we arrived made it clear from the start that we were unique. In fact, from the beginning, many people, including those in leadership, assumed we were already a couple, which was a huge source of embarrassment (at least to me, because it so mirrored my hopes) and amusement (to us both). We knew each other's histories, got each other's jokes, and could finish each other's sentences. Hmm, just about like we do today. And God seemed to be moving us closer to each other constantly. When the list of small groups were put up, there we were, in the same small group--despite the huge odds against it. And when the outreach lists came out, there we were, on our way to India together. I spent every day trying to surrender my feelings for this man, and every day, God put him more in my life. So when our relationship changed, we went to the leadership of the DTS, told them, and they merely told us to not tell anyone about it, so that there wouldn't be alot of other relationships springing up. Needless to say, however, by the time the DTS ended, it was the most well-known secret on the base. Not only that, we spent a night at the YWAM base in Brussels on our way home that March, and they'd not only heard about us but wanted to know the whole story. Told us the whole of YWAM Europe was talking about this couple who'd been childhood friends that God had brought together. It'd created quite a stir, apparently. A Valentine stir, I guess one might say, God being the ultimate cupid.

Living on that YWAM base was pretty intense. There were 250 people surrounding us all the time. We took long walks whenever we had free moments, but those moments didn't happen very often. We went to school, worked, prayed, rode bikes between and...wrote each other copious notes and letters. Every single day. This was pre-, you understand. Pre-cellphone, texting, pre-everything but paper and pen. And we used them. Used them and used them. 

These aren't, in the narrowest definition, love-letters, though there's a whole lot of love expressed in them. Maybe it's indulgent of me to share them with you. But today is Valentine's Day, and my great big Valentine is taking his father's wife across the country (and this is also Grampie and Thyrza's 19th wedding anniversary), so for once, I thought it'd be sweet to let our children hear their daddy's voice--his Valentine's voice--as he spoke to me all those years ago when we were first making our way into what would be the rest of our lives.

First, a snippet of the note/letter that began the change in our relationship: (this was written while we were on outreach in New Delhi, India) Yes, God moved us around like chess pieces while until we Steve realized what was really going on between us.

"As I've reflected back upon our relationship, it's been clear to me that I've failed to be all that God's desired me to be. Yes, He has changed--in a good way--and deepened our friendship. I've seen some tremendous steps occur in it. For example, when we talked about the way we've viewed each other in the past and how we let those outdated conceptions affect our present relationship/friendship. Do recall that talk at Heidebeck? I believe it was just before Kevin  arrived. [Ed. note: Kevin is another high school friend--also from our neighborhood. And...Like I didn't remember every single conversation we had--I was already all in by then!] But in other areas I've neglected to practically apply some of the things we've talked about (i.e., a willingness to share weaknesses and strengths.) I appreciate the fact that you called me on that whole thing the night of the movies...You asked me if it was easy for me to give people verbal compliments, and I said something like it was easy to do it for some and not for others? Beneath that statement I was saying that it was for most people but not for some (ie, you!) Why? Probably because I've never done it in the past with you and so I felt the pressure to keep in my personal comfort zone. And yet neither you or I would grow like we could because I was worried about what you'd think. So I hope to begin stepping out of that comfort zone..." (December 21, 1983)

My response, which bears sharing--"Thank you for your letter. What a thing to greet me as I woke up this morning. I really appreciate your openness...but I have to admit I feel a little confused by some of what you have to share. Maybe it was just the late hour for you or something. In any case I would like to talk to you about this. It seems to me that we talk easily about everything under the sun (and Son) except our own friendship. Maybe that's the comfort zone...:? I'm not going to write my thoughts and response to your letter--because every instinct tells me to and it would be much simpler for me. But I have some things I need to share face to face. Could me make some time?" 

As it happened, our lives in New Dehli were so complicated that we didn't even see each other for two days, though we lived in the same community, and generally ate meals together. God intended that, I think. Maybe to give each of us time to settle. To think. And mostly, to pray our hearts out. But finally, we had that conversation, and by the end of it, we'd each admitted that we were more than friends and were already headed toward marriage. Had been. Without a single date, or kiss or any of that so-called romantic stuff. But it was just about the most romantic thing I could imagine (can still imagine)--that God would be so intimately involved in our romance. Would care so much He'd drag two old friends around the world to show them He wanted them together.

So, a few others, from our days back in the Netherlands:

"God isn't frantically rushing here and there, trying to ward off the schemes of Satan. There isn't a fight going on between good and evil now who's outcome is not known! Our Father isn't biting his fingernails, trying to jockey His angels into defensive position, hoping not to make a mistake. NO! He has defeated Satan once and for all at the cross and the grave. He has risen and is the Lord of the universe. And He does cause ALL THINGS (even those we can't understand) to work together for good (His and ours!). He's with us completely, even when we can't feel Him. Fact: God has called us together.  Fact: God has all events and happenings in our lives under His control. Fact: God has our best at hand and will bring it to pass as we yield to and obey Him. Fact: God is faithful to fulfill His calling in our relationship. Fact: since God is love, what do we have to fear? Let's be happy and not fearful. God is with us." (Jan. 30, 1984)

"Best friend--You are precious and beautiful to me...and much more to Father God. I've been thinking about the fear you've struggled with--that of being rejected by me or others. Or by God. Don't believe it. It's a lie of the great accuser. Believe in God's assessment of you...Don't turn back to the old plumbline of the past but put your trust and self-image in God's evaluation and opinion of you. He loves you with an everlasting love. " (Feb 13, 1984)

"Time to get you a note. I was thinking today about 'work' and my mind went to, of all things, my work supervisor, Cees D. (he's the Dutch dude with the dark hair). I was thinking about how patient and long-suffering he's been with me. And believe me, I've made a few mistakes on maintainence (yes, I never scored very high on those mechanical reasoning tests in high school.) And yet inspite of my blunders and mechanical miscalculations, Cees still loves me and is patient toward me. What that communicates to me is that I'm more important than some project or object.
As I reflected on all of this, I realized that that's the way our Father is with each of us. In some ways the Lord could care less about what mistakes we make. Those things, those mistakes, are temporary--here today (sometimes overwhelmingly so), gone tomorrow. He's much more interested in forming His character in our lives. And to do that, we must be secure in Him. And to be secure in Him we must come to a realization of the fact that "our value doesn't determine His love, but His love determines our value." (February 23, 1984)

And finally this, "Good morning! I want you to know that I like God's evaluation of you. You're unique, valuable and special in His sight. I agree, you're that to me, too...I want you to know that I"m committed to you and to seeing you become ALL that you can be in Christ. Don't worry about being anything other than yourself. You, CC, are beautiful and precious to me, just as you are right now--no strings attached! Can you rest in the security of that? Better yet, can you rest in the security of who you are in Christ?" (January 13, 1983)

Happy Valentine's Day, Beve. You're still my Valentine.
Happy Valentine's Day, JESKMOM. This is who your Daddy is.

Monday, February 13, 2012

About babies

I'm going to pretend I can sit up long enough to write this post, which is by no means a certainty. The back I 'put out' a week ago has gravitated, as such things are wont to do in my compromised system, to the nerves in my left leg, making what is already a 24-7 life of pain a 24-7 blitzkrieg.  I do fairly well when I'm standing, and can tolerate lying down, but sitting is excruciating. Beve, who knows me well, observed that had I not continued to help pack (ie, lift boxes) when I first had the back spasms, this might have been avoided. But I'm stubborn about such things. My need to prove I'm not the weakest link ends up revealing my total weakness.  And trust me, this isn't the first time we've been around this dang block.  I see the doctor Wednesday, but until then...well, let's just say I'm not getting much done.

In other news (as broadcasters would say), this weekend brought a spate of diverse interactions.  Here's one. Saturday, E and I went to the baby shower of a much beloved friend who's the much beloved daughter of a much beloved friend.  It was life-giving to me to be at a life-beginning event. We're so beseiged by endings around here. And I've been somewhat blind in thinking how similar life's beginning and ending are. The likenesses are striking in many ways: the dependence on others, for example, the inabilities to speak, walk, contain one's bowels. All very alike at each end. However, what is patently different is the accompanying emotion at each end. The beginning is full of joy and hope. Any tear shed (assuming all goes well, as it most often does) is a happy tear, a thankful one.  There is no guilt in the beginning either. All is new.  The joy in that room Saturday was life-giving to me, even as consumed by the other end as I have been.  The hope of these young parents and grandparents is a living, almost-breathing little girl, about to make her appearance. So close they can almost touch her. And all their fears--and there are those, too--are about hopeful things, if that makes sense.  How the labor will go, the health of the baby, how they will parent. About life. And about Life in Him for this child. About the endings, I needed tell you much. It's hard and sad, and full of far different emotions. So complicated and endless--and I've been writing about it for weeks (years?) now.

Afterwards, the brother-in-law of this young couple (also a soon-to-be father, and an always serious, intentional young man) asked if 'the wisdom of the elders' is imparted at baby showers. His wife laughingly said such advice is given the whole nine months, which I remember well. However, it sparked my always- thinking brain. So if I'd been asked, this is what'd I'd tell these young couples: get to know your child. Pay less attention to what you ought to do, and more attention to who your child is. Pay attention the In-His-Image child God has created. Train accordingly. For instance, with my oldest, all it took was the snapping of my fingers and a certain look for her to obey, because she wanted to obey. She still does. She likes to color within the lines.  Stay in the boundaries, know her place. I thought I was the best mother in the world because this was so. I thought it was me. It wasn't. It was how she was made. Then God gave us a rambunctious little boy, who once he walked, ran into walls, climbed onto the roof (at 3 years old), built things so he could knock them down things, but also bought gifts often, cried at movies, thought of others, loved lavishly. He didn't care a bit about coloring, let alone staying within the lines. And I had to learn that. Had to learn a whole new way of parenting that worked for him.  Had to get to know him. It isn't a one trick pony, this parenting gig. And, no matter what the law says, the most important thing is NOT the carseat. It's loving them. Marinating them in love, saturating them in prayer, and letting God be the gravity that keeps them tethered to the earth.  And train that child in the way he or she should go--not the way YOU want them to--but the way of their passions, interests, talents, abilities. Watch for what makes them tick and train them toward it. Trust that God made them that way for a purpose, and trust that He intends good for it. Then, when they are old, they will not depart from that way, nor from Him. This isn't ME talking, this is scripture. "Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

That's what I'd have told them about parenting. Oh, and don't keep the house dead quiet while they sleep or you'll create a monster. Teach them to sleep through anything. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shoes

For no apparent, earthly reason, I am thinking this morning about shoes. A whole huge pile of them. Mostly used up, well-worn, dirty old shoes. Now I am not unfamiliar with shoes. I have long lived with some shoe-hogs. Or perhaps I should say, shoe collectors. Some of those size 15s that threaten to clutter up our closet are pretty overwhelming at times. And my own collection of Crocs (my spring and fall slippers, though I rarely wear them out of the house) and Keens take up plenty of space themselves. Not to mention the Fat Babies I 'borrowed' from the daughters who left them when they moved away. But really, it's those daughters who have the shoe collections. The HUGE shoe collections. Or perhaps I should say, the one MASSIVE shoe collection, now that they're living together in Seattle and sharing a room again (coming full circle to the days when they had no choice).  They have sneakers, boots, stillettos, flats and various things between. Name a brand (within a middle-class budget) and they can pull out a shoe with that label.  I don't actually know how many pairs they currently have, but it's well over 100 between them. And they'll likely be more embarrassed that I'm telling you this than just about anything else I've ever told you about their lives. But as E would say, "That's a first world problem."

So the pile of shoes I'm thinking about could well be their pile. Anyway, it's a heaping pile. Think of it as all the shoes my daughters might be sending to Good Will. All the shoes they should, anyway. Think of all the shoes you no longer wear but have at the back of your closet because you bought them one time for that one occasion but that occasion passed and another has never arisen, so there they sit. Or perhaps they're shoes like Beve's Friday shoes. These are a pair of sneakers--I think they're Nikes, but I'm not sure--made of medium blue patent leather, with a white toe guard and sole. For many years, Beve wore them to school on Fridays, when he'd wear jeans and a shirt with school ensigna on it, and often commented that it was like he was invisible the rest of the week. But put those shoes on, and students stopped him in the halls right and left, "I love your shoes," they'd say. Or they'd just look at his size 15s and smile. Yep, those Friday shoes got more students in his door than just about anything else he could have done.

But those shoes have bitten the dust now. They're beyond worn out; they're just plain dead to rights. Beve really should throw them away. But he can't bring himself to do it. So they sit in his closet. He keeps looking for new "Friday shoes" to take their place, but hasn't found any with quite the pizzaz. The old has faded away...he's still waiting for the new to come.

All these shoes remind me, I guess, of what Paul is speaking of at the end of 1 Corinthians 13. During this age when we are on this earth, we are God's shoes. We are His hands and feet and mouth. He calls us to do His Kingdom work for the span of our lives--as long as our earthly shoes fit, so to speak. And then, those shoes wear out. And when our work is done, when the great collective earthly work of the Kingdom is done, all our shoes will be piled in a heap. Prophecies will fade away. Tongues will cease. Indeed, ALL the gifts He lavished upon us will be cast off shoes...because we'll be walking in the throne room of the King Himself.  We'll be face to face then. We won't have to peer through a foggy mirror at Him when we worship, because He'll be right there. RIGHT THERE.

There will be no need for shoes then. Not our old, well-used ones, our Friday ones, or even our Sunday best. In that great day--in those great forever days!--we'll take our earthly shoes off once and for all. The ultimate holy moment.

But what will last? Actually, what will come to completion is our faith, which is "the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things [yet]unseen" (Hebrews 11: 1), our hope-- Jesus Christ Himself is our hope, of course--and love. And the greatest of these? Obviously, certainly, eternally--the crossed-shaped, resurrection completed, salvation-accomplishing greatest of these is LOVE.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lucky Eleven

E tagged me in some kind of blogger 'get-to-know-you' list, and though I probably won't play the whole game (as much as I love my daughter), I will play part of it. Sorry, E.  So here's my mutation: First, 11 things about me (as if I haven't spent the last three years of my life sharing compulsively about my life!):
1. My earliest memory is of a wedding, the same month I turned two. My father's middle sister was the bride. I also remember--from the same day, I believe--a baby in a basket. That baby was my sister, Dump.
2. When I was a child and we were served peas, the only way I could swallow them was with a large gulp of milk. However, usually I let them drop onto the floor because our Norwegian Elkhound pup fortunately loved peas.
3. I still have the first (maybe only?) pair of hiking socks my dad ever bought for me--the ones he bought me when he bought me my first pair of hiking boots.
4. The last time I cried was this afternoon when I saw two little plastic cups (one pink, one turquoise) in a box Thyrza is taking to Maryland. I remembered the day when Beve's mother, B, bought them for our one-year-old E and her two cousins so they could have cups of their own in her bathroom. It just got to me.
5. SK is home this week, helping us pack, and E left yesterday, having helped us pack all weekend, so I've spent all day calling SK: Elizasteph.
6. I'm allergic dairy products. Not lactose intolerant, but actually allergic. Just in the last couple of years. An all out, mouth and throat itching allergy. DANG. And I LOVE dairy. I mean, CHEESE?  Sigh.
7. I just read The Hunger Games trilogy in about 36 hours. It isn't even a genre I thought I liked, and I couldn't put it down.
8. I rooted for the Giants in the Super Bowl--both times. And watched every down--both times; and yes, I am a Manning fan. Both Mannings, in fact.
9. And speaking of the Superbowl--loved the Doritoes commercial with the Great Dane. LOVED it.
10. J has moved home for the indefinite future. It isn't what any of us expected, but we're all very glad he's here.
11. Beve and I are going to Hawaii in April with some friends. And when I made the reservation thirteen months ago, I never imagined how much we would need a respite. But now...it reminds us how God knows better than we do what we need.

Now to answer E's questions:
1. What is one thing you can't leave the house without? My water bottle
2. Tell me the best place you've ever visited or vacationed. Visited: (at least the most interesting) India; Vacationed: Cancun 
3. You have to sing karaoke to save my life. What song do you choose? "I'll praise you in the storm" (a sentimental favorite)
4. If you could change one thing in the past week, what would it be? Not lifting that quilt wrong so I didn't put my back out...and therefore, being a better me when facing Thyrza.
5. What have you been eating a lot of recently? Toast with peanut butter and bananas
6. If you were going to be famous for something, what would you want it to be? A writer, or teacher, for the Kingdom
7. What is your least favorite chore? Unloading the dishwasher
8. If you had to live one place the rest of you life, where would it be? Right here in Bellingham
9. What shows do you watch regularly? New fav: Downton Abbey (thanks, E!)
10. Do you have any big trips coming up? If so, what? Kauai, Hawaii--well, and to Whidbey with the family.
11. Who is your hero? Beve...his dad...my dad.
Jesus.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The more excellent way

My personal laptop is still sidelined, now sent off to the manufacturer because what appeared at first glance to be a mere power cord issue is an infernal internal one. So I'm at the mercy of other whatever other computers I can get my hands on--far fewer than back in the days when we were a populous crowd in our home and the laptops outnumbered us. And that's just about all the disclaimer I need, though there is plenty more, if you'd like: the Super Bowl, for one thing, which doesn't usually live up to the hype but managed to today. More importantly, I put my back out Friday. Not doing anything strenuous, just lifting a quilt, but it's wrecked havoc on a weekend that was supposed to be full of packing.

That bad back made me so stinkin' cranky when I went over to the elders' apartment to help with the moving, that when Thyrza got upset, I got upset right back.  Even as I heard myself, I knew better. Her memory, faulty as it is, tells her she KNOWS the truth so she doesn't back down. I've been around that block about a hundred times, understand the best course of action is to be patient and gentle, to respond to her anger with kindness. But I didn't do this Friday. The combination of pain and muscle relaxants were enough to make me less than I should have been. No, that's an excuse. I simply failed to love her. The end. Afterwards, Beve suggested that I stay home this weekend and allow my back to heal. We both knew I'd been a menace--and that that was what he was really telling me.  I need to admit it. To face what I am in my worst moments.

This takes me straight to 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.  In the first scene of the movie "The Wedding Crashers" (which Beve and I only saw about 10 minutes of, then had to turn off because it was too crass for us), the two crashers took bets on whether the readings at the wedding would be 1 Corinthians 13 or Colossians 3. I was surprised by this apt reference in a Hollywood movie to the very passages in scripture I also associate with weddings (Beve and I had Colossians 3: 12-17 at our wedding). However, if we look carefully at either of these passages they aren't precisely aimed at the relationship between a marrying couple, though one could make the case that a marriage is the first and primary form or community for any believer.  These are passages about living in community. And 1 Corinthians 13, coming on the heels--as a 'therefore' almost--from what we call chapter 12 (though chapter markers did not, of course, come from Paul, but much later) emanates from our understanding of what it means to live in the Body of Christ, to work for Him, to use our gifts for building up of His Body.

And...as we live in His Body, we do so in LOVE.  Seeking Love, which He describes in these central verses of the 13th chapter.  Do you want to understand the characteristics of Christian love? We can do well to look no further than 1 Corinthians 13.  And what we come up with is the opposite of selfishness at every turn.  First, it's the description of love (and opposite of selfishness) in attitude, what it is: patient and kind; and what it isn't: not boastful, envious or proud. Then it's the opposite of selfishness in action: it does not dishonor, seek self, anger easily, keep a record of wrongs, doesn't delight in evil, but rejoices in  the truth. And then it's the description of love comprehensively: always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and never fails.

I read this description of love and am intimidated by it, knowing how far I am from having the attitude, practicing the actions and living the comprehensive life of love of which Paul writes. But I'm not alone in this. In fact, only one human who ever lived, lived such love perfectly. The Incarnate LOVE. Jesus Himself. When we look at His life, we see such love. When Paul calls us to seek such love, He is, in fact, telling us to seek the only One who love thusly, the only One who can Incarnate that love within us. Without Him, our shabby human love will fail right within our own chests. We'll give it our best shot, perhaps, but come up short. Find some people easier than others. But have no staying power, not experience the patience He demands, nor the permanence these words insist upon.

So where does that leave us? How then shall we love? Do we simply give up? Decide we aren't made to be kind, and that's the way it goes? Say we've always been the jealous type? Decide we can boast a little as long as we're among friends (or family)? As Paul would say, 'by no means.' We are told to seek a more excellent way. To seek the way of love. If it wasn't possible to be changed, to love as He loved, He wouldn't have told us to. I believe that. Every day, we are put in situations where we get to practice His love for others. And in every situation, we can either make the effort, or allow Him to love through us. Which we will choose will determine how successful we are at this love of which Paul writes.

And at the same time, we can pray. Paul writes in Ephesians 3: 17-19 "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love [or, perhaps, in the One who is Love], may have power, together with the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

That's the path to the more excellent way of Love, folks. The only way. He promises He'll give us power to know it. Without our effort, but His. In the first chapter of Ephesians, we're told that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power available to us. That's world-tipping-on-its-axis power, and He means it for us, so that we can love each other, and His world.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hot Dog

Eighty-eight years ago today, my father-in-law was born in Bremerton, Washington. He was the first child of a man who'd served in the 'Great War', came home a little worse for wear, settled down with a woman and had this son (and then another son 16 months later, and called it good!). This first son of these hard-working folks--he a postman--grew and grew and grew some more. He always was the biggest kid around. Bigger by a head than that little brother of his. To look at them, you'd think they were three years apart in age.  And this giant of a boy, who stood head and shoulders above his friends had to work hard but played hard too. His parents saw to the working. His dad saw to the working especially. Before that boy's age was a double-digit, it was the depression and even in Bremerton, where the naval shipyard meant men had jobs, times were lean. But the family had a garden and where there was a garden, there were always vegetables to sell, and enough left over to fill a growing boy. But he learned, and learned well to 'be a clean plater." It was a lesson he hasn't forgotten in all his 88 years.

By high school, that boy had earned a nickname--Hot Dog. It came from his job selling hotdogs at the local baseball games, his voice so loud and far-reaching, his mother could hear it from home several blocks away. By that time, the basketball coach had already sought Hot Dog out, coaxed him into putting on a uniform (including short shorts complete with a belt) and picking up a ball. It was like offering candy to a man addicted to sugar. From the moment that basketball was put into Hot Dog's hands, he never looked back. By the time he was a junior in high school, Hot Dog's prowess on the basketball court was so overwhelming, he led Bremerton to the Washington State Basketball Title (and there was only one title back then--no divisions for different sized schools). The next year, Bremerton returned, only to lose in the title game. By then, however, Hot Dog stood 6'8", and was the tallest kid to ever play the game in the state of Washington. Oddly, though his mother never missed a game, his father never once saw him play. NOT ONCE. That hard-working dad of his just never understood why he was wasting his time on some silly game.

He didn't get it when Hot Dog was recruited by schools in and out of state, and decided to go to the University of Oregon--the first player to ever go out-of-state in these parts to play basketball.  Back then, local was the be-all and end-all for choosing schools.  But Hot Dog went to Oregon. Spent some of the best years of his life playing on the hardwood of Mac Court, the Big Man on campus, the big man under the rim. He shot foul shots the old-fashioned way--the Granny shot, they called it--but hardly ever missed.

But those were the war years, so Hot Dog tried to enlist. But the navy--his first choice--said no. He was too tall for ship bunks. And the army said no as well. But he couldn't bear to sit on the bench while his buddies were off fighting for this country. So with the help of his mother and a state senator, letters were written to the war department, asking for a dispensation to allow him to join the army.  So in 1943, Hot Dog went off to Burma to spend three + years building roads in the CBI theatre, and to play enough pick-up hoop games on the side that a tournament was put on, just so other army men could watch him play (and no, not even after all that, did his dad ever see him shoot a single basket).

He came home, took off that uniform and put back on his Oregon one for a couple more years. Met the sister of another Duck-hoopster alum. A 6'1" doe-eyed woman tall enough to match him. They married two months after he graduated. Two months after he took a job teaching rather than playing in the NBA, which was the other job option he had at the time. That teaching gig seemed better for a married man--with better pay and more stabilty. One of his reasons is still true, of course. 

This tall couple had a quartet of giant children. The smallest--their daughter--stood 6 feet tall. He became a gaint gym for them and their friends.  "We can't get near our own dad," they'd say to their mother. He taught them to swing baseball bats, to make lay-ups, to drive the family station wagon. Made sure they went to school every day, and church every Sunday. Tow the line in between. He had high standards, but none that he didn't live up to himself. And they knew it. They practiced what they saw in him.

The sons all played hoop as well, though none quite like their dad (no granny shot in sight, and only one was a lefty like Hot Dog--my own Beve). Hot Dog became a college professor with a PhD in Physical Education, earning him a new nickname from his kids--Doc-the-Rock. Doc-the-Rock became the department chair in Men's PE at Washington State University for 30 years. He chaired committees, settled disputes between faculty members, started a computer program. He took an interest in the rec programs in town, in the camping program for special needs kids, in the national organization for physical educators. He took an interest in people. That's about the size of it. 

He was always busy. He was invited to be a guest lecturer at West Point for a year. Was president for that national organization for a year. He got those children through school, then through college, watched them marry, played with their children. Had a few parties--weekly. Monthly. Liked people. Was a great host.  Learned to relax. Cultivated roses.

Watched his wife die. For a whole year that was about all he did. Talked to doctors, sat with her through treatments, surgeries, while she sat gingerly, laid low with her. Watched her die.

Then he let her go.

Then he learned to love again. Married again. Maybe too soon for us, but not for him. Traveled. Enjoyed his grandchildren, his roses, puttering. His computer.

All along, he was himself. True and strong with the same clarity of vision and internal compass that kept him headed toward right and ultimately, toward God.

The older he's gotten, the sweeter he's become. When I first knew him, I used to call him a roasted marshmellow, Crusty on the outside and sweet on the inside. Now he's merely sweet. 

Hot Dog won't live to see 89. Tonight we took him to Olive Garden for his birthday. He slumped in his wheelchair his head almost on the table. Beve had to feed him, though he's still working hard to be a clean-plater.  He didn't know where he was or why he was there, didn't know it was his birthday. But loved the food, especially what he calls that 'chicken and dumpling' soup. 

When I was a child I knew him, of course. His shadow was long in our town. I knew he'd been someone back in his youth. But I didn't know he was someone then. That is, I thought it was what he'd done that made him someone. I thought it was the list of his accomplishments, like I just listed them here, that made him special. But it isn't. Not essentially. What he is, no matter what he's done, counts. Don't get me wrong, I love his history, find it fascinating. But what is more amazing is that his history isn't a big deal to him. It never has been. He doesn't think he's something because of what he's done. He simply is. Grand and loving and present and sweet.

So I honor those qualities in Grampie today. Even when the real him is dying in increments. Happy Birthday, Doc-the-Roc. Happy 88th, Hot Dog.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A fingernail

Because of my recent surgery, this morning I got to thinking about those organs of the body that we seem to be able to do without--I'm doing quite well without my gall bladder, thank you very much. However, I might never again eat fried foods as I once did, though that's both very good for me and perhaps merely psychological. And I've never missed the appendix that was removed late one spring Monday after an excruciating day doubled over with knives in my stomach.  Thirdly, though I am thankful for the uterus and ovaries which helped produce my children, I was not sorry to see them go. And have not missed the mess or pain associated with their presence in my body.

So the pertinent question I pondered as I looked out the kitchen window, waiting for the tea kettle to boil, was--are there really superfluous organs in the human body?  Of course, having no medical training at all, I am not qualified to answer this in any scientific manner (though I have managed to diagnose (and self-diagnose) a plethora of maladies--both correctly and incorrectly), so I can only respond from a layperson's point of view. But what strikes me from this purely non-medical point of view is how formed together our bodies are. How fit and perfectly functioning all our parts are and must be in order to make us live and breathe and keep doing so over the long (or short) span of our days. And how, if one bit of that body is off, the whole of it feels it. An inflamed toe can make it impossible to walk well (ask SK about a memorable trip to Disneyland, if you don't believe me!). And floating bacterias can fell the whole of it like a house of cards for twenty-four hours, at the very least.  And our very own cells, gone awry, can destroy us.

I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. I'm writing my way into 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul equates the followers of Christ to the human body. We are His Body.  I realized this morning that it was all very well for me to write that none are let off the hook from Paul's admonition that we seek the more excellent way of Love; but unless we understand that each of us really does have a place in the Body, none of 1 Corinthians 13 is anything more than pretty words read at weddings.

Here's the fundamental truth of 1 Corinthians 12: 12 and following, as Paul writes it (in the New Living Translation): "A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other...The Body has many parts, not just one part...The foot can't say to the hand, 'I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand'...Our bodies have many parts and God has put each part just where He wants it. How strange a body would be if it only had one part!...The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you'...Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually most necessary...God has but the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity...You are Christ's body and each of you is a part of it."

Each of us is given a spiritual gift because each of us is part of the Body of Christ. And we each need the other. I don't know what your gift is (or are). And perhaps you don't either. But that doesn't mean you don't have one. Do not make the mistake of EVER assuming you are giftless in the Body of Christ. EVER. God doesn't care what the world tells you, what education or school of hard knocks or bad hand you've been dealt. He isn't interested in what you aren't. When you came into the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit was given to you, He didn't come empty-handed. He came into your life with a gift. And that gift is meant to serve the Body, extend the Kingdom and enable you to give glory to God by doing.

It's in light of this understanding--this undergirding that each of us is part and none is left out--that we must talk about love. Because the love of which Paul speaks isn't primarily romantic love, but Body-of-Christ love.  But I get ahead of myself. That's tomorrow.

Today, let's sit with our gifts and the beautiful picture of us as Christ's Body. I might only be a single fingernail, but by His grace, I'll help the finger and the hand and the arm raise in worship and the Body of Christ praise God from whom all blessings flow.