Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ode

In my inbox this morning was a wonderful email from 'the girls'. And I've spent the day humming the tune (though not these words, of course--they just aren't in the deep files of my memory). So because they made me so happy, well-loved and, also because it completes the set of  'The girls' birthday reflections of this last year, I thought I'd post it.  They are generous and sweet (in the best, but not corny!) sense of the word, and I am blessed.


Ode to Carolyn (Part One)

Written to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music”

Thai food and doggies and Jesus, her Savior
Elephants, Fridays, and coffee (all flavors)
Curry in Pushar and Holland on bikes
These are a few of  her favorite “Likes”

A passion for writing and coffee galore
Tea and more tea- need we say more?
Family and friends and being a wife
To Steve (known as Beve)- the love of her life

Reading a book and writing a post
These are the things which please her the most
Castles in Scotland and Abbey Garden teas
Near and far wonderful things such as these!

When the day bites
When the night stings
When she feels sad
She simply remembers these favorite things
And then doesn’t feel so bad!



Ode to Carolyn (Part Deux)

Boat shoes and Seafarers, blue hoodies and b. ball
Curb painting, swimming, fun rides in the Carry-All
Single file sitting while cruising through town
These are the places where memories abound!

Young Life, Campaigners, Sam Adams to boot
Trips to the mountains-in snow- what a hoot!
Job’s Daughters, matchmaking, a good friend to all
Sense of ridiculousness-no absurdity too small!

When we think of
Our friend Carolyn
And the fun we have had
We simply remember these wonderful times
And then we can feel so glad!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CAROLYN!!!  We love you!!!

His enabling

It's my birthday, I can cry if I want to...
But I'm not in the crying mood, even though the last of our Finns are flying home today.  Our half-Finnish, half-American niece took all the way to yesterday to decide to actually get on the plane, but she packed her bags and is off--but by the grace of God, will be back to set up a life here in Washington soon, her dog firmly in crate beside her.

So it's a quiet day to celebrate 55 years.  A much quieter day than the rest of the summer. No baker's dozen crowded around our table answering the sharing questions we pull out of our brains, no leisurely coffee and tea together on the back deck, sitting like lizards in the sun of the morning, no outings that take us up and down the freeway squished into cars not made for the giants in our land. Just the relative quiet of the five/six of us retreating to our own corners for the last few weeks before heading off to work and our own activities.

As for me, though I've loved most moments of the community of these last six weeks, I've also craved more solitude that feeds my soul and grounds my relationship with God. I'm a largely communal person but it takes a whole lot from me, and I know that the source of my energy for all of that comes from the silence of community with Christ. From my prayer closet, I might call it.

What I mean is that without such time with Him, I become more invested in worldly things, more engaged in pursuits that aren't Kingdom matters.  This is, of course, the dilemma for all of us. Without cultivating significant time with Him, it's too easy to think that human concerns are the most important ones.  Like what we should have for the next meal, like what someone's doing for us rather than how we can serve them. Like the state of my house, which has taken a huge beating from the sheer number of people crowding their things into its small space.  You wouldn't believe how much stuff has taken up residence in places I would never allow to be storage spots generally--like the piano, which currently houses a pair of jeans, a hot water bottle someone has needed, some running shoes that need to be returned and a book that goes into a room now occupied by a guest; a similar list could be made for the back counter, the computer desk and even, rather unfortunately, the dining room table. And all this clutter is really about to drive me crazy.

But that's the point. My very caring about such things is the problem because it's all made me irritable. Almost unglued. Agitated so that I've paid less attention to enjoying these last few days than simply trying to keep up with the clutter.  Even though the last of this rare gift of community (one that might not come again on this earth) is completely temporary. Even this morning it will change in a flash with MW walks out the door. So my inability to relax and enjoy speaks volumes of my spiritual condition.

That is, the problem's in me. That problem stems from setting my mind on things below, the opposite of what Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3: 1-4. "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."


So today, while it is still (or already!) today-- this birthday--this is my pledge to myself and, more importantly, to God: to set my heart and mind on things above. To set my mind on Kingdom matters, even while I live on this earth and do ordinary, human tasks. This is the balance of life. But it's what He asks. And what He asks is possible, if not by my own ability, my own 'try,' but, to use a negative word in the psycho-jargon of the world, but an apt phrase, the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blessed is the man...

It's the end of July.
And you know what that means, don't you?
It's birthday season around here.
E's, then Beve's, then mine.
We celebrated E's Friday night with pulled-pork, raspberry shortcake, and the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (though her birthday was the 25th).

Today is Beve's. He turns 56 today, which appeals to something in my pattern-loving soul, because he was born in '56.  I'll have to wait two whole years to hit such a mark myself. And our kids--should they live so long, will be about Grampie's age before they see such a day.

But I digress.
Beve's birthday.  So I was thinking that I might write 56 things you might not know about him, but that seems like a daunting task, not to mention frightfully boring to those of you who aren't me. As did my next idea of 56 words to describe him--again an exercise only esoterically interesting. But I do want to honor this man whom I've know for all but ten and loved for over half of those 56 years.  Hence, a small bit of both...but NOT 56.
First: 5.6 things you might not know about Beve:
1. He's left-handed but golfs and bats right-handed (which I find somewhat disloyal to all us truly left-handed people out there, but whatcha gonna do?)
2. He sweats more easily than anyone I've ever known. When he was playing basketball all the time, he never wanted to be 'skins' in pick-up games, because he always needed his shirt to wipe off the sweat. And he can sweat just eating a hot dinner.  However, he never stinks. Really. And I have to say, "It's just not right!" that he doesn't. I mean, all that dripping sweat and no smell? Where's the justice?
3. His mother predicted his exact birthdate in the local newspaper. She was sitting at a baseball game, not even in labor, when a reporter stopped by to talk. Grampie was enough of a local legend that she was well-known in Eugene, Oregon and she wasn't easy to miss herself. So he asked about the baby, and she said, "I might just have this baby about this time tomorrow."  And she did.
4. He's played basketball in five decades, four continents, nine countries, fifteen states, and hundreds of gyms. He was in the first All-State All-Star game our state ever held...and hasn't played in about 8 years now. There was a time when he couldn't imagine a week without playing. Now he can't imagine making it up and down the court. That's been one of the hardest losses of his life.
5. He's always misplacing things. Once he even got to school (after playing a pick-up game of hoop in the morning) and realized he hadn't remembered to bring any work clothes. For the problem, see #2 above.  And when I checked, there were his clothes, laid out very carefully by the front door. Oh, the things he forgets.  Let's just hope it doesn't mean anything other than that he has too much on his mind!
.6.  I began calling him Beve the first year of our marriage. It came from his father calling him Stevie-Boy. In my family, it's been a long-held tradition to twist words: Take a shower becomes Shake a tower, for instance. So Stevie-Boy became Bevie-Stoy. And from there, Beve. Sometimes, Bevie, sometimes Stoy-Boy.

And 5.6 words about Beve:
1. Servant--this is the "DUH!" of the bunch. THE word for Beve. I know no-one with more of a servant's heart than him. Baking, moving, mowing, driving, simply being--he goes out of his way to serve, and anticipates others' needs. This is his 'made in God's image' gift.
2. Witty--Beve's one of the funniest, quickest people I know. And has a well-hewn sense of the ridiculous. It might be hidden at first sight, but in small groups, watch out!
3. Loyal--To me, our children, of course. But also a large circle of friends, he's dependable. Deeply committed. No matter what
4. Steady--The weight of our world is on his shoulders and he bears it. God has given him this ability.
5.  Pure in heart--Beve is really one of the purest men I know. This might sound funny since I'm talking about my husband, but he really is. Even though he deals with ugly stuff at work, he holds himself to a very high standard. God's standards. He walks in a manner worthy of the Gospel.  That's his goal. I want to be like him when I grow up.
.6. Good-looking (this is the .6 because it's so superficial) He is. Dang, it, he's even aging well, even if his hair is gray now.

So happy 56th Birthday, Beve. I'm grateful for your presence in my life. You really are a Psalm 1 man.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
Or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, 
And on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked:
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Olympic Party

The dust has settled around here. Read that to mean that our numbers have shrunk a bit. In fact, there were only five of us sharing a pizza dinner in front of the recently installed giant TV in our living room. I felt downright lonesome...with all that extra space in the room.
Or maybe I didn't. After all, that TV takes up most of what we've lost in people. It's E's TV. She carefully loaded it into her little Honda Civic Hybrid and brought it home for the most important sporting event EVER. Or at least, every four years. I'm talking the summer Olympics, obviously. Yes, I realize that there are also Winter Olympics, and believe me, we're great fans of those events as well, but the sports of summer--these are my family's sports. Volleyball (E and I both played), swimming, rowing (BB rowed for the University of Washington), and, of course, basketball. So our 'little' 42 inch flat screen wasn't going to cut it. Not when E had a perfectly good 53" one going to waste in an empty apartment down in Seattle. So why not bring it up here to overwhelm our small living room. We are. after all, proud to be Americans.

We got out the flag, the flag-like camp-chairs, and circled up around this monstrosity in order to see ourselves in the reflection--as you can clearly see. Yep, those are even my legs in front taking the picture of SK, posing so dramatically. We don't even have curtains on our large living room window because  we never get tired of seeing the view out that window, especially when there's a sunset over the bay. We don't get sun often enough to want to cover it with drapes. But last night, when all the world was a stage, and actually set in the place Shakespeare wrote those words, we couldn't see the screen. Sooo, like the Bellinghamster-hicks we are, we pulled out a dark maroon sheet and tacked it to the window sill. Yes, we did. Proud to be Americans. 

E and BB have a pool going about these games. But then, this is the year of the bracket for them. All brackets, all the time. The winner gets a t-shirt. You should have seen the complicated spreadsheet they were working on last week. A bit hard for me to follow, but in the end, one of them will have to buy the other a t-shirt. That's about all I can make out from the deal. And it keeps them off the streets, I guess.

In the meantime, we'll have our giant TV working from dawn to midnight, with five or more channels to hop between. And I suppose that too, keeps us off the streets.  It's just another part of the celebration that is this summer for us.  Everything a party. Like everything else, we're taking this moment, with these Olympics, to celebrate with this man. He loves a party. And he's a very, very good sport. Carry the flag, Grampie.



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Random Journal Day--back in the saddle!

Being back in the rhythm of my life means posting on a more regular basis, including the weekly Random Journal Day. I not only missed contributing last week, but reading all the offerings from my blogger friends, who are witty and wise and continually teach me through their art--word, picture, paintings.

Tonight I raced into the room where my baby brother is now sleeping, grabbed a journal quickly and have yet to open it. Shall we do so together?  With no editing, no forethought, not even a glimpse of what season and year I've grabbed from my shelf?

Ah, Spring 2007. Hmm, here's a hard entry. An unexpected one. But when have I ever shied away from such as this?

Saturday, April 7th
I've had a lot less trouble leaning into physical pain in my life than emotional or mental anguish. I suspect this is true of most people. We simply don't know how to be still--to rest--no matter what the trouble. I know that the most agonizing thing in my life is NOT my body but my work, my manuscript, that ever-evolving, never ending work. I'm just NEVER in control, which is exactly what what I should feel in every aspect of my life, of course. But I've never been in control physically, I never even try to be. But I've been under the mistaken impression that I have some control over my own writing. But as His disciple, I should know better. Should know that I must let go, lean into and trust HIM.


To that end, I worked all afternoon, and am here. Doing what I can. It goes round and round in me that this should be done [finished]--not that I think it's perfect or that I necessarily disagree with KH (my editor) or JE (my agent). But should I have laid it down? I know there was NO ONE to agree with me, NO ONE who saw that 'laying down' as anything but quitting. But I've never been sure and I know the difference between quitting and releasing. I've wanted to quit often. But I'm afraid I didn't relinquish, let go, stop in obedience. So what if the world didn't understand? 


However, since then, since a year ago, I've tried to hold lightly to OA (my book was called October Afternoon) so that it doesn't matter anymore.  If the end comes, I hope I'll rejoice and move on to what  He next calls me.  If I must continue here, writing and re-writing, then so be it. Just do the work. 
"It's only sport," I told the doctor during the nerve conduction study the other day. And it's only books, only story.  Not eternal. I don't want to have my life marked by this one thing.


So the trick--if it's a trick--is to do well, remain obedient and strong. Stay focused even when my heart is gone.  When my hands are lifted, I still put my fingers on the keys and do the work.  How do I explain this to anyone? Who is there to understand?

A year after this entry, the work stopped. The manuscript was put in a drawer and has not been looked at since.  It surprises me now that God had spoken to me about laying it down a full two years before the end came. I remember the strong sense that I was to let it go, and the fight I had within and without about doing so.  My own inability to stop. My continuing struggle (to this very moment!) with the sense that I failed because it wasn't ultimately published.  The words of this entry help. They confirm something, but also remind me (again) of the wisdom of 'instant obedience.' I don't know what would have happened if I'd relinquished it as He asked. I only know what actually did happen. But there's a lesson in it. And it's one I continue to learn. Like Lucy following Aslan in Prince Caspian, if I see/hear Him calling I must follow. No matter what others around me say or think.

Deep Country

Deep country.

This is where I've been in the last five days, watching (and serving) a family saying goodbye to a man who lived all his life on this land.  There were moments during those days where I felt displaced to be among them. I am not, nor will I ever be, one of them.  Though I've walked the fields, sat in combines churning stalks of wheat, watching the kernels pour like a shower of gold in to the hold. I've listened to the cadence of their voices, been awed by their knowledge of their fields, asked a plethora of questions about crops and, "How do you really know when THIS, not any other, is the first day of harvest?" But I merely visit this world.

A shirt-tail relative, I suppose. A sister to the wife of a farmer. A sister to one of the sons whose father died last week.

Five-hundred strong turned out to honor this man who'd farmed and raised cattle, who'd traded horses with a knowledge and passion so abiding that he was still driving his horse-hauling truck the day he died. For the 30 years I've been a visitor to that farm his trade-horses have milled about in the pastures across from the yellow-painted wide-porched 110 year-old farmhouse where he spent his entire life.
The week he died (the day he died!) the rural community that is a hallmark of the land filled the house with food--ubiquitous potato salads, meat (they are all carnivore, of course!), and pies--oh, the pies.  And then they'd sit a bit. Sit with his wife of almost sixty years, just passing the time. Rallying because it's part of what neighbors do. They sit together and bring food. Send cards by the dozen (every day!), make phone-calls, offer to help (and mean it)--then do the tasks they're actually asked to do. Those who make their homes here expect to do. They'd rather do. It's better--far better--than sitting at home, doing nothing.

And they turn out in droves to say goodbye.  The little brick church was stretched like a rubber-band to its breaking point Tuesday.  BB, my girls and I got there plenty early...so we thought. But we were crammed into a pew at the back of the balcony. A tap on my shoulder came from one of my sister's closest neighbors, a woman with whom I've had conversations at so many functions we're almost friends. She told me about a product used to clean her sink, said she's been waiting for months to tell me about it, since two years ago we had a rather lengthy conversation about sinks. Memories of such things linger in deep country.  The woman beside me went to high school with my sister and brother-in-law. All through the service, she asked me who was who as one member of the family then the next stood up to talk.

About two minutes into the service, after the family filed in trailed by the priest, my niece went forward to read scripture. Though her knees were shaking and her heart was hurting, she read in a clear and certain voice. She made the words of life and death comprehensible to that company, opened ears that might have been left dulled with the complex construction of phrases.  And after the priest spoke of the man and an important interaction and cattle and simple faith, my nephew stood and gave the most difficult speech he's ever given.  My nephew is not one to shy away from public speaking. I've heard him speak to the most difficult audience known to mankind--teenagers at an FFA convention who'd rather be off doing than sitting in a seat listening to ANYONE!  But this 'speech' locked up his throat and gave him pause. Later he wrote on his facebook wall that it's not the size of an audience but the content that makes a speech hard. That farmer boy-turned-man did his family proud speaking of his grandfather's life. Brought smiles and laughter to the crowd one moment, nods of the heads and tears to the eyes the next.

At the very end of the service, my brother-in-law stood and said, "There's some food down at the gun club and we'd be glad to have you go on over and start eating. We're going up to the cemetery for a few minutes then we'll be down to join you."  Deep country, indeed, in those words.

It was a fine send-off, with a fine country dinner afterwards at the gun club where the man's well-used saddle greeted the guests. This is my favorite picture of that saddle--of my brother-in-law and his grandson, who took to that saddle prophetically, like there's a cowboy call on his life before he's nine-months-old.


But maybe my favorite part of the send-off came after all of this when the family went home to that yellow farmhouse. We were privileged to join them on that wide porch in the late afternoon sun for pie and beer and more conversation about a whole manner of things.

 On the front lawn children played baseball, batting at a home-plate made of a set of cowboy boots. My nephew (the man in the black cowboy hat) and his cousin took turns pitching simple under-hand throws while holding their beer in hand. Parents held the outfield duties. 


The rest of us watched or not in the shade of the porch, enjoying the cool of the breeze. My niece set up a blanket to feed the baby on the grass, using my daughter as the high chair. Little JR loves his food these days. He's exactly what a baby should be.

Down at the pastures, the big draft horses simply wandered in the evening sun. They're enjoying summer. Their work is winter work, hauling a hay wagon to feed cattle through the cold and grass-less winter months. Life for them hasn't been turned around by the events of this week. They'll still go about their business next winter because there's continuity here; there has been for generations now. 

The party ended. Food was divide up among the families, chairs were folded up. People yelled goodbye as they loaded up kids into their cars and headed home. The goodbye had been said. The farmers took the day off, but in the morning they'd be back at work. Their dad wouldn't have had it any other way. He'd have been grumbling to think it. Not on his account; not on any, I suppose. 
But the day, to this guest, had been sweet. It could have been Tuesday, but it could have been fifty or a hundred years ago. That's how it is in deep country when time stops for a moment for folks to say goodbye.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Being a pirate

A quick update:

I'm still here in the Palouse, surrounded by ripening wheat and garbanzo beans awaiting harvest. While they reach their height in the sun, here at my sister's house, we're doing a different kind of waiting. It's an odd thing a family does in the first days of grief. Stranger still is the awkwardness of being with that family when not a part of it. Because of the truth of the Psalmist's statement, "My times are in your hands," my brother found himself right in the middle of a family not his own from the first moment of the patriarch's death. He sat in the man's house when the first calls were made, has been present with our brother-in-law and sister in hard moments all week. And due to the geographical logistics of travel, I joined them Friday.

Of course it would be natural to me to think about death in general and this death in particular.

But...
I am more aware than ever of the boundaries of this blog.  Though it is right and fair for me to ponder death and God's presence with a person in his last moments, this is not the time. To be respectful of a man I love who is married to my sister whom I dearly love, I have been carefully holding my peace this week. If you know me, you will know exactly what that costs.

In fact, here's how I'd put it: The other night, in order to take minds from the ache of the week, my sister and her family had a game night. We played a ridiculous game of QUELPH (like Cranium on drugs!).  At one point, I pulled a card which said I had to speak like a pirate for the rest of the game. Ahoy matey, shivery-timbers, that was hard. So hard, in fact, that it effectively rendered me as close to mute as I have ever been.

Being here this week, consciously NOT writing about this renders me mute in the face of it, like being something foreign to myself.  Yes, I'm a silent pirate this week. Praying for those who sail a new sea in a storm of grief, perhaps.

Land ho!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A day on the lake...and other things

We spent the day on the lake. The Lake, that is. Of course there are many lakes, even many lakes in this part of the country, which is the country of my youth, lakes cut from rock surrounded by Ponderosa Pines, lakes deep and clear and populated by homes large and small. While my family had a summer place on an island in western Washington, many of my friends had vacation cabins on three such lakes in Northern Idaho: Cour d' Alene, Pend Oreille, and Priest. So today, the six of us spent the day on Lake Cour d' Alene.

It was a perfect 'Inland Northwest' Day. The air was sunny and hot, the water sparkling blue, there were swimmers on the beach, and Legion baseball being played in the park, and boats pulling skiers out in the water. Beve and I watched that game for a while as the others walked up Tube Hill to look out over the water. Beve, who played a game or two back in the olden days of high school (when he wasn't sitting in the dug-out eating sunflower seeds) kept up a constant commentary about what fundamentals were missing from the play on the field. As usual, I learned a thing or two--about what happens when a pitcher doesn't cover home-plate, for example.  When our friends returned we pulled out our picnic lunch and took naps in the shade, talked a bit--or didn't!--and let the music of the breeze and the lake and children and life brush across us gently.

I forget to simply sit and be this way. Sit this way out in the middle of the world where there are people doing so many things. I hide myself on my lovely, secluded back deck, or sit overlooking the bay from my own front patio and forget the sweetness of being among others in a park at water's edge. While some of us slept, I thought of that, thought of the choir that are people in a park or on a beach, or anywhere they gather side-by-side. There's something so rich in it.

After the naps (for some of us) we took a cruise out on the lake. It wasn't the first time I boarded a boat from that dock. Back when I was a child, I went to a campfire camp on Lake Cour d'Alene, and the only way to get there was by boat.  Today, we were within sight of Camp Newahlu, where both my middle sister and I spent several summers.  But just as we might have gotten to a stone's throw, our cruise-boat turned away. Hey, I thought, that's not right!

It was just one of the many places I spent time on this lake. Three camps, several cabins and at least two camping grounds were places I laid my head in the many years I lived in this neck of the woods. And though we spent ninety minutes on the lake today, we didn't pass any of them. No surprise, however, since Lake Cour d'Alene is a very long L-shaped lake.

But with the sun overhead and the water churning out behind a boat, it felt like home to be on this lake. You see, far down that L and around to the right is the camp where Beve spent many summers and where I gave my life to Jesus the summer before I started high school. Because of that, and because of the many times I returned to that same camp for Young Life weekend camps in high school and college, I feel a very special connection to this lake. It's a part of my spiritual landscape, you might say. Or perhaps you might even say it's where "my heart was set on pilgrimage," as it says in Psalm 84.

These days are good.

One other thing:
Day after tomorrow, Beve will go home and I will head back south to Pullman. My sister's father-in-law died the night before last. He was born and lived and died on the same piece of land in the very same house. His whole life in a single place. That's a continuity we don't often see in our mobile world. There are a whole lot one might say about this man, but they are not my words to say. I am not his family, after all. But I know this: he not only loved that land but he lived it. It showed in his face--the rugged ridges of the Palouse were mapped in his weathered face, the dust of the unplowed fields in the grit on his cheeks. I  never saw him without a cowboy shirt and a cowboy hat (unless he was in church); and if there's anyone who might have died with his boots on, you'd guess it to be this old horse trader (and he really was--a horse trader, I mean!). Yes, he loved the land, and lived it. Every day of his life.



Monday, July 16, 2012

Down memory lane

A quick post because I'm in the middle of something...

Our annual week with Beve's closest childhood friends. This summer we're on the eastern side of our great state in the home of the college prof and his wife, the nurse. They are, as always, hospitable, gentle hosts, sprinkling welcome and grace with the seasonings on the food they serve us. Last night we sat in their lovely refurbished back patio and garden, created by the hands of a man who makes his living with his thoughtful words, finished for his wife who nurtures for a living, because she's been working overtime in ways he could not share. So creating a garden was something he could do. It's as good a gift as any I've seen in a long time! The work, the product he did out of his weakness, not his strength. Yes, that's a gift.

And today, we drove south to the place where our joint memories begin. Four of the six of us in that Honda Pilot lived within three-ish blocks of each other while we were growing up and the men who are still close began that friendship in  Jefferson elementary school. It's been six years since any other than Beve or I have been there so today we drove through the fields ripening toward harvest to all the important places on the four hills of our hometown.

On Military Hill, we stopped first at remodeled Jefferson, which looks nothing like the school where we trudged the halls as children. We pointed out where we wore orange vests and held flags as crossing guards. Beve and the professor (and ME!!!) played cards on someone's steep steps. Then we drove further up the hill and stopped to take pictures at each of our childhood homes--the professor's on Joe St, Beve's on one side and mine on the other side of Janet St, and the Business man's up on Orion. Over that hill, in the high school we looked through the athletic cases, trying to find their names on the trophies while the janitors were trying to lock up the place. All along we told stories, remembered moments, listened to histories as if we hadn't heard them a dozen times before.

Up on College Hill, we went to the two most important places--first, the gyms where the boys (now men) spent every waking hour playing basketball (and I spent many an hour in the nearby pool).  Those boys would play in one gym until they were kicked out, wander to the next, then down the line until they'd used up their options--beating college teams all along the way.  We checked out the hallways where we'd wait to talk to our Young Life leader, looked down on an empty swimming pool where I'd taught lessons and guarded during the summers of my college years, and the full one where we'd spent our middle school years swimming (or not!) because it was a free place to gather and mingle with the opposite sex.  Along the way came out stories we didn't know, lights were turned on for the non-natives among us. Then it was on to Ferdinand's Dairy to get ice-cream because such rich creamy ice-cream is to die for. I watched, of course, having developed a dairy allergy (my mouth now sadly itches when I eat it!) but the others enjoyed the glorious treat.

Then we headed across to Pioneer Hill, where, as we were driving past the home of our old Young Life leader, his wife was just standing on the porch.  "It was God-ordained," one of us said as we backed up. She invited us in for a few minutes to visit with her and the old Texan himself.  She's frail in body but quick in mind, and he still looks strong of body like the old football star he was but is now frail in mind. We had a wonderful visit with them. She was delighted to see us and he beamed as well, though he didn't say much. I think he knew me--but it was iffy at first. At the end, we got a few photos, and the professor suggested we pray for them. Afterwards I told them that our children have them to thank. That we have raised our children to know Him is due, in no small part, to this old Texan and his wife. "It's because of you."  He gave me a hug. "You've made me cry, Carolyn," he said.
"I love you, Sam." I told him. "I always will."
Walking out the door with his wife, she said, "You always had your eye on [Beve], right from the beginning."  I just smiled.  I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth--which is, "No, I actually had my eye on your son for about most of high school, he just didn't look back."
We took a last picture of them standing on their front steps and then we were off to our next stop--our middle school which was also remodeled within an inch of its life and bears NO resemblance to the place we went other than the name.  We didn't even take a picture.

Down far side of that hill, though, we pulled into Crimson and Gray to do a little shopping and visiting with the owner, an old high school buddy. Well, mostly he was MY buddy, my best buddy, but these guys all knew him. So the prof and the businessman talked, while the rest of us wandered. I'd loved to have visited with him but today wasn't the time for that. We were on a mission.

But maybe the mission was simply finding whatever we might find in Pullman. Perhaps not having an agenda was enough of an agenda. We ate on the patio at the golf-course at the recommendations of the Texan's wife. The food was good, the wind began to get nippy, the conversation never stopped.  Worth the the price of admission was the view as well. The darkening sky, with its portents of storm, the trees of Round-up beginning to twist and swing. The smell of rain in grass. I love all these things. They're all part of the symphony that is summer on the Palouse.

After dinner, we headed north in the middle of the Creator's idea of a fireworks display--lightning! It was pretty spectacular. More than most. We were cozy in our car, singing old Young Life songs, and watching God do better what man can only imitate.

These are such days as most people only dream about. Friends like these. Memories like these. A few weeks ago, SK went to a wedding with her three best friends from college. The pastor told that young couple, "You haven't even met those people who will become your closest friends."
When SK called me a couple of days later, having just taken two of them to the airport, she was sad, thinking of them, thinking that maybe this man was right. "What do you think?" she asked.
I think this week should be answer enough. These men are real friends,  Friends for life. From fifth grade onward, they were friends.

Then we got back here, climbed into the hot tub and sank. Aw, Ahhh! Yes, just like that (at least for me).

What can tomorrow bring when today has brought such a rich feast of memories? We can only imagine. Looking back was sweet--like the creamiest of ice-cream from our hometown dairy. And tomorrow...there will be sweetness in the being together as well. Because tomorrow, together: it's always sweet.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Now that's profound

Another Random Journal Day Link-up!

I've been VERY, VERY busy here. Busy as one might be if she was playing host in this country and the next, to out-of-town-and-country family. Loving every minute of it, but also somewhat pre-occupied, so forgive me if I'm a bit behind in posting.
Read that to mean, we went to Vancouver yesterday, had a wonderful time in the sunshine, capped it off watching "Taming of the Shrew" at their famous BARD ON THE BEACH festival, which is held each summer in a pretty spectacular setting, with water and trees and mountains as the backdrop to the action on stage. It's really worth the drive (though admittedly, at 11 PM, it only takes about an hour to get from that downtown park to our home in Bellingham).
But we were SO exhausted by all that fun we had to just take it easy today. Sit by the pool and laugh, drink iced-tea and talk.  Yep, I said pool. An above-ground pool right on our front patio. We're not tacky at all. Just like a pool with a view. And actually, we've a pretty secluded patio, to tell you the truth.

Anyway, that's all beside the point. My point is that we're really trying to suck the marrow of life from this summer, as Thoreau would put it. To savor every morsel.

And this leads me to the journal entry I found tonight when I quickly poked my head into the room where my journals are housed.  Oddly, I pulled out the one which spans the longest period in my writing life, from May of 1987 to Valentine's Day of 1991.  My family will quickly understand why my writing was so spotty during that period.  Those were the years of babies for me.  In fact the first page of this journal was written when my 6 week old son was in the ICU with the pneumonia that threatened his life, and our youngest child still two years from being born. So my writing took a back seat. Or maybe it wasn't even in the car.

This entry, oddly, which I opened to (I really do try to simply randomly open the journal to where it falls, but often it simply falls to the middle, as this did!), was also in July. So I wrote these words 23 years ago Saturday.

July 15, 1989

Recently I reread (a novel I read ten years ago), and was frustrated, even irritated by her forced profundities. Every uttered phrase carried  weightiness, each character was highly accomplished in some art and they all drank "consumme'"...it got to be too much.  Life is not profound.  Trees fall, are cut in our yard, not symbols but because they dig into our sewer lines. We dress, bathe and diaper our children and consider it a privilege to shower alone. This is the REAL stuff of life, ma'am, if you don't mind me saying.
What really gets to me is that I once did feel like life was like such a novel. Or I wanted it to be and tried to create the words to match the life. And, at 23, I'd have gazed at this 32-year-old self with a bit of arrogant scorn and even be appalled that I've given in. But I was wrong. THIS is the life that counts. Whether I see it or not. That's why the cutting of a tree or the painting of a living room can even bring exquisite joy--because they're part of a real life.
When a little girl learns to pump on a swing, when a small boy thinks getting his hair cut will hurt because 'cuts hurt', when a baby rolls over for the first time and her big sister is there to watch--THESE are the weighty moments that make up a life. They are like small scents of joy in the moments, and bottled up to remember later. Someday, when they are grown and I am alone and drinking my 'consumme' and listening to a Bach fugue, I'll think back on these moments and know what has been profound.
Sometimes I tell E that I want her to stay just as she is and she says, "I can't because God made me to grow." Now that's profound.  The purpose, the point, is to grow. That's why she is. And that's why I'm here--to mother them in the process.  And...God made me to grow, too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Time-Traveling Tuesday, musing in London

October 13, 1982
8 AM
We should vow never to discuss our emotions at the end or beginning of the day. Last night I lay wide awake wondering why I'm doing this. I wanted it so desperately...but now I'm not so sure. It's all too different, too foreign. And we're still only in London. Maybe if we had a place to call home we'd feel more relaxed than at this hostel where we can only park ourselves before and after certain hours of the day, and must high-tail out of here on time each morning.
Anyway, all during the day, my thoughts are fine, my emotions at rest. But when the lights go off each night and I'm lying in this bunk staring at the ceiling of a barren room, something goes off within my spirit as well. I'm still afraid of the monsters in the dark, I guess. The monsters that are maybe just my own thoughts.

Later--The British museum. Something of a disappointment, to tell the truth. I'm not much into Egyptian art--although the mummies sparked of something fascinating. To imagine the real people they were, the lives they lived with opulence surrounding them. And somehow the grotesque also strikes a chord, perhaps. A bit of left-over obsession with the emptiness of death (yikes, borrowed from SKC's words here!)?
Autographed copies of books, letters, rough drafts in K. G.'s library fascinated me.  Somehow seeing their writing gives me a sense of them.  I wanted to linger, to have the privilege of reading in the reading room. And the Augustus room, one of the many Caesars: "And it came to pass in the days of Caesar Augustus..." Statues in marble, all created to the image of the man who wanted to kill the baby Jesus. Celebrating, honoring the one who was first to try to kill the one who always intended to be killed.
Etchings. I've seen them now; no man need invite me up to his room. Once a person has seen Rembrandt's, all others pale. And cartoons by Michaelangelo (which are not what I think of; ie. silly little drawings, but oversized sketches).
And it rains. As it should in London somehow.

I got a haircut. Rather punk-ish, so I don't have to worry about curling this flat mess. Tomorrow we shall wear skirts and leg warmers and maybe look less American, though sort of Bobsey-twinish.

Maybe the trick is not to write about it, just to ignore that through the paper-thin walls a world is being lived in a language I don't understand. Or ignore that a woman painted up as if dressed for a masquerade (or an evening on the corner) spoke to me and I didn't understand a single word, though our language is supposedly the same. Or ignore that people with limps and canes are not only the products of one society but of every. Shall I ignore that the mentally retarded who stayed in the hostel made me miss my own?  How do I get past what I see--the apparent costumes of a nation--to write of who I am as a process of change through observation? How do I authentically make this writing a representation of the swirling thoughts within?
Dickens' house, for example--his ability to write in such a small home surrounded by ten children. His diverse interests (he had been an actor), his infidelities. My heroes continue to disappoint with their clay feet.
Shelley's letters.
 TS Eliot's words: "...images of broken dreams."
SKC writes of poetry, mimicking James Joyce. She wants a red crayon to cross out--revision is her friend. I write letters, obsessed with the flow of words, intimidated by her talent!!! It's not that I've forgotten poetry. But that play was a sonnet, seeing Big Ben at dusk a canon back in time, and watching people wander "through half deserted streets..." a muse I cannot answer. How do I add to such brilliance? How do I do anything but stand in awe of the moments without diminishing just being here? Living out the intrinsic poetry of being. Perhaps living out my own sonnet, a love song sung for no one but Jesus. 1 John 3: 1 "The world does not love me..." 1 Corinthians 6: 12 "NO compromise..."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wind break

While the rest of the country has been melting from the blazing heat, up here where we live at the northwest border of the continental US, we've finally had weather resembling summer. For real. Just in time, too. Yesterday even felt downright HOT. But by hot, I mean almost 80 degrees so we all just sat in the shade, still outside on our deck. I realize what a luxury it is to live where one doesn't have to have air-conditioning, apart from the air actually cooling itself.

We were warm enough yesterday to think today might be a good day to take Grampie for a walk down at the marina. There's a lovely walking path there--in fact the view at the top of this blog was taken at sunset during one such walk took with our kids after a birthday dinner a few summers ago.  But it has to be pretty hot to venture such a thing with a man whose bones are porous and whose brains are little better (or maybe it's the other way around).  And we're not rookies, Beve and I. We knew enough to take a blanket, a hat and a fleece jacket for him, even with the down vest he wears almost every day (even yesterday!).

Later Beve said he should have known as soon as he tried getting Grampie into the car...but that's hindsight. It took just a hoist, a couple of Allen wrenches, breaking his legs at the knees, and a few grunts from Grampie to get the job done. AND--at least one of those things is true. Even as we drove down to the water, Grampie had trouble keeping his eyes open.
"Are you having a bad day, Dad?" Beve asked him.
"Nope."
"Are you tired?"
"I guess I am." This, too, should have warned us.
 Getting him OUT of the car at the water was even worse. Getting him out is always worse, but the wind was whipping up this morning and the girls dressed in shorts and t-shirts, who'd arrived ahead of us, were covered with goosebumps. When we finally got him settled in his chair with the hat covering his face and the blanket tucked in around him, he looked around and said, "Why the hell are we doing this?"

We were kind of asking the same thing ourselves. But being the intrepid pioneers that we are, we pressed on into the wind. While Beve pushed, on one side of his chair SK held his hat onto his head so the wind wouldn't whip it off and I crouched on the other, holding the quilt over his hands so they'd be kept warm. We must have looked like a very chubby, semi-disabled centipede rolling along. Now and then one of us would find a wind-break--a bush, or just a strange spot on the walkway-- so we'd stop in the warmth of the absent wind. But Grampie was just bewildered by the whole affair. Really bewildered. There's a statue at the marina's park of a fisherman with rope hoisted over his shoulder. Beneath it are the names of those from our area who have been lost in their work on and in the sea.  As we stood reading, Grampie said, "What are we looking at?" Even when we explained he couldn't see it. Then he lowered his head again and drifted off.

A few minutes later, when he looked blurrily up at me, I asked Grampie, "Do you think we're pretty silly to be out in this wind?"
"Yep," he said. "Pretty stupid." And that was not only the most lucid thing he said all day, but also exactly what we needed to hear. The kind of thing a dad should say to get his kids doing the right thing.
So we turned our back on the sea and headed for the cars.  Left a note for the two who'd gone running, and hurried to the nearest coffee shop to wait with hot beverages in hand.  But even the hot coffee failed to rouse Grampie from the near fog he'd been dwelling in all morning.

We took him back to his residence and he went inside with Beve with no complaint.
Yesterday he sat on our deck and practically shook his fist at the world, saying, "I'm a free man!" as he argued about why he shouldn't have to live in that place any longer.
"Can you take care of yourself?" I asked him. He folded his shirt in one careful fold and answered, "I guess I can."
But today is a different day. Today, the lights were dimmer. And the world a more confusing place. Even a park by boats in a harbor--like places he's known since he was a child living in a town on this same body of water, with similar smells and boats and views--was like being on the moon. Alien and frightening.

We left him to his small room with his few momentoes and simple routine. And wonder who we'll meet tomorrow when we go to visit him there. And wonder who he'll know when we come walking through the door.

This visit from our family couldn't have come at a better time. It's hard to even express how important, how valuable, how sweet it is to have this time with him and the larger family who loves him. And to have them here with us, not only so that we aren't facing it alone now, but so that when we do have to face it alone, they will have this context to understand better. Each day when I wake up in a house jam-packed with people I lie in my bed for a moment in complete joy, thankful that I have another morning with them, another day when we will sit in the sun together drinking ubiquitous cups of coffee (those Finns and their coffee, I tell you, even we NWerners have NOTHING on them!). It's a quiet, gentle beginning--and ending, come to think of it--to each day. And it's community. And God has fashioned it for us.

Now that I think about it, the presence of these people in our home this summer has been like a wind-break for Beve and me. A place of protection and warmth from the wind that has been whipping at us this year. A place still enough that we can gather strength to hear God, settle down from the work it takes to simply maintain in such weather, and be. Simply be for a space of time. The only stupidity (in Grampie's vernacular) would be to hurry from this place. To not stop and give Him thanks for the abundance of such grace.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lace

In about ten days is the birthday of the last of 'the girls', my close-knit group of high school friends, who I've celebrated this year by writing of them. I've missed myriad birthdays in the decades since we were baking cakes and taking pictures together, but writing of them is what I can do...it's my gift to them.  But because I'll  likely be swamped in ten days (on the 18th) I thought I'd write while there is a free moment. Strike while the iron is hot, as the saying goes. So here's my early birthday reflections to the woman we know as Lace.

Lace is the smallest of the girls in stature. That's what you might notice if you met us. She sometimes has to shop in the kids' department, when Petites come too large. But her size is just about the only thing small about her. When I think of her, I rarely think of small.

She 'joined' us late, in a sense. That is, she was one of the two who didn't go to middle school with the rest of us. But she quickly found a home among us.  Before we could drive, her parents were glad to drive some of us to all the away football and basketball games, and I'm not talking about a simple drive across town. We lived in the isolation of rural eastern Washington where the nearest town was eight miles away across the border to Idaho and the farthest opponent was over two hours away. It was no simple matter to drive to games in those games, but Lace and her parents gladly loaded up their large boat of a sedan and, as certain as the US mail, got through in any weather.

Lace was also the first of us to become independent. Her parents moved away during our senior year in high school, and to our amazement (and secret envy!), Lace was moved into a basement apartment of her own. It was just about the coolest thing we could imagine, glimpsing that adult world before the rest of us had the chance.  But her parents knew Lace could handle it because she's responsible. That's what you have to know about her. In that small person is a woman with a backbone of steel who does what she says she'll do, whose word is her bond. She doesn't have to be asked twice either.

She's a loyal one, our Lace is. Friendships matter. Family more so. Lace is the only one of us who hasn't had her own child, but she's raised children. Nephews and nieces, grandnieces. She couldn't be more committed to them if they were her own, because, after all, they really are. And she's that kind of daughter, as well. She's the daughter who's present, in every way necessary, to her parents. There. Just there when they need her.

She's been that kind of friend too. She's always the first to respond to our emails about dates for our summer get-togethers, and is the one to make sure the more scatter-brained among us (like me) have put it on our calendar. She is the first to jump up and offer to help in the kitchen and the last to leave the dishes undone. When one of us went through a pretty bad time a few years ago, she was there not to give advice (which would have been my instinct!) but with paint and a paintbrush, ready to give her home a face-lift. Her practical, thoughtful gift meant more than my long, conversation would have. This is Lace--practical and present.

But she can laugh. She does laugh. We all do, of course. It's part of our story together. Part of our long history. And Lace has good stories to add to our collection. You should hear them. There's one about a hot day, a (different) painting project...on second thought, never mind, it's not mine to tell. But it makes me laugh just to think of it.

So I can learn from Lace. I do. She humbles me by her gifts on constancy--in work, in friendship, in family. She humbles me by her ability to speak her mind without giving offence. I was in awe of her independence when she was young and am in awe by her loyalty as a grown woman. In some ways, we couldn't be more different, but in the most profound ways--the ways that count--I'd give anything to be more like her. And I'm thankful for the example of her large presence in her small person all these years.

I love you, Lace.
Happy early Birthday!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Noble Character

No one's ever called me a Proverbs 31 woman. Now I realize that there's a large swath of Christian women for whom this would be the ultimate compliment, for me, it's just plain laughable. It's just too far-fetched. I don't get up before dawn to provide food for my family, even at gun point. And I can count on no fingers the number of times I've worked 'eagerly' with flax and wool (I'm actually allergic to wool--which is pretty convenient, come to think of it!). Though I have to admit, if I was fortunate enough to have servants, I'd probably do just about anything--feed, clothe, wash their feet--to keep them happy in my household.

Then there's the whole business portion of Proverbs 31. Again, about as close to me as the farthest corner of the galaxy from here. Buying a field, planting a vineyard? I don't think so. Trading profitably? Another absolutely not--in fact, Beve often wishes I'd sell some of my quilts which I insist on giving away. And wants to have garage sales, the very suggestion of which give me hives. My quilts aren't for sale. Not to me. The ONE I sold left a bitter taste in my mouth, until I discovered that it actually went to someone in great need spiritual care. My point is that I don't like to take money for stuff that will benefit others. I can't tell you why this is so for me, it just is.
And then there's working vigorously. Hmm. One of the truths of my life is that my physical body has been rendered weak. There is more atrophy than muscle on my left side.

And so it goes. I really could go through the entire passage, phrase by phrase, showing how little my life is like the 'wife of Noble Character.'  But finally, toward the end, we get to the crux of the matter, "She is clothed with strength and dignity. She can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue...her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."

Even if I never do a single thing listed practically in this passage, if I am clothed with strength and dignity, if I can laugh at the days to come and speak with wisdom, my children and husband WILL call me blessed. I believe this. It is not a matter of what I do but who I am that makes me a woman of noble character. This is what I believe, and it's what has been my talisman as a wife and mother when Proverbs 31 is trotted out, as it is from time to time. You know what I mean, if you're a woman.

But I've learned something in the last ten days. Something of a practical matter that speaks to this passage as my more simple life hasn't taught me. The lives of the woman to whom this passage was written very likely had many children and dependents in her household from whom she was responsible. She had to work from pre-dawn hours to late at night just to keep up, just to feed and water and make sure everything went smoothly. So, in these days I've realized how much it takes to keep a household of ten working. The machinery of a household doesn't care for itself. I have plenty of help. Young women offer repeatedly to be sous-chefs, they rise to do dishes without being prompted. But the floors need sweeping, water jugs need refilling, the refrigerator must be re-stocked and re-arranged to fit the larger quantity of food necessary to feed this family.

But I am not the only Proverbs 31 woman here. In fact, I'd say we all are. Just this afternoon, the girls helped Beve and his brother shovel bark on flower beds so we could get a car into the driveway for Grampie. And tonight, Grampie had a rather disasterous episode which required emergency care in the bathroom.  One might call it combat care, which I cannot do without feeling a bit sick myself. A niece stepped in without flinching. Another instantly did the dishes. If we're a machine, we're a well-oiled one. A Proverbs 31 well-oiled one. I don't know how we did it, my Finnish sister-in-love and I. But with God's help, we raised daughters who are women of noble character. We're watching them become this summer. Together in the kitchen. Together with their Grampie who now doesn't even know their names. Together with each other (three of whom are outside tonight sleeping in a tent, with all our deck furniture's cushions piled inside as their beds).  And with the baby my niece brought from Pullman just for them to play with for a few days (and herself, of course--it was good to see her too, really it was!).  As a mom, more that being such a woman myself, I love seeing it in my daughters.
A [woman] of noble character, who can find?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Invasion

Yep, today is once again, that wonderful time of the week when I go dumpster-diving treasure-seeking from my cache of journals. But because we've had about a dozen people in the house, limiting my access to this bookcase of journals, I am culling again from the same one I pulled out last week. But don't miss the other very talented writers and artists who are also participating in this wonderful link-up. Each week, more and more people join in the fun, and we discover community among the riches of our present and past lives. It's truly worth checking out over at Dawn's blog Beneath the Surface: Breath of Faith

Now to my cull this week. Again I find myself in February of 2005. Again just some random day (a Saturday in this instance). Stick with me for this, it's long and a bit unwieldy. But, because I decided to post it in its entirety, you'll get a pretty strong idea of the flight my brain can take. I open my hands and let it go:


I wonder what it would be like to have the same handwriting all the time...and what analysts would make of the fact that I don't.
Only one of the fifty things buzzing around inside this morning--the Mission trip and all the accompanying organizing; OA (my book); ___ and their marriage break-up, people splitting up in general; and old friend who emailed last night; Dad's death which makes Mom's life so much harder (on me); my flabby stomach and the probability that no matter how much weight I lose it'll still be flabby and the improbability that I'll actually lose that weight anyway; how early Beve got up on a Saturday morning and why on earth he felt the need; whether all my stuff from my old computer was saved from it; if the tea water is hot.
And it's just 7:45 AM.
Actually such thoughts swirl through so quickly it's hard to write them down, and takes longer to read than to think. Everyone has such random brain functions, I suppose. Sometimes mine are more controlled. Sometimes they have more of Christ in them.

And that's what I'm asking for this too early, gray morning--to be controlled today, Lord. To be able to say with all impunity, "The love of Christ [controls] me. This is my desire--to seek You first and thoroughly, to be pervaded by You. To have self corroded, so to speak. Odd word for Holy Spirit work, but perhaps fully appropriate. Hollow out the old, the sin, the flesh in me. Make Carolyn NOTHING but a shell in which You can run, shine and glow through every hole. Yes, corrode me, Holy Spirit. Only fill me up to flow out of me.

Let me use the words of disease and ills of the world to explain His work. Maybe that is the best meaning for  the Genesis word of "you meant it for evil, God used it for good." It makes such counter-intuitive sense. Like the gospel so often does. Corrosion, Infection. Even cancer. Turn the cells of me (good in medical parlance--which in this context would be the worldly human cells of self) into cancerous cells (cells controlled by something NOT organic to me but outside of me--YOU!) Yes, be a cancer in my soul, in my spirit. But a cancer to new life.

I know--I KNOW--that many would balk at such language. It rubs wrongly to use such a word, such a thought, to describe HIS holy work. But don't we have to die to self? And perhaps we do well to remember that He does want to invade us, because we are desperately in need of that invading. Secondly, words are morally neutral. Of course. We imbue them with meaning. Cancer only has the power to hurt--as a word--because we chose it to describe a disease. The process can be (positively--in every sense) useful as a description of many kinds of work.

My point, of course, is that I need Him to invade ME. This morning. This moment. Every which way He can.

Oh say can you see?

Oh say can you see...
While this large unruly mob of a family took a drive up our local mountain today, I stayed home, hoping to make order from the chaos around here, as well as order from the cacophony in my temples.
The mountain, Mt Baker, is a legitimate, snow-covered mountain, the third highest in the state, at almost 11,000 feet elevation.

And the dawn's early light (though it wasn't dawn, it was light!) that they could see from the mountain was worth the drive. There was snow up there, even on this warm and sunny 4th of July, and their summer clothes weren't quite sufficient for what they found, but the views were breath-taking. On the way home they stopped to take picture of the river running off toward the sea with melting snow making it fast and furious. The day was fair, the company good and even Grampie was happy to be taking a drive. In fact, Grampie thought he needed to help Beve with the navigation toward our home. Nothing like a 'backseat driver' from an Alzheimer's patient. It would have been interesting to find out where they'd have ended up if Beve had followed his dad's directions.

Oh, say can you see?
When they got back we parked ourselves on the back deck and watched games on our yard. Grampie told me later that he'd been laughing at me because "you're really bad at them."  He has completely lost his ability to be diplomatic--in the past week, he's asked each of his older two sons how much they weigh these days. And all around us, neighbors were also preparing for their parties, of a shorter duration than ours, of course. Leave it to this family to do everything super-sized, even making a 4th of July celebration last a month! While we were watching plastic American flags hung from deck railings, and smelling hamburgers being grilled on BBQs, those in houses around us were undoubtedly staring down into our party, watching us...watching for example, as three of us tried, without Beve's able presence, to move Grampie from the chaise lounge to his wheelchair.

After dinner there was a moment of real blankness in him. A moment when I had to burst a bubble so poignant I felt like a villain to do it. Beve got a call from a certain man. A man who was married to his sister, Glo. This man, PA, is on the beach near here with his girlfriend and invited us to come out for the evening.
Grampie was eating his dessert of strawberry shortcake at the time, but asked (a bit less coherently than this, but this is what he meant), "Isn't it a little awkward to have Glo, PA and his girlfriend all together like that?"
I was in the kitchen at the time but my sister-in-love alerted me to this question.
Can you see the problem?
I sat down beside him.
"Grampie," I said quietly. "Gloria died. Remember?"
The saddest look crossed his face. Like it had just happened. For a single moment I thought he might cry, though he never has before. Then he rubbed his hand down its contours and said, "Gadfrey, I'm all screwed up."

Imagine the nightmare of reliving such pain again and again. The revisiting of your deepest losses afresh each time you're reminded. This is the reality of Alzheimer's.

We think we have it bad at times. I know I do. And we take for granted what we celebrate on our Independence Day. But the rocket's red glare is the glare of war. Fireworks, though spectacular in the night, are evocative of battle fire. Guns and blasts from cannons. Of great loss. Again and again. There is repeated loss in the history of freedom. We who have lived in free countries don't have a clue what this really mean. Those who have never fought can hardly understand the price fighting takes, even if it doesn't wound beyond the psyche.  My niece, fresh off the plane from southern Israel, spend six months in a place where she learned what living in a war zone means. It means "Hell, yes, I was scared." Only the most reckless among us wouldn't be afraid in such conditions as she lived through in one terrible, life-altering week.

So...
Oh, say can you see...
We sing those words, and watch the red glare and the cloud emanating from each burst of pyrotechnic wizardry and we're in awe of the brilliance. We applaud the beauty. Or we buy our own life-sized imitations to  set off in our own yards. And barely stop to think that we do this as imitation of the real thing. Of men and women who have had to set such fuses, lit such bombs for our sake. For the sake of the whole world, in a sense.  We should sing to that. We should take a moment and stand in silence for them.

Or maybe, maybe not only find it beautiful but know this day is built on blood.

And that is what makes it count all the more.




Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Picturing a party

 A few pictures from the last few days of our 'Lumber Sparty,' as my Finnish sister-in-love calls it.
First, the whole clan circled around our beloved patriarch. Grampie was happily taking a nap on our deck when we interrupted him for our photo session. By the way, E couldn't resist hauling Jamaica into her arms for the picture. Jamaica is enough of a pretty girl that she was happy to oblige. Cade, on the other hand, was sound asleep under Grampie's chaise lounge and far be it from us to awaken a sleeping puppy.
Two of my favorite people. My Finnish sister-in-love, whom I haven't seen in a dozen years and middle brother's wife whom lives halfway across the state. Oh, the fun we had back in our early years together. And the ringleader was always Beve's beloved sister, Glo, who we lost three years ago. We've felt her loss keenly this week. This keenly:

These are the four granddaughters, Glo's four nieces. And yes, that's an actual tatoo on SK's neck. We all really miss the life-of-every-party, Gloria. She'd be reveling in this time as much as Grampie is. Maybe more.
I've always told you that I dwell in the land of giants; and this picture proves it. The scrimp here is my 6'3" baby brother. In his real life, he never feels like the smallest man in the room. But these days...well, a picture definitely paints a thousand words.



 This was our strawberry expedition. And can I just say, none of us have grown tired of them yet. Today we had a wonderful Finnish feast with a to-die-for dessert, but tomorrow it'll be strawberries as usual. And I don't think we'll be complaining.
One last picture to remind us why we've gathered. He might not exactly remember but we know why we're here. Tonight he was about as confused as he's been, couldn't even pull up either Beve's or my name, and thought we were in some kind of facility we'd rented for the duration. But it made him talkative and professorial and reminded us of who he was at when he was directing life from his big desk at the helm of the PE department at WSU. So we just went with everything he said and enjoyed the journey wherever it took us.

Time-Travel Tuesday # 2

Time-travel Tuesday #Two:
12 October, 1982
Woke up this morning disoriented, having dreamed of a wheatfield world. It took a moment--what camp am I at this time with all these bunks and all these girls I don't know talking on top of each other too early for my brain?-and then the dawn broke. London. A youth hostel in the heart of Kensington. Today the world awaits us. We shall see Piccadilly, the Thames. Then north to the British Museum to pour over books, walk through the past, wonder how it touches our future.

Today. Hmm. I'm rather 'seen' out. Victoria and Albert's' the National Portrait Gallery, not to mention the Thames, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey. And innumerous people flocking everywhere. Bought a loaf of bread at Harrod', Saw Covent Garden--
and finally the play, "Children of a Lesser God."
The issue of deafness. Sound within silence. "How can I tell you what it is to be me?" It was a beautiful play. I do not want to speak of it because it was far too moving and I'd only make shambles of any attempt. We walked out of it in our own kind of silence, though our ears work perfectly fine, stumbled back to the tube, came back to this hostel where I try to make my way through the experience. How do we let others see us? Are we a noisy people? I know I am...too often to feel comfortable in my comfortable clothes.


I'm so aware of being an American. My pants aren't tight enough, my shoes are the wrong kind, my hair too long and simply cut. I'm overly friendly and just plain open. Innocent of how to live in a city such as this.  Londoners hurry about in their own lives. Perhaps I do when I live in mine. But here I watch and wonder.


I love literature. I know nothing of the evolution of the monarchy in England, have no concept of the wars and struggles unrelated to our country's--though I saw plenty of portraits depicting them today--but through the great writers, whom I already love, as far back as Chaucer, as near as CS Lewis and Tolkein, perhaps I   can know this country. I saw portraits of Milton, Shakespeare, Dryden, Dunne, Lord Byron, Dickens, the Brontes, Carlyle, George Eliott, Fielding, Dante Rossetti, the Brownings, et. al. The list boggles.


But so far, I find myself keeping a diary. Soon perhaps I'll have a chance to write. Maybe to digest some of this. I feel like squealing every time I see a new sight. It's 'bloody' awful to be a tourist. Perhaps once we get through this we'll get to know the country; at the moment I have no idea what England even looks like. For now, I just have a sense that I'm shirking the responsibility of turning what I see into actual writing.  Creativity stares out of frames, off a stage, behind glass cabinets, and I can only record what I see. I don't know what any of it means yet. And if I don't know what it means, how will this trip become anything more than any other sight-seeing trip for any other person who has gone before me?  Living without meaning. without comprehending a deeper sense indefinitely scares me. I'm not sure I can manage. Well manage, yes, but not without missing home and my own space and well-ordered breathing rhythm. SK and I will need space to be quiet, too, so we don't simply mirror each other. Or speak each other's thoughts. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grampie's chicken story

We  have become the kind of people who not only have a trailer parked in their carport, but actually have people living in it. To make it sound more high-falutin', we' call that trailer "The Rainier Room". As SK would say, 'that's klassy with a K.' And w'er adding to our number again this week. People welcome and beloved. But our small home is so far beyond bursting at the seams we're like a big beer belly after Thanksgiving dinner, just trying to sit down in an easy chair. Seriously about to pop a button or two.

The best thing is that we are very, very helpful folks here. Especially the young adult women who push up their sleeves and climb over each other to help in the kitchen, wash up, and move chairs whenever necessary, making everything a well-oiled machine five days in. I have to say, I can't imagine how my mother-in-law did it when we landed in her house in droves back when these same young adults were little people, requiring relentless attention and making their parents too exhausted to give her any help at all. And she did it with so much grace and effortlessness, I hardly even noticed how hard it must have been.

Today I notice. And am thankful for her. And thankful for those who populate my home tonight with all their differing abilities and temperaments, making this easy and fun and as stress-free as possible. Considering. And I pray they're finding it exactly the same way.

Especially because late this afternoon, just after Beve's oldest brother, who's been down with a ferocious cold since they arrived, came out into the living room freshly showered, Grampie began unbuttoning his shirt. He was bound and determined that it was his turn next. Though I was in the kitchen, mid-dinner fixing, it soon became clear that only my more-known voice would be able to stop him from disrobing right there and then. The most glaring problem is that we don't have a shower handicap-accessible, but the immediate issue was that dinner bell was about to ring. And middle son was just pulling into our driveway. So I talked him into a shirt change and hair-brushing. Then Beve came in to help lift him into his wheelchair.

And as he reached back to grab the waistband of Grampie's pants, he discovered why his dad was so fired up to take that shower. Beve lifted his hand to show me and we immediately put dinner on hold and tried to figure out how to navigate the necessary clean-up.  In the end (no pun intended) Beve and our Finnish niece, M, who has spent the last six months volunteering with autistic adults in Beersheva, Israel (doing just such work as this) took Grampie into the bathroom and cleaned him up, put him into clean clothes. Not quite a shower, but close.

Then we sat down to dinner and began talking our favorite Grampie stories. It's a pastime we've spent plenty of time doing over the last few days. One of the wonderful things that happens as we tell such stories is that at some point in the telling, Grampie himself clicks in. The always slightly absent look in his eyes disappears and suddenly there he is. Present, remembering with us. Almost (though not quite) telling the story better than we could tell it for him. And there is one story that always, always gets told in such moments. Tonight someone suggested that I post this particular story on my blog, because it's a story worth telling.

So here goes:
When Grampie and his younger brother were boys, their mother gave them 25 cents to buy a chicken for dinner. When I say chicken, I mean a live chicken, of course--she would do the killing, plucking and cleaning herself. It was not only cheaper that way, but the more common way country housewives bought their chickens in that navy town in the depression if they had enough money to buy chickens at all. Anyway, she sent them down to buy that chicken, which only cost 15 cents, so she told them they could take the other two nickels and go to the nickel picture show with them on the way home.

So they bought the chicken. Walked on over to the movie house. Then the great dilemma. What to do with this live chicken during the movie?  Grampie, being as large a boy as he is a man, decided he would put the live chicken inside his dungaree overalls where it'd be safe and quiet (and hidden). This was a fine plan, they thought.

Except that they got into the movie house and began to worry that the chicken might die from being stuffed inside Grampie's pants. SO, being the brilliant boys that they were, they decided that the best plan would be for Grampie to open the fly of his pants and let the chicken stick its head out so it could breathe.

Yep. I kid you not.

A few minutes later, a couple of older women walked past these two young boys sitting there.
One turned to the other and said in absolute horror, "Do you see what I see?"
And the other one answered, "Oh Ethel, you've seen one, you've seen 'em all."

And...
as Grampie would say (did say tonight when we told it!),
That's a true story.