Thursday, August 30, 2012

Awkward and Awesome--Living with a Puppy

The Thursday 'Awkward and Awesome' list is something my daughter and niece have participated in along with bloggers of a certain age for a long time. By 'a certain age,' I mean those whom I have something like 25-30 years on. But never mind. Because I'm definitely aware of the two-sides of this huge, exuberant Labrodesian puppy we brought into our home, I thought I'd give this a whirl.

Awkward:

  • Having pillows, shoes, books, sheepshins, the TV remote, cell-phones on surfaces higher than he can reach. This puppy is a thief, and thinks it's a huge game to steal such objects so that we'll chase him around the house, out into the backyard. We were trying treats to lure him for a while, then closed the dog-door (and unfortunately forgot to re-open it at night, causing him to have an 'accident'--mea culpa!), and now are simply ignoring him. It seems to be working.
  • The way he wants to play all day, every day. He just doesn't seem to have an 'OFF' button. There's sooo much energy in a five-and-a-half-month old puppy. I'd forgotten. It wears all of us out, including Jamaica who's used to morning, afternoon and evening naps.  Either I've forgotten, or he's MORE energetic than our other dogs. It might be the Ridgeback in him. But it also might be the male hormones cursing through his growing body.
  • Related to that, his desire to play with Jamaica. Pouncing, pounding, pulling at her constantly. She plays until suddenly she stops. Then she snaps at him and he backs off for a moment or two and is back at it.
  • Also related, those male hormones. He's a growing, adolescent male dog. And we still have at least a few weeks to go before we can take care of this issue. But trust me, as soon as we hit the six-month mark, he's going to see "Dr. Snip-it," as Beve calls it.
  • He loves to play tug-of-war with his sticks and frisbee, and I have the scars to prove it. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body, but sometimes when he changes where he's holding the stick with his teeth, he lands on my hand, which, as you might guess, is not a very pleasant sensation. I've got to do something about this habit.
Awesome;
  • He's really, really adorable.  His coloring is amazing. It's hard not to smile at his face when he tips his head the way dogs always do.
  • He's really, really smart. He learns things quickly. Too quickly in some ways, but also has been easy to train. When he came to our house he ate like a 'hoover' and now knows he has to sit and wait for the 'okay' signal to eat. And he'll stay when I'm playing fetch the stick with him (though not when he's stolen something, of course, because of those dang treats--again my mistake). And three days ago we brought out a dog bed and told him that was where he was to sleep at night, and he has every night since. Yep, really, really smart.
  • He's decided I'm his person. I haven't had a dog do that since my beloved Jemima, and am surprised Kincade chose me in this houseful of people. But he has, and that's that. Though he doesn't slink to the ground when he's been disciplined the way Jamaica or Jemima, he always wants to climb on me for affection afterwards, and he's already getting pretty big for a lap dog.
  • Jamaica's a different dog with him around. More comfortable with everyone--people and dogs alike.  Of course, having so many people come and go this summer has helped too, but significantly, she no longer barks like crazy when Beve walks in the door after work because Cade doesn't. You can't imagine the difference this makes in our home. Peace, sweet peace!
I have to remind myself of the joys of having him because some days (like today) it just wears me out. Why in tarnation did we do this anyway? And I find myself thinking of how easy it would be to take him out to my brother's place and leave him there. BB needs a dog, right? And we could still have visitation rights. But I couldn't do it. He's ours. For worse and better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Taking over rooms

One of the things we talk about in our house isn't whether a person is an extrovert or introvert but from where a person gets their strength. The difference is significant.  To the naked and uninitiated eye, SK and I look like extroverts. In company we tend to be 'life-of-the-party" types.

I can't speak for SK but I'm so ready with wit and conversation that when I was with my girlfriends a couple of weeks ago, for example, before I'd been there an hour, one of them laughingly said I should go on the road with a comedy routine. And given the need I have for a part-time job at the moment, if one had a hope in heaven of actually making a living at it, I might actually do it. But I digress. My point is that when there are people around, a light is turned on for me. It isn't lost on those around me--obviously!--that I'm such a large personality. More than once, more that a dozen times maybe, I've had people close to me (even Beve) ask me to tone it down a little, tell me that I'm a little too loud, that I'm not allowing others the chance to talk.Unfortunately, my 'taking over rooms' happens unconsciously, not because I mean to take up all the air, but because it's instinctive. If you only knew how hard I try NOT to talk too much, NOT to dominate the crowd, NOT to have conversation while others are in the kitchen doing all the work. I really do get frustrated that I'm so instantly like this. But then we're driving home or I'm trying to settle down to sleep at night, and tossing and turning because, dang, I've gone and done it again. And rats, I wonder if I could have a personality transplant in order to be more reticent or something. So you'd guess, and wouldn't be wrong in a way, that I'm an extrovert.

However, it wears me out to be around people in ways it never wears out Beve. He flourishes and grows and wants more and more, and would invite someone else any old time for any old reason. Just come on in, no matter what, stay a while, we'll find a bed, make some food (cinnamon rolls for breakfast, calzones for dinner) sit a while on our decks. And I also love such moments. Or I've grown to love them, I can handle them until I can't a moment longer.  I can't to the point that my very body begins to rebel and aches from neck to toe and back again, like I've been carrying stress in every muscle from the sheer weight of being 'on' for so long. By then I'm longing to go to bed for a few days just to recover from the hard work of it all--and I'm not talking about cooking and cleaning, but talking and being--even with those I love being with.

You see, I get my strength from time alone. I'm recharged by it. To sit, read, meditate and pray--these are the things that energize me. But also, simply to be. Alone in my house not entertaining--I need this."In quietness and trust is your strength," says Isaiah. "Be still," says the Psalms.  Yes, just that. "Be still..." this is what I need to know God. Without music or the sound of anything but the earth itself. The lonely places that empty my mind and soul of all the clutter of the world, this is the way to seek Him. This is how I (or maybe all of us) separate the wheat from the chaff.

There is a true introvert inside this talkative, dramatic woman.
If only there was more balance in a crowded room.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Passports to our home country

I didn't know I'd write about this today. Then again, having tried not to, I should have guessed. I'm a marker of passages. I know dates like I have a calendar full of sticky-notes in my head, date after date when things happened. Some big, some not so, some two at once.

Fifteen years ago yesterday I said goodnight to my dad, walked down a hill to a motel where I crawled into bed beside my sister, listened to our mother snore in the bed beside us, was awakened in the middle of the night by the strange knowledge that the door to our room was ajar. Barely got any sleep (I did laugh hysterically at my sister at that moment in the wee hours when she got up to check the hallway, flipped the light on and off and on and off...like she was trying to beat the speed of light back to bed!).
It was not an ordinary night, of course. Our dad was lying in a hospital ICU. But he'd been himself when we left him the night before. He'd said goodnight and 'see you in the morning,' and nothing anyone could tell us made us think that those words were any different than the hundred thousand goodnights he'd said all our lives.

But fifteen years ago today, I woke up to a world where he was already half-way to heaven. By the time my sister and I walked back up the hill to that hospital, his blood had spilled and his heart had slowed and our lives were changed. For good.

I've been thinking of how strange it is to have lived 15 years beyond his life. To have raised my children to adulthood without ever talking to him about their college choices, their professional opportunities, their dreams and hopes and visions. Without talking to him of my own. His voice was the most clear and rational voice in my life, the one I could trust to see me without blinders but encourage me to be my true self. To think of not hearing his voice in all these years...how can that have been?

I can no longer hear his voice, you know. Now and then I hear a single word reminds me, but not his full voice. And I don't know what he'd look like as an old man. But, as I wrote my siblings today, if I heard his voice right now, I'd recognize it, and if I saw him in a crowd I'd know his face.  That's how well I knew him, how certain I am of who he is...and how much I still miss him. Even after all this time.

However.
We lose those we love. That's the truth of this life. Just today a young woman told me, "I don't know what I'd do if I lost my parents."  The thing is, sweetie, I wanted to tell her, it's not a question of 'if' but of 'when.'  People stop living on this earth. Others I know, when writing a message about someone who's died, use the acronym--R.I.P.  Rest In Peace. This is not a phrase that comforts me, nor can I really understand how it can comfort anyone. The last thing I want to believe is that those I love are endlessly resting, like they're in some kind of eternal coma...

No, what comforts me is the knowledge that life continues. But it doesn't merely comfort like someone is comforted by the idea by a fairy tale ending after a terrible climax to a story. The glory in the story about those who believe--like my beloved Dad--is that where they have gone is where they were meant to be, to their true home. "We are citizens of heaven," we're reminded by Paul. We may get our passports the day we're stamped with His blood, but we don't get to pass the borders to His land until we stop breathing the polluted air of this world and take a deep drought of the fresh air of Heaven.  Think for a moment of how it feels to enter your home country when you've been away. You suddenly have all the rights and privileges of that citizenship, are free to move around, to do and say and BE what you were made to be.  No visa required. No work permit necessary. You simply get to come in, stay, because you belong. That's what heaven will be like for us. Beyond all the unbelievable joy at being with HIM and amazing fellowship of being with all the others who love Him, will be this rich contentment that we are home at last.

So as I say goodnight to this 15th anniversary of my father's death, I'm imagining how content he is in God's heavenly Kingdom now. But I'm also being reminded--right this moment as I type these words--that I'm in the Kingdom too. Dad and I still live in the same Kingdom. We still have the same citizenship and carry passports bearing the mark of Jesus.  Yes, I've lived a long time without him now. And I'd still give a whole lot to have another conversation--and a big welcoming hug--with my dad.

But that's for me, not for him.
I think he's waving his meaty hand at me at my silliness anyway, "Don't you know that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day?" I imagine him asking.
"Time is immaterial now. You'll understand soon enough.
Relax.  You'll be fine. You already are fine. But you have to go now."
That's what I imagine him saying.
And on the day I pass that border, he'll be part of the throng around the Throne.  I'll delight in seeing him...well, when I get around to noticing...
because I'm guessing it'll be a long time before I can take my eyes off the ONE I finally see face to face.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Family Home


This is the house in which I was raised. 
When my parents had it designed, they knew they were building something unique in our neighborhood, unlike the homes up and down the block with ordinary windows and simple lines. Nothing was quite so straightforward about our house. An architect designed it with floor to ceiling windows spanning the whole south side (which faces the view of the town and hills beyond), mahogany accents around doors and on walls and across the top of bookshelves. The whole living/dining/kitchen area has 13' ceilings with walls that only extend up to ledges where my father kept plants and his mug collection...and dust collected as well. 

I remember walking around when only the concrete frame had been poured for this house, and on the plywood subfloor before the framing of the walls were put up. We moved in before it was finished, slept our first few nights crowded together in just a couple of bedrooms. Mom cooked macaroni and cheese on the campstove, and we washed dishes in the big sink in the utility room.  That week--that very week--my middle sister was moved from second grade to third, and my parents actually sat me down and talked to me about it before they even talked to her, because they didn't want me (her older, 4th grade, sister) to feel badly about it.  (I didn't...I was only proud of her)

And I remember being proud that our house was so different than everyone else's house in our town, that rooms weren't square and we didn't have paint but real cedar wood on our house that was merely stained a dark brown. Our roof was flat-ish and covered with pebbles and every now and then, for one reason or another, we were allowed to climb up onto it with Dad. Or later, without him. And we could peer in those high windows down into our house. No other house I knew had windows like those.

I loved that house.

My mother moved out of that house before I was finished, I think. Maybe before any of us were finished. Maybe it's because our Dad left that house one late August morning and didn't know he would never return. He had no idea when he let the garage door close behind him (I can hear the whoosh of air that always made it close with a bang) that it would be the last time. 

I realize I live in a house that was someone else's home once. That some couple, in the very year I was born, talked about and thought about, and decided on just this and not that, and moved in when it was sparkling new and still working the kinks out. I get that.  Each of us who live in homes we didn't build are in a long line of such people. There is history here in our floors and walls and the very space in which we dwell in peace (or not). And I don't do much to honor their memories. I'm too busy creating my own in the 'new' house I now call home.

But when I stand in front of this house--this NW 365 Janet ST, Pullman, WA house--I still think of it as belonging to our family somehow. As ours. And, to tell you the truth, I sometimes get teary thinking that some other family not only lives there but has actually changed what was unique and OURS about it to make it THEIRS. I cringe that it's been painted white, shudder to think that all that beautiful mahogany woodwork has been painted over or removed and that mere drywall has been put up to create ordinary rooms in my family's extraordinary home. You don't have to tell me this is childish for me to feel. I know it full well.
...but it's in me, so I admit it.

And then it hits me.

This is what it means. To live in this temple of the human body. To know that this is the house I have on this earth. THIS I was made for. Designed uniquely, not like any other. With a flare all my own. And when my days here are over, it's okay to mourn the loss of it. For those left.  It's okay for me to mourn the loss of the very large house that is the person of my father-in-law.
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This is the home Beve was raised in (kitty-corner across the street from ours). The house where his giant parents ruled with grace and quiet dignity . His father always made sure there was popcorn popped before dinner and plenty of nuts for late-night snacks.  These days he probably wouldn't recognize this house where  the counters and shower heads--and just about everything else you can imagine--were built extra-tall and he certainly can't do the entertaining he was famous for when he and Beve's beautiful, stately mother called NW 340 Janet St home. Now he's barely home in his own body. Yes, barely home in the most basic of ways. And we're more sad about that than we are about any house of wood and cement, that's for sure. 

 So while it's okay to feel sad that what was so right and good and perfectly home is no longer. That's how I feel about my family home (about my dad) and it's how Beve (and I) feel about his. I'm very, very thankful that--especially right now for Grampie--that the best truth is that there's a better home awaiting. A more perfect home. Designed well. Architected by the ONE who created us in the first place.
It will be our true dwelling in every way.

Relearning truth


This is another post from far back in the dusty vault of this blog (meaning exactly three years back).  I was re-reading through old posts tonight, considering them for an online devotional I've asked to contribute to, and this one stuck a chord with me. Earlier tonight J and I were having a conversation about sin and sinners and how most people like to point fingers at what other people do but don't like to consider that what they do is ALSO sin. Then here was this post, speaking to me almost as if I hadn't written it myself. That's how it is, of course. Writing from the past (and these blog posts are so very much like my journals) has a way of being both my own and something separate from me. Like it's straight from God alone, especially when He wants to teach me something that I apparently understood at some earlier point better than I do in this moment.

Anyway, here it is:

August 31, 2009
There are a whole lot of things on my mind tonight.  And most of them I can't bear to write about.  It's like that sometimes.  I get frustrated with people, situations, attitudes, which is ridiculous, if you think about it: I mean that I have a bad attitude towards people who have what I consider bad attitudes about situations or people.  There are folks who would rightly call that being hypocritical.

I am a hypocrite.  And what's more, so are the rest of you.  I always find it a bit strange that being a hypocrite is one of the chief criticisms of Christians, because we are no different than anyone else in the world.  We judge what we don't know, judge what we do, and maybe even especially judge others who fail in precisely the same ways we do.  Or maybe it is just me.  Maybe I'm the only one who looks around the world and evaluates others' behavior based on my own failings.  But I don't think so.

I think about all the things I've done, and all those I haven't done.  I look back over the half-century in which I've been making mistakes, acting unjustly, doing wrong--sinning--and think it's a pretty ugly record.  As the Psalmist says, if my sins were counted against me, I couldn't stand.  If you asked me (and I trusted you enough) I could tell you the worst thing I've ever done (from my point of view), the things that make me shudder to remember, the things that were mean, petty, cruel, and it's no wonder that anyone might call me a hypocrite.  I am every bit as 'bad' as my worst sin.  But that worst sin isn't the worst from God's point of view.  Or it is and it isn't.  The lies I told, the gossip I spread, the things I stole (as a middle schooler!), the bad attitudes I've held onto--these are merely the symptoms of the true sin in my life--my selfish, prideful sense that I am the center of my own universe, rather than God.

The worst thing I ever did put Jesus on the cross.  But so did the plethora of bad attitudes, unrighteous anger, critical spirit, and soooo many small things I have excused or rationalized or justified.  It's all of them.  Or one of them.  Yes, just one of them, the smallest thing I don't even think of, is enough to call me a sinner.  And the worst thing others do--the worst thing anyone has ever done--if repented of, is forgiven.  Completely, utterly, no-holds-barred forgiven.  If the worst thing I ever did put Him on the cross, the worst thing I ever did  DID put Him on that cross.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that, "The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, 'who has know the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ."
We have the mind of Christ.  The mind of the crucified Christ.  The mind of the one who knew what we were and and died for us, anyway.  We toss around the word grace a lot, but doesn't having the mind of Christ mean we extend grace toward all those who have done the worst things?  Even to them?  Even to those who continue to make bad choices, live in their sins, and rationalize their behavior?  To those who (exactly like us) are culpable for putting Him on the Cross?

So, what's the worst thing you ever did?  Hold that in your right hand. Then hold His blood-stained cross in the left. Now open your right hand and let it go!  But that left hand? It's the only thing worth holding--against (actually TOWARD) yourself or anyone else.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stretching out our tent

Alone at last.
At least for this morning.
When was the last time I woke up to an empty house?
At our ages, most people are empty-nesters with kids who come home for (in)frequent visits. Guests who leave after three days or there abouts.  But we aren't most people. Never have been. We've have extra people in our house so often, we actually built a room on our garage once (meant to be my craft room) just to have the space to house the overflow.

And we aren't the only ones who have grown kids to move back home. It's a phenomena in this age unprecedented in earlier generations when life was simpler, housing less expensive (at least in this neck of the woods--though we watch House Hunters and are stunned to see the prices of homes in the mid and southern parts of the country!), and jobs easier to find. And, of course, we didn't push our kids toward marketable professions, rather those things about which they had real passions. It's the idealistic of us, some might say, that allowed for this. I tend to believe it was the sense that God created us with certain gifts and passions and has His hand on each of us.

It's that same sense, that He is in such things, that has not closed the door on our children returning home after college. Each has now done it for a period of time. For very dis-similar reasons, of course. One was absolutely because a hoped-for job had dried up when the economy did. Now she's on the cusp of her life coming together in ways she couldn't have envisioned when she had to take a job that merely paid the bills (and paid well, I must say!).

The next, of course, has returned home because home is the best place to be while struggling with a disease that has felled his dreams and made short-shift of most of his life. 'Back home' to him is the safety net that allows him to breathe when each day breathing itself is the struggle. And though we don't know how to do this--how to live with and 'parent' an adult child who isn't quite his chronological age because of that illness--we're glad to know where he is each night, that he's safe, that he feels safe here.

And the third has purposely, prayerfully returned home to pursue a business venture that is quite a risk for a person of her age. Living at home for a season defrays that risk to a certain point. We can't imagine she'll manage to stay home for long; she's been away for five years, is too social, needs more space than is possible in our home. We didn't expect this so are glad to have her while it lasts. And if this risk doesn't pan out, she'll be off on another adventure before we can blink our eyes. It's in her dramatic nature. We might as well stop the tide.

But for this morning, I'm alone. BB has driven off to begin his new job on the island where he'll create his new life. I can hardly wait to hear what that life will become out there. We'll wait until... Saturday afternoon before we go chasing out there (with a load of his things!) to check out his new digs.  It's been great having him here all summer, but I have to admit, I'm excited that he's beginning his own life in his own home. Mostly for his sake. Only a little for mine (and Beve's).

So the year begins with a whimper. For today it's quiet. The two adult kids who still have rooms here are in Seattle today--one for a birthday, one for a wedding.  So I sit quietly, meditating of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. "Enlarge the site of your tents," Isaiah 54 says. "And let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left...Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace." (Isaiah 54: 2-3, 4)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Five months old and counting...

Our 'little' puppy is now five months old. By little I mean that he's now bigger than our 55 pound Springer Spaniel, stronger than me, and more mischievous than a whole daycare of two-year-olds. When he's not 'stealing' pillows, shoes, bags and pieces of fabric from around the house, he's bumping into one of us, trying to cause havoc by his extra large, extra clumsy, extra-everything body that he can't quite control yet. For all that, he's one adorable puppy. Obedient, too. I know, I know, it doesn't seem possible that he can be obedient when he's such a rascal but he really is. He wants so much for someone to tell him how to behave.

But since a picture speaks louder than words:
This morning, Kade weighed in at 60 pounds (not including the rawhide cigar!). See how proudly he's sitting for me when I ask? He loves, loves, loves to obey me when I ask him to sit. He knows what the word means, expects lavish praise, and always hopes for treats.  E (who got home from the cross-country trek yesterday afternoon) just told me that Maica has become the 'long-suffering older dog', who endures the puppy's constant annoying of [her], just as Jackson did when Maica was the puppy five years ago.

This is what Maica has to put up with most of the time. In fact, this is what Kade looks like most of the time, and what we can look forward to with the weather turning cooler. Sigh.


You can see how excited Maica is about his antics...not that her disinterest stops him. He just dances around her until she finally gives in and responds. Doesn't take no for an answer, I suppose you could say. He's a little like the importune widow. Beating and beating on the judge's door--"come on, come on, open up, do what I want." And Maica, not because she's particularly inclined toward the activity (she's more interested in her morning nap, thank you very much), gives up, gives in.
And then it's on. Full scale play, right in our living room, among our feet and the clean sheets on the chair and the pillow we've put on the back of a chair to save from him, and the pile of shoes and boxes on the piano (so many things rescued from this puppy--well, not the sheets, but give me a moment, I'm writing a blog post!).

Yep, we have a giant puppy growing up among us. A puppy who isn't, we've discovered, merely a dark yellow lab, but actually a Labrodesian. That is, a Lab/Rhod esian Ridgeback mix. And let me tell you, there's a whole world of difference between the two.

Thank goodness he's adorable. Because I'm telling you, it's going to be a whole lot of work training this puppy.

PS. Almost every Labrodesian puppy gets the same moniker from their owner--and we didn't even know it when we gave it to him: Cade-Monster.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the way home

Saturday morning--that is, three days or four days ago, depending on when you're reading this--my younger brother, BB, and my oldest daughter, E, hopped into a U-Haul truck on the south shore of Massachusetts and started driving west. They've crossed two time zones, three major rivers, about a zillion states (well, maybe a dozen), ate more fast food than I can count and are now in Missoula, Montana. They plan to arrive here in Bellingham, WA with all of BB's worldly goods sometime late tomorrow. That's four days to cross this whole continent.  Four days to drive about 3100 miles. Now I'm not that at math, but even I know that's a whole lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. In fact, E flew back there on Friday just in time to go to sleep, get up and start the drive back with BB Saturday. And little known fact, for those of you who don't know her, this is E's 3rd cross-country road-trip in 2012. She's either a glutton for punishment or in training to become a long-distance trucker.

BB's life back in Massachusetts came crashing down around him in June, but I have to admit I never expected him to live on this coast again. As much as I wanted him here. Every time he leaves, I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes to think of him being back there for good. But I didn't want him coming back here to be at such a cost.

However, the long, hard trip he's making with his life in that truck behind him, and the support of a niece (representing all of our family) beside him seems pretty telling to me. It's like a metaphor for the long, hard journey he's had to make this summer as he's worked through pain and loss and bitterness and anger to forgiveness and acceptance. And he's done it at a faster pace than I would have expected. Because he's done it with the help of the Holy Spirit in the seat beside him, or maybe even doing the driving of that U-haul, while he prays and reads and writes in his journal.

The truth is, we all make such journeys. Most of our lives are made up of them. We like to think we have the leisure for sightseeing, of course. And sometimes we do. Sometimes, God gives us time to brood and meditate and simply stop and smell the roses, as the old saying goes. But there are plenty of parts of our roads that must be traveled faster than we'd like them to be driven.   I think of the speed at which our children grow up, for example.  Those years moved in double-time, like we were driving in Montana, where the speed-limit is something outrageously high...just when we'd like there to be speed-bumps and slow-motion so we could savor it a little longer, because, after all, they're little so short a time. But then there are the days (or weeks, perhaps) when we're waiting for a loved-one to die. And time seems to stand still, almost. When you can count a person's very breaths, you know time's passing slowly.

But, for the most part, driving across this large continent is a pretty good metaphor for what it's like to drive through our lives. Varied terrain, scenery, speeds, and experiences.

And we're almost always pulling a U-Haul with our own stuff behind us.  BB says he doesn't know how much of that stuff he really needs. I can certainly relate to that, thinking of the house (and basement) full of stuff we have around here.  And I think often of all the stuff I carry around inside my head that is just plain junk. All those pieces of useless information that I can pull up randomly when necessary. Why do I still know my locker combinations from middle school and high school? And my addresses from college, Holland and India?  And, of course, all those birthdays... Really. And what more important, Kingdom-files could take their place if I could only jettison such pieces of junk? (Or does it even work that way?)

It's a common practice for people to be asked if they believe that life is a journey or a destination. And more often these days, the 'better' answer is that it's a journey. But I say, it's both. BB and E wouldn't be tearing up I-90 in record time if they weren't trying to get somewhere. To get here so BB can move out to Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island-Yippee!!!) to start a new job next week.  And for those of us who are in the know, who understand that we aren't merely ambling around this earth for no apparent reason, of course  there's a destination.
We're on our way Home.
Always.
On a journey, yes. Enjoying the road, yes.
But with an eye toward Home.

Which begs the question,
"Are we there yet?"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What I learned this summer

How many times have I said this lately?
I'm having a quiet morning with the dogs.
Not many.
And with a five-month-old lab, it's really not all that quiet, now that I mention it.
But I am home without human companionship and that's something.
And the sun is still shining. And that's also something in this rainy old world where it rains nine months of the year.
And there are still two whole days before Beve goes back to work. And that's something too.

So, a few things I learned about this summer:
1. There's always room for one more around the table, or on our back deck, or even in an extra car. We can set up a tent--expand our tents, really--and add another potato to the pot and it only makes the conversation more interesting.  The number of people we both entertained or were entertained by this summer (without our own kids) was over 50. And, as long as I didn't have to sleep on the floor, it was sweet and pleasing.
2. Grampie's face most of the time. I loved that he loved being with his kids and grandkids. I loved watching him take in all of us talking, and even when he couldn't follow or got confused about the most simple of topics, he was right there in the middle, breathing it all in.  His large and mobile smile was ready and even that half-moon frown could make me smile because he was so like a little boy. Like the little boy-old man that he is now.
3. The range of conversations with the variety of people. It's been a feast. A banquet. I feel blessed and honored and overwhelmed by the plethora or riches of such sharing with others about their lives.  THIS is what I live for. Really. I'd gladly have such conversations every day, forever. Oh wait, maybe I'll get to.
4. Having so many people around takes a whole lot of planning. Someone to administrate, co-ordinate, organize and do the logistics. And that someone isn't going to be me. Not in my wildest dreams. Forget about it--I just can't do it, don't want to, am no good at it, and the whole ball of wax will crash down if we're counting on me. Dinner? Really? Someone has to eat again in a few hours? Didn't we just do that?  The bottom line is, it bores the living daylights out of me.
5. My oldest child IS born for (see above). It was hard-wired into her. A switch goes on and she just does it. Gladly--for both of us. It makes me soooo thankful. The things she planned, the organizing she did, the meals, the work, but also the fun she encouraged and engaged us all to have--we were all blessed by her.
6. SK, in contrast, was born to be the bright light of such a gathering. We were sitting at the table, sharing rather quietly, calmly, when she drove up her first day. The energy that was infused into our company was something to behold. Talk about a switch going on--in the whole company. You wouldn't believe it. It's like we all had a drink of Red Bull, because suddenly we were talking and laughing, from one end of the house to the other. And her laugh keeps me/us going...all the time. I need to bottle that sound and market it for those in the hardest of places. I'm telling you, you can't keep from smiling when you hear that woman bust out laughing.
7. J was a good sport. That's an amazing thing to say, really. If you knew how hard he has to work at spending time with people now, you would understand that his effort was the most sacrificial of anyone's this summer. Really stunning, actually. I thank God for J's hard work, his continuing hard work at regaining his health.
8. Beve.  This season--well, long before summer, of course--has taken a toll on Beve. On us, I should say. We've had an easy marriage, generally. That's what happens when two old friends marry each other. Friendship is easy to maintain. However, there's been very little time for our own relationship in this last year, and we can feel it. There's a creeping separateness that makes us a bit more on edge with each other, more likely to snap than understand, and to NOT communicate. I wanted to admit this straight out. Sure, it'd be easier not, easier to pretend we're perfect, and have the perfect marriage. But we don't. We're human, and we've had the hardest year imaginable. And such a year takes its toll on the most primary of relationships. Of course it does. And yes, I know the enemy would like us to dwell here, to allow this separateness to grow and lodge rocks between us. But we aren't governed by the enemy. We belong to Jesus Christ.

That's what I know about this summer. My as-always honest list.  Here's the thing you have to know about me, though. For every thing I'm willing to share, there are things I keep only for God.  That's the secret to being content, I think. Being transparent with those around me means not being afraid to say anything because I've said everything to God and HE tells me what and when to share them. My words are here governed by Him.  This might not always be true in person (I certainly am sometimes very impulsive) but it's ALWAYS true here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Blessed are the feet, revisited

It's Friday. And it's been hot (even for here in our normally NOT hot Northwest), and for no other reason than that, I thought I'd re-post the very most popular post I've ever written. By a country mile, it's the most popular. I'm not really sure why, but almost every time I check my stats, someone's been reading this particular post. So, for those of you who HAVEN'T read it, here it is:


One of the many doctor appointments I've accompanied the elders to lately was a trip with Grampie to a pediatrist.  Beve had gone to a regular check-up with his dad, came home to tell me that Grampie really needed to see the foot doctor because "his toes are pretty nasty."  You have to understand that I'm not a foot person. In fact, I would go so far as to say I really can't stand feet (a feeling I've passed wholesale to SK, thank-me very much!).  Think they're ugly in the best of times.   I've had a pedicure or two since I've been an adult, though the first one was practically over my dead body--the idea of someone choosing to touch my feet, let alone pick it up, examine it carefully and paint the toenails.  I've actually gotten better at these things, in direct proportion to my daughters' ages, to tell the truth--these daughters who love such girly-girl things as shoes and nail polish, and 'let's all go get pedicures.'  But if left to my own devices, I'd probably wear socks year round and forget about them. Beve learned early on that it was the opposite of a turn-on for him to rub his giant Bozo-the-clown, size-14s on mine.  Or anywhere in my vicinity, as a matter of fact.

The point is, I can't think of a single thing to say for feet, other than that they serve the purpose for which they were created.  But there I was at the pediatrist's office with my favorite father-in-law, sitting in a room with Grampie and a nurse, helping answer questions when the nurse asked Grampie to remove his socks.  They should have warned me.  Somebody should have.  I would have taken a valium ahead of time, though I never take valium, because it makes me feel weird (which I think is the point, but how can anyone stand that feeling?!). Grampie removed his socks and...I almost fainted. No joke, I've never seen anything like it.  Blood doesn't make me bat an eye and I stare straight at needles being poked into myself or anyone else.  But that toe, that big toe with the thickened nail standing perpendicular to the toe honestly made me lightheaded.  How did it even fit into his shoe?  I stuck my head behind a magazine and answered questions to pictures of spring flowers in Better Homes and Gardens...until the doctor turned on his electric grinder.  Seriously.  Then I had to put my head between my knees for a moment before fleeing to the waiting room.  Later Beve said, "I'll do feet from now on."

Feet.  Every night when I finally get off mine, I become suddenly aware of them.  They announce themselves with noisy throbs that sweep from sole to arch to toe and back again.  Then I wonder what on earth I've done to work them so hard all day that they have to complain all night at me, even when sometimes I've barely done anything at all. Bad feet run in my family, sorry to say.  My grandfather had them, my aunt, dad, a couple cousins, siblings.  Our feet just hurt, for no discernible reason.

But they also work.  They do their jobs pretty well most of the time.  "Blessed are the feet of them," Isaiah says. "Blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news."  The feet.  Not the mouths to speak this news, but the feet.  The feet to bring it.  To serve it, one might infer.  The good news that is served by one working on feet, coming across distances on feet meant for such purposes.  The cracked soles, broken nails, aching feet of those who work for the gospel, who serve the One who is the Incarnate gospel.  In fact, so blessed are the feet that Jesus found it worth His while to make a point of washing them.  He could have taken hold of his disciples' hands, dipped them in a basin of water, scrubbed the dirt from under their fingernails before they ate together because I'm guessing those hands hadn't seen many baths along the road with Jesus.  And if Jesus had washed their hands, He could have made a similar point.  Served His servants, so to speak.

But He chose feet, because not only are feet blessed, but that feet are blessed is also unexpected.  Feet weren't fancy back then.  There weren't pediatrists, wasn't fancy footwear.  Feet were merely utilitarian.  And the feet Jesus washed were workhorse feet.  They hadn't sat around on couches, waiting for someone to fan them, rub oil into them, bring them food.  No, these feet were out bringing the good news.  And in that bringing of it, they'd gotten more than a little dirty, they'd gotten all used up on the road.  Scummy and smelly.  Nails long and thick.  Maybe even bent at 90 degree angles.  They must have been pretty nasty, those feet.  And Jesus washed them.  He knelt down, held them in His hands, lifted them out of their nasty sandals, put them in a basin and washed then until the basin was dark and there was a ring around it.

Years ago, when I was a teenager on workcrew at Malibu Club in British Columbia we did a footwashing.  I've participated in many since, but none has had the impact of that first one.  That day out on a rock hill near Main Street at Malibu, we lined up in two lines.  I remember thinking there was only one person I didn't want to have as a partner.  Of the 50 people on the hill that afternoon, there was only one person I asked God to please, just please, let me not have to face.  And, of course--because God is God--that girl became the first person whose feet I ever washed.  It was torturous to do it and not because she had particularly ugly feet.  I don't remember a thing about her feet, actually.  I don't even remember her name.  I just remember the ugliness in my heart as we stood together waiting for our turn at the basins, and the change that came over me as I knelt in front of her, then allowed her to do the same.  It's impossible to hate, or even dislike, when one is so vulnerable, so exposed.  And there is little more humbling than having one's feet washed, even more than doing the washing--particularly by a person one doesn't really like.

And this, I think is the picture Jesus wants us to have.  To serve, be served, even in this most base way, is what it means to be His disciple, to be a 'little Christ'.  How blessed are the feet who bring, and serve, and DO, the good news.  Who act it out by serving and going and washing each other--even their feet.  And even--or perhaps, especially--the feet of those most difficult to love.  Who is it for you?  Whose feet do you need to wash?  Whose feet are blessed in your life?  And maybe it's the part of them that most gross you out that he wants you to put your not-so-lily-white-but-forgiven hands on and show His love by washing that.  Yes, even--or especially!--their feet.

One of my favorite quotes from Frederick Buechner also speaks of feet:
"I say that feet are very religious too.  I say that if you want to know who you are, if you are more than academically interested in that particular mystery, you could do a lot worse than to look to your feet for an answer. Introspection, in the long run, doesn't get you very far...when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet.  Because where your feet take you, that is who you are."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Without conditions

It's been a while since I've written about Grampie, whose dementia has been progressing at a fairly swift clip.  We notice it, of course. It was surprisingly clear how far he'd diminished in the month our Finns were with us when he went from being able to identify each person's name when they arrived to barely recognizing them by the time they left. It's possible that the stress and pace of the visit contributed to his decline but I walked the same road with my mother whose life was much quieter than the last month has been for Grampie...er, all of us.

However, the change in Grampie hit a place we've been dreading yesterday. We've been waiting for it and dreading it all at once. We got a very tearful phone call from Thyrza who had just talked to Grampie. He's been telling us from the last couple of weeks that he wants to ask Thyrza if he can marry this new 'girlfriend' of his. And each time we've changed the subject, distracted him. You can imagine the drill.  But apparently when we weren't there to distract him, he had someone help him call Thyrza and he actually did ask her. And  because she suffers from her own form of dementia and, therefore, believes everything he tells her, thought he didn't love her anymore. Was terribly hurt. You can imagine.

It took both of us, a whole lot of re-inforcing what her daughter has already been telling her, to help her calm down.  She doesn't know this man, she told me. "Exactly," I said. "You don't know this man. The man who sits in that wheelchair and says such things to you, is NOT the same man you married." It's a hard thing, but she has to come to terms with this man who bears only a passing resemblance to that tall, honorable giant she shared 18 years with.

After I got off the phone I got to thinking about how he's hurt her. That wasn't his intention, of course. He has no malevolent motive here at all. He knows that Thyrza is important in his life, important enough that he wants her permission.  But despite his not meaning to, she was/is hurt by his words and his actions (of having this 'girlfriend').

When we think about forgiving others, we tend to think in terms of them asking for our forgiveness. And about the motives of those we struggle to forgive. We usually assume wrong intent toward us. I do, anyway.  But what if (and perhaps this is more often the case) we are hurt accidentally or because the other person is thinking about themselves rather than us. What if we just plain aren't the center of the other person's world so their neglect of us is what hurts us most?  Then I think of the words of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

So what's Jesus saying? Well, for one thing, there's not a word about motive. Jesus didn't hang on the cross only for those who knew they'd sinned. He hung on the cross for all who'd sinned. Our recognizing our sinfulness was not a prerequisite for His dying. Maybe it's a prerequisite for our salvation but even at that, it's already been accomplished. My point is, He doesn't care about why we sin, He only knows we do and did/does something about it.  Secondly, we are asked to forgive as HE forgives not as others forgive us. Our call to forgive is not in comparison to other humans but to God Incarnate. And He forgives lavishly. Without conditions.  AND, for good. For always. Not bringing it up again, because, after all, that's not really forgiveness at all. Is it?

I didn't tell Thyrza any of this. Beve and I told her to let the words, even in that familiar voice, slide off. And we told her to remember the essential Grampie, the real one, the one who loved her, who brought her flowers and called her, "my Bride," and who'd surely be sorry...if he only knew.

But for me, learning to forgive AS I've been forgiven--that's a good lesson for this, or any, day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Talking of Jesus

I was sitting on my living room couch yesterday morning, wondering what I was going to do with myself in the first post-Olympic, post-family, post-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink summer day when my cell-phone rang. An old friend was calling from Portland, Oregon. Some sixth sense had told her my schedule had just opened up. We met when our first children were wee babes of 3 months and 3 weeks, respectively, shared meals, babysitting responsibilities, and helped each other toward better parenthood in those early years.

Now all our wee babies are adults in their twenties and she's been feeling somewhat over her head with them. So she was calling to ask if she could come up for a couple of days, just to talk about our kids the ways we used to when they were small and we could send them outside to play while we drank tea in our kitchen.

It's an interesting relationship I have with this woman. She's determinedly NOT a Christian. In fact, she hardly tolerates Christians. At least not in her 'real' life. However, for some reason, Beve and I have always been an exception to that. But I'm somewhat mystified as to why she allows for our obvious faith when she so patently argues and mocks others.'

Over the weekend, one of my girlfriends observed that we each have gifts and one of mine is being forthright about my Christianity (as she put it). I've been cogitating on that idea for the last several days. I'm not certain that this 'forthrightness' is some kind of extra-special gift. That is, I certainly don't have the gift of evangelism. When I was young, those who were ahead of me in the faith, often encouraged me (and others like me) that there was an imperative to witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ. That each of us bears this responsibility. In fact, it's THE imperative. And the words of Jesus, as reported by Matthew in the last chapter of the gospel that bears his name remind us that this IS true.

But here's the thing about that imperative: I don't ever even think about it. Not any more, that is. I don't talk about Jesus as a chore or because I'm trying to convince, convert or even just witness to those around me. I just talk about my life.  As Peter and John said in Acts 4, "We can't help speaking about what we have seen and heard."  I can't help it. Jesus is real. As real to me as anyone else in my life. So I talk about Him. About my relationship with Him. Just as I talk about my relationship with my kids or Beve or even (whoa!) my dad.

And perhaps that's why people respond without feeling like there's some kind of push. Some kind of argument. Or maybe it's because I've gone to seminary. That seminary degree gives me some kind of pass--
"she's one of those religious types..."

However, here's the real story.  What we have to do--what I have to do--is honor and respect others. Whether they believe or not.  My friend came north to speak of frustrations with her adult children. Though it is in me to speak of God's solution, the starting place is her own life. As always, earning the right to speak His truth by loving her exactly where she is.  I've been foolish a time or thirty. Come up against brick walls. Watched those walls thrown up in an instant with a single word. So now I simply wait. Wait for the right moment, and His nudging. Today it came as we floated in our pool, and her eyes were full of unshed tears. Just for a moment she asked how we do it, how we manage to be so cool and at peace with the pain of what  we're going through. And suddenly, there He was.  Gentle as a whisper, as the breeze on the hot summer day. 'Say it,' He said. 'Tell her!' So I did.
"Only God," I told her. "You're probably stronger than I am, but I can't do it on my own. I need Him."
And she blinked once. Hard. "I don't think I am stronger than you...."
She didn't say anything else but that was more than she's ever said before.
It's a beginning.

I'll keep talking about Him...because He's in my life. Because I can't help it. And maybe that's exactly what He expects of us.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Walking in lock-step

Driving home from my weekend with "The Girls", I thought of the best way to describe this time together, a weekend very like so many other weekends we've shared in this last decade since our children were largely raised and we had the space and reduced responsibilities that allowed us the freedom for each other.  Remember the movie, "Dead Poet's Society?"  It's one of my all-time favorite movies. Partly because of the many English poets named and quoted in it, partly because Robin Williams plays the teacher of my dreams, and most importantly because the community of that teacher's students (and the 'society' they create) both reminds me of a distant past and compels me toward a future.

However, it's one particular scene in this movie that I was reminded of as I drove away from my yearly goodbyes from my beloved "Girls." The teacher takes his students down to a courtyard, and asks a couple of them to walk (at any pace) around the square perimeter. Before they've made the second turn, they're walking in lock-step, matching stride for stride. In the movie, the lesson is about conformity, about the negative connotations of not marching to one's own pace.

But the connection I made today is a positive one. These women with whom I have such a long history each showed up Thursday or Friday from dis-similar lives. Marching at paces unique to their own circumstances: empty-nesters, a single mom, a mom who'd just hugged her Marine-son returning after a year in Afghanistan, a wife whose home might expand again to house another family member to care for. Teachers, nurses, office-managers, me.  Each with losses as well, some kinds of aches and pains that come with our age, and each with joys and hopes and dreams and visions. But we aren't women who live in each others' pockets. I don't speak to them on a daily, weekly, even monthly basis. Only a yearly one.

Still, once our cars pull up and we pile out and unpack our bags, pull up chairs or put on our swimming suits to float in a lazy lake, we're in lock step before we've turned the first corner. We don't have to think about it. We know which of us will talk too much (W and me) and who will make up the kitchen crew (CK, I'm talking chiefly about you!).  We'll find a place that is comfortable, settle in and relax into the fit of lock-stepping together as if we lived within shouting distance, across picket fences, and gathered in each others' kitchens every other morning for a bit of coffee and gossip, like we were women out of another time.

So here are seven things (for these seven women--including the absent one!) that I'm thankful for this year:

  1. The quiet serenity of the lake-place where we gathered among the tall Doug-firs. The place itself is as peaceful as its gentle hostess. We were reminded this morning that it was a crisis in her life that jump-started our re-gathering, so that hard thing in her life--that chronic fire, so to speak--has sparked a gift for all of us. Thank you, CH.
  2. The vulnerability of conversations, both privately and in company. I revel in such things (like I say, I am who I am, and that). As I drove toward the cabin I wondered what it'd be like to be the only 'orphan' among the group. Several times recently I've lonely when others speak of their parents. So I was glad for a few moments of real understanding of that feeling. Yes, my parents are gone, but there's another who gets it because her mother is as well.
  3. The food. Of course. Eat, talk, laugh, repeat. Need I say more? We've always been good at it. Breakfast on the upper deck, still in our pjs, holding hot cups because the fog hadn't lifted and dinner on the lower deck with hair still wet from having been in the lake (and LT, I still like your hair curly!). And late night snacks on the comfy couches in the living room, back in our pjs, talking without ceasing through every bite.
  4. Swimming together. When a whole group of women in their mid-fifties get out on floating mattresses on a lake, it's not necessarily a sight one goes looking for. But we aren't in our mid-fifties alone. We're all of 14 or 17 or any time, really. And, at least for me, everything's made better by being together in the water.
  5. A shared cheesecake Birthday celebration, a candle a piece lighting our faces and each others in the day's gloaming on the deck. Singing to each other, in our pitchy full voices, and taking pictures together, like we did with every birthday cake party back in high school.
  6. Sleeping up under the eaves and whispering in the dark with my friend, BWM. Listening to her pour out her life and recognising the backbone she's built up beneath the sinews of her rebar thin body. A hard time coming, but well-done.
  7. Having to be quiet for a whole minute before saying something important (W and I were 'double-dog-dared, I think) and we're just stubborn enough to have done it, though I did speak my first word on the stroke of that minute.  They know me so well.  Sigh. But I always have so much to say...things I've treasured up in my heart to share with them. Reasons I love them. The snippets of things that weren't finished. Like how awed I was at the small story of the dream MP told me--yes, God is so faithful! And how I forgot to ask what EE wanted W to include in my birthday Ode (dang, I miss that man, sometimes!), and CH's sacrificial love in being with us when her daughter was ill: I forgot to tell her I noticed. And I saw the true friendship between LT and CK--how it's real and true, despite their dis-similarities--and how glad I am for what they've done for the other girls in Spokane (and each other!). All these things. So many more. Yep, I talk a whole lot. But I think a whole lot more.
We hugged our goodbyes around the circle, planned next summer's gathering (Bellingham at my house!), and by the time my car door closed I was back in my singular life. But for that time out of time we walked in lock-step. Thank God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The inexpressible comfort

I drive down the freeway for my last trip of the summer tomorrow. For the next four days, I'll be holed up at a lake cabin with a bunch of young women. And by young, I mean women exactly my age. And believe me, we'll be feeling really young when we're together. When we aren't also feeling every bit our age and more besides. We're probably beginning to sound more and more like our mothers, but I'm here to tell you, the day we start sounding like our grandmothers, I'll be out.

Read all this to mean that it's "The Girls'" weekend.  There will be much eating and talking and laughing and talking and eating and laughing. We'll be caught up into certain dramas in each others' lives--things that are large and overwhelming dramas, and we'll be right at the heart of them for a weekend, just as we were for all those years when we knew every move each other ever made, practically knew every new pimple on each others' faces.

One of these friends first shared a now-familiar quote about friendship with me when we were about 15 years old. "Real friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with someone..." I've never forgotten the bull's eye truth of that statement and how she aimed it not only at us then but arched over the forty years we've been friends since. I do feel safe with these women, like I can curl up in my pjs for a whole weekend, not worry about what I look like (because, after all, they've seen me with raspberry jello in my hair, and anything's better than that!), and do any old thing I please (and I've been known to be more than a little foolish--all without alcohol, too!).

Yep, no matter what, --even if I do something silly enough to be laughed at (which, trust me, I'm sure to do!), I'm also accepted. Because I'm me. And they're them. And we're us.

And that's just about as good as it gets.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

my son

What does it mean to be blessed?  A blogger asked that question today, invited any and all comers to take it on.  For other responses, check out Emily's blog here.

Anyway, I've been pondering it.
So here's my response. An answer? Maybe. At least my unvarnished self, laid out like an offering.

Does it mean a perfectly healthy body?  I've been among women--many, many times--who, while complaining about this thing or that, have said, "At least I have my health. Thank You for that, God." And I've sat there while in such deep and agonizing pain I felt stabbed in the heart by their words. Am I less blessed, I used to wonder. Less blessed because I've had migraines as long as I've 'been a woman,' (if you'll excuse my euphemism). And have now lived in unrelenting nerve pain for ten years? Has God meant ill for me?  I never once believed this. Never once. I always, always had the sense that mere physical health is NOTHING to Him. That my question should never be "WHY me?" but "Why NOT me?" And "Whatever You wish, Lord." That is His blessing.

But then this:

This chubby baby in the red shirt and wide smile became a charming little boy with something to say to everyone. He became a little boy with wit and humor and an eagerness for the whole world and wasn't afraid of anyone or much of anything, but also had the most tender of hearts. He gave and cried and cared about others. And worried that he'd still be crying when he was all grown up like his daddy.


But something happened on his way to growing up. Or a whole lot of things happened, I suppose. One of them you can see in this photo if you know how to look at it. His left shoulder was hurt. Hurt so badly he had to wear a sling for a year.  And when that happened...(as well as the other things!)
I still didn't ask why. I still thought we were blessed. That he was blessed. With health and brains and humor and sensitivity and the best heart. Like his daddy's. And his Abba-Daddy's!


This is him today. My son.
I can hardly write of him today.

Yet, here I am. Baring my soul to it--to him. To the hard, questioning truth of it. What does it mean to be blessed with my son? For him? Never before have I questioned why God allowed something. But this I ask.  I have a son with crippling mental illness. A son for whom I would give my life. He is a blessing. He will always be a blessing. This very day--even this day, this dark, hard day--my son is a blessing in my life. God blessed me (and Beve) that day when he gave me this son. But, no one ever imagines this--a child with mental illness-- when they think of having children. NO one. And no matter what pain I have in my own body, no matter what stress I feel in other things, when I think of what he's living with inside his very head, I feel broken by it. Can hardly do more than lift my hands in supplication.

But when I lift my hands, I also lift them in praise. For this son. For every bit of him. Because, no matter what, his life is a blessing. But...is THIS a blessing? This illness? Can I, will I, EVER say that? I don't know. I can't imagine that. Not this day. What it means to be blessed today is that we--J in it and me with him in it--live in the darkness through it.

Every day I ask him, "How are you today?"
"Not great," he answers. Every day.
And every day I dream of the moment when his answer will be different. When there will be more health. When he will be healed. Supernaturally--in an instant--or through meds. I don't care, just so he's whole.

Until then, honestly, I know that I am blessed. And by faith, I say that he is blessed. That's the only truth of it.
And, that
J is loved.
 By me and by God.
That is blessing. Yes.
Then, yes, he is blessed.
That's enough for this dark day.

Traveling back to London--on the Tube

Since we're finally back to the chaos we call our 'normal' (meaning kids moving home, mowers off to the fields, people coming and going as only those in their mid-twenties can go), I'm also back to my 'normal' routine. That is, I thought I'd return to my "Time-traveling Tuesday" and take you back to my pre-marriage backpacking trip through Europe when I was in MY mid-twenties.

Depending on your point of view, it's either ironic or appropriate that I was (still) in London when this entry was written. In fact,  as we've been 'in' London these last ten days for the Olympics, my daughters and I have all felt a certain knowledge of where things are located, because of our (relatively short, in all honesty) stays there.

One last note, I beg you to remember that I was that young woman in my mid-twenties. A single young woman. You understand? Of course you do. Good.

Thursday, 14 October, 1982
Bromden House

Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben (met some nice people on the street who said, "I knew it!" when I said I was from Washington) Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Savoy (we walked in, but were too intimidated to eat--sorry Mom, just couldn't pull it off in our too-casual touring cothes. My REI jacket was a dead give-away!) We checked travel plans to Oxford and points north (the agent is a really nice man who joked with us about going to dinner). Ate dinner at a place called 'Rick's Cafe' Americana'--Hello Bogart!. Walked past the National Gallery and St Martins in the Field, to Picadilly. I'm definitely seen out now. Ready to simply ride a train.

At both St. Paul's and Westminster, priests offered prayers and asked for a moment of silence while we said the Lord's Prayer. Then they blessed us. The second time--at St. Paul's--I felt that blessing. It came straight down from the Christ-stained glass above the altar, like the Lord guided us there at His hours to hear those words, to remind us of His presence with us.  Those words from above were juxtaposed to what people do to temples, creating God in man's image, a god they can trade in on. While He can be light in our darkness, people turn His real light into a darkened place, perhaps.
Praying together this morning changed the hue of the day. Suddenly a host of blessing--from the first man who directed us to Buckingham Palace to the agent who stayed late to help us plan our Brit-rail tour. And we keep stumbling into beauty. Or Beauty. Wow. It overwhelms the senses, the architected glory here along the Themes.
****
Why don't people talk on the tubes?
Sitting here beside you
rattling wheels, passing minutes
Behind your face, what are the sounds of your life?
Minutes pass
Your image vanishes with a swishing door
As the wheels speed on

Dingy station
herds shoving (like cattle)
never speaking
always moving
flickering gazes--
'quick, avert your eyes!'

Are you afraid to look at me?
Are you afraid of a real meeting
As the rattling wheels
pass the time
Afraid of communication
that might reach beyond
the dingy station
mobs of people
silent trains
to a place where
you see me
As I see you?

***
The man stood next to her, gripping the metal bar. She, knowing the rules, could not look at him, so stared at his hand above her head with the golden hairs sticking up on his knuckles. She reached up as though she needed steadying, and placed her hand a small distance away from his, measuring how puny and weak her fingers compared to his.  She caught his eyes once as she glanced at the golden hair on his head that matched his hand. His face reflected--sturdy jaw, strong gaze--the same grip he had on the iron. She lowered her eyes to her feet for a moment. Took a breath. Then felt his hand slide closer to hers on the bar overhead. Solid oxford, no pointy punk for him, she thought. He didn't care what the latest trend was. She stared out the window, wondering what he saw, how he lived, who he was behind that superficial strength. Did he like good books--his clothes spoke of learning--and impulsive acts--like a woman asking him to dinner out of the blue on a silent train--and quiche?  Years from now she imagined telling their grandchildren, "I broke the rule and met your grandfather on the Picadilly line." She closed her eyes and willed him to look at her, then opened them as he did. She blushed and looked away. The train slowed, stopped. Earl's Court. She waited, hoping at least for his voice, at most for him to walk off first, or with her. An instant later, she stood on the platform, wondering why she couldn't have once broken the silence of the Picadilly Line.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Humility

It's been hot here. Hot for us, I should say. Up here in the NW where we live, we don't get much humidity, and if the temp climbs toward 90 (F), we all begin to panic. Most of us little folk don't know what it's like to have them new-fangled air conditioners, you see.  We just don't need them with all our rain and such.
So we're heat-wimps. That's the gol-durn truth of it. Just plain heat-wimps. We sit around with fans blowing on us, thinking we're about to expire, when really there are nice sea breezes here all the time, and the air always cools down at night. And I know how fortunate we are to live where we do. I know that the rest of this country (and a whole lot of the rest of the world--much of the year!) has suffered heat waves like I can't imagine in my worst moments.

And I know some pretty bad heat moments. There was one summer when I took my blind grandmother back to Kansas where she'd been raised (yep, a Kansas farm-girl) and we spent one night in Kingman, Kansas with her best friend from childhood. Her best friend, named Fern, didn't have air-conditioning in the little brick house where she'd lived all her married life, raised her kids and lived into widowhood. And it was hot. Prairie hot that night. We ate a cold supper of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers straight from her garden that were luscious and sweet and make my mouth water to think of them. Some cold ham, potato salad. You can imagine. At bedtime I was given the front bedroom, like the best guest, while my Grandmom and Fern talked up a storm in Fern's room at the back of the house.  Fern had placed an old black rotating fan in the room to help cool it off for me, but all it did was move the stale air around. The hot stale air. I lay there in my underwear, sweating up a storm, with the fan going back and forth, thinking I'd about expire between moments when it touched me. Finally, at about 2 AM, I got up, went to the bathroom and ran a bath. Sank into cool water long enough that I began to drift off right there in that old iron tub. Then I climbed out, didn't even dry off, and finally fell asleep.

That's what I call hot.

That isn't what we have here in NW Washington.
Certainly not when we have a 3.5 ' pool on our patio to dip into whenever the sweat starts to overtake us.  Yep, we are spoiled around here.

Which leads me to what I've been thinking about today.

Humility.
Odd segue perhaps, but with the Olympics on, it's impossible not to notice how these many athletes respond to success. Or just the possibility of success. There's a gambit of reactions, of course, but what strikes me is that confidence can easily puff up into pride. It's almost impossible, perhaps, to remain humble when the whole world watches every move one makes. A whole wall of cameras set up to mark every swim, every vault, every run, and one begins to think that greatness is due. Or that it's not a combination of God-given talent and God-given drive. And as much as the world might say that humility is a virtue, our very actions and responses to celebrity (of any kind) conspire to a different truth. "Aim high; accomplish much; take ownership; be proud of who you are, where you've come and where you're going; don't let anyone get in your way." Aren't these the messages of our culture?

But Christ tells us none of this counts.
So where do we find our better models of humility? Where do we learn the gospel truth of actually putting the interests of others ahead of our own, of giving preference to others?

Now and then, of course, there are those around us who do exemplify the character of Christ in this way. People who humble themselves. We do well to pay attention to them.
I have a friend, for example, who was recently awarded a very prestigious award in her profession. But if you met her, you'd never know that she's nationally renown. This is because she pays more attention to others than she does to herself. she's about as other-oriented as anyone I've ever met.
Other-oriented in the particular--even when she got the award, she actually was more interested in telling her husband about how thrilled she was that others she cares about were honored in other ways.
Other-oriented in daily dealings--she asks more about others and their lives than talks about her own; and thinks--constantly--of how to minister to those around her. Her family, her church, friends.
Other-oriented in her work--she does what she does as a calling. This is profound. Not many people, in ANY job, have a stronger sense of calling than this woman, and she never deviates in desiring to please God in response. Work as worship--I see this in her.
And, of course, other-oriented in her relationship with Christ. She's a disciplined a disciple as you can meet. Daily spending significant time with Him before she goes off into what is surely one of the busiest lives you can imagine.  She just doesn't know how to manage ANY of it without first seeking Him. She knows who she is, who she needs, and doesn't waver from Him.

And...she has every reason to be proud. If you knew what she's accomplished in her life, you'd agree with me. You'd be in awe. But her goal is to be faithful. To be a servant to Him who has called her.

This is what humility is. She might say I don't know all that's in her heart. But I say, I don't have to. I know who she is. I know she isn't perfect, but she seeks a perfect God to empower her. God knows what's in her heart. And He is very, very pleased. Faithful is He who has called her...

"Seek to follow my example as I follow Christ," Paul tells us in Phillipians 3.  This woman--and others like her--is the person I should train my lens on, keep my eye on. Watching her life, aiming to make her model inform my own.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Here

Linking up with 5-minute Friday, which you can find here

HERE...
I turn the corner down the hall and two bouncing dogs race toward me bumping the walls
Bumping my legs in glee.
It's too early for this
Too early for their joy
For playing with tennis balls, fetching sticks, rumbling in my living room, jumping at my knees, tearing around with my shoes. Too early.
But here I am. Walking down the hall toward the day.
I've done this before.
With babies on my hips, pulling at my hair,
demanding attention before my first cup of coffee
With small children whose mouths were open for their cereal--
open like small birds' beaks, awaiting what only Mama could give them
With teenagers sullen and quiet, heads bent over, hurrying toward their day.

I've done this before.
I can square my shoulders and face the day before my first cup of tea (no longer coffee)
Go outside to throw a stick, and a tennis ball,
Face the day.
THIS is the day that the Lord has made.
THIS--like every day--every day He ever made...all of them in a long line,
These are my days.
Starting too early.
But starting.
Here.

Working out

It's Thursday night...er, Friday morning, which means it's another Random Journal Day. The 19th! Really? That long? Hard to imagine. Anyway. Since this link-up began, it's really taken on life, added contributors of many different kinds of journals. And each brings something of value to the great banqueting table that is our faith. It's definitely worth a "taste and see that the Lord is good." HERE
It's also August 3rd, which is my re-birthday. I'm one of the blessed ones who knows the exact date Jesus drew me into relationship with Him. If I knew where the notebook was from that summer, I'd pull it out and write from those first halcyon days of my romance with Jesus. But somehow in the many moves of life (both mine and my mother's) many of my earliest journals have disappeared (along with my wedding dress, so losing those journals is something I've long since gotten over).

Instead, I pulled out a journal from my first year of being a mom. And in it I found a list of goals for my life. It's a pretty comprehensive list, though, oddly, I've never been very interested in goal-setting. I think my right-brained, left-handed creative mind finds them as restrictive as shopping lists (which I don't make either, but don't get me started on that--I do keep them, just in my head).

So this list is an anomaly and all the more interesting (and significant?) because of its rarity.
Here it is, as written September 9, 1985:
A. Excitement in my Christian Walk:

  1. For the Word: constant hunger for it
  2. The Spirit's infilling--seeing results in worship
  3. words of knowledge--hearing His voice and being faithful to speak what I hear
  4. doing His word--not simply being a hearer, but acting on what I hear
  5. Preaching the word--evangelism where I live
  6. encouraging other believers
  7. PRAYER!!!
B. Excitement in my relationship with Beve--being a Godly wife

  1. anticipating and meeting his needs 
  2. allowing him time to himself 
  3. giving him support in his job and school
  4. listening to him, encouraging him to share his heart
  5. sharing my hear with him--being vulnerable at all costs
  6. creativity in our daily lives--not letting our lives become routine
  7. being positive about things--being filled with the Spirit
  8. working hard to make our home, our relationship a sanctuary
  9. just plain loving him sacrificially. But emotionally, too!
  10. Praying without ceasing for him!
C. Relationship with E ]who was only 6 weeks old at the time]

  1. recognizing and meeting her physical needs
  2. gentleness and patience when she's fussy
  3. singing and speaking about the Lord to her, even now
  4. praying for her (now and in the future)
  5. allowing her to be a baby--not being antsy for her to get past this part
  6. LOVING her as she is, and KNOWING she's who God intended her to be. RIGHT NOW.
D. For myself
  1. Books--not getting stagnant by not reading--even just a Psalm
  2. writing--more creativity. Carving out time for writing. Even a paragraph a day.
  3. sewing--plugging away at projects--to see something FINISHED!!!
  4. a friend of my own here
  5. dieting 
  6. exercise
Faith without works is useless, James says. He's writing truth. Am I living that truth? Help me, Lord, to live out my faith in these concrete ways.

***
Apart from the section about baby E, most of these goals could have been written a week ago.  And looking at it gives me chills because I really can mark both how far I've come and where I've missed the mark. Does this mean I haven't gotten very far, or that my desires were always what I should be desiring for my relationships? 
It's a good thing to ponder this week.
What are your goals for your most important relationships?
Or...how are you living out your faith? 

Work at your faith with fear and trembling, says Philippians 2, for it is God at work within you...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My favorite Psalm

How lovely is your dwelling place, 
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, 
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out 
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home
where she may have her young--
a place near your altar.
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with 
pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob,
Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your annointed one.
Better is one day in your courts 
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the 
house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does He withhold 
from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty,
blessed are those who trust in you.

Psalm 84.
What this Psalm means to me:
Everything. In a way it's my blueprint for life.
Shall I explain? (Not that you have a say here, of course...)
Even while I live with feet by gravity to this earth, something in me--that which is already fully HIS--longs for His courts, His dwelling place, which will make even the most beautiful of Creation seem a reflection, a shadow, a mere copy. Like it has no substance or reality. 

In truth, there are times when everything in me cries out for that place. In the last few days, the pain to which I am accustomed has burgeoned into something beyond even my ability to handle, and I've been handling this  chronic pain for ten years. I try to stand and my left leg begins to crumple, making me worry that far too soon, simply walking without aid will be beyond my capability; it's been bad enough that I can't imagine another day of it, let alone ten more years. I turn then to the words of this Psalm: "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."  These are words of comfort--to know that it's not only my heart, but my very human body, that can long for Him. He made my body to want Him, for strength today, for healing as He sees fit, and CERTAINLY--always--forever.  This is because my true home--our true home--is His home. Near Him. We, who are made in His image, were created to dwell with Him. Though He gave us this world as a model of that place, it is the rehearsal for what He intends when we live in the mansions Christ promised to prepare for us.  Those mansions are His blessing to us. His amazing grace blessing of the resurrection that ensures us that we will be with Him in paradise. What a profound blessing that is.

To this end, because of this, OF COURSE I have set my heart on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey for a spiritual purpose. There is no other purpose in life! How could there be? The world tells us repeatedly that life is not merely a destination but a journey but I believe it is both. We are on a journey toward a place. A journey toward Him. This is what makes it a pilgrimage. So if I had to choose a single sentence to sum up my life, it would be this verse, "Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage." In making such a spiritual journey, my goal on this earth is to turn the dry, difficult and even sometimes weeping places--in this Psalm  referred to as Baka--into places of springs. Springs of Him, springs of "Living Water," as Jesus calls Himself.  Recreating the hard, painful, torrential rains of life into pools of His life-giving presence.  This takes me--and hopefully, as ministry, those my life touches--from "[His] strength to [His] strength."

Does God hear me? Does He listen to me? It's the cry of every heart bent on seeking Him and the substance of every prayer. Yes, my faith says. He promises and I believe.

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked."
I can't tell you how often I've said these words aloud or silently, partly because they're so patently true.  That longing permeates deep into my pores. One day, I often think.  Simply standing at the door--just the door--of His throne-room: that alone overwhelms a desire for anything on this planet.  But these words are also a reminder. They help me keep my life in perspective when I get caught up in my own interests, when my longings take on a more worldly hue.  "I want this," I begin to think. "Give us that," creeps into my prayers. "Just this, Lord." Then these words comes, almost unbidden. Like a song. No, as a song I learned a long time ago when Beve and I lived in India. "I would rather be a doorkeeper in your house than to dwell my whole life somewhere else." Yes, yes, yes.  

So yes (again!) He is a sun and shield. He both lights my life and protects it. He bestows favor in His way--sometimes in ways that seem obvious and sometimes less so. Pain can be favor, I think. I believe so. I have experienced it as such. "No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless."  No good thing. That's the crux. Puts Romans 8: 28 to shame in how cosmic it is, to tell you the truth. But there's a caveat. "To those whose walk is blameless." To those who have "set their hearts on pilgrimage."  There is none blameless on her own. We know that. But by His saving grace, I am blameless in His sight. So no good thing does He withhold from me.  This day. Every day. 

Therefore, I trust Him. Therefore, In Him I put my trust, and set my heart on pilgrimage.
And on this Psalm.
And look forward to the day when my longing, yearning, fainting heart will find its true home in the courts of the living God.  Even as a simple doorkeeper.