Monday, June 30, 2014

God knew it would take this

It's Random Journal Link-up day, a few days early due to a certain purely American holiday at the end of the week, so splash into the July pool of journal entries with me, ok? Then be sure to pop over to the party at Dawn's to check out the other offerings at the table.

But because we're doing things a little differently anyway, I thought I'd shake things up post-wise as well. Instead of grabbing an old blue notebook, I cracked open the vault of this blog and selected a post from this blog; the one I chose is from 2009. It's quintessentially me. Open and transparent and just like a journal entry, only with an eye to an audience. So here you go:

Awakened by a text from the Beve this morning just after 7 AM.  Seriously, Beve?  Do you still not know me?  And I answered it.  Sigh.  Awakened from a dream in which my dad was apparently alive.  Had just been in a deep sleep for the last thirteen years.  Boy, did we have some catching up to do.  Somehow, Beve and I got it into our heads that we could clarify that whole time by taking him out for lunch.  Just catch him up to speed, as they like to say (whoever 'they' is).  But after I was so rudely awakened by Beve, and the dream was cut short, I started thinking about what we'd have tried to explain to Dad about the decade + since he died.  Kids grown, graduated, in college, out of college, kids married, grad schools attended and completed, jobs gotten, jobs lost, more jobs gotten, moves across the country, moves back, moves across again.  houses bought, sold, bought, sold.  Illnesses, deaths.  Mom.

Yep.  Mom.  What I'd tell him about Mom.  A few days ago, my sister-in-law called me, said she's been thinking for months that she needed to encourage me to clean up my blog posts about Mom, then consider getting them published.  So this morning, as I thought about what I'd tell Dad about Mom, that conversation with my sister-in-law was also in my head.  Dad knew I--all of us, really--had difficult relationship(s) with Mom both growing up, and more especially once we were adults and parents ourselves.  I think that was the hardest time.  Mom hated, really hated the way I parented.  It both angered and threatened her that I did things so differently than she did.  She felt like I was judging her every time I didn't make SK drink milk (even though SK is lactose-intolerant), because she always made all of her children drink milk at every meal, when I didn't make E take naps (E would lay in her bed, flat as a pancake, trying to obey me, but unable to sleep, even at two years old), when I didn't make my children finish every single bite of food on their plates.  Mom either got mad at me for not doing it right, or retreated into "I was a terrible mother," in reaction, when I disagreed with her.  Believe me when I say that the years of my children's childhood were extremely difficult between my mother and me.  She wrote me terrible letters that I never responded to, said terrible things, that I tried not to take personally, told me to "stay out of it, it's my house," when we were visiting them.  I hated being there, hated being around her, and yes...hated her.

And my father knew this.  Obviously.  At some point early in my parenting life, I felt--with Beve and God--that it was important that I stand up to Mom.  This caused some pretty hellacious scenes.  I used to say it wasn't a trip home if I hadn't made my mother cry.  "Mom," I'd say. "I'm their mother. Shouldn't I get to decide what they eat and how much?"  
"It's my house, my rules," she'd answer. "And I say they need to finish everything on their plates." 
"But food helpings are arbitrary.  If you get out a scale and determine the daily allowance for kids their ages, I'd make them eat that, but as it is, my system (which was making them take the same number of bites of things they didn't like as their current age) is as good as any." 
"I must have been a terrible mother to have made you eat all your food," she'd answer, start to cry and go off in a huff.  Ah yes, the leaving the room in a huff.  I learned that from her.
 (Just so you know, these conversations were held when the kids weren't around!)

This was the tenor of our visits during most of the last years of my father's life. At exactly the same time my father had become and was growing as a Christian.  My relationship with him, which had always been good, was also growing better and better in those last years of his life. 

I wonder now if he started praying that things would change between Mom and me.  Maybe.  I have to say that they grew far worse before they got better.  After Dad died, Mom became almost unbearable for me for several years.  She was sooo needy, so unreasonable, so entrenched in any position.  And she'd over-react catastrophically to the smallest of slights.  Or non-slights.  I remember once, not so very long ago, when she was staying in this house, that she wanted to show me how a tree out back formed the shape of a cross against the sky.  Unfortunately, at exactly that moment, the oven timer was going off, some pasta needed to be drained, the front doorbell rang, and several people in the living room were trying to also claim my attention.  Mom got so hurt that she burst into tears and stomped down to the other end of the house.  At the time we didn't know that she was on the cusp of Alzheimers, but looking back we should have.  There are so many of those moments.  So many times when I thought, "If she's not crazy, I must be!"  One of us had to be.

But during these same years since Dad died, I've also been praying to love her.  Praying hard for the love that God surely has for Mom to swamp me so that I could love her too.  And I remember the moment when I realized I did.  Love her, I mean.  It was after a brunch at E's apartment at WSU.  Mom was sitting off to the side, and was upset about something--as usual. And, without thinking, I knelt in front of her and put my hands on her knees.  Asked her what was wrong.  Really asked her.  Really cared.  Felt compassion for my own mother.  The same mother whom I'd despised for as long as I could remember.

If that's not answered prayer, I don't know what is.  And this is what I'd tell Dad, at a dream lunch.  Not the terrible, horrible, agonizing parts of Alzheimers, though I'd tell him all that too.  But that I love her.  That I love her so much now that I hate that she has to go through this.  That I can't bear it for her.  As I've said many times, as I told my sister-in-law the other day, it's the redemptive part--the redemptive journey-- of all this.  The only redemptive part.  Here is my mother--sitting in a wheelchair with bits of food on her blank face, juice splashed down her clothing, her hair long and greasy and pulled back by a barrette, holding a stuffed puppy--and I love her.  The woman who stood upright with a stern frown on her face (my mother's face in repose was always a frown), with her hand held up like a stop-sign, keeping me from doing something--that woman I still find hard to love.

God knew it would take this terrible, brain-stripping disease for me to finally get to the place of loving her.  That's the sad, hard truth, that He knows what it will take for each of us to get to the right place.  I always said that I didn't want her to die unloved, and I really believed she wasn't loved all those years after Dad died.  Not loved very well, anyway.  And it took this.  I'm both sorry about that, sorry it took that, and glad that it took, if that makes sense.  Yes, I'd tell Dad this: I love my mother. I'd say that's miracle enough for this day.

My mother died in August of 2010. And when she died, I loved her. I was glad she was released from the prison of Alzheimer's that had stripped her of every single thing that makes a body human. She was a crumpled, curled shell of my tall (5'11"), intimidating mother by the time she took her last breath. But I loved her then as fiercely as I'd loved her when I'd been a tiny girl climbing up to curl into her lap. As fiercely as when I was held to her breast. Yes, God knew it would take this. So I thank Him.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer Quilting

While Beve's out in the garden, pulling weeds, spreading mulch and watering his roses (see below), I haven't been too much of a slacker. My quilting machine's been busy. You see that blue and light gray quilt? I've actually pieced it three times. I finally gave up and quilted it this week. It's not right but I couldn't bring myself to tear it out again. It's pretty enough, even it it doesn't look the way I envisioned it. Sometimes life is like that. What seems like a mistake ends up with a whole new pattern one wasn't even looking for, and that pattern is beautiful and worth saving. At least that's the lesson I've decided to learn from this quilt. Nevertheless, I'm just particular enough that I'm going to do the unthinkable (for me)--I'm going to re-make the same pattern. I just HAVE to do it correctly. It'll drive me crazy until I do. Beve took one look at the finished quilt and said, "I love this quilt, I want you to make one for me." So there you go--it's like it was meant to be. This one can go to the recipient as it is, and I'll make another one for us (a bit larger for our large bed) and do it right!

This quilt is for SK. I made it with her favorite colors. The green fabric is her window covering, and the back is made of 'minky', which is a soft fabric she's been asking me to use in a quilt for her for a long time. She'll be happy I finally finished this (I started it months ago!).

I've been playing with braiding in quilts, so I made this table-runner for my sister. I'm planning an entire quilt of more neutral fabrics that will be herringbone-like, so this is my experiment. And I've been playing with different quilting patterns. I love the rhythm of quilting, but it's not easy work. Nothing beautiful is, I suppose. Someone told me the best way to quilt is to drink a little wine, so your limbs get loosened up first. I can actually understand why that would help (though I hardly ever drink).

Many more projects on the horizon, but so many other things to do during the summer, I'm not sure I'll get back to the machine very soon. It calls me, though. Sometimes I think I dream in quilt patterns these days.

My book list

I decided that this would be the summer of rereading some of the classics I haven't read since college. Between the weightiness of those tomes, on my list are some non-fiction works that have girth of a different sort.

So first, the classics:
  1. Les Miserables: I'm about 25% into this book now and am reminded (as usual) why books are so much better than Broadway and movies. Of course I love the written word, but there's just so much that was truncated from this spectacular novel for the musical version. At the moment I'm in the middle of a long section about Waterloo, which isn't for the faint of heart, but because I am who I am, it's sent me scurrying to the internet to research facts against the fictional account. Hugo is brilliant in bringing the epic (and I use this word purposely!) between Napoleon and Wellington to the present. But my favorite part (so far) is the priest. If you've seen the musical in either version, you know the priest, but you don't REALLY know him. He gave the thief Val Jean his candlesticks after Val Jean had stolen his silver, but that's the tip of the ice-berg of this priest's character. If I could name a fictional person I'd like to grow up in Christ to be, it would be this priest, called Myriel Bienvenu (or Monseigneur Welcome). I am serious. Here are a couple of small quotes as to why: "He did not study God; he was dazzled by him." "He had nothing of the prophet and nothing of the magician about him. This humble soul loved, and that was all. That he carried prayer to the pitch of a superhuman aspiration is probable: but one can no more pray too much than one can love too much; and if it is a heresy to pray beyond texts, Saint Theresa and Saint Jerome would be heretics."
  2. Middlemarch: This was one of my favorite books when I was in college. I seriously loved Dorothea Brooke and her high-minded brainiac standards when I was young, for all that she made the wrong choice. The whole arc of the story appealed to me, what she wanted, how wrong that appeared to those who loved her, and how she repented of that desire soon enough, but stuck by it anyway. Yes, it's a story about marriage, and as relevant today as ever, even if it's a mid-19th century novel. I can't wait to delve into it again (if I can get through the 950 pages of Les Mis).
  3. David Copperfield: I read Great Expectations earlier this spring, which made me want to re-read this Dickens tale, which is my favorite. I can't really explain why. David's story, though it has a similar arc as most of Dickens' heroes, doesn't seem quite as ghastly. Great Expectations is full of such nastiness-- nastiness as bedfellow with Pip's rise in fortune--that I want something kinder afterwards. (maybe that's why I turned to Les Mis?)
Short list but these aren't short stories. Now the interspersed non-fiction I'm reading:
  1. Untamable God by Stephen Altrogge. The subtitle is 'Encountering the One Who is Bigger, Better and More Dangerous than You Could Possibly Imagine.' VERY intriguing, don't you think? I can hardly wait to dive in.
  2. Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I've been using a devotional this year that quotes Bonhoeffer with regularity, and (obviously) that's made me want to re-read one of the seminal books of my Christian walk. I don't know exactly when I'll start this because it's not a light read; it's more of a 'read with pen and paper for note-taking' kind of book. But there's ALWAYS something new in it, something impacts my life profoundly. It's been at least a decade since I last cracked the spine of my copy, which is so cracked and broken, it's taped and re-taped.
  3. A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. A memoir of a man who, as a four year old, got separated from his older brother, tried to find the right train back to his village in India and didn't get home again until he was a grown man. It's quite a story. I'm actually having a hard time NOT reading it yet, but I'm saving it for our vacation in California.
  4. Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This is phenomenally important book about the atrocities being done to women globally. I recently saw a documentary they produced in relation to this book and decided I needed to read the book as well. I can't say more than that at the moment, because this book and its contents deserve their own post, but if you're a human being and you're a reader, you should read this book. Even if you'd rather not, or especially if you'd rather not. And if you aren't a reader, let this be the exception. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer things

These things:

  1. Mornings on the back deck in the sun
  2. Beve making tea before I get out of bed
  3. Friends and family coming for visits
  4. Going to visit family and friends
  5. Family reunions
  6. Barbeques
  7. Sunlight until 10 PM
  8. Shorts, flip-flops, sleeveless shirts
  9. Cool showers after warm days
  10. Dogs drinking from the hose as I try to water my flowers)
  11. Long conversations with old friends
  12. Iced tea with a little bit of mint
  13. Road trips
  14. Vacations with old friends
  15. Seeing our baby
  16. Vacation-BEVE!!!
I love summer. And, as of today (in our world), it finally began.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

End Days

He sits staring at his plate, which is piled with food. An apple fritter from his favorite bakery brought by his son stares balefully back at him, daring him to take a bite. He just looks around the room, points at windows, the bulletin board, the other people and asks, "Where did they come up with this?"

It's new every morning with Grampie now. There's no telling what or who he'll know. A few days ago, he pulled the fire alarm and emptied out the entire two-story building. As soon as they heard it go off, the second-floor staff looked at each other and asked, "Where's [Grampie]?" When they told us, I didn't want to point out the obvious--that he's the only patient tall enough (even sitting in a wheelchair) to reach a fire-alarm. He's also the only patient with the exact combination of reading skills, curiosity and dementia that would make him do such a thing, like a mischievous little kid who doesn't quite know what it means but can't resist a lever.

Two days ago when Beve and I were there, he ate his dinner so quickly, we thought we might have to send out for a pizza or something. He seemed like the 'hay-burner' he'd always called his sons when they were teenagers and putting away food faster than their mother could keep it on the table. I've never met people who could eat as much as those three sons could when they were young and still playing basketball all hours of the day and night. Grab fast, think about whether you liked it later, that was my motto in the early days. Fortunately, Beve's mom was a very good cook; she cooked for quantity but aimed for quality. Fortunately, I discovered I actually DID like cabbage rolls, and seafood lasagne and lentil soup and all kinds of other things my family had never eaten.

But that's all ancient history now.
Now Grampie stares at his plate, not quite knowing what food is.
At least for today. But in a few moments, he'll be put back into bed.
"It's a good bed," he told me just the other day. "I tuck in and say, 'Ah.'"
He's pretty funny, our Grampie. I love these little nuggets from him. I KNOW he does exactly that every time he gets tucked into bed. I've seen it. He doesn't remember my name, he loves to laugh at me, he doesn't remember we live right across town or that we were just with him two days ago. He doesn't even remember where he lives, but he knows exactly how it feels to 'tuck in' to bed. It's the best moment of his day.

That's what the end is like. He enjoys the smallest moments.
He makes everyone around him smile and remember his name.
You can hardly imagine how much love there is for this big man at the place were he lives.

I want my end days to be like his. No matter when they come, I want my end days to find me being cheerful, unfailingly friendly, caring for others, appreciative of the small things, forgetful of what doesn't matter. Grampie teaches me how to let go of life well. He's doing it the best way you can imagine. You'd be proud to know him. Proud to call him Grampie--I know you would. He makes the world a better place by being in it. Even that confined, end place where he lives is a better place for his presence.

Beve, J and E with Grampie 
on Father's Day

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Long drives

Thirty-odd years ago, I went to college nine hours away from my home town. I didn't make the trek home very often. It wasn't a weekend jaunt. But I drove the road often enough that I learned the rhythm of that stretch of road. I got used to the turns of it. It's not a very interesting drive between my college and home towns. To reduce it to its simplest terms, I might say it's a straight line for two hours, a right turn,  follow the winding course on the right side of beside the mighty Columbia River the longest interval, cross over into my home-state, then slant a winding road through dry country and finally into the Palouse. That's the clift-notes version.

For most of that drive, back in the days I drove it often, it was impossible to pick up radio stations along the way. It cut out between Portland and the tri-cities in Washington (which is a VERY long stretch) though somehow, I did manage to listen to the NBA finals complete with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson one June evening as I drove.

Usually, however, I spent my drive differently than even turning on the radio. I remember driving home the first time after getting my first dog. Caspian was a Springer Spaniel (and looked so much like our Jamaica they could have been from the same litter) and was still a tiny puppy that trip. I expected him to stay in the passenger seat, but he was a velcro dog (though I'd never heard the term back then!), and curled up in my lap. Of course I let him stay there, so sweet and soft and not bothering anyone. And of course, that was the ONLY time I ever got stopped by a cop driving through the Columbia River gorge. I was probably speeding, though I don't remember that now.

As I pulled over and stopped the car, Caspian stirred. He was about 12 weeks old, and like a little black and white bird, peeked his head out of the cradle of my lap when the officer came up to my window. The officer took off his hat, looked in, then looked again and smiled. That adorable puppy staring up at him kept me from getting a ticket that day. I even have a faint memory of the officer reaching in and picking up Caspian for a moment. I do remember that I put my puppy on a leash as the officer drove off, so the puppy could do his business before we continued our drive home.

But the other thing I always did as I drove home was open my Bible. In those days the right turn drive through Portland involved traffic lights. At the last one before hitting the freeway East toward the River Gorge, I let my Bible fall open. I'd read the first passage my eyes would land on, and spend hours--yes, hours--trying to preach that passage. Short or long, drawing from whatever other verses I had in my head, I preached my way along the river.  Caspian grew accustomed to my voice rising and falling in emphasis.
He was my canine audience, I suppose.

It's a good exercise--I think I'll give such a practice a shot in the coming days.

Tonight, however, I'll leave you with this.
 I came across these words in Psalm 18-- "He reached down from on high and took hold of me, He drew me out of deep waters." (verse 16).

These are words I might have preached to in that car long ago. They are certainly words I could preach to. In a single poetic verse, we have the story of our salvation.
Think about it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Building blocks

It was a beast of a week of migraine. I'm glad to turn the page and start afresh. It took me down a lane of memories I don't even like peering at, let alone walk down. Dark and dingy and full of garbage piled on every side, that memory lane is. Thirty plus years lived in that migraine alley. Not much to show for it, either. Kids so aware the pain had struck they knew Dad would be in charge of dinner, baths, books and bedtime because Mama was flat in her bed with a pillow covering the side of her head. They grew up with migraines like it was another being in our home, a guest who showed up, unwanted but expected, every month. Dishing out pain and ill-temper in unequal parts. At least I hope it was unequal. That is, I think the pain made me turn more inward and quiet than outward and nasty.

Of all the things aging has done, none has been quite as welcome as the cessation of those headaches. Anyone who suffers with them in the same way as I did, will shout 'Hallelujah!' about now. And anyone who is in the middle of the long season of the hormonal migraine plight is likely to raise their fist at the thought that it will last the length of that season. All I can say is, I feel your pain. I never went to bed, or stayed home, with cramps, but migraines made a monthly visit. And always stole life from me.

In this season, I have far fewer migraines, but they still manage to make appearances now and then. And I still think of them like separate entities, unwelcome guests in my head, robbing me of coherent thought. This morning I got to thinking about how far migraine suffering has come. My grandmother suffered from what she called, 'Sick headaches.' I don't know what kind of sympathy there was for them, but I know when I was young, two generations later, there weren't any medications for them, so I was treated with narcotics, which isn't a good choice (they don't touch the pain, and personally, I'm actually allergic to narcotics!). I felt guilty for having 'just a headache' so many times. Yes, people often said that, when I was white as a sheet,  so sick I was throwing up and should have been in bed.

This morning, I was thinking about how the 30 years of migraine was preparation for the nerve pain I live with now. THIS pain isn't in my head. I can still think around this pain. I can still live life. Yes, having pain in an extremity, even never-ending, 24-7 pain is nothing like migraine. I love that our life is full of building blocks all used by God to form us. I take joy in that. Not joy in the suffering exactly, but joy that HE is so clearly present in all the suffering in my life.

Can you see Him?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Being a table-leg

The story of the friends who bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus has been roaming around in my spirit in the last few days, marinating, one might say. Several years ago, I was part of a group of friends who called ourselves "The table-legs," because of that story. There were five of us, you see, and at any given moment, one or another of us, was the one who was paralyzed with something. Lying on the table of illness, grief, indecision, worry, fear, some sort of crossroads. The rest of us held up the table on which the hurting friend was prone. Carried her to Jesus, breaking through walls with our prayers, when she was unable to do so on her own.

This week, I'm reminded of the privilege of being a Table-leg. Someone very dear to us hurts and feels gob-shocked by the unexpectedness of that hurt. The family reels with it. Yes, I might well say, they are paralyzed (at least temporarily). I can't say that I know how they feel. I can't imagine.Though there have been moments in my life when I've felt paralyzed by dread and pain and grief, every situation is different, unique. God knows this. 

God knows.

What I love about this story in Mark 2 is that we have a template for what WE--the body--are meant to do when those we love are gob-shocked. We aren't meant to share platitudes with them, to tell them to buck up, trust God, etc. No, it's OUR job to do the work they can't do. We push through the crowd and climb the roof. We break away the bricks and dig through the roof to get to Jesus on their behalf. Whatever it takes, this story tells us: that's what we do. We get our knees and our hands and our fingernails dirty (maybe even bloody), praying for them. And we don't stop until we get to Him. We don't stop until we see that they get up from their mats and can begin to walk themselves. Rather, we continue when we see them arise from their paralysis, and can join us in the prayer. Yes, our praying for them doesn't stop at the end of their paralysis, of course. It simply grows with them joining us as we hold them upright, rather than on the table.

That's it. Don't ask your hurting friends what you can do for them. What way is there to tell you? Just start climbing the roof, just start moving those bricks. 

Be their table-legs!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer plans

Our summer plans got derailed in a millisecond this morning. Across the world, my brother-in-law is in the hospital battling some kind of blood infection in his legs, so he made the difficult decision to cancel his trip west next week. Yes, next week. He and his half-his-size wife were due to arrive here the day after school ends for the summer. We've been in a whirlwind of least in our minds. We've have all manner of things planned for their long visit with us. J and I were all set to organize and move J out of his room for the duration this week. Box up J's superfluous belongings, store them in the cellar, clean the room of 'boy smells' and ready it for the incoming Finns. But in one phone call, all that changed.

Our summer changed. Now what looked like company for the whole of it, looks like a long stretch of "What are we going to do with ourselves?" And that's a very strange feeling.

There's concern about Beve's older brother, obviously. Finland is a long ways away from here. He had a similar problem earlier this year, and we didn't understand much of what was wrong with him then--what caused it, what solved it, why it lasted so long. After 31 years in Finland, older brother has learned Finnish, of course, and doesn't know the English translation for all the medical things the doctors tell him. At least I think that's why he's been so vague with us. But his reticence is legendary and I do well to remember that as I write here, and NOT share a story that isn't mine to share.

What IS my story is how unmoored we suddenly feel by this change in our summer plans. Beve and I are not planners by nature. We don't plan our vacations years ahead of time, but we do open our home every summer. In the winter, I tend to close up, cuddle in by the fire and hibernate. That's the truth of it. I'm a hermit and I like the quiet of cold, rainy days alone in my house. There is nothing so soothing as such days to me. I am, after all, a creature of my country. I'm a person of the Pacific Northwest, and if I didn't love rain on my window, I shouldn't live here at all.

But that's not the only reason I'm a creature of this country. I love that I live among the trees and marine air gives us natural air-conditioning on all but the hottest of days, and we can live with windows open to the wonderful air outside. And as the days lengthen and the sun comes out, our front, back and French doors are left open and we respond to whoever comes through them. We have a whole host of friends who barely (or never) knock when they come to our house. They simply come on in, wander through until they find us and yes, we respond to whoever shows up without too much fuss (though Beve would say I fuss a great deal as I make sure our home is tidy and inviting). Mostly, though, summer is about being with whoever is here.

And now, as I'm sitting here, thinking about the blank month where their visit sits on our calendar, I wonder what and who God will bring through our doors instead. What does He have in mind?

What does He have in store for YOU this summer? Big plans? Big moves?

Little ones?
Feasts or picnics?
Where will these next three months find you?

I'm baffled at the moment that it won't be what we thought it would...
but maybe it'll be even better.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

When the time was right

It's the first Thursday of the month, meaning it's Random Journal Link-Up Day, but I've also been participating in 21 Days of Journal-keeping over at Dawn's blog, too. Those of you who know me well (I'm looking at you, family!) might find it odd that I need help to keep a journal. You're the ones who have seen me with my pen in one of these blue notebooks every day of your lives. However, there's a challenge in the writing to prompts. It's like putting a harness on a wild creature and that's good for me.

So today, I thought share the entry from June first, the first day of the 21 day challenge. The  prompt was to write about how I met my spouse. For the first instant, I was wordless, because the story's been too often told and is long and cumbersome. But then I began to write this:

The other night I had a dream that I was back in high school playing baseball with a large crowd of friends. Beve was there but was leaving for school overseas. Saying goodbye to him made me panic and clutch him. It was breaking my heart that he was leaving me, even though (in the dream) I couldn't understand why. Of course the truth of our lives is far different from that dream. I don't remember meeting Beve. We knew each other a long time before we were friends and were friends a long time before that friendship mattered. The dreams I have now are more interesting than the real story until we get to almost 15 years into knowing each other. It's like I am trying to invent a different past in my dreams.

Yes, it would be easier to go back and back and back and turn it into fiction. An alternate version, you might call it.  He was the boy across the street but I was aware of him the instant I moved into our new house on Janet Street and the games on the cul de sac behind his house led to friendship when we were in elementary school. And when I cut across his yard in those days it was because I'd been in his driveway playing marbles with him. And when he came to my house to talk to my dad about joining scouts, he stayed longer because we were always hanging out together anyway.

And if that had been our story, when we started middle school and my mom drove us across town to middle school, I always sat beside him in our carry-all and walked with him from where she dropped us, talking all the way. Maybe we didn't talk at school, but we were friends and told each other our stuff.

Then--in this alternate history--just about the time we started high school, about the time we each met our First Love (Jesus), something changed between us. Maybe we didn't understand what it was. Maybe it got awkward for a little while. But before too long, we realized that we'd always been building toward this deeper friendship. So it changed. Yes, it changed. And when he played basketball, I paid attention. Well, I paid attention not simply because he was the best player in our high school but because he was also important to ME. It was with the jeweled eyes of new love and knowing I'd walk out the door of the gym with him afterwards; with this tall, amazing, talented, humble boy.

But that's not our story. None of it is. Sometimes I'm a little sad that it isn't since all of it is so close. We did all those things. We played together, walked those blocks, were in each other's homes, rode in each other's cars, and I watched this very talented basketball player play. Sometimes we even did things by ourselves together (walked or drove home from places--it was convenient, after all!). We had the same circle of friends. But even if I squint as hard as I can backwards, I can't make any of it count. I can't pay attention well enough in hindsight. He just didn't matter to me then. Not then, not for another eight years after our high school graduation. 

Yet every time a person discovers we lived across the street from each other growing up, their immediate conclusion is, "Oh, childhood sweethearts."

"When the time was right," stories begin in scripture. That's a very good title for our story as well. In some way, the time was right somewhere in the middle. It wasn't the beginning of the story, because there was a long prelude, but we needed blinders on for a long time, I suppose. That's what Beve said, when we talked about it one day. We lived side-by-side lives for as long as necessary--for as long as God intended--until the time was right. And then God brought us together. That's the amazing grace of it all.

Now click this link to check out other journal entries in the party, and to read about the amazing journal-keeper, Kel Rohlf.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Concentrating on Obedience

I wrote this in my journal yesterday (and yes, I do realize I wrote about it not that long ago):

In the fragrant, brilliant, spring-almost-summer morning, I sat on a blue and green striped pillow on the corner of our deck, throwing a neon green ball to Kincade, putting him through his paces, so to speak. He's learned so quickly in the last couple of weeks what I expect of him each time he drops the ball. Today, the new command added was to come to me across the yard, sit again before I threw the ball and he got to run. He learned this new skill so quickly. Okay, immediately! But he was panting hard to keep himself in check. It takes as much out of him to obey me--as much energy and will--as it does to simply run and catch the ball willy-nilly over and over.

It's hard work and concentration for him to listen to me, to comprehend what I will ask this time. Will I say, "Sit?" Or, "Down?" Or "Stay?" All three? Will I put the ball down in the grass across the yard, walk back to him and make him wait even long before telling him, "Okay!" All of these are possibilities he's alert to.
Sometimes he gets distracted. If Jamaica gets in the way, if she makes a move toward his ball, for instance, he can lose focus. If he takes his eyes off me, he can also lose focus. But I'm amazed at how seldom he breaks eye contact with me. I've even moved around behind our garden shed to see what he'll do, and he just stares at the space where he knows I must be. Interestingly, he always returns to 'base' after he catches the ball. No matter where I've moved around the yard, he knows that our starting place is that corner of the deck where my pillow sits. He learned that the first day. Yes, even if he got distracted, got off course, he always goes back to base to start over.

Yes, it's hard work for him. But there's undeniable satisfaction, too. He knows I'm always pleased with him. He loves that; his tail wags for miles. There are no special treats involved, just my "Good boy!" that makes him happy.

When I came inside and began thinking about this ordinary thing I do each morning (I've been throwing for my dogs first thing each day about 15 years now), I was hit in the gut with how this new routine with Kincade is a great analogy for me as a follower of Christ. It should teach me something. It's almost so self-evident I don't need to translate it. We call Kincade Fat-head, but that could easily--often--be me. Sitting, waiting, coming to my Master's call. That's it. The work of obedience takes will and concentration but brings deep satisfaction. And no matter what, always, always return to base--where He sits. It's where He is.

It's just that simple.