Friday, January 30, 2015

Love in action

Here's a little story, a true one. It's not mine but I can't resist telling it because it's so good.

My younger daughter lives with a woman who is the area director for Young Life in the East Bay--that is, Oakland, California. She (and my daughter) is a Caucasian woman of privilege working with a diverse population of teens markedly without privilege. I'm not saying CJ comes from money, no more than SK does. Or I do. But our lives have afforded us opportunities because of skin color. That's something I didn't realize until recently. But CJ did. CJ has always had a rather instinctive understanding of her privilege, and the disadvantage of others. She's always seen the gospel as the great leveler, always known that what she wanted was to live and work and have her being among those who didn't have because that's exactly what Christ did.

It hasn't always been easy going, the way CJ's chosen to live her life, to serve her kids--to LOVE them.  She walked into their world by herself at first, and there she was, a white woman, among teens of many other hues. The suspicions were high--among the kids, among the adults in those kids' lives, among the neighborhoods where she dared to drive. But she's a few years in now and has built a team. Sometimes it's easier for CJ now. People know her, call her by name (or initials!). They welcome her into their homes. But her work is hard. For example, she sent kids to Beyond Malibu last summer, and had to find packs, boots, all the necessary supplies for these kids who'd never left the streets of Oakland before. It was sweaty work getting it all together. That's not including convincing these inner city kids that it'd be the best week they'd ever have to go climb mountains and sleep in tents in the wilderness. Tough, sweaty work in that, too.

But here's the thing: for all her work (which she LOVES), sometimes CJ just runs into a wall with a kid. Last fall one young teen decided she hated CJ. HATED her. Wasn't just mad at her, but actually hated her. It was difficult and painful and divisive for the whole group, because the teen didn't stop attending just stood on a side each club meeting and talked about how terrible, how hateful CJ is. How prejudiced CJ is, which, as SK said, was the most crazy thing she said, since CJ is CJ and could teach the rest of the world a thing or twenty any day of the week. She's taught this old dog (me!) a couple of those things in the time I've known her about shedding my white privilege and living like a human being with other human beings, however I find them and being more aware of how I treat them. Yes, I've learned from this young woman. So to call HER hateful and prejudiced? Not from here to eternity will she be that.

Anyway, this hate mongering (because that's exactly what it was)went on the entire fall.
Until this week, actually.
This week, this teen called CJ, said she wants to go to winter camp and wanted to do a fundraiser so she could. CJ made that happen. She picked up this teen (with a couple friends) and when they got into the car, the teen said, "I think I've been a little rude to you the last few months."
CJ thought, 'A little?' but said, "That's okay."
The teen said, "I don't know why I've been so mad at you."
They talked a little longer about it, then the teen said this,
"No matter what I did, this crazy white girl wouldn't stop loving me."

Think about that statement for a moment, "No matter what I did, she wouldn't stop loving me."
That's it. That's the WHOLE gospel right there. CJ living out the gospel. This teen hating and hating and hating, and still love was given to her in return.

I have been saying that phrase in my head since last night when SK told me the story. I can't get over it. This teenager just shared the gospel and didn't even know. She saw love in action--that is, Jesus Christin action. I'm proud of CJ, but not surprised. The Holy Spirit governs her life and work. To Him be the glory.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Last colors

We face the setting sun here. Here in the west, here in Bellingham, here in our home with the large picture windows (at both ends of the house) pointing toward the bay. But many days, I don't see the setting sun. Clouds cover it too many days to count, of course. So I'm excused from that notice. But what of the other days? What of the days when I have my back facing the windows? What about the days when I'm just too dang busy or pre-occupied to notice?

Last night, as I was settling Grampie into his chair after his afternoon nap (he sleeps longer and longer each) and asking him about dinner, he pointed out the window behind me and said, "Look at the light!" I turned around and saw this:

These pictures were taken with my iPhone and no filter. The colors, textures and variety were God's alone. I stepped out onto our front patio to take these pictures and aimed my little phone every which way across the west to catch the different ways the fire looked in the firmament. But it was Grampie who'd noticed. My brain was too busy thinking about dinner and his toe and J's Achilles', and our lack of care-giver for today (yep, you can guarantee THAT was on my mind!), and how E is holding up covering Super Bowl week, and whether SK will get things organized so she can go to the weekend YL camp with her kids, and a whole host of other things I think about every second that aren't worth sharing or able to be shared. You know, minutiae and monumental stuff that keeps me stuck inside my own head and not looking out the window at the real show...

Until my old, demented Grampie points it out. Grampie! Grampie who barely notices when we stick his foot in warm water or comb his hair or have a conversation, is ALSO not consumed by worries. He's open to seeing those colors and light when they show up because he isn't distracted by other things.

There's something fitting about that, isn't there? The dying of the day in such gorgeous color pointed out and enjoyed by one who is also living the colors of the aged, or (if I can be so blunt) of the dying. He's in his last colors, And I pray that we can see these days with him as beautiful, as beautiful and glorious as that dying sun.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Foot wounds

There's a man in a recliner at each end of our house today. Each is nursing a wound of sorts. Grampie, of course, sits in his faded blue recliner in our light-flooded front room. Unlike in the Northeast, which is bracing for the blizzard of the century, here in the Northwest, we're experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures. Beve texted me a picture of a down the road that read 69 degrees (farenheit). Though the crocus haven't bloomed, the daffodil stalks are beginning to peek out of the soil. I'm practically pulling out my shorts and sleeveless shirts.

But I digress. It's easy to do that. I could positively wax poetic about the sun and how it dapples Grampie's face while he sleeps. He doesn't notice, but I do, and there's a bounce in my step that's been missing in the sloppy gray days of the last month. I don't kid myself that there aren't more of those gray days ahead (I am at peace with where I live) but it's nice to see the sun for a moment in the middle of winter.

However, to my point. Grampie has a wound on the knuckle of a toe. A broken blister, to be exact. Most of us have had blisters on our feet at one time or another in our lives. Wear a new shoe too long, hike too many miles in unbroken-in boots, dance too long, and you'll get a blister. It's part of placing all the weight of our bodies on two rather smallish things at the bottom. Those dang feet take more wear and tear than any other parts of our external frame, make no mistake. But Grampie didn't get his wound from walking or hiking or dancing. He got his from sitting. From disuse, to be exact. And oddly, this blister that's come from disuse is worse than any blister I've ever had--any blister I've ever SEEN--from use. He hasn't taken a single step on those feet in over a year, I think, maybe two. And now his toes are curling and rubbing against his soft socks and slippers. Until finally the skin broke.

At the other end of the house, in the less lit (through no fault of its own) tv room, sits our son, J. J had surgery today to lengthen his left Achilles tendon. This is Achilles surgery, the sequel, if you will. He had the right Achilles done last July, and exactly six months later, has had the second one done. He'll be laid up almost as much as Grampie for the next few days, needing help to bath and even walk. We'll be carting food, ice-bags and pain meds down the hall to him.

Helping J when we aren't helping Grampie.
Or one of us will help him and one the other.

But there's a significant difference between these two men.

J's a 27-year-old man. He has this 'wound', because he's healthy and wants to live better, walk better, be more active. These Achilles surgeries, as grueling as they are, will help him walk, run, play basketball and even football without pain. They'll help his daily life be easier. He has a wound so that he can live better.

Grampie's wound comes because he's dying. Yes, that's blunt. And no, I don't mean that he's dying today or tomorrow or even next week. I have no idea when he might die. But it's true that he's closing in. And that makes his wound a sadder thing. Harder to heal, to be sure, since he doesn't have health and youth on his side. But sadder because if even sitting and wearing soft down slippers can give a blister, how thin is that skin?

The skin between this life for Grampie and heaven is just about that thin, too, I think.
It won't take much for that skin to break.
We think we ready, but I know--I know--there's a wound waiting ahead for Beve. For all of us.
No matter where we KNOW he's going, his leaving will still be hard.

However, I have no time to think of that today. I have two men to care for, sitting in recliners at opposite ends of my house.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


"Who are you?" he asks. "Where's your husband?"
He isn't asking where Beve is, mind you. He doesn't connect Beve with me now. At least not when Beve's not in the house.
"What am I doing here?" He scrunches his mouth a moment. "I think we'll go on into town and back home now."
 It's going to be that kind of day.
I pull out pictures of his childhood home. Start there.
He smiles when he sees them. He knows that place. Tell him the old stories he's told me along the years of his mother's garden, his dad delivering mail. Ice-skating, walking into town to buy a chicken and see a movie with that live chicken in his over-alls.
I move on to pictures of himself in college and tell him more stories: of mailing laundry home to his mother; in the army (riding elephants in Burma, creating a basketball tournament right in the middle of a war); at his wedding (his bride made her own dress, her old Norwegian uncle married them).
His forehead wrinkles. "You remember memories," he says.
"Yes," I tell him. "You know why I know your stories? Because I'm married to your son."
I show him pictures of Beve as a child, and then of our wedding.
Pictures of our family when our children were small. Him holding our children, him sitting with me.
"Well, holy mackerel!" he says.

Grounding him, I think. That's what I'm doing. Grounding him in this moment so that his agitation ceases. So that he stays in his chair (if he falls, there's NO way I could help him get up). Bring him back to this moment. I don't know where his memory fails. I don't know how close to the present the gap begins, but it doesn't seem to matter. It calms him just to know that know him, that I remember him.

When I started this post I thought I didn't have anything beyond that to say about my life right now. When everything I do is wrapped up in keeping someone fed and clothes and grounded in the present, it's a challenge to find space (even in my head) to think about what is deeper and beyond. The things I tell him, the conversation (if you can call it such) is like the beads on a rosary or prayer necklace : they go round and round and round. But like the beads on such a necklace, there is a holy purpose to those who employ them with heart and intention to honestly serve God.
AND beyond that, the truth is this: what matters most isn't that I am actively remembering God in my daily activities, He is remembering me.

Grounding Grampie in this day when his eyes are swimming and his mind fluttering with confusion: this is holy work. I believe--no, I know--God is remembering me (and the Beve, of course) in it. Daily. Hourly. Each minute.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The best moment

It looks like I've finally managed to conquer the beast running amuck through my body. What a relief.

Just in time for a great day of football Sunday.

Yes, I said that. Now I realize I'm showing regional colors when I say that, but I'm a football fan. I've said that before. I don't know why. It has a lot to do with being raised in a college town by a football-loving college professor who had been one of the manager/trainers for the University of Washington football team in the early 50s when he was a student. He loved football, my father did. LOVED it with all caps. And I was raised at his knee, obviously. So I loved it before I understood a single thing about it. That's just the truth. I loved the University of Michigan football team when all I knew about them was their fight song. Then I changed allegiances faster and loved the Washington State Cougars for...well, once a Cougar, always a Cougar, so they say,

You women who read this blog might be asking what on earth I find so compelling about football.
It's the rush, I suppose. The exhilaration that comes at the end of close games, the feeling of overcoming, the stories told over the course of the game by the announcers, the beauty in the running, the glory in the passing, the unexpected twists--that interception, that fumble. And though some of those who play are notoriously 'bad' guys, there are also singularly inspirational individuals, truly heroic people who I have come to admire for their athleticism, but also their whole lives.

So we come to this weekend.

My own 'home-town' team played this weekend.
You might have heard. In fact, even if you live in a cave, you probably heard.
The Seattle Seahawks played Green Bay Sunday afternoon.
It was an epic game.
I don't use the word epic easily. Epic should be used purposely. It means heroic, majestic, impressively great. We aren't referring to a sandwich here.  In fact, it's meant to refer to poetry. Perhaps this blog post is my faltering, prosaic attempt...

But let me backtrack. It wasn't really an epic game. It was a miserable game...for 56 minutes, it was just plain miserable to be a Seattle Seahawk fan. See, we know our team. We KNOW who they are and what they can be.

But let me tell you the story another way. This is the messenger conversation I had with my two daughters during the game. My older daughter, E, is a digital media producer for a TV station in Seattle. She was in the press box during the game (or to be clear, in the overflow room due to so much press). Often she's on the sidelines. My younger daughter, SK, is not one bit interested in football. (Everything in parantheses is emojis)

E: So. Stressed.
Me: We've had the sound turned down. This is just awful.
Me: So you're probably lucky you missed that half.
E: ugh
Me: The only hopeful thing is that the Seahawks are a second-half team
E: That's true. I'm hoping it's a completely different team that walks out in 12 minutes.
Me: Me too, the Seahawks, this time!
E: Things are at an all-time low--I'm eating a hot dog.
Me: What? It's the apocalypse!
SK: (picture of strange man with hair sticking up)
E: I know
Me: (Tongue sticking out)
E: (Bloated face crying)
E: Me eating it
E: And watching the game
Me: (Photograph of our counter with a half eaten donut)
Beve (he was at a meeting): Still sad?
E: I believe I'm in denial. That's the first stage of grief, right?
I mean, I know technically it's not over, but...
*4th interception--Now it pretty much is
E: #somuchforarizona
Me: Yes, it is (the first stage of denial). Maybe you should take a week off to recover.
E: If only.
Me: On the bright side, we won't feel so stressed about the superbowl.
E: Another pro, my chances of contracting skin cancer are lower
Me: Silver linings
SK: my condolences
Me: Holy Crap!
E: Ditto
E: maybe even worth a swear word ;)
Me: Okay Holy #%&*
Me: (Face with hearts for eyes)
E: Giant heart
SK: I guess I should take back my condolences?
E: haha
Me: Hold your horses, we're going to overtime
Me: So, E, now you're nervous again?
E: I'm in a glass case of emotion
SK: (Shaking  dog emoji)
E: HOLY #&$*!!!!
SK: (BUNNY with a star)
SK: Congrats!
E: Thanks sister!

Sorry about the swearing. Just so you know, I don't swear. Like EVER!
I'm still trying to get to where I'm going in this post. You see the best part of the game, besides the unbelievably exhilarating 4 minute come-back, and the rush of overtime, besides the absolute thrill of knowing they were going back to the Super Bowl (and that E gets to go and stand on the sidelines to take pictures--how cool is that?) came in the mad moments immediately following the game. The clock doesn't wind down in an over-time win in the play-offs. There's no time to catch one's breath for the players. The second that football was caught in the end zone by the Seattle receiver, the game was over.

And we fans got to witness something special. I'd go so far as to say profound. Russell Wilson, the Seattle quarterback, broke down in tears. He stood there, with tears streaming down his face, and said, "God is good all the time." If you didn't see it, google it. It's remarkable. The humility, the truth, the true faith--it was the best moment for me. And inspired me.

It's why I love sports.
Sometimes there are those moments.
Sometimes there are those people.
God uses that microphone to speak to the world.
It was awesome in the best possible sense.

Sure, I'm glad the Seahawks are going to the Superbowl.
And I'm really glad my daughter gets to be a tiny spoke in the wheel.
But in the grand scheme of things, what I'm really glad about is that it wasn't just "I'd like to thank the man upstairs" kind of moment, but someone who knows and loves Jesus who spoke of Him Sunday.

To HIM be the glory.
ALWAYS and in all things,
even in sports.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Under the weather

So I've had the flu for a week.
No, I didn't get a flu shot.
I don't come in contact with enough people.
Well, usually I don't, that is.
This year, we've had a whole village walking through our front door, with a host of germs, too, apparently.

I'm not going to be graphic, but let me just say I was never that sick when I was pregnant.
I'm not kidding. Pregnancy was a breeze.
Compared to this.

It's been a long week.

Grampie keeps looking at me like, "Why don't you get up off the couch and do something already."
He hasn't the faintest idea what I've been feeling. He doesn't notice anything outside himself. He does notice that every time he opens his eyes I'm just lying there with my head on a pillow, trying not to puke.

Whoops, and I said I wasn't going to be graphic.
He DID get a flu shot.
All three of the men I live with did.
So this is just me.

I'm hoping that I'm at the tail end of this virus.
But who knows.

I'll be back when the weather changes,
my personal weather, that is.

Friday, January 9, 2015

What our days make of us

He told me, "I can feed myself. Go sit over there."
He ate his entire lunch by himself.
You'd think I was talking about a two-year-old.

I'm not talking about a two-year-old.

But the edges of life curve toward each other. Bear a striking resemblance as they bend. I can guess what he was like at seven and five and two because I've known him at 87, 89, 91 (almost). The innate kindness, the silliness, the independence, the downright stubbornness of the old man is surely like the small boy.

There's no one alive who can tell me I'm right about him. No one alive who remembers ME at the age of two (sorry, big brother, I doubt you could paint a picture of my character from when you were three-and-a-half). And those who know me now--can they project who I might be were I to live another 34 years? Whoa, 34 years? 

Will my sometimes-crankiness devolve into always-crankiness? Will my 'strong personality' (as many who know and love me call it) devolve into a downright judgmental, critical spirit that has no room for grace in it?

Or, should I live to sit across the room from a daughter-in-law who spends her days caring for me, will I become like wine that ages? Sweeter with time, better for the days that pass, more valuable than gold, and something so pure and true that all long to be near.

Like this man sitting across the room from me,
this man very like a two-year-old,
a sweet two-year-old. Kind and true and simple.
Pure even.

What will the days I live make of me?
What will your days make of you?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A tug boat sighting

I took a walk down by the bay this morning and saw this. I love tugboats. I love how they sit low in the water and don't have much beauty to them. But oh, the strength, oh, what they can do. Push and pull and move rigs a hundred times larger and more glamorous than themselves. This little tug was shoving a barge in a circle in our fog-covered bay (usually islands covered with evergreens would be the backdrop to this water scene). The only engine was on the tug but it moved that barge around as though it was made of balsa wood rather than heavy steel (or whatever such barges are made of). Without even the huffing and puffing of nursery rhymes, it was just going to its work.

I needed this simple picture this morning. I needed the reminder that sometimes it's the unlovely and low-to-the-ground work we do that is the strongest. What looks humble and lowly shames the great and glamorous, Paul might say, if he was talking about tug boats. When he talked about our lives, he said something like it, didn't he? God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, Paul tells the Corinthians. He uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

This is important because I live with a man who was once very strong. He was a giant among his peers in almost every way you can imagine. He had success in athletics, in his profession, in his personal life. But somehow seeing him now when he's weaker than he's ever been makes me think of that tugboat. Grampie's life has been reduced to simple things. And it pushes Beve and me--who are strong and more 'glamorous' than he is now--around and around and around.

But it isn't just that the tug is a good metaphor in my life. I think it's useful to consider what small thing or lowly thing or weak thing God uses in each of our lives to make us like Him. Or perhaps YOU are the tug. Perhaps your weakness is being using to move people around you into position to meet and serve the Kingdom. No matter what, it's thought-provoking to consider how the foolish/small/ugly/weak is shaming/moving/changing the wise/large/beautiful/strong in our lives.

Yes, the lowly tug, the strongest little boat in the fleet.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

His good old days

My two favorite things Grampie's said to me in the last two days,
"You finally got smart, didn't you?"
"It must be wonderful to be you."

I have
it is.
Living with this man is helping Beve and me become the best versions of ourselves.
We have no choice. He looks at his situation and can laugh at it and if he can do that, I sure must do the same. He thanks us for what we do for him, eats what we put in front of him, and bears what we do to him with grace in greater weakness than he ever imagined.

So I have gotten smart: smart enough to know that even when the good is rough (and believe me, some moments are exceedingly rough) we're exactly where we should be. God is glorified in this.
And it's wonderful to have the privilege of these days, as up and down and crazy as they are.
These are Grampie's good old days, after all. And we're just along for the ride.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Our future

It the first Random Journal Day of 2015 and I can't quite bring myself to be Random this afternoon. There's just too much on my heart. Instead, I've been pouring over posts from various vacations we've taken each summer for the last many years. Decided they were too precious to share today. Instead, I'm sharing this, a post from July of 2011. It speaks to how I'm feeling, but also what it feels like to begin a new year, I think.

Hope you're diving in with your hands raised above your head to break the water first! 

I boarded a train for New England yesterday. Said goodbye to Beve and our New Jersey friends in Trenton and said hello to my baby brother in Providence, Rhode Island. And in between saw a whole new world. Back in New Jersey, Beve read a book, waited through the afternoon for his 6 PM flight home. A flight that was first postponed then, when he and ML (who was driving him) were fifteen miles from the Newark airport, canceled.  CANCELED. Poor Beve. Poor me, too, since I'm nothing if not selfish. My first reaction was that he could have boarded that train with me, spent the night up here in Plymouth, Massachusetts at my brother's family's home, then fly home from Boston when we drive up this afternoon to pick up my sister, RE. If only we'd known. Sigh.

How often I have said these words: "If only we'd known." If we'd known what the future held, we would have planned a different course.  If one step had gone a different way, we could have done this and that and the other thing, and wouldn't that have been grand? Then I sigh, thinking I've missed out on something, wishing I could have known to plan differently.

That's the thing, of course. Most of the time, we don't know why things happen as we do. We live life in a deep fog, with only the headlights of our faith lighting up the smallest path in front of us. We keep moving, but God doesn't allow us to see in the distance. He never intends that. The future would be too much for our feeble brains. They might explode. The suffering we'll face just because we're human and live on earth is hard enough--the missed flights, the things that don't go the way we expect, the tornadoes, floods, infirmities, death dates of our best beloveds (from pets to spouses). But then there's the pain we'll face via sin--either as the trespassed or the trespassers. It would overwhelm us until we'd be reduced to a muddle unable to move.

And hence the fog. Hence, the shadowy headlights God lights before us.  He alone carries our future. He knows and bears it. As hard as it is. Our future is safely where it should be. The Psalmist says we are held in the shadow of His wings. Since I'm not especially enamored of birds and find their flapping wings particularly unnerving, these words have never comforted me. However, this morning, there's something to them. Rather than the full glare of a hot future that would burn us, we are protected in the shadows of His wings.  He soars--with us--into OUR lives. Carrying us with Him, doing for and with us what we cannot do.

Yet there is also this.  It cost Him. Of course. Carrying us cost Him.  The pain of our lives burned Him.  He knew our days--past, present and future--and it cost Him.  The actual knowing and bearing of our lives killed Him. Too much sin, of course will do that.  And ultimately, it came down to sin.  And He died.  But even as He died, or perhaps I should say, because He died, we were protected.  We were kept safe in the shadow of His wings.

And then out of His death, or (as the old phoenix myth goes) out of the ashes, He rose. Out of ashes, came beauty.  His so beautiful, scarred hands and feet, and sword-pierced side.  NOT exactly the same as He was before. Our God is no Phoenix. When He rose, it was with a body full of the markings of what that death had cost. What our lives had cost Him. That is the beauty from the ashes.  And now, in His resurrection, we live.  We live. Safe within the shadow of those nail-scarred wings.

It's all we need to know about our future. He knew. It cost Him. And it's beautiful, indeed.

Now, head over to Dawn's blog to check out what other journal keepers have to offer this month. Or, better yet, join the party with your own offering HERE.