Friday, July 17, 2015

Sweet and Bitter

Last weekend was my 40th high school reunion (as I mentioned in my last post). Beve's, too. 40th!!!  How did we grow to be so old?
First, some random observations:
All those boys who looked so different from each other when we were in high school, with their long hair of multi-hues, and varying heights? Well, a whole passel of them seem to be the exact same size these days, approximately 6' tall. And none of them have hair. It was extremely disconcerting. I couldn't keep them straight without looking at their name tags. And sadly, none of them wore name tags after our first get-together.
The women, on the other hand, all looked great, though not necessarily as they did in high school. There was a whole lot of lighter hair this year. Not much gray hair. I didn't recognize them without name tags either.
But they sure recognized me. It was ridiculous. Apparently my face hasn't changed much. AT ALL.  "You look exactly the same!" I heard over and over, while I was peering at chests right and left. It was kind of embarrassing. And I'd say, "I'm married to Beve...." and before I could say our last name, the person would say, "You think I don't know that. Of course I know that." All these years (we've only been to one other reunion), I thought our marriage was a big shocker, but every one seems to have expected it from as far back as...well, at least high school if not childhood.
They were ahead of us.
Some of us have known each other since elementary school, including Beve and me. In fact, one of the best moments was when our 3 and 4th grade teacher surprised us at our Saturday dinner. We all gathered round like it was yesterday. Considering only 70 alumni were at this reunion, the number that came from this one elementary class alone is extraordinary. It was sweet to see her and she knew each of us so well, like it was yesterday, rather than almost 50 years ago. I loved that woman, I really did. She was so dear to Beve and me that she helped host a wedding shower for us when we married 18 years after we were in her class. (That's a small town for you, isn't it?)

There were significant conversations. Moments of great importance. It's taken me several days to write about it (I got home Tuesday night--sick and tired!), because I've had to process on my own for a bit. I still hardly know what to make of the hardest of them.
But I will try.

Before we ate on Saturday evening, the reunion committee chair (one of my closest friends, then and still) asked me to say grace. Even as I said yes, I began praying about how to be not merely ecumenical but considerate of those in our class who might not believe at all. I didn't script a prayer (there was no time, nor would I have anyway) but I did decide to forego my normal "Father God" for "Almighty God" to begin, and "In Jesus' Name" at the end.
We gathered for our picture, then I prayed. It was a prayer centered on place--the beautiful land where we were formed and grew together, studied together, played together, became friends together; and the people with whom we gathered, those who had known us at the beginning of our journeys, and how that knowing made them true friends in deep ways. It was, perhaps more to the company than to God, but I felt comfortable with it. He hears, understands, knows my heart. And the company was made up of such a diverse population.
Afterwards, MANY thanked me. Some of my former classmates surprised me with their thoughtful responses. But I don't know where their lives have taken them any more than they know my journey. After all, it's been 40 years, right?
So almost 3 hours later I walked out to the patio of this lovely restaurant on the hills where Beve was sitting with an old friend and his wife, also a classmate. I thought to sit by Beve but she said, "Can I just say, I was deeply offended that you prayed."
"I'm so sorry," I began.
She cut me off. "You can't be sorry. You DID offend me."
And she was off. She's an atheist, and so are her kids. and she's all about 'raising the banner of atheism.' Twenty-five minutes (there were lots of people paying attention) of her ripping me about it, praying, being a Christian, 'this' becoming a Christian group. I can't tell you all of it. I won't.
What I will tell you are just a couple of things: one is that, as Beve put it, my praying clearly 'hit a nerve.' Before she actually heard what I said, she'd walked away. It wasn't content that mattered, anyway. Secondly, this was the first conversation this old classmate and I have EVER had. I told her that. She said, "But I knew who you were."
"I knew who you were, too," I told her.
My point, though, is that she'd made assumptions about me without ever talking to me. About prayer, too. (She thinks--oddly--that only Christians pray, for instance, but that's besides the point here)

While she spat nails at me, I felt (STRONGLY) that my position was clear. To pray (ironic, huh?) and respond in love sit with her and simply be with her.
By the time our conversation ended, we hugged. She didn't apologize but she did admit that perhaps we might have more in common than she had imagined. She had started about by saying that Christians are  judgmental, and are the ones who persecute. Always. By the end she was calling me kind.
Afterwards, I was so exhausted I needed to bawl, crawl into bed and process, probably in that order. But I definitely had to get out of there so I could cry HARD. Beve and I hugged just a couple of people and I left. So shaky and exhausted by what it took to have such venom spewed on me, I could hardly stagger to the car.

I've had time to process it now. I've prayed a lot about it.
I've wondered if it was for that exact conversation that I was at that reunion.
There were many good conversations. Sweet ones.
After the weekend, I decamped to a lake place with my own sweet girlfriends for three days and we laughed and ate and laughed some more. It was a great, rollicking 'heart-tickle,' as one of them put it to me.
But I won't soon forget that 25 minutes Saturday night, not because it colored the reunion for me. Well, it did. Of course it did. It was meant to. Moments like that don't come along very often. And I want to know that I was LOVE to her, that I acted like Him whom she doesn't know. May the One who loves her, though she doesn't believe He exists, be the One she saw and heard and even hugged in those moments.
And may I call myself blessed to have been His instrument to be used by Him in such times: not only when conversations are sweet but when they're bitter.

Friday, July 10, 2015

High school Reunion--Anticipation

In the morning we're to the small college town where we spent our childhood, our youth, my parents' last years. You'd be right in calling it our 'hometown', that place among the hills where we found our own place, our own selves, in such important ways, in such an important time that people keep harkening back to that time and place every decade or so for the rest of their lives. We're among them.
Yes, I'm talking about a high school reunion. It's our 40th. 40 years since we wore royal blue gowns and flipped our tassels from one side to the other of our caps, said good bye to about a million people (or so it seemed) and walked boldly into a future we hadn't the faintest idea about. We thought we'd be friends with some of those folks our whole lives long. And guess what? We have been. I mean, Beve and I have been friends with more people we went to high school with than we had any business imagining back then. Shoot, we didn't even imagine we'd be married to each other that day we wrote in each other's annuals, walked through commencement, hugged and said goodbye. It wasn't even hard to say goodbye to him. But here we are, 40 years later, gladly married for 31 of them, with a posse of friends we've continued to love from those early days.
But besides those dear friends, whom we see whether there's a reunion or not, there will be other people we haven't seen in decades that it will be good to catch up with. I don't have any preconceived notions about this weekend. I don't know who will be there, or how they'll be. I'm not expecting anything. I just pray that I am present in every conversation, that I can sit with each person as though he or she is the only one in the room, not looking for who else might walk through the door or who else I might want to talk to.

I pray for a chance to be Christ in every conversation, to simply be HIM.

That's enough.
NO, that's more than enough. That's exactly what He asks of me.

I'm excited for who and what comes.
It will be good, I know.

Monday, July 6, 2015


The sky is white today.
How often does one write that on July 6th in Northwest Washington?
Let me answer for you.
Today's the first day in my memory, or in anyone's memory, I think.
White sky isn't the same as cloudy sky, you understand. I didn't know that before today. Cloudy skies have texture. There are ridges and different hues or gray and white and even pockets of blue now and then. But here today, the sky is uniformly white.

Last night we drove home from our place in the North Cascades to bright blue skies. But within a few hours, the skies began to haze over toward the bay, with the accompanying smell of smoke. Before too long, we couldn't see Bellingham Bay at all, and the sun looked like this:

Our eyes stung so badly, SK had to close her window against it, though the house was hot and we have no air conditioning.

You see, there are fires burning in Canada and, like Sarah Palin once famously said about Russia, we can see it from here. It wouldn't matter if we could or not, however, the smoke plume knows no man-made borders. The entire Puget Sound area is covered with a haze today.

This is an odd phenomenon for us. It's odd for British Columbia to have such fires. We live in a region rife with rain in May and June. Our summer doesn't usually begin until this week--after the 4th of July. This year, we've had temperatures from 85F (29C) to 91F (32.7C) and only .23 inches of rain fell during June. That's NOT what we signed up for around here, folks. It's NOT what keeps our forests lush, our mountain lakes full and our grass green. But here we are. And our grass is...brown. BROWN dry and dead.

And that's all exactly the recipe for forest fires, smoke plumes and disasters. I suppose there are folks around here who might have found it easy enough to not understand all the noise about California and their water shortage, all the 'hype' about climate change...until this summer hit--back in May, when our temperatures began soaring and our governor had to declare a state of emergency on first a couple and then a few more counties right here in our own bountiful, water-filled northwest. But our mountains have no snow on them these days, we are sweltering in the heat, and our neighbor to the north have fires to contend with.

I'm aware of the inconstancy of this world today. Creation is not a fixed thing. We have changed it, as much as we are changed by it. And, though we might not live to see it, there is a shelf life to this planet. We can extend that or shorten it by how we live with and care for what we've been given. BY God. Given by God. That's what I should have said.

But the whole of it is that only God is constant. He is above the fire and the sun and the lack of rain and the excess of it. He is above weather in any guise. He participates with us as we participate with Him. I believe that. He wants us to be HIS caretakers of this glorious earth He gave us.

And I know this: Fire is not the enemy. Fire in forests is a replenishing act. It helps a forest be restored. Sometimes that's exactly what a forest needs. I don't say this glibly, but carefully. I say it, knowing what fire has been in my own life. I know how fire has restored and replenished and actually recreated me into His image. It's taken away the chaff and left what was of Him.

That's what I think about as I smell the smoke today, pray for the fire-fighters who battle the flames, and those who might be in physical danger from them. If fire comes to YOUR life, what will you do with it?  Will it make you something true or burn you up?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Mountain--a repost

I wrote this post three months after I began this blog six years ago. At the time, it was the first time I wrote about this subject. Since then, I've written about it--him--more times than I can count. Still, today's his birthday and since we've been up in the mountains in the last week, and I'm returning tomorrow, it's apt to talk about him in this context. There has been a lot of hiking going on in these parts, so to speak, from here to Spain, where BB is on a 10 day solitary hike of his own. So while I sit for a moment on my bed, with the fan blowing on me to keep me from sweating in the late night heat (no-one has air-conditioning in my world, but we'll be re-thinking it if this summer is a harbinger of things to come), let me pull up this old post about my dad, and wish him a happy birthday...

So how do I talk about him? I've been trying to think. Do I tell you that he was the best father anyone ever had? He was, you know. I really believe that. I know, my kids think that Beve is. And I want them to. I thank God they do think so. Many of my friends have Dads or husbands who fit that bill as well, and fine, they can have a share in this pie. But for me, it was Dad. He was brilliant, witty, encouraging, a servant, my brother in Christ (Hallelujah!!!), stubborn, wise, loyal, had honor and integrity like a man should...

But I wanted to tell one story that would say something about him, and as I've been ruminating about it the last few days, it came to me what story that should be. This happened a decade before I was born, so I don't feature in it, but in a way, it's a lamp post, pointing to so many things about the man he would become, the father he'd be, that it says everything.

When Dad was 18 years old, he and 3 other buddies climbed Mt. Saint Helens. Dad was the most experienced climber--he'd already climbed Rainier, Adams, and been a part of a climbing club for a while. Shoot, Dad has a 4 digit REI membership number. He became a member back in the '40s when REI was a fledgling operation, housed in an old warehouse. Anyway, in 1949, Dad and these friends climbed St Helens on a clear spring morning, got all the way to the top, looked down on the whole world, looked down on their whole lives and saw that it was good, and started back down with hope and joy. They weren't roped up as they crossed a gently sloped ice-field, but Dad was still slightly leading. The next boy, Art, didn't follow Dad's tracks, but walked beside him, and in an instant, fell through the snow and into a deep crevasse, breaking both legs in the fall. And he had the rope with him! So two of the boys skied down the mountain as fast as their legs could carry them. And my 18-year-old pre-father dad sat on that mountain for hours, talking to Art, listening to him. Both of them knew by the end that help would not come in time, so Art told my dad messages for his parents, siblings and friends. When Art's voice finally petered out, and Dad couldn't do anything else for him--and when the sun was going down so Dad himself was also in danger--he left his axe and shovel shaped in an X, and skied down the mountain alone in the twilight. Hearing Art's voice in his head. The next morning the ski patrol brought Art's cold and broken body down the mountain.

Dad told me once that when he was in the navy and had the midnight watch out at sea, he would stand on the ship and look at the ocean, and could hear Art's voice echoing in the postmid-night hours. I wrote a poem about it in college that won rave reviews "Two bells" (I wish I could find it now). He never told me what Art said to him in all those hours, but it changed his life to have lived through it with him. It made Dad more intentional with us, I think. Able to listen to us, to fully engage. He didn't take things for granted, told us often and with sincerity, that he loved us, was proud of us, that he wanted us to grow up to do better, to be stronger, to be who he saw we could be. He was paying attention--even in the busyness of his own very demanding work, and very compelling avocation of the out-of-doors. Sure, he had his strong sense of right and wrong and the Boy Scout Law to guide him, but there was also something about those hours on the mountain that spurred him on.

Dad towered like Mt Saint Helens over our lives. In so many ways. He was the strong sturdy back we climbed, and the place we went to play. He led, and we followed. Or, he went behind, letting the slowest set the pace--so we stayed together. He was the place we went again and again, to relearn, to find out new things, to laugh, to cry, to simply be. He taught us everything --literally everything--he knew about surviving life on the mountain. About being safe, and about loving it. And didn't we all love being on the mountain?

When Mt Saint Helens blew, my Dad--generally a lover of all nature--said, "Nothing good ever came from that mountain." I think he was glad to see that mountain disappear.
And when he died, it was like a mountain had blown up in our lives. Ash rained down on us for months from the pain of Dad's death. Ash lingers in the crevasses still. There's a different shape to it now--the place where that mountain was is a crater. And though I've gotten used to how the crater looks, what it feels like to live with that crater in view, I miss the mountain. I will always miss him. He thought nothing good came from it. But I'm here to tell you, Dad did, and he was the best that mountain had to offer!