Thursday, October 29, 2015

Being critical

When I was fourteen years old, I fell in love. That's how I always put it. It wasn't a rational, measuring all the facts decision but just that simple. I fell in love. As I grew up, I learned facts. Some people would say those facts squared with my love, others would say they contradict them completely. My sister and I have had long conversations about this very thing. I am not a fluffy kind of woman. I do not disregard my sister's point of view. She does not disregard mine out of hand either. Still, we do not meet where I find my greatest love. This is a loss for me because I love my sister and would like her to be 'in it with me', so to speak. Nevertheless, I do not love her less for not loving where I love. How could I? She's my sister.

This love I have for her colors how I love most people. I do not love them less for them not 'being in it' with me. Nor, I know, does she love me less for being in something she so completely doesn't believe. We are different. I know a lot of people who do not love where I love. And yet, I love them.

Still, this is a post about MY greatest love. See, this week I was thinking about a person with whom I struggle. I have had a difficult relationship with this man for many years. He is no longer part of our family precisely, but I was thinking about him. His son is my nephew, after all. Anyway, there are legitimate reasons for my struggle, but those are not the fundamental issue. The core issue is my own critical heart. That's the bottom line. I have sometimes felt this heart beating beneath a veneer of kindness I've shellacked across my skin to look better. It's one of my worst sins. My besetting sin, I've called it. That I look at others and instantly react, I hate this about myself. It's not worthy of the one I love. And that's what this post is about.

There are two things I know, one is that Jesus Christ--and He is who I am speaking, of course--wants to change me. When I read the gospels at 14, at 18, 20, 23,24,30,40, ever since and all the years between I knew that what He was about was changing a person from bad to good and good to better. He took away the worst and gave me a better self. That's part of the story of the cross and resurrection. My worst counts but it doesn't last, that's what He's talking about. He isn't interested in me wallowing in my worst, but in changing me into better.

I think about this. First, of course, because I am who I am, I have to wonder: if I'm like this after all these years of knowing and loving Him, how ugly would my self be if I'd never loved Him? What if I'd only had myself to try and get by with? What if I only had to pull myself up by my own boot straps every time I found myself judging others, finding someone ugly (in any old way)? Could I even do it? Or would I simply be an ugly, judgmental, nasty woman at this point? I shudder at that thought. NO, I bend my knees and praise Him, for saving me from that because I come from a line of critical spirits. It's deep and wide, and I am not far from the trunk.

But here's the second thing: I need Him. Every hour, I need Him. No, that's not even it. Let's be clear here. He loves me. Yes, that's the whole story, the unchanging, unflinching, WOW, story, but that story means He changes me. And desires me to give myself to Him so that change can happen. And I do. Just as I look backwards and have seen it, I look ahead and want it. I desire to be insides what I've sometimes veneered on the outside. I confess that I'm not, but ask Him for it. For a single person, and for all.

For me, it's not about judging others who do not believe what I believe but about loving those who are hard to love. I've said this many times, but Christianity has been incredibly harmful in the world. But Jesus Christ? He's never harmful. Sure, he's dangerous, but not harmful.

But that's a post for a different day.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

What I've been thinking about

Tonight is a bullet point kind of night.
These are the things I've been thinking about:

  • I love autumn, but don't like Halloween. And I'm not saying I don't like it because I'm a Christian. I just don't like the whole mess of having to figure out costumes, dress up in said costumes and, more importantly, figuring out what children should wear for whatever trick-or-treating/trunk/Harvest party they have to attend. All my disinterests and insecurities marry at Halloween. I am not interested in the same kind of decorating, crafty, cutesy stuff many of the mothers around me were. And I might come up short as a mama when my children walked the  parade route in their elementary school gym. Now before you get all up in arms and defend Halloween, or costumes or point out that surely, as a quilter, I am crafty, let me admit that, with this disinterest and insecurity married in my brain, and a good helping of guilt besides, I made plenty of costumes for my children. Tinker Belle, Peter Pan, a Native American one year (after we'd been to Alaska), a princess (with fabric my sister brought back from Uzbekistan), and a beautiful black and purple cape for my son who wanted to be some kind of monster, I think. I love that cape. I mean, I am a reasonably good seamstress. I just don't like the holiday.
  • My niece has been working nights in her first clinical training in a hospital as a nurse in Turku, Finland. So she's basically in the same time zone as we are at the moment. This has been difficult for her (trying to stay awake all night--not much happens, or is supposed to happen, at night on a ward) but E and I have enjoyed talking with her through the late afternoon and evening. She's the second in the family to become a nurse. Beve's sister, Glo, was a nurse. A brilliant one, and by luck of genetics and God, M is just about the spitting image of her Auntie Glo (with a little Finnish twist to her for good measure). I love this. I love that M is following in her Auntie Glo's footsteps but also following them because they're the path laid out for HER, for M. I mean, it's not simply that it's the family business, but she came to it by way of God, but there it is, the same heart and love and interest as was in the woman whose likeness she so bears. 
  • Speaking of medical stuff, I have a physical with a new doctor tomorrow. I can't even begin to tell you what this means. Our doctor informed us late in the summer that he was leaving the practice. And it took me this long (and some searching) to find a new one--and the one I want. When I made the appointment, the scheduler said, "So you want a well adult physical?" "I guess so," I answered. It seemed too complicated to say otherwise. I'll say that tomorrow when I walk in with my cane and hand over my list of medications. Sigh. Where even to start? It takes a long time to break in a doctor. 
  • I've been working on a flannel quilt for our lodge. Let's just say it wasn't a smart choice. Or rather, I didn't approach it in a smart way. I've never made a flannel quilt before, and it's NOT like making a cotton one. Because I cut out all my fabric willy-nilly (ie, without washing it first) I have to spray-starch EVERY seam after I sew it. And, every square has EIGHT seams. Not large seams, either. We're talking about a finished square of 8" by 6.5". (That's pretty small, M). I have to make 96 squares for this quilt plus...well, let me put it this way, I've finished 80 now and have gone through a can and a half of spray starch. Needless to say, I won't be making a flannel quilt again very soon. It isn't a hard pattern, but the process is teaching me a whole lot. 
  • Every seam I sew I think about the refugees walking across the Middle East and Europe. It's a way to be with them, if that makes sense. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to leave my home without more than I could carry on my back. I can't carry very much, I know that. And then to have to walk. All that walking. So I have been praying for them. Just simply holding them up as I sew. It's what I can do. God walks with those who know Him, and those who don't. He loves those on the road who are hurting no matter what they believe. And so I pray for their walk, too. For their safe deliverance into a land that will allow them to live. 
That's it for this Sunday night. The superficial, the practical, and the heartfelt.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The call of the river

There's a Springer Spaniel sitting on my lap this morning. She's been sitting on my lap for most of the last two days. We went up to our little lodge over the weekend, where she ran and played 'fetch the ball,' and 'fling yourself into the rushing river' like she was a puppy about a quarter of her age. She's been feeling the effects of it ever since. And I woke up yesterday morning wondering why my left wrist was in so much pain...then I went outside and tried to throw a ball for my dogs. Hmmm. All that throwing I did over the weekend--for TWO dogs--caught up with me, much like I'd exercised and was sore the next day. Well, exactly like that. Maica and I are old ladies, and sore ones at that.

So she's plunked herself down in my lap until all those sore muscles go away.

But that isn't the part of her weekend I wanted to write about. It's the flinging herself into the rushing river. Jamaica is a water dog, compelled by the sound and smell to find and feel and get herself in water, any water, wherever it looks like, no matter what. But here's the thing: the water outside our cabin is the epitome of a rushing river. The rapids in it would be beyond my (or anyone's) ability to catch her. Let's see if I can give you an idea: have you ever watched the Olympic event of river kayaking? The rivers seem made up to me. I mean, how could anyone kayak down such rivers, how could they survive them? The Cascade River, just outside our cabin, looks like those rivers. If I fell in, and got out beyond a step or two, I'd be a goner. I am not exaggerating.

The same is true, I know, for my Springer Spaniel. She absolutely could not survive in this river, if she got swept off her feet. Still, Maica, races down the steep path from our cabin the moment she's released from our pick-up and before we can get to her, she's in the river. This time, she only did it once...a day. It's cold. It is a mountain river, after all. Fed from so high that it never gets warm, even in the middle of a heat-wave drought-filled, fire-ful summer. And it doesn't stop flowing fast, either.

Fortunately, Maica's very sure-footed. Also fortunately, right at the bottom of our steep hill, there's a little ell where the water is still-ish. If she simply stays there, she's okay. Unfortunately, she doesn't always stay there.  Last summer, SK had to reach out and pull with all her might when Maica lost her footing.

It scares me, how attracted my dog is to something that is so dangerous to her.
I love having the dogs up at the lodge with us. I love that they run freely and sniff all those new smells and have so much fun in the woods. They're free in a different way than here. And it's what they should be able to be.

But the siren call of the river to my Spaniel, it's frightening. And, not matter what we try (fencing off the deck, keeping her on a leash, not letting her out that way), she manages to escape and makes her way to the water.

Then I think about how many things we humans are drawn to that are dangerous to us. You could list them as easily as I can. The Bible calls them temptations. The difference between Maica and us is that we have brains with understanding. I can't sit her down on the couch and say,"I know how much you love water, but the very thing you love is dangerous here. It looks pretty but you have to leave it as something to look at. Answer with one bark if you understand me." Sounds realistic, right?

But that's what temptations are to us. Sometimes beautiful to look at, but dangerous. It would be simple for me to start listing the obvious ones right about now--drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. But I have different temptations and must admit that there are swift-moving rivers in my life as well as anyone's. There are things that are morally neutral on their own, but because of how I've used and abused them, they aren't good for me.
Let me give you an example, which may seem silly, but it isn't to me. Fabric. In the last several years as I've become increasingly proficient as quilting, I've become addicted to buying fabric. Yes, I used that word. I see a new fabric line come out from one of my favorite designers or companies, and I HAVE to have it. It doesn't matter that I have an entire room full of fabric and dozens of projects in bins, and no project in mind, I simply have to buy this new line. It's a swift-flowing river for me. No, it won't kill me but it isn't good for me.

What is it for you? What is the siren call of the river of temptation?

"I have a right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything, but I will not be mastered by anything." 1 Corinthians 6:12

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Let your imagination run wild

Back in the stone age before Beve and I were married, we lived across the sea, in a land where people wore wooden shoes to do their gardening. We wore them to ride our bikes many kilometers a day. It's hard to imagine riding a bike at all these days, let alone wearing actual wooden shoes to do so. But I was young and supple and did all kinds of athletic-ish things I wouldn't consider doing now.

We also wrote notes to each other on a daily basis. We lived in the same community but didn't get to talk as much as we wanted to. Shoot, who am I kidding? We were young and in love and wanted to talk to each other practically to the exclusion of everything else. So we wrote notes to each other first thing in the morning (him) or before we went to bed (me) or after we finished work each afternoon (both of us) and sometimes even when we were sitting right beside each other during lectures. There was always time for a sentence or two, at least. It was the pre-internet, pre-cell-phone equivalent of text messaging and emails. It kept us in constant contact.
In these notes, one of Beve's favorite phrases was, "Let your imagination run wild..." he used this about God loving me, or him loving me, or me imagining what our marriage would be like, how we would minister together, the adventures we'd have. About our life, our future relationships with others.

This phrase, "Let your imagination run wild" has been sprinkled throughout our marriage. We've used it when we've been up against some pretty precarious cliffs. When we decided to jettison our secure life so that I could go to seminary, we used that phrase to dream of how God might meet us, in ways we could figure on our own. We've lived a life richer than our means, if that makes sense, but we've allowed our spiritual imaginations to run wild. And HE has continually been in our dreaming, prayful imaginations. To wit, We have raised three children primarily on a single income teacher's salary. The world would tell us that this isn't possible. But we 'imagined' it, and have had an extraordinary life. I have done all kinds of ministry by simply volunteering. This is wild imagination. Extraordinary.

So last night Beve and I sat at a table at a Nicaraguan restaurant and talked about our dreams for the next phase of our lives. This is fitting, if you have my kind of brain. It was a Lebanese restaurant in New Delhi, India where we sat at first talked about having a future together, about joining our imaginations and letting them run wild together. Do you see what I mean? No? Well, trust me, in my wildly imaginative brain, sitting in an off-the-beaten-gastrological-path restaurant, having such conversations makes them parallel. We marked out what we want the next season to look like, not in particulars, but in general.

No, I'm not going to tell you. It's our treasure. My imagination is running wild with possibilities.

But here's what I want you to think about this day. How do you want your ordinary life to be extraordinary? My little life looks useless, if the world measures it. But it isn't measured that way. And I am confident of my usefulness. God uses me right here in my living room, wearing my back brace, or walking around with my cane. He meets me here, and uses me. If I let my imagine run wild, I can dream of all the ways He might use me in the season ahead when Beve is retired and we get to do it together.
I can hardly wait?

So, what about you?
What do you dream?
And, Beve would want you to know, God loves you MORE than you know. Let your imagination run wild--YOU are the apple of His eye.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Housing memories

My aunt and cousin stopped by last week to bring me some apples from the family cabin on Whidbey Island. I've posted about this cabin before. But to refresh your memory (and because it's salient to this post) here are a few pictures:

 In my memory, Whidbey (which, oddly, is what we've always called our own part of the large island on which it sits) has always looked like this.  Or I should say It looks like this in the spring. Well, there's a metal roof on the cabin now that wasn't there when I was young, and I'm old enough to remember every extra building being added to the property. But the meadow, the basketball court, the apple trees, this is what they look like when I close my eyes and think of them. And when I step out of my car onto the property, when my children step out of their cars, these look approximately the way they did when my parents were first married. I have a picture of myself as a toddler walking through the meadow. Hmmm.
There, see? It's the same place. Sorry about the poor quality of the picture. I look a bit like a zombie but you aren't meant to be looking at the child anyway, but at the meadow.

So my aunt, cousin and I got to talking about Whidbey and how it looks, how it's changed over the years, and how those changes affect us. It made me think about what a difficult time we have with change, especially when it comes to something so halcyion as Whidbey has been to all of us. My cousin has been taking out all kinds of brush, nettles, and wild blackberry bushes throughout the property, and I admit, that when I first saw how open it was driving in, I felt a little sad. It wasn't the same. That was my primary objection. I simply wanted it the same as it had always been. However, I only wanted it the same in the ways I wanted it the same, if that makes sense. That is, I certainly didn't want to go back to outhouses and washing dishes without running water. I might have felt some kind of longing for a past where the well worked but I didn't want to have to haul water up that hill several times a day, called by a loud cow bell from whatever game I was playing to do so. It wasn't fun, let me tell you. And did I like all those nettles? Really? Not even a little. And those summers when my grandmother and aunts had to get up--even when it was hot--and start the big old cast iron stove to cook, I can't even imagine what that was really like for them. They baked bread, cookies, all kinds of goodies, not to mention, cooked every meal on top of raging fire that must have been difficult to regulate. Looking back, I know we lived through summers like it was a hundred years earlier. And I might have loved it as a child, or even a teen, but I also remember the day, the summer after my senior year in high school, when the lights were turned on, and the first meal cooked on the electric stove (which I think is still there, bless its heart). It was like we'd all invented light ourselves.

No, when I really think about it, I love having had that kind of childhood, but I don't want those inconveniences any more. I do love the memories. I need them. They help define my life. Not only that, they give me parameters, a chronology.

What I've realized is that those memories aren't 'housed' in  Whidbey, the place. They are actually housed within me. I don't walk in the door of that cabin and see that workhorse cast iron stove taking up space anymore, but I can see my memory. I can see it right now. I can hear the crackle of the fire and the spit of water on the top, I can hear the hard clunk of iron as my grandmother opens one of the burners with the iron stick to throw in another piece of wood, or shuffles across the kitchen in her slippers,  saying, "Watch out, hot kettle"  as she pours steaming water into the metal tub so we can wash dishes. All these memories are mine. They are houses within me.

And there is room in my brain for more memories, for newer ones. My cousin has turned our property into something of a park. Once I stopped trying to hold onto the way it had been and simply looked around, I saw it. It's beautiful. No, not simply beautiful, but stop-your-breath-in-your-tracks beautiful. There's a trail down to the bluff, from which we can see all the way across toward the Olympic mountains. The trail goes through the woods, which are overgrown and full of all those things Whidbey has had--brambles, nettles, berries, ferns, downed logs. But suddenly, a person comes out of the woods into this gorgeous park. My cousin has cleared it all, Mowed it all. It's like coming across a treasure that was not expected. My younger daughter imagines getting married there one day right at sunset. I tell you there might be no better spot.

I now have that view housed in my brain right beside the old fire pit that used to be out there carved away inside those brambles. I loved going out to that old fire pit. Our children loved that too. But this new park at the bluff, it's better. It's the same kind of luxury light and running water feel to me in this sacred family place.

And here's the thing: these memories that are housed within me, these must be shared. As much as we've shared the place over the years, so we must share the memories. Story is the way we pass memories on. My parents are gone now, so I don't have all their stories, all their memories. I want to make sure that my children, future grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins all share mine. And I share theirs. I don't want to live in this 'house' alone. I've seen how fragile memory is. We must take ours out and share them as we sit around tables, laughing, as we sing the old songs at campfires, even through shuddering tears sometimes. This was the old way of passing life along. It was the way of telling life, of reminding each other of who we are, what life is. I don't want to forget it.
Do you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Looking in the mirror

This morning, as I stumbled down the hall, I stopped short.
This is my life. This stumbling, limping gait is my external life.
Yet inside I feel so whole. How can that be? It isn't merely that I look in the mirror and am shocked by the wriinkles on my face and the gray beginning to streak through my hair, thinking they're the mask on top of my true self. My true self feels 26 years old, newly married to a tall, straight, almost-black-haired Beve.
It's this shell that is wrong. It's a Halloween costume with scars and bumps and all these afflictions put on over my real self. I don't need that external frame (which is what I call my large back brace/belt), I don't need the cane. Only the costume does. Yes. it's just part of the costume.

Then I get to thinking about how God sees me. He doesn't see this external stuff, either. He doesn't care one iota what I look like, what my body's made of. He sees my true self. Always has. I don't know what age that is because chronological age is immaterial to Him. I am only whole in His eyes, When He looks at me, He doesn't look at this mask of age, of stumbling infirmity. He looks at my heart.
So when I look in the mirror, do I see as He sees? Can I look past both the mask of age and disability, and even the 'real' me I imagine myself to be, to who HE sees? Can I see Him in me? Do I see the made-in-His-Image self He created?

Is this the essential, true me?

Or this (I'm the one in the middle, though I'm the oldest sister) goofy, silly me?

Or this supremely, happy me?

Or this me? Letting you see what I usually keep covered to make a point.  These are all me, and not the whole me. As much as this brace is going to be my external frame for the rest of my life (though hidden by loose-fitting outer clothes), so all the things we put on are simply coverings for our true selves. And God sees through all of it. Accepts all of it. Loves us through all of it. Says, YOU are precious in my sight, no matter what you looks like on the outside. 

We all have masks. I know this. You do too. When you look in the mirror, I bet it's easier to see the flaws of age or whatever else you think is wrong with you, than t
o see that you are not simply beautiful, but perfect in the eyes of God.  
That's what I see when I look in this mirror. It's what I'm reminded when I have to 
put on this belt every morning. 
God loves me. 
In His eyes, 
at every age, 
I'm precious and perfect.
And I hope you're reminded too.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Talking about my novel

A short post today:
A new friend came by this afternoon. She moved to our city about 6 weeks ago when she began working with Beve. She's about our oldest daughter's age and is a lot like E, actually. Loves the outdoors, loves dogs, loves her job. But it was the loving dogs that brought her to our door this afternoon. She needed a dog fix, and we are just the place to get it. She's ready to hang with them any time. This is a huge help for us, freeing us to go out of town without worrying about our four-legged babies.
Oh, you don't think of your dogs as your babies?
 Well, okay, but they are mine.

Anyway, as she sat on the floor, letting Kincade maul her, she asked the inevitable question, "What did you used to do?" Love that question. And it led, just as inevitably, to a conversation about the years I spent writing a novel. Just a few weeks ago, Beve teasingly suggested that a beloved prof of mine, now retired, take over editing said novel. I was shocked. I thought Beve had put it as firmly out of his head as I have. Or that he'd let it go.
 I've let it go. That's how I'd put it. I haven't touched that novel in six or seven years. It's still sitting in jump drives and paper copies and my head. Several drafts of it, actually. But it's all filed away. And I almost never even talk about it, certainly not with someone new. Today, for some reason, I went through the whole thing: what it was about, the process, the pain and suffering and joy along the way, the sense of hope and hopelessness that took up residence in different rooms in me. I didn't talk about the flexible steel needed for my confidence every time I got a new edited copy back or had a conference with either editor or agent. I didn't talk about that, but it came back in spades as I spoke. I remember the sense that I was increasingly a Gumby, twisting myself into a shape a didn't recognize as I wrote to standards that would sell, rather than hold true to myself.

So I'm sitting here now, thinking about it all. Remembering. Wanting to open up a jump drive. But thinking of it kind of as a Pandora's box.
Lots and lots of people want to write books. I remember how badly I did. I wondered if I had the discipline to follow characters to the end of their journey. If I'd even know when that end actually was. I wanted to create a story from my own imagination. Wondered if I could.
And then (years ago now) I had a dream. And woke up from that dream and knew it was a story I had to tell. It wasn't much of a story, more of a scene and the family that populated it, down to their rather interesting names, which I would never have chosen if I'd been awake.

It haunted me for a long time. Several years, in fact. Finally, there was reason to write it. Writing down that first thirty pages was the simplest writing I've ever done. It had been percolating so much that it came in a single draft. And I was both thrilled and scared by that. Thrilled and scared by what it might mean.
Then the whole thing began taking on a life of its own. Those first pages got an incredible response when I read them. That first time, it was so remarkable, it still takes my breath way to remember. I've said it before, but that silence that comes before applause. That silence is the best thing. It's the moment I knew I was a writer. IT was what my writing life had been waiting for.

It wasn't publishing. I never did write to be published. It wasn't something I remember wanting. I couldn't imagine it nor did it matter. It was just the writing. The following of the story to the end: that counted. The discovering who those people were, who they became: that drove me.
In the end, that was enough.

Even today, I find it enough.
And I'll leave it there for now.
"Do you think you'll ever try to publish it?' she asked.
"Never say never," I thought, but just shrugged.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Safari From Home

I might have mentioned that our youngest daughter, SK, is in Kijabe, Kenya this year.
Oh, I didn't?
Just kidding.

Anyway, in these first two months, she's learned several important things:

  • monkeys are okay but stay away from the baboons
  • teaching elementary school students (called Titchy--as they do in the British system) means she's REALLY popular as she walks across campus
  • layering is important--it's always chilly in the morning but right warm by choir
  • these students are VERY polite
  • and deep
  • and are VERY interested in her views on everything from American politics to how many relationships she's had 
  • she's been diplomatic about one and outright refused to answer the other
  • her faith is being stretched, her reliance on God is growing as she trusts Him to meet her needs and there's great joy that she is where she's meant to be for this season.
  • she LOVES teaching!
But here's the thing: after two months there, even though she's found great community, she's missing home. This isn't surprising, I know, but she's feeling far away from her life here, from those who really know and love her. This is right when this kind of culture shock hits, she understands. She was ready for it, but couldn't stave it off. It isn't that she isn't happy there. She is. She's very glad to be where she is, she'd just like to be here, too. Doing and being and just plain WITH her 'here' community.

It's part of the reality of cross-cultural experiences. And our SK is a emotional, people-oriented person. So this is right in the middle of her make-up. Don't get me wrong, she's not sitting alone in her duplex, crying her eyes out. BY NO MEANS. She wouldn't have time for that, even if she had the hankering to do so. No, it's more of a shadow behind the present joy, if that makes sense. "If I could be two places as one time," that old romantic ballad went. Maybe that's more like it. But not even that, because she doesn't really want to be anywhere but where she is. She simply wants to be connected to those she loves.

So, what I'm asking--and that was a long way of getting to it--was for, first, your prayers for her. And secondly, that you read her blog, and maybe comment so she knows you're out there.
Oh, her blog is #safarifromhome

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Thinking about the end

Another month, another Random Journal Link-up. You really need to check out Patsy, who is the Journal-keeper featured this month. She creates beautiful art pieces as daily prayers to God. But she can explain it far better than me. So follow this LINK! By the way, I just have to give a shout out to our administrator, Dawn. Dawn, we're truly kindred spirits. There is no better color than orange in my mind, either. For those of you who don't get it, you'll have to link up to see what I mean.

For my offering today, I thought I'd reach back into the annals of this blog. Since I began keeping it in 2008, it really has functioned as something of an online journal, though it never replaced my personal journal. I've even begun to notice in the last few years that I've been writing in my personal journal with an audience in view. I don't know if you all can understand that, but it's like I turned on my public voice, even when I was in my most private moments. This has been a difficult thing to manage for me. I keep working on it. In fact, it's one of the reasons I took half the summer off from blogging. I wanted to be more authentic--to write wholly to God, with no sense that anyone was looking over my shoulder..or more importantly, about to read a public post.

So today, I choose an already posted bit of 'journal.' Indeed, it's from the first spring of my journal. Because my youngest child is in Kenya for this year (at least), I'm always thinking about her. It's funny how that is. So I thought of a day when she was a college freshman and something huge happened in her life and I wanted to get to her.

I've thought a lot about death today. I met with a medical researcher this morning and within about twenty minutes she'd told me about how her dad died a couple years ago, and I told her about my dad's death. We shared a few tears at the similarity of such loss. And I told her of the 19 year-old-student of the university where SK is also a freshman who died after being taken off life-support. On Saturday morning, the car he was a passenger in swerved into oncoming traffic, to avoid hitting a deer darting across the highway. "You're always told you should just hit the deer," SK told me when I talked to her, "but I'd have done the same thing--tried to avoid it. Anyone would." SK didn't know him well, though she'd met him a few times because he was good friends with her roommate. But still, she's been hit hard with it. They all have, SK and her friends. When I talked to SK yesterday, she and her friends were outside, laying on the grass, barely talking to each other, just looking at the sky.

Anyway, the medical researcher looked at me this morning, and said, "You really like to talk about heavy-duty things, don't you?" I kind of laughed. "I don't live in the shallows, that's for sure," I told her. So she asked me, "OK, then tell me, why did it happen? Because it just makes me so mad." And I nodded, thinking of my conversation with SK yesterday while she stared at the sky.

This is the first time the death of a contemporary has shaken my daughter's world. She's lucky that way, I guess. And she's asking the same question that medical researcher did, "Why?" He was a good kid, she told me. He loved Jesus a lot. At a prayer vigil held the night before he died, when his life was in the balance, other students had spoken of his faith, prayed fervently for the saving of his life. So she's wondering why God didn't do anything to prevent his death, why He let this boy--Dan--die.

I'm not a big fan of the question why, I told SK. There are many unanswerables in life, and SK, Dan's friends and family, the medical researcher--all of us--have run smack dab up against the most fundamental of them. We live and we die, and there's mystery in it. Until we know fully rather than seeing in a mirror dimly, we can't know. That's all there is to it. The Psalms tells us "Our times are in your hands, Lord," and in the end, we have to trust that. I know this sounds trite when I say it, and it barely helps. But I have to say there isn't help in the question of why, because on the other side of the question of why is the question of 'why not?' Why shouldn't we die? Why shouldn't we suffer? We live on this planet where there is sickness and disease and finally death, and we all have to face it, one way or another, at some point in our chronos. Dan's chronos ended, his LIFE surely did not.

It's hard to say this to a 19-year-old who's hurting, with friends who are grieving a big loss. Death is hard, and I'm not trying to sound cold when I write this way. Shoot, I've done plenty of my own grieving. I know, I know how it hurts. And the death of a healthy 19-year-old is certainly harder to understand and accept than the death of a 66-year-old, even one in such good health, he hadn't even retired yet. But we even put ailing 90-year-olds on church prayer trees. We can't bear to let anyone go--we have to have our white-knuckled-grips pried off the lives of our loved ones, no matter how old and ready for their home-going they might be. I'm telling you when I see that, sometimes I think, there are only two options when it comes to death: now or later. It's not a matter of either or. Not for me is living until I'm old and infirmed--I want to go home sooner than that. Really I do. Some days I can hardly wait, to tell the truth.

But this is not about me. It's about a young man who seemed to have his life ahead of him. Apparently, though, he lived his whole life. It sounds like he lived it well--lived it for Christ. And in the end, isn't that what we most want to have said about us? Not a quantity of days, but a quality? Not the length, but the depth and breadth of them? Isn't it? And in the end--whenever that is--don't we want to go with the Lord, too thankful to be sad?

Don't get me wrong. Grieve long and hard. I'm a believer in grief. Lean into it, I say. Pour your heart into it. Learn, as someone once told me about my dad, 'to live in the presence of his absence.' Take as long as you need to learn what that means. There's no time frame for grief, no matter what a calendar says. Sit shiva as long as you need, SK and friends. And hold onto the quality of days.

Friday, October 2, 2015

My take on it

My oldest child works as a Digital Producer for TV station in Seattle. This is a job of the age. My father, who died in 1997, wouldn't have known what 'Digital Producer' meant. The internet was in its infancy when my father died. Sure, we'd been emailed with my sister when she lived in Uzbekistan in 1993-94, but those first few emails read something like this, "Just checking to see if this works." And we were shocked to discover that they DID work. We could be in contact, even though we were across the world from each other.

Still, the notion that every bit of information we might need would be contained in phones, that we'd be talking to each other via instant messages, pictures, short word-bites called "Twitter," and the ubiquitous feed of Facebook was beyond most of our imaginations. But here is E, working as a journalist in that field, feeding a demanding public that hungers for instant information.
The first week she was a full-time employee, she worked through the night, right from her bed, covering the chase (and capture) of the Boston Marathon bombers. She's covered bridge collapses and landslides, and...too many school shootings. Right here in our region, since E started her job, there have been three school shootings.

Three. Two in our state, and one yesterday in Roseburg, Oregon.
But there was also a huge difference for E yesterday. After working all day in media, she left for her new, other job. It was her second day teaching as an adjunct professor in the journalism department at Seattle University. She told me last night that she felt incredibly teary walking into that class, and not because she was nervous. It hit her personally what it must have felt like for those students and teachers to be going about their business yesterday morning, expecting to learn or teach or study. And with the sound of shots in the air that changed.

I have worked hard to not share my political beliefs here on this blog. They don't matter too much in the long run. Whether you and I belong to the same political party doesn't matter to God. It really doesn't. There are NO republicans and democrats in heaven, nor are there any in scripture. I could tell you why I believe what I believe, but it doesn't matter. Really.
Except, today It does. Somehow, in the last 24 hours, I can't help feeling like I have to say something.
You see, my husband is a counselor at a high school. My brother teaches at a different one. My sister-in-law just retired from teaching. My sister and daughter and step-sister-in-law work at universities. More friends than I can count on all my fingers and toes are teachers. And I'm tired of  the idea that we can't do any better than we're doing about school shootings. It seems ridiculous to me that more can't be done. Really. It's like all those who work to teach our kids, or ARE our kids are like sitting ducks. Or playing Russian Roulette.
Yes, more has to be done. Our constitution says we have the right to bear arms, but the context of those words was completely different than our complex world. They were written by those who lived in a wilderness where there was no standing army nor even true police force. Men (no women, of course) were expected to protect themselves. As those words were written, the young country was gearing up to fight the Revolutionary War. In fact, as the Declaration of Independence was war-time decree, the Constitution was a War-Time promise. And a call to arms. And arms were obviously necessary to that call. Like, "This is what you'll get if you join us in this new enterprise, in this new fight!" It's universal and far-reaching but it's also local--meant first for those who first read it.
Thomas Jefferson couldn't have envisioned the country we live in today. And, from where I sit, it's hard to imagine that he or John Adams or Patrick Henry even (who cried, "Give me liberty of give me death") would have been gratified to see what we've become at the hands of that decree. That liberty, allowing people to shoot up schools? Really? People who drive in cars (cars?) and shoot out their windows because they're mad? Who believes that those intelligent men thought THESE were freedoms covered by the constitution? I don't.
"Guns don't kill, people do." I read this all the time, particularly after a school shooting. I find it an alarming argument. A gun is an inanimate object. It cannot shoot itself. It takes a human to load it, cock and, usually, pull the trigger. So yes, a gun cannot shoot itself. HOWEVER, by definition, these school shootings are done by guns AND humans. The combination of human and gun. And any regulation we EVER make about any thing is for humans, in the end. It's the combination. Guns cannot regulate themselves, just like they cannot load themselves. HUMANS must do that. Again, it's the combination--the symbiotic relationship, so to speak, between  people and guns--that must change if we have any hope of stopping this violence.
"It's only people with mental illness," I also hear. So let me be blunt. I have a son with mental illness. He says, "I shouldn't be allowed to own a gun." He has no interest in owning a gun, thank God. And he's stable right now. But I've seen him angry. I've seen what that anger and depression and impulsive behavior can look like together. Many people with mental illness are smart, and not as wise as my son. They could buy a gun easily enough (obviously, the myriad school shootings in just this last year confirm that). It wouldn't take anything more than it would take my son.
No, only real change in the regulations can protect these people as well as the people they might harm. Stricter gun laws, stricter regulations on the kind of guns allowed, stricter everything.

I am not against guns across the board. Let me be clear about that. I have farmers and ranchers in my family too. I understand quite well why they need guns in their life. They use them. Sometimes animals have to be put down, sometimes varmints get into the crop or barn or whatever. And they're hunters who eat what they hunt--just like all of our ancestors did. I appreciate these men and women and their lives so much. I love their choices and have no problems with any who use guns for such purposes.
I simply want to see guns more regulated, so that it's harder for anyone to get their hands on them.

Can't we figure out a way to fix this mess before one more school suffers what Umqua Community College is suffering right now?