Living Lessons

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My Mom (on right) with two classmates around 1945 give or take a few years. 

I’m not sure how we got to May so fast. The week was long. I had a cold and made it all five days to work. By the time I actually got to sit with Mom it was Friday. It was warm in the house so she suggested we go sit outside in the swing. I said that would be nice. I know that is one of her safe places. Her view on the world she has always been so comfortable in. I bought her foundation the other day but I noticed she hadn’t put it on.

We settled outside but the unsettled look resided in her eyes. She was describing how she felt and I made my best effort to make her feel at ease with what she was feeling because that’s what Mothers do and that’s what Daughters do when they become Moms. Whether they have kids or not is beside the point.

When you care for your Mom at some point you become one.

She struggled to put it into words. I said, “I know, you just feel out of sorts, like something is out of place.” She said, “It’s not like I am sick or anything, I’m not throwing up.” This is what she always says. I tell her I feel the same way on certain days. And I do. Just being in this crazy world is enough to make you feel like that.

A Mom and 3 kids came by and the one on the skateboard crossed over to our side. “You look good on that,” she called out to the girl. The girl smiled and sped by. I wanted to ask her if she knew who she just passed. Someone who has been a matriarch of Glenhurst Street for 50 plus years. Someone who always had a fresh pot of coffee on for the neighbors. Someone who raised other people’s kids for years, held Bible studies around her table, always the first to go meet the new people on the block.

Old people……old cats……Briggs is staring at his bowl now like he never ate and he has just finished two shrimp. Sometimes I think he is lost too. We have made him padded surfaces all around for his fragile hips. We do our best to make him feel at ease in his old age. When he howls, we call him and then seems to come back from where he was. He is down to ten pounds from the beefy sixteen of his ninja cat climbing jumping youth. We are so glad he is still with us. 

Mom was wistful but anxious as her vibrant blue eyes surveyed the yard……”I still remember when your Dad brought home that tree,” she said. “It was in a little pot and I can still see it. Now look at those leaves, that trunk and how big it is. Only God could do something like that.”

“Yes,” I said, “I agree.”

I sat across from her on the chair, but inside I was sitting next to her with my arm around her tight. I didn’t want to give her what I had. I told her that, and she said, “I don’t want to give you what I have either.” She pulls old memories from a rich vault and relives them over and over. We listen as if it’s the first time we heard.

She says, “Everyday I thank God for all His blessings. He has been so good to me.” I replied, “Yes, and with Him we never have to be alone.”

“Yes, that’s the best part,” she sighed.

Mom, you are still teaching me. You don’t need short term memory to be strong, courageous and wise. I only hope I never stop learning.

 

Hope for a weary world

I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post this morning. I lingered over my second cup of coffee and looked out on a fog-draped weary world. Something moved me  to grab a jacket and venture out. I put some “ready whip” on top of my steaming mug (I call it whoop-ass) and suddenly felt like a little party had started in my soul. I have come to recognize that moments like this are the whisperings of God. I paid attention to it walked out into a wonderland. 

Someone had evidently told the birds that spring was coming or was maybe already here. I saw the little gate we painted was holding up well except for a few faded colors. I filmed a little video for Mom since she doesn’t venture out on days like this, but I know she will love to hear the birds.

I found hope out there. It’s so easy to despair and just give up isn’t it? Life presses down and wants to push the life (and hope) right out of you. But this……this world that I walked into this morning was not the news, or politics, or anger or anything else but pure beauty that God had set before me. 

And now I am joyously typing away with a forbidden third cup. Something about the earth after Christmas always makes me feel like this. Like hope has come and left a Heavenly bundle and now we have to figure out what to do with Him. 

And the earth waits with hope because deep inside, she knows renewal is coming. And this is our own hope with each new day. A new opportunity to sing the song of the Redeemed. My favorite line of O Holy Night says, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” I like the way the New Living translation puts 1 Corinthians 15:58: 

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

I heard about a Christian woman yesterday, a modern-day Joan of Arc who willingly gave herself up for a number of her brothers and sisters held in prison for their belief in Jesus. I don’t remember what the number was, but I can’t stop thinking about her. She will probably face years of prison or death. In light of a faith like that, why do we waste so much time on things that really don’t matter? 

Yesterday I ran into a dear friend and as we stood in the aisle and talked I felt a Holy Communion between us because don’t you just need to know that someone really does understand? The tears that she wiped from her eyes were real. And as we parted and hugged I think we both felt a little renewed. 

This my friends, is what it’s all about………I wish you peace today, and opened eyes for all the little big moments that may never come again. 

Hope is real. And it’s here to stay. May it reach you today. 

When you’ve kinda lost your Way

 

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“Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Psalm 139:1-3

I draw tremendous comfort from this Psalm. It’s almost like God is saying, “Relax, nothing you could ever do would surprise me. And nothing you could ever do could make me love you less.” It means I can rest easy and stop trying to perform. Ever feel like you just disappoint people at every turn? Lately I have been transposing those feelings onto God. I am not sure when it started, but somewhere along the way I got the idea that God was like 96% percent unhappy with me. Why do we do that? Where does that come from, that performance based conditional love thing?

I am here to remind you and myself. God doesn’t work like that! That is a lie we manufacture all on our own. Satan loves it when we get to feeling like we can’t even pray. Here is the real truth. We can always pray. And here is another thing:

There is a very important thing about you (and me) that belongs to you and you alone. Everyone who has ever lived and died has one, it’s your story. And God, from the very beginning has been center stage, even if you never thought about or believed in Him.

You see, if you have drawn breath, it’s because He wanted you here. And He has a purpose and plan that you will get to know Him. That you’ll come home. Recently I have just finished a book called “The Edge of Over There” by Shawn Smucker. It’s a great book. These people were trying to reach Heaven by themselves. They were stranded on the Edge trying to get “Over There” which they could see in the distance. They were trying to build a bridge of their own making. Kinda like what we do.

I don’t know about you but sometimes I need assurance that God still loves me. Thankfully all I have to do is remember Jesus. It cost God everything to win us back. We’re all on the “Edge of Over There”  but the wondrous, marvelous thing is that once we say yes to Jesus, even if it’s a whisper, He hears us, and Heaven becomes a reality we can see and feel.

Lately, I have been remembering my own story and each time I look back and see all that God has saved me from, the tears flow freely. All the prayers He has heard and answered. All the times I’ve been delivered and never been turned away. Each time I come back, He receives me with open arms. He has been with me from the beginning and He has promised to never leave me or forsake me and He never has.

Sometimes I go down to the river and just watch it flow.  There is something redeeming about watching water flow. I guess it’s like a visual of time. That it’s always moving. The things that cause so much pain today will someday be a memory. Friends, redeem the time! Live right here in the present because though there are sorrows, there is tremendous joy and beauty. God has given us nature so we can get a glimpse of Him.

I leave you with peace today. Look back at your path and remember all He’s brought you through. And say a prayer of thanks with me, will you?

 

The Aftermath

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I was restless when I got home from work because I had eaten too much of the wrong food, like chocolate chips right out of the bag, and that cookie I got from Panda Express the other day. I had to get out, so I pedaled out into the neighborhood and made my blood pump a little faster through my veins. This bike and I, we’re old friends. It’s a sturdy Raleigh that I will never give up, it is solid like a tank. Not one of those titanium lightweight models.

On the way to the main road I saw a van emptying the house of a woman who recently passed away. Died of a massive heart attack. On the side of it was written, “Aftermath.” As if all that’s left of a life could possibly fit in that van. I hope she didn’t die alone. I pedaled on, past the van with the old bed mattresses and furniture and odds and ends stuffed inside.

The dogwoods both pink and white are blooming all over town, and the wisteria. The cherry trees too. Fruit stands will be popping up now. I meant to pedal past the little Library on Edgewood but I missed it. I got sidetracked by the lake, I hadn’t meant to go that far. The evening was so impossibly perfect I went further than I meant to.

I kept pedaling and passed by two houses I used to deliver meals to for the senior center. I envisioned each face, wondered how they were doing. I also passed by the cat lady’s house. Used to, she had a sign up in her yard asking for donations for cat food. I made a note to leave some money next time. It must have been close to feeding time, several were milling around the front porch. I said hi to them and waved to her.

I would be happy with any one of the houses I passed by. I miss having a house, planting and doing and cleaning what you have a stake in. I have a kind of sorrow for our stuff all boxed up in storage. I am okay if I don’t think about it and really I don’t miss it most of the time. I hope my bed is okay, I hope the brass isn’t tarnished, I hope the artwork is not being destroyed by the elements. I hope the teacups aren’t smashed to smithereens.

My time is filled with helping Special needs kids at school, which has been a tremendous opportunity and each day I am thankful God gave me the work. It has opened up a whole new place in me that I didn’t know existed. And I come home and it really does feel like home here in this idyllic spot of beauty by the river. Each day Elaine does her magic to make this whole thing work. Okra is coming up back behind the Motorhome and we are excited about that.

This latest chapter of my life involves helping my Mom remember things. The other night I looked out to see a crescent moon with a star shining by it. I called Mom and told her to go out and look up at that moon. I asked her if she remembered calling me in Arizona when she saw a moon like that because it reminded her of me. She said, “Did I do that? Wow, that’s amazing. Well, I’m glad you live here now.”

I said, “I am too Mom, I am too.”

Happy Dust Day

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It’s Ash Wednesday which is the starting of Lent, the day we remember we are eventually all going the way of “dust in the wind” (to paraphrase an old Kansas song). It’s also Valentine’s Day, the day of love. It seems at first glance that those two things are at odds with each other. As I sit here watching a blue jay drink from the fountain and color fill the sky, I think of God’s great love. How at the dawn of Creation He was thinking of me, of all of us.

God is the sustainer of all things, our breath, our life and yes even our death. He was there at the first and He will be there to catch our soul when we breathe our last on this earth. Only one small curtain between this life and our reclaimed life with Him forever.

For those of us who are aging, the dust part is easy to believe. We get ready to face the day and we notice more lines, it’s a little harder to cover the wrinkles, the discoloration. I find myself lingering at the Spanx aisle. Gravity has started take its inevitable toll on my body. I have to work all that much harder at the gym. Beating back the effects of time gets so tiring.

Sometimes it’s a relief to wipe everything off at the end of the day, throw the bra in the corner, or if you’re a guy at the office, take off the suit and tie. Coming home is where we can take all the junk off and be real. Or it should be.

All too soon this day will start. Maybe for you it already has. As I write this the train roars through town and it reminds me of my mind, already racing ahead and clouded over with what I have to do later. But one thing will remain. God loved me first, loves me still. And He wants us to pass that love on.

Even if you don’t have a sweetheart today, you can still give gifts. Drop someone a card that least expects it. Stop by your local shelter with an armload of blankets for the animals. Call a shut in. Maybe just smile more.

Thank God for loving you first and last.

Today I used the picture of the Dogwood flower to illustrate Jesus love. You can read about it here.

May peace be yours today.

Lori

 

Kinda like Heaven

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My brother and I with Thunder, circa 1965 or so……

There used to be a row of houses on the next block over from where I lived. We knew every family that lived there very well. The houses were owned by the adjacent hospital but I never knew that.  About 10 or 15 years ago now, one by one all the current occupants moved out and the houses themselves were physically moved to a neighboring town.

Growing up, I spent hours inside every one of those houses. Some of them many, many hours. Starting from left to right, there were the Meier’s, then the Matsumoto’s, (whose kids were almost part of the family since my Mom watched Rhonda and Jeff when their Mom went to work.) Next to them were the Merry’s, then the Dillon’s. It was quite a spectacle to watch those houses be readied for a move.

I was reminded of all this yesterday when I took Mom to the store and saw Harriet and Sam Matsumoto. Sam has cancer now, on chemo. I can remember when he used to drive Rhonda and I to school sometimes, he would turn on the vents and stuff would fly out.

I was thinking of those houses, those people, this morning at 3:00 AM when I couldn’t sleep. In my memory I see every house, every family. I remember the night our dog got hit by a car and we mourned the loss sitting in Rhonda’s room. I remember the day I was swimming in the back yard of the Meier’s when the Dollinger boy came with a boa wrapped around his neck. I remember Todd Dillon running home when he cracked his chin in our driveway. So many memories.

I was thinking that in those days I could have knocked on any one of those doors and would have been welcomed. Offered a cooky or ice-cream bar. I would have listened and respected those parents like my own.

It struck me that must be a little of what Heaven is like. Being able to knock on any door and be welcomed. Now it seems few neighbors know each other. My folks just about have to flag the younger people down to talk to them before the garage swallows them up in the evenings. It’s sad.

I am not in John Lennon’s camp, even though I loved the Beatles back in the day.  I love to imagine Heaven because for me it’s just as real as this world, more real in fact. The Bible says in Heaven we will be fully known.

No worries about money, no mortgage, no war, no death, no homelessness, no crime, no pain or sadness. No loneliness or heartache for what might have been. No disease or any kind.

And God will wipe every tear. That sounds pretty darn good to me right now. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good still left in this world, and much to celebrate. But I don’t think anyone would argue that it needs some redeeming right about now.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him…….1 Corinthians 2:9

When even the ocean is not big enough……..

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Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I stood at the shore and waited for that feeling……..that eraser, elixir that would make all the present circumstances melt away. But it occurred to me that sometimes even the ocean is not big enough to do that. Even if it were fresh water and we were dying of thirst, it could save us but we would still thirst again, just as Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

………but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.

But nature has always had a way of making God close for me, and I relaxed and let it do that. I looked hard at everything, and we ate good food and had some wine too. I foraged for shells and saw some magnificent patterns in some sand dollars and drew them in my book. For me, the ocean is God’s way of saying, “Here you go……explain this one.” And all I can say is that He is bigger than everything, even anyone’s problems including my own.

Even when it feels like the small things you do are like dumping a cup of water into an ocean of grief, God is the multiplier. When it’s all you can do, He makes it more than enough.

I am finished with my one year commitment to LOEL center and this weekend is the start of a little break before I begin the next phase of retirement. I am still a little ways off from Social Security and so I work for at least three and a half (counting) more years.

Sometimes I close my eyes and remember how my room looked from the right, and from the left. When I felt like everything in my life was secure and I had the umbrella of a big company over me. But maybe that was an illusion. I still have God over me, over us.

And this place by the river is truly a tremendous blessing. It is feeling like home  I am learning here to take one day at a time and receive it with a grateful heart. Maybe that’s what God is trying to tell me, that I don’t have to have everything mapped out and planned. How many people can walk down to a river in the morning after all?

The four days at the beach did its magic. I will remember the boat ride through the slough and our walks and so many birds this year, more than we’ve ever seen.

For a little time we were suspended:

It’s easy to think that at 3:19 AM it’s just us here alone in this place and I want to remember the peace of this moment. The staccato seal barking on the pier, the seagull I just heard. Even though it’s chilly I always crack the window to stay in touch with the ocean so big and still out there like God. Each drop of time is precious. An engine starts nearby, a night fisherman going out or coming in. You fighting off a cold nearby, fighting for breath and Briggs purring in my ear with his paw on my shoulder. Just is just us down here God, don’t forget us. Just beyond, over the bridge is where we left some of E’s parents ashes. The ocean breathe in and out, until God says “No more.”

And when we pulled back into town we put everything back on like a heavy pack and I have to remember Jesus other words, just before He went to the cross:

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

And I think of Him on that terrible cross taking on my sin and the sin of the whole world and I know I can trust Him.