Just Breathe…..

Let there be a place somewhere in which you can breathe naturally, quietly, and not have to take your breath in continuous short gasps. A place where your mind can be idle, and forget it’s concerns, descend into silence, and worship the Father in secret. There can be no contemplation where there is no secret. Thomas Merton, Book of Hours

This book has been a comfort for many years. Though months might pass between the times I open it, the power and beauty in its pages has never dimmed or failed to renew. Merton’s words crack open a place deep in my soul where the Holy Spirit dwells. There is wisdom here that I need to return to again and again. It reminds me of who I am in Christ and the assurance that despite everything we see around us, God is holding it all together. It speaks to me of the dawn of Creation, and how we are all longing for our true home. Everything we reach for in this life hearkens back to our longing for Eden.

Being trapped is a terrible feeling. Can one find happiness in a few measured moments of peace between days that threaten to squeeze the life out of us? Care-taking affects everyone involved, not just the ones doing the caring. That’s the hardest part. Is it enough to say it won’t last forever? And what happens after? What sorrow lies on the other side? Yet I know that the sorrow is part of it all, and the sweetness of the good memories that will replace it. And the going on part will come, that embracing life once again. Finding that path of redemption and freedom we once knew. Plans will once again be made and followed through on. That’s the hope that keeps us going. 

I took Mom to see Dad yesterday. He was facing away from us and I was a little shocked at how he looked. He requested a buzz cut and he got it. He had no hair! It was a good visit for he and Mom. Mom joked about having a boyfriend and Dad laughed. They held hands as we sat by the aviary. 

I thought maybe I would feel sorry for the birds, but it was hard to watch them and not smile. They had a nice home and could fly to and fro. There was a big perch in the middle where they would simultaneously all land on, then promptly vacate as they rocked it back and forth. They were like little grey, brown and yellow comedians as they flitted around. Mom and Dad loved watching them and so did I. They had a good clean home and food and they were safe from predators. And they didn’t seem to know or care that they didn’t have their freedom. 

Maybe I can learn something from them.  They have no clue about time, just one day flowing into the next. But I am never not aware of time, right now what it looks like is a huge clock with legs. And it’s coming for me.

The other day I gave myself a day of freedom and I didn’t call anyone, didn’t go see anyone. I….just….came…..home. I felt like my old self again. Elaine and I went for a ride and laughed at everything and nothing.

Oh how I miss that.

Taking a breath

Taking a breath

This season in my life is especially difficult for us all, and COVID has made everything worse. Dad has landed in a Convalescent Home. It all started the night Mom called me in a panic at 2:30 AM shouting into the phone, “Are you there, Lori, Lori, I need to call her…..” We had had several panic calls from Dad over the past year and I just figured this was another one. Something about this one seemed different.

When I rounded the corner and saw the ambulance and firetruck my heart dropped. It dropped even further when I came in and saw Dad lying on the bedroom floor with blood behind his head. Some things you cannot un-see, and that one will be there forever. They left so fast, there was no time to find his ID. Elaine thought to look in his pants pocket and we then rushed them to the hospital.

After several days he came home and collapsed again. 

So we are a small village of caretakers now. My brother, myself, Elaine and I. Mom can’t stay alone. I go from one place to another and back again. Mom doesn’t remember why Dad is there and asks continually when he’s coming home. It’s been mostly bad, but there a few moments here and there that we laugh together, and she expresses the joy of a child when I warm a blanket and throw it over her. 

I made her table look like Christmas and she exclaims surprise and joy all over again when she sees it. 

I feel like my soul is scoured out most of the time. Empty. I don’t do what I used to do. I no longer sit by the river, it gives me no comfort. I see it and it moves by soundlessly but it doesn’t touch me. I am continually distracted by the next phone call, the next text. My life right now is a treadmill and a schedule. Driven by the clock.

And yet, I have a best friend who is my emotional rock. She’s a pillar of strength. I’m not going it alone. There will be an end to this all. And God will be ready to embrace them both when it’s their time. Until then we do what we have to do to make things better for them. 

Books remain a joy, God has left me that. I snatch moments now and then. I can’t read at Moms because the questions are nonstop. She is trying so hard to map her world out right now. I feel so sad for her.

Churches remain closed and it amazes me how our whole world has changed since we stood on the beach at Moss Landing on the cusp of 2020. I wonder what has happened to us? I can’t help feeling in some ways this pandemic has revealed the apathy of the American church. How we have changed from the Pilgrims who risked everything to be able to worship freely. How much we have changed from our parents and grandparents generation. 

Have we caved into fear, or is it the right thing for society as a whole to keep everyone “safe?” Was being safe even a consideration of the early church? Have we missed the opportunity to show the world what God can do? It’s hard to know what’s right anymore. I don’t pretend to have the answers. Thankfully, God remains the same. Yesterday today and forever.  On that we can be assured. His mercy remains the same as well, thankfully.

Until then we soldier on and do the best we can. Help each other the best we can. We will get through this. It’s almost a new year and I need to remember who Jesus is. I have felt lost this whole year, but maybe writing can help me find my way back home. 

Whoever is still sticking with my inconsistent blogging, here’s to a hopeful 2021. My prayers and best wishes go with you all.

Remember Me

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What do you see when you look at me? Do you see only the rumpled clothes, the spots I can’t see? The spilled food? Yes, my hands shake and my steps falter, but I have lived life and it has erased much of what I was before. If you look closer you can still see who I used to be. It takes love to remember it. The love I gave you for so many years. The love I’m still trying so hard to give.

When you are impatient and have to wait for me, remember all those years I waited for you. I waited for you to walk so that we could walk together. And we did. Our lives were a set of parallel lines that made up all the joy in my life. Everything I did was because of you, in you I found my purpose.

Remember for me when I can’t. I know it’s hard when you have to answer the same question again and again, but instead of irritation, replace it with something else. Replace it with the love that was behind my every task. Let it temper the anger that is so quick to flare up.

Remember the Birthdays I never forgot, the cakes I got up early to make, the laundry I folded, the endless meals I cooked, the alarms I set to get you up and ready for the day.

The prayers you never knew I said.

Please be patient and know that when I struggle to read directions or do a task, I am frustrated too. Do you remember the light in my eyes every time you said yes to something I suggested we go do? The hope behind it all. I think maybe my eyes only truly saw for the first time when you were born.

Remember me in my strength, not in my present physical weakness. Can you let our love run together in the same direction as it used to? I’m worn out and worn thin and my memories haunt me much of the time. That is, when I do remember.

Someday soon I will be gone, and it’s my hope that you won’t regret what you didn’t do. I certainly won’t hold you to it. The hardest thing is to learn to forgive yourself. It’s a lesson I wish I could have learned in life. I know that only with God is it remotely possible.

Now, all of my past mistakes are long forgotten and I dwell in the Light of Eternity where there is no longer anything to regret. I have greeted those who I’ve longed to see again. Here there is only Love.

I’ll wait for you here.

What’s in your cup?

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Dad called, “We just have too much,” he said, “We cleared out the shelf where we keep the coffee cups, and there’s only two of us here now…..” When I got there they were all over the table, stacked two deep. He wanted to throw them all away. There was a sense of urgency about it, like so many things he is wanting to clear out lately. I said, “Well, let’s just sort through them and see which ones you still use. We agreed that they had to keep the ones from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. And the one to Grandpa and Grandpa from Lauryn. We narrowed it down to 5 or 6 out of 20. 

Clearing out things can be a lot like clearing out a life. An acknowledgment that an excess is no longer needed. It can be liberating but also diffused with a sense of finality. Memories are attached to things and that’s where it gets tricky. There are hoarders who have a mental condition that prevents them from throwing anything away. I guess they find a kind of comfort in all those piles of stuff. And then there is the opposite, throwing away everything and then wishing you hadn’t because you realize there is still life to be lived.

When life spirals out of control I guess you feel you must do something about the things you can control. Little things become paramount. You can’t control getting older, or change, or a ravaging disease, but you can control the things you see in the immediate space around you, so there’s a sense of haste.

I kept the best ones and took them to a local cafe where they accept everyone’s used cups. It’s a cool thing I think, like drinking out of someone’s history. I find comfort in knowing some of their coffee mugs will live on in our community. I like to think the many prayers and all the laughter shared while using those cups and the hands that held them over the years will somehow pass a little peace and grace on to the next user.

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For so many years, their home was where everyone came. There was always a knock or a hello through the screen door and the phone was always ringing. “I’ll just put on a fresh pot of coffee,” my Mom would say. Even now, I can see shining eyes, and ringing laughter over those cups. The walls hold the memories even in the silence. The winding down of life.

The Bible speaks about our bodies being living vessels. Far too many years I tried to fill it with things it was never meant to hold. The Christian life is a series of emptying and filling. Sometimes this life just empties you out. People and circumstances can leave you feeling that way. Maybe that is Jesus’ way of getting us out of the way so that He can fill us with Himself.

Jesus once had to drink from the worse cup ever. But drink He did, to the bitter dregs. He did this so that we wouldn’t  have to. Has your coffee gone cold? Are there only the bitter grounds of yesterday? Pitch it into the bushes and refill from a fresh cup of Grace today. Jesus stands ready. The campfire is warm and the coffee is hot. 

“You prepare a table before me in the Presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

cups

Waiting for normal

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In every crisis situation there is a paradigm shift. You look around at your world and it’s different. The birds are still singing, flowers are still in bloom. The hummingbirds still come to the feeder and the geese still honk their way through the sky. Nature never stops. But we’ve stopped. That is, what we always thought of normal has stopped.

I’m sitting here waiting for the 7 o clock train, “Soft Hands” we call the conductor, because he does soft little puffs on the horn. I wait with an over-exaggerated impatience. It feels a little bit like panic, which I know is ridiculous but I want to hear it because that feels normal. But he doesn’t come. It’s 7:32 and I wonder where he is.

I feel a sense of unreality like the day after 9/11 when there were no planes overheard. Trying to describe it to my Aunt, I said, “I feel like the rapture came and we were left behind, but I know that’s not true.

It’s like a Stephen King novel that we’re all playing a part in. The other day we stood in the Geezer line at Costco to get supplies for my folks and Aunt Mayvis and it was like the zombie apocalypse. Gloved, masked elders (us among them) shuffled forward, hundreds of us towards the door. We waited over an hour.

A local nurse has passed away from the virus and now his wife tested positive. And an employee of one of our favorite wineries also tested positive.

And no one knows quite what to do. Our homes have become bunkers. The downtown area is quiet. Schools are closed for the rest of the year. They made that announcement yesterday. And yet, people are finding creative ways to stay in touch.

Writing letters, notes, leaving food on porches. And speaking of porches…..I have seen actually seen people sitting on their porches again. There will be some good to come out of this. Never again will I take hugs for granted. I will hug a little harder after this. Maybe we all will. I believe good always comes during times like this. Even as my heart aches to physically hold my folks and family close. 

Maybe when we finally leave this new normal behind, our old normal will feel like new again. Once more my friends, we will stand close, breathe each other’s air without fear, enjoy each other’s company, have community. It will be a little like being born again. And the sooner we do what we have to now, the sooner we can get back to that.

Easter will be different this year but one thing is for sure. Nothing can stop the King from coming, again and again into our lives.

As I drove Downtown these past few weeks I’ve been thinking lately of the words to that old Gaither song, The King is Coming:

The Marketplace is empty

No more traffic in the streets

All the builders tools are silent

No more time to harvest wheat

Busy housewives cease their labor

In the courtroom no debate

Work on earth has been suspended

As the King comes thro’ the gate…..

Even so come Lord Jesus…….we need you, our world needs you.

 

Songwriters: Charles Millhuff, Gloria Gaither, Bill Gaither

 

 

 

I’m Still Here

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He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4 

I remember the times when remembering brought comfort. Now my memories have turned against me; they remind me of all I have misplaced.  Once they were sweet traveling companions on my journey. The good ones I would turn over and over like a worn river stone, keeping them close.

Hold me like one of those well worn stones, Lord

Once my mind was clear and sure, now it’s a labyrinthian nightmare. I used to know where I was in my world and where I was going, and now the path is hidden from view. I can’t seem to find my way. I’m not myself. I don’t recognize the person I have become and yet I still know who I used to be. That’s the worst part. 

But this I do remember, this thought holds me:

You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding. Psalm 139:5,6

Help me remember who I am in You Lord. Thank you for holding my place in line until I find my way home.

Remember when you loved me? Remember when you didn’t want to escape who I’ve become? I still love, I’m still here, I’m still me. Do you hear me? Do you see my desperation when I try to follow the thread of conversation? I ask questions because I’m trying to find my way back. I’m lost in my own life. It has become easier not to talk, and yet I am so lonesome for the conversations we used to have. I am quiet on the outside and shouting on the inside. 

I feel guilty all the time because I can see you get frustrated and I don’t blame you. That’s why I ask over and over if I said or did something wrong. Because I feel wrong. Everything feels wrong and I feel bad for you. Once I was the one who held our world together, made it all work. I was the encourager, the cheer coach, the mender of clothes and hearts and skinned knees. The engine that could. 

There were days I couldn’t keep from singing. Now I spend my days looking for familiar landmarks. I long for safety. One thing remains the same. Immersed in His Grace, I find comfort knowing that my Father has not left me. He has kept the treasure of who I used to be. He holds me fast even when I can barely hang onto myself. 

“We will too Mom, we will too.”

This is dedicated to you, Mom. You are still our anchor. 

Cherish the firsts and inbetweens my friends, because you never know when they will become the lasts.

Summer 2019

 

It’s been awhile…….words continue to be elusive, just out of reach. I try to relax and realize that this is just another season and to let it go. And yet, I miss the release that comes with letting words and feelings go and maybe send a little healing out to you readers, if any of you are still there. If you are, thank you for your tenacity in believing I still might have something to say. 

Briggs is still with us. We enjoyed a trip to the beach not long after summer vacation started and he had a rough go of it on the way. He was fine after we got the Motorhome settled and brought him some shrimp from Phil’s which he loves.

Moss Landing was a blessing as always. I went on my usual quest for sea glass and was not disappointed. I was breathing out a prayer of thanks for the treasure I was finding one morning and shortly after that He rewarded me with a very special piece. A color I’d never found before.

Not long ago I did something I have wanted to do ever since we moved here. I bought myself a little one person tent from Amazon and dragged it and the mattress down by the river. The inflatable mattress was a little too fat and that didn’t leave much breathing room for me but I was very comfortable all night. I left the door flap open and a whisper of air came in. I even got a little chilly which was wonderful. I was serenaded by an owl which was like a dream. It held magic, that night. 

I want to do it again, but poor Elaine hardly slept. Briggs didn’t know where I was and he yowled and was up and down all night. Poor guy. He has slept on my bed for 18 years and he didn’t know what was going on.

Lately I have been treasuring my time with Mom. She is lost in her own life and not doing really well. We have entered yet another phase with the memory loss. Dad is her anchor right now and she wants to be wherever he is which is extremely hard on him being the solitary person he is. She asks me questions now like “Why aren’t you at work?” “Where do you live now?” But it is easy to do things for her because she is so very sweet.

Dear readers, hopefully someday the tap will be turned on once again and words will flow freely as they once did. I try and think why it was so different in Arizona and I can’t come up with anything. Maybe I felt freer there. Maybe it was because I felt more secure. Maybe I miss our home. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Books continue to be a joy and for that I am grateful. I look for excuses to go the library. I mingle with the homeless and the other odd library people and I feel at home in between the shelves. I remember when they built that library and when I close my eyes I can still hear the wooden card catalog draws slide in and out.

There is something to be said for having a history with a place. I wish you grace, mercy and peace from our Lord Jesus my friends. 

Of Dads and Grandpas

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“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who He is or what He is up to.” 1 John 3:1 MSG

God loves families. That’s why He found it necessary and important to start one. He certainly didn’t need us. It’s hard for us to imagine what it must have been like before the creation, but we know it was a perfect union. Father, Son and Holy Spirit…..They could have gone on that way forever.

But because God is such a creator and a giver, He decided to spin out galaxies, and planets and stars and angels in the blackness of eternal space. And then, out of His vast storehouse of love He created all the animals and this home of ours, and us. I wonder…….I’ve always wondered, how much time passed in that perfect fellowship.

How many walks and talks were taken in the cool of the evening before it all went south? Before we decided to listen to the cleverly woven lies that turned God-perfection on its ear. I wonder.

Families are messy and God knew that. Even the angels argued amongst themselves about who was greatest. He created us at great risk, but He felt the risk was worth it. We were worth it. And we fell, as He knew we would in time. Since that time we have never stopped falling. Thankfully, He has never stopped trying to get us back.

When my Dad was a kid, my Grandpa left the family. After my Grandma passed away he remarried. My Dad and Grandpa did some bridge building through the years. As a result I have good memories of him. I passed the house on my walk just the other day. I remembered Christmas at the Elks Lodge and going through his box of rocks and staring at his geodes in the lit up cabinet. And ice-cream socials at the Methodist Church and picnics at the lake. 

I never knew my Grandpa on my Mom’s side but I hope he is one of the first people I meet in Heaven. We lost him to cancer when I was only two. I have a dim memory of him holding me up to his grapevines. He loved roses, and he had a cat named Fritz and he called me his “blond-haired angel” in German. I always wonder if when he held me he was thinking of Annie, his 4 year old daughter who was accidentally shot and killed by a neighbor boy. My Grandma never built that bridge of forgiveness back to him for leaving the gun out. My Mom heard him say quietly one day, “She has never forgiven me.”

I like to think of the three of them together in Heaven, all forgiven, all forgotten.

Sometimes the most important thing in life and also the hardest is to build a bridge back to someone who has hurt us. It’s a huge risk, and it’s scary and most times we don’t know what the outcome will be. It’s exactly what God did with Jesus. It cost Him everything, but to get us back he felt it was worth it.

It’s what good Dads do. 

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.