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. 

The Shroud of Grace

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Yesterday I awoke to a gloriously foggy morning. I am one of those that can’t resist bundling up and chasing it as it shrouds and swallows up everything and fills the air with silence. I joyfully walked down to the river to find 3 misty ghost like figures floating on top of the water; their fishing poles angled hopefully. Every now and again I would hear the plop as they recasted their lines, their hushed voices echoing across the water,

Further down I saw 2 ducks making a v-line barely visible through the misty air. I only heard a flock of Canadian geese honking above. I shot a few pictures with my camera and then decided to venture on down to the lake. My Sunday peace was only disturbed when my camera wouldn’t focus on a particular shot and I had to ask forgiveness for my foul words.

I wasn’t enjoying communion with fellow believers and yet I was at church. I have always found God in the fog, for two very emotional moments of my life happened in the fog long ago. The first was when I was driving around grief-stricken, my eyes blurred with tears after the loss of my husband.  I turned a corner and through the fog, I saw hopeful little candles in each window of a charming little cottage. Something about it gripped me and at once my spirit was calmed and brightened. It was God’s  way of letting me know I was going to make it.

The other time, I was alone in my room. Everyone had left and “Oh Holy Night” was playing on my record player (yes, it was that long ago) All I can say is that the Holy Spirit came to me in that room and I can remember every detail. In that room God came to me and revealed the awful, beautiful truth of what Jesus did to save me, us.

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas let me tell you that there is hope. I can say this with perfect confidence and clarity because there is simply nothing you or I are going through that is bigger than God. I know this. Jesus came so that we could always have real hope to fall back on in the darkest times of our lives.

Allow me to close with a quote from a wonderful book I read by Beldan C. Lane as he went through his own journey through the valley of the Shadow of Alzheimer’s in the nursing home with his Mom:

I met a woman by the elevator each day whose mouth was always open wide, as if uttering a silent scream. In a bed down the hall lay a scarcely recognizable body, twisted by crippling arthritis–a man or woman I’d never met. Another woman cried out every few moments, desperately calling for help in an “emergency” that never ebbed. Who were these people?

They represented the God from whom I repeatedly flee. Hidden in the grave-clothes of death, this God remains unavailable to me in my anxious denial of aging and pain. He is good news only to those who are broken. But to them he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, lurking in the shadows beyond the nurses desk, promising life in the presence of death. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Beldan C. Lane

This is the paradox of the message of Christmas. Innocent life with a bitter twist at the end but that ultimately gives us Glorious freedom from that same death. Sometimes I think this is why we rush to buy and give during this season. We know there is something about Christmas that is joy but we can’t quite place our finger on it. We do our hopeful best to be cheerful and join in only to find ourselves worn out from the effort.

That’s because the Gift He gives us is so much bigger than everything else in this world. It’s Himself. We are free, all of us this Christmas. We have to only reach out and accept the gracious offer He gives.

Merry Christmas from my Prayer Closet. May His peace find you today, and every day.

The “Luxury” of Letting Go

 

I felt the river calling on this particular day. It was hot and I was stressed and mentally wrestling with many things. I needed to float…….I tethered myself to the tree in case I drifted off and ended up at the Lake about 5 miles away (Like that would be a terrible thing.

I closed my eyes and let the sounds fill my ears. I heard voices every now and again, kayakers paddling by. The sound of the wind in the trees wooed me and made me think of how I used to miss that sound in the desert. Water bugs chased each other and alighted on my legs. I remembered a song by John Denver called “Cool and Green and Shady.”

He was so intuned to nature and the depth of our need of it. I miss the wisdom of his words. Here is just how I felt:

                                        “Find yourself a piece of grassy ground,
Lay down close your eyes…….find yourself
and maybe lose yourself while your free spirit flies.
August skies, and lullabies, promises to keep
Dan-de-lions and twisting vines clover at your feet.
Mem-o-ries of Aspen leaves, tremblin’ on the wind.
Honey bees and fantasies, where to start again,
Someplace cool an’ green an’ shady……”

Amidst the birds and the lapping of waves against the cement the sound of a harmonica drifted across the water. A lone kayaker in a hat was serenading the turtles sunning themselves on a nearby log. It sounded a little bit like magic. It brought me back to my childhood when my Uncle Bruce would play “Red River Valley” around the campfire.

Then I thought, amidst everything that I think is so difficult in this season of my life, there is this. This bit of paradise I can latch onto. What a luxury. I think of so many living in places torn by poverty and war and noting but fleeing from one place to another. Never having peace.

Where is their escape? Whatever I think is so difficult would be a joke in someone else’s life and perspective. This causes me to sigh and pray and thank God.

I stare up lazily at the trees and they wave lazily back. I take some of my burdens with me when I go but enough are left behind.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken……Psalm 62: 1,2

 

The way Home

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Words are so very hard to come by these days. There are things I am going through right now that I can’t write freely about, maybe that’s why. But there are still plenty of things to say. I have struggled with prayer the past two years like I never have. In the desert, my prayers and words seemed to flow.  That place of dust and cactus and mysterious beauty was like a foreign land at first, but it turned into a place that folded itself around us. Comforted us through the loss of both Elaine’s parents and all we went through with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and the grief that went with it.

My blog was born there in the little shop, against the backdrop of monsoon rains and the cooing of doves that never seemed to stop. I don’t miss the heat but I miss many other things about our life there. Looking back can sometimes paint memories with a rosy hue and that’s good. Like I said, I don’t miss the endless relentless summers.

Here, mercifully, it cools off at night and in the morning we are always surprised to find sometimes even chilly air coming through the windows. Coming back to my hometown has felt like simultaneously fitting into an old slipper and wrangling my foot into a stiletto heel two sizes too small. I feel at home sometimes and lost sometimes. Maybe a bit of both at all times. But that’s okay, thankfully Jesus goes with us wherever we go.

The most important things are still intact. Despite the fact that I don’t have the “feelings” I used to have, the prayer life that once felt so rich, I know this silence of His must be part of the journey. That’s where faith comes in. The Bible says He keeps our prayers in a bowl, so I know they’re safe in His keeping.

Sometimes the plan is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other over and over again. Maybe it’s all about setting things right one at a time, the things that are right in front of you. This place has brought about tremendous creativity and new experiences for both of us. And we are very grateful to be in this place of beauty.

The mile marker always starts with gratitude. That’s the way Home with a capital H. Heaven that is. The most important thing is to find people with the light of eternity in their eyes and hang with them. Those are the ones you laugh with, and pray with, and are at ease with. You don’t have to worry about everything you say. I feel like something close to Supernatural can happen with a simple gathering on a front porch somewhere. It’s something you just feel. You know.

None of us knows when we’ll take our last breaths here but the most important thing to me is knowing I will take my next gasp on the shores of Heaven. I will gaze in wonder like the kids from Narnia I know I will be at a loss for words.

Until then I will keep my eyes on the mile markers for direction. I look back at each place God has allowed me to set foot and I know it’s all been Holy ground. Because He’s been there.

Every step.

 

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.”

A Clothesline Day

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I am sitting here with my third cup of coffee with the sense that the day started without me. I get that sense when I don’t go outside early. It’s nine but feels like noon. The sun is high in the sky for the second day in a row and it’s almost euphoric. Yesterday I wrote about it, the sun that is. And how grateful we were for it.

I had the simple joy of hanging out some of our towels on Aunt Mayvis’s clothesline and I enjoyed seeing them flutter in the light breeze. She still has the little laundry cart like my Grandma had on Lee Street. Elaine fixed one of the wobbly wheels for her and it has a peculiar sound when it’s rolled that I remember.

I also remember when I was a kid, I would pick out all the colored clothespins from the little pouch on the side. They were bright colors like parakeets. Against a blue sky they were brilliant.

Today I have had some communion with the Saints on Facebook. Yes you can find them there. Ordinary, everyday saints like myself. Wrong more than they are right but loving God as best we can in the thick of life, which is like I told someone this morning could be like one long grieving process if not for those sparks and monumental joys that come as surely as the other moments. We just have to keep going to get to them.

I have just started to read “M Train” by Pattie Smith. I think it’s one of only a few books that I have wanted to award five stars on the 63rd page in. It is such intelligent writing that I am sure I don’t understand it all but it’s one that reads easily anyway, if that makes any sense.

Now I really have to start this day. It sunny again and I don’t want to waste it.

Blessings, Lori