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.

 

Tea and toast and self preservation

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Yesterday I fought through my route, feeling sick. I felt better at the end of the day but today I awoke still feeling puny. I needed a day for tea and toast. I am washed out, washed up. Stressed. I am so very blessed. Elaine made me scrambled eggs and bacon and my Zen tea. The kind I used to get at the Intel cafe when my life was ordered and predictable. Today I am missing my old uncomplicated life. From a distance the stress I had there seems minute.

It was a beautiful weekend at the ocean, in one of our favorite places. It didn’t disappoint…..it never does. Moss Landing is a little fishing village along the Pacific coast by Monterey, California. There is no shopping, and only one hotel. Nothing to do but eat at Iconic Phil’s Fish Market and walk for miles on the beach. It was just what we needed.

And, after hemming and hawing with my finger on the “Book Now” button on my IPhone for an hour, I decided to do something I have wanted to do for years, I went on a whale watching charter. After I got over the strange reaction from the motion sickness patch the night before, we headed out at 7:00 AM the next morning. And we were rewarded with whales! They didn’t get as close as I thought, but we saw them. And I didn’t get sick. On the way out I wanted to hear John Denver’s, “Calypso” played loud over the speakers.

The sea was rolling and some fog swallowed us up for a time, but it was magical to be in their playground.

Our last day we had another lunch at Phil’s looking out over the Pacific. We collected a few shells and bits of seaglass before packing up and heading home. We were greeted with warmer temperatures when we got there. At last we were settled in. I called my Mom and her voice was tight with stress.

Then I got the horrible text that I didn’t deserve and that I wasn’t expecting. Welcome home……Can I go back to the ocean please?

And I have been sick for two days. Yesterday, I quit fighting and took a day off  and went back to bed. Some days you have to take care of yourself and let others take care of you. Last night I crawled into the peaceful magic back space in the Motorhome with my book and fell into a dreamless sleep. I awoke to “Dinner’s Ready” and the sound of Amazing Grace playing on the smooth jazz station where we have never heard it played before.

Sometimes God gives you exactly what you need right when you need it.

I am guarding my heart today and yet I hope God will show me how to keep it open enough to extend grace. I am learning that protecting myself is okay.

 

Redeeming the Time

 

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“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray………” Luke 5:16

“Our conditioning as members of a consumer society prevents us from abandoning hope that, with sufficient planning, we might yet be able to see and do everything. To move slowly and deliberately through the world, attending to one thing at a time, strikes us as radically subversive, even un-American. We cringe from the idea of relinquishing, in any moment, all but one of the infinite possibilities offered us by our culture. Plagued by a highly diffused attention, we give ourselves to everything lightly. That is our poverty. In saying yes to everything, we attend to nothing. One only can love what one stops to observe. “Nothing is more essential to prayer,” said Evagrius, “than attentiveness.”
― Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert

I read this wonderful book years ago and it has remained with me ever since. I believe it holds a very important message for our times as the world and the people in it seem to be moving at a faster and noisier pace than ever before. What does it mean to be fully in the moment of our lives? Do we skim over our days not fully touching down until we collapse in bed and wonder where the time went?

Do I treat people like things to check off my to-do list or do I give them my undivided attention?  I don’t know much but there are certain things I am absolutely sure of. I know that one day, I will give absolutely anything to hear a story I have heard a million times before and the voice I love telling it. I will hear the silence where they used to be and maybe my heart won’t be able to take it.

Listen to the stories, look into their eyes. Hear what they are saying, the desperation and earnestness behind it. Slow down long enough to honor them as individuals the way we would like someone to do for us. We don’t get to decide who’s worthy, God says we all are. That’s what real love looks like.

What makes a good day for you? For me it means that I was able to keep my finger firmly on the pulse of the day most of the time. I felt it from the time the sun came up until it went down. It made for a happy day, a fulfilled day. I rode my bike over ground I covered in childhood. I felt the bumps in the streets, I saw things, beautiful things. I took pictures so I wouldn’t forget.

I took care of Elaine who is recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. It was a joy to return a gift she has given to me many times. I got to go to the store with Mom and Dad both, one to the grocery and one to the pharmacy. I went to Lowe’s to look at flowers with my Aunt.

I was in the moment most of the day. I  wish I  could say I have this  down, but too many times I  fail miserably.  But that’s why God knew we needed  days.  They are strung out like pearls until this life ends and eternity begins. The thing is, we can  never be sure when one ends and the other starts.

I like how the King James Bible puts it here:

Walk  in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming  the time.  Colossians 4:5

And this one:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is within your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

And just maybe I can try to repeat today what I did yesterday.

 

The Thrill of Hope

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I made my way down to the river even though I knew I wouldn’t be there long. It was early morning, still dark as it usually is when I go. I didn’t need to see it as much as I needed to feel it. Kind of like I feel about God. I needed to thank Him for the good day I had. A big gold star was shining overhead and the crescent moon was on the other side, peeking through the bare branches with a star right next to it. There was a Holiness to it.

There in the little river shack, I knelt and thanked God for the good day. Lately I have felt something like Plexiglas around my heart, or maybe teflon. Nothing has quite reached me, call it a form of depression or unease. Whatever it is, I felt the platelets shift yesterday and it felt really good to feel some joy leaking in. It was that thing with feathers that Emily Dickinson so eloquently wrote about:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I had a good day at work the day before, and later that night we went to a local place, the place where I got married so long ago. It’s changed greatly, now it is a full fledged spa, with a vintners room and additional rooms. When I was married there almost 40 years ago now,  it was a little old Victorian country house with a garden and that part of it is where we listened to a three piece ensemble. I distinctly remember the day Mom and I went there to discuss the ceremony. It was a fall day and windy, and I remember how the leaves looked coming down. It was a special memory between she and I. I will remind her of that when I see her.
We sat and sipped wine and met some lovely people, one of whom auditioned for the voice. The other two, a couple sat down next to me and the lady explained she was an author and historian and they were there to interview an owner of the Inn and write his life story. So we talked about different authors and she said she liked my hat. We exchange cards, I dug my homemade crumpled Staples version, and she her crisp eloquently done one.
As we stepped outside I heard a commotion, which was Santa’s firetruck all decorated with lights. I wrote another story about this on Dan King’s “Bible Dude”blog which you can read here. I jumped up and down like a kid and cried…….”Santa, Santa!!!” They drove right past us and we waved and they honked and we all shouted our Merry Christmases.
What are the odds, that it would be coming by right then? Does God mind when we indulge in a little fantasy about Santa? I don’t think so. I actually think he sent it for us because we needed it.
Just like we always need Him.

The Still Small Voice

 

14142061_10206911059236978_5951114380666405910_nIs anxiety threatening to run over you like a steam roller today?  Don’t claim it. I prayed this morning for Jesus to take “my anxiety” but then I realized that I was using the wrong words. It’s not “my anxiety.” Anxiety doesn’t belong to you or me. That is not to say we don’t feel it, some of us more than others. The truth is, there are many things in the world today that cause us our stomachs to churn. Just turning on the news does it for me. Some days it seems all we can do to keep tamping it down. I used to feel it as soon as I got on the freeway in the mornings, the hum.

Going, doing, being. It sometimes gets overwhelming. But the still small voice of Jesus reminded me today that He never asked me to do or be everything. He only asked me to follow Him.

One step at a time.

When I think of all the events that have transpired just the past 5 months along, I am staggered by the fact that He brought us through it all.

Retirement. Big Anxiety.

A move to another State. More anxiety.

Getting my Mom through two surgeries and recovery.

Dealing with terrible movers.

The loss of my fur baby before we moved.

And then it seemed like everything was too much and all my words stopped flowing. Who can figure it out? When I lived in the desert, the words seemed to flow effortlessly, then I move on the banks of a beautiful river and my words seemed to flow out along with the tide. But sometimes it’s okay to be still.

And that is what I have done.

I am not the same girl who left this town many years ago. I have done tremendous things with God’s help. And in many ways I am the same, but I have also grown.

No, it’s not my anxiety. And it’s not yours either.

I am taking a step with Jesus today. Together we will walk on water. This is where I am meant to be.

 

Choosing life again and again

It’s been three days and at night I can still hear, “Move your arms like Henry….” and “Dorothy, Dorothy…..would you like to dance with me.” And that’s okay because at 13 she still loves the Wiggles. I love that they are not afraid to include “Away in a Manger” and call it Christmas. She has a mad crush on Murray Wiggle who she says is her boyfriend. He might be a Grandpa by now in real life and no longer on the show, but she doesn’t know and I would never tell her. I want to cry when I hear the songs because I miss her.

We got to celebrate my Mom’s 87th Birthday wearing clown noses during the Birthday song and lit a cake made from scratch by a dear friend who whispered “Do you think she would mind the Dinosaurs on it?” I said no, she’d love it. She did.

We also got to attend church, Mom and Dad and my brother and I on Palm Sunday, something we hadn’t done together in a long while. That was a blessing.

As with every family visit, there are people left out and things that go awry. Some things don’t go as planned. Mom’s heartbeat was erratic and she was not feeling well some of the time. Dad’s knee was flaring up and I went with him to the Doctor to get a shot and it was better by the end of the week.

There was talk of a “last trip” here or there. They talked too much like the best of their life is over and at 86 and 87 I guess that’s normal but I’m not ready to lose them. There was a moment when my Dad and I walked into Barnes and Noble together where it felt like old times and I wanted to sit there in that moment for a while.

Earlier today in the laundry room, I folded the gloves I took to the snow. I remembered her laughter as she threw snowballs at me and at her Dad. And I remembered my Dad and I, wedged in the backseat started laughing at my seatbelt that was stuck. That was like old times too. We always got in trouble in church for laughing. It strikes me that laughter is one of the things that has kept us all from losing our sanity over deaths and goodbyes and sickness and aging and everything in between. Laughter is one of the things in this life that will follow us to the next, thankfully.

As I write this, I hear it come down just now. The thing I was praying for this morning when I saw the cloudy skies. Just a little sprinkle, I said. Just a little pitter-patter on the roof. And now I have it. Healing for me, rain is. It says that God is still in control, He still cares enough to water the earth and so I have renewed assurance He still cares for us all.

Each day gives us a choice. At every turn in this life there are moments that breathe life and moments that have the foul smell of death. They reside side by side like the wheat and the tares. Each day there are moments bursting with life and moments that threaten to choke it right out of us.

The Bible says, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” I want to continue to choose life.

I also want to choose love. “Help me Lord to try to see beyond what’s on the surface. Help me to see people how You see them so I can love them better.”

People (and life) will try to steal our joy, but the joy God gives us is eternal and comes from somewhere deeper and older than we know or understand. It was there before all things were set in the act of creation. That joy is real and it’s our gift at redemption. He gives us back what was always meant for us in the first place.

Thank you God for the brief time at the beach. When I am there somehow I get the assurance that things will be okay. They really will.