Old Friend

It washes over me at unexpected times. That a chunk of my life is missing, E asks me if I want to go by my old home. (She knows I will say yes.) She goes by too after Walmart runs to see what’s what. What changes the new owners might be making. When I drive by it’s as if I’m gazing into the familiar face of a cherished old friend, not a place I once lived. No matter how it changes. I will remember…..

I remember little girl yellow and a record player on the floor. And ruffled chenille on the bed. My Mom so mad at the dog for lifting his leg right after she washed it. I remember backyard Birthdays, sheet thrown over the line and fishing for prizes which my brother and his friend fastened from the other side. Names of neighborhood crushes scrawled underneath the windowsills.

And sounds…..the funky doorbell I can hear so clearly. The particular slam of the screen door, the sound of my Mom singing and her voice telling me it was time to get up for school. My groan as I threw the covers over my head wishing for Saturday. 

On the other side of town, I see a sad row of buildings on Main taken over by the homeless, now rampant with drugs and stolen piles of garbage. In my mind I remember the sound our shuffling feet climbing the stairs to the upper room of the Mandarin House Chinese restaurant. We thought we were in Chinatown. The gentle clink of teacups and saucers. Okazaki’s was somewhere downstairs, the Japanese shop where they made the best snow cones. 

Memories can save us when everything around us is unfamiliar and changing. We walk about in a world we no longer recognize. We talk about it every day. Are we, (the sixty-somethings) the last to remember a world that was somewhat sane? 

Of course human nature has always been the same but I truly believe we are just now beginning to see the harmful effects of endless social media. It can’t be healthy to have events plastered our faces at every turn. The mind reels from it. There is no time for the mind to recover from one tragedy when you’re presented with another. 

But thankfully, some things will always remain the same. The important things. God knew there would come a day when we would need to derive comfort from looking up at the unchanging planets. He knew we would always need to gaze into the innocent eyes of a newborn to keep cynicism at bay. And to stand in wide-eyed wonder on the shore of an ocean which seems endless. 

It is Sunday, June 5, 2022, the day of Pentecost. Fifty days after He rose. And God is still in control. And I remember one day long ago when the Holy Spirit touched down in my little world. On a cold, foggy, miraculous December day close to Christmas. 

The Spirit will not always strive with men, but He was with me that day. And He’s with me still. I close my eyes and hear the peace murmured, the rustle of clothes and muffled kneelers leftover from Episcopalian days, and the Doxology from my Baptist days. And singing “Morning is Broken” on the dewy grass at a Methodist Sunrise Easter service. 

Life is good. Because God is.

Letting Go

It continues to feel strange, this new journey I’m on. In 2021, Dad passed on August 19, and then Mom passed 44 days later on October 2. At first, there was the flurry of activity involving the memorial for Dad, then we barely turned around and the same had to be done for Mom. We were taxed out emotionally and other ways too. We said our goodbyes with family and friends and things kind of leveled out. Then the house cleanup began…….(lots of buried emotions, plowing through and just getting it done.) 

Now the house sale. More emotion. More tears at unexpected times. I recorded certain sounds on my phone that I will never hear again which I may keep or not down the road. The sound of the old door locking/unlocking, the funky doorbell that for 40 years has sounded the same, and the closet doors my Dad installed that have been off kilter (also for years). 

But here is what I hear that can never be recorded except in my memory, and there they will stay. The sounds of hundreds of gatherings over the years. The October parties I used to plan with Mom, every backyard Birthday party with all the neighborhood “gaggle” of kids we played with. The fresh pot of coffee that was ever brewing for all kinds of friends and neighbors. Faces I still see so clearly: Mrs. Nystrom next door coming down the steps with a freshly made cake (from scratch of course). Mrs. Day from across the street with a loaf of something healthy and homemade. Ladies gathered around my Mom’s table, all strong women, each with their own heartaches and joys. I can see them, their faces aglow and the walls echoing their laughter. Praying hands in a circle. 

So much love, so much grief, so much life. And now all is stripped bare, devoid of any life but flowing with memory. This little tract home was Mom and Dad’s pride and joy. It was the model home of the neighborhood complete with the ugliest rock wall anyone’s ever seen. My Mom used to curse those rocks because when she vacuumed, they would come loose. When my cousins came to say goodbye to the house, a couple of them wanted to take a pebble from the infamous wall. I told them, “Just get the vacuum out!” 

The funny thing is, they had to find tools to pry them off, almost as if they too, were reluctant to say goodbye. And if those little stones could talk, I’d like to think they would whisper back all those prayers my Mom said for me as we held hands before the fireplace, when going to school was so, so hard for me. 

I know walls, (and stones) can’t talk, but I do think they remember.


First Sunday of Lent

Each evening the sun’s rays hit my Mom’s sheep and birdhouse at exactly the same spot. I never planned it that way, it just happened. Sometimes the cat poses along with the sheep putting himself squarely in the portrait. More than likely he’s only following the last bit of warmth before evening.

This morning I was leafing through my Dad’s Book of Common Prayer. He had written a note over part of the Eucharist seen below:

This made me smile. I know Dad was proud of his Scottish and English heritage. Since I did my DNA a few years back I’ve found that I’m 28% Scottish. I previously thought I was more English.

I read aloud and as I did, I recalled the soft murmur of voices in the chambers of my heart and memory. I remember the sounds in the old St. John’s church when it was on Lee Street in the middle of town. I heard the soft insulated thumps of prayer kneelers going up and back down. Dust motes floating through stained glass light; I heard us saying the words of the Eucharist all at once: 

We lift them to the Lord

It is right to give Him thanks and praise

So many years later it’s as if I’m there. And there are so many other church services down through my youth, Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, weekend Church retreats, you name it. My folks were denomination hoppers for a while and now I’m glad they were. Because the common denominator running through them all was tradition, and community. 

More than that, it was Jesus.

I remember faces, voices from the past, too many to count. I thought again how grateful I am to have this rich heritage of Churchgoing. Those memories hold you together in all those in between times in the desert of faith when you’re trying to recapture what you’ve lost. 

What I am sad about is that I am wondering if my generation will be the last to remember the old hymns. I can still chime in with the melodies even if some of the lyrics are lost. I can see the value in churches holding fast to keeping their traditions alive. In a world that is spinning out of control, it’s comforting to know you can attend church and parts of it at least, will still ring true. Still hold to tradition.

The fundamentalist in me misses altar calls. Remember those? The closing music starts up, and the Pastor stands at the front, invitation open. Hopeful hearts pray while eternity waits. Then one courageous individual stands and scoots across knees out of the row and into the aisle. The most dramatic and personal moment in the church for me was that moment. I was fourteen. I grabbed Mom and she went with me.

And the great miracle is that as Christians, we carry this living cathedral wherever we go. Held safely in the shelter of our hearts. A turn of the key, sealed for the day of redemption. As parents, the most invaluable gift we can give our kids is something, or most importantly someone bigger than themselves.

To deal with life’s blows you need this.

In closing, join me in prayer for our war weary tear-stained world. For you, for me, and the Ukrainian people and (no doubt, many Russian people) many of whom are not in favor of what is going on.  

God of the nations, whose sovereign rule brings justice and peace, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad Your peace in the hearts of all and banish from them the spirit that makes for war, that all races and peoples may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to Your law, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Anglican Church, Diocese of Perth. 

A Pretty Nice Life

It’s been awhile since I posted anything here in my little corner. So much has been going on. Sometimes it still feels surreal that Mom and Dad are both gone. Elaine says, “You will feel a bit like an orphan,” and she’s right. We had the garage sale and the house is mostly empty. The cousins came and we did a walk through. Shared some memories of 1127 Glenhurst long ago. Of exploding homemade firecrackers and waking up to the screaming engines of the hydro-boat races on Fourth of July mornings at the lake. 

This war that has just been started is hitting me hard. Several times I have cried, prayed over the pictures I see on the news. What is it all for? Maybe it’s because I’m thinking of Grandma and her family coming over on the ship, immigrants from Russia themselves. How bad must it have been to risk that horrific trip across the Atlantic to land on Ellis Island with only hopes and dreams of a better life? 

This morning I feel incredibly lucky. We’ve been living in this small space going on 6 years now. It hasn’t been easy, but we have made it work and made it homey. But we are longing for a real home again. And we are closer now to being there, wherever there is. Real estate is ridiculous in California but there are places to be had up in the foothills. And neighboring states close by are a possibility. 

I think of the Ukrainians on the run, fearing for their lives, their homes. I settle in my cozy spot by the window, with second steaming mug of coffee, reassuring stack of books nearby, within eyesight. This old tub is burdened with books in every storage place. Elaine says its like the long, long trailer only it’s not rocks its books. 

The other day I lifted the storage under the bed and took all 15 or so out. “I’m cleaning books out,” I said. She was hopeful. My measly little stack of four didn’t make a dent, but it was something. “Hey, it’s a start,” I say. 

And it’s another Saturday and the collectors are coming for the throwaway stuff at Mom and Dad’s house today. And today, I will exercise, and thank God for our freedom as my heart aches for those whose lives will never be the same. 

Faithful Friends to the End

Rocky and Buster lived to be old men in cat years. As all pet owners know, when you open your heart and your life to an animal there will come that time you don’t like to think about. The terrible, horrible goodbye. For Rocky, our gentle giant who never met a stranger, it was just that he was old and weak in the hips. When he fell and couldn’t get back up the decision was easy. Elaine’s Dad insisted on going and the tough old Texas oil man cried like a baby as they administered the shot and he fell asleep in her arms.

And poor Buster grieved the loss of the cat he was never without. He actually hung his head and it was painful to watch. Our beautiful Bustini who looked like he had royalty in his veins, with his sleek Abyssinian body, cinnamon coloring and jewel green eyes was in mourning.

Enter stage left……..Briggs. We mistakenly thought bringing a kitten home would help poor Buster. Elaine was still sorely grieving Rocky when we wandered into PetSmart one day. They always say (and it’s true) you don’t find a cat, they find you.

It’s been my experience they enter your life when you need them most. 

It’s a spiritual thing. I would be skeptical if I hadn’t seen it happen over and over. The magical power of the purr is well known to anyone who has known and loved a cat.

To those whose tears have been absorbed by the soft fur of a creature who somehow knows what to do with our emotional pain with grace and understanding is to partake in a small miracle.

Anyway, there were kittens. One in particular was running around like crazy and Elaine heard the man say, “Who would ever take that freaky cat? He’s nuts.” Or something like that. I said, “Look at his long legs, just like Rocky!” Elaine has always had a soft spot for the underdog, (undercat in this instance). As she bent to pick him up, he burrowed into her neck and gave the loudest purr she had ever heard. Hence the name, Briggs, for the Briggs and Stratton engines.

It was love at first sight.

But not for poor Buster. His little soul wanted to play so very badly but his poor body was just too sick. Little Briggs was constantly rebuffed. Buster retreated under my bed and we knew it was only a matter of time before he joined Rocky. It was a nightmare. Every day I’d look under the bed expecting the worst. One night he tried to jump up on the bed where he slept with me and didn’t make it.

The next day we wrapped him in a towel and we made the second trip to the vet. It was determined he had cancer. They rattled off all these things we could do to the tune of thousands of dollars. It all felt very cold. We decided Buster deserved better, so I held him in my arms as they administered the lethal dose that would end his suffering. Our little comedian, paperboy, growler, part dog part cat was gone.

Our grief was immense. We buried Buster next to Rocky, out in the corner by the fire pit. Could any other cat be big enough to fill that void? Of course you never replace a cat or dog, just like you don’t replace a child, you add to. And Briggs proved very worthy of the task. He played so hard he actually did somersaults and panted like a dog. I had to wrap him in a blanket and make him a taco kitty to get him to stop so he could rest. When he got tired he would lay on his belly on the tile floor with his back legs straight out.

We decided to take him on a road trip to California when he was about 8 or 9 weeks old. We gave him the whole back seat but he insisted on riding on Elaine’s shoulder as she drove. He had his first taste of ice-cream on that trip and got a big fancy jungle gym from Auntie Carolyn.

I’ll never forget his little eager face when I would come back to the car after getting gas or snacks. His eyes actually lit up, he knew me! He succeeded in stealing both our hearts. But the time was coming to get him a companion. Briggs needed a brother.

Enter Sydney……

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

 

 

 


Happy New Year!

We celebrated it as usual at Moss Landing, a little fishing village on the Pacific Coast. It’s the absolute best place to start fresh in my view. Something about standing on the shore listening, watching with your eyes and ears as well as your heart makes it easier to leave the previous year behind and have hope for the year ahead.

Every year is a bit different, and this year was even more so with the roaring of a bulldozer silhouetted against the sky. Something about taking sand and silt out of the marina. We never quite got a good explanation. We could walk south and still be out of range of the sight and sound of it, and hear the foghorn.

This year it was harder to let my worry go and I never did entirely, but we were blessed with 4 days of great weather and I was so thankful for that. Mom’s health issues right now are tethered to my heart. It’s a learning process, the letting go. I am so very thankful I have a best friend who is so in tune to me and my moods. She understands the emotional roller coaster better than anyone having gone through it with her Mom.

Mr. Briggs was a champ on the road. At 19 he is still a perfect cat. We got him fresh shrimp from Phil’s and once we were settled he was one happy cat. The camp host cats Moxey and Soxie were still there to greet us as well. All in all, it was a wonderful start to 2020.

I continue the battle with extra weight. Last year it was 10 pounds, now it’s 15. I gave up the gym membership due to break-ins at the parking lot there. I am trying to get out and walk more, increase my steps. I have yet to brave the scale, I know that’s what would really give me the impetus I need. Soon.

On school break I acquired piles of books from the library that made me very happy. I heartily recommend the new one by Mitch Albom, “Finding Chika” (have Kleenex handy.) I will continue to write about prayer, which is what started this whole blog way back in 2009. Just keep praying, folks. Even if you aren’t sure anyone is listening.

I was given a gift long ago. I can’t even remember when, but I know my Mom probably had something to do with it. She has prayed for me ever since I was born. I have always known God is listening. What a gift! I don’t ever say it in a boastful way because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God. 

He loves you. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. Invite Him in to your life and see what happens. Leave your heart, eyes and ears open! And Happy New Year to you faithful souls still hanging in here with me. Bless you.

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.