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.

 

Coming and Going

“Love doesn’t hide. It stays and fights. It goes the distance, that’s why love is so strong. So it can carry you home.” Unknown

Somewhere in between longing and joy, regret and hardship, tears and laughter, there is a place we call home. When we go back we run into all that history, all those feelings, and in turn they run smack into everything that’s going on now. That’s why going home evokes so many powerful emotions for so many.

It’s the place and people you grew up with, the place you learned to sink or swim, or survive and thrive.

Somewhere in between the place we always seek to recreate and romanticize and the place we never want to see again lies that place we call home.

I go back to the place I spent all of my growing up years, so lots of memories come with it. The sorrows and the joys live there within its walls, along with those things that never seem to change.

The squeak in the porch step, the way the screen door sounds when it slams…….my Mom’s dryer that will never die, the one that never stops, all day long…….and that keeps spinning no matter if the door is open or not. I am convinced that God keeps all her appliances going.

And this time, the garage talked. The first time I heard it, it scared the daylights out of me. “Oh,” my Mom said, “Lauryn has a couple dolls out there that talk and it must be the motion that makes them go off.” I felt like I was in a horror movie where Chuckie the doll comes to life.

Everytime I go home I fry something. This time it was my Mom’s favorite hair dryer. I think it was going on its twentieth year. I looked up and the connection in the outlet was smoking. I caught it just in time.

My Mom constantly complains about not having enough electrical outlets, and it is a valid complaint. Back in the early sixties, they didn’t put outlets in every six feet, about two per bedroom was enough.

There was a new hood over the stove this time. I went to reach for something up in the cupboard and I almost needed a ladder. The new hood extended much further over the cupboard than the last one, but neither my Mom or Dad thought it was a problem when they bought it, they were just happy to have a new one.

The cat still loves to hang out in the sink. The first one liked it there, and so does the new one, amazingly enough!

My Mom still gives me the best of whatever she has. She insisted I have her new fan, not the one that rattles, and having body wash and lotion for me when I didn’t even think she heard me say I needed it. At eighty three she still seems to have everything everyone needs.

My Dad still says, “Everything is better when you’re here…..”

And when I close my eyes I still hear, “Watch me, Nori!” and it makes me happy but sad all at the same time.

My niece still has a problem saying her “L’s.” She was so thrilled that her Auntie was there with her, watching her swim. And she laughed and laughed at the video I made of her kitties getting into a tussle. Her favorite thing to do now is make videos of us when she thinks we aren’t watching and then laugh uproariously when we catch her at it.

I have found that going home teaches me lessons all over again. I learn things about myself and some of them don’t make me happy, yet I am thankful for them because without the realization, the change wouldn’t be possible.

Going home is made up of little hard and soft moments all strung out together.

I realized this, as Mom and I sat hand in hand watching Franklin Graham evangelize India. We each shed tears because how could you not, watching people who have nothing, suddenly gain everything? Part of mine were shed because everytime I am near them, I feel the weight of time pressing heavy.

We are a family in crisis mode, and aren’t we all? And sometimes, most times, I just don’t know to help.

One thing I do know to be true, the faith that has kept us together through so much still stands, will always stand. And always…..He keeps us.

And going home and coming home are both very good.

“The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” Psalm 121:8

When we forget where our help comes from

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.
The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.
Psalm 121

It’s easy to forget where our help comes from sometimes. As I prayed yesterday, my face to the carpet, in whispers of desperation, “My shoulders are not big enough, Jesus, they are so small…..” as tears threatened, “not nearly big enough to carry the sorrows and heartaches of loved ones back home, loved ones here, as well as my own, I can’t do it.”

And I realized my foolishness when His quiet reply came to my heart, “You were never meant to carry them, child, but I can, and not only that, I want to!”

I am so sorry Jesus……I kept you on the back shelf, again.

Why do we try to carry what we never meant to, I wonder? Sometimes we Christians think we are supposed to be strong enough, as people of faith. We tell ourselves things like we shouldn’t be stressed because we have the Lord, after all.

I got up after my very short prayer and went outside. The morning was cool and beautiful……Elaine came out with me, already awake. She knew how hard my first day back would be, she knew the burdens I carried, because people already carrying big burdens recognize when others are buckling under the load.

We sat at the patio table as God colored the sky an impossible shade of violet and pink. She told me of a radio program she liked listening to from 5-6:00 in the morning, about stocks and bonds and finance. I loved that she wanted to share it. It was like a gift exchange sitting there, she and I in the quiet morning.

It was so peaceful, that little conversation, Heaven touching earth, because He was there too.

As she talked, light filled the sky and I kept on sitting. As I rose from my chair I said, “I better make a call.”

I didn’t go in, I couldn’t go in, not yesterday.

And it was okay. Because sometimes the truth is that though you may not feel physically sick, you feel sick at heart, sick from stress. But sick is sick, and it’s okay to be weak sometimes.

As long as we remember who it is that is strong.

I want to wish a very Happy Birthday to my Dad, who is 84 years young today!
Today’s picture is for you, Dad. Almost 40 years ago we climbed this mountain together, what a time we had!

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
I was driving down the freeway when it hit. I felt that familiar feeling……..the shallow breathing, the knot of tears forming in my throat. They come sometimes without warning. It started as an ordinary task in an ordinary day. I was following Elaine because she was taking her car in.

I held it at bay, at arms length, because I have to get stuff done. I think it’s just life piling up sometimes, and it has to come out somewhere, sometime. I am no stranger to this feeling. It has always been with me.

One of the very first times I can remember was when I caved during a Christmas play at church.

I had one line, I don’t even remember what it was. Because all of a sudden all I wanted to do was get off that stage……I strained my eyes through the bright lights and all I wanted was to find my parents. And then I did.

The road blurred through tears. I breathed little puffs of air. I turned off the freeway and onto the street. Off to my right was man on the sidewalk wearing flip-flops, a Hawaiian shirt and shorts….and a guitar strapped around his shoulder. He was carrying on a very animated conversation, with himself.

Laughter bubbled up through the tears a little hysterically, I thought……..”I hope that’s not gonna be me someday soon.”

Then I thought of my childhood friend Mary. Mary of the big blue eyes and wonderful reading voice.

It was always either her or me the teachers chose for reading out loud. I still remember her singing a solo in a school fashion show, she sang “After the Ball” in a blue dress. I don’t know what happened with Mary but many years later my folks told me she would skate down the street in a full hockey uniform, helmet and all. She never played hockey a day in her life.

She died recently at my age, only 53. She had a daughter and I would love to see her.  I wonder if she had Mary’s eyes, and liked to read. I hope she will be okay.

Don’t we all dance a bit close to the border of crazy at times? I think you kind of have to, to live this life we all live.

As I caught sight of Elaine’s jeep through the maze of cars, right in the midst of my panic I thought…….”Thank you Lord.” Because all my life I have never had to go through this feeling alone, and some people have.

And this wonderful friend has been with me through so much. And I will tell her about this, and she will say, “Well, maybe you are a little bit crazy, but I understand, and everything is gonna be fine.”

Because after all, God has us. He really does. 

The Dangers of Assumption

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Ecclesiastes 4:9,10
Do me a favor today? If you live with someone, walk across the room and  grab their hands and look in their eyes and ask them if everything is okay. Even if you think everything is alright.
They may smile, shake their head and pull away, or think you’re being silly. They might giggle or laugh self-conciously. But then again they might surprise you and words might come tumbling out. Words they have been waiting to share.
Chances are, if you are living with someone, you have settled into a routine of what you call normal. Maybe one person is more silent, and the other one’s the talker. And usually it works. Life hums along. But when stress and life and circumstance come beating against the door, the seismic pattern shifts. All of a sudden what worked yesterday, is broken today.
Maybe it happened so gradually that you didn’t even notice. But now the silence is deafening and you, being the quiet one, pull in even further. You think maybe leaving them alone in their silence will fix it…..make the problem go away. But it never will.
If someone you love is quiet and they usually aren’t, something may be drastically wrong, and more silence won’t fix it.
They will wonder why you are leaving them alone………They will wonder why you are leaving them to battle it out all my themselves…….They will wonder if you care at all.
Learn from me……..I have made this mistake in the past, and I am sure I will again, of assuming that everything is okay, and then being shocked into awareness that things are very much not okay.
Leave a note in your wallet if you have to. Take it out and read it again and again.
Then do what it says.
Talk.

Phone Phobia

Me and phones.

I put off calling people, even people I really want to talk to. I don’t know why, I guess because when I analyze it, I automatically assume you are doing something important and I would be an interruption. I don’t know where that comes from, I guess a bit of shyness that has always been part of my character. Leftover from long ago………That, and I can’t see what you are doing. My imagination works overtime. I think how busy you are and the phone ringing would be taking you away from all that. And I can imagine you might think to yourself, “Oh, it’s her.”

My Mom had a brand new friend that she called out of the blue for the first time and the friend said, “What do you want?”  I would have been mortified. Of course, she was joking and they had a good laugh. And my Mom has a very healthy self-image and was unfazed. Now when I call Mom, often she starts the conversation with that same line and we both laugh.

But I want you to know, that if I don’t call you, it’s not because I don’t want to talk to you, or that I am not thinking of you. I do, and I am. And if you called I would be very happy no matter what I was doing. Unless you were trying to sell me something.

I guess that’s why I love texting. I never used to text…..at all. Actually, I didn’t know how, and also, I didn’t have an IPhone. I love texting, I don’t have to worry about interrupting anything. If you text back, that means you want to talk. That opens the door for me to respond back.

But it’s never the same. Hearing your voice is so much better. Especially when I can hear you smile over the phone. I picture your face and imagine where you are calling from…..maybe I see your room or kitchen and picture you in it, and that makes me smile.

Really, phone calls across the miles are magic. Sometimes when I get a special phone call, I remember right where I was standing when I got it.

Don’t ever worry about calling me, whatever I am doing or whatever time it is. It means you want to talk to me, and that means everything.

I will try my best despite my phone phobia, to do the same for you.

The cake tells the story

After years of vain familiarity, some distant gesture or unconscious behavior, which we remember, speaks to us with more emphasis than the wisest or kindest words. We are sometimes made aware of a kindness long passed, and realize that there have been times when our Friends’ thoughts of us were of so pure and lofty a character that they passed over us like the winds of heaven unnoticed; when they treated us not as what we were, but as what we aspired to be. Henry David Thoreau

I am so thankful today that I have such a friend, and today I celebrate her life, her Birthday. There are so many things I would like to give her, so much she deserves. If I could I would give her a trip to Paris and a dinner under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel tower. And a full moon smiling…….And then I would whisper a prayer to God to have the stars do a little dance. Cause sometimes, as she so often says, sometimes you just gotta give it a little dance.

Or I would buy her an East Coast cruise to tour every single lighthouse.

What I would most like to give her right now is freedom, which she doesn’t have. Freedom to get in the car and go somewhere, anywhere, overnight. She is doing what she has to do right now, even though it is incredibly difficult. She is living what Ann Voskamp so aptly describes as the Hard Hallelujah. Where faith meets reality.

I know that every day she meets Jesus, because she can’t do it without Him. Even with Him it’s tough. This cake tells the story of her life as it is right now. Her Mom asked what the cake was for, and then for the umpteenth time, she asked her whose Birthday it was. Really, that was partially my fault. I put up the Birthday banner way too early. You learn not to do that with Alzheimer’s.

Her Mom stayed in the kitchen and Elaine figured out why soon after when she came out with a piece of cake and said, “That is good cake.” At least she said it was good.

Months ago I had put in for this day off, her Birthday, so we could hang out like we usually do on her special day. Then there was a scheduling conflict with someone else and they would have had to come home from out of state early. She said, go ahead and let him have the day. That is just how she is. That’s why I love her so.

I don’t like to imagine my life without her joy, her laughter, her unique brand of sunshine. She loves God and He loves her. She is God’s kid through and through. You can tell by what she does.

It’s in the way she loves people. It’s in all the little things she does when nobody except God is watching. She is the one who sees the baby carrier in the beat up car and finds the weary parent and slips them a twenty. She’s the one who pays for the Sonic order behind her. She’s the one who hand delivers bowls of cut up watermelon for the neighbors.

And every time she makes ice-cream cones, she makes three more to take next door.

She’s God’s kid. She notices when people need help, need to talk, need a listener. And she gets busy and does something about it. Not a dispassionate noticer, not her.

She’s my best friend in the world and I wish everyone could have the pleasure of knowing her. She is truly, the friend everyone would like to have.

I know she will be embarrassed by this, but after all, best friends are for shining the spotlight on each other. She has been shining the light on me now for 23 years, and I thank God for her everyday. Her life is a blessing.

Happy Birthday Elaine!