Whispers

Mokelumne River: Lodi, California

It’s the day after we celebrated Independence Day as a nation. I took a walk, noticed things like you don’t notice in a car or even on a bike with the world flashing by. The reason I walk is not really for the exercise, but to be connected to our one humanity. To see people outside doing ordinary things. Puttering in their yards, digging up broken sprinklers, walking dogs. There is a wonder in that. E. followed me on the bike and due to tracker on these phones, caught up on California street where I paused. 

I went by 615 West Locust where Grandma and Grandpa C lived. That’s how they always signed our Birthday and Christmas cards. I think about who lives there now. They don’t know or care what went on there before. They don’t care about the rock collection behind the garage that I liked to rummage through, or Mabel the solid gray cat of theirs, or the ancient stove in the kitchen. That’s as it should be, the way of life, I guess. 

Walking along, I saw a kindred spirit taking photos of clouds, another cloud watcher, phone toward sky. 

Last night the bombs were bursting everywhere. Neighbor cats were in one of their secret places tucked away. This morning they were both at the door ready for breakfast. It’s a blessedly cool and quiet morning. The last few years, I find myself almost enjoying the day after a holiday more than the holiday itself. The next day holds no obligation, just presents itself in all its glory, unmarred, unmoored. 

I immediately walked down to the river because I had to capture this reflection in the water. On the path down, the wind held a whisper of fall. It happens sometimes in mid to late summer. I know there will be many days to swelter yet, but for now, I enjoyed the promise the universe had to offer. That another season will come. 

Nature always helps me say, “Wake up!” Makes me think that maybe we can put away all the petty stuff and maybe find some common denominator. I think that’s why God gave us babies, and cute animals and sometimes a scene that is so majestic and magnificent that it takes your breath. 

I pray today that maybe we all can find something to take our breath away. Just temporarily. Look to the left or right, maybe it’s the precious familiar person beside you. Maybe it’s just the sky. (And it’s never just sky.) Maybe it’s the promise that God said He will never leave us.

More than we need for our manna today.

Blessings, Lori

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.

Miscellaneous

Lassoing thoughts, figuring out what to keep

What to release

The writing process, even the phrase 

Taunts. “As if,” my own voice echoes 

Mocks. 

If no one is there to read, is it still a story? 

Because some things are too beautiful 

Not to share. 

Summer will always be 

The cool of the garden hose held over our heads

And “Let’s make skeletons!” 

Plopping down to feel the warmth of the driveway

Getting up to compare imprints

Purple Koolaid when it was still innocent

Remnants of powder on the cold metal rim.

Summer deliciousness. 

The hope of a warped chime from two blocks away

Rushing inside to get a thin dime

Missiles and Dreamsicles

Stubbed toes and hard-baked plastic flipflops

(Called thongs in those days)

All innocence must be kept like a treasure. 

And not forgotten. 

Writers are the guardians of recorded time.

It’s morning, and it’s God’s day.

I sip coffee and it tastes like gratitude.

I recognize for the umpteenth time

this is a sacred moment.

I stoop over the keyboard, the cat having stolen my chair.

I grant her a moment too.

Just like God has granted me so many over the years.

And this is present day and I summon the past in the form of a real

book. I know there are plenty of people like me,

who shun electronic readers.

Who know that reading is a feast for the senses.

The feel….smell….sound…..of a page.

The look of a particular font

even the thickness of the paper, all conjured up to make it

an experience.

Even before the first word is read.

He is risen! (and so can we)

A motley crew. The rock band spelled it differently so I don’t think that will land me in copyright jail. It’s just really the perfect term for all of us. Jesus most trusted friends all scattered when He was arrested. Matthew 26:56 says: “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.” Each of us is gets to rise up this morning; we have another chance at life and a myriad of choices in one 12 hour day. 

Just getting up sometimes is hard, isn’t it? But we get to, today. And we will continue to have victories and failures, sometimes simultaneously. We will curse the driver in front of us and then apologize to God for our language and our anger flare ups. We will act like the disciples did when they gave up on Jesus. 

I went to place fresh flowers on Mom and Dad’s grave yesterday and I saw people laying on the ground next to their loved ones resting place. I saw Easter eggs scattered around graves, bottles of adult beverages (which always seems strange to me) and food. I saw sorrow. 

Then I thought of the words of the two Angels in Scripture here as described in Luke 24:

“While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee.” 

Why do we seek the living among the dead? It’s human nature, I guess. Why do we as a human race continue to choose things like war, addictions that wage war on our bodies and souls, death instead of life? 

But because of Jesus final victory over death, we too can rise to new life. PERMANENTLY. That is what makes Easter the most important event in human history. We have the victory because when Jesus rose from the grave He had the final word. Because of this, though our bodies may rest in the ground, our souls reside in eternal home with Jesus. 

Until the time God says enough is enough, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 comes to pass, we rise. And because of Easter. We rise with hope! 

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. 

Cat Chronicles: Enter Sydney

In my last post, Briggs had entered our home. Though the loss of Buster and Rocky was still keenly felt, the antics of a comical little kitten worked like a balm to heal both of our hearts. But it was time to find him a playmate. I scoured the internet and found a woman who needed to find homes for the feral kittens she had rescued.  We made an appointment to go see them. They had all just recovered from been spayed and neutered.

The owners cats were curiously watching us from the stairs as proceeded to the “kitten rooms.” The girls were in one room and the boys in the other. We were there two hours, going from one room to another. Buster was a talky fellow so I was looking for one with the same qualities. Among the males were Tony, a solid light orange, and Frankie, a flame point Siamese mix, and his brother who could have been a twin, Sammy. It was so hard to choose, but in the end Sammy was the one who stole my heart. His fur was as soft as a bunny and his eyes a brilliant blue, and a little bit crossed at times. He kept coming up to me wanting to play. I fell in love.

Sammy became Sydney and we couldn’t wait to get him home to introduce him to his new brother. We still have a picture of Sydney in his carrier and Briggs peering in at him. If he could have talked I’m sure he would have said, “C’mon open up already, I’m ready to play!”

I think there was one hiss and that was all. Sydney was used to being around lots of cats and he was undaunted. And Briggs was so happy to have a playmate he didn’t know what to do. He played so hard he literally panted like a dog. Several times we had to rescue poor Sydney by removing Briggs from the scene so Syd could recover. Sydney was a scrapper though. He got his digs in as well.

And so our little family was complete again. Briggs was even-tempered around people and loved everyone just like Rocky and Sydney just wanted me. He was bottle fed so he was used to human handling and actually preferred that to anything else. It was like my prayers were answered. My niece had been born around that time and I was missing her terribly. I was 12 hours away by car and an hour and 45 minutes by plane and I needed my arms filled.

Sydney became my baby. He was totally content to lay upside down in my arms for hours. The Siamese came out in his meow which sounded very much like an infant crying. People would hear him in the background and often ask if there was a baby in the house.

It was as if God had answered my prayer by filling my arms and heal my heart that was missing our Lauryn, the first ever baby in our family.

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……

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.

Before the World Stirs

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I awoke in the dark to owls calling. I counted three slightly different tones. Weigumina the cat led me to our early dawn swing session, tail in the air as cats do. She likes to head bonk my coffee cup so I had to hold it up to keep it from sloshing while she settled on my lap. My thoughts took on the rhythm of the swing. Another weekend, a little island oasis of rest once more and for that I am so grateful.

As I often do, I was thinking about Creation and all its creatures. Feeling the absence of our little Briggs still I was ruminating about people who call themselves “Dog people” and “Cat people” and how that can’t really be a thing unless you don’t dig deep enough into your own soul. To fully enjoy what both have to offer us as companions is to embrace each unique difference.

And do you ever hear people define themselves as a bug person as opposed to a fish person? God could have stopped at one hundred or one thousand animals, but He kept going. Why? Because He has a boundless love for the beauty of individuality.

To quote James Herriot:

I have felt cats rubbing their face against mine and touching my cheek with claws carefully sheathed. These things, to me, are expressions of love.

And of dogs:

If I had been a little dog I’d have gone leaping and gamboling around the room wagging my tail furiously…..And, “Dogs like to obey. It gives them security.

I am thinking of Daney now, the service dog at our school. How she comes up to me friendly faced with a favorite toy, wagging her tail in greeting each day. It is a comfort to stroke her soft ears, and see the loving trust in her eyes.

I think of the beauty of the sunrise and the moonrise. How different they are but each has the power to take your breath away. I think of my many years in the desert and how captivated I became of the desperate and wild beauty there. What a loss if I had closed my mind to it and refused to let it speak to my soul.

And now I’m back here in California where there is not as much sky to see because of the trees (messy trees says E.) Soon the leaves will be scarlet and every shade of yellow and orange. It’s the weekend again. These are stressful times for us all, and yet I have this little island of peace at the end of the week.

A thought on love and loss: Every heart has its own time and way of mending and each must determine when the time is right to receive another. That loss is a sacred part of us we will never forget and we shouldn’t, yet there is something in us that knows that it is right and good to move on.