365 Plus 1

“I just heard “She’s gone” in my sleep” 

“Mom passed on October 2nd, 2021, at 3:40 AM”

As I opened my iPad to write this post, these were the two statements I had recorded here 365 days ago yesterday. A whole year and millions of breaths since her soul passed into Heaven, taking a part of mine with it. I hadn’t remembered the day, but my sister-in-law did. For some odd reason I thought it was the 6th. 

Maybe somewhere inside I knew. I had chosen the morning to finally box up her photo albums and clothes she had saved of mine that I had in my car partly because I didn’t know where else to put them or maybe I just wasn’t quite ready to turn them loose. 

I’m still making a weekly pilgrimage to the cemetery to do the flowers and it’s weird because I never wanted or felt a need to do this with either Grandparents or even my husband. Then again, there are no rules in grieving and that’s okay. Even as I thoughtfully arrange my Hobby Lobby bouquet, I have to smile, because I can almost hear both of them say, “Give it a rest already……”

Life stops for some and keeps going for others. Inexplicably. This morning I came across a blog post someone else wrote that I had to share in the aftermath of hurricane Ivan, you can read it here. As I very well know, there are no guarantees we will get another day. That makes today the most important day. Inhale deeply, everyone! 

Don’t just walk, see things when you walk. If you are in good health, thank God. If you aren’t, thank Him even more that He is with you in it. He once walked this earth and felt all the things you are feeling right now. If you are feeling despised and rejected, remember He was too. 

I’ve been reading Ezekiel, talk about a crappy job assignment. None of us has the right to complain! Year after year, they didn’t listen to any of his warnings. I venture to say that none of our employers has ever had to lay on our left side for 390 days, and an additional 40 on our right (for the sin of Judah). And even when they finally did concede that he had been right all along in his prophecy, they still didn’t act on it. 

There is a message there for all of us. Basically, we Christians are all little Ezekiels. We know there is Something and Someone better after we leave this place we call home, but too often we remain silent and distracted by the world. Ezekiel warned and obeyed until it hurt. 

Sometimes I don’t know why or how I can keep a lid on my wonder at God and how good He is. But if these words can be a little leaking of hope and joy out into the world then there is redemption in that. 

I leave you with these words from Paul.

“Finally, brethren (sistren too), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8

The Quiet Hour

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It’s the quiet of the morning and I think again of what Thomas Merton said about this time in the marvelous anthology “Book of Hours

Antiphon:

“The most wonderful moment of the day is that when Creation in all its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was.” 

This little book was brilliantly edited by Kathleen Deignan. Somehow, she managed to reduce the mountainous volumes of his writing to this perfect little gem. I reach for this book again and again when I feel the turbulence in my soul that comes from a prolonged absence of my morning quiet time when I think I’m too busy. 

My soul tends to wither and fall prey to all kinds of clamor that our world can so effortlessly concoct. This small island of sacred space helps to remind me that:  

My soul is big enough to hold eternity. 

Big enough to hold Him. 

Or, rather, He makes Himself small enough to fit inside me. 

A humbling thought, one I have to make myself be silent enough to understand. Sometimes Alexa plays David Nevue quietly.  Soft piano hymns fall like gentle rain and the words come from a place I remember.  

Miracles never stopped happening

The possibility is there, we just have to accept the Invitation. 

Each morning, my coffee, my time, these conversations, become a kind of Holy communion. 

Even more important than a good night’s slumber is this rest for my soul. 

Here is a great verse to ponder that I found today in the Good Book:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

It’s now the close of the day. First week back to work and it’s Friday tomorrow. I’m calling that a victory.

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! 

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. 

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.

Sanity Restored

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I wonder. Is it possible to miss the days you never knew? It’s like stories you’ve been told so long they become a part of your own memory. They make my heart ache for what we’ve all lost. I don’t recognize my own country anymore. I wake hopeful. So very grateful for what I can restore, for what is still here that is good. I reach for peace and I am relieved that the unmovable things are still here.

God’s creation is still good. There are books, endless books full of messages of hope that I rest in. And I open once again to my bright highlighted passages and read again the old, old story about how God became homeless for just a little while for us all. So we could have a happy ending.

I start a new book this morning and feel that spark of recognition that comes when you know you’ve met a new author and it’s one you’re gonna like. (And I’m only on page 5.) I liked her name right off, Ruta Sepetys. Thank you Betty for the recommendation!

Oh Jesus, my prayers have become so simple. “Fix what’s broken, in our world and in me.” There is so much broken. So much we’ve left far behind. I want it all to come back. I want the shrieking and the lying about how terrible our country is to stop.

I want those simple times I got on the tail end of in the sixties and seventies, back before everything went crazy. When you could buy a home and only one person had to work. Back when we all played outside until dark without fear, and when there were corner grocery stores. And yes, when people still had their babies, unplanned or not.

I’m tired of sides. I remember when Americans could disagree but still come together because we had already fought all the battles and won. We can all vote, we can all aspire to any job, there are more opportunities than ever before. But there are those who are very loud that are saying that isn’t so. And it’s tearing our country apart. 

I remember, reaching back through the years of summer evenings when I really didn‘t want to go to church but now I’m glad I did. I miss Altar calls, I miss the Grandpa I never knew, asking everyone he camped around if they knew Jesus. And I can imagine my Mom and Sisters embarrassed.

There is still so much good here folks. It’s morning, and afternoon and then evening, and God still calls it good. And it is. And behind the scenes? He’s still making all things new. 

This Pandemic

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At first it was kind of like a snow day. A little euphoria, our Spring break extended. School was put off, then cancelled for the rest of the year. It felt like a small taste of retirement. Hey, I had free time to do all the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And books. I had books. Then the library closed. And our favorite places of business. The sidewalks emptied. And people got this virus here in the States and some died. It got more real.

Time stretched on, and I discovered to my surprise that I really liked Suduko. Easter came and went and it was nothing like any Easter we ever had, because there wasn’t one. Of course in the biggest sense there was. And maybe because of the way the world  was this year, the Resurrection felt even more meaningful because the life as we all knew it here had kind of died.

One day we found ourselves in an unbelievably long line (seniors only) at Costco. People pushed their carts Zombie- like, masked and unmasked alike. The line undulated like a snake around and around the parking lot. We all shuffled along looking a little bewildered. We got behind a talker in a tank top, adjusting his mask between words all through the line.

I think it was around day 28 of lockdown that it all came crashing in for me. A kind of bleak despair. It stopped being fun many days ago. The endless rules, and the endless news. The not knowing what or who to believe. As someone who is a bit on the antisocial spectrum of reclusiveness anyway this was coming too naturally for me and I didn’t want to surrender to it.

I can’t help wondering how many families and businesses will still be intact when this is all a memory? I hope and pray they will come back stronger than ever. As for me, I’m ready for open signs and full parking lots. I’m ready to actually go to church (maybe without the shaking hand part.)

Despite all this, there has been good. I think we have remembered how to be kinder and help each other out like good neighbors used to. Trips to the grocery store for those home bound have turned into reconnaissance missions.  Just taking a short drive has felt like being sprung from prison or military leave.

Something of this time I hope will remain. The forbidden luxury of hugs and closeness that I don’t want to take for granted anymore. The rhythm that is life has slowed for us all and that’s a good thing. But while slowing is good, stopping is not.

It’s time to get back to business because this is hurting us in more ways than one. Americans were meant to thrive, it’s what we were built on. So let’s wear our masks, wash our hands, and get to work. It’s time. Quarantine the ones who are sick and let the rest of us live.

Let freedom ring again.

A World in Pause Mode

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Life has been suspended and I can’t help feeling that for once, on this day it feels right. I remember as a kid when things closed and everyone flocked to church at noon on Good Friday. I also remember being glad when it was rainy or cloudy because that also seemed right on this day of days.

“Oh Jesus, what you went through so that we could have forever with You. When the shadow of the cross fell it reached all the way to Heaven and even silenced the Angels. They had never seen the Father hide His face from the Son. Ever. But that day was unlike any other day that will ever happen again.”

This shutdown has not been without benefit, in every adverse situation the good arises like a sweet perfume. The weeds grow along with the seeds, it’s just that the weeds are visible right away. But the good seeds are working their magic down below where we can’t see.  I believe we will have a lasting benefit from this time.

We will remember the quiet times, the books we read. The times spent talking, learning new games, getting to know each other again. Maybe all this family time, cooking and eating together, stretching our imaginations and praying more will have a lasting effect. Not to mention going a little bit crazy. 

What I’ve been learning from all this is what I have taken for granted, the simple little things. I have always been a person who has been intentional about not doing this and yet, I have realized that to some extent, I have. Who ever thought hugging someone we love would feel like a luxury, a risk, something forbidden.

Each morning. I have tried to go outside at first light and celebrate a little resurrection. I close my eyes and concentrate on all the noises I hear. It’s a blessing to have these mornings at home. Not having to get ready for anything. Downtime. Then there’s the downside.

Honestly some days it feels a little bit like the shadow of death is hovering all around us. Seeing loved ones only from a distance. Not being able to go, to help, to do. So close, so far away.

I’m thankful I have had someone (thank you E) to laugh and cry with during all this. It’s been a blessing to help those in our circle who are alone. 

I’m reminded in Scripture that this is only a light and momentary affliction. The other side of eternity stretches much further than we can see right now, but it’s still there, waiting for us. Because of the horrible, awfulness Jesus went through for us. Because He loves us.

The Trinity worked a beautiful plan my friends, and we can all partake of it. This pandemic will pass, but what will not pass is the empty tomb. It stands open and glowing with hope. Today we remember how our Savior was battered and bloody beyond recognition but on Sunday we remember how Satan was defeated.

Death has indeed lost its sting. Again. Thanks be to God.