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

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.

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. 

5-7-5

Fall at the lake

One train meanders…..

Another answers its call

Melancholy dawn.

 

Melancholy train

Early morning answered by

Another close by.

 

Slow rumble on tracks

I wait for melancholy

Whistle brings hope

 

Early morning train

Fills my heart with hopeful strains

Sadness and longing

 

The haiku is a Japanese poetic form that consists of three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. The haiku developed from the hokku, the opening three lines of a longer poem known as a tanka. The haiku became a separate form of poetry in the 17th century.

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. 

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The morning is quiet and the mockingbird sings, picking up the same endless melody he closed with last night.

David Nevue hymns play softly in the background and I am praying for my nieces little cat who is very sick. Seems to be something she ate. There are little teeth marks in the interlocking rubber floor mats in the bedroom. And now there is a big bill, but that pales in comparison to a girl who is heartsick. Oh Lord, sometimes we just get tired of all the sorrow. The world is weary. We are weary too. 

As I sit here amidst my tears there is a joy deep down resting at the bottom of my soul, in a feathered nest. It’s that quiet peace God gives. The living promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. That there is still joy for the taking. The assurance that in the end, all will be well.

I walk outside and see yet another mangled baby bird that will never sing a note. This is the fourth. Why do things have to die? I guess sometimes things can be rescued and sometimes they can’t. I think of the little mouse I saved one morning. Two bluejays were attacking it mercilessly. They would pick it up in their sharp beaks and then drop it to the ground. The mouse was terrified and when I went to pick it up it squeaked in fright. The poor thing didn’t know I was trying to save it.

I could feel its little heart beating in my gloved hand, and then it was my turn to be a little afraid. What if it ran up my sleeve? I hurriedly carried the stunned little creature to safety and settled it beneath some shrubs. I wonder if that’s how God feels about us? We fight so hard when He’s only trying to save us from ourselves. 

He looks down at the way we’ve chosen to mangle our world, our lives, and then He watches as we walk right past the gate that would swing wide and welcome us in.

He longs to pick us up and settle us in the only place we will only ever find peace and safety? “Rest my child,” He beckons. Finally, exhausted by all our own efforts, we collapse at His feet. He welcomes us, takes us as we are.

He’s the God of second, third, seventh, one-thousand chances. This morning I didn’t think I had any words at all. But God supplied a few, as it turns out.

The  train sounds in the distance, life propels forward. And the joy outweighs the sorrow once again. Despite everything, we have hope.  Pray with me friends? That a little cat a girl loves will be okay today.

What’s in your cup?

cups 3

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.

cups 2

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

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.