Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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


First Sunday of Lent

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

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

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

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

We lift them to the Lord

It is right to give Him thanks and praise

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

More than that, it was Jesus.

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

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

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

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

To deal with life’s blows you need this.

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

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

Anglican Church, Diocese of Perth. 

A Pretty Nice Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it Started

There is no nature apart from God, but there is no reversing the phrase. Apart from God, there can be no nature. If you try to convince yourself otherwise you are lying to yourself and the very laws of physics. Someone set this all in motion and the One who did can just as easily stop it all. Every day we bear witness to a miracle when we wake if we choose to see it. With 330 species of just hummingbirds alone can we really say with a straight face that all of this just evolved? Does saying it with the utmost sincerity make it true? 

I hear a resounding no as I sit and watch the day start once again by the river. The river otter is busy crisscrossing over to one side and the other. A fish jumped in the same place three times, casting rings that caught the light. Geese heralded their way before I actually saw them in formation across the sky. And what about this love and companion that animals seem to want from us, and we from them?

A cat sits contentedly from her vantage point on my lap watching for fish to jump. Animals are yet another extension of the great love of God. Evolution can’t come close to explaining the emotional connection between domestic animals and our mutual need for each other. This kind of love and bond can only be explained by God’s great love for us.

Once again I am captivated by how the book of John begins…….In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without him was not anything made that was made.

And the Word started it all……

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The Word made flesh and dwelt among us

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.

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.

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?

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Dad called, “We just have too much,” he said, “We cleared out the shelf where we keep the coffee cups, and there’s only two of us here now…..” When I got there they were all over the table, stacked two deep. He wanted to throw them all away. There was a sense of urgency about it, like so many things he is wanting to clear out lately. I said, “Well, let’s just sort through them and see which ones you still use. We agreed that they had to keep the ones from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. And the one to Grandpa and Grandpa from Lauryn. We narrowed it down to 5 or 6 out of 20. 

Clearing out things can be a lot like clearing out a life. An acknowledgment that an excess is no longer needed. It can be liberating but also diffused with a sense of finality. Memories are attached to things and that’s where it gets tricky. There are hoarders who have a mental condition that prevents them from throwing anything away. I guess they find a kind of comfort in all those piles of stuff. And then there is the opposite, throwing away everything and then wishing you hadn’t because you realize there is still life to be lived.

When life spirals out of control I guess you feel you must do something about the things you can control. Little things become paramount. You can’t control getting older, or change, or a ravaging disease, but you can control the things you see in the immediate space around you, so there’s a sense of haste.

I kept the best ones and took them to a local cafe where they accept everyone’s used cups. It’s a cool thing I think, like drinking out of someone’s history. I find comfort in knowing some of their coffee mugs will live on in our community. I like to think the many prayers and all the laughter shared while using those cups and the hands that held them over the years will somehow pass a little peace and grace on to the next user.

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

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.