Just Breathe…..

Let there be a place somewhere in which you can breathe naturally, quietly, and not have to take your breath in continuous short gasps. A place where your mind can be idle, and forget it’s concerns, descend into silence, and worship the Father in secret. There can be no contemplation where there is no secret. Thomas Merton, Book of Hours

This book has been a comfort for many years. Though months might pass between the times I open it, the power and beauty in its pages has never dimmed or failed to renew. Merton’s words crack open a place deep in my soul where the Holy Spirit dwells. There is wisdom here that I need to return to again and again. It reminds me of who I am in Christ and the assurance that despite everything we see around us, God is holding it all together. It speaks to me of the dawn of Creation, and how we are all longing for our true home. Everything we reach for in this life hearkens back to our longing for Eden.

Being trapped is a terrible feeling. Can one find happiness in a few measured moments of peace between days that threaten to squeeze the life out of us? Care-taking affects everyone involved, not just the ones doing the caring. That’s the hardest part. Is it enough to say it won’t last forever? And what happens after? What sorrow lies on the other side? Yet I know that the sorrow is part of it all, and the sweetness of the good memories that will replace it. And the going on part will come, that embracing life once again. Finding that path of redemption and freedom we once knew. Plans will once again be made and followed through on. That’s the hope that keeps us going. 

I took Mom to see Dad yesterday. He was facing away from us and I was a little shocked at how he looked. He requested a buzz cut and he got it. He had no hair! It was a good visit for he and Mom. Mom joked about having a boyfriend and Dad laughed. They held hands as we sat by the aviary. 

I thought maybe I would feel sorry for the birds, but it was hard to watch them and not smile. They had a nice home and could fly to and fro. There was a big perch in the middle where they would simultaneously all land on, then promptly vacate as they rocked it back and forth. They were like little grey, brown and yellow comedians as they flitted around. Mom and Dad loved watching them and so did I. They had a good clean home and food and they were safe from predators. And they didn’t seem to know or care that they didn’t have their freedom. 

Maybe I can learn something from them.  They have no clue about time, just one day flowing into the next. But I am never not aware of time, right now what it looks like is a huge clock with legs. And it’s coming for me.

The other day I gave myself a day of freedom and I didn’t call anyone, didn’t go see anyone. I….just….came…..home. I felt like my old self again. Elaine and I went for a ride and laughed at everything and nothing.

Oh how I miss that.

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.

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.

Waiting for normal

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In every crisis situation there is a paradigm shift. You look around at your world and it’s different. The birds are still singing, flowers are still in bloom. The hummingbirds still come to the feeder and the geese still honk their way through the sky. Nature never stops. But we’ve stopped. That is, what we always thought of normal has stopped.

I’m sitting here waiting for the 7 o clock train, “Soft Hands” we call the conductor, because he does soft little puffs on the horn. I wait with an over-exaggerated impatience. It feels a little bit like panic, which I know is ridiculous but I want to hear it because that feels normal. But he doesn’t come. It’s 7:32 and I wonder where he is.

I feel a sense of unreality like the day after 9/11 when there were no planes overheard. Trying to describe it to my Aunt, I said, “I feel like the rapture came and we were left behind, but I know that’s not true.

It’s like a Stephen King novel that we’re all playing a part in. The other day we stood in the Geezer line at Costco to get supplies for my folks and Aunt Mayvis and it was like the zombie apocalypse. Gloved, masked elders (us among them) shuffled forward, hundreds of us towards the door. We waited over an hour.

A local nurse has passed away from the virus and now his wife tested positive. And an employee of one of our favorite wineries also tested positive.

And no one knows quite what to do. Our homes have become bunkers. The downtown area is quiet. Schools are closed for the rest of the year. They made that announcement yesterday. And yet, people are finding creative ways to stay in touch.

Writing letters, notes, leaving food on porches. And speaking of porches…..I have seen actually seen people sitting on their porches again. There will be some good to come out of this. Never again will I take hugs for granted. I will hug a little harder after this. Maybe we all will. I believe good always comes during times like this. Even as my heart aches to physically hold my folks and family close. 

Maybe when we finally leave this new normal behind, our old normal will feel like new again. Once more my friends, we will stand close, breathe each other’s air without fear, enjoy each other’s company, have community. It will be a little like being born again. And the sooner we do what we have to now, the sooner we can get back to that.

Easter will be different this year but one thing is for sure. Nothing can stop the King from coming, again and again into our lives.

As I drove Downtown these past few weeks I’ve been thinking lately of the words to that old Gaither song, The King is Coming:

The Marketplace is empty

No more traffic in the streets

All the builders tools are silent

No more time to harvest wheat

Busy housewives cease their labor

In the courtroom no debate

Work on earth has been suspended

As the King comes thro’ the gate…..

Even so come Lord Jesus…….we need you, our world needs you.

 

Songwriters: Charles Millhuff, Gloria Gaither, Bill Gaither

 

 

 

I’m Still Here

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He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4 

I remember the times when remembering brought comfort. Now my memories have turned against me; they remind me of all I have misplaced.  Once they were sweet traveling companions on my journey. The good ones I would turn over and over like a worn river stone, keeping them close.

Hold me like one of those well worn stones, Lord

Once my mind was clear and sure, now it’s a labyrinthian nightmare. I used to know where I was in my world and where I was going, and now the path is hidden from view. I can’t seem to find my way. I’m not myself. I don’t recognize the person I have become and yet I still know who I used to be. That’s the worst part. 

But this I do remember, this thought holds me:

You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding. Psalm 139:5,6

Help me remember who I am in You Lord. Thank you for holding my place in line until I find my way home.

Remember when you loved me? Remember when you didn’t want to escape who I’ve become? I still love, I’m still here, I’m still me. Do you hear me? Do you see my desperation when I try to follow the thread of conversation? I ask questions because I’m trying to find my way back. I’m lost in my own life. It has become easier not to talk, and yet I am so lonesome for the conversations we used to have. I am quiet on the outside and shouting on the inside. 

I feel guilty all the time because I can see you get frustrated and I don’t blame you. That’s why I ask over and over if I said or did something wrong. Because I feel wrong. Everything feels wrong and I feel bad for you. Once I was the one who held our world together, made it all work. I was the encourager, the cheer coach, the mender of clothes and hearts and skinned knees. The engine that could. 

There were days I couldn’t keep from singing. Now I spend my days looking for familiar landmarks. I long for safety. One thing remains the same. Immersed in His Grace, I find comfort knowing that my Father has not left me. He has kept the treasure of who I used to be. He holds me fast even when I can barely hang onto myself. 

“We will too Mom, we will too.”

This is dedicated to you, Mom. You are still our anchor. 

Cherish the firsts and inbetweens my friends, because you never know when they will become the lasts.

The Shroud of Grace

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Yesterday I awoke to a gloriously foggy morning. I am one of those that can’t resist bundling up and chasing it as it shrouds and swallows up everything and fills the air with silence. I joyfully walked down to the river to find 3 misty ghost like figures floating on top of the water; their fishing poles angled hopefully. Every now and again I would hear the plop as they recasted their lines, their hushed voices echoing across the water,

Further down I saw 2 ducks making a v-line barely visible through the misty air. I only heard a flock of Canadian geese honking above. I shot a few pictures with my camera and then decided to venture on down to the lake. My Sunday peace was only disturbed when my camera wouldn’t focus on a particular shot and I had to ask forgiveness for my foul words.

I wasn’t enjoying communion with fellow believers and yet I was at church. I have always found God in the fog, for two very emotional moments of my life happened in the fog long ago. The first was when I was driving around grief-stricken, my eyes blurred with tears after the loss of my husband.  I turned a corner and through the fog, I saw hopeful little candles in each window of a charming little cottage. Something about it gripped me and at once my spirit was calmed and brightened. It was God’s  way of letting me know I was going to make it.

The other time, I was alone in my room. Everyone had left and “Oh Holy Night” was playing on my record player (yes, it was that long ago) All I can say is that the Holy Spirit came to me in that room and I can remember every detail. In that room God came to me and revealed the awful, beautiful truth of what Jesus did to save me, us.

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas let me tell you that there is hope. I can say this with perfect confidence and clarity because there is simply nothing you or I are going through that is bigger than God. I know this. Jesus came so that we could always have real hope to fall back on in the darkest times of our lives.

Allow me to close with a quote from a wonderful book I read by Beldan C. Lane as he went through his own journey through the valley of the Shadow of Alzheimer’s in the nursing home with his Mom:

I met a woman by the elevator each day whose mouth was always open wide, as if uttering a silent scream. In a bed down the hall lay a scarcely recognizable body, twisted by crippling arthritis–a man or woman I’d never met. Another woman cried out every few moments, desperately calling for help in an “emergency” that never ebbed. Who were these people?

They represented the God from whom I repeatedly flee. Hidden in the grave-clothes of death, this God remains unavailable to me in my anxious denial of aging and pain. He is good news only to those who are broken. But to them he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, lurking in the shadows beyond the nurses desk, promising life in the presence of death. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Beldan C. Lane

This is the paradox of the message of Christmas. Innocent life with a bitter twist at the end but that ultimately gives us Glorious freedom from that same death. Sometimes I think this is why we rush to buy and give during this season. We know there is something about Christmas that is joy but we can’t quite place our finger on it. We do our hopeful best to be cheerful and join in only to find ourselves worn out from the effort.

That’s because the Gift He gives us is so much bigger than everything else in this world. It’s Himself. We are free, all of us this Christmas. We have to only reach out and accept the gracious offer He gives.

Merry Christmas from my Prayer Closet. May His peace find you today, and every day.

The “Luxury” of Letting Go

 

I felt the river calling on this particular day. It was hot and I was stressed and mentally wrestling with many things. I needed to float…….I tethered myself to the tree in case I drifted off and ended up at the Lake about 5 miles away (Like that would be a terrible thing.

I closed my eyes and let the sounds fill my ears. I heard voices every now and again, kayakers paddling by. The sound of the wind in the trees wooed me and made me think of how I used to miss that sound in the desert. Water bugs chased each other and alighted on my legs. I remembered a song by John Denver called “Cool and Green and Shady.”

He was so intuned to nature and the depth of our need of it. I miss the wisdom of his words. Here is just how I felt:

                                        “Find yourself a piece of grassy ground,
Lay down close your eyes…….find yourself
and maybe lose yourself while your free spirit flies.
August skies, and lullabies, promises to keep
Dan-de-lions and twisting vines clover at your feet.
Mem-o-ries of Aspen leaves, tremblin’ on the wind.
Honey bees and fantasies, where to start again,
Someplace cool an’ green an’ shady……”

Amidst the birds and the lapping of waves against the cement the sound of a harmonica drifted across the water. A lone kayaker in a hat was serenading the turtles sunning themselves on a nearby log. It sounded a little bit like magic. It brought me back to my childhood when my Uncle Bruce would play “Red River Valley” around the campfire.

Then I thought, amidst everything that I think is so difficult in this season of my life, there is this. This bit of paradise I can latch onto. What a luxury. I think of so many living in places torn by poverty and war and noting but fleeing from one place to another. Never having peace.

Where is their escape? Whatever I think is so difficult would be a joke in someone else’s life and perspective. This causes me to sigh and pray and thank God.

I stare up lazily at the trees and they wave lazily back. I take some of my burdens with me when I go but enough are left behind.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken……Psalm 62: 1,2

 

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

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Everyone knows me knows that I have a long running vendetta against spiders, (except Charlotte). The first time I read Charlotte’s Web was the first time ever I was exposed to a heroine that was a creature that I had loathed all my young life. And I saw her as pretty with eyelashes, that’s how the artists portrayed her anyway. As the story unfolded I saw Charlotte as good, saw her spinning away prettily in her web the words that would save Wilbur.

This one was small, almost microscopically as he brazenly walked across my robe. I must have collected him (or her) outside and they hitched a ride. Because it was so small I deemed it worth saving. What is it about something shrunk down to a minimal size that renders it helpless. Had it been enlarged by about 10 times I would have called for its destruction in haste. But it was so small, and so vulnerable.

It was trying to spin a little web, away out of its trouble maybe. Maybe it sensed disaster looming. It sunk down into my pocket and I tried to get it to attach itself to the Kleenex I offered as a lifeline. No go. Then I got a straw and poked it down towards it and it climbed aboard. Victory!

I took it outside where I thought it might flourish, left it on the tomato plant outside. I felt I had done what God would have me do. I guess maybe I felt like maybe He feels about us. My heart was moved by a creature so small that it needed my help to get it back to where it truly belonged.

I don’t know about you but I need help each and every day to get back to where I once belonged. In my heart, in my soul, in my mind. All of us feels the loneliness that rocks us to the core at times. It’s the inborn sense that things just aren’t right and we need Someone bigger to reach down and help restore that feeling that we are truly on our way Home. Or at the very least, stumbling in the right direction.

You see, no matter how shattered we may feel today, God is in the process of making all things new. We serve a God of restoration. Everything we are going through right now will someday make sense. In the forest of Mirkwood it’s so dark you can’t see the sky but that doesn’t mean the sky isn’t there. (Read Chapter 8 of the Hobbit) It is, you just have to climb a little higher to see it. Look up my friends. Look for the shaft of light in your particular forest today. It’s Hope, and it’s always there. He’s always there.

Problems, like spiders,  can all be shrunk down to minimal size in the light of God’s Presence in our lives. He is in the process of putting all the pieces back together again. Everything in this whole crazy mixed up, messed up world. That includes me and you and everyone we care about.

The Refiner’s Fire

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You may have heard the story about the woman who attended a Bible study and wanted to know about the process of refining silver after she read Malachi 3:3. She writes of her visit to a local silversmith:

“As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: ‘He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.’ (Malachi 3:3) She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, ‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ He smiled at her and answered, ‘Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.’”

As I meditated on this story and passage I also thought of our part in it. How we must willingly stay in that fire. How many times have I been through something painful and sought only to relieve the pain not thinking or caring about the end result. It’s humbling. And it’s what I leave you with today. If you’re in that “refiners fire” today, know that He is surely with you. Right where you are today, know that He will never leave you or forsake you!

 

The Morning He Spoke

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He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

I was in early morning prayer and my mind was like a superhighway. I have been job hunting and determined to keep walking through doors, keep going forward. I have had the interviews, filled out the applications for anything and everything I think I could remotely like or do. I interviewed for two positions, each of them for a Paraeducator in the Special Education Department. I was waiting for word.

Then I saw the application for the typist/office job at the school. My niece’s school. I went and got my certification for 46 WAM. One more word than I needed. I floated out of there with a prayer of Thanksgiving on my lips. One more reward, one more door. One more piece of paper in my hand that says I can do something.

You see, when you have been at a company for 20 years and have to look for something else it can be daunting. I am not young. Smart as whips twenty somethings are out there looking for the same jobs I am.

So, I was in prayer and looking for direction. I applied for the office job. I got a rejection from the first place I interviewed, and secretly breathed a sigh of relief. I was uneasy about the interview, the place. Now I was waiting for word on the other.

And it was in that place of indecision and fog of mind that it came like a Heavenly beam slicing into my heart. It was quiet but it was insistent. And clear as a bell. That’s why I knew it was from the Holy Spirit.

Be still, rest easy in my Grace.

And like all things that you know are from God, I wanted to keep it to myself for awhile. To cherish it. Part of me was afraid if I shared it, it would pop like a bubble and go away. Lose its power. Kind of like a dream you want to fall back asleep for. But the words stuck fast in my soul. I felt calmed.

And then I got the call and was offered a job as a Paraeducator in the Special Education Department. A job for which I have no formal training or education but that for some reason God thinks I can do. Because in all my years at Intel, He proved to me that He would always find a place for me. That whatever He gave me, He would help me do.

I was a small town girl in a big corporation. I had no degree and I was working around people with Masters and more…….And I retired from there after twenty years. It was Gods and my success story.

And I am about to enter another one. Friends, I would appreciate your prayers. I feel a bit like Maria leaving the gates of the Abbey headed for the Von Trapp mansion.

But I have confidence. This belongs to God, this venture. Don’t they all?

I am resting in His Grace and Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.