The Greatest Generation

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I wrote this after a phone call from my Dad. He had just visited his old football buddy (he and his friend are the last remaining alive on their team). His friend and wife are now in separate elder care facilities and not long ago he visited them in their home……

A phone call from my Dad last night gave me pause to consider what will happen when the last of what they called “The Greatest Generation” takes its final leave of this place we call home. I wonder at the changing face and shape of a town, a smallish town like Lodi. What does the gradual taking leave of an entire generation look like? I am afraid that unless we keep their stories alive, they will slip away graciously the way they lived, with seemingly little impact.

Can a town remember? A town whose streets hold the footprints and buildings that years of blood, sweat and tears have produced? I believe it can, for the conversations that took place in grocery stores and downtown corners, over meals and glasses of wine will still be here in the words and voices of those of us who’ve come after. But only if we don’t forget. For the best way to show our gratitude is by keeping those memories alive. It’s the least we can do for them.

For these were a people who stepped up for the nation and the world at a great time of need with little thought of what it might cost them personally. Young men climbed into rickety planes were given no guarantee they would even make it across the ocean. Young women stepped into roles and jobs they had never had before and proved themselves beyond capable. My own Mom had shoes thrown at her as a teen when the shoe store she worked at ran out of shoes by the end of the day.

What will it be like to look around someday and hear only echoes of these voices without their graceful presence? These are the questions I ask myself. And I’ve asked myself something else too. Could I live as selflessly as this courageous generation has done? Could I make the necessary sacrifices they did by going without for years, so that I could have more? What lessons might I have learned if I had saved more and spent less?

Things are changing, that’s for sure. The service station my Dad frequented for years recently stopped accepting his checks for gas. He went elsewhere. Trust and integrity are precious commodities. Back in their day, a word was as good as a contract, and a handshake was enough to seal a deal.

There is something unique about this particular generation in that they not only make me want to do better, they make me want to be better. A better customer, a better neighbor. I think of my folks who at one time knew just about every business owner downtown. This past year they had their 63rd Class Reunion. Turnout was incredible, though no one is quite as mobile as they were in years past, quite an impressive number turned out. That says a lot.

It tells me the best way I can honor them is by letting their values and their legacy live on in me. To keep on trusting even as the world seems to turn more jaded and cynical. To know the name of my neighbor and wave, even if they don’t wave back. To never give up on humanity and believe that there are still many good people out there. Because there are.

Today, if you are blessed enough to know or love someone who was alive back then, call them up and ask them to tell you a story of what it was like in those days. Make the time…….You are not too busy, I promise.

And most of all, think of each day as a gift from God. None of us has any guarantees of how much time we have left, but waking up with gratitude is the only way to start.

Peace……

Advent: Looking toward the Light

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“The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me],
I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1 AMP 

In the deep dark of morning I was reflecting on the events of the past week trying to fall back asleep when I realized my usual method was failing me. I couldn’t get past the first line of the 23rd Psalm. I think that was exactly what God intended.

Sometimes He doesn’t mean for us to jump ahead when He knows that all we need is right there in the first line……”With God, I have all I need.” Stop. Done. Nothing more to say.

It’s been a season of highs and lows this Advent. How do you keep looking towards the Light when circumstances threaten to snuff out the “Merry and Bright” aspects of the season we celebrate? This has been our challenge this year. On the upside, I got to help put on a wonderful party for my niece, it was her 13th, a big one. Everything and everyone worked, even the Christmas lights, both front and back.

Everyone had a great time, adults and kids alike and the highlight of the night was when one of the floats from the Christmas parade pulled up out front complete with music, animation and hundreds of tiny lights. It was arranged through my brother’s friend and it was wonderful to see everyone coming out of their houses to enjoy it.

The downside was that Elaine’s Mom took a turn for the worse before I left and passed away the week I was away. You can never prepare for that. Death might be swallowed up in victory in Christ, but when it comes to call, we are reminded all over again how wrong it is, how unnatural. How it was never meant to be. My heart hurt for her from miles away and I could do nothing but pray.

Then, as we were all recovering from the Birthday party, my Mom fell outside of CVS Pharmacy. I wasn’t with her but thankfully a friend happened to be there, that part I know was Divine intervention. He drove her home. The following days before I left I was able to go with her to the Doctor for wound care.

And the question we ask over and over again in times like this is, what does His coming mean to us in the here and now moments of life?

The answer still lays in the Manger, and in the fields where the Shepherds were watching their flocks, it thunders from the brilliant sky which was suddenly and miraculously lit up by myriads of Angels.

Over and over again, this is the message we live out:

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men, with whom He is pleased.” 

We hold on to the One who will never disappoint even when everyone else may, even those we love most. In any and every circumstance this life throws at us, we can have hope in the One who will never disappoint.

That is what we cling to this season and every day. By faith we hold up our heads and continue to put one foot in front of the other. It’s why every morning and every evening I flip the switch that lights up the tree and I plug in every strand of garland that hangs.

Those lights represent a hope, or rather a Who, that can never be extinguished.

Because He came and lives today, we can too.

Advent: Peace in the Chaos

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Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30,31

December 1st is here and it arrived with everyone breathless and scurrying. This morning my heater gave out in the shop so my prayer time was shortened. I know it shouldn’t have been but I am a fair-weather pray-er and it was 50 degrees out there. My blood is thin, accustomed as it is to the sun and warmer temps. So the tree was in the living room all decked out in lights but no ornaments. Elaine has been frantically going from work to the Carehome since her Mom fell and broke her hip. There was simply no time. So this morning I drug all the boxes in and set to work. I had a deadline to meet since her brother was coming and I wanted to be available if I was needed.

At around the 4th time going through both the Easter and Christmas portions of Handel’s Messiah, it was finished, bedecked in all it’s glory. I had fun doing it. I felt pretty good considering I slept fitfully as usual and awoke at my usual time of 2:00 am. When I saw Elaine briefly later at noon she said, “Why didn’t you come in my room, we could have had coffee and talked.” Seems we were both awake at the same time.

Sometimes, Advent comes whether we are ready or not. But ready or not, it’s always a blessing.

And this road we’ve been on has been so long. Ever since her Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to now, it’s been about 10 years. I think of everything that has happened since and it’s staggering that Elaine’s been able to do it all and work too.

It’s late and I really need to go to bed. My brain feels like scrambled eggs. And my dear niece is turning 13 tomorrow and soon I will see her.

And it’s life and death and the cycle of it all……And He is here and if not for Him in the midst of everything, where in the world would any of us be?

Easy to Believe

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It’s easy to believe in Heaven on mornings like this one……

when the air is sweet and the stars are still winking but

just about to depart from sight.

I walk on tasting the day, knowing how sweet and precious it is.

How fleeting each moment and how important it is to think of time how God does.

Like each day is as a thousand years and how a thousand years a day.

Weightless and free and yet bound to this earth.

I walk on and I flush out a dove, startled from her place.

In wonder, I pray in my place of silence

I wonder at how I can cry the tears of the bitter waters of Marah

and in the next breath have streams of living waters to

flush out my sorrow and replace it with joy.

I marvel at my God.

Whatever happens here:

I have at the very most 35 years this side of Heaven

and then a permanent vacation where peaceful waters flow

and there is no crying only endless joy

a ribbon of eternity stretching out further than my eye can see.

Yes, I grab my cup of coffee and settle in my chair.

I can see it from here.

Feeling Empty? Don’t despair……..


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See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

Many of my days have felt flat lately. I am fighting a battle, it’s like a dragon really. It’s an old battle so I know how to fight it. The dragon I am slaying has to do with tanking hormone levels due to a condition who will remain nameless, due to my age. The battlefield is taking place within my own body, who seems to be betraying me about now. You see, I have always been able to get my weight under control. I have always been able to push my way through with some extra exercise and eating right. The extra pounds would come off and the muscle would form…..I could watch myself take shape without fail. This time a force beyond my control is resisting my every effort.

Then again, I have never been 56…..there I said it. Everyone who knows me, knows I celebrate every single birthday. I have gone into the whys with other posts. And I celebrated this one despite being in the fog, in the mist and malaise of that thing which will not be named. (For now I will refer to it as Voldemort.) For those who never read Harry Potter, Voldemort is the big evil, the one who gave Harry his scar.

This morning started as many mornings over the past year. I didn’t feel that surge of joy that a new day had begun. I had to pray to get up and face it. It’s not that I was depressed, I was just ambivalent about it starting. As I prayed and began to move about my day, God nudged me in that way He has and said……”You know, feeling empty is not necessarily a bad thing, I am an expert at filling empty.”

“Yes, Lord, you are. How well I know it.”

So I started moving, and living and choosing life instead of death. That is pretty much the secret. This is a season which will not last and there is blessing in being empty, for Jesus came to fill all places. There is no place in our heart, mind, soul and body that He can’t fill. So I said yes to blowing off the driveway. And I also said yes to gratitude, for I have blessings too numerous to count.

And I kept on saying yes when I got my fall flag out. And I said yes again when I filled my body with good things to eat instead of junk. And I am saying yes by typing life-giving words onto this screen, because if it’s one thing I know, it’s that God always rewards the step of faith however small. And the step taken with hope, even if it’s not felt right away will sooner or later take root and bloom into feeling just at the right time.

For hope is not something we feel, it’s something we have that’s tangible. It’s alive…..it came up out of the ground with Jesus. Hebrews 11:1 Parallel: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

So I will continue to beat my body into submission by exercise and eating right, and getting medical help if I need it, knowing that in due time if I don’t give up (and I won’t because I am stubborn like that) I will see results.

I remember like it was yesterday when I had to do this the first time. I had taken my wonderful gift of health and throwing it in God’s face by successfully starving myself and tanking my hormone levels to ground zero. After he healed my mind I had to do the hard work of healing my body. And I had to learn to forgive myself after God and my parents already forgave me for putting them through all that.

I remember getting up in the dark so no one would see me, running in any kind of weather. Those awful blue nylon shorts I wore…..I can still hear them swishing. Then my Dad joined me and we had some good times running together. It a good memory now, our running times. I went from death to life then, and now it’s another kind of passage from a different kind of death into a different kind of life. I guess you could call it the second act.

I can’t wait to see what God is going to do after He and I slay the dragon together.

No more goodbyes

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“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

When the girl at the airport hears the announcement that her plane is starting to board, she turns to the boy who is seeing her off. “I guess this is goodbye,” she says.

The noise of the traffic almost drowns out the sound of the word, but the shape of it lingers on the old man’s lips. He tries to look vigorous and resourceful as he holds out his hand to the other old man. “Goodbye.” This time they say it so nearly in unison that it makes them both smile.

The poignancy of “Goodbye.” Frederick Buechner captures the tragedy and sadness of it beautifully in today’s reading from “Listening to Your Life.” I remembered this one as soon as I flipped the page, because at some point I had circled the date on it. It always rocks me to the core, because this is the essence of what it means to feel the sorrow of the fall.

We were never meant for death or any kind of goodbyes for that matter. He never desired it or designed us for it. That all came when we presumed to know better  and went for that one forbidden thing He knew would separate ourselves from Him forever. And this of course, is the whole reason Jesus came. That we might be able to banish that word from our experience and vocabulary forever. In His great mercy, He has given us a second chance to trust His love.

The swift passage of time startles me into the realization that I don’t have much of it left. I am ready to be done with coming and going. Regularly, I have to board a plane and leave one home for another. I have done it for years now, and it only gets harder. I pray that God will grant me this one wish. Because goodbyes are like a little bit of hell, over and over again. Selfishly, I want everyone in one place. There, I said it.

And yet, it would be wrong to describe the sorrow of goodbye without the Heavenly joy of the greetings I cherish on arrival. If I never have to board a plane again, I will always remember the hopeful joy in their faces, the shriek of delight at seeing me grinning my way down that escalator jostling my luggage. The arms held open……..Yes, that right there is a little bit of the sweetness of Heaven.

And always someone on each end to welcome me home.

For those who long for freedom

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You feel grounded, rooted to this spot, and you feel like things can’t change soon enough. You feel discouragement nipping at your heels because you have the sense that by the time things do finally change it will be too late.

This is a prayer for those who are in the uncomfortable place of waiting:

For a change…..the crack of dawn in the darkness……for healing to come…..to get out from under that boss…..to not have to view the world from the window anymore. Maybe it’s the past that keeps pulling you back. Maybe it’s just one person.

You want to hit the open road and never look back because fighting the good fight is tiring. You don’t want to be the one left behind anymore, you want to be the one planning to fly off to fun without a care in the world. You want to get off the Merry-Go-Round and take a turn on the Ferris Wheel.

Maybe you’re in a care-taking role you never asked for, and you feel like you have been playing that role most of your life and you want another part in the play. Maybe it’s a parent who really hasn’t ever been there, and you wonder why in the world you feel you have to be there for them.

And even now, in their weakness, their neediness, their disease, their negative words still have the power to deliver a death sentence to your hopes and dreams, to rob you of every victory you ever almost enjoyed. But only if you let them.

Sometimes you wonder why God keeps them alive and you feel like it’ll only be after they’re gone that you will taste true freedom………part of that freedom will be the absence of the albatross of all that guilt hanging around your neck.

Stand tall, and know that God is fighting with you and for you today. Even now, it’s His freedom, His salvation that makes it possible to continue doing what you do. You have the living promise “that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Because of Him, hope has made a permanent home in your heart and right now, today you are a living testimony with a future filled with promise.

Hope flickers like a candle in her heart and this hope is what the negative voices have tried to stamp out again and again but the voices are becoming silent now because this is her time. The seed that hope planted in her heart has given birth to success, and no one and nothing can ever take that away, because now she knows she is worthy. Sometimes you must have the courage to step over the loss of that thing you never had in order to have the strength to move on.

Take heart, take hope today. He has already given you success. He is with you in the middle of wherever you are. It’s true freedom He gives and it belongs to you today!

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17