Archives for April 2011

5 Minute Friday: On distance…


The lovely and terribly talented (and also very tired new-mommy to #3, the beauteous Zoe) Lisa-Jo has given us a corker this week. 5 minutes of unedited, non-stop writing on this topic: “On distance…”


Distance is a tough word for me today, carrying multiple layers of meaning and poignancy …
…distance from people I thought were friends (2 that I can think of)…
…distance from my eldest grandson, who is living thousands of miles away for a while and figuring out who he wants to be as he enters young adulthood…
…distance from the mom I’ve always known as she moves into confusion more often than either of us would wish or choose…
…distance from our home congregation – self-imposed, to be sure and coming to an end in three weeks – but a strange sort of exile still…
…distance from parts of myself that are no longer in active mode, learning to re-direct all those pastoral instincts and contain them within the boundaries of retirement I am just learning about…
…distance from my usual devotional routines, by choice mostly, but also by necessity as I figure out how to do this in a different way, with a different schedule (or lack of same)…

BUT… no distance from God just now, just trying to remain open to where the Wind will blow me next…

STOP

Another Stab at Hodge Podge…


Joining today with Joyce at “From This Side of the Pond…”

Every week, there are a different set of questions to answer with this meme. This week’s set looked particularly interesting, so here goes…

1. Would you rather talk to everyone at a crowded party for a short time or have a significant conversation with two people?

Definitely rather have a significant conversation with two people than try and work the room – at least if I am at someone else’s party. If it’s my own shindig, then I’ll try and greet everyone sometime during the event.

2. What objects do you remember from your parent’s living room?

I really love this question! I remember quite a lot actually, most especially my father’s baby grand piano – shiny black enamel, his favorite spot in the entire house. He filled our home with remarkable music and even though my mom sometimes resented how it’s size made decorating difficult, we all loved it when he played. I also remember my mom’s ‘Danish modern’ furniture. She could take the most interesting assortment of bargain pieces and make a room look beautiful and inviting. My dad was a school teacher and my mom a stay at home mom, so bargains were important to us. The chairs were a really pretty shade of soft lavender, if you can believe that, and the sofa was green, I think. There were also a couple of Royal Doulton figurines, which my mom adored and my dad gave her for special occasions. I also remember that the windows in that room were multi-paned and there was a door leading to a side patio that I loved – a tall ginkgo tree, a brick walk and lots of lovely fuschias enjoying the shady side of the house.

3. Do you hog the bed, steal the covers, snore?

Nope, don’t hog the bed, seldom steal the covers …. but snoring? I think probably so. Although my husband is much noisier than I am. {smile}

4. Speaking of Easter dinner…what is your favorite way to cook/eat lamb? Or does just the thought of that make you squeamish? If you’re not cooking lamb what will be your entree du jour on Easter Sunday?

We love lamb, but don’t get it very often because it’s expensive. Love chops, leg of lamb and rack of lamb. And my daughter is hosting Easter this year and she will do a roast lamb and we’ll all bring a variety of Mediterranean side dishes. Should be yummy – and fun.

5. Let’s throw some politics into this week’s mix…oooooohh….Do you know the whereabouts of your birth certificate and when was the last time you had to produce it to prove you’re you?

Not sure why this is viewed as a political question, but yes – I know where it is. In the metal box where my husband stores all of our valuable papers. And the last time I needed it was to get our first set of passports about 20 years ago…

6. As a child, how did people describe you?

Also a great question! I think the adjectives would have included: TALL; bookish-to-the-point-of-being-anti-social; uncoordinated; gangly; intelligent in some areas, hopeless in others; a night owl; a procrastinator; a last-minute-homework-doing-machine.

7. What do you complain about the most?

Hmmm…try not to complain, but I get really tired of multiple days of rain or overcast weather. (Yes, I’m spoiled – I live on the central coast of California).

8. Insert your own random thought here.

My husband and I were talking at dinner about the most recent things that have made us laugh out loud and we agreed that a couple of our grandkids head that list. We keep our 13 month old granddaughter 1 or 2 days a week and she makes us laugh every single time. She is just too charming for words and learning to form words and to share opinions very clearly! And we cared for our 5-year-old grandson a couple of days this week and he cracks us up every time, too. Thank God for the presence of small ones (and the bigger ones, too!) in our lives at this point in time. Grandparenting is one of God’s rewards for later life and we love it. See what I mean?



And at the other end of the spectrum…

Joining up with Bonnie over at Faith Barista today – this week’s topic: something new you’re learning in your relationship with Jesus…

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Life is sometimes a series of contrasts, isn’t it? We loved being with our grandson Griffin this week and while we were there, I spent some time with my almost-90-year-old mom who lives about a half hour further east.

Moving from our 5-year-old’s world of imaginary friends and exuberant energy to the stark realities of age on a person’s body, psyche, and spirit is a bit like trying to balance on a trampoline: you’re never quite sure which way to bounce. So I try to enter both worlds in a spirit of humility and openness, wondering all the while what there is to learn about life and faith and our good God in the process.

So, some reflections on my visit with my mom…in which I learn lessons both painful and poignant, am reminded of our mortality, and celebrate a long-lived faith:

My brother and I want Mom to live independently as long as she possibly can – we met together with her all day last Saturday to reassure her of this. But let me tell you – it ain’t easy. She has her own apartment in a 3-stage retirement community, and Tom and I spent several hours over the weekend trying to help make her place less cluttered, more welcoming and easier to navigate.

We did this because she has lost most of her vision to macular degeneration and a lot of her hearing to the advances of time. But she’s lost far more than that. Since 2005, she has lost her husband of 64 years, her youngest son and a very special grandson-in-law, someone she had known and loved all of his life. Her remaining siblings live over an hour away and are in failing health. All but one of her oldest, long-term friends are now dead.

This is all to be ‘expected,’ of course. The natural progression of life to death is evident to all of us. Intellectually, that is. Emotionally? I don’t think so. It’s one thing to ‘know’ it with the thinking part of yourself. It’s something else entirely when you actually live it.

So I pray constantly for compassion and empathy whenever I’m with her and when I connect with her in our daily phone conversations. I ask for this grace because I too-often find myself fervently wishing that I could revert to the child role in our relationship – something which has not been true of us for many years. So, yes – I go about the work of parenting my mom – but oh! – I don’t like it very much.

I miss so much of who she used to be: vivacious, earthy, welcoming, hopeful. Flashes of these traits still remain, but in recent years they have begun to fade and morph a bit, mostly because she can no longer see well and is so much more uncertain about how others are responding to her when she can’t read their faces.

My mother was my spiritual role model growing up. She was far from perfect – and she would be the first one to tell you that. But…she was also far more self-aware than most women of her generation, she was voraciously hungry to grow in the Lord, she read widely and deeply and she was the best 11th grade girls’ Sunday school teacher you ever saw.

Many mornings, I would struggle to get myself out of bed and out the door for school – and she would have been up for a long while, reading her Bible, tracking her prayer list, laying out next week’s lesson. And of course, tending to the needs of her husband and family, for she was a very traditional homemaker.

As she tries her darnedest to live within the steadily narrowing confines of her life, she wants to make the best of what remains of her life. But she is deeply lonely and far more insecure in her old age than I would ever have guessed she might be. I admire her tenacity and her refusal to give into despair. But I worry about her a lot, I wish we lived closer, I wonder what the next year or two will bring.

So…I continue to try to find my balance on that trampoline – enjoying my younger grandkids, trying not to embarrass my older grandkids, and wondering about what comes next for my mother. Yet even in the midst of my concerns about her, I celebrate who she is in my life. I thank God daily for her – for her passion for life, her hunger for God, her great sense of humor, her creative hospitality and her love of beauty. I celebrate these things even as they are fading away with the impact of age and frailty. And I try to trust in God’s goodness and timing as this particular part of our life together continues to unfold.

In the process of putting one foot in front of another on this journey of long-goodbyes, I am learning more than I sometimes wish I were about aging, dying, death and separation. But I am also learning about God’s faithfulness in the midst of it all, about the value of caring friends and family, about the power of our eternal hope. As the dividing line between now and forever comes ever closer, I thank God for these gifts and I take one more step into the unseeable, unknowable tomorrows still to come.

Playdate with Griffin

He turned five in September and his favorite toys ever are a collection of basters given him by his other grandmother and me.


Yes, that’s right. I said basters – as in those brushes you use to coat chickens while they roast.


Basters.

He’s got about a dozen of them – every color, every length, some of them even possessing bodies, looking for all the world like strangely hirsute aliens from another dimension.
This whole thing began when he was about two and came to our house for a visit. We had just remodeled our kitchen and I loved the bright colors we had chosen to use in our new kitchen/dining/area/living room – all of them coming from some new-to-us Fiesta dinnerware I had discovered.

Clear yellow, clear turquoise, a vibrant lime-almost-chartreuse green, and a soft, true blue. I had just purchased ceramic utensil holders for my newly installed countertops, and sticking out of one of them was an extra long baster with a bright blue brush.

Griffin spotted it the moment he walked in the door and claimed that thing as his own special friend, so much so that “Rusty” went home with him at the end of that visit. And it just sort of grew from there.

This is a boy with a great, God-given imagination. This is a boy with a real flair for the dramatic. This is a boy who is the only true extrovert in our entire extended family. He wanders down the aisle at church during the pass-the-peace time, just to see who he can greet each Sunday – and he’s only five.

So, give him a handful of basters and he’ll have at it. He can create an entire world of characters, complete with names and interesting dialog. He can cry real tears if one of them is left out or left behind. He can imagine a family for each one, including a friendly pet or two.

And he will invite you into this world if you’re willing to go there – for a moment or an hour.

We’re spending a couple of days with Griffin this week because his spring break dates did not match either of his brothers or either of his special-ed teacher parents. He’s the youngest of our six grandsons, almost the exact age of our older granddaughter and he is a great companion and playmate.

So we’ve had a grand time hanging out with this boy who reminds us that life is precious, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (basters?? who knew??), that God breathes unique life into each and every one of us human creatures, that imagination is a gift from our creative and beautiful God, and that life is meant to be lived with joy and gratitude.
Joining up with Laura’s blog for the first time this week…

Sunday at Knox

Joining with Michelle at “Graceful” and LL at “Seedlings in Stone” today:

On In Around button
We sat in the back row yesterday. Something I never do, accustomed as I am to the front row for so many years. Visiting churches since my retirement has been such an interesting experience, and this one we’ve been to about three times now – it’s our favorite so far. Only problem? It’s about 115 miles from our home and that makes for a pretty rough commute.
This is the church our middle daughter’s family has found in their wanderings of late, the one they now call home and where she is serving as a newly elected elder. Four years ago, it was in the throes of imminent death, having shrunk to fewer than 30 people. Then, in a last gasp of Holy Spirit power, they called a new pastor. Matt is a young, calm, careful, intelligent, committed man who has built a small staff consisting mostly of interns from the nearby seminary. And he’s a man whose wife is as smart and dedicated as he is and who sings (and plays the penny whistle!) for the worship team.
Yesterday, there were forty children down front for the children’s sermon and about 170 adults leaning in to hear. The young woman who leads worship chose music with a Celtic bent and the service was marked by meaningful liturgy coupled with a relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere. After some opening announcements and the passing of the peace, the worship began with an a cappella quartet singing, “What Wondrous Love Is This?” and then we all joined in as the opening hymn began….“Come, O Spirit, dwell among us, come with resurrection power…” I was in tears by the second line.
The church is an A-frame, slightly 60’s in flavor, and this week they had a huge, shimmering purple satin drape on the cross. Every member of the up-front leadership (pastor/preacher/worship leader) wore a shade of purple to mark the season of Lent, even though they were casually dressed. Nothing was said, but those of us who appreciate such thoughtfulness were blessed by it, drawn by this careful, quiet attention to detail into a fuller and richer experience of worship.
In our previous visits, we have enjoyed Matt’s preaching very much indeed – but this week, the pastoral intern was given the pulpit. A former IVP editor, graduate of Regent and current student at Fuller, Kristie did a stunning job with a text I have seldom heard preached: Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 37.
I am grateful for and blessed by any good, thoughtful, careful preaching – anywhere, anytime. But I must admit, I am especially glad to hear such preaching in a female voice. Maybe because I don’t hear it very often, maybe because I know how hard it is to preach, maybe because I’m just plain grateful to God for raising up a generation of women who can proclaim the gospel with power and precision and love – love for the Word, both written and Living, and love for the church.
She noted Gerald Sittser’s magnificent book from 15 years ago – “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss” (still one of the best things out there for helping people grapple with suffering and the sovereignty of God) at the beginning and end of her message – doing this former homiletics TA’s heart good – always appreciate good use of inclusio. In between, she exegeted and applied the text very well indeed. She preached it!
The offertory was a song newly created by the worship leader and sung so well by the team. And the time of community prayer was lovely, as it has been each time we’ve participated in worship here. Sharing of praise and petition is encouraged and skillfully guided by the leader – we’ve seen several different staff members do this well – everyone responds liturgically and then a closing prayer of ‘summation’ is offered on behalf of us all. Several of the churches we’ve visited this year have done sharing and prayer in this way and we have been moved by it each time.
When I offered thanks and praise to each member of the leadership team following the service, their response to me was almost identical: “We have such a good time here, we love working together and we love creating a service that flows together thematically.” This is a gift to the body that is breathtakingly precious – and rare. We were privileged to experience it, to see and hear and sing and say words of hope and promise and genuine worship in a part of Christ’s body that is healthy and growing, in every sense of the word.
The gift I brought to Monday from Sunday’s experience was a precious one for me right now – hope. Hope from the word as it was powerfully preached and hope from the entirety of the worship experience: a burst of joyful, grateful hope for the future of the church of Jesus Christ in this time, this culture. God is not finished building the body, Christ has not abandoned the Bride. So I gladly move into this new week, cradling hope in my heart, confident that the work of new creation continues and thrives….maybe even in me.

5 Minute Friday: If you met me…

If you met me…


you’d see that my hair is whiter than my teeth,
my face speaks volumes about my life,
my size is somewhat smaller than it has been for the past 40 or so years,
my personality can come across as either
a.) warm and welcoming or
b.) more than slightly intimidating.
What you would probably not see, at least at first glance is…
I battle insecurities up the yin-yang
I wish I were both more and less than I am – more centered in my identity in Jesus, more open to adventure, more certain about who I am at this stage of my life;
less guided and girded by oughts and shoulds, less critical of myself (and others sometimes), less bothered by what others think of me.
I hope you would see that I am happy beyond words to meet you and to hear your story and to share pieces of my own. I hope you would feel welcome, respected, valued.
And I think you’ll see even less of me six months from now.

STOP

As always, joining with the lovely Lisa-Jo at The Gypsy Mama for her wonderful and thoughtful 5 minute assignments each and every Friday:


Take a deep breath. You made it. It’s Friday.
Got five minutes? Let’s write. Let’s write in shades of real and true and unscripted.
Let’s just write and not worry if it’s just right or not.

1. Write for 5 minutes flat for pure unedited love of the written word.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. Go leave some comment props for the five minuter who linked up before you.

Pruning…

On In Around button

Joining up with L.L. Barkat at seedlingsinstone today,

even though it’s Wednesday and NOT Monday.
It’s been that kind of week.

And also with Suzannah at somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter
so much shouting, so much  laughter


We lost an old friend recently – a 60 year old oak tree toppled over into our driveway two weeks ago. Just like that, down on the ground.

So we hired our friendly neighborhood tree-trimming guy to come in and make it into firewood – and at the same time, open up our driveway again.

While he was at it, we thought… why not clean up a lot of stuff around this wonderful yard of ours, trees and shrubs that have long needed thinning, chopping, even removal here and there?

So…he and his crew and all their very large, very noisy equipment have been hanging around our house for the better part of this week – cleaning, sorting, hauling, pureeing, grinding out stumps. It’s been a busy, noisy place.

And all of it has caused me to think about the whole idea of pruning. Heard a sermon on it a couple of weeks ago – a good sermon, in which we were reminded that God is the one who prunes. It’s not up to us to prune one another – much as we might be tempted to do so. Ouch. My natural tendency is SO geared toward pointing those shears in someone else’s direction.

The idea of pruning comes from that whole crazy chapter in John where Jesus tells us (over and over again) that we’ve got to be connected to the vine. Abide. Remain. Stay deeply and securely connected to the source of life. Allow the full and free flow of the nourishing sap that can only come to us from the deeply-rooted love of our Savior.

And part of abiding means that we will be pruned. For way too many years I thought that meant suffering enormous loss of some kind, giving up the things or people we loved – in essence turning God-the vineyard-keeper into a mean-spirited monster.

But think for a minute about what happens when we prune a plant: we look for the suckers, the crooked branches, the non-productive stems and we cut them away. Why? Because we want to see beauty. We want to see fruitfulness, full blooms, lovely shapes, strong and supple limbs, impervious to the winds and the water.

That’s what God’s pruning is about. Yes, all of us will suffer in this life. But it won’t be at the direct hand of God, teaching us ‘a lesson’ of some sort. I no longer believe that pruning is about suffering for suffering’s sake. Try this idea and let it roll around in your heart for a while: pruning helps to reveal the beauty inside of us, the shape of Jesus in us, the fruit of the Spirit, the sturdiness of a planted faith. Pruning is a gift of grace, a preparation for what comes next, a shaping and forming kind of work.

It may initially feel somewhat painful – like the pain that comes from using our bodies to work hard, to exercise, to stretch. It may involve the dawning realization that there are things in our lives that have to go – appointments, commitments, busyness of different kinds. It will definitely mean setting priorities, learning what our ‘yeses’ truly are so that we can say ‘no’ when we need to say ‘no.’

And that is so hard to do, isn’t it? Listening to the Spirit’s nudge, carving out small oases of time to sit in God’s presence, asking for eyes to see the presence of the holy in the very ordinary details of our days – all of that means pruning away some good things to make room for the ‘better part.’

So, as the trimming crew moves into the final phase of their work tomorrow, I want to remember that this is good work. Pruning is a good thing, a helpful thing. A cleaning-up, clearing-out, shaping and beautifying thing. Do your work in me, Lord God. Prune what needs pruning and shape me more and more into the image of your son.

The Sunday/Monday Thing – in which I do not go to church at all…


Joining up with Michelle this time, over at “Graceful,” one of my favorite new discoveries as I sift through literally hundreds of blogs – who knew? There is an entire world out there, filled with interesting people, good writers and photographers, lovers of words and the Word. So…here’s what I did this weekend:

I am a number one daughter from a moderately conservative church-going, Bible-believing family. I am the wife of a number one son from a moderately conservative, church-going, Bible-believing family, the mother of three grown children, all of whom attend church at least semi-regularly and the grandmother to 8, all of whom have grown up (or are presently growing up!) in church-going families.

But this last Sunday, there was no church for me.

My husband had a birthday at the end of March and our children came up with a brilliant idea for a birthday gift: a kitchen garden. Something we have never really had and now – in our early retirement – seemed to us like a great idea. Thankfully, my husband remembers things like watering new plants and seems to enjoy getting his hands dirty. Me, on the other hand? Not so much. But…I’m willing to learn and I’m more than willing to harvest!

Plans were made for a weekend in mid-March to do this work, but the rains that soaked California for much of the month made that date completely unworkable. So we checked the weather forecast, found a window between storms and agreed that Sunday, April 3 was going to work the best for the most of us. We’re talking 15 people here, so scheduling anything is often a minor miracle.

And of course, it rained on Saturday. Not all bad, because the ground was damp enough to work with but not wet enough to consider planting rice. We have this long narrow lot because of all kinds of interesting easements and our house is fairly close to our neighbors to the south. The side yard there is narrow – and until about 3 years ago – was almost entirely composed of large squares of pebbled concrete. When we did a kitchen remodel, we yanked some of those squares out and planted some sea lavender and penstemon, added a small bird bath and garden art and gave ourselves a pleasant view from our new kitchen windows.

An ideal spot for veggies and herbs, right?

Yes!

So…here’s what it looked like before we started:

And here’s what it looked like about midway through: (Can you believe it? They even brought tomato cages, a bean teepee and all the equipment to install a drip irrigation system with a timer! I think maybe they know me too well!!)
And here’s what it looked like at the end of a long, fruitful (pun intended) day.
Everyone worked well together, I kept the food and cold drinks coming (and watched the one-year-old) and we had a great time together. We ate a simple supper, thanked God for the food and the family and the joy of good work and celebrated my husband’s birth with his favorite – lemon meringue pies, made by our middle daughter.

It wasn’t church – and it was. In the best sense of that term – community, thanksgiving, the work of our hands – all of it offered to the God who gave us each other.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:14-17

Comments on Courage

This small story illustrates courage better than almost anything else I can think of today. I learned so much from my kids as they grew up (and continue to do so as they move through adulthood) and this lesson has stuck with me, even heartened me when I’ve had my own scary demons to conquer.



She stood there, shivering. At the end of a line of fidgety 4-year-olds, I watched her long slender body literally shake from fear. Arms pulled tightly against her body, hands clasped in front of her chest, she was dripping wet from the nearby shower. It was the height of summer in the east San Gabriel Valley, so the air was more than warm. But I knew she was cold as ice on the inside.

I sat in the bleachers of the high school swimming pool with my toddler boy while my girls took their swimming lessons. Elder daughter loved the water, jumped in heartily and was already swimming laps. Younger daughter lived another reality altogether. The water mystified and terrified her. Her eyes were as big as saucers as she faced down her fears. Slowly, she moved forward in the line and I could see her eyes shimmering with unshed tears.

Silently, I prayed: “Lord, have mercy on this, your small daughter. Help her to move through her fear and find the joy that waits as she discovers that water can be her friend, even her refuge in this hot summer sun. Guard her fierce heart as she readies herself, Lord. Still her and steel her by your grace!”

As she neared the lip of the pool, the trembling slowly increased. Thankfully, the young teacher was sensitive and kind, offering encouragement with words and open arms. And off she went – jumping into the abyss of her deepest fears. Gasping as she surfaced, she turned to find my eyes in the stands. “See, Mom,” she seemed to say. “I am a brave girl.” Yes indeed, my darling daughter – you are a very brave girl indeed.


Joining with Elizabeth today at http://www.elizabethfoss.com/reallearning/2011/04/small-steps-together-encourage.html with some reflections on courage

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5 Minute Friday: A few of my favorite things…


Linking up with the very tired by oh-so-blessed Gypsy Mama again this week. How I love this woman’s blog! As always, 5 minutes on the clock of unedited thoughts on the topic at hand – this week? A few of my favorite things…


GO:

With the opening disclaimer that my absolute favorite things in all the world aren’t things at all, but rather people and experiences – I will submit the following list, restricted – for the purposes of this exercise – to actual things:

My Macintosh laptop computer, graciously given to me at my retirement by the church I served for 14 years

My books – every last one of them – and there are way too many to count (though I am culling a bit as I move out of my office at the church s-l-o-w-l-y in this new year). Tops on that list are anything by Eugene Peterson/Frederick Buechner/Madeleine L’Engle (except that novel about David!)/Barbara Brown Taylor/Walter Brueggeman/Marilynne Robinson and too many others to count

Anything created for me by my grandchildren – from photographs to primitive drawings

The 100 year old oak tree in our front yard

The 60-70 year old ginko tree in our side yard

The view out my bedroom windows (all right, I’ll admit – that’s not a thing, either!)

Our home – love it, love it

My daughter’s wonderful artwork

Photographs of all those I love more than life – and there are a whole lotta those, too!

STOP

Pictures added later:
The oak tree – recently “laced” to prevent breakage and toppling after losing a wonderful old friend in another part of the yard.
A little bit of the gingko outside our bedroom
a peek at the house we’ve loved and welcomed so many to since 1997
All of us as of August of last year – such gifts these dear ones are!