One Last Good-Bye

 

It’s been a weekend.

Yesterday, we held a memorial service for my mother. My brother was well enough to travel south and as soon as he, his wife, Sandy, and their daughter, Rachel, arrived at our home on Friday night, I put the women to work creating this wonderful photo montage for the reception after the service.

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Both of them are talented artists and I was relieved to pass along this last task connected to what was a grand day of celebration and thanksgiving. About 75 of us gathered in the chapel at The Samarkand. Together, we worshiped God and celebrated mom’s life. It was a gift and a privilege to share stories, to laugh, to tear up from time to time, and to mark the passing of this valiant, vibrant woman, the last of her generation to leave us.

I’m including the words of remembrance that I shared yesterday so that family members who could not be there can read and remember with us. Some photos from the day, too.

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A lovely collection of snapshots covering several decades of mom’s life.

“For the first few years of my life, she was ‘mommy’ to me. From about the 3rd grade on, she became simply, ‘mom.’ And during these last, hard years, the name that most often came to my lips was, ‘mama.’

“I think that choice was the natural one because she had become so very frail and ‘mom’ seemed far too robust to use. I also think it came naturally because it has a tender sound, a diminutive feel. She became smaller and smaller over these last four years at the Samarkand. With each move, we re-distributed more and more of her material belongings until little was left. Her life, her surroundings, became smaller and smaller. And she herself began to shrink away from us. As she stopped even wanting to eat, she gradually became quite tiny, almost wraith-like.

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Eileen, Harold, Ruth, Al, in the back. I think Mom was about 12 in this picture.

“The irony in that, of course, is that it was her lifelong desire to be smaller than she was! Oh, how she wrestled with her weight. And she passed that wrestling right on down to me, in all kinds of ways — some of them undoubtedly genetic. But some of them, having a lot more to do with appearances, with wanting to please others, with a deep yearning to be something, someone, other than who and what she was.

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Days gone by (long gone by!)

But here is what I have I learned as I have walked with my mother through this last, long part of her journey on this earth: the truest thing I know about my mother is that she was BEAUTIFUL, in every way I can think of. The saddest thing about my mother is that she never really knew that.

Oh, how I hope she knows it now!

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Al passed away in his early 50’s, but mom and Harold and Eileen lived long and stayed close.
Mom was the last to leave us.
My dad’s distant cousin, Jan Baylor (whom we called Earleen – her middle name, after her father Earl), was a fun friend for mom, especially during the middle decades of her life. She’s in the bottom left photo and the very bottom one,  which you can barely see — in identical swimsuits (unbeknownst to them until mom visited Jan at her trailer near the beach!)

My mother radiated light. At her best, she was the most fun person I’ve ever known. She had a bawdy sense of humor and a great laugh; she took delight in her children and her grandchildren, adored her husband — even when he frustrated the daylights out of her — and she particularly loved seeing and creating beautiful things. She had an artist’s eye for color, enjoyed a minimalist, mid-century sense of décor, and could become rapturous over a sunset, a seascape, a forest or a tiny baby.

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See that look of delight on her face? Yeah, we saw that a lot at Christmas! That’s my brother Tom, back in the day . . .

Every once in a while during these last years, I would catch a glimpse of that great sense of humor and it always delighted me. Here are two small stories I recorded in my journal, one from Christmas of 2014, the other from April of last year:

Story number one, from Christmas Lunch in Heritage Court at the Samarkand:

“After lunch, we went back to her room, and she asked the same set of questions that she’s asked the last few times we’ve talked. And when I answered I tried to speak clearly. But her hearing is so bad, that she struggled to understand. Finally, the third time she asked me to repeat myself, I spoke very loudly, very slowly, very distinctly, and she looked at me, smiled and said, ‘THANK YOU,’ at the top of her lungs! It struck me as something the ‘old’ mom would do. And it made me laugh out loud. I was so tired and emotionally vulnerable — I got started laughing and couldn’t quite stop. And I remember thinking, ‘well, it’s better than crying.’”

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Goofing it up at a Christmas spent in Tom and Sandy’s cabin in Julian CA

And another story, from a year ago April, during one of our twice-weekly lunches out:

Today’s theme song was, “The Old Rugged Cross” and she sang pieces of it through our entire time together. I was able to find a couple of versions of it online and play them in the car as we drove south toward the water.

She does love taking this drive. She comments on the cars, on the houses, on the large numbers of people. The confines of her world these days are very restricted, very limited. When I take her out into the wider world, she is struck with wonder.

It is good to see where I live through her eyes, as I too often take it all for granted. We ate at Longboard’s, overlooking the harbor. And there was a cruise ship in town today, unloading its throngs of people to sit on various tour buses and populate the local seaside restaurants. The wait staff was extremely slow because of the increased numbers, and as we were waiting for our food, she said, rather than sang these two lines from the day’s theme song: “so I’ll cling to the old rugged Cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.”

And then she said, “And sometime between now and then, I’d really like a little something to eat!”

And we both busted up. These sweet moments are flashes of the mama I have always known, and I am so grateful for them.”

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There were two of these glorious arrangements for the service. We left one for the chapel service this morning and took this one home to re-use it as table decor for the family dinner that came after the reception at The Samarkand.

She was, as I told the staff here and at Hospice, the most flaming extrovert I have ever known. She loved people, was a caring neighbor and built friendships that lasted for decades. A friend reminded me the other day that on that first Valentine’s Day after my father’s death in 2005, she went to CVS and picked up a half dozen small boxes of chocolates to take to all the widows she knew at Hillcrest, their retirement community in La Verne CA. She knew their sweethearts would not be remembering them on that day. She kept up the chocolate-giving until she had to move into assisted living in 2012.

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Each of mom’s grandchildren participated in reading scripture for her service. Our three are in the top photo, doing the Old Testament readings — L to R, Lisa, Eric, Joy
The bottom picture includes Jacob Gold and Jeremy Morgan, my brother Ken’s two sons, and Rachel and Dylan Gold, Tom and Sandy’s two children.

The disease that took her life is a cruel one, a thief with no mercy, slowly stealing memory, cognition, discernment, even personality. But in my mother’s case, dementia was never able to destroy the core of who she was.

And the core of my mother was her faith.

From about the age of fifteen, my mother was an ardent follower after Jesus, wanting to go deep, to learn, to practice resurrection from day to day. Even though her background was conservative, she and my dad somehow managed to grasp the truest things about the Christian faith and to let go of much of the judgment, fear, simplistic jargon, and insider/outsider mentality that has come to characterize too much of the modern church.

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It was a beautiful and VERY WARM afternoon for an early dinner, planned and executed by my three kids and their spouses — thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to each of you.

She was grateful for her roots, for the women at Trinity Methodist Church who befriended her and encouraged her leadership skills, even paying for her to go to a special training event put on by Henrietta Mears, one of the first women leaders in the Presbyterian church of the 20th century. But she was always searching for more – and she read widely and well in order to learn more. She was not a perfect person — who is? But, man, she was a good one.

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Our funky but fun covered atrium entry greeted guests with bright colors, wooden signs . . .

I believe, in the deepest part of me, that what I saw in my mom as she slowly faded away from me, was a reflection of the light of Jesus. She always let it shine. Always. Just about 40 hours before she died, she reached out to kiss my hand as I straightened her bedding. Days before she left us, she offered that beautiful smile and those kind words — ‘thank you so much!’ ‘You look so beautiful today.’ ‘I love your hair.’ By that point, almost nothing else she said hung together with any kind of sense. But those short, kind compliments? They remained. They remained.

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. . . and some glorious blossoms, too.

Now Tom and I could tell you tales of tears, of anger, explosive and sharp, of deep-seated insecurities that often made her fearful and sometimes harsh. But you know what? As hard as those days were for us — and they were — over the span of our lives and hers, they amounted to so little. As she grew in her faith, as she and dad grew more deeply in love over the years of their marriage, and as she experienced more and more of the Love with a capital “L” that she and I believe is the power that sources our entire universe, those hard days became less and less frequent.

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My dear brother, Tom, with his amazing and talented wife, Sandy.

I had the gift of a good home and that enabled and instructed me in creating what I hope was a good home with Dick for our kids. Over these last years, I have been struck again and again by how central my mother was in my own formation and ultimately, in the formation of my kids, and now my grandkids. She came from such a place of damage, with an alcoholic father and a mother who worked full-time. But she was found by God and loved by the aunts who helped to raise her, by those women at Trinity Methodist, and then by my dad. And that made all the difference.

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Although our brother Ken passed away in 2009, his kids were part of the day — R to L,
Christina and Jeremy Morgan (I had the great gift of marrying these two five years ago; they have an adorable baby boy who did not make the three hour drive with them); Jacob Gold and his fiance, Kevin Herrera. 

Of much deeper importance than the scars I bear from my early life, are the graces that mark me because of my mother. She was the primary spiritual influence on me for many years and I am so very grateful for that truth. She modeled the honest, searching spiritual journey. She also modeled loving hospitality, and a great sense of fun and creativity.

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Our eldest grandson Ben, who arranged for some fun home movies to run on the TV in the reception hall at The Samarkand and made a video of the service, catching up with our son-in-law, Marcus

What rises to the top is her goodness. Her generosity. Her great good humor, her searching intelligence, her love for us. My brother Tom said it on Facebook this last Mother’s Day, “Ninety-five years with us. Loving, smart, funny. Give me a choice of all the mothers in the world and I’d choose the one I had.”

Yup. Give me the choice of all the mothers in this world, I’d choose the one I had.

In a heartbeat.

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Several long-time friends from Pasadena made the drive north and stayed for dinner.

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A gaggle of granchildren

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I discovered this sweet note which I believe was created by the 11-year-olds and signed by a couple of the older grandkids. And late last night (after I had collapsed into bed!), my youngest granddaughter had her mom send me a text telling me she was sad that my mama died and that she loved me. I discovered it on my way out the door today to lead in worship — another story I’ll post about later this week. It was a rich, rich weekend. But. . . we’re really, really, REALLY glad it’s over now.

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One of the best things about memorial services is the reunion piece. It was wonderful to see cousins re-connect at three generational levels, to sit and visit with old friends, and to savor the beauty of a life, well-lived.

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We miss you, Mama. But we had a GRAND time saying good-bye. You would have loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Hair, Myself — SheLoves, August 2016

A fascinating theme this month — the single word, ‘hair.’ Well. What came to me, as I was traveling nearly 2500 miles on an epic road trip last month, was this bit of stuff about my grandmothers and me. I’d love to hear your thoughts/responses to that topic! Come on over and join the conversation!

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My paternal grandmother, Pearl Scott Smith Gold, at about age 80 (1960ish)

My Gran had long, thin, gray-and-white hair which she wore wound in a bun on the back of her head. It was a style reminiscent of the 1880’s or 90’s, and somehow suited her. For several years after my grandfather died, she would stay with us for two to three weeks at a time and shared my bedroom when she did. Every night of her stay, I would watch, fascinated, as she wound up chunks of that long, thin stuff around leather strips, which served as wave-setters while she slept. Then, in the morning, she would expertly comb and position every strand into a perfect loop, holding it in place with long hairpins.

My own hair at that stage of my life was the bane of my existence. It was almost as white as it is now, as my brother and I were complete towheads until we hit puberty, and it was thin and very, very straight. My mom thought it would be nice to have a curly-haired daughter, so she would periodically put me through the process of a permanent wave, which I considered to be nothing less than torture. The irony was, it never worked. Never. I would end up with frizz on half my head and stick straight hair on the other half.

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My brother Tom and I at about ages 3 and 5 – 1950ish — see?
Stick straight around the bottom, weird curls on top. Oy vey.

I think about us now, my elderly grandmother and my young self, and realize that what we think about, do with and understand about our hair say a lot about who we are and where we’ve come from. I come, on one side of my family, from that tall, thin, southern schoolmarm who married later than most and carried a lot of racial prejudice deep in her bones. On the other side, there was Nonnie, who was almost as wide as she was short (4’11”), lived with serious heart disease for half of her life (which extended 101 years despite that handicap), and began her own, very successful, business in her late 50s. She was an immigrant from Canada, and a very strong woman, though she hesitated to let that strength show, preferring to work underground in ways that were sometimes detrimental to the health of her family. While I knew her, Nonnie’s hair was short and curly.

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My maternal grandmother, Elsie Thompson Hobson, about 1980. She would have been 84 that year.

At this stage of my life, as I am staring at the last leg of my own journey on this planet, I remember with love and gratitude the contributions of those two women to the richness of my story. Gran would be shocked to discover that I served as a pastor in mid-life. I choose to believe that, after some thought and prayer, she would have been proud. She died when I was 18.

Nonnie, on the other hand, died the first year of my ministry life here in Santa Barbara. And as I commuted from the LA area for the first few months of that ministry, I would stop and visit her in the rest home which became her final stop. She grabbed my hand on one of those Thursday mornings and told me, through tears and with a fierce quality to her voice, that I was continuing the journey she never finished, a story I had never heard before that moment. She was headed to Winnipeg at the tender age of 19 to enter ministry training with the Salvation Army when she chose instead to marry the older, handsome man who had admired her singing on the street corners of Vancouver. That sweet moment of revelation provided one of the strongest benedictions of my life.

Each of my grandmothers survived difficult marriages, had their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses, carried within themselves deep intelligence (one educated, the other not) and pretty decent people skills. And Gran’s old fashioned hairdo and Nonnie’s more modern style said something about who they were.

I wonder, what does my own hair say about me?

Read the rest of this piece over at SheLoves today, won’t you?

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 21 — Stepping Up

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This picture is a gratuitous shot, taken the same morning as yesterday’s series of three at the end of the post. It has no particular connection to today’s theme, but I like to use the panorama feature of my iPhone when I’m standing in that vacant lot and this seemed like a good post to put this one in. And on today’s walk — be still, my heart! — there was a ‘for sale’ sign on that lot. Sob.

In these years of retirement from active pastoral ministry, I’m finding that I am stepping up to do some things that I couldn’t do as easily when I was employed and working on a church staff. And I’m having fun doing them, too. Herewith, a short list:

I am by NO means a professional photographer, but I have a fairly good eye and a moderately cooperative camera. So when I’m asked to take pictures of church activities that are then used in slide shows on Sunday mornings, I always say yes. If I’m in town and going to the event anyhow, why not?

I’m also serving on the nominating committee this year — short-term job, fairly easy. Why not?

We are doing more childcare for our local grandkids — their parents both work, we live nearby, we love those kids and they seem to like being with us, so again — why not?

If I get a call or a note from someone I’ve met online and they want to pursue the possibility of entering into direction with me, I always say, “yes.” I enjoy this work I do and online friends generally seem to be good candidates for a monthly skype session. Why not give it a try? If it works, great. If not, we’re still online friends, right?

I am available for my mom weekly for lunch, sometimes more than once, and to take her to the doctor/dentist or shop for her sundries. I’m here, nearby, she needs some help from me, so . . .yeah, I’ll own that. Why not?

If I’m asked to lead in prayer, read scripture, stay after the service and pray for others — and I am going to be in town, I will always say yes. Why not?

If I don’t have a good answer to that recurrent question ‘why not?’ —  I try to say ‘yes.’ This is a season for stepping up in ways that are both familiar and new, and I’m glad to be able to do so.

What kinds of things does your life allow you to ask, ‘why not?’ about these days? Not every season has room for a positive answer to that query, and I am in no way trying to ‘guilt’ anyone into anything. But I also want to encourage you to ask that question honestly wherever you can. And by ‘honestly,’ I mean looking at your whole life — all your current commitments — your energy level, your health, your marriage, if you’re married, your family, if you have one. If there is space for a step-up, then by all means, take it. If there is not, say ‘no,’ without guilt and without worry. There will be someone else.

It Flies By, I Tell You — It FLIES By!

We don’t have any little ones around these days. Our youngest granddaughter, whose name is Lillian (Lilly), started kindergarten yesterday, and I can hardly wrap my mind around that reality. She is so tall, so smart, so much fun!
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Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was this size?

IMG_0439She was just waking from her nap when I snapped this picture, during one of the earliest weeks she was with us after her mama returned to her medical practice. Twice a week for the next two and a half years she came to us — such joy! Having these last two grandchildren — and our only two girls out of eight — near enough to help with childcare has been one of life’s richest gifts during the last nine years.

But this week marks a whole series of turning points in our family circle. Dick & I are in a new-to-us, smaller home (if you want to follow along with our move and settling in process, sign up for my twice-monthly newsletter . . . and get a free eBook, while you’re at it! I send lots of pictures with each letter :-), our eldest grandson is earning his own way as a cinematographer, our second oldest begins his senior year at Pomona College, our 4th starts his senior year of high school, our 5th finishes middle school this year, our 3rd begins to scout colleges for next year’s application process, and our two gifts-in-the-midst-of-great-pain turn TEN this fall.  And, of course, that littlest one . . . well, I’ve already told you, she is no longer so little. 

And the truth is — I celebrate all this forward movement! This is the way it’s designed to be, this life of ours. We move through ages and stages, schools and jobs, relationships and self-awareness. All of these changes are good changes. But. They are changes. Visible and visceral reminders that we’re getting older, that we will not live forever, that we may very well not be around to see the youngest ones move through the transitions that the older ones are already enjoying. 

Our son texted us tonight with a picture of the brand-new, gaping hole in Lilly’s mouth. She lost her first tooth on day two of school. Yet another reminder that time stops for none of us. Try as we might, we have absolutely no control of its passing. None. No matter what the cosmetics industry might try to sell us, aging is inevitable and irreversible. Period.

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Yeah, this is a 70-year-old face, enjoying the company of my three female maternal cousins earlier this month. No one raises an eyebrow when I ask for the senior discount, far too many people offer to hold doors, help with grocery carts, and carry heavy objects. 

But here’s the thing:  I am still here. And I’m glad to be. There were a couple of moments during the year just past when I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be around for long. Much as I hope for heaven, I am in absolutely no rush to leave earth behind. I love my life, even the rough parts of it. And as long as there are people to love and good work to do, I want to be here, loving and doing. 

Yes, time flies. Those of you younger than 30 will not believe that last sentence. I didn’t either, especially when I had three babies under three and hadn’t slept in days. But hear me when I say it again: it goes by so fast. So live your life. Be present in each moment, see if you can resist the urge to hurry it along, find something to smile about at least once each hour and say thank you without ceasing.

Because if you reach my age, you’ll know this much: ALL OF IT is gift. Pure and simple, life is a gift. If you are blessed to live in a place that is free from war and extreme poverty, even if that place (like this place) is far from perfect, then you are among all people on this planet, truly gifted. Your gender or your age or your skin color or your sexual orientation may make your life more challenging at points. And yes, we all need to become more and more aware of how we each contribute to the ever-present sins of sexism, ageism, racism and homophobia, and we need to speak up for justice, goodness, truth and righteousness wherever and whenever we can.

I do not mean to downplay anyone’s pain and suffering. God knows, I’ve endured some myself and will continue to do so. So please hear me when I say this and know that I am fully cognizant of the struggle that often defines our days. Even so, your life is a gift. To you, to those who love you, to the world where you live, work, play, study, worship, contribute. 

So make the time, set aside the time, carve out the time if you have to — but stop once in a while and just breathe. In and out. And say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ as you do so. Somehow, that simple act can make all the difference.

Time will still fly by, make no mistake about that. But you’ll see it just a little more clearly as it marches on by you. And you just might find yourself blinking back tears as the beauty of it all spins its iridescent web around your heart.

Pentecost — One Week Late!

DSC04430As I noted in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe below), this is a crazy-making time in our lives. We’ve got a major move underway and a big family vacation right in the middle of it all. And I’m still (at least, partially) in recovery mode from several weird medical experiences of the past few months. So this post is about a week later than I had hoped it might be.

Through it all, we keep on truckin,’ by the grace of God and a whole lotta stubborn determination. One week ago we traveled south to be present for our middle daughter’s oldest son’s confirmation. Wesley is 17, just finished his junior year in high school and is contemplating college, right around the corner. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t he just a tiny kid who looked almost exactly like his mama?

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While we were there, we managed to sneak in basketball games for each of Wesley’s two younger brothers and I had the shopping joy of browsing a JC Penney, a store which my town hasn’t had for years. They have definitely upgraded their women’s clothing section!!

But the true highlight of the weekend was that Confirmation Service. We always love worshipping at Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena CA, and are regularly inspired by their creative worship and solid preaching. It’s been a good home for our kids and that makes this particular set of parents and grandparents very partial and very grateful.

It was Pentecost Sunday — a great day for welcoming young adults into full membership of the church. Two of the five kids were also baptized — a wondrous splashing of water from a beautiful wooden font.

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But the standout surprise moment for us happened during the children’s sermon. Pastor Matt invited the confirmands and about 3 of the littler kids to take hold of round, disc like objects which he had stashed up front. They were in shades of red, orange and yellow and as the kids began to handle them, I could see that they were circles of crepe paper streamers.

And here’s what we did with them. The kids tossed them out as far as they could, then the congregants picked them up and tossed them behind themselves until the back pew was reached. Then the back row tossed them toward the front until all the rolls were completely unspooled. It looked fabulous!

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Then we were instructed to raise those streamers above our heads and stomp our feet as fast as we could. “And that,” said Pastor Matt, “is just a small picture of what it must have been like when the Spirit showed up at Pentecost.” Wind and fire. Oh, YEAH!

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It was the perfect set-up for the kids’ vows and the gentle reading of a piece of their own personal credos, each one reading a portion that wove together into a modern version — a confirmation student version! — of the Apostle’s Creed. 

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At the end of the service, some helpful ‘stage hands’ moved forward a large white easel and a table spread with colored (washable) paints. And during the singing of the last hymn, we were invited to come forward, dip our thumbs into red, orange or yellow paint and make a mark on the sketched-in flames drawn on the easel.

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Everyone was involved, a bodily experience of community that I found profoundly moving.

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It’s not the most gorgeous piece of art you’ll ever see, but it is a lovely representation of this particular fellowship of believers and their commitment to be in this thing together.

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In the quiet space after the service, I snapped a photo of the finished flames, set against the draped cross. And I thanked God for this motley, crazy thing called ‘the church.’ We are far from perfect, but sometimes . . . sometimes, we get it right.

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Joining this with Jennifer, Lisha, Laura.

Taking the Backroad

Some days, nothing seems to work out quite as planned. Ever had one of those?

I had one yesterday. It seemed like everything was going all wrong, and yet . . . here’s what I learned in the midst of a whole lot of frustration and anxiety: when the pressure mounts, I need a backroad

A few details:

I had a birthday party to go to, one that required driving my Honda CRV about 130 miles. Not just any party, mind you, but a gathering of about 100 friends, old and new, celebrating a woman for whom I once worked and who has remained a delightful, long-distance, seldom-seen, but always-loved friend.

During the years since last we met, a lot has happened in both our lives. She enjoyed a successful 30 year career in fund-raising, I had a small floral business, attended and graduated from seminary and served as a pastor for a dozen and a half years. Now, we are both retired and keep in touch primarily through Facebook, of all things.

But this lovely invitation arrived from her children: please come and mark a milestone at a garden party on a Sunday afternoon in April. My husband could not go (for reasons you’ll understand shortly) and happily sent me off alone, knowing that I would pick up our middle daughter and take her along with me before spending the night with her family.

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Of course, this was the first time ever that we had our grand-girls for the entire weekend! It was pure delight — but their pick-up time came a few hours after I was due south, so it was a solo trip this time around.

We loved having our only two girls with us! On Saturday morning, we went to our local zoo — a beautiful location not far from us, where we enjoyed watching two recently born giraffes, saw a gorilla stuffing her face and wondered about a couple of very anxious small foxes, pacing back and forth behind their glass gate. After a quick lunch,  we just made it to the matinee of “Cinderella,” and surprised ourselves by actually loving the movie.

I will add here that each of our two nights with them brought 2:30 a.m. visits from the 5-year-old, who then slept with us in the middle of our king-sized bed, punctuating the next five hours with an occasional swift kick or sweet cuddle. 

All of it was great fun.

The undercurrent for the weekend, however, was this party, something I was curiously nervous about. It had been a very long time since I’d seen any of these people, it was very likely that the only people I would know would be her family and my own daughter, it was a long drive, there were too many details to pull together on top of caring for our girls for 48 hours, yada, yada, yada . .

I made pb & j sandwiches all around after we got back from church yesterday, loaded the car and backed out of the garage feeling tense and uncertain, pulling onto the freeway about 15 minutes later than I had hoped.

And then . . .
I hit a massive traffic jam about 25 miles out the door.

My anxiety level skyrocketed and I texted my daughter to have her husband check the traffic advisories for me (don’t worry, I did it hands-free, via bluetooth). Then, up ahead, I saw the exit for a backroad to the second freeway I needed to travel, a road we used to take many years ago, and I quickly took a sharp right and headed off to Highway 118.

Of course, as I did so, I could look down from the ramp and see that the traffic was beginning to break up on the main highway and my SIL’s text arrived telling me it would all dissipate and I’d have a clear shot.

But the die was cast and I just kept truckin’, as they say.

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And I’m so glad I did.

After about six long blocks of signals and small town traffic, I found myself on a long and winding two-lane road, cutting through orange groves, nurseries, low mountains and all-around lovely scenery. 

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It was a beautiful afternoon, and as I gazed out the windows, I could feel my shoulders unkink, my arms relax and my back settle more kindly into the seat.

I breathed a sigh and said, “Thank you, Jesus.”

I enjoyed every minute of that 18 mile detour, reveling in the beauty all around me, the somewhat slower-than-freeway speed of the traffic and the promise of what lay ahead.
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Just changing speed and direction helped me to shrug off the worry and embrace the anticipation, to offer a prayer of thanks for my friend and the kind invitation of her family, and rejoice that my girl was willing to go with me.

I stopped and changed my clothes at our daughter’s home, she came out to greet me looking adorable and then so kindly assured me that she knew exactly how to get there. And we were off!

We handed over our car to the valet (now be honest here, friends: how many times do you go to a private party where there is valet parking?) And as we filled out our name-tags, I watched my beautiful daughter connect with my friend’s adult children. They made us feel so welcome! Any remaining worry or uncertainty just melted away, I finished the relaxation process begun on that backroad, and we both enjoyed the entire event.


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It was a sunny, gently breezy afternoon and evening, beautiful hearty appetizers were served, everyone was friendly and kind. And the house was beautiful — complete with large koi pond, an outdoor kitchen, pool and hot tub and a divine patio area where we chose to sit down and eat a light supper comprised of truly well-prepared food.

Both of us were glad we came.

 

Sometimes, what we really need is a backroad, you know?

Sometimes, we need to pull out of the traffic, change the view, allow our bodies to unwind and our minds to re-charge. Sometimes we need to take that detour, disconnect from the usual, maybe even give in to the inevitable.

I know that what I most needed on that long drive was to re-learn this truth: hard-charging, over-anxiety is never a good thing. Never. 

There’s a reason the most frequent words out of the mouth of God in scripture are: “Be not afraid.” All along life’s way, I simply have to remember to trust: to trust the goodness of God, the faithfulness of friends, the beauty that is so often most present in the details.

I had not seen Lyla or her kids in nearly 25 years, yet they greeted us as dear friends. We began to catch up and even to make connections for the future. I also saw a few other old friends, enjoying brief conversations with each one.

Big social events are not my ‘thing.’ But you know what? This one was. 

And all it took for me to discover that . . . was a slight detour on a beautiful backroad.

 

Linking this with Laura Boggess’s “Playdates with God,” Lisha Epperson’s “The Sunday Community,” and Kelly’s “Small Wonders” series.

How to Live When the End Is Near — Deeper Story

It happens to all of us. I’m here to tell you, this is the truth: we all get old, some of us a lot older than others. And that day is here for me. Sigh. Truth be told, I still don’t quite believe it! You can start this little reflection here and then follow me over to one of my favorite places in the entire web, A Deeper Story.

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Four generations on Christmas Eve, 2014

This is a big year for me, one of those milestone numbers. It’s the year that my 3rd grade self decided would be the year I became really old. This is that year — 2015. I was born on January 23, 1945 (which means my birthday shorthand reads like this: 1-23-45. My father was convinced I’d grow up to be a mathematician, just like he was — but I fooled him. Big time.)

 

Yes, this is the year — in fact, this is the month — that I turn 70.

 

But I have something important to tell you right here: that number no longer feels old (as in decrepit). Yes, it does feel old (as in a lot of years), but inside this lined face and underneath this white hair? I feel like I’m about 45.

 

Aging is a strange phenomenon. The longer you live, the further out ‘old’ becomes. When I was 20, I thought 50 was ancient. But when I was 50, and still two years away from a new job that would keep me busy for a decade and a half, I thought 70 sounded old.

 

Now I’m 70 and you know what? 90 sounds ‘old’ to me these days.

 

So as I listened to the end-of-the-year sermon last month, a sermon focused on two of my favorite characters in Luke’s birth narrative of Jesus, I thanked God for every one of these years. For the privilege of walking around on this planet, with people that I love nearby, good work still to do and relatively good health and humor to enjoy. And it was the old codgers — Simeon and Anna — who helped me to say that ‘thank you,’ loud and clear.

 

You remember those two, right? The oldsters who were in the temple in Jerusalem? The ancient ones, the ones who had been waiting for the ‘comfort’ of Israel to show up. The ones who spent their days praying and hoping and looking, both of them described as righteous, devout and faithful. Those two may have been old, but they were still paying attention to the zeitgeist, they were two strong and deeply centered people, ever on the look-out for God’s promised one. . .

 

 

Come on over to ADS to reflect with on all three old people . . . Simeon, Anna and me!

 

 

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Remembering

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As this 31-Day Challenge draws to its close, it seems fitting to go back to where we began: with a picture of my littlest grandgirl’s shoes.
They’re not resting on our warm wooden floors in this shot. Instead, they’re sitting on the concrete deck of the swimming pool at the condo we rented on Maui. You can see some mud stains from all the rain puddles left over from tropical storm/hurricane Ana, which almost truncated our trip before it began. 
I remember when that original photo triggered the idea for this entire series, and when I do, I am grateful for the inspiration, and even more, for the process of writing each of these small pieces. I cannot remember a time when I’ve had more fun blogging than I have this past month.
It’s a really good thing to remember, isn’t it? Scripture admonishes us to do that very thing — over and over again. To recount our story, to tell it to our children and our grandchildren.
And it’s that idea which is behind the Ignatian practice of examen, a daily discipline that has been adapted in all kinds of ways by all kinds of people in the last few centuries.
Because of the particular journey I’ve been on the last few months, my nightly version is short and sweet. As I drift off to sleep, I call to mind every blessing of the day just past, beginning with small things and moving through to the bigger ones — like my husband and my family and my faith. 
It’s just a small thing, this nightly remembering, but it has been the single biggest part of my own recovery, both physically and emotionally. Spending those few minutes being grateful has done more to restore health and sanity than any other single thing I’ve done. 
And it starts with remembering . . .
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A Deeper Story: Stepping Into the Holy

I can’t even begin to put into words how grateful I am to be a small part of the Deeper Story community. Ours is a rare and wonderful space on these cyberwaves, filled with honest story-telling and great conversation. Please follow the link to read all of this post over there . . .

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It washed over me in a flood yesterday afternoon: I really love my life. Even when it’s hard, even when things I did not choose interrupt my forward progress on the way to where I thought I was going, even when I’m tired or sick or injured — I love my life.

 

I wasn’t doing anything particularly memorable at that moment. On the contrary, I was doing the usual — pulling together something resembling a meal for me and my husband. But there was this lovely, cool breeze flowing through the open kitchen window, the sun was shining, the wood floors were warm and smooth, the pantry was full, even the fridge was relatively well-organized and clean.

 

We’d had a surprise connection with our son for lunch earlier in the day, my mom was stable and smiling when I’d seen her the day before, the rest of our family was well and relatively happy, my foot was slowly healing. And, out of nowhere, I experienced a holy moment, right there in the middle of my green kitchen. So I stopped for a moment and I breathed a heartfelt, “Thank you!”

 

But here’s the flip side: even when I’m flooded with thanksgiving and delight like that, I too often find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

Do you know that feeling? That insidious inner warning bell that says, “Yeah, you be careful there, honey. Don’t be too happy. Sure, you can be grateful — but do it with a note of caution, all right? Things are going well right now. But just you watch. Right around the corner, something terrible is going to happen and then where will your ‘happy song’ go?”

 

And that sad little ‘ding, ding’ inside my spirit can sometimes keep me from fully appreciating the beauty that is right in front of me. That anxious feeling, that superstitious thinking, can too often torpedo my contentment, IF I let it.

 

And way too often, I do let it. I tone down the enthusiasm, I look for the hard/bad things in my life to offer as a counterweight to all the good vibes, I try to ward off impending doom with a strange kind of interior bargaining, struggling to keep the cosmic scales in balance.

 

Why is that, I wonder? Deep down, do I think I don’t deserve happiness? Am I living in a state of perpetual angst-ridden anxiety? Do I think “God is out to get me?” I’m not sure of all the deep-seated psychological and/or spiritual issues that come into play to create this strange little interior dance. I just know I’ve grown very, very tired of it. . . 

To read more, just follow this link and join the discussion.

31 Days of . . . Looking for the Little

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I’m not quite sure why I fall for this insanity every year, but fall for it I do. The Nester has been inviting bloggers to a 31-day challenge for several years now, and I’ve joined in for the last two.

Last year, it was 31 Days of Giving Permission . . .

The year before, it was 31 Days in Which I Am Saved by Beauty.

I will say, right out of the chute, that these posts, this year, will be far less ambitious than those were. A brief scroll revealed oodles of photos and way too many words. 

So this time around, I am committing to ONE photo and about 200-300 words each day. That’s it. And it’s in perfect keeping with the theme that flitted through my head when I was wondering what in the world to write about this year.

Our littlest granddaughter came to play with us this week because she wasn’t feeling 100% and wasn’t quite up to going to school. And as I walked by the door through which she hopped into our hearts, I saw her shoes, just sitting there.

And they grabbed me for the rest of the day.

She is four years old and growing up fast. A very tall and willowy girl, she’ll be graduating from high school in the blink of an eye.

But right now? She’s still little. And I want to see her in all the beauty of her littleness. I want to be on the lookout for that kind of beauty in the rest of my life, too. 

So for the month of October, I’ll be on talking about small things. Beautiful, quirky, interesting, thought-provoking — whatever.

But little.

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A line that I’ve used frequently in preaching is this one, courtesy of Robert Capon: “Jesus came for the lost, the least, the littlest.”

And that’s what I’m asking God to give me eyes to see this month — the little things. Join me?