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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring the Body — Remembering Ruth Gold: July 6, 1921 – April 19, 2017

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Beautiful Mom, about 1948.

For most of my life, my mother was my best friend. As she began to leave us, almost a decade ago now, the inexorable blade of dementia sliced her memory into ever smaller pieces. During these years of decline, I often wondered how I would endure, who I would become without her richly textured presence in my life. What I witnessed was remarkable: the very essence of who she was became ever more finely distilled, until only a small but brilliant shard of light remained. Slowly, I began to understand — it was enough. Even though I no longer had access to all the pieces of my mother, the stories and memories I had come to know over the decades, what I did have was lovely. In truth, it was a strange and beautiful gift. Not a gift that either of us would have chosen, but a gift nonetheless.

Not every dementia story unfolds the way my mother’s did, a truth which makes me grateful on multiple levels for this particular and exquisite experience. For the last five years, I have wandered through grief, shed copious tears, railed at God for the cruelty of this growing epidemic in our land and across the world. I have also fallen to my knees in gratitude for the shining core of her, that glorious flame that blazed up and out and into the core of every single person she encountered. As the limits of her world grew larger and darker, as she lost the desire to eat, to drink, to walk — even then, she found a smile, a sweet word of gratitude, an exclamation of complimentary joy. “You look so beautiful today!” she would say. “Thank you so much for your help.” Not one other syllable made sense toward the end, but those words of kindness remained.

Ruth was born in Duncan, a small logging town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, the second child and first-born daughter of Harry and Elsie Hobson. They gave her a long, cumbersome name, which included the names of some female relatives who eventually left mom two small diamonds. She gave those to me — and I managed to lose them both. Mom’s full name was Edith Lemody Ruth Hobson and she was a beautiful baby. They called her Ruthie.

Two years later, the Hobsons gathered up their little family and boarded a train, with siblings and cousins, and emigrated to southern California. Two little boys, my little mom, a second daughter ‘in the oven,’ two parents, three maiden aunts, a cousin or two, and an elderly grandfather arrived in 1923 and settled into a variety of Los Angeles neighborhoods. Mom rode the street car, roller-skated or walked all over what is now Hollywood and graduated from Hollywood High School in 1938. She went to UCLA for two years, and then quit when her family ran out of money; she always regretted never finishing her college career.

Mom’s father was a difficult man, and her mother worked. My mom became a surrogate mom to her siblings and found safe harbor in a local Methodist church. She met my dad there and they married in 1941 when mom was 20. I was born four years later, while they lived in San Diego. My dad taught math and physics at a military academy in that town during WWII — he was deemed entirely too spindly to join the army. In 1947, my brother Tom was born in a tiny town in central California where dad had an in-between teaching job while he waited for an opening at Los Angeles City College. When that job opened, we moved back to Los Angeles and bought our first house — a small, post-war tract home in North Hollywood. I was four years old.

All four of us attended that old Methodist church in downtown LA for the next eight years. I loved that place. My dad was the pianist, my mom sang in the choir, my brother and I went to Sunday School. It was at Trinity Methodist that I began to love choral singing — at the tender age of six. My mom made lifelong friends in that community and was the last one left from the old gang when she died last Wednesday afternoon.

Everywhere we lived, everywhere we worshipped, my mother made friends. Fast friends. I described her to the caregivers where she lived as, “The most flaming extrovert I have ever known.” Her gregarious and compassionate nature made her an excellent neighbor, an even better friend. In the earliest days of her dementia, I discovered that she regularly purchased small boxes of candy to take to her neighbors, to let them know she was thinking about them, to tell them they were loved.

In 1955, when I was almost 11 and Tom was almost 9, our youngest brother Ken was born. One month later, we moved across town to a different valley, from San Fernando to San Gabriel, buying an English Tudor style home in Glendale, CA. I endured (and enjoyed) adolescence in that home, learned to drive on the curvy hills of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and drove off to UCLA at the age of 17. Wanting to get my youngest brother into what they thought was a better school district, my parents moved to north Glendale while I was in college. That house was never my home in the same way that the previous two had been. I married a year later, graduated six months after that, and then my husband and I sailed off for two years of living and working in Africa.

While they lived in Glendale, my parents were active members of Glendale Presbyterian Church. Each of them served on Session, my mom on at least one pastoral search committee. They thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday school teaching of Paul Jewett, then a theology professor at nearby Fuller Seminary. My mother read widely, with a lively sense of curiosity and a commitment to growing in her faith. She read everything ever written by C.S. Lewis, Catherine Marshall, and Paul Tillich along with a long list of fiction writers. She instilled her love of language, reading, writing and beauty into the core of me at a very young age. 

She was also a ton of fun. She had an earthy sense of humor, loved to laugh, introduced us kids to British humor early on (anyone remember the “Carry On” movies??), and threw grand parties. She also decorated our homes on very little money, made most of my clothes and baked great birthday cakes. One of my daughters said to me last week, “One of my strongest memories of Momma was that she was always, ALWAYS, so happy to see me.” And that was real — she took delight in her family. De-light. Yes, she worried about us (especially Ken, whose life was difficult at many points and who died eight years ago.) But she loved us all and we knew it. Deep down, we knew we were loved. It was like oxygen — something that surrounded us always, something that gave us energy and life.

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Five generations – from lower left – Elsie Hobson, Ruth Gold, Diana Trautwein,
Lisa Fischinger, 
Ben Fischinger — taken in Orange County, 1991

My parents worked hard to create a good home for the three of us. There was one salary in our home, and that one a teacher’s salary, so we didn’t do fancy things. But we listened to all kinds of music on my dad’s home-built hi-fi set (or from his fingers at the keyboard), we camped all over California, and we enjoyed extended family gatherings on both sides, especially gatherings at some of the beaches along the southern California coast.

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Mom, doing what she loved more than almost anything else: boogey-boarding, Huntington Beach,
sometime in the 1980s, I think. She would have been in her early 60s.

Toward the end of his career as a professor and administrator at the junior college level, my dad had some serious health issues that required them to move out of the valley and closer to the sea. They lived in Oceanside for two years, then settled into a lovely town home in Mission Viejo, in Orange County. They loved that community and lived there for about fifteen years. In 2002, we moved them to a retirement community in LaVerne CA. My father died two and a half years later in February of 2005. My mom lived there independently until 2012, when Alzheimer’s put her into assisted living. The next year, we moved her to The Samarkand dementia unit, just ten minutes from our home here in Santa Barbara. 

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My parents, when they lived in Orange County

While they were in Orange County, I took the train south once each month for a long midweek visit. After they moved to LaVerne, I drove south monthly, then twice monthly, and stayed with our daughter, who lived about 30 minutes from there. All of those visits were an attempt to be as present as I could be with the two of them, and then with my mom, while their bodies breathed earth’s air.

Those bodies of theirs were holy to me, often in ways I didn’t fully understand. They had birthed me, loved me, tended me when mildly wounded or critically ill, clothed me, fed me and gave me away to my husband. (Yes, that is an outdated term, one that I no longer use, but it’s the truth of my lived experience in that season of my life.) I was with my father three days before his death, praying the blessing of Aaron over his unconscious, frail frame, telling him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for his care for me. When my brother called to tell me he had died, I asked that his body remain in the room until I could get there. Our bodies are supremely important collections of cosmic dust; they bear the image of an invisible God, they carry our stories, our selves. I wanted to honor him by honoring what remained.

Last week, I had the privilege of doing the same thing for my mama. Her journey took eight days, and every one of those days, I was by her side. Most of the time, I sat in front of a window, using only natural light. I put Pandora onto a hymn station and played it for hours. I finished a large crochet project. I called for more meds, as needed. I got up and blessed her face, stroked her shoulders. I ate the lunches I packed, I took occasional walks. I thanked every one of the Hospice team who came and cared for her so lovingly. One woman offered sponge baths, one offered quiet company, another brought her guitar and sang. The nurses were supremely skilled and compassionate, as were the caregivers at the facility. My pastor came twice, my friend Sherry, Samarkand chaplain for over twenty years, came daily.

Room 62 became holy ground during those long days.

At 4:32 p.m. on Wednesday, Sherry and I stood beside her and my friend said, “Look! Her eyes are open!” Those eyes had been closed for most of the previous five days. Her breathing was quite labored at this point, but as her eyes flew open, the noise stopped. She gasped twice and looked right into my eyes as I blessed her, thanked her, loved her. And she flew. I mean she flew to Jesus in those moments. I had been visualizing my father, my brother, her siblings, her parents and so many of her friends all around that room for days. And I do believe that in that moment, she saw them. And she was not afraid.  

All those dear ones welcomed her home — with love, joy and laughter. This I know, in the deepest part of me, this I know.

We will bury her on Tuesday morning, dropping her earthly remains into the grave plot she will share with my dad. We will hold a special service of worship to celebrate her life on May 20th at 2:00 p.m. in The Chapel at the Samarkand, the place that she called, ‘my church.’

Over and around the fatigue that I feel at this end of the journey, the strongest emotion in my heart is gratitude. It absolutely overwhelms me at some moments. There is sadness, yes, there is sadness. But over and around and in between everything else, there is thanksgiving. For 95 years, she graced this earth, 72 of them with me in the center of that grace. 

Thank you, Mama. And thank you, God.

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November, 2015, last formal portrait

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April 7, 2017

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Fourteen

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Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

Okay, so my idealized vision of the new heavens and the new earth will always include a beach scene! Yes, it will. And this gem of a passage from the prophet Isaiah is one of my favorite apocalyptic words ever. That’s a style, you know. A literary genre, not a scary, dystopian vision for the future, but a promise of great and glorious things to come. Too often, we use the word ‘apocalypse’ to describe something hellish and terrifying. But in reality, it is good news. Truly good news.

It’s a word that says this is not all there is. It’s a word that tells us to look forward with hope. It’s a word of promise, of beauty, even of joy. And joy is the thread that weaves its way throughout these verses, don’t you think?

Right here, at the one-third mark of our journey through Lent, we have the good gift of a passage that centers on JOY. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Read this through several times. Highlight the words or phrases that speak most strongly to you of joy, of promise, of hope. Then tuck those words into your Bible, or your notebook, or your heart and take them with you as we continue to walk together to the cross. They will be good companions on the way, I promise. The best.

Lord of Joy, thank you for Isaiah’s words today at the two-week mark. Thank you for this picture of glory, of wholeness, of fruition. Help us to cling to this picture when life today feels hard. Help us hold onto hope. Thank you.

The Truest Advent

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I sit and watch the light play across the beautiful angles of her face. Even at 95, those cheekbones are breathtaking. She is tired today, battling a mild infection, with little to no appetite and even less energy. The sharp angle of the winter sun is unexpectedly flattering as it gently flickers through the window, and I draw a sharp breath as those too-familiar tears begin to form behind my eyelids. 

“Oh, Mama! I love you so. Please, Lord, let her go to sleep and wake up in the New Creation. Enough, okay? Enough.”

But who really knows how much is enough? I don’t have any special insights, only my own bedraggled emotions and growing fatigue. To me, it feels like it is time. Time to be released from this ‘body of dust,’ time to rest from the struggle, time to breathe in and never breathe out again.

We did not go out to lunch today; we barely made it from the dining room to her own sweet space, with its lounge chair in the corner, by the window. “My arms!” she cried softly as we walked. “They ache.”

Truth be told, everything aches. Every cell in her body.

As she slept in that chair, I moved my hand slightly, the one that she was clasping with both of hers. She roused a bit, turning to look in my direction.

“Oh, Mama! Thank you for being such a good, good mother,” I cried.

She didn’t understand me, so I said it again, more slowly, more loudly. She smiled slightly and said a simple, “Thank you.” Somehow her half-sleepy state made the usual questioning unnecessary. There were no confused looks, no puzzled frowns. None of this response: “I’m your mother?? Really??” 

None today. None at all.

One week ago, that’s all I heard. I came home shaking my head at my husband. “I don’t know how much more of this repetition I can navigate! We spent our entire 90 minutes together today asking and attempting to answer the same 5-6 questions — over and over and over again. Oh, Lord, give me patience!”

He and I were getting ready to leave town the next morning, our annual anniversary getaway to parts north. We both needed it — time and space to savor an ocean view, good food prepared by someone else, and quiet time together — no expectations, no obligations, no schedule. And it was good. Very, very good.

They called me from the dementia unit as we were driving home yesterday. “She has a UTI and a low-grade fever. Is it all right with you if we put her on antibiotics?” 

Yes, it was all right with me. UTIs make dementia much worse and increase confusion and disorientation. She doesn’t need any escalation of those symptoms and neither do I. But this time around, the infection plus the added medication led to extreme exhaustion — one more sign of decline, diminishment. 

And yet, as painful as it is to watch that happen, this time I will admit that my primary response is relief and gratitude. She is heading in one direction only; and today’s exhaustion underlined that truth for me. My mother is very old. She is very frail. She is extraordinarily confused.

She is also beautiful, grateful, loves people (even when she hasn’t a clue who they are), sings the old songs and hymns with a higher degree of accuracy than her illness might lead you to expect, and generally enjoys her life. It is not up to me when that life will end on this side of the mysterious veil that separates us from the eternal.

There are, however, some decisions that are up to me. When and how to treat illness, for one. I think I know what I will and will not allow — mom and I discussed it all, long before dementia took over — but until illness or accident happens, I suppose it’s all pretty hypothetical.

So, in addition to those prayers for patience, I also pray for wisdom, grace, kindness and insight as my mother moves ever closer to the end of her long and remarkable life. I will miss her presence in my life more than I can adequately put into words, more than language will allow.

 

Then again, I have been missing her for a very long time.

“Oh for grace to trust him more!”

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Fifteen

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The longer I live, the more I welcome and appreciate the celebration of the sacraments — eucharist and baptism. Setting aside everyday things like bread, wine/juice and water, and then inviting the Spirit of God to bless those simple things in an extraordinary way — well, it’s the best thing going, at least for me. Which made my experience of communion this month difficult for me. The truth is — I was distracted. We had guests whom we did not know well seated with us, I was singing in the choir, which required me to to exit my row just before the words were spoken and then take the elements in the balcony, where things were a tiny bit confusing. All of it added up to my not paying attention well and thereby missing the point.

Paying attention is important in lots of ways, it seems.

When I was on retreat in early September, the tiny group of us gathered at Mater Dolorosa enjoyed a small, intimate service of communion together in the beautiful chapel on the grounds there. The goblet and plate pictured above were part of that service.

Sometimes in small communion services, the leader will invite people to go forward alone — to partake when they feel ‘ready.’ Always, always, always — this jars me and I cannot do it. My understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Table is that it is communal — even if the community is as small as one bed-ridden parishioner and one pastor — and that the elements are offered, one to the other. They are received, not taken. That might seem like a pretty fine distinction to some, but for me it’s an important one. So my good friend, Sherry, who was seated next to me (and with whom I’ve had conversations about this very thing) whispered to me, “Would you like to go up with me and offer it to one another?”

And so we did. Then each of the other three opted to receive them from one of us, too. It felt right to pay attention to that small detail and I’m glad we did.

Our church community enjoyed the second sacrament a bit unusually last month. The picture below is of our beautiful baptismal bowl, made for us by the same talented Seattle artist who designed all of our stained glass windows. I love it’s curves, its soft turquoise color and the way the water is both visible and invisible within it. In our tradition, we offer both infant and adult, or believer, baptism. This particular baptism was an ‘adult’ one, but it was for a 4-year old boy. A special 4-year-old boy who had talked it over carefully with his parents and with his pastors and very clearly said that he understood what it meant and why it was important. And so, all of us together, listened to and then spoke the words together, the beautiful words that signify our remarkable passage from death to life, the words that commit us to one another as a body of believers.

And I loved paying attention to every word.

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Liturgy is important in my life. What about you? Do you enjoy beautiful words of worship that are familiar and frequent?

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31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Twelve

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Even though it came in the midst of a month of retreats and over-commitment, I signed up for a poetry workshop a few weeks ago. You need to understand that I am a lover of poetry, but not a writer of it. In point of fact, I find it terrifying and more than a little bit intimidating. But this small workshop was offered at our beautiful Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and was led by a favorite person, Dr. Paul Willis, Professor of Literature at Westmont College. So I gulped, and sent in my registration. We met in the beautiful library and quickly learned that we were going to spend 90 minutes together. During that time, we would hear a variety of poems, talk a bit about what we heard and then spend time practicing poetic thinking as we wandered the beautiful natural setting surrounding the museum.

Paul introduced us to a wonderful and practical way to pay attention. We were divided into groups of 4-5 people and told to wander the grounds for about 20 minutes, led by one member of our group at a time — in complete silence — to some slice of creation selected by that person for us to observe for a few minutes. Then, we were to write out a metaphor in poetic form about what we were seeing. That much ‘poetry’ I was willing to try!

Of course, I grabbed my camera for our silent walk. There were four people in my group and throughout this month, I’ll be interspersing both the picture and the words that came to me on that Saturday afternoon, with a bit of commentary, just for fun. Our first ‘leader’ was a young man, a recent graduate of Westmont, who fairly quickly took our quartet over to this bushy shrub. Not a lot to look at, you might think. But we each came up with something. It was such fun to read them all — just within our group of four — at the end of the workshop. Here’s mine . . .

a 4-sided star
brightens the
dark-hued stem,
waiting its turn
to darken
and fall

It’s hard to see from this photo that the leaves were in quartets on this shrub. I noticed that almost all my metaphors circled around a common refrain of transition/change/aging. Hmmm. . . wonder why that might be?

I thoroughly enjoyed this exercise and heartily recommend it as a practical way to practice paying attention. Give it a try and let me know how you like it!

The Seven Sorrows

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I snuck in through the back gate, carefully closing it so that the family of deer grazing nearby could not enter the enclosed garden. Miraculous rain had fallen during the night and the air was crisp and cool, with a slight breeze from the west. The small labyrinth on the grounds of Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center was my first target that morning — I love to walk and pray, and if there is a dedicated pathway for such walking and praying, I head straight toward it. These deer were just to the east as I slowly wound my way to the center of that stone-marked pathway and back out again. They were lovely – young, strong, alert.

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The garden site took me to an entirely different place, one of tears and remembering, of death and dying, though there was beauty to be seen on all sides. The wisteria arbor pictured above was the first thing I saw as I clanged the gate behind me. Stretching out on both sides to form a circle, the entire 15-feet wide pathway fully enclosed a special, set-aside space: The Garden of the Seven Sorrows. This is a space marked for contemplation on the sorrows that Mary carried throughout her life as a mother, an idea new to me, and a surprisingly welcome one.

We Protestants don’t often think about Mary, do we? We tend to forget the depth of her spiritual maturity, her shocking availability to God. Would you be so open? Would I?

There are six niches around the circle, each with an exquisite and colorful mosaic depicting the sorrows that are mentioned in the gospel narrative. There are benches, a variety of both green and blooming plants, a fountain in the center, and a striking bronze statue duet, life-sized and haunting in its detailed depiction of mother and son locking eyes as Jesus drops the cross on his way to Calvary. That statue represents the seventh sorrow, and I saw it first from the back.

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I walked around, under the arbor, to begin my pilgrimage at the beginning, stepping into each niche in turn and then returning to the center magnificence to further contemplate that bronze tableau, this time from the front and from the side. I invite you to come along with me as I walk, enjoying a more distant view and then a closeup of each sorrow in turn. Take a moment to savor the detail, to reflect on the moment captured by the artwork. See what rises in you.

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It began in the earliest days of her motherhood experience, didn’t it? Taking her new little boy to the temple for blessing and dedication, Simeon had a hard word for her
“. . . and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

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Joseph holds the infant Jesus and the heart of Mary beats almost out of her chest at Simeon’s heavy words. Eight days old and her heart is filled with foreboding.

The Second Sorrow focuses on the flight into Egypt. With a toddler in tow, Mary and her husband were forced to flee their homeland, not knowing exactly when they might return. This is, to me, a poignant picture of the plight of so many refugees in our world today — forced out, running away to a foreign place, uncertain about the future, wanting protection and safety for their family.

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Sorrow Three comes twelve years later, when Jesus remains in the temple, worrying his parents by his absence, and then by his response: “Didn’t you know, Mother? Didn’t you know where I would be?” 

Do we know where our children are? Can we?

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img_0634The artist has managed to capture Mary’s pain and confusion, using just small pieces of colored ceramic. Jesus is rapt, his hand raised and open. Always, his hands were open.

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And this is Sorrow Four — the only one not specifically recorded in scripture, but one that surely could have happened — Mary meeting her son on the road. I do not know who the artists were, for either the mosaics or the sculpture, but I am grateful for them and to them. This is one of the most moving sights I’ve ever experienced. Contemplate the detail on their faces with me, won’t you?

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Deep grief marks a person in every way — physically, emotionally, spiritually. Her tears elicit my own.

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And Jesus turns to look at his mother, his mama. How difficult this entire event must have been for both of them. The gospel writers give us tiny glimpses; artists take those glimpses and give us wider, deeper vistas.

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I think he must have been a strong man — I like the musculature outlined here. But he was also a very weary man at this point in the journey, a heartbroken man. And all of that shows in that face. All of it.

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Though I do not subscribe to the Catholic doctrines about Mary, I completely understand how they developed. The mother-son bond is a strange and wondrous one, and like it or not, we moms are of primary importance to and a strong influence on our children, daughters and sons alike. While I believe the Catholic church has overplayed the importance of that bond, I fear we Protestants have seriously underplayed it. 

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And here is the one we are probably most familiar with — Sorrow Five — Mary watching her beloved son die on that tree. The apostle John appears to the right, turned away from the sight; Mary looks, but weeps. What must that have been like?

img_0642The Sixth Sorrow is the one made famous by Pietas across the ages — Mary holding her son as he is taken down from the cross. “Has there been any sorrow like unto my sorrow?”

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The final sorrow comes at the gravesite. The women are all there and it is hard to know which one is Mary. Who do you think it is?

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The rose bush effectively hid all of their faces, but I snuck my camera around the blooms and thorns and got each of them:

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As I walked this beautiful, yet somewhat strange new circle, I found myself saying, ‘thank you,’ over and over again. Thank you to the Son, yes, of course. Of course. But also — thank you to the mother, the dear mother, the one who said ‘yes’ to the mystery, who opened herself to unspeakable pain, who loved her child with her whole heart. She was not perfect, but she was deeply good and I am grateful.

As I turned to leave this glorious space, I noticed a flash of color just off to my right. Two colors, to be exact — two colors of the church year, in point of fact: red (this one was pinkish) and purple — red for sorrow and purple for royalty. Seemed fitting, somehow. Perfectly fitting.

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We will return to this same retreat center in 18 months. You can be sure that the Garden of the Seven Sorrows will be a part of my own meditative experience in 2018. It will be springtime then. How lovely!

Remembering Who We Are — a Sermon

Preached at Montecito Covenant Church, Sunday, June 19, 2016, 10:00 a.m.

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Have you ever had one of those days when you wonder, “How in the heck did I get here?” Yeah? Well, me, too. In fact, today happens to be one of those days! How in this crazy world do I happen to be standing here, in this pulpit, struggling to find words that might bring both hope and challenge in the midst of the unspeakable pain, fear, and hate that seem to be exploding all around us in recent days?

Despite the fact that words of all kinds have been flying fast and furious — over the airwaves, across the internet, in conversations by the water cooler or on the street corner — very few of those words have been either hopeful or challenging. Gratefully, I discovered that the words set before us this week in the Common Lectionary are exactly those kind of words: ones that bring both hope and challenge,

You’ve heard three of our four texts already this morning — the beautiful psalm that we sang at the beginning, the one about the longing we sometimes feel for the presence of God; and then the words that Anna Sung so beautifully read for us earlier in the service, those strong words of encouragement in Paul’s letter to the Christians at Galatia, contrasting the work of the law with the work of the Gospel; and the narrative from Luke, the story of the man released from a legion of demons and restored to himself.

As sometimes happens in the lectionary design, all of these readings help to point us in the same direction today — the direction of hope, the direction of transformation, the direction of remembering who we are.

 Well, at least they point us in the direction of who we say we are, those of us who show up in this place on Sunday mornings. We claim to be those whose hearts long for God, people who are set free from legalism, women and men released from all kinds of demons, being brought back, day by day by day, to our best selves.

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And now, Scripture lesson number four speaks to those things as well. For this reading, we turn to Elijah, that wily, wiry, complicated, faithful, sometimes cranky, always interesting old prophet. Elijah is perhaps second only to Moses in the pantheon of great forerunners in the Old Testament. And like Moses sometimes did, our man Elijah finds himself in a hard place in today’s lesson. His world has quite literally gone to hell in a hand basket, and he is feelin’ it.

In the chapters just before the one we’ll look at today, Elijah has been very, very busy. Busy doing the good and difficult work of a being a prophet, and God has looked out for him in some miraculous ways. But . . . here’s the hard truth of this deal: God has also given him a job for which no one is ever thankful. That’s the problem with being a prophet, you see. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say. Yet, what a prophet says is almost always of utmost importance, can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, can sometimes even change the course of history.

I encourage you to read this saga for yourselves sometime later today — all of Elijah’s adventures in 1 Kings are found in the two chapters preceding the one before us today, chapters 17 and 18. But before you hear today’s passage from chapter 19, I want you to understand this: Elijah is a good guy. His very name means ‘faithful to Yahweh,’ the very personal self-chosen-title that God had given to Moses, so many centuries earlier.

Also important to remember is that Elijah has just come through an experience of demanding spiritual warfare, up there at the top of Mount Carmel, a place where the God he serves showed up, big-time.

In a perfect world, Elijah should have been celebrating at the beginning of our chapter today. He’s experienced some real success as a prophet, working in a dangerous time, with some very dangerous people. But enjoying success is not where the man is. No, not at all.

Listen for yourselves. I’ve invited some friends to read it for us today — open your Bibles to this text, by all means. But for now, just listen. Take in the story.

Insert here a 3-voice readers’ theater version of the morning text.

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 Oh, how I love this story! I really, really do. Why do I love it so? And why do I think it’s an important story for us right now, at this moment in time? First of all, I think it’s important because of two things that are found in most biblical narratives: this is a story that teaches us about ourselves, and, this is a story that teaches us about God.

Most of all, though, I love this story — and I believe it to be a story that is immediately applicable to the current state of the world and of the church — I love this story because it is TRUE. This is a story that is true in the biggest sense of that word. Whether or not what we have here is marked by incontrovertible, historic and factual accuracy or not, (and I choose to believe that it is), this narrative is one of the truest depictions of the human condition I’ve ever read anywhere. It speaks profoundly to our deep need for connection — to God, to ourselves, and to one another — and it also speaks to our need for a sense of purpose, especially when life feels overwhelming. This is a story about flight that becomes pilgrimage, of exhaustion transformed by refreshment, of deep discouragement relieved by renewed purpose.

And underneath it all, it is a journey that is at the same time inward, upward and outward — three words which pretty succinctly describe what is of primary importance for this moment in time, as well as for the old prophet on that long ago wilderness trek.

We begin with inward. I think all the best journeys begin this way — AA, in step 4, calls it ‘taking a searching and fearless moral inventory’ — and it’s tough to do. Hitting the wall is not fun, reaching bottom is, quite literally, the pits. But, oh!, it is so important.

Our friend Elijah is just plain done. And he says so, loud and clear. “I have had enough, Lord!” he cries. “Kill me now!” The man has worked hard, hard, hard. He’s been faithful and true. He’s been obedient to the word of the Lord as he understood it. And Jezebel was one scary queen. She had tremendous power and was viewed as the earthly mouthpiece for mighty Ba’al, the foreign god she and her husband Ahab were encouraging the Israelites to worship. So a threat from her, is a threat indeed. King Ahab didn’t seem to phase Elijah much. But Jezebel? He was outta there.

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Now intellectually, he must surely have known that Yahweh was greater, right? He’d just seen ample evidence of that on the top of Mt. Carmel, in the great battle of the Dueling Altars. Yet somehow, these words from Jezebel — coming to him through the mouth of a ‘messenger,’ we’re told — these are the words that finish him off.

Elijah is isolated, lonely, undone. So he runs immediately for the border, dumps his faithful servant, and then heads out into the boondocks, more alone at this point in time than he has ever been.

Why is it that when we’re feeling most alone, we so often do everything in our power to make sure that we ARE alone? Some scholars see this act as Elijah’s way of making a clear statement that he is DONE with the propheting gig. “See, Lord, no servant. Therefore, no work to do, right?” Whatever his reasons, the man who feels alone, is, now, indeed, alone.

Except.

Something quite wonderful happens. The text uses the exact same word here as the word applied to Jezebel’s servant — mal’ak — messenger. And because this entire story is told in a favorite Hebraic literary form called a chiasm, the double use of the word fits beautifully. A chiasm is an elegant structure that sets up parallels in a story or a poem from beginning to end, so that if you look at an outline of the entire story you can see how each piece from the beginning is resolved at the end.

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So, a messenger — called an ‘angel’ in most of our English translations — meets Elijah right here, in the middle of that vast wilderness, as he struggles to find a little shade under the scrawny branches of a solitary broom tree.

You know, I’ve never seen an angel with wings and a halo. But oh-my-word — I’ve seen lots of angels with flesh on ‘em over the years. Just this weekend, a ‘messenger’ from God spoke to me in a moment of panic and uncertainty. Three times. Three different angels from this congregation sent me single line texts, at exactly the right moment, saying they were praying for me as I worked on this sermon. So no matter what this particular messenger/angel looked like, I believe this person was a divine visitation. And here’s what I want us to pay particular attention to: the angel/messenger knew EXACTLY what Elijah needed most at this moment: he needed rest, he needed something to eat, he needed something to drink.

When we or someone we love — or even someone we don’t know personally, but care about very much, like all those who have suffered from the latest abominable massacre in our country, this horror in Orlando — when people are suffering and struggling, the very first and best thing that we can do is to see that their immediate physical needs are met. That’s why relief agencies step into crises with tangible gifts — water, food, cots to sleep on, counselors to meet with.

What is not needed in that first moment of crisis are words of condemnation, judgment, criticism, or conjecture. Elijah didn’t need that messenger to tell him he was acting like a coward. He didn’t need a voice labeling him an unforgiven sinner. He didn’t need any response other than the one he got: a gentle acceptance of his exhaustion, and the fulfillment of his at-the-moment, most pressing needs.

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And after those first needs are met, what Elijah received next was of equal importance: he heard kind words. Yes, he heard kind words, laced with empathy and understanding: “Get up and eat some more,” the messenger said to him, after he’d had some sleep and some food and some water. “Get up and eat some more, for there is a long journey ahead of you.”

Some translations write that last line this way: “For it is too much for you.”

Exactly.

“It is too much for you.”

What has happened to our LGBT brothers and friends is too much for them. What has happened to our rational, peace-loving Muslim sisters and friends is too much for them. The ugly, hate-filled, side-swiping verbiage happening in our recent political conversation is too much for all of us.

And the best thing we can contribute — after any and all physical needs are met — the best thing we can offer in the midst of exhaustion and hatred is this: kind, sensible, true, loving words.

And only those words. In the immediate aftermath of crisis, we all need to sit down next to the person who is suffering and offer a kind and loving presence. There will be a time for action.There will. But not now.

And so, having slept, eaten, been refreshed by water, our hero sets off across the desert, heading for the Mount of God, called Horeb in this text, an alternate name for Mt. Sinai, that fabled place where Moses met God, and received the tablets of the law.

When I hit the wall at the end of 2001, while I was serving here as Associate Pastor, I took care of my physical needs first. I was exhausted and discovered I was also anemic. So I began to treat that. I was taking some medicines that were making things worse, not better, so I stopped those meds. And there were a few, not a lot, but a few, friends who called or wrote or visited and brought me kind words, too.

But the single most important thing that happened during those months of recovery was that I began to sink into worship, daily worship, using a big red book called “Celtic Daily Prayer” with an accompanying CD. I loved that book — and I used it so often the cover fell off! Experiencing deep periods of worship was what eventually restored me to myself, and to my ministry here.

And that is exactly where our friend Elijah is headed. He is headed to meet God.

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Forty days and forty nights he traveled, which is an old Hebraic way of saying that this trip was perfect, it was complete. And he heads now on the upward part of his journey, both physically and spiritually — up, up, up, he climbs, landing himself inside a cave — maybe the very cleft where Moses had been lovingly placed for his own protection when HE met God on that very mountain.

And then . . . And then we get this remarkable interchange, this wonderful doubly-done conversation. God asks a simple question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Wow. What a question.

What are you doing here, Diana?

What are you doing here, Jon?

What are you doing here, Jim?

What are you doing here, Linda?

What are you doing here???

 Holy mackerel — the question of the ages, right?

What are we doing here? Are we being the church? Are we loving our neighbors? Are we engaging in spiritual warfare, as our pastor as so eloquently instructed us these last four weeks? Are we offering kind words to one another, and to the world around us? Are we living love, all day, every day? Are we open to the very real possibility that God might be doing something new and powerful in us, in the church, in the world?

What are we doing here?

And Elijah gives answer. And boy, it’s a pretty self-serving answer, isn’t it???

“I’ve done my job, Lord. I’ve done what you told me to do. And these people — the ones you sent me to — these people, they’re the ones who’ve messed up. And now I AM ALL ALONE. I’m the only one. Just me. Just little ol’ me.”

And the Lord is so deeply kind in response: “Go outside your cave, friend,” he says. Stand there before me.”

But I want you to catch something here. The text says simply that Elijah ‘stood there’ in verse 11, just as the Lord begins to ‘pass by.’ But skip over all the drama for a second and look at verse 13. Do you see it there? The wind, and the earthquake, and the fire go by, bringing with them majesty, chaos, destruction, HUGE reminders of the power of God. Yet the text very carefully tells us that God was not in ANY of these. No. After all the bells and whistles, there comes the ‘sound of a gentle whisper,’ or the ‘sound of silence,’ as my favorite interpretation puts it. And at THIS, verse 13 tells us, Elijah wrapped himself in his cloak, and THEN, he stepped to the entrance of the cave.

Unlike Moses, whom the Lord placed into the cave for his own protection, God invites Elijah to come out of the cave and to stand before Yahweh. And somehow, Elijah cannot even respond until . . . the silence is as overwhelming as the loneliness. Isn’t that interesting?

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Now whether this is evidence of Elijah’s superior and astute judgment about what constitutes the presence of God or yet another example of how truly out of it he was, or a beautifully drawn picture of how deep his need was, I don’t pretend to know. The text doesn’t tell us those things.

Whatever got him out there on that ledge, Elijah now stands in the very presence of God and hears God ask the very same question Elijah has already answered: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And here’s the kicker: Elijah gives exactly the same answer.

There is no sudden stab of insight. There is no increasing clarity or sign of intelligence. There is only, and I use this word very carefully, there is only obedience. The Lord says, “Stand here.” He’s late to respond, but he does it. The Lord asks, “What are you doing here?” And Elijah answers. Again. But I gotta say, something is happening here. I’m not completely sure what it is, but I have a few hunches. Because here is what happens at the very end of our narrative today: the Lord says to Elijah: “Go back the way you came.”

Go back the way you came?

Yes! The journey is reversed. The inward and upward journey is now, once again, the outward journey. Much like walking the prayer labyrinth, we walk in, and we walk out. But it is what happens right there at the center that makes the difference.

What we don’t see in the text of the morning is what comes next — and it’s important, too. God gives Elijah new marching orders — basically, he is re-commissioned as a prophet. BUT, this time, he is to find and anoint his own successor, so Elijah knows there is an end game in view.

And then — and oh, how I love this little add-on — and then, God carefully and clearly says to Elijah, “Oh by the way, you are not alone. You have never been alone. There are 7,000 — count them! — seven zero zero zero others who have been faithfully worshipping me all this time.”

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How gracious is this whole conversation? One worn-out, burnt-up old prophet, wrapped in his cloak, still feeling old and tired and done. And one remarkable God, who sees Elijah — all of Elijah — and says, “You belong to me, old man. Warts and all, weaknesses and all. And I am not done with you just yet. No way, no how.”

God calls Elijah to remember who he is. In the midst of his sorrow, even in the midst of his inability to truly see the goodness that is right around him, in the midst of it all, God says, “You. You right there. I’ve got work for you. Good work. So, take a deep breath, take a good look at me. And remember who the heck you are, okay?”

Oh friends. When we face days where we wonder how the heck we got here, can we remember this?

Can we remember the goodness of God?
Can we remember the truth that we are NEVER alone?
Can we look for angels in the faces of the people who help us?
Can we go deep into worship, seeking the presence of the Living God?
Can we climb whatever mountain is in front of us, confident that we won’t be alone                            there, either?
Can we reach out in love to individuals and groups who are being unjustly treated                              and persecuted?
Can we engage in spiritual warfare with the only real weapon we’ve got, the ever-                                present, all-inclusive love of God?
Can we be ready to answer that ages-old question: What are you doing here?

Can we remember who we are?

Oh, I hope so. I pray so.

Let’s begin by singing, with courage, the powerful words of the song in our bulletins —

             “Through it all, my eyes are on you, through it all, all is well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at the Whole Truth

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“Oh, Diana,” friends tell me, looking into my eyes with tenderness and concern. “You are so lucky to have your mom still with you!”

I offer a small smile, nod my head and reply, “Yes, I know that I am.”

And I do know that. I do. But there is also this other truth, ever-present and insistent. The hard, hard truth that the lovely old woman inhabiting my mother’s body is not at all the mother I have known for most of my life. She is beautiful to see, kind to everyone around her, breaks into old hymns multiple times an hour, and loves to visit the outside world.

But she is not my mother. At least, not in the ways that I wish she could be.

That woman, that mama, has been slip-sliding away for nearly a decade now, steadily losing pieces of herself. And as she drifts further and further from me, I feel as though there are large chunks of me fading into the ether right along with her. Huge chunks of my own history are gone forever, never to be found again. 

I miss my mother. I miss being known by her. I miss sharing history with her, I miss swapping stories, wrestling with hard truths, reading books, going to the movies, taking trips, making fudge, having her give me driving directions, watching her interact with my children and grandchildren, marveling at her insight into people and situations, laughing at her ribald jokes. 

She is here with me in physical form, and for that I give thanks. But she is not here in any of the ways that make her my mother. She is a beautiful, loving, sometimes forlorn, and very old woman. On July 6th, she will be 95, a fact that startles her every time I tell her. Last week, she turned to me and asked, “I wonder who I am?” 

I wonder who I am! 

Ah, Mom. I wonder, too.

 

As I stood under the shower’s spray this morning, I offered small prayers of thanksgiving:

     “Thank you, Lord, for hot water and plenty of it.”
     “Thank you, Lord, for my good husband and his careful attention to our finances.”
     “And thank you, Lord, for my sweet mama . . .”

And with those words, I found myself sobbing. Not gentle tears these, but hard-wrought, heart-felt, gut-wrenching sobs. “Where is this coming from?” I wondered. Most of the time, the tears are far away these days, leading me to believe that I have come to some place of peace and acceptance about the way things are. But today’s meltdown reminds me that below the surface, my own emotions about mom’s situation are deeply unsettled.

My only brother arrives today and I will be glad to see him and his wife. But we four aging children must have a difficult conversation this afternoon. We have a scheduled meeting with the finance guy at Mom’s care facility, that place where she is safe, well-cared for, loved. The cost of her care is climbing while her small investment account is diminishing, so we’re looking for answers today. How can we best manage her care? Will she be alright?

The better, and I hope bigger, part of me is not worried about this, trusting that there will be enough, that God will provide a way for this daughter, this faithful Jesus-follower, this disciple. But I found myself crying out to the God we both love this morning, asking how long? and, are you there? and, why? 

No answers appeared in the shampoo bubbles. Not one. Nothing but the strong sense that the invitation continues to be this one: trust meTrust that I see your mama, that I love her, that she is safe. Trust that your own love and care for her are enough, that you are doing the best you can, that she has not been abandoned. Trust that there will be enough.

Enough.

And so I will choose to do so. We four will be as careful, mindful and loving as we possibly can. And God will carry us through. 

In the meantime, I will call to mind that image I was given over four years ago now* — that image of my small mama, held safe within the immense sacred heart of Jesus Christ, the One who was present before the universe was breathed into existence, the One who sees each of us with eyes of love and concern, the One who is the only place of true safety any of us will ever experience.

I am trusting that that image will carry me through whatever lies ahead.

 

*I wrote a lengthy post with lots of photos about how that image was given to me here.

 

Full to the Brim . . .

Some days are like that. Just full, mostly of good stuff — gratitude, relief, satisfaction, contentment. Today was that kind of day for me. This helped:

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a 15-minute power walk on a wide beach this afternoon

The last few weeks? Not so much.

Two different days in the dentist’s chair, two overnight, quick turn-arounds to southern CA, one for a Grandparents’ Day, one for a memorial service for a friend of forty years. Unseasonably hot weather, with a rainstorm thrown in here and there, aching muscles from who knows what, a shorter fuse than usual, which I always find slightly disorienting. Who’s here right now, making me feisty and discontent?

It was Lunch with Mom Day again today, something I love more each time I do it. The change in my mom’s meds has wrought a near-miraculous change in her demeanor and happiness level. As I gazed at her sweet face across the table from me today, I found this glorious sense of fullness moving right up into my eyeballs and then spilling gently out onto my face. I am stunned at how much I love her, how grateful I am to see glimpses of the mama I once knew, to celebrate with her the change we both observe and take delight in. I have no clue how long this will last, but I am determined to inhale all of it for however long she’s here.

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she is savvy enough to recognize that my phone is also a camera these days!

On Saturday afternoon, we sat packed into the downstairs of our former church home, remembering with joy and gratitude the life of Roland Tabell, the Director of Worship in that place for almost 40 years. He planned his own service pretty much, and I thought some of it might be awkward and difficult. As it turned out, he knew better! About 250 of us sat and listened to a recording made about 35 years ago of a musical drama he had co-written and I helped to produce. And immediately, we were back there, rejoicing in the Lord’s gifts to us during those years. 

I think maybe that’s why our Scripture urges us so often to remember. It is good to tell our story, to celebrate it, not to wallow in it or regret it, but to re-connect with God’s work in the past as a means of re-discovering God at work in the present and anticipating its continuation into the future. We too often forget to do that, especially when we feel discouraged about the state of the world, or the state of our own souls.

People traveled from across the state and across the country to be there. Long threads were re-gathered into a lovely afternoon tapestry, one that will help sustain us, even as we return to our separate stories now.

I am grateful today. What about you?

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I include here the words I was asked to share at Roland’s service on Saturday. Some who read this blog knew him and could not be there with us. And I would like to put this ‘on record’ somewhere. He was a hugely important part of our story, Dick’s and mine, and we miss him already.

Remembering Roland
by Diana Trautwein (with help from Dick)
April 16, 2016 at Pasadena Covenant Church

It was the summer of 1963. I had just finished my first year at UCLA, where I met and began dating a guy named Dick Trautwein, and that summer, Dick was recruited by some friends to join their church softball team. That church was this church. As a player, Dick was required to attend one worship service per month, and we opted to come on Sunday evenings. We sat up there in the balcony, enjoying the breeze that wafted in from the then wide-open stained glass window, listening to Paul Larsen preach and watching as Roland Tabell led the congregation in worship from the piano.

Flash forward to 1975. We were now married, the parents of three little kids, aged 7, 5 and 3, living in Altadena, and looking for a neighborhood church after six years of commuting to my home church in Glendale. We chose to come here, at least partly because of that lovely summer experience twelve years earlier, and from the moment of our first Sunday morning worship service here, with Mel White preaching, the sanctuary filled with color and creativity and Roland Tabell still leading worship and also . . . directing a choir, a really good church choir — I knew immediately that I wanted to sing in that choir, I wanted to sing in Roland’s choir.

That was the beginning of a 21-year relationship with this community and a 40 plus year relationship with Roland and Betty. I would say that those two relationships — this community of people and the denomination from which they sprang and the Tabells — have been among the very best of God’s gifts to us over the course of our 50 year marriage.

I’d sung in choirs my whole life but this church choir was different from any of them, primarily because Roland was different from any choral director I’d ever seen. He was beyond gifted, never indulged in histrionics of any kind, was uniquely open to creative new ways of doing things, was always prodigiously arranging, researching, selecting anthems of power and beauty, helping us all to be the best possible singers we could be on two hours of practice per week.

He was soft-spoken, humble, nimble at the keyboard, thoughtfully reflective, always reading, asking questions, thinking things through from a different angle. I volunteered in his office two mornings per week for about a dozen years, helping to produce both of the musicals that he and Bryan Leech created together, gathering props, organizing costumes and music folders, even painting the choir room and hanging mini-blinds in those fall colors so popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. I have photos somewhere of Clara and Larry Spence helping me to hang those dang blinds!

During the early years of our friendship, Roland and Dick discovered a shared love for tennis, and played singles with each other weekly for twenty years. As couples, we traveled together to Hawaii, with Roland doing all the planning, finding great accommodations for not much money, even setting up side trips and must-see tourist experiences for us all. I remember stepping into one of those boats at the Cultural Center on Oahu and some other tourist recognizing him from a band they’d played in together years before –a Hawaiian band. Hawaiian band? Roland? When we all questioned him about it, he tossed it off, like he tossed off the years of music in the army, and the broad knowledge he had of all musical permutations from Gregorian chant through slack key guitar. He traveled easily through every musical genre (with the possible exception of hip-hop and rap), using it all to the glory of God and the enrichment of his chosen community of worshippers.

But here’s what I remember the most about this man, and here’s where his life intersected mine in ways that were profound and transformative. Roland saw gifts in people, and he called them out. He was the first person to ask me, in all seriousness, “Hey, have you ever considered being a pastor? You’ve really got the gifts for that.” That was in the late 70’s, after I had to fill in at the last minute for someone who became ill and ended up leading an entire worship service on the fly. It took about ten years for me to heed those words and to see in them God’s prophetic call on my own life. Time and again, he gave me opportunity to use my gifts — musically, administratively, devotionally. He pushed me and he pushed others into the front of things, always ready to step back, to stand in the shadows, providing encouragement, insightful critique, and even a little arm-twisting, from time to time.

He was such a gifted man. Even more remarkably, given the depth and breadth of those gifts, he was such a good man. His presence in this place was gift, from beginning to end. He was faithful and true, strong and steady, winsome, occasionally quirky, and always interesting. I thank God for his life, I thank God for the ways in which his life intersected my own, I thank God for Roland Tabell.

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