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!”

Labels – SheLoves, September 2016

When I sat down to think and write about this month’s theme, I was feeling a bit blue and confused about a lot of things happening in my life these days. So this is what came out. I’m feeling somewhat better now, but I still stand behind this assertion. I’d love you to join the conversation over at SheLoves this fine Saturday (and beyond . . . )

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When I sit down and think about it, I must admit that I have carried a long list of labels across the length of this life. From the moment of my birth, two of those have been First Child and Eldest Girl. In early childhood, I earned the title Tall Girl — I was the student in the center back row of each of my elementary school classroom pictures. More painful was the lovely name Fish Skin, thrust upon me by a couple of nasty 2nd grade boys who observed a skin condition I was born with (and live with still — a condition that has brought its own special pain — both literal and figurative). Never-to-be-forgotten from those early years was the ever-present Good Girl. That last one hung around for a very long time and occasionally shows up even now, in my dotage.

In high school, I was known as Religious Girl and Brainy Nerd, both of which I owned with a small share of gratitude and grace. For a little fun and academic relief, I was happy to carry the title of Alto in every choral group available to me. It’s also true that I was known as Wallflower and Seldom Dates, titles I wore with some chagrin, but also a healthy amount of acceptance and understanding. Tall, Religious and Brainy do not usually merit Popular or Prom Queen, after all!

At church, during those same semi-awkward years of junior and senior high school, I discovered a set of very different labels, ones that surprised and pleased me. They included Leader, Bible Student, and Insider. That last one was a particularly pleasant and welcome piece of my own growing identity between the ages of 12 and 18.

I left home for University with an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation, eager to be away from my small town, plunging happily into the crowd of 34,000+ students at UCLA. I joined a small Christian living group, met the man who would become my husband, and moved with relief into a completely new set of labels and identity markers. I was nowhere near the smartest woman in the room and that was a huge relief to me; I released every desire to attain a high grade point average, preferring to revel in the joys of independent living and a deepening romantic relationship.

During those college years, I was Dick’s Girl, and eventually, Dick’s Wife and Married Student. I also grew into my full 5 feet 10 inches and began to appreciate the joys of seeing the world from that height. By then, I am happy to report, that childhood label Tall Girl no longer bothered or embarrassed me.

I was delighted to carry the label of College Graduate with me as we sailed across the Atlantic for two years of short-term mission work, teaching school in Zambia. I grew to enjoy being English Teacher, Drama Coach, and Sportsmaster’s Wife during our time there. I also learned to cook, though I never got quite good enough at it to merit a label of any kind in that department.

Five months before we returned home, I added one of the most significant and life-changing titles I’ve ever carried, one I relish to this day: Mommy. Our eldest girl was born in Africa, another followed two years later and a boy two years after that. For twenty years, that was my primary identity, one I loved and worked hard at, not always successfully. Along the way, I picked up a few more: Community Volunteer, Bible Study Teacher, Soloist, Worship Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Little League Team Mom, Room Mother, Chief-Cook-and-Bottle-Washer, Laundress, etc., etc., etc.

Those were rich and exhausting years but as my children grew up and moved out into their own lives, it became clear that a few more labels needed to be added to the list that is my life. These, however, became much more than monikers. Like Mommy and Wife, the titles Seminary Student, Pastor, Preacher, Bible Teacher, Pastoral Counselor, Spiritual Director and eventually, Writer, became descriptors of parts of me that are deeply rooted, divinely gifted, and vocationally oriented. They are labels, yes, indeed. But they also tell a story, one that continues to unfold and evolve. They speak to the heart of who I am.

But now, right now, I am discovering a label that I did not ask for, do not want, yet cannot avoid, and it is this one:

Wanna know what it is? Well, please just click here and join us at SheLoves!

Dearest Addie . . . (a letter, a book review and a synchroblog)

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Do you remember this lovely box, exploding with sunshine?

I surely do. It arrived on my doorstep in the earliest days of my recovery from nasty foot surgery, in mid-June, 2014. I’d injured myself and then discovered there was a whole lot more goin’ on in that dang foot than what I’d done to it. I was facing into a long recovery (much longer than we knew back then) and I was feeling L O W.

And then a lot of my internet friends did some remarkable things, and YOU were among the first. YOU sent me this box of yellow love. Every bright and lovely piece of this glory broke right through my sadness, my loneliness, my pain (both physical and emotional), and helped me to hang on during a long and difficult time in my life.

Now, sweetheart — look again at that date up there, okay? 2 0 1 4. Just a few short months after the journey you took with your boys, that long trek to Florida and back, the one you’ve written about so magnificently well in this new book of yours:

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I had no idea you had struggled so earlier in that year. But somehow, it seemed important, as I write this strange epistle/review/blog post, it seemed important for me to remind you of how good, kind, thoughtful, insightful, intuitive and gifted you are even when you’re in the middle of a long, dark season in your own spiritual journey.

BTW, that cover? One of the best depictions of what’s actually inside the book that I’ve about ever seen. Genius! Not all of this tender journal was easy to read. I hate that you do battle with depression, that you sometimes have such a low view of your own, wonderful self. So some of this was painful to read. 

But all of it was so good to read. Because what you come to, where you arrive, as you drive through the cold and the dark, as you deal with two pre-schoolers caged inside a small space for hours at a time, as you read your first book aloud in small town libraries and book stores and church basements, as you stay with friends and family, as you struggle to get those boys to sleep, as you eat at way too many MacDonald’s, and do a little bit (a very little bit) of sight-seeing — what you come to, in the end, is yourself. 

And that, my dear, is the point. The goal. The reward. In this second book, you continue to do the good work started in “When We Were on Fire,” the good work of jettisoning the crap gathered in way too many rah-rah, emotion-heavy, guilt-inducing, misguided youth events. And you begin to see the light. The LIGHT. The truth that the Jesus walk is not so much about ‘re-discovering’ the emotional highs of adolescence, but about the steady, day-by-day commitment to putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about seeing the light in small things, like the sun shining on your son’s hair, or smelling the first real cup of coffee after too many cups of tea, (or, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, savoring the spicy scent of chai after too many stale coffee-breath greetings from friends!). It’s about accepting the truth that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are pretty much meaningless terms when we’re talking about real life. It’s about letting go of the lists — you know the lists! Those things we’re ‘supposed’ to do to be ‘good’ Christians, the things we’re supposed to feel, or even believe, in order to pass muster.

It’s about letting go of all of that, and leaning hard into the truth of grace. It’s about learning to trust that there is not one thing we can do or not do that will make God love us any less or any more than God already does. It’s about breathing in and breathing out and saying the name of Jesus when we do. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about really, really, living. Not ‘living it up,’ not living on an emotional high forever, not even ‘living for Jesus,’ whatever the heck that means.

It’s about living real. Because I’m here to tell  you, there is NOTHING more real than God, even when God seems absent, even when you’re driving in the dark of night, even when you’re struggling hard to re-create old experiences that simply are no longer possible or even desirable. You put it beautifully on page 225 (and a lot of other places, too, but this one’s the shortest:

“It’s not up to me to flip on the lights. the Light is already here.”

YES, Addie!! Yes, yes, yes. The Light is already here.

Thank you for writing this searingly honest book, for owning your own weaknesses, for showing us the shadow side. And here’s why I thank  you — because with  your exceptional writing grace, your skill, you illustrate this powerful truth: the shadow side is our teacher. Yes, there are parts of the shadow that we need to shine a bright, harsh light on, that we need to clean up and clear out. BUT . . . those shadow parts of us are also primary avenues through which God can show us more about grace, more about love, more about the human condition, more about truth than anywhere else. Like Barbara Brown Taylor (another one of my FAVES) in “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” you have shown us more about the light than any 1000 titles about sunshine-theology. 

So, I thank you. I thank you for the box of sunshine at a dark time in my own journey. And I thank you for this beautiful book. May you be blessed beyond measure by the way people respond to it.

Much, much love,

Diana

Oh! Before I go, I wanted to share with  you a couple of quotes that landed in my inbox today from a journal I subscribed to for many years, one that I used frequently in sermon prep and for devotional reading. It’s called “Weavings,” and if you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. These were in a monthly devo kinda thing, but each of them spoke to some of what “Night Driving” deals with, so I thought maybe you might enjoy them:

As people of faith, we need to remember that the resurrection tosses out all standard expectations and measurements of failure and success. Neither failure nor success is good or evil; both can result in growth, stagnation, or regression. In our struggle with failure and success, we may find a hidden strength as we commend our spirits to our Creator and seek to yield our lives to love. Our challenge is to have faith—in failure, in success, in whatever life brings. The unexpected turns, the painful endings, the precarious beginnings are all part of the path of faith, where we are reminded with each step that the resurrection did not happen only once long ago—it happens each day of our lives.  — Jean M. Blomquist, “Weavings”

Pure faith hears the full silence of God, and believes—for the absence of God touches one’s thirst more than the presence of everything else. “In the desert we go on serving the God whom we do not see, loving [the God] whom we do not feel, adoring [the God] whom we do not understand, and thanking [the God] who has taken from us everything but [God’s self]” (Charles Cummings,Spirituality and Desert Experience). In time, the search becomes the goal, the longing becomes sufficient unto itself, and the perseverance transforms the meaning of success. Then some quiet evening, perhaps by full moon, it becomes strangely self-evident that we would not be searching had we not already been found. And the desert blooms when we find ourselves willing to be last—not because the last may become first, but because the game of “firsts” and “lasts” is no longer of interest.” — W. Paul Turner, “Weavings.” 

A Love Story — for SheLoves

Theirs is a love story that not many remember these days. One of them has been gone from this plane for 10 years; the other has no memory of ever being married, despite their 63 years together. So it’s my story to tell now . . . you can start this sweet tale here and click over to SheLoves to continue it. It’s a good one for Valentine’s Day weekend, don’t you think?

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Celebrating 50 years on the island of Kauai in 1991

On paper, they were seriously mismatched. He, the brilliant, favored son of a well-educated southern family, she the hard-scrapple middle child of working class Canadians, each family migrating to the Los Angeles area before their kids were old enough to remember anyplace else.

Ben’s family was firmly ensconced in a downtown Methodist church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, providing leadership in a multitude of ways. Ruth was a church orphan, whose parents dropped her at the front door each Sunday.

They came up through the youth group separately — he, four years ahead of her — but each knew of the other. She had a steady boyfriend by the time she was in high school and dated him for four years, most of their life together centered around that old brownstone church.

Ben was gifted musically and intellectually, but very reserved, even shy. Ruth was vivacious, smart, mischievous, funny and a natural leader. He stood on the sidelines of her life for a while, becoming increasingly smitten. After Ruth’s early relationship ended, they gravitated toward each other, each of them happy to discover the ways their differences were complementary.

The rest, as they say, is history. They ‘went together’ for several years, as he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA; she matriculated there, but dropped out when family funds evaporated. By then, they were committed to marriage, the US had entered WWII, and her folks saw no reason for her to get a degree. She regretted it the rest of her life.

He failed to pass the physical for the draft, so began to teach in San Diego at a small military academy. In 1941, they married in a friend’s garden, honeymooned in Laguna Beach, and settled into community life at the school.

Their love for one another grew deep and sturdy, but it was never particularly easy, especially during those early years. His family didn’t really approve of her — his mother took to her bed for a full week when they announced their engagement and wore black to their wedding. Each of their families of origin had their own unique dysfunctions and patterns and, as is true for all of us, the wounds of childhood were real and lasting.

He was the ‘show-kid,’ his skill at the piano and in the classroom regularly put on display by a pushy mother. She was the caretaker, intervening at a very young age when her dad came home drunk and became verbally and even physically abusive to everyone in the family.

He kept things in, she let them out, often in a big and dramatic way. Learning to communicate, to deal with anger issues, to build their own individual self-confidence — these were issues that didn’t go away.

Hop on over to SheLoves to finish this story and to share with all of us a love story that’s important in your own life.

Becoming the Right Size — SheLoves

This is quite possibly the most vulnerable and personal post I have ever written. It was time to tackle this very large piece of who I am (pun intended). You can begin the post here and then please follow the link to finish it over at SheLoves today:

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Sometime in the early 1980s

I have jokingly said that I’ve never been small in my life. Trouble is, I am only half-joking. I am a large person — always have been, always will be. I have baby pictures with my closest cousin during our first year — and believe me when I tell you this — I am gargantuan compared to this lovely, tiny peanut of a babe who grew up to be one of my favorite people in the universe. That picture was frequently taken out at family gatherings, everyone always marveling at the giant child in their midst.

Until the boys began to have hormones moving through their systems at about age 14 or so, I was also the tallest in my class. Always. I was awkward, uncoordinated, had difficult skin issues and stick straight hair that my mother was incessantly trying to curl with permanent wave solution. And no, it did not work.

I was also loud, sometimes quite bossy and usually anxious about something. Not the best combo in the world for developing a sturdy psyche or nurturing a strong sense of self. All these things made me feel overwhelmingly large in any social situation — on the edge, insecure, impossible to hide. And somewhere inside myself, I decided that I might as well BE big, the biggest of them all.

So I worked hard. I studied, got great grades, learned a lot of different things, developed the cooperation gene to the fullest extent possible, and tried to ‘blend in.’ I did what was expected of me, trying not to stir up the dust as I worked.

I did this for a very long time – decades, in fact. I was the quintessential ‘big girl,’ absorbing everyone’s expectations, grief, neuroses, demands, anger, neediness. And somewhere along the way — about the time I started to have babies — I became a really, REALLY large woman. I enveloped myself in a layer of extra pounds that fluctuated from time to time, but always managed to keep me safe, well-padded and sturdy in the midst of whatever turmoil might be raging around me.

I remember successfully losing about 60 pounds one year and going for a dip in the pool at a friend’s house. She turned to me with a surprised look on her face and said, “Wow, Diana, you’re actually quite a small person, aren’t you?”

Can you guess how fast those pounds came right back on? Small? ME? No way. Everything in me was repulsed at the thought, and shocked to think she might be right.

I could not be small, you see. I could not. I did not know myself as a small person. How would I possibly manage all the pain I carried if I were small?

So I made sure I was big enough to shoulder the load.

Please click here to continue the conversation over at SheLoves . . .

“Praying and Believing” — a re-post for Michelle DeRusha

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I am not writing online about my journey with my mom these days. I’m trying to gather it all into something approaching a book, so after the new year, much of my time and energy will be devoted to that particular kind of gathering. 

My connection to my mother is deep and important and our time together is complicated, lovely, difficult and an ongoing part of my daily life. She is still a heroine to me, even in the throes of dementia. Why? Because what remains of my mother is beautiful. Quite stunning, actually. And that is a gift. Yes, I wish she had her memory. Yes, I wish we could enjoy the kinds of deep conversation and belly laughter that we once did. But as we walk this path, I am struck by the ferociously glorious light that shines out of her face and her spirit. 

As I said, what remains is beautiful.

So when my friend, Michelle DeRusha, wrote and asked if she could re-post my contribution to her “Faith Heroine” series, I said yes. Because sometimes it’s good to remember what was.

You can find that piece by clicking here.

Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like

Rick Steves, Anniversaries, and Italy – A Deeper Story

It’s time for my monthly post at A Deeper Story. Here’s a sampler . . .

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This is a story about being married. It’s an anniversary story, an old one, nearly twenty years ago now, but a true one, and a good one. It began as an adventure, sank pretty quickly to a disaster, and ended with joyful re-discovery.

My husband had to be in London for business, so we figured, “Why not make a trip of it? Let’s go to Italy, rent a car and see as much as we can see.” We’d done that for our 25th — driving all around England, Scotland and Wales, following Rick Steves’s advice the whole way, and we had a fabulous time.

This, however, was a different experience entirely. First off, the London meeting got moved to New York. Well, okay. Hmm. Let’s see what we can do about those tickets. And what we could do with those tickets wasn’t much – NYC to CHICAGO to Milan, turning an eight-hour trip into twice that.

Oh, and while we were in New York, one of our bags got lost – the hotel’s fault – and I spent two days frantically replenishing my husband’s travel wardrobe, purchasing a new suitcase, and replacing my Bible and journal, and — serendipitously — picking up a delightful small guide book featuring ‘inns and itineraries’ of Italia.

Thirtieth Anniversary Trip, here we come!

Except when we landed in Milan, things got a little dicey. I tend to . . . how shall I put this? Take too much stuff everywhere I go. And we had seven — count them — seven pieces of luggage, including two roller bags, two backpacks, a purse and two smaller carry-ons — and after we went through customs, we thought we’d lost one of the backpacks. Dick went to find it, I got on the bus to town with the rest of the bags, and sure enough, the bus took off – leaving Dick with our only Italian money at the airport, and me with all our luggage (yes, all our luggage) headed toward the center of Milan – each of us alone.

And it went downhill from there.

Please join me for the rest of this tale over at A Deeper Story . . .

I’ll Love You Forever

The longer I live,
the more convinced I am that
the way fathers love their daughters
has a profound impact on the
fabric of society.

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My dad, half-smiling on the outside. Always smiling on the inside.

 

As we have walked this last leg of the journey
with each of our mothers,
we’ve seen this truth in surprising,
and sometimes beautiful ways.

My mother-in-law grew up with an affectionate,
charming, faithful, imaginative, wordsmith for a father,
a man who adored his daughter
and told her so with every breath.
She never once doubted herself,
even as the fog of dementia rolled in

and slowly erased her life.

My mom grew up with a damaged dad,
a man who left his family of origin after 
being cheated by his own father,
and then drank and gambled his way
through mom’s early years.
He seldom had a kind word for 
anyone in that house.
And my mother is riddled with self-doubt,
often convinced that others
believe her to be a terrible person.

I’m sure there are more factors at play than just this one. Basic personality traits between these two good women
are markedly different in several ways.

However, I remain convinced that ‘just this one’
marks out one of the most basic ways
in which our two moms have faced
into their long, last journey in life.

I believe that a father’s unconditional love is foundational
for each one of us.
But for female children?
It is critical and crucial.
It can sometimes make the difference between
humble self-acceptance and crippling self-doubt.
I also believe that the formation of the female spirit is
critically important for the healthy development of
family, culture, church.

In other words, it’s a big deal for girls/women to have a loving father (or father figure) somewhere in their story.

IMG_0239

Working through some puzzles with our eldest daughter, one of several in our family tree who have inherited his mathematical and logical gifts. I am not one of those.

My own dad adored me.
And I knew it.

All my life, I have been deeply grateful for that truth.

I’ve got insecurities by the bushel basketful,
that is true enough.

But I have never doubted my father’s
deep and abiding love for me.

Not once.

And I believe that sweet piece of my story says a whole lot about who I am today.

IMG_0217

Mom and dad in the 80s.

My father was a school teacher and a musician,
a handyman and a thoughtful, interesting person.

He liked butter on white bread, Buicks,
and playing the piano.

He was quiet, wise, gentle and good.
And he had an absolutely killer sense of humor,
a dry wit that would pop out from time to time,
most likely very soon after you’d decided that he 
wasn’t even really listening to the conversation.

IMG_0221

My beautiful, fun mama.

He was crazy-nuts about my mother,
and they made quite a pair,

she all bubbles and up-front laughter,
he behind-the-scenes deep and sometimes mysterious.

My father’s hands were big enough to span an octave,
plus 2 or 3,

and strong enough to hold a crying baby,
bringing calm and quiet more efficiently than
anyone else I knew.
He loved being a grandfather
and his grandkids idolized him in so many ways.

 

IMG_0224Me, in the 80s – a combo of the two of them, don’t you think?

He gave his testimony in church once,
speaking honestly about his own wrestling spirit,

and eloquently about the truth that his faith was his life.
And if it wasn’t his life —
if it wasn’t changing the way he lived that life —

then it wasn’t worth much, was it?

Dad believed that a Jesus-follower should be steady,
sturdy,

         devoted and
                           careful. 

And more than once,
he gently but firmly reminded me to 

live that way, too.

 

I love you, Daddy.
I miss you every day and,
as you know —
I talk to you with some regularity!
You’ve been gone from this place for
almost a decade now,
and though I’m grateful that your struggles
with health and frailty are behind you,
I wish you —
the healthy, happy you —
were still here with us.

I miss your advice,
your kindness,
your steadiness
and your unshakeable loyalty.
The older I get, the more I realize
how rare those qualities are,
and the more I miss your being here to model them for us.

I’ll love you forever, Dad.
And I thank God for your love every day that I breathe.

Chartreuse Cape in My Closet — SheLoves

It’s always a joy to work with the grand people over at SheLovesMagazine. This is a small story about an old friend, who taught me a thing or two about living with flourish . . .DSC01291

My online dictionary gives two distinct definitions for the word ‘flourish.’ One has to do with thriving in a particular environment; the other has to do with colorful, sometimes startling, ‘ta-da’ gestures.

 My granddaughter is flourishing in the small Catholic school she attends.                                                                           OR
 My friend Nancy always adds a feather boa when she wants to say something  with a flourish.

At first glance, the verb and the noun seem to have little to do with one another. To flourish is to bloom, turn toward the sun, become more of who we’re meant to be. A flourish is a more momentary thing, maybe even a flashy thing – a gesture, a brightly colored piece of clothing, a pose.

When I did a little looking, however, I discovered that they are actually very closely related. The verb form is older (about 800 years old!) and came into English from an old French word meaning to blossom; the noun came later and used to mean a blossom.

So, I wonder . . . what does it mean to blossom? What does it mean to add a blossom to what we do, what we say, how we live?

My friend Kathy helped me understand both meanings of this word.

I first met her almost twenty years ago, soon after my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara. She was in her early 80s then, full of life, and living that life out loud and in full Technicolor. Tall, statuesque, with brilliant blue eyes, she moved with a dancer’s grace and spoke with verve and good humor.

She’d known my husband before I met her and when she discovered that I was a pastor, she wasted no time in asking if I ever preached. “About 8-10 times a year,” I told her. And the very next week, she called the church office, asking for a preaching schedule and for immediate notification when my name came up in the rotation.

And every time I preached, from that day until a few months before she died, she came to hear me. She’d leave her expensive home at the golf course, driving her beat-up, 20-year old Ford station wagon into the church parking lot. I could always see her coming into the back of the gymnasium where we worshipped in those days, and I’d watch as she would gently genuflect and cross herself  before the large wooden cross that hung at center court . . .

Come on over to SheLoves to read the rest of this story . . .