Top Ten Posts for 2014 — and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

IMG_4635 This is a very small blog, as blogs go; I don’t get a ton of traffic. But I do have readers who are kind, intelligent, compassionate and faithful, so I thought maybe you might like to know which posts over the last year spurred the most interest. I was actually a bit surprised. The series that I did at the beginning of 2014 drew in more readers than I thought and most of those posts landed on this list. There is a homily, a book review and a very personal, family post on this list, too. See what you think:

1. Delving into the Mystery — Introducing Q & A

This was the introductory post for the series I did one year ago, and it’s on the top of this list. Hmmmm. . . maybe the content since then has gone straight downhill?

2. The Turning Point

One of two posts about journeying with my mother through dementia. I have stopped writing publicly about her as I am contemplating a longer format story, possibly for publication at some future point. This was a very tender turning point for us.

3. The Beauty that Remains

An earlier post about mom that landed right behind the one above.

4. Q & A — Week Two: Fear of Abandonment

The second big “Q” in the Q & A series landed ahead of the first one – just barely! This essay works through some of my own personal struggles with learning to trust God.

5. Q & A — Week One: Letting Go of the List

The first long format post in that series is here. And this sort of sets the stage for where we’re headed in the entire discussion — learning to step into grace and release worries about performance.

6. Q & A — Week Four: The Gift of Tears

And the fourth one is right behind it! I talk about the cleansing, rejuvenating power of tears in this essay.

7.  FOUND: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer — A Book Review

A review of a beautiful book by my friend Micha Boyett. If you have not read this book, YOU REALLY SHOULD.

8. Q & A — Week Three: Remembering What Comes First  Coming in at number eight is the third essay in that long-ago series — about keeping love in the top spot. Always.

9. Remembering Her: Kathryn Ruth Byer Trautwein, January 3, 1914 – May 25, 2014 

Remembering and honoring my amazing mother-in-law during the week that she died.

10. Living with the Truth

This reflection was written after the terrible news that began coming out of Iraq began to surface. It included a sermon summary and a word of hope in the midst of so much confusion.

I think one thing I’ve learned from doing this compilation is that L O N G posts are often the most read. And that is a huge surprise to me. I’ll keep plugging away at this over in my corner of the world. And I’ll be grateful to all who stop by, especially those who let me know that they’re here.

MAY THE NEW YEAR BRING HEALTH, FULFILLMENT AND JOY FOR ALL OF YOU. Thanks so much for your faithful partnership in this internet experience.

Midweek Service: An Old Advent Sermon — Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

This sermon was preached 11 years ago as part of a series on creating ‘margin’ in our lives. Three of us preached in this series — on economics, relationships, time. And when my turn came, the topic was a tough one for me: honoring these bodies we’ve been given by caring for them well, including making space for Sabbath. It was preached during Advent and used one of the Isaiah Advent texts as its primary focus. And it was preached at the end of a very difficult year for me personally. I had been on an extended medical leave from January-August and the story I tell happened during those months.
Each week’s photo is from a collection of pictures taken in St. Vitus’ Cathedral, Prague.

     Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room
preached by Diana R.G. Trautwein
Montecito Covenant Church
Advent Series, December 15, 2002
“Making Ready: Is There Space for God in Our Bodies?”

I never cease to be amazed at God’s sense of humor.  I am perhaps the last person who should be standing up here in front of you all, giving you a pep talk on taking care of your bodies.  Because I’m doing a really lousy job of it at the moment and actually, to be honest, have done a really lousy job of it for most of my life.  And lots of people that I talk to, church people, followers of Jesus Christ,  tell me the same thing. 

Why do you think that’s true?  Why do you think we let our lives run right out to the edge of the page physically? Is there something we should be doing (or not doing!) that we’ve lost the knack for?  Is there something we should know that we have forgotten?

Our text for this morning offers some helpful ideas.  This beautiful poem from the prophet Isaiah has been read as part of the celebration of Advent for hundreds of years.  And I believe that it (and a couple of other admonitions in scripture) can point us in the right direction as we reflect together on what it means to live our lives with physical margin.

I want to make something crystal clear as we begin this morning:  to be a follower of Jesus Christ means that everything we are and everything we do is to be set inside the sphere of his Lordship.  Jesus did not come to Bethlehem, to be born in isolation, homelessness, and poverty so that he could establish yet another religion, another set of rules about sacred and profane.

Jesus came – as a baby born of a very human mom, as a young boy filled with curious questions, making messes, laughing, crying, eating, sleeping, dreaming; as a grown man, learning a trade, living in community, walking the dusty roads of Palestine, catching fish and catching people — Jesus came to save us, to bring rich meaning to our very human living, to show us what margin looks like in day-to-day life, long before the term ‘margin’ was ever coined.

Jesus came to call us to God, to point us to truth, to walk the way of holiness in our midst.  And every bit of Jesus’ coming speaks loudly and clearly to the worth and value of human life, of physical life as well as spiritual life.  By choosing to wear human flesh for 33 years, Jesus of Nazareth gave new meaning to our understanding of what this flesh means.

These bodies, my friends, are the place where we meet God, where we receive God’s grace, where we live the life granted to us on this earth.  And they are precious gifts.   No matter what shape they are in.  No matter what we or anyone else thinks they look like.  No matter what our culture tells us they should look like.  No matter what the ravages of age or disease may do to them.

No matter what. 

They are gifts and they are temples.  There is no sense of our bodies, in and of themselves, being outside the range of God’s saving grace.  Now what we choose to do with these bodies can be, and often is, anything but sacred.  In fact, we can choose to profane these gifts rather royally.  But the bodies themselves are hallowed, sacred and splendid, God’s chosen dwelling place through the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, what we do to and with our bodies is of primary importance and is not to be ignored.

Somewhere along the way, a whole bunch of us Christians got the idea that the body is somehow disconnected from our spiritual life, that it is of little or no value to God, that only what happens between our ears or in our hearts is important.

It just ain’t so, and the whole scope of scripture gives testimony to this truth.

Isaiah recognizes it here, in his word picture about the coming of God.  This beautiful poem is a vision on many levels – it speaks to the people to whom it was written – the Israelites living in exile and hoping for a better future; it speaks to the Jewish people who read it hundreds of years after it was written – nurturing their desire for the Messiah, who would bring about the glorious era pictured here; it speaks to us, followers of Jesus in 2002, who see in these words a description of the in-breaking kingdom of God, made real on earth by Jesus’ first coming and being brought to full fruit with Jesus’ second coming somewhere further out in the future.

It speaks to mind, spirit and body:  “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees,” the prophet cries.  Tell them this good news:  “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”  The body and the spirit are redeemed, ransomed by the glorious salvation of God.

This beautiful chapter is a vivid picture of what life can and will be like for all of those who choose to put their trust in God, who choose to let God be God – no thing or no one else.  The desert turned to a pool-filled garden, human bodies restored to their creation design, harmony between humanity and the animal world and the created order, the joyous praises of God’s people resounding throughout – that is what is promised to those who choose to find their strength, their hope, their joy in God.

Ok.  So it’s a beautiful picture.  Sounds great – wish I was there.  In the meantime, how do I live in the now?  How do I manage these tired hands and these feeble knees?  While I’m waiting for Jesus to bring in the kingdom in all of its fullness, is there any way for me to experience just a taste of it in the present?

Yes, as a matter of fact, I believe there is. As I read and reflected on this picture, this passage, over the past couple of weeks, I also did some other kinds of reading. I read the book from which this sermon series gets its primary focus:  “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. and I read: “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives,” by Wayne Muller.

Both books are excellent, helpful and come to you highly recommended.  And as I read these two gentlemen’s suggestions for living more balanced lives, it seemed to me that the picture Isaiah paints is available to us in the here and now, at least in part.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is alive and well in the hearts of believers right here, right now and there are ways in which we can connect with that truth, even in the daily-ness of living.

It also became increasingly clear to me that the questions I asked at the beginning of this sermon (and those question were:  Why do you think we let our lives run right out to the edge of the page physically?  Is there something we should be doing (or not doing!) that we’ve lost the knack for?  Is there something we should know that we have forgotten?) those questions can be answered, in the context of this week’s theme and topic with these two statements:

1.)          We need to remember that our bodies are sacred, gifts to us from God to be used for his glory, not our own. And . . .

2.)          We need to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy – so that it can help keep us holy.

We’ve already spent a few minutes this morning looking at the truth of that first statement and now it’s time to look at the truth of the second one, particularly in light of our need to create physical margin in our lives this Advent season.

From the opening verses of Genesis, God declares and models the need for margin in our lives – and he calls that space “Sabbath rest.”  It’s a thread that continues throughout the Old Testament, showing up as the 4th commandment (one of only two that are stated in the positive rather than a ‘do not’), and noted again and again as a necessary ingredient in the life of the people of God.

Jesus observes its importance – as it was originally designed by God, not as it was legalized by religious rule-making – and Jesus models its place in the flow of life.  Repeatedly, the gospels tell us of Jesus’ drawing away to be quiet, to pray, to be alone or with a small circle of friends.  He often left in the middle of ministry, he left with the job undone, he left with people in need, standing on the doorstep.  He honored, he remembered, that ‘Sabbath thing’ as an essential part of his life; we who are his friends are called to do the same.

God our Creator has built into us a need for rhythm in our lives – the rhythm of action and inaction, doing and being, moving and resting.  I want to give you just a small picture of how that need for rhythm was brought to my attention this past year.

After about six weeks of staying at home, seeing a few doctors, resting, worshipping in private, playing way too much computer solitaire. . .I began to feel stronger and more able to face the outside world.  The timing was wonderful, it was February and Ash Wednesday was coming.

I wanted to go somewhere for an Ash Wednesday service where no one would know me, but I could enter into the beauty of rhythmic worship and begin to find nourishment in community once again.  I chose to go to the noon service at the Old Mission.  Now I had lived in Santa Barbara for just over five years at this point in my history and I had never taken the time to visit the mission.  I had never been inside.  So I went, not knowing what to expect at all.  There was a good crowd of people there – probably about 400 or so – and there were printed worship folders, complete with melody lines, so that everyone could follow the service.  I sat on a hard wooden bench about 2/3 of the way back in the sanctuary and waited.

Suddenly, there was this gloriously beautiful voice drifting over my head, like an angel song, I thought at the time.  The service had begun and it was lovely.  The words of the songs, the rhythm of movement – standing, sitting, kneeling, processing – the words of the liturgy, the reception of the ashes – all of it was intensely moving and drew me into a time of true worship and repentance.  I had had a Sabbath experience at lunch hour on a Wednesday.

Later that same day, I drove down to Carp to get a gift for my husband for Valentine’s Day.  I had heard about this orchid warehouse and thought I’d check it out.  So in I went, feeling refreshed from the church service and some time in prayer with a friend.  I walked into the showroom and was suitably impressed at the wonderful arrangements and plants on display.

Then someone opened a sliding door near the back, and I walked into this absolute symphony of color and design.  There were thousands of brightly colored orchids extending to every edge of this huge warehouse.  I don’t remember ever seeing so many beautiful plants in one space ever before in my life.  It was truly breathtaking.

And I had another experience of Sabbath, of worship, right there in beautiful rural Carpinteria.

Tears came and I uttered a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to our Creator God for his genius and for the gift of partnering genius shared by us human creatures in propagating these gorgeous plants.

The entire day was a gift, a gift of the rhythms of life lived in Sabbath mode.  Somehow, the great gift of Sabbath rhythm, of Sabbath rest, has been lost in our time, in our culture.  If we are to experience it again, we must be very intentional about it, and we must look for opportunities to incorporate its benefits into our lives in all kinds of ways.

Let me suggest just a few ways in which you and I might experience a sliver of the paradise described by Isaiah and included in the biblical concept of Sabbath.  In addition to incorporating better health habits like eating well, sleeping well, and exercising regularly, I believe the intelligent, prayerful observance of Sabbath can give us the physical margin we all so badly want and need.

The age we live in values speed, noise, activity, money, success.  Sabbath values are centered around slowing down, being quiet, being still, saving time, building relationships – the very opposite of what we are told, every single day, is what really counts.  So what I’m asking us to do is not going to be easy, but it is going to be incredibly rich.

Here’s a beginning: if at all possible, set aside one afternoon or evening each week to observe the holiness of Sabbath.  Turn off the phones, the television, the computer, the beeper.  Light candles for dinner.  If you live with family or friends, enjoy their company over a good meal, play a couple of table games or read a book together.  If you live alone, create a beautiful space for yourself to eat, to be quiet, to read, to reflect.  Or invite someone over to share it with you.  Incorporate some simple prayers into your mealtime, inviting God to be present in your Sabbath.

If an entire evening or afternoon of keeping Sabbath seems overwhelming to you, start smaller.  Take a walk sometime during the week – for 20-30 minutes. Keep silence during the walk, and do it somewhere beautiful if at all possible.   Look around you, observe what you see. Then sit down and reflect for a few minutes on what you’ve experienced.

Observe moments of silence during your day.  Just stop whatever you’re doing and be still for 2-3 minutes.  Pray if you wish, or just breathe.

Breathing consciously, intentionally, slowly — breathing is actually a fairly important part of slowing life down. There are ancient Christian practices of prayer that are centered on our breathing patterns and they can help us for just a few minutes of the day – to capture some Sabbath time.

Offering blessings, silently, to those around you is another small way of keeping Sabbath.  Try that the next time somebody cuts you off in traffic!  Offer words of blessing instead of frustration (or worse!) – bless the people around you wherever you are.  Ask God to make you a blessing to others as well.

Rediscover the fine art of dinking around – spend time doing not much: sitting in the yard, pulling a few weeds, playing a board game with some kids or adults, tossing the baseball, shooting a few hoops.  I’m not talking about hustle here, I’m talking dinking around, deliberately slowing your pace.  And do this whenever – in the middle of your day, in the middle of the night if you have trouble sleeping.

Refuse to be driven by the need to be finished before you stop doing something.  Our need to be finished is one of the primary forces pushing us away from Sabbath-keeping.  The commandment is ‘to remember’ the Sabbath, to keep it holy.  And we so easily forget it, don’t we?  I surely forgot it these last few weeks and my body is telling me that’s a real shame!

Let’s face it.  There will always be more work to do than we can conceivably get done.  We will never be finished, and that’s the truth.  Therefore, we must learn to stop working, to stop pushing, to stop achieving, to stop trying to do it all: to stop.

That is a huge part of what Sabbath is all about.  Stopping what we ordinarily do.  Stopping.  And the other part is remembering: remembering whose we are, remembering to say thank you to God, to others, re-membering ourselves, getting ourselves together, in one piece, ready, then, to return to work, to daily doing.

My house this year does not yet have a single decoration in place.  There are very few Christmas gifts bought.  The Christmas letter has not been written.  And you know what?  I’m increasingly ok with that.  Surely one of the most powerful messages of Advent is the value of stopping – waiting — and being expectant rather than distracted or overwhelmed.  And Christmas itself is really about things like smallness, vulnerability, wonder, quiet, and mystery.  If I don’t somehow slow down enough to see it, to sense it, to experience it, the truth and beauty of Christmas can pass me right by.  And I don’t want that to happen again, do you?

I am going to stop long enough to enjoy a taste of the glorious kingdom described by Isaiah.  I am going to remember the keep the Sabbath, in ways both large and small.  I am going to acknowledge that this very tired old body of mine is a gift from God, a container for my spirit, a container for the holiness of God Almighty, a sacred thing, a set-apart thing, a living organism with a real need for that blank, white space around the edges.

My prayer for all of us, for me and for each one of you, is that this will be our experience this Advent, this Christmas.  That we will find ourselves traveling on the Holy Way, redeemed by our God, on our way to God, “singing,” as the prophet phrased it, “with everlasting joy upon our heads.”

Will you stand with me and sing a song of everlasting joy to our good and generous God, creator of all that we are?









Girls’ Day Out – Fall, 2008 – Archive-Diving

Another dip into the draft dumpster to salvage this memory from the month after our son-in-law’s death in October of 2008. This was a lovely, small event that marked an important step in healing on the road to recovery for all of us, most especially for Lisa. And I think milestones need to be noted and remembered.

It was raining Saturday. Enough to keep the windshield wipers in full-time swish mode for the entire drive from here back through the hills to Ojai. 

My two daughters, my daughter-in-law and I climbed into my trusty blue Honda Pilot and braved the elements to visit the world-famous Spa Ojai at the Ojai Valley Inn. 

A most interesting experience – not something that we do with any frequency at all (a first visit to the place for 3 of the 4 of us) – and one that we enjoyed. 

The place was busy, busy, busy. No sign of economic crisis here! Literally dozens of people, all wearing white spa robes, sitting, resting, hot-tubbing, sipping cold water with sliced cucumber and mint or warming up with hot herbal tea. In the women’s hot tub area, every single chaise lounge was filled with a white-robed, resting female. 

One exception to the white robes was a mother/daughter pair, there to celebrate the daughter’s 21st birthday, dressed identically in hot pink tank tops with gold sequined hearts spread across the entire front. 

I must admit to some hesitance in disrobing in a common locker space, no matter how elegant. It’s been a while! All of us remembered high school gym class and the mixed emotions of that entire experience. But as I allowed myself to relax, I began to notice that there were all kinds and types of women around me – every decade, every size, every shape. Not a ton of racial or ethnic diversity, but a little. Most were there to unwind, to step away from the swirl of daily life for a few hours, and that’s a very good thing. Too bad it’s such an expensive thing – at least at this particular place! 

My recently widowed eldest daughter Lisa had received a loving gift from some family members in the form of a gift card for the spa and she wanted to treat us all to a pedicure. We did it in twos, and I must say it was a lovely, indulgent, softly sensuous experience. 

As you can see by the delightfully scrubbed, trimmed and painted toenails above, we all chose different colors, but ended up with the same affect: rested bodies and spirits. I also had a massage – in a beautiful small room with its own small fireplace and a heated massage table. Bliss. 

Then we dined in the spa restaurant for a late lunch, enjoying the outing and the time together. The drive home was rain-free and absolutely gorgeous. Rolling green hills and a leisurely water-side mile or two along Lake Casitas. 

We arrived in time to freshen up, join the men/boys and then dine out together at Piatti’s to celebrate our eldest grandson’s 18th birthday, returning home to yet another intense sensual experience – chocolate cake! – homemade with love and skill by our daughter-in-law. Dark cake, dark ganache, nutella on one layer, hazelnuts on the outside edge and chopped up Skor bars in the filling. Oh my, my, my.

Overall, it was a very delightful and relaxing weekend together – despite a few bad colds and one very sick 3-year-old who coughed so hard, he had to go home from the restaurant to clean up and recover before rejoining us just in time for dinner – which he devoured. Can’t let great homemade mac and cheese go to waste! 

I am more grateful for the gift of family than I can possibly put into words. Each of these women is a remarkable individual – caring, smart and beautiful. We have walked through an intensely difficult time together and will continue to try and find our way through this wilderness territory called grief, dependent on God and one another to make it to the other side. 

And freshly painted toenails are their own strange and wonderful therapy!

“When I’m 64…” – 2009 – Archive-Diving

And here is one more from the deep pit of 2009 — a post written on my birthday that year.

Well, in 95 minutes, I will be.

Who woulda thunk it? 
How is it possible to feel every age I’ve ever been – but this one, least of all?

At some points, my 14-year-old self is just inside my skin – especially when I feel naive, gullible, misled.

At other points, my feisty, unnecessarily self-confident 22-year-old self pops up and surprises me with her strong opinions and readiness to express them.

There are even those rare moments when a tall-for-her-age 5-year-old shows up, filled with joie-de-vivre whenever the sun is shining and the water is clear.

Sadly, the 64-year-old shows up when I have to stand up after sitting a while, or climb stairs that are uneven, or try to read the really fine print. 

 And yet…there is something to be said for age. Not much, but….something.

Perhaps the best thing is that every age I have ever been is still available to me at a moment’s notice, that what I’ve learned at each of those ages is usually pretty close to the surface when needed, that I know that the reservoirs of love, affection, commitment developed over a lifetime are deeper than I could have imagined at 5, 14, 22 or even 45.

I am deeply grateful that my partner of 43 years still chooses to love me, ‘when I’m 64.’

And overall, life has been good; through it all, God is good.

My restless, often rebellious nature can still trip me up from time to time, but one good thing about 64 is that I have learned to be just a little bit more patient with those parts of myself, sometimes even grateful for them.

Restlessness can lead to dissatisfaction with the status quo and a willingness to make changes when needed.

Even rebelliousness has its plusses, for asking questions about seemingly foregone conclusions can keep the fires of curiosity burning. And I never did believe it killed the cat!

Happy Birthday to me. I am glad I was born, I am grateful for my life, I hope it lasts a while longer.

Being a Grandparent… Archive Diving, May 2009

Getting ready for the Big Blog Move next week, so stay tuned! 
In the process of transferring all my posts, I’m going through my draft pile and posting a few things that never made the first cut. They’re not stellar writing samples, but they do provide some continuity in our family story, so I’m moving them over to the new site. This one is truly dated because Grace is now a charming first-grader and seven years old!

Today was a welcome dose of normalcy. After one solid week of terrorizing, wind-driven fires all around us here in Santa Barbara, trying to do some semblance of ministry while choosing which items to accompany us in evacuation, worshipping in a hotel ballroom because our sanctuary – for the 2nd time in six months – was off-limits due to encroaching flames – it was absolutely delightful to just be Nana for a while today.

Gracie is our youngest grandchild and only granddaughter. She is 3.5 years old, smart as a whip and, of course, absolutely adorable, stunningly beautiful, funny, lovable, creative and an all-around exceptional child (as are all of our six grandsons, it goes without saying. Lovely thing about grandparenthood – you get to brag as much as you like). And she is the only one of our kids to live within easy distance for babysitting and special events.

Grace’s parents were working today and unable to attend her pre-school Mother’s Day Program and Luncheon – so I got to go. Such fun!

Her class, Room One, sang two songs by themselves (all of them in bird costumes, which were assigned to their parents to create. Rachel sewed a lovely white plastic set of ‘feathers’ and created a crown-of-flame-feathers headpiece.)

Then Room Two sang two songs, and Room Three did 4 short Shel Silverstein poems in batches of 3 or 4 kids, and then sang two additional songs. 

Then all the classes together sang two more songs, complete with hand motions, one of which was truly wonderful to hear and to watch. Something about sewing new clothes for every member of the family – all you need is: (add one with each verse)
     a sewing machine (appropriate noises), (this one for mama)
     a bolt of material (extreme hand motions to each side), (this one for papa)
     a tape measure (z-z-z-i-p, z-z-z-u-p), (this one for sister)
     a pair of scissors (snip, snip, snip), (this one for brother)
     a steam iron (pss, pss, pss), (this one for baby), and…
    a washing machine (can’t remember the sound for this one! (this one for the whole entire family)

And then we feasted! And Gracie is a great eater – plowed through a small croissant sandwich with turkey, a KFC drumstick, a handful of grapes and a small piece of cake without even blinking.

I also got to pick her up at the end of the day and we went to the village grocer for supplies and came home and made chocolate chip cookies. Only she wasn’t so sure about the oatmeal I included. A purist, I guess.

At any rate, it was good for me in every way possible – including my soul. A reminder that despite the horrors and the difficulties, life itself is a gift, that children are high on the list of why that is true, and that continuity, family, music and food are to be enjoyed and relished. I am grateful.

Milestones… Archive-Diving, June 2009

Reflections on our eldest grandson’s graduation from high school – now THREE years ago. 

Well, it’s here. We are officially OLD. No matter that we started ‘young,’ having babies in our early 20’s and grandchildren in our mid-40’s. Because now, we have a high school graduate. Yes, our eldest grandson, Ben – age 18, a generous, kind, smart, talented and funny young man – has graduated from Oaks Christian High School. Wow. And weird. 

I distinctly remember, like it was yesterday, the anxious early morning phone call: “Come NOW, Mom. My water broke!” Driving to the Burbank airport to catch a nearly empty flight to Oakland, landing in the densest fog I’ve ever seen, hitching a ride from complete strangers to get to Lisa and Mark’s little house on Abbey Street in Pleasanton where I could pick up my own car, left there two weeks before, and driving to the hospital. Where Ben decided not to come, thank you very much, requiring an emergency c-section and then weighing in at 10# 5 oz. Started setting those milestones early!

He was an absolutely fearless toddler and little boy, climbing everything, jumping from dizzying heights, constructing fabulous inventions, painting early masters, figuring out how things worked. Towheaded to a blinding blonde color, blazing blue eyes, energy out his fingertips – he was a wonder to us all. Our first grandchild – nothing short of a miracle.

He grew up in much the same way he began – fearless, inquisitive, capable of amazing technical expertise and with a wonderful artistic eye. When he was 13, he showed interest and ability in photography. So I gave him my original SLR film camera when I bought my first digital.

Immediately, he figured out more things to do with that camera than I ever dreamed about. The kid had talent – real talent. And the school he chose to go to aided and abetted that talent in a big way.

Oaks Christian is an anomaly in education – a huge endowment from an invested grandparent created a magnificent campus, drew gifted administration and faculty members, and made possible absolutely top of the line technical resources. And all of it anchored in solid commitment to discipleship, commitment and mission.

Ben took every class that was offered in both photography and videography, successfully mastering every challenge. His work won first place in multiple shows and he was in demand as the videographer of choice for most of the faculty, from football coaches to dance instructors. He did good! Real good. And we are all so very proud of him.

A tableau of graduation accoutrementes -(clockwise)
robe & stole, fabulous $$ lei made by Ben’s other grandmother, the senior award certificate, diploma and medallion (well the ribbon shows, at least.)

His graduation ceremony was last Thursday afternoon and I drove down to Westlake early in the day to help Lisa with flowers and errand-running. She, as usual, had everything organized to a fare-thee-well, having accomplished both a new roof and a complete re-landscaping of their backyard in preparation for this momentous day. It was a day rich with deep emotion as Mark’s presence was strongly felt through every moment of it. And how grateful I am that Mark was able to participate as fully as he did in his sons’ lives right up until the day he died last fall! He is, I am sure, so proud of these remarkable young men.

Family came from all around southern CA to attend the ceremonies and/or the wonderful dinner party Lisa hosted afterwards. Lisa and Joel, her youngest, held onto 3 rows of seats (Luke, grandson #2, was playing clarinet in the orchestra) and was soon joined by one great-grandmother, a great-uncle, two great-aunts, two sets of grandparents, two cousins on Mark’s side, an uncle, two aunts and two cousins on Lisa’s side – and those 3 rows filled right up! It was a great ceremony! Good speakers, a suitably (and intimidatingly!) impressive valedictory address and a lovely setting.

The big surprise, that hit us all in our communal solar plexus, was that Ben was one of 5 seniors honored with a special award! We knew that he had won the departmental award in art the previous week, but this one was completely unexpected. The 3 ‘prongs’ of an Oaks education are: Leadership, Athletics, and the Arts – and Ben received the medallion and certificate in the Arts.

It was just so lovely to hear the tribute offered by the head of the department, based on the comments of all Ben’s teachers and on Ben’s own fine work and many contributions to the school through his technical and artistic gifts. He proudly wore the medallion for the picture above and it’s inscription is shown in the one below. The actual introduction is printed in italics below the picture. It was written by Ryan Kelley, Chair of the Arts Department at Oaks.

The recipient of the Dallas Price Van Breda Fine Arts Award is a wonderfully talented visual artist. This fine young man has a passion for photography and film that he has shared with all of us at Oaks Christian School. His exceptional photography was recently featured as the cover of our poster and program for our high school art show and his marvelous film work at our dance concert, Define. His creativeness and technical expertise is only surpassed by his generosity. He never turns down a
request to help others; this includes producing numerous football highlight videos, helping teachers with various video needs all the while making full use of our incredible media studio. He is creative, inquisitive and is always the first to try out a new technique. I have no doubt that we will hear his name again – probably announced at the Oscars for best cinematography. And we are all certain that your father is as proud of you today as we all are.
The winner of the Dallas Price Van Breda Fine Arts Award is Ben Fischinger.

The party itself was grand! A great celebration – with another great-grandmother, great-uncle, two more cousins and multiple friends of all ages. And to top it all off, that day happened to be the 15th birthday of Ben’s brother, Luke, another stellar student at Oaks Christian High. It was a rich day – tiring! – but incredibly blessed. We are all full to the brim with gratitude for God’s good gifts of family, education, beauty, love and laughter.

Beginning Again – 2009 – Archive-Diving

This post marked my re-entry into the blogging world after a break and I want to salvage it to remind myself to be careful with what I share here.

For anyone who might possibly be reading this blog, you have probably noted that there is a long gap between entries at one point – from June of 2007 until early January of this year. There’s a reason for that, and that reason is deeply entwined with the very nature of public blogging sites.

I learned, in a very painful way, that whatever I write in this space needs to be as free from reference to other people as possible, even when those others have a dynamic impact on my own life. I learned this particular lesson the hard way by unintentionally causing pain to people I care about a great deal, so I am trying to be much more circumspect with what I write, keeping things as personal and ego-centric as possible, mentioning others only rather peripherally and with great care.

That’s hard for me. Because writing has become my primary means of processing a whole lot of what happens in my life.

With words, I can wrestle and muse and ponder and rage.
With words, I can sing and shout and praise.
With words, I can think more clearly, find answers more readily, be more comfortable with the times that answers don’t come.
With words, I can more easily locate the center – of a problem or a puzzle or an indescribable joy. Words.

But I also love pictures, photos, actually.

Taking them, studying them, pondering them as I remember where I’ve been and where I’m going. Last December, I very tentatively began to open this site again. At that time, I tried to post some newly shot photos, taken at the beach that has become my refuge, my home-away-from-home, my centering place, my reminder that the universe is an immense place, that my worries and fears – overwhelming as they are at times – are so tiny in the grand scale of God’s creative genius and love.

But it had been a long time since posting anything and I forgot how to get those photos into the essays – in fact was stunned to see them show up as computer geek language rather than actual pictures, at least on the draft page. But now, some two months later, I’ve finally figured out that that strange language on one page of the blog magically transforms into pictures on the actual site – who knew??

So, I’ll try and post those beachside photos from last fall here, toward the end of winter, as I joyfully and gratefully approach the beginning of longer light each day. Hooray for daylight savings time! (A couple of these have appeared in posts between the first attempt at this one and today’s second attempt.)

This is where I most often park my car – to be quiet for a few minutes or to eat my lunch or to read or…

It’s at Butterfly Beach, 5 minutes straight down the hill from our home, across the street from the stately and beautiful old Biltmore Hotel. This view is looking south and to the east. (That’s right, we have south-facing beaches on our funny peninsula here in Santa Barbara.)

This view is still looking south, but more directly to the west – where, as the two photos below will attest, you can actually see a sunset during the winter months.

Looking in the same general direction as the daytime photo above.

Close-up of a beautifully striped sky.

In the Middle of the Mess – Archive-Diving, 2008

Once again, plowing through the archives to salvage some of the written record of the last five years or so. This was was written in November of 2008, and as I look at this gathered community, I am hushed. One marriage, broken. One infant, now a healthy almost-5-year-old, one dear mother-in-law, now unable to speak and fading, fading, fading. Time is relentless.

You might think this an odd picture to publish with the title listed above. But for me, right now, on a Monday late afternoon, sitting at my desk and prayerfully holding before God so many people that I care about who are definitely in the middle of some kind of mess….this picture is a powerful reminder to me of God’s faithfulness.

Faithfulness in, through, around, and right smack dab in the middle of the mess.

The date this picture was taken? November 16, 2008.

The context? Our Sunday morning worship gathering after the Tea Fire, which had swept through Santa Barbara during the immediately preceding three days. Our church building was still part of the evacuation area for that fire, an area which had begun to shrink some the night before, but which at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning still included the access roads to our property.

My husband and I had also been evacuated and had returned home late in the evening on Saturday. And 14 families in our community had seen their homes either destroyed or severely damaged from the ravenous, wind-driven flames of that terrifying time. We were all in the very heart of the most painful and frightening mess most of us could just about ever remember.

And right there – in the middle of it all – we saw remarkable signs of God’s faithfulness, of God’s loving presence, of God’s provisional care, even in the throes of a natural disaster. We found amazing evidences of grace everywhere we looked.

No one in our church community, or in the broader neighborhood, sustained serious injury; the wonders of modern technology enabled us to stay in contact throughout the three days of electrical and wireless disruption; the church was spared and immediately useful for community communication and encouragement gatherings of all kinds; staff and lay leadership rallied to plan and pull off a worship service at an alternate site – the local country club, of all places! – and we were reminded throughout that service of God’s presence, deliverance and providential care, despite the enormity of the mess.

So today, as I pray for a wide variety of painful, frightening and messy situations – I am grateful to remember God’s faithfulness in the midst of a pretty big mess not all that long ago.

I’m not a fan of messes. Don’t enjoy them all that much – would, of course, prefer not to have lived through most of the ones I’ve experienced.

But this much I know: God will meet me there, right in the middle of it.

We are not alone, sometimes despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary. So, Lord, have mercy. Have mercy in the mess. And thank you for stepping into the muck with us.

Time Out… Archive-Diving, 2008

Written originally in the fall of 2008, right after the death of our son-in-law, I am once again diving into the draft archives as I prepare to move my blog after Christmas. This is a travel post and I’m saving it primarily for us, as a record of a fun getaway we put together during a particularly difficult time.

Both Dick and I have realized an ever-increasing sense of urgency about taking time out for a few days. A need to leave all things familiar and nest somewhere else together. It’s been quite a year. Enough trauma for a few lifetimes, it sometimes seems.

So after Sunday’s sermon (which was a sermon I needed to hear, and apparently a few others did as well), we went online and found a great deal at a Pismo motel we had never visited before. An ocean-front, two room, 2 bath suite for a great price.

Yes, it’s foggy in Pismo this time of year.
Yes, we already live in a beach community.

But we don’t live on the water and this place isn’t home, with its telephones, messes needing attention, and other assorted distractions – and that, for a little while at least, makes a huge difference.

So we drove up Sunday afternoon, had dinner at a quaint place where, if you like, they’ll throw an entire pot of 3 different kinds of shellfish, corn on the cob and roasted red potatoes all over your table for dinner. That was a little too much for us our first night away, so we settled for some fabulous homemade soups and seafood louie salads. Perfect.

The next day, after sleeping in a bit and enjoying what is euphemistically called a ‘continental’ breakfast at this lovely resort (it actually consists of a great deal more than that, including two waffle makers into which you pour a cup of batter, set the timer and enjoy), we got in the car for a little exploration.

I love to explore new places! Get in the car and drive, then get out of the car and walk. First we drove to the Pismo Pier, which we walked. (The top photo was taken from the pier, looking back toward our motel.)

Next, we went to Arroyo Grande – a charming member of the Five Cities here on the northern central coast. This is their ‘famous’ swinging bridge, which like everything else in the downtown area and environs, is exquisitely well-maintained and fun to see. After you cross the bridge, there is a small historical building site – with a schoolhouse, a Victorian home and a barn (all, only open on weekends, so no tours) plus a lovely town park with a regular River City bandstand in the middle.

They are currently tidying up their town for this weekend’s ‘world famous’ strawberry festival and we had a wonderful conversation with a woman, about my age, who was very happily painting pictures of strawberries on the store windows of the downtown area.

“How’d you get into this business?” I asked. “Well, 35 years ago, I was working for a bank and they knew I had an art degree. So they asked me to do some windows at the bank. I hadn’t a clue, but began to make friends in the sign industry and gradually, just built up my own little business. I’ve been doing it ever sense. It’s a great job – allowed me flexibility to raise my kids, takes me to all the surrounding little towns and I love being in the outdoors!”

The flowers in this small berg are beautiful, as you can see from these floribunda roses which were screaming out at us in front of the one-room schoolhouse. And soon, there will be new trees all down Branch Street, which is the main drag.

All in all, a very fun outing. We had a flyer for something called “Doc Bernstein’s Ice Cream Laboratory” which we found and entered with enthusiasm. They invent their own flavors and we each enjoyed two scoops as a finishing treat to our walkabout. As you can see, Dick LOVES ice cream.

Next, we decided to follow the road out to Lopez Lake, a spot we had often wondered about, but never visited. Lovely drive, but probably no return trip planned anytime soon. It’s another of California’s large reservoirs that are labeled lakes and allow boating and fishing but no swimming. A few nice campsites out there and this small deer, chomping away.

We ended the afternoon at the 10-plex movie theater, watching “The Soloist.” I had read such mixed reviews on this film that I was hesitant, at first. It is a bit too long and sometimes confusing to listen to – but I think in many ways, that was intentional. I love the director – Joe Wright (of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” fame) and I enjoy both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, so it was absolutely worthwhile just to see some of the interesting directorial choices and the acting chops of these two fine performers.

And it was deeply troubling, too. The condition of the homeless mentally ill in the city of Los Angeles, indeed, in all cities in our country, is simply devastating.

And there was a voice-over line at the end that just tore at my heart, especially in light of the sermon I had worked on last week. It went something like this. “Nathaniel is still sleeping indoors and he is still mentally ill. Some experts have told me that the simple act of having a friend for a year may actually change his brain chemistry enough to help him stabilize a little.”

Having a friend can change brain chemistry??? Who knew? I think perhaps Jesus understood this powerful truth when he told his disciples, “I have called you friends.”

I’m so glad I am enjoying the gift of a few days alone with my very best friend.

Small things… 2009 – Archive-Diving

In this long process of moving my blog (sometime early in the new year, most likely), I am digging into the archives and re-editing some draft posts that were never published. This one was written over three years ago, right after I sent an email, intended for just one person, and accidentally sent it to hundreds. Yes. I did that. And it felt pretty horrible. Thankfully, God is gracious and so are God’s people and we all survived. I do not, however, recommend carelessness with email, or any other kind of correspondence. :>)  Maybe someone out there can empathize with these sentiments:

It’s a funny thing about horizons. Depending on distance, objects can appear to be much smaller than they actually are.

30 foot fishing boats can appear to be no larger than a gnat when viewed from the shore. Sometimes life events are like that.

Things that seem like tiny errors can explode into potentially life-altering happenings in the blink of an eye.

Why is that? Perhaps because we live as fallen, broken people in a fallen, broken world. We are not perfect. We make mistakes, all the time.

We speak too quickly – and someone’s feelings are hurt.

Our eyes miss a date on the calendar and we fail to keep an appointment that is crucial.

We get in a hurry and cut off a conversation too soon, just as important revelations are to be made.

We fill our brains with so much information that the truly important stuff gets crowded out by what has been termed the ‘tyranny of the urgent.’

We don’t take the extra 2 minutes to move from reaction to response when we’re surprised or startled by something new, and we blurt things that should be stopped at the lips and eventually removed from the brain.

Lord, have mercy. We are your broken people, wanting to live in step with your sweet Spirit, but far too often missing the mark. Thank you for grace. Thank you for forgiveness. Thank you for the chance to start anew.

And save us from ourselves, please. We are far too often our own very worst enemies.