The View From Here
March 25, 2017 | My Jottings
It’s a deeply grey, windy morning. I can see the three tattered flags on my across-the-street neighbor’s backyard flag pole, and they’re crazily whipping and snapping. The top flag is the American stars and stripes, the next one down is the flag of Norway (they are Olsons), and the bottom flag is for our Minnesota Twins baseball team. All three are in shreds from a year of wind and snow and sleet and sun, so I’m guessing he will put new ones up this summer sometime.
What if we all had flag poles in our yards? And we were to choose three flags to fly, to represent our loyalties? I think it would be fun and interesting to see what people choose. My friend Su doesn’t have a flag pole, but she does have a flag bracket (I’m not really sure what they’re called) on her front porch, and she changes out the flags she hangs there. She has lovely seasonal flags, an Irish flag, and I think at least one that has a joyful Christian message. Maybe she’ll chime in here and remind me what her flags say/represent. It gives the front of her lovely house a cheerful, welcoming look to it.
I think I would hang an American flag, a flag with a cardinal on it, and at the top, some kind of flag that marked my home as belonging to Jesus Christ. I don’t think even ten years ago I would have considered that making known my Christian faith on the outside of my home would invite vandalism or retribution of some sort, but as I’m typing this, I realize things have changed, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to expect backlash of some sort from my flag choices.
I certainly didn’t plop down on my bed this morning, open up my laptop and intend to write about flag poles. If you had to fly three flags on your property, which flags would you choose?
This week has been a dark one for me. When suddenly my outlook narrows and all I have is what feels like a forced tunnel vision regarding something particularly difficult going on, I feel paralyzed. Emotionally, spiritually, physically. I was supposed to go to my SAGs dinner this week with my dear friends, but something happened and I couldn’t go. So in pain and fear, I sat like a statue and barely prayed in my mind, “Help us Lord. Help, Jesus.” And those prayers were so faint and feeble they felt like almost nothing at all.
I tried to take my own advice and just give thanks and wait. I failed at the first part, and the second part just happened as I sat in the dark, not interested in anything I’m usually interested in. A murder mystery on TV? Ridiculous. A book? Absurd. Thinking about the pleasure I take in puttering around in and keeping my house, or a walk in the cemetery, or a lunch out? All bleak.
After a couple of days passed, the darkness turned to grey, which was an improvement. I felt like I could wash some rugs, take a bath, make some meals, do my CBS lesson. Today things still feel very tentative, but I am putting one foot in front of the other. And I look forward to sitting down in my bedroom chair to read my Bible and sit with Jesus. I hope He speaks something powerful to me that pertains to this situation, but if He doesn’t, I know He’ll be here with me. That will be enough.
Before the darkness, I took a rare selfie and put it on Instagram. Then I played with a fun app called Prisma that transforms your pictures into works of art. Some of them look like your photo has been made into a watercolor, some are very abstract, some look like comic books, some like pen and ink drawings. I sent a couple of them to daughters, because, ahem, who sends pictures of themselves altered with Prisma to their friends and acquaintances? “Hi Amy! I hope you’re having a great day! Here’s a picture of me with pink hair.” No.
Here are four of the views Prisma made out of the one selfie I took. The one on the bottom right looks like a watercolor painting, I think. I didn’t love the zombie one, so omitted that here. I like these “photos” okay because they hide my double chin a little and my hips don’t show. 🙂
I just finished the book A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin and have never read a book like it. It was 880 pages and I almost abandoned it several times because I didn’t want to read all about war strategies, but right when I couldn’t take another page, something so profound and beautiful would be said that carried me through another fifty pages. Here’s a description of what the book is about:
“As a young man, Alessandro Giuliani foresees Italy’s entry into the Great War and joins the navy rather than waiting to be drafted into the more dangerous infantry. This reasoned and logical course of action has no place in a world gone mad, and Alessandro’s life, loves, friendships and fortunes all take bizarre and often tragic turns. Still, Alessandro is able to find beauty not so much because he is a professor of aesthetics (though he is) but because he is profoundly spiritual. As he nears the end of his life story, Alessandro tells his young companion, “And yet if you asked me what [the truth] was, I can’t tell you. I can tell you only that it overwhelmed me, that all the hard and wonderful things of the world are nothing more than a frame for a spirit, like fire and light, that is the endless roiling of love and grace. I can tell you only that beauty cannot be expressed or explained in a theory or an idea, that it moves by its own law, that it is God’s way of comforting His broken children.”
I don’t align myself with Alessandro’s spirituality 100%, but I do believe beauty is one of the ways God comforts His broken children. I have experienced it again and again, and seem to know this truth more intensely and frequently than I ever have. I used to say “oooh” and “aaah” when I saw glowing red leaves on a maple tree in autumn or Morro Rock on California’s Central Coast, or when I smelled the skin of a newborn or saw the latest photos the Hubble was sending back from space, but now these things make me want to bend at the waist and wail. I almost can’t bear them, in the most wonderful of ways. I feel undone by what I see of God in His creation, and I want to respond to Him but almost have no human way that’s adequate. Wailing comes close.
Today my grandson Mr. McBoy is coming over to help me with a few things. The snow in our yard is gone, so he and I will bond over picking up the evidence of Millie’s well-working digestion. He is already 6′ 3″ and is only 14 years old. He’ll go through the list I have for him, and then I’ll make him lunch and we might talk a bit, I hope. Looking into his face is a surreal experience for me, because out of all my wonderful grandchildren, he looks the most like my side of the family. Looking at him is like being able to see my dad as a boy, is also like seeing a male representation of myself, and it all seems oddly familiar. The faces of children are portals to so much that can’t be articulated.
I have also begun to enjoy the smell of essential oils being diffused in my home. I don’t sell them, but I did sign up for my own account so I could buy them more reasonably. My favorite right now is Idaho Blue Spruce, which makes me think of Michael and the walks we used to take in the woods around our area. He used to pick the end off of a blue spruce branch and inhale the fragrance deeply with a hearty “Aaahhh,” and then reach out and put it under my nose so I could do the same. We thought it was the perfume of heaven come down.
Time to start my day. I hope you have a peaceful weekend and some beauty to gaze upon.
God rest and keep you,
March 15, 2017 | My Jottings
Today has been a quiet day at home, the kind I love best. The sun is out, I can hear the hum of the dishwasher in the kitchen, the exquisite smell of Idaho Blue Spruce essential oil is diffusing, and in a little while I’ll pick up Vivie and Audrey from school and give them a ride home. I love those 15 minutes with them on school pickup days, when they tell me the newest cutenesses about their little sister Miriam. Carolyn told me recently that when Miri pets Walter their runty black pug, she croons, “Boogoy Walter, boogoy,” instead of “good boy.” Things like that make my heart fill up.
A couple of weekends ago I took my foster gals and my fifteen year-old granddaughter Clara on a little vacation up the shore of Lake Superior, and we stayed in a log cabin close enough to the lake to toss a rock into it. The winds almost ripped the car doors from their hinges when we got out, so we didn’t do the leisurely strolling and shopping in the little town we thought we might. We visited a few places so the gals could buy souvenirs, had some nice restaurant meals, and enjoyed the wonderful view from the warmth of our weekend home.
I’m not one who likes to buy a lot of souvenirs, but this mug did catch my eye, and I’ve had my tea in it almost every day since then. It has things I love — moose, birch trees, the colors black and white together, and of course, a cardinal. I think it looks like it’s made for my room, don’t you?
The last morning of our weekend away, I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and went out on the deck of the cabin, to sit in the wind and snow flurries, watch the waves pound, and listen to the sounds a human cannot make.
I read my devotional out there, and held very still as I watched two young deer stepping their slow and guarded way over the rocks near the waves on the shore. I have seen many whitetail deer in my 36 years in Minnesota, but I can’t remember seeing any of them so close to crashing lake waves. It was a thrill to watch.
There was a good-sized and well-filled bird feeder attached to the deck railing, and even in the approaching snowstorm, chickadees busily fluttered back and forth from the tall pines to the feeder, and seemed almost tame. I gathered some seed in my hand and held my arm out. One little frequent flyer flew close and then thought better of the idea. If it had been warmer I would have persisted and waited until one landed on me, but even with the blanket I was cold. The flakes were starting to stick and I went back inside. We drove the two hours home slowly as the snow piled up on Highway 61.
Last weekend I had some friends over for dinner. My pastor Rob and his wife Gayle came, and we had homemade Beef Barley Soup. The recipe is truly moanworthy, one I got from my friend Carey years ago, and I tweaked it the tiniest bit. Not everyone likes marjoram and thyme but I do, and I doubled the amounts called for. So aromatic.
I love to set the table when company is coming. I start in the morning as music plays on my little Bose speaker, and add things as the day progresses, getting as much ready as I can so the whole experience will be restful and nurturing rather than stressful in any way. I am not trying to impress anyone anymore. I made the soup the day before, which made it so much better on the day of company.
I don’t own any fancy china, and most of my things are mismatched, but somehow when I put it all together, it makes me happy. It would prompt a decorator roll his/her eyes, but here’s a picture of how things looked about halfway through the day. I still added a few things before Rob and Gayle arrived, but I forgot to take a picture then. You can click these photos to enlarge if you like.
My only dishes are blue and white. The ones you can barely see underneath the soup bowls are from Target, circa early 1980s. The blue and white fruit dishes were a gift from my book club friends years ago, and they bought them on clearance at Pier One. The thick, carved goblets are from The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California, and bring back such wistful childhood memories I could write a book about them. The plaid salad plates are from, of all places, the Pendleton clothing company. The dark blue pitcher was a gift from my friend Laurel, and is by Le Crueset. I have been collecting and receiving wonderful blue and white mugs for years, and the three on the table are from that collection. There’s a blue and white woven, Norwegian table runner in the middle, and some red, blue and black Scottish tartan plaid place mats that were a gift from Sara last year. The adorable cardinal salt and pepper shakers were a surprise from my friend Kristi. I got the cloth napkins from Target years ago. If you look at the far end of the table you can see a candle I received from my friend Pat, and Delft windmills, all sitting in a white serving tray.
None of this matches. Who puts Scottish tartan with Norwegian reindeer? Or fruity plates with plaid? Or gaudy goblets with a coffee mug from the Pannekoeken House in Minneapolis? Or Dutch Delft pottery with Le Crueset? But it’s what I have. It’s all wrapped up in memories and love and generosity, and I want to put it all out when I have the opportunity to do so. Somehow, in my mismatched world, there’s beauty there.
What was more beautiful was having a simple meal around a table with people I care about. Aside from the soup, I served a marinated red cabbage salad, gluten-free French rolls (for Gayle) and gluten-filled French bread (for Rob and me). Carey loves pesto in this soup, so at her suggestion I put out a little bowl of basil and pine-nut pesto, and both Rob and Gayle tried it.
For dessert we had a mishmash of things, which seems appropriate because of the way I set the table. I bought a chocolate mint tart at our Whole Foods Co-op, and cut it up in quarters. It was amazing. Click here to see a variety of the flavors, and their ingredients. I set out some gluten-free crackers and wedges of Brie cheese, and a pile of Marcona almonds. We each had a cup of tea, and lingered at the table as we talked about our families, our faith, and a smattering of other things like colonoscopies, rabbits and weddings. You know, regular table talk.
I’ve shared about food and table decor today, but what’s most important to me is that I welcome people into the home the Lord has given me, and that we connect and enjoy being together. I don’t know if that’s the way Rob and Gayle would sum up the evening they were here for dinner, but it’s the way I would describe it.
For the first two years after Michael’s death I had this intense need to cocoon myself up as much as possible, to experience quiet, rest, time to think deeply, for intentional thanksgiving, and to heal. I still feel like I need all of that, but I want to break out a little more these days, to love and enjoy the people God has put in my life.
Would you like to come for dinner sometime? I would love to have you.
An Ocular Arc and the ER
March 4, 2017 | My Jottings
I think that sounds like a tongue twister, don’t you? Instead of “She sells seashells down by the seashore,” or “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” we could add “An Ocular Arc and the ER,” to our tongue-twisting repertoire. No, not really. That would be silly, because “An Ocular Arc and the ER” are not that hard to say.
Before I talk about the ocular arc I want to mention something a whole lot more fun. Last night one of my grandchildren spent the night. Miss Louiser was apparently so excited when I texted her mama to see if Friday happened to be open on her calendar. It’s so nice when a grandchild loves you so much she can hardly contain herself! I feel the same way about my grands, but some of them are teenagers now, and as my friend Sue mentioned to me the other day, we grandmothers are about as interesting and important as lamps to our teenaged grands now. Sigh.
I picked up Weezer from preschool yesterday around 2:45, and she was so happy when I peeked through the classroom door at her, she started jumping up and down and squealing. After we gathered her things we walked down the outside steps of the school, down the sidewalk to Grandma’s blue car. I strapped her in the back seat and she chattered happily at me the whole three miles home.
She asks for snacks every thirty minutes or so, and here’s a list of what she had while she was here:
*Peanuts and raisins in a little custard cup (did you know you can squish a raisin between two peanut halves and it looks like a hamburger for a Barbie doll? My grandkids have done this for years.)
*One half of an orange
*One carrot stick
*Three apple slices
Then for dinner we tried a new Papa Murphy’s about a block from my house. You walk in, order your pizza, they make it immediately and wrap it up, and you bring it home and bake it yourself. It’s not like you all didn’t know about places like this before, but it’s the first time we’ve been there. So I thought it was semi-newsworthy. (Pause and feel sorry for me here.) We liked the pizza all right, and then Auntie Sara brought home a Red Box movie, Pete’s Dragon, which made me cry. I would so have a pet dragon if I could. I wouldn’t want a mean dragon like Tolkien’s Smaug, but a humble dragon like Elliot would be welcome in my home if he took me on regular flights out across Lake Superior. Please watch this very brief clip and tell me if you would do this if given the opportunity.
Louiser loves to take a tubby at my house. Bubbles galore, water that comes out of the ceiling instead of a regular spigot, bath toys, and some warm snuggles with books afterward always make her happy. Her hair needed a trim and Mama said I could even things up a little, so I cut about an inch from the ends and shortened her bangs a bit while she sat quietly. Then she requested a French braid, which I gladly did.
By the time the movie was over, our little four-year old was almost nodding off in the plaid wing back chair, so we decided to brush our teeth and get ready for bed, even though it wasn’t even 7:30 yet. In less than fifteen minutes this happened:
I picked up a little after I made sure she was sound asleep, then let Millie the Schnauzer out for the last time. I read a while and then after I turned off the lamp on my nightstand, I listened to Weezer’s breathing, which is so precious. Breath is precious in a precious life, isn’t it?
Around 1:45 a.m. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep for almost two hours. Gah. I am not a fan of that kind of night. I listened to some music on my iPhone, turned down low so as not to disturb Louiser, and when I heard my alarm go off at 7:00 it seemed like I had just shut my eyes. Little Miss slept pretty well, except for one time in the night when she turned over with the teensiest little whine and said clearly, “Nevermind!”
Today she asked for a fried egg for breakfast, and all the snack requests commenced after that, but they were all healthy ones so I just handed them out every hour or so. She wanted to watch a couple Saturday morning cartoons and explained to me that the flying lions on Elena of Avalor were not called flying lions, but Jackwins. At least that’s how I heard it. I later looked it up out of curiosity and saw that the creatures are called Jaquins; children’s programming has changed considerably since I was Louiser’s age. I watched Felix the Cat, Mighty Mouse and later, The Archies. Do any of you remember those shows?
Around noon, Mama and big sister Mrs. Nisky came to pick up Mrs. Baby. That’s another nickname Weezer has had since birth. And often her family shortens that one to just Mrs., which she happily answer to. Sara cleaned the kitchen, I did a little foster paperwork, and then I decided to move the furniture in my bedroom around. It was time for a little change, and I always enjoy the fresh, new feel a room takes on with a bit of rearranging.
We put sliders under the big mahogany dresser and that was easy. Then I decided to move the king-size bed by myself, and I realized three things immediately: 1. I am weak, 2. My carpet is thick, and 3. I can grunt very loud. I had to move it a couple of inches at a time, and finally Sara must have heard my vocal commotion so she came in and helped me finish. We moved the chairs, nightstands and lamps, and I sat down to rest and look around with a pleased expression on my face, when all of a sudden something got my attention.
On the left periphery of my left eye, I saw an arc of multi-colored, flashing bright lights. It was as if a miniscule mirror was broken, and tiny triangular shards were arranged around a half circle in my field of vision. I saw the arc, the kaleidoscope of blue and pink and silver flashes, and very pointed and geometric shapes clinging to the arc.
It looked sort of like this, but mine was more colorful, and the triangles were smaller:
No matter where I looked, the flashing arc was there, and I thought to myself, weeelllll, THIS can’t be good, so I googled something like “flashing arc with triangles in eye,” and saw several sites that said I should see my ophthalmologist without delay. I knew Dr. Treacy’s office would be closed on a Saturday, but called for the answering service, and the doctor on call telephoned within five minutes. Since this happened right after I had physically exerted myself moving my bed, I felt sure I had done something bad to the retina. I was already mentally calculating how things would be taken care of at home with my foster gals while I was having eye surgery.
But the ophthalmologist felt certain that what I was describing to her was an ocular migraine. I had never heard of an ocular migraine and I doubted her right away since I have never had a migraine in my life, and I had just moved furniture. She was very matter of fact and said to rest a bit and she would call me back in 25 minutes to see if there was any change. When I talked to my daughter Sharon, she had just read of a case like this on Facebook, and the delay had been a bad thing for the patient. The ER folks told him he should have come in immediately. With that information, I decided to go to the Emergency Room, and Sharon offered to drive me. I am legally blind in my right eye, corrected to 20/40 with glasses. This ominous arc was in my good left eye. I didn’t want to take any chances.
So to bypass all the things like registration, sitting and waiting, vitals being taken, and seeing a doctor, the verdict was that he also believed I was having an ocular migraine. Since I didn’t have a dark curtain come down in my vision, or splatters of floaters, he didn’t believe it was a retinal detachment. But since the ER didn’t have the right equipment to examine my eyes, I will make an appointment with my ophthalmologist first thing on Monday morning. While I was at the hospital the flashing arc with the mirror-like triangle shards resolved itself, and I felt okay about going home. Sharon dropped me off, and I decided to rest for a couple of hours.
Here was my view as I began this blog post, and the new way my room is arranged:
The picture is distorted since I was using the panoramic feature of my iPhone and my hand wasn’t steady, but it’s good enough. Millie is at the left, worn out by the bath Sara gave her this morning.
I’m so grateful my vision seems to be okay now! I’m grateful for medical insurance. And for my time with Louiser… her hugs and giggles and sweetness. I will try not to think about how lamp-like I will be to her in less than a decade. That will be terrible.
I’m also giving thanks that even though I still have no idea what I’ll be speaking on, I know by the time March 14th rolls around, the Lord will have helped me write the opening I’ll be doing at Community Bible Study. I have been praying, taking notes, trying to discern what the Holy Spirit might want to say to the beautiful women in our class, and so far, I’m in the dark. It seems like this is the pattern every single time I’m ever asked to share, and I don’t get why it works this way. I’m thanking Him in advance for His faithfulness, and trying to learn to rest while feeling so uncertain.
Well, it’s time for bed. I’ll bet your Saturday night was a bit more lively than mine. After my post-ER rest, I made dinner, watched part of the Lawrence Welk Show, took a bath, brushed my teeth, and cleaned my Invisalign trays.
I’m glad you stopped in… God’s peace to you all,
March 1, 2017 | My Jottings
I will have ashes on my forehead tonight for the first time in my life. I am looking forward to my first Ash Wednesday service. I have observed Lent before, but not in the way I’m anticipating this year. I will share more about this soon, but for today, I wanted to share this wonderful quote with you:
“Lent begins with this realization. That we are people in exile. That we are wandering far from our true home. And thus, the beginning of repentance isn’t merely the terror one finds in wandering in a strange land; the beginning of repentance is homesickness. Lent teaches us to admit to how often we have settled down in the land of our exile as though it were our true home; attempting to still the yearning the Spirit has created by throwing at it physical or psychological pleasure, and how it never works.”
* * * * * *
These Warm My Heart
February 24, 2017 | My Jottings
I have two or three “big” blog posts I’ve been working on for a while now, but every time I go back to them there’s so much to say I can’t seem to do it. The unfinished posts don’t have any bad news or for that matter, anything that’s mind-blowing, but they mean a lot to me. Maybe that’s why I’m having such a hard time getting the words out in black and white. They feel like such deep things.
Anyway, hopefully before Christmas I’ll get them done and then I’ll see what I always do, that the things that seem to loom huge in my mind always get that way because I’ve ignored or overthought them.
For today, I thought I’d share some photos of people and places that warm my heart.
The photo below is my youngest daughter Sara, who took a five week trip right after Christmas. She traipsed solo around France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Israel, and made me jealous the whole time. I dream of solo travel and have this big month-long trip to the U.K. all planned out in my mind, which I hope will be a reality before I’m too old. I so enjoyed all the photos Sara texted me almost every day, and this one was from a bicycle tour of Paris:
My oldest daughter Sharon joined Sara in early January for a week in Paris. They biked, ate, took the Seine River cruise at night, toured the Louvre, and sent pictures back of all the unique and delicious cafe meals they ate. Below, Sharon is standing in front of a hotel in Paris with her (almost) last name:
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (meaning northeastern Minnesota), my middle daughter had begun rehearsals for a play she was in at our local playhouse. I guess You Can’t Take It With You is an oldie but a goodie, first a play and then a movie in the late 1930s. I didn’t know the story but when I went to see the play last week I loved it. The play was so funny and quirky, and since Carolyn was one of the players who made the audience howl, I had to do the proud mom thing and tell the people around me (at intermission) that that young woman was my daughter. She played two characters, and below you can see her as The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina in the purple. You can click to enlarge photos if you like.
Imagine my awe and delight when I got this photo by text from Sara:
That is the real secret hiding place in the home of Corrie ten Boom in Haarlem, Holland. Sara took a train from Paris to Amsterdam and then to Haarlem, so she could tour the Ten Boom house museum.
This is Sara actually crawling out of the hiding place. What a chance of a lifetime! That’s another trip I’d love to take someday. After studying The Hiding Place this last summer with several friends, seeing this home where God’s love changed so many lives would be a dream come true.
This sweet and beautiful girl is Vivienne, my fifth-born grandchild. She is eleven, will be in middle school next year (sob!) and I want to stop the hands of time because I won’t be able to take it. Vivie loves science facts, and a few months ago when we were driving, she asked from the back seat, “Grandma, do you think that infinity has mass?”
I told her I had never considered whether or not infinity had mass, but my guess was no. Gah. Vivie is a gifted artist, a thinker extraordinaire, and loves and takes delight in her little sister Miriam and dogs Frances and Walter.
I have a special weekend planned for my two foster gals, so that’s all for now. I hope your weekend is a good one.
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 134
February 22, 2017 | My Jottings
Support for the Sojourn
February 16, 2017 | My Jottings
Twenty minutes after nine. She makes sure the front door is locked, takes her black wool pea coat from the hook in the entry and puts it on, slips her feet into the black suede oxfords with a retro wing-tip design, drops her iPhone into the middle pocket of her sizeable Vera Bradley purse, and heads to the garage. She starts the Outback, pushes the Robin Mark CD into the player, and backs out of the garage and over the berm of snow at the end of her driveway, piled there by the snow plow last week. The streets are wet, not icy, which means it’s already in the mid-thirties. Unusual for February, and not a good sign for the planet they say on the news, but it makes her feel hopeful and glad. The worst of winter has passed. Even if March brings blizzard after swirling blizzard, piles of snow never seem as sinister as temperatures that plummet to twenty-seven below.
She drives the few miles to the hospital and sings with the Irishman,
“Lord Jesus may Your Spirit come
And make this a holy place
For we have longed to gaze
Upon the glory of Your face.
Then every selfish will exposed,
And every vain desire
Are humbled and then purified,
By Your holy, holy fire,”
and it makes her think for the billionth time about her Michael, now moved on to the place and the Person of whom she sings.
She turns into the parking ramp across the street from the hospital, reaches out of the car window to press the blue button and take the ticket that pokes out, then drives to level P3, where she parks in the “Compacts Only” area near the new elevators that will take her up to the skywalk. She steps out of the elevator and passes medical personnel in periwinkle blue scrubs, professionals in work dress who nod, and people walking through the enclosed and windowed sidewalk, three stories up. She looks down on the street below and wonders how many of those cars hold people with pounding hearts and red eyes, hoping today will bring better news of their loved ones in the huge brick building.
Two years ago she was one of those people, doing normal things like driving, parking, walking, breathing, praying, while watching her husband withdraw from this world, preparing to cross over to a timeless land she could not yet enter.
This is why she put on her pea coat and zippered black suede shoes and got in her Subaru to drive downtown, to be with a group of fellow grief-travelers twice a month, where nothing is expected and everything is understood.
She waits for the elevator and hits the button for the second floor, down one from the skywalk. The signs taped to the walls point to the carpeted room next to the chapel where between twelve and sixteen people gather, pouring coffee, hanging coats, giving hugs, settling down into upholstered chairs. A facilitator will begin the meeting, going over guidelines for newcomers (crying is fine, expected, and we will wait for you to get through it or you can pass, this is not a therapy group but a support group and we learn from each other, remember to share your name and the name of your spouse and how he/she died, if you have to leave early feel free to slip out quietly, the bathrooms are down the hall to the left) and at ten o’clock they begin.
She feels glad to see everyone there. N. with his hearing device that he places on the coffee table, D. with his shock of white hair and shy manner, V. with her knee brace and beautiful empathy, S. with his brotherly love and Christian faith that warms everyone. She sees J. who wears his grief and joy on his face and makes them all laugh and sob, B. who is furthest on the road they share, hopeful, serene and expectant now, R. who drives from almost-Canada to be there and can’t yet speak without the pain cutting his words short, B., kind and sweet, who made a quilt for V.’s grandbaby, and J., who has lost husband and father, and whose humility and quiet sharing reveal real depth. She sees L. in his chair, man of few words with feelings he either can’t or won’t bring to the surface, M., trying to navigate life with his daughters after the sudden death of his wife, and F. who also remembers the awfulness of Lewy Body Dementia. C. is there for the first time in a while, the oldest member of this senior group, and he deals with his sorrow by sitting with hospice patients who would otherwise die alone.
They know each others’ grief stories. Pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s, aneurysm and ALS. Death by car accident, by dementia, by stroke, by Agent Orange.
She hadn’t planned on attending any grief support groups, because she thought she had wonderful support already. Family and friends have been so good to her. But V., whose life mirrors her own in countless ways, encouraged her to come, and she has made it a priority for over a year now.
They listen. Pass Kleenex. Welcome the new, tentative folks who wander in with their fogs of sorrow. Heads nod in complete understanding when someone shares. Sometimes a smaller group of them go out for lunch or coffee after the meeting ends, and sentiments are expressed about having friends who truly understand the ways of grief and the scarcity of maps for this journey they were put upon, the emotional ditches they wander into, and how much the new normal hurts.
She eats the rest of her romaine and blue cheese salad while N. finishes his seafood chowder beside her. J. works on the sandwich he picked out thinking it was only a croissant, L. crosses his arms and rests them on the table after crumpling up his napkin, ready to bring some of those few words forward now that the group is smaller, perhaps safer. Across from her, B. is a good listener and offers cheerful encouragement. She’s thinking about selling her house and moving into an apartment. Shoveling snow when one is sixty-nine is getting old. S. says something about how they’re always going to be there for each other, how they’ll keep coming back to this grief group because there are no expectations here about how long they can sorrow, and how they understand each other so well because they’re on the same difficult road.
She wants to believe this is true, but something deep inside tells her it’s probably not. Already one of their group has met a widow at his church and fallen deeply in love. He stopped in at the meeting a few weeks ago, bringing a photo of the two of them smiling and glowing, cheeks pressed together, and wanted to say goodbye to the group he no longer needs.
She knows this will happen again with others, and she knows it will most likely be the men. She thinks that often men need to have someone in their lives to cook for them and take care of them, that perhaps they aren’t as comfortable with aloneness and silence as women are.
After a couple of hours, the lunch/grief group pushes their chairs away from the table and they all pull on their coats. Hugs are exchanged, hats are placed on bald heads, parting words are spoken about anticipating the next meeting in two weeks.
She walks to her car across the parking lot partially covered in melting snow, thankful for the rubber soles on her shoes. She drives the winding roads past the cathedral and looks at the gorgeous, expansive view of the Great Lake that never fails to uplift. The winter sun transforms the lake into an enormous blue field strewn with glittering gems. She lets her mind recall how it felt when her soon-to-be husband brought her here from sardine-packed Southern California almost thirty-six years ago.
She feels grateful for this group of sojourners she sees twice a month, and the comfort and fellowship they offer. She prays for some of them as she hangs up her coat, puts her shoes on the floor tray to catch the snow, revels in the little howls of greeting her dog gives, and opens the French doors overlooking the lake to let her out. She walks to the bird cage and greets Phoebe the parakeet with a ch-ch-ch sound that makes her hop from perch to perch.
She fills the tea-kettle and sets it to boil on the stove. She walks down the hall to the office and turns on the Mac to get some work done before it’s time to cook dinner. Pounded chicken breasts sauteed in butter and lemon, maybe. Asparagus. She wishes she had bought a baguette while she was still out.
Before she returns to the dining room to let her aging and scruffy Schnauzer back in, she checks the big calendar on her red and cream toile-wallpapered office wall, making sure the words “Grief Support Group” are written on the square for Wednesday, two weeks from this day.
February 9, 2017 | My Jottings
Michael moved to heaven two years ago today. He packed lightly for the move, leaving all his clothes and toys and various belongings here on earth. He even left his body here.
His clothes have been given to family members, donated to others who needed them, and a few still hang in our closet. I don’t see a need to say goodbye to them yet. People ahead of me on this journey tell me I will know when it’s time to clear everything out, and that has been helpful. Today I still want his jeans and shirts hanging nearby.
His man toys were happily given to people who could use them. I gave his fishing boat to his best fishing buddy Steve West, who regularly catches walleyes from the sixteen-foot craft on Boulder Lake. I gave his Yamaha 4-wheeler to his brother-in-law Joe, who loves the snowplow attachment it has. I gave his snowmobile to his friend Jeff Schilling, who graciously stored it for us when it wasn’t in use. I gave his truck to a dear son-in-law who needed some four-wheel drive transportation in our snowy climate. And that son-in-law gave it to another dear son-in-law recently, who needs it for hauling. It seems so right that all these items which could have been sold, instead belong to people Michael loved.
I’m so thankful Michael doesn’t need his earthly body anymore. It was a pretty nice body, and as his wife, I should know. It was strong and muscled, hardworking and active, faithful and dependable. That body provided for our family, held me close, knelt beside me to pray, shoveled snow, held babies, and filled a space in our lives that seems so huge now. When you lose someone you love, you come to experience that their absence can feel like something actually present in itself. Michael’s absence fills our home and my heart.
I visit Michael’s grave regularly, and it brings me comfort, even joy, to picture his earthly body clothed in a suit, in that wooden casket below the grass. It doesn’t seem morbid to me at all, because this is the order of things. I suppose if I didn’t believe in Jesus and the resurrection He promises His followers, then the thought of Michael’s precious body in a box underground would be a terrible thing to ponder. But that body of his was like the outer coat of a seed. When a seed is planted in the earth, the seed coat breaks down and opens, and truly miraculous new life comes forth. I know this is what has happened with Michael’s body. Yes, it will break down over the decades, but it is no more useful to him now than the outer parts of a seed are to an oak or a maple tree. The Parkinson’s disease and the Lewy Body Dementia that caused his brain and muscles to malfunction are still in that grave. No illness or disease is allowed where Michael has gone.
“We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.” –– 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, The Message
Even though I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that two years have passed, and I will never see Michael again on this earth, I do experience grief and good cheer simultaneously. I’m so thankful for the way the Lord has seen me through.
For those of you who haven’t seen these treasures, here are a couple of links:
Click here for our daughter Sharon’s unforgettable, hilarious, touching eulogy at Michael’s funeral.
Click here to see our daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy sing Psalm 84 so beautifully at Michael’s funeral.
Click here to see the marvelous slide show (with our three favorite songs) played at Michael’s funeral.
Yesterday at the senior grief support group I attend, a friend shared how she once read these words of condolence: “I’m sorry for your temporary separation.” I love that. What a perfect, hopeful thing to say to someone who’s grieving.
Today, as I recall how dark and life-changing and glorious and painful and wondrous February 9, 2015 was, I am missing my husband Michael. I miss him with hope and with cheer, mingled in with the loneliness and tears.
Thank you for stopping by, and may God give you His hope and good cheer today…
The Paper Boy
February 6, 2017 | My Jottings
I had my first real crush on a boy when I was in the fifth grade. His name was Duane. His last name began with the letters Ed, and his friends called him Ed instead of Duane. I liked him because I thought he was cute (he looked like Paul McCartney if you squinted your eyes and stood 1/8 of a mile away), he was tall (I was the tallest girl in the class), and he was nice. He didn’t behave like an idiot like some of the other boys did.
Duane liked sports, and spent most of his time at recess playing football or basketball with his friends. He was also a paper boy for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, our evening newspaper, and I used to see him riding his purple Schwinn Sting Ray bike with his canvas paper carrier on the handlebars.
At Workman Avenue Elementary School, we went into the cafeteria and square danced for recess time when it rained outside. I remember The Virginia Reel, and another dance we did in a circle to the words “Oh, Johnny, oh Johnny oh!” I always hoped that Duane would end up being my square dance partner.
Many of my class mates had crushes on boys too. My friend Denel went steady with Barry Fourzon in second grade, Bob McCarter in fourth, and she had a couple of other crushes too. I confided in my friends about my crush on Duane, and we giggled together like girls do. It was very innocent, even though looking back now I think we were too young to be focusing on boys when we were only 10 years old. I don’t think a boy ever had a crush on me back then, unless you count Irwin Fast, who asked most of the girls to go steady because he just wanted to say he had a girlfriend.
I don’t know who spread the word, but someone told someone else who told Duane that I liked him. It was probably a passed, crumpled note in class that had written in faint pencil, Julie S. likes you. When I found out about that I was embarrassed, but I had hopes that maybe Duane might like me back. What were we going to do if we “liked” each other? Nothing at all. He didn’t live close to me, he ate lunch with his friends as I did mine, and we were too young to date.
After a couple of months, two of my friends called my name on the playground one sunny afternoon and came running up to me. “Ed wants to go steady with you!” one of them exclaimed. This was the way of things — messengers were used to do the asking and the relaying of messages. She held out a little cardboard jewelry box and nestled inside was a pretty gold heart necklace. On the flat heart were several clear rhinestones shaped in a small cross. I was so shocked, but I was happy, and they helped me put my necklace on. I couldn’t believe that Duane actually liked me and wanted to go steady.
Things continued as before, with Duane playing football at recess with his friends, me playing four-square with mine, and we exchanged occasional shy smiles and quick hip-high waves when we saw each other at lunch. One time I saw him finishing his paper route and went out to the sidewalk to talk to him. He gave me a ride on his bike and I thought the clouds had parted and the angels sang.
I don’t remember how long Duane and I went steady before I got the news. Probably a month or two had passed. Two friends told me that they had felt sorry because no boys were interested in me, so they talked Duane into asking me to go steady. He was a nice guy and thought it seemed like a kind thing to do, to take pity on the tall gangly girl with the freckles and the buck teeth. I know that none of them were trying to hurt me. But I’ll bet you can guess that it did. I gave the necklace back to Duane, and tried not to show how “other” and alone I felt.
Seven years later Duane and I graduated from high school in the same class, and he continued to be a football-loving, relatively shy, uncommonly nice guy. He had a serious girlfriend, and I was dating the guy I would marry.
Why this memory wandered back to me I’m not sure. It makes me wish I could go back and tell that ten year-old girl a few important things.
February 3, 2017 | My Jottings
I have a few good memories of my brother Steve.
When my first marriage ended suddenly while living in Germany, I was 22 and my daughters were 2 years and 8 months old. We returned to Southern California to get our bearings, and Steve and his first wife were very good to my little girls. They took toddler Sharon to their favorite salon in Beverly Hills for her first official haircut. We delighted in the way Sharon said, “Unca Steeb got my hair cut in Bebbaly Hills!”
He would get down on the floor with my girls and play with blocks and dolls, and read books to them. He laughed at their antics and hugged and kissed them. They adored him for the short time he was in their lives. Once my divorce was final, my girls and I moved to a beach city an hour away when I got a job, an apartment and began life as a single mom. Steve’s marriage ended not long after that and he was involved in trying to recreate his own life, so we didn’t have much contact.
But the way he doted on my young daughters is what I remember most fondly.
I had two older brothers. Larry was 15 years older than I, Steve was 10 years older. In many ways I was like an only child, since by the time I was 8, both of my brothers had moved out. My most vivid memories of my brother Steve all revolve around the way I knew he felt about me: I was his pesky younger sister. I know he must have loved me because we were siblings, but he was more often dismissive of me. Sometimes he teased me by putting his front teeth over his lower lip as if he had an overbite, making a goofy rodent sound and calling me Bucky Beaver. Those were the days before my braces. He also liked to scare me a lot. He used to hide behind a door or crouch outside in the brick-bordered flower bed under my bedroom window at night, and when he saw me he would jump out and yell a loud and deep “mwahahahaha!!” and he would laugh when I cried or got mad at him for doing that.
I’m told he was a sensitive little boy, and I know now that he was secretly and violently bullied by my older brother.
Steve didn’t like to get dirty even when he was young, and didn’t want to be a boy scout because that meant camping, which meant getting dirty. He used to shower twice a day as an adult. He always looked nice, dressed well, took care of himself.
Here’s a picture of Steve in 1949, when he was two years old.
He loved peanut butter and jelly and milk. He used to take a spoon and scrape out a dollop of Skippy, and then a plop of Welch’s grape jelly on top of that for a quick snack, washed down with a swallow of Foremost milk from the carton. He loved graham crackers and milk. I remember seeing him when he was a teen, dipping a layered pile of long graham crackers into a bowl of milk, and biting off the soft, mushy ends. To this day I could have that same snack if I’d let myself.
By the time he was in junior high school he was excelling in basketball. We had a basketball hoop on our garage on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, and Steve shot baskets constantly. He carried a basketball with him in the house, and used to effortlessly spin and balance it on the tip of his finger. My dad was the basketball coach at Covina High School, and by the time Steve attended there, he was a star player. Because he was only 6′ 1″ he was a guard, but he was quick, a superb shooter and ball handler, and he held the school record for assists decades after he graduated in 1965.
I didn’t know then how strained the relationship was between my dad and Steve. I think as long as Steve did well on the court, things were okay with them. But after he graduated from high school and went to college and didn’t finish, things between him and my dad deteriorated. My dad could have been a more supportive father. He showed dictator-like qualities toward his sons that he didn’t toward me. He put his coaching before his family at times. Then my father divorced my mother after 31 years of marriage and that seismic event made us all into people we didn’t want to be. I have some pretty awful memories from those years. One of those horrible memories resulted in complete estrangement between my dad and Steve, and Steve legally changed his last name from Sooter to Brontë.
Steve tried high school basketball coaching, but it didn’t last. I was never sure why. He married his long time girlfriend and they both had good jobs and a lifestyle that included frequent French dining in Beverly Hills, shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, and European trips.
Over the years Steve and my dad would have tentative contact with each other and it seemed like things were going to mend, but harsh words and accusations would always erupt and then it was over again. Sometimes for years.
I don’t want to write too many details, but what should be mentioned is that unforgiveness and bitterness can change a person into someone hardly recognizable if those choices are left to stand for years. Steve never got the kinds of apologies from my father that he should have had. Pride is also a great destroyer.
When Michael and I married in 1981, it was the last time my family was ever together in one place. This photo was taken on that day.
From left to right: me (age 23), Carolyn (age 2), Sharon (age 4) and Steve (age 33).
As decades passed, my brother did and said things that stunned the rest of us, and we were a family by DNA only. My brothers were estranged from each other, from my father, my parents were divorced, and my brothers came in and out of my life as their moods struck them.
Steve married again and had two children. His wife and grown kids are beautiful and have trusted God to get them through the hell that was their existence. Steve eventually ruined every relationship he had, and his family had to try to survive apart from him. They moved to a state where decent jobs could be had, and Steve stayed in California and mostly lived in his car.
I never quite understood why Steve alternately loved and hated me. Once in a while I would get an email from him, apologizing and asking for a fresh start, and we would try to begin again. But invariably it would all fall apart when I refused to hate or disown my father for letting his family down. I was terribly confused and disappointed by the things I learned about my dad, but I had seen the wreckage bitterness brings, and I didn’t want to let my pain bring me to that. So then the fragile beginnings Steve and I were making would collapse and he would cut me out of his life with vitriol and cruel, mocking hate mail. I wouldn’t respond, and the wall around my heart got thicker and taller. This happened at least a dozen times. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, I just didn’t trust him. I had deep compassion for him, and deeper suspicion, all mixed together.
He used to check in on this blog, and he usually left comments that were reminiscent of the Steve I knew could be — loving, sensitive, funny, compassionate. My heart would wrench at those times and I would think to myself that maybe it was time to reach out to Steve after so many years had passed and try again to have a brother-sister relationship.
In September of 2016 I was walking in the cemetery where Michael is buried, as I love to do. The maples were showing off their glowing oranges and golds and crimsons, and leaves drifted to the ground around me as I strolled. My cell phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number, so I let it go to voicemail. When I listened to the message it was Steve, saying hi in that old voice of his that told me he was more himself that day. He knew from my blog that Michael had died. He was still estranged from his own family and I don’t think he ever fully understood that it was his doing. His words told me he was feeling wistful and wished that he and I could have a real, supportive, brother-sister relationship. He told me he loved me and asked me to return his call, words I’d heard a hundred times. Only someone who knows Steve could understand why I wouldn’t just punch in his number and call him back right that minute. He perceived my guardedness and silence as unforgiveness and anger. I knew it was self-preservation and the unwillingness to open the door to drama and strife in a time of my life when Michael’s health was fast declining. Only someone who has gone through something like what our family did can truly understand that you can love a person and still not trust them. Steve never understood that.
But that golden morning at the cemetery tears came to my eyes and I prayed to the Lord about Steve. My heart hurt at what his life had become, and how easy it had been for me to just keep the lid of that Pandora’s box locked. I told the Lord that if He wanted me to try again with Steve, I would. I would answer Steve’s call the next time he rang.
But he would never call again.
The Los Angeles County coroner thinks my brother died of a heart attack on October 1, just three weeks after his call to me. He was found almost three days later, in the business of an old photography friend of his, who had been letting him stay in a shed of sorts at the back of the building. He died alone, not connected to his family, and I had not responded to his pleas to call him back.
His family decided that there would be no funeral or service, no obituary, no way of memorializing him whatsoever. I do not pretend to understand what they experienced, and have nothing but love for them. All three of them are beautiful people who have weathered the storm of their lives in ways I can only surmise was due to the grace of God.
As much as I’m trying to here, I have not been able to put words to what I feel after knowing that Steve’s message to me in September was his last. Sorrow, guilt, regret, unbelief, grief….these words only touch the surface of the turmoil that sloshes around in my heart when I allow myself a few minutes to ponder his life and passing.
My one consolation is for the both of us. Steve was a believer in Jesus, and even though his faith never worked itself outward as much as it should have, there is no doubt in my mind that he cried out to the Lord every day.
I also am a believer in Jesus. And my faith hasn’t worked itself outward in the radical changes I have hoped for either.
And I cry out to the Lord every day.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
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