Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts

November 24, 2021 | My Jottings

Oh, the gales of November are howling today. The sky is deep blue and cloudless, the trees are bending in the wind, and the chimes outside of my office sound like a blind person is furiously playing a discordant marimba. It’s cold enough now that our furnace runs non-stop, and that means I’d better soon retrieve the snow shovels from their corner in the garage and carry them to the entrances of the house.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and for the first time in years, I’m not roasting a turkey or hosting anyone in my cozy white corner house by the Lake. This year we are all driving over the river and through the woods to my daughter and son-in-law’s house. Chris and Sharon will roast the turkey and do the stuffing, corn, and the giant relish plate with her delicious homemade dip, set the table and let us all wander in and enjoy our holiday plopping. Carolyn and Jeremy will bring French silk pies, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, and six beloved children to add to Chris and Sharon’s cherished four. I will bring rolls, biscuits, some more rolls, cranberries, and a Thanksgiving anomaly — a huge green salad. I’m in charge of bringing something green, and in the past I’ve done roasted asparagus, Brussels sprouts or broccoli. This time, since everything we’ll eat will be warm and soft, I’m bringing cold and crunchy.

At this moment I’m alone in my house, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s divine. I love the hum of the heat coming through my floor registers, the glow of the sun going down through the bare crabapple trees on the west side of my yard, and the smell of clean white laundry that just dried in the laundry room around the corner from my office. I ordered food for dinner because I decided not to cook, and I might even put my feet up in my brown leather recliner later and watch something on television.

Speaking of that, have any of you watched the movie Wild Mountain Thyme with Emily Blunt? My dear friend Su recommended it to me a long time ago, but I didn’t want to pay $7.99 to watch. It finally dropped to $2.99 and I downloaded it a few nights ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Such rapid-fire, quirky conversation! Such breathtaking scenery as it was filmed in Ireland. I could easily have stepped through the TV screen and just moved to County Mayo in the blink of an eye.

Sara has been super-busy in nursing school, but took the time to deck out my three flower boxes on the front porch. She fills them with lush, fragrant pine boughs, sticks and twigs, huge pine cones, and oversized ornaments the size of cantaloupes. When the snow falls they look especially lovely.

I think we’ll put up our Christmas tree in a few days, and it will probably be our little one. I’ll put it on a table in the corner of the living room, and relive all the memories I have from the myriad ornaments I’ve collected over the decades. My mother’s orange and banana ornaments from the 1950s. My daughter Sharon’s orange juice can lid with the word JOY punched out with nails, my daughter Carolyn’s little stained glass ornament with her name painted on it, done at a birthday party when she was in elementary school. My daughter Sara’s colored Christmas tree, preserved in contact paper. Crocheted bells from the Glad Tidings church secretary, bead ornaments made by my friend Carey’s daughter Liz, a stuffed angel from my friend Sue P., and so many more. They’re all mostly red, gold and green, and the word I use each year to describe how our tree is decorated is festooned. There isn’t a spare bare inch left on our tree, and it looks so beautiful to us.

I was talking with a granddaughter recently and we were discussing Christmas movies. I think the two I look forward to watching the most this year are the animated version of A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey (unbelievable stuff they do in that one) and the 1970 version of the same story called Scrooge, a musical with Albert Finney. I know all the songs by heart and sing them out loud and heartily when I watch it. What are your favorite Christmas movies? Is there something you watch every year? Can you believe that Lloyd had never watched It’s a Wonderful Life until last year, when I asked him to sit down and view it with me?

Here are a few things I don’t want to talk about, in person or here in print: how the virus is surging in our area, my ferritin levels, my intense need to get rid of half the stuff in my house on my slow quest to simplify, politics, supply chains, or how lonely it can be to be at home so much. It’s truly a good thing I’m an introvert and love this place.

Here’s a recent picture of Lloyd and me.

And at the age of 64, I’m still learning how to pray. I pray in my own handwriting the most, in a prayer journal in the mornings, and I also pray prayers others have written, and I cry out to God from my heart with tears, and I pray the Jesus prayer sometimes. I pray along with the wonderful app Pray As You Go, I pray in silence, I pray when I listen to worship songs. But I still wonder…. how shall I pray? Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and I pray that prayer a lot, slowly, thinking of what each phrase means and meaning it in my heart. I pray lots of short prayers…. Help me Lord!! and Thank you Jesus! 

I’m still in the school of prayer, not ever feeling like I’m quite doing it right. One thing I’ve become convinced of lately is, that I want to pray at least three times a day. I mean, stop what I’m doing and go to my room and have a short time of focused talking with the Lord. Morning, noon-ish and before bedtime sounds good to me. I’ve even set my phone to help me remember, and honestly on the days when I do that, my soul is more at peace. Even after the disciples had their lives and beliefs turned upside down by Jesus Christ, they still had set times they went to the temple to pray. Check out the third chapter of the book of Acts to read about Peter and John doing that. If they needed to do that, I think I might also.

I looked back in my prayer journal this morning and saw an answered prayer about my granddaughter Miriam. And one about my daughter Sara. And there have been many about Eleanor and Vivienne and my own children, and friends. I’m so grateful. But I’m still in elementary school when it comes to prayer. I want to be a woman of prayer before I die. I want to know my Savior’s voice.

Well, the sun has set and the wind has died down just a little bit. The mail was just delivered and Mildred the almost 16 year-old schnauzer has been fed. She sure totters and trembles in her old age and we know 2022 might well be the year we kiss her goodbye. I will be up with the dawn to bake and chop and toss and wrap, music playing on the dining room fireplace mantel as I do.

I pray that your Thanksgiving is a day you have even a small something to be grateful for. Whether you will be with family or friends or all alone, I ask the Lord who holds our breath in His hands to give you His peace and love. Thank you for stopping by.

October Weekend

October 18, 2021 | My Jottings

She wakes at 4:35 a.m. and is satisfied with that. If I go back to sleep, fine, if I don’t, this was a decent night’s sleep. She reaches over to the nightstand in the dark and feels for the little bottle of Systane eyedrops, peels her bone-dry upper eyelids from each eyeball, then squeezes two soothing drops into each eye.

She notices how dead quiet it is here in the woods, in this log cabin loft she calls The Tree House. Windows behind the king-sized bed, to the right of the bed, and across the small loft beyond the foot of the bed are filled with foliage and sky, prompting the name. Being in the middle of eighty wooded country acres means there are no nearby streetlights, businesses, headlights, or glowing windows from neighbor’s houses. At home near Lake Superior, even though her house is in a quiet neighborhood, occasional sirens can be heard, a streetlight stands and beams close, and semi-trucks can be heard heading south on I-35, two blocks away.

She puts on her glasses, pockets her dang phone, slips her toes into her Haflingers with the embroidered sheep on the tops, and eases her way down the precarious wooden steps in the dark. “Be careful,” he urges as he throws back the covers and sits up. She takes it one step at a time.

The sun is barely paling the sky over the trees of his woods. Near his recliner she checks the indoor/outdoor thermometer and calls up, “Thirty-six outside.”

“What is it in here?” he asks, and she peers again in the dim cabin living room and answers, “Sixty-three.” She clicks on the air source heat.

She pours some organic half and half in a large mug decorated with a cardinal pair, then pours cold brew over that. He comes downstairs and makes his own pot of hot coffee, turns on the floor lamp with the painted trout and angling gear on the shade, and they sit together on the love seat, ready to read.

It’s October, and an odd date, so that means she reads first. He leads on even days. Her reading is from the gospel of Mark, the account of the Zebedee brothers asking Jesus for special seating in heaven. After she reads the passage and the meditation, he takes out the smaller devotional and reads aloud from the book of Hebrews. Because of what Jesus did, God’s children can approach His throne of grace with confidence, to obtain the mercy needed every day, every moment.

They sit and look through the windows and see what’s left of the autumn leaves, and share quietly together about what confidently approaching the throne of grace really means. Not having to grovel and beg, not having to make an appointment and hoping the King would grant a short audience. Can He be so merciful, so welcoming?

They eat a simple breakfast. He likes bran flakes and Cheerios together in one bowl, with cranberries and chopped walnuts added, and pours milk and Madagascar vanilla kefir over it. She cuts up an apple, scoops a tablespoon of peanut butter onto her plate, and joins him at the table, where he has already put the cooked links of chicken and sage sausages they enjoy.

They watch the half dozen blue jays swooping to and fro outside. He clears the table and she says, “I’ll do the dishes. You made a nice dinner for us last night.” She puts on some jeans and a turtleneck and folds her flannel plaid nightgown and places it in her overnight bag on the glass case with the real stuffed pheasants in the dining room. He dons a hat and a heavy flannel shirt before heading out to put out food for the birds and deer that live in his woods. She plays some Celtic music from her dang phone, and washes the dishes while praying for some marriages on her heart.

The low autumn sun is streaming golden through the cabin windows and the remaining leaves on the birches near the pond rustle in a way that always reminds her of applause. “Aspen leaves are God’s sequins,” she read online recently and smiled, agreeing. And birch leaves too. The trees of the field will clap their hands….

She gathers her journal, her bold point pen that flows so smoothly and calligraphically, her CBS study of Daniel, and a book on the topic of rest for the believer, then feels for the button on the side of the loveseat that lifts her feet and legs up off the ground in comfort. She loves to settle in here, thinking and praying and reading and writing.

A couple of hours later, they both pull on socks and walking shoes, and head out into his woods, walking the trails he cut over twenty years ago when he moved to the Minnesota Northwoods after retirement. He knows she isn’t as steady on her feet lately because of a sudden and puzzling iron deficiency, and her wonky prosthetic knee. He retrieves two chest-high walking sticks he’s cut and sanded and holds them out to her with a smile. Each step they take is crackling and loud with the fallen oak, maple, poplar and birch leaves carpeting the ground up to their ankles. Chickadees flit and flutter across their path, and they pause to watch them here and there.

He points out the blueberry patches along the trail, long picked bare by wild turkeys, and probably a black bear or two. They stop to inspect hard mushrooms growing on the sides of trees, and bark growing over them. They find a place deeper in the woods where an old cabin foundation stands. Over a century ago who lived there? Further in is an old sink and some kind of metal headboard piled together and nearly covered over by brush growth. They walk by a giant white pine, long dead and stories high, slowly killed years ago by porcupines. He knows she doesn’t like to hear about animals suffering, but he tells her grimly that he shot the porcupine when he could finally catch it in its tree-crippling ways.

They come upon a mound of dirt half the size of a barrel. “Ants,” he mutters. He shows her things she would never have noticed on her own, and explains things he’s observed from living in the forest for almost a quarter of a century. He can see where bucks have scraped the trees, what a timber wolf has eaten by its (surprisingly huge) scat, which trees have unseen insects slowly destroying them, which raptors have been decreasing his red squirrel population.

They stroll into a clearing and she considers taking her cardigan off as the sun is warm and the sky cloudless and dark periwinkle. He points to a four foot long depression in the grass where a large deer had recently rested, and she sees the pronounced outline, curved on one end where its rump had been. A few strides further they see the deer droppings, so fresh the animal must be close by. Are they being watched and sniffed? Is there a twitching nose back in those trees, a white tail ready to raise an alarm?

By the time they walk a mile, she’s thirsty and looking forward to taking off her hiking shoes and SmartWool socks in the cabin. She drinks deeply of Lake Superior water, brought to his place in jugs from her house, as they both think it’s the best tasting water they’ve ever had. She reads a while with her feet up, then gets up to put some jasmine rice on to simmer while she cuts up all the ingredients for a grain bowl meal. Squash, green onions, chicken breasts, salsa verde, cotija, and seasonings. He sets the table and pours Fever Tree Ginger Beer for both of them, and they pray for their families before they tuck in.

The sun begins to sink behind the trees skirting his land and an autumnal chill seeps in. She wonders if it will dip into the thirties again tonight while they sleep in The Tree House. He does the dishes while she takes notes from a podcast she’s listening to for the second time. He nods his head as he listens too, and she writes down “Reticular Activating System” and “neurobics” in her journal, and decides to research these in the future.

Tomorrow morning she will pack her overnight bag and he will carry her things to the Outback, and they’ll hug and then wave wistfully to each other as she drives his long and winding driveway out to the county road which will lead to the highway that will take her home.

They’ve been married two years now, and have no plans to live together permanently. His home is here in these peaceful and glorious woods. He built it himself, and loves his land. Her home is near the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, close to her daughters and grandchildren, and she can’t imagine making a purposeful decision to change that.

They will talk on the phone right before they both go to sleep, she in her lovely oasis and he in his cozy tree house cabin loft.

Sometimes she dreams of her beloved husband Michael, gone from her for almost seven years. And he tells her of his infrequent dreams of Rosemarie, taken suddenly two months before Michael.

How and why certain lives, previously unknown to each other for decades, eventually meet and meander and intertwine so late in life, is still a mystery to them both.

A Little Fun

October 8, 2021 | My Jottings

Friday greetings to you, friends and family.  I saw this circling around and haven’t done something like this for years. In times like these it doesn’t hurt to be a little light-hearted, does it? These are easy enough choices — I’ll share mine, and in the comments below, let me know yours:

Cake or pie?  Cake — Duncan Hines Devil’s Food cake with Virginia Sooter’s peanut butter and chocolate frosting, to be exact. No white cake, but lemon and carrot will do too.

Coke or Pepsi?  Pepsi, hands down. I can tell the difference blindfolded too. I probably have 3 glasses of Pepsi a year, though. I give my one kidney Verna lots and lots of water.

Comedies or dramas?  Dramas.

Reading or listening? Reading, although I listen to an audiobook now and then.

Driving or passengering? I love to drive.

Sports events or theater events? Theater without a doubt, especially if my daughter Carolyn is in the play.

Chips or popcorn? Chips. Lightly salted potato, sometimes tortilla chips if I want my knees to ache.

Mountains or beaches?  Mountains, with lots of trees.

Fine point pens or bold point?  Bold.

Coffee or tea?  Cold brew coffee with half and half in the mornings, tea in the afternoons.

Dogs or cats? Dogs and more dogs.

Birds or reptiles?  Birds

Early mornings or late nights?  Mornings for me. I haven’t seen a late night in a long time.

Firm beds or plush?  Plush.

White walls or colored? The darker and richer the color, the better.

Hot weather or cold? I’d prefer fall weather, but I’d take cold over hot anyday.

A month in Ireland or a month in the Caribbean? Green, green and blarney.

A lively gathering with several folks, or one on one?  One on one.

Idaho or Florida? Idaho.

North Carolina or Washington? North Carolina

California or Minnesota? I’m a Minnesotan to my marrow now.

How about you? You don’t have to answer all of these, but what are some of your preferences?

A day at home

October 2, 2021 | My Jottings

It’s almost my bedtime on this first Saturday night of my favorite month — October. The leaves are blazing and causing me to marvel as if I’ve never seen orange and yellow and crimson before. The only tiny problem with today is that it was super humid, and I just don’t think that’s right for October. We’ve had unusually tropical weather for months now, so we look forward to cool, dry air that makes us so invigorated we have to walk and cycle and put on turtlenecks.

I had plans and a few errands to run today, but ended up scrapping them. I have had a few sluggish days as my body is hopefully healing from a dark foray into iron-deficiency anemia and resulting symptoms, but this morning, I woke after a decent night’s sleep with a determination to get a lot of things done at home. I made a long to-do list before I went to bed last night and I’m feeling grateful that I crossed every task off except one. And there’s still time for that if I stay awake long enough.

I did two loads of wash, paid bills, balanced my checkbook and reconciled my account from the statement to the ledger, cleaned the kitchen, cut up a huge watermelon into planks and put them into containers in the fridge, washed out the kitchen trash container with hot soapy water, dealt with some recycling, cleaned the inside of my car out, did my Community Bible Study lesson (so good, on Daniel), put Millie out and brought her back in about seven times, got art supplies divided and ready for my granddaughters’ fall art class that began today, ordered groceries and put them away after they were delivered, wrote out two birthday cards and mailed them, wrote in my prayer journal, prayed, cooked grassfed beef and cut up a whole bunch of vegetables and made Harvest Soup, and after it cooled, put it in storage containers and put it in the fridge.

Now, I’m tired. And achy. Probably because I had corn chips yesterday, which 100% of the time make me feel like I’ve been beaten with a baseball bat the following day. So why isn’t that a deterrent, you ask? I am asking the same question.

I’ve started a wonderful book by Mary Marantz called Dirt — she’s a gifted writer and I highly recommend it.

Later this month Lloyd and I will celebrate our second wedding anniversary by driving up the North Shore of Lake Superior and staying in a wonderful place so close to the lake you could almost reach out and flick the frigid water if you weren’t on the second story. We hope to hike in the brilliant woods as long as I don’t eat any corn chips to poison myself and set my joints on fire beforehand. Each time we go to Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail, I hope and pray we’ll see some moose. We see deer and foxes and other critters, even black bears, but so far no moose.

My three daughters are so busy with happy pursuits lately. My oldest daughter Sharon just signed a book deal with Penguin Random House and has to have it written by June of 2022. That will be a big undertaking, especially since she also hosts her own podcast (Sharon Says So) and that alone is a huge job. Sharon and Chris and family bought a new house and moved in recently — it’s set on 10 private, wooded acres and they love it. Just driving down their driveway feels like you have to breathe an exhale of peace. Their three dogs love it too. Rosy the chocolate lab dunks herself in their pond a few times a day, Lucy their mutt is the patroller of the property boundaries, and Molly, the tubby yellow lab (also known as Vicious Malicious) fearlessly runs to greet all delivery vehicles and people, hoping to make new friends.

My middle daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy and their family just moved into a different house too. Their place is a beautiful old brick mansion with a green tile roof and the most gorgeous floor to ceiling windows, set on a little over three heavily treed acres. The house was built in 1915 and sat empty for a few years, so a significant level of dilapidation has occurred, but that hasn’t daunted them. They are busy every day peeling old wallpaper, installing new toilets, tearing down cabinets, putting in working electrical outlets, and so much more. Carolyn is documenting it all on her TikTok account (which I’m not on, but I still look at it, and you can too if you like) under HomeSweetVictoria. There are lots of pictures on Instagram too. I’m so happy for both families who love their new homes.

My youngest daughter Sara has begun nursing school and is in the thick of difficult studying and tests and presentations, and she shares with me a lot of what she’s learning, which is mind-boggling. The things they are supposed to know already, after only five weeks of school, is pretty advanced. She also has two other jobs, so she’s occupied from early morning until late at night. I’m happy for Sara as she moves toward her career goals. She has lots of ideas about what kind of nursing she might want to pursue once she gets her RN.

I think about retirement once in a while, but I’m still not ready yet. I love my job and my foster care resident is happy living with me. She’s been with me for 13 years now. We do so well together and she has worked hard and made so much progress and come off of so many meds these past years. It’s wonderful to see her thrive.

I took this picture of my house the other day when I was coming home from Lloyd’s cabin in Bruno. Home. It has come to mean so much to me. I love my white corner house with views of Lake Superior from almost every room.

I have lived in 17 homes in my life, owned the last three of them, and hardly a day goes by when I’m not overcome with gratitude that I own this comfortable and well-built place. It was built in 1948 and the previous owners did a lot of renovations in the early 2000s that bless me every day. There isn’t much yard, but at this age (I just turned 64) I don’t want a big yard to think about mowing, or lots of places that need shoveling in the winter.

When I get up in the morning, and that seems to be earlier and earlier lately, I do several things. I light a beeswax candle in my bedroom, pad quietly down the hall to get my Stok cold brew coffee and my 20 ounce Yeti with water and ice, then return to my room. After I set my mugs down, I turn on a little quiet music, hunker down in my plaid chair, wrap my always-cold neck in a prayer shawl Sharon knitted for me years ago. I do my CBS lesson, pray for my family and friends, write out prayer requests, thoughts, dreams, scriptures and ideas in my beloved Leuchtturm, and prepare for the day. If I don’t have someplace to be on a given day, I might sit down in my chair around 5:30 a.m. and won’t be done until 7:00 or so. Not that I spend that much time praying, but it has become a vital and nourishing time for me that I hate to deviate from. I do skip when I have to, but the day never feels quite right if I begin without that time. My chair is placed in my bedroom on exactly the spot where Michael’s hospital bed was the week he was dying. It seems very sacred to me to sit in the same place where my husband left this earth to meet his Savior.

What are the things about your home that you like best? What would you change if you could? I love my view, my spacious bedroom that feels like an oasis, the deep bathtub, and my attached, heated garage. I would like more kitchen cabinet storage if it were possible, but that’s such a small thing.

I’m still slowly going through things, filling up bags to take to the Goodwill, and paring down at a glacial pace. Books are very difficult for me to sort through and donate — they feel like faithful friends who are very content living on my many bookshelves. It feels right and good for me to keep simplifying and getting rid of things I have too many of. I watched a short video recently of a professional organizer I like on Instagram, and she asked her followers how many towels they thought were needed in their homes? She suggested that only two towels per person are needed and I was shocked. I have towers of towels stacked and crammed in my bathroom closet. I went to that same closet after considering this, and decided three each was a better number for me, and I donated all the extra towels I’d been keeping for years. The space it freed up in my closet made me feel like I wanted to choose another area right away and do the same. Why did I think I needed twenty towels?

Well, this was a lot of random rambling on this Saturday night. I hope you are able to see some lovely fall colors where you are. I hope you have a good book to read, and that you have a place to call home you love. I pray you have a friend who is a soft place to land, and that the Lord reminds you of how deeply He loves you and how trustworthy He is. We need reminding, I think. I know I do.

His Absence

September 17, 2021 | My Jottings

I read the quote below not long ago and it struck a chord so deep in me I felt it thrum for a long time. It’s from C.S. Lewis (of course, again), writing about how it felt to be without his wife Joy after her death.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” 

And even after 6 1/2 years of being without Michael, I could revise the quote for my own feelings:

“His absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

I am remarried to a man whose words and actions bless me at every turn, and I’m so grateful. But Michael’s absence still resounds, and I miss him.

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I think about him and ask God to tell him things for me. I cry when I think of the last years of Michael’s suffering. I laugh with my foster gal who misses him too; she often recounts many funny memories. I still aspire to live as humbly as Michael did. Never do I praise the Lord without thinking of him, whose second language later in life was praise. I pray for Michael’s two daughters Buffy and Daphne and their families as often as I pray for my own daughers and their children and spouses. I have precious videos on my phone of Michael I still watch now and then.

I’m so glad that when we lose a beloved spouse we don’t “move on,” but we rather “move closer.” As I live out my days I don’t see myself getting further away from Michael, as if leaving him behind. I think of it instead as moving nearer to him — he is where I hope to be someday. Day by day I get closer to the time when I’ll see him again, and many other loved ones who died in the faith.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend,

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 150

September 8, 2021 | My Jottings

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

~~ C.S. Lewis

Pride cometh…

September 3, 2021 | My Jottings

No one ever swore in my house when I was a little girl. Not ever.

Not, “What the h—?” or “Shut the d— door!” or “Oh, s—, I forgot to do that.” And most certainly no one ever took the Lord’s name in vain. I never heard those words in my home, so when I did hear them elsewhere, it was jarring. Almost like a tuning fork had been struck inside me. It felt like a really grievous thing to me, even when I was seven or eight years old. I remember my friends’ parents using those words, and it would impact me almost physically to hear them, and I felt sorrow for my friends because I believed it put their parents in some kind of danger. No one ever told me that — my parents didn’t, my Sunday School teachers didn’t. I just believed it, probably in part because my parents didn’t speak that way in my home. To be clear, I’m not saying all these years later that I believe anyone who utters a swear word is in spiritual danger — that would not be for me to judge — I’m just sharing about some things from my childhood. I’m in my sixties now and I have certainly said some swear words during my worst times, so I’m not better than anyone else, and am most certainly probably much worse than many.

My parents also didn’t drink alcohol. They never talked about it, as in, “We are teetotalers in this here house!” and I never gave it a thought because it was so not on our family radar. My dad and mom also didn’t condemn anyone else for drinking. They just didn’t drink themselves. I have a vague memory of asking them why, and whoever answered me said something about truly not enjoying the taste of beer, wine, etc. I took a sip of a cocktail at a friend’s house when I was a teen (invited by her parent) and instantly understood why my parents abstained. It tasted like chemicals and I screwed my face up and squinted my eyes in reaction to the taste, which I’ve never liked in my life. The only alcohol I’ve ever been able to bear is Moscato, because it’s sweet and bubbly. One glass is enough though, and it’s an effort for me to drink that.

Now, my parents weren’t averse to swearing and drinking because they were pious or prim or puritanical. They had their vices. Both of them smoked a lot, overindulged at the table, and struggled with staying married for years (they divorced at the 31 year point). But they were kind and decent people, and they showed their love for me, their only daughter.

When I was about nine or ten years old, something happened that rocked my world. My mom was a gifted professional organist who worked four nights a week at a supper club, behind the organ bar. My dad was a successful high school basketball coach in my town, and whenever there was a game I was there with him, long before I went to high school myself. I followed at his heels wherever he went. I knew all his players’ names and jersey numbers, all throughout the years. Their names still instantly come to mind: Mike Lynn, Greg Terlecky, Steve White, Bernie Williams, Alan Carlson, George Schader, Steve Sooter. I sat in the bleachers and watched the games, but mostly I watched the cheerleaders and hoped I’d be one someday. (I was.) When the game was over, I trailed the whole team into the boys’ locker room and stayed in my dad’s office until they were all dressed and showered. I mean showered and dressed. Who in the world dresses, then showers? If it was an away game, I rode the bus with them to the other school’s gym. They all knew me and called the skinny buck-toothed coach’s daughter by name.

One night during a particularly exciting game, I sat in the bleachers directly behind my dad and his basketball team, instead of on the other side of the gym where all the cheering and school spirit went on. I think I had on corduroy pants with an elastic waist, and the legs were too short because I was so long-legged. Saddle shoes too. A break at the quarter brought the whole team off the court to huddle around my dad to get their pep talk, instructions, and strategy for how to win this game as they had all the others, but it must have been a tight score, because my dad was mad. He was a yelling, demonstrative, red-faced kind of coach, often challenging the referees on bad calls, waving his arms to motion a player to drive in hard for a shot. As I listened to Dad guide and motivate his team, he swore. He swore with an oath that brought tears to my eyes and made me feel like he was not the man I had thought he was. At that young age I was unable to add perspective to what I’d heard, and a shifting in the earth beneath my saddle-shoed feet could be felt. I gasped. I had no idea my father could say what he did, and I felt as if I didn’t know him.

It was a couple of weeks before I finally summoned the courage to ask my father about this. I’m not sure why I picked the Alpha Beta grocery store on Citrus Avenue in Covina to broach the subject, but as he and I were walking out of the store after buying groceries, I asked him why he had said the words he had at the basketball game. I’m sure I blindsided him. He knew how much I loved and looked up to him, and now his youngest was asking why he had committed such a serious sin (in her little girl mind). I don’t think I was being accusatory. I simply wanted my world put back together, and I hoped my dad could do it.

In a perfect world, my dad would have gone quiet for a few moments and considered the tender, searching heart of his little girl. He would have realized that a sincere apology would have accomplished a lot, and when they got to the car and loaded the brown bags into the back of the 1963 Buick LeSabre wagon, he would have waited until they got into the front seat, and he would have turned to her. She would have seen sadness and love in his eyes. He would have told her that he never wanted to go against what he knew was right, and certainly didn’t want to display that to her, but that in the midst of the intensity of the game, he slipped. And he would have said something like, “I’m sorry I wasn’t the example I want to be to you. I will do better next time.” And honestly, that would have helped. It would have been enough.

But that’s not what happened.

What happened still brings some pain, although because I’m a parent now and have let my own children down in so many ways, I understand the struggle it can be to humble oneself in front of someone who thinks you have the answers and can be trusted to always do what’s best for them. I won’t go into the words that were spoken, but my father became very angry with me, and implied that he knew some bad things I had done too. I remember tearfully asking him, “Like what? What did I do?!” I was wracking my brain trying to think of what I might have secretly done that he knew about that I didn’t. I recall the feeling of instability of my father turning on me, and I felt a chasm open between him and me, that absolutely broke my heart.

He never did tell me what I had done. And I’m pretty sure in hindsight he was just being defensive. His pride prevented him from humbling himself to his daughter and making things better.

It is never easy to humble oneself, to lay down the heavy weight of pride. I still struggle with this myself.

Sometimes we would just rather wear the heavy, hooded cloak of pride on our backs and around our necks and on top of our heads, because to lay down the burdensome weight of pride would mean we would be uncovered. We would feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. And not in control.

Some of us prefer to wear the boots of pride because we’ve worn them for years and they’ve carried us so many miles, and they’re perfectly molded to our feet and seem like they were crafted especially for us. Why would we take them off and travel barefoot after all these years?

Sometimes the dark veil of pride has been over our eyes for so long that when it does occasionally come loose and the bright light momentarily assaults our eyes, we flinch and quickly reach up to put that veil on again.

Laying down the heavy, familiar, protective garments of pride is rarely easy. But the destruction that can come because we don’t, brings far more pain than having to admit we were wrong. I heard a well-known Christian say years ago that she often asked herself when familial conflict arose, “What are you trying to do here, build a life with this person, or prove you are right?” She had the wise, mature foresight to see that long-term bridge-building is what she wanted to engage in, and that being right isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Being right all the time can be lonely.

Learning to walk in humility, being willing to forgive when the person who offended us isn’t sorry enough, actually naming what we did wrong and asking the person we hurt to forgive us…. these take the strength of humility. I write about this not because I’ve mastered it, but because I want to be free.

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:7-8

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God bless your weekend,

“His beauty doth all things excel”

August 26, 2021 | My Jottings

I used to be able to think deeply. I’m having a little trouble with that lately. I don’t know if it’s my aging brain, or if it’s pandemic-related. Maybe it’s both. These days I think of my brain as a water bug, rapidly skating on the surface from place to place, rather than like the mole it used to be, digging deep and slowly exploring tunnels of thought. I take comfort from the fact that I’ve heard this really is a thing, that many people are experiencing this phenomenon. I don’t feel excessively anxious, as I’ve heard some people relate during these days. But I do want my deep thinking ability to come back. I haven’t exactly helped myself, since I pick up my cell phone countless times a day to check the weather (searching for hope that our unending heat and humidity will indeed come to an end), to look at all the curiosities and also photos of those I love on Instagram, to read teeny bits of the news (because I want to be informed but watching the news is no longer an option because who wants to be assaulted in their own home?), to record my water intake on an app I like (because in case you’re new here I donated a kidney last year and hydration is more important than ever for my remaining kidney-gal Verna), to listen to the Pray As You Go app (because it’s truly beautiful and strengthening), and a handful of other helpful inconsequential things.

So I’ve taken very recently to making myself read for longer periods of time. Never in my life did I ever think I’d speak or type those words. Books have been a main source of delight and comfort for me since I learned to read in first grade, at Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, California. Mrs. Jane Webber was my unique first grade teacher and I did okay in spite of the fact that she mildly mocked me for a few things. A six year-old! But in second grade, Mrs. Sarah Lokken read to us out loud for long periods of time every day and I fell in love with Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. I read them to my own children and some of my grands. My love affair with books has continued to this, my 64th year.

Anyway, I have never had a period in my life when I haven’t read deeply and widely, had a pile of books to giddily look forward to, talk about with someone, and savor. I still have piles of books everywhere in my house. I went to the library two days ago and picked up a book I reserved. I have three on my nightstand and can’t ever see that changing. But I will read a short chapter, and then it’s like my brain tells me that’s enough for now. Then I go and get some iced tea, let Mildred out to go potty, answer a few texts, floss my teeth, let Mildred back in, whatever. Then a couple of hours later I might come back to my book, and I am finishing books, but deep reading for hours at a time has not been a part of my life for about a year and a half. It’s almost as if I now have a mild case of ADHD, and I hate it.

I know I need to change my focus. I think if I added up the time I’m spending focusing on things of mild consequence, I would be shattered. Our brains are our precious, prime real estate, and I’ve let squatters move in and given them the best places in mine. My squatters aren’t the kind that dump their garbage and build shanties and use the creek for their toilet. Mine are more respectable squatters, with pretty curtains in the windows and savory smells coming from their kitchens, but they are using my cerebral land nonetheless, and I haven’t taken the matter in hand and given them their eviction notices.

So, as unsubstantial as this might sound, I have two plans for my brain today. I am going to read non-stop for one hour. And I am going to memorize the lyrics to a song I have played on repeat and loved for a long time. These are the lyrics to the song:

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

(By Rev. Richard Hutchins)

Oh, how I love this song. And here is what plays in my bedroom at least three times each day, this choir, this version of this beautiful, soul-lifting song:

My book is a decent one, and worth finishing. But this song and these lyrics are the kinds of residents I want to build with on the prime real estate that is my brain and mind. I want stained glass windows, an altar, beauty, rest, nourishment, order, freedom, comfy chairs, piles of books, God’s creation, music, friends, and worship to be ever present there.

I Am

August 17, 2021 | My Jottings

I am the woman at the well, wondering if Jesus really would go out of His way to quench my thirst. I am the man with the son who needs deliverance as I cry, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I am Martha of Bethany, dithering about in my kitchen, blind to the One who is waiting for me in the other room. I am the Pharisee, self-righteous and quick to judge, preferring to obey a set of rules instead of truly following Jesus. I am the thief on the cross, believing that Mercy is hanging right next to me and crying out for Him with all that is in me. I am the one cleansed leper who is finally touched by someone, God Himself, who runs back to say thank you. I am the little boy with some bread and fish, offering my tiny bit to Jesus. I am the lost sheep, wandering and terrified, bleating pitifully until He comes to rescue me. I am the murderer Barabbas, who goes free while Jesus takes his place before the crazed crowd. I am Lazarus, stinking and dead, but not beyond the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. I am Jeremiah, struggling with loneliness and depression, knowing I don’t see the full picture. I am Lydia, and God has opened my heart to the Gospel. I am David, joyful worshiper one day, stealthy and willful sinner the next, who cries out to God in anguish and despair. I am Mary Magdalene, tormented by the enemy, a delivered, devoted follower, and first one to the tomb. I am Peter, puffed up in my certainty, then betraying the One I love in the blink of an eye. I am the hemorrhaging woman reaching for His hem, knowing one particle of His power is so great it will heal me when nothing else can. I am one of the Zebedees, thinking I’m something special, needing to learn humility and how to lay down my life for His purposes. I am Mary of Bethany, yearning for His presence and words, undeterred by any other voice. I am Jonah, going out of my way to avoid God’s will for my life. I am Cleopas, whose heart burns within him when Christ’s words become life. I am Eve, who lets the subtle voice of the enemy raise doubts in her mind about God’s goodness. I am Ananias, pretending to be generous and withholding the truth. I am Jacob, deceitful to my own father. I am Shadrach, knowing there is safety only in God. I am Philip, who wants to say “Come and see,” with every word I speak and write. I am Anna, who only feels at home where God’s presence dwells. I am the centurion who doesn’t feel worthy for Jesus to enter his house, yet knows He can make my children whole. I am Hannah, who has given each of her children to the Lord. I am Thomas, stubborn and needing proof, but quick to call Him my Lord and my God.

And… I am His,

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 149

August 11, 2021 | My Jottings

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will all that I have and call my own.

You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace.

That is enough for me.

 

~~~~St. Ignatius of Loyola

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