Experiment in Asymmetry

November 9, 2012 | My Jottings

I’m not sure if this configuration on our living room console table is how things will look forever, but here’s what it looks like today.

Five years ago I would have made sure everything was as symmetrical as possible. I would have used taller candles on the left, so they could more closely match the height of the topiary on the right. I would have put the old family clock smack dab in the center of the table, directly below the goldfinch. That poor clock is broken — if you click to enlarge the photograph you can see the sad little hour hand fallen behind the glass. We’ve had this clock to the repair shop and the fixes have never lasted. We now just let it rest quietly without ever expecting another thing of it. (And if you’re new here and you’ve never read the story of how ridiculously frustrating it was to get that middle goldfinch picture into our home, you can click here for the weird account and some photos that will make you smile.)

I really like each thing on the table. If I were going off the deep end, I would elaborate on how each piece has great meaning to me, like the candles represent light in the darkness, and the candle holders are gifts from the SAGs, and the birds represent hope, especially the cardinal on the wall next to the goldfinch, and how a broken clock reminds me to quit rushing around and just relish the moments I’m given, and how the letter B is a unique and beloved gift from my sister-in-law and niece and nephew and has Bible verses all over it, along with the spine of a navy blue Bible and a taupe colored ribbon that matches our couch, and an old fashioned key, which could symbolize so many things, such as praise being the key to joy and Jesus being the Key to eternal life, and how the crown on the table stands for how the Magi (“We Three Kings”?) came from afar to worship Christ and gave him precious, costly gifts and how Jesus is my King and I should do the same, and how the topiary represents growth, which is what I hope will characterize my life someday….

But that’s only if I were going off the deep end.

What do you think — should I place the items more symmetrically? Maybe remove an item or two?

George and Bernie and Love

November 7, 2012 | My Jottings

On January 10, 1997, Michael and I went out to dinner with some friends. It was ten degrees below zero that night (minus 23 Celsius), and after our nice restaurant meal we drove back to their house for some homemade cobbler and warm visiting.

The hours that followed that dessert will stay in our memories like a brand that takes a long time to heal and raises a scar that will never fade. At 10:00 p.m. a police chaplain from our city’s police department knocked on our friends’ door; he had been attempting to track Michael and me down for a few hours. He walked to the table where we sat, and kindly but bluntly announced that Michael’s parents, George and Bernadine, had both been killed in a car accident near their home about three hours before. Michael cried out, “No No No!” but when the chaplain laid George and Bernie’s driver’s licenses in front of us on the table, we knew there was no mistake.

I cannot even begin to describe all the ensuing hours, days, weeks, months. Michael has a younger sister named Patty, and he was in no condition to call her with the news. So after the chaplain said a prayer for us and left, our friends prayed while I called Michael’s sister with the news, and then George and Bernie’s many siblings.

After driving home in the frigid cold, Michael and I went to bed, but sleep was elusive. Shock, disbelief, weeping, crushing sadness; these were our bedfellows that night.

The next day was filled with the flurry and numbness of double funeral preparations, plans for the visitation, dozens of phone calls from sympathetic friends and family, non-stop visits from folks with meals, cheese and meat platters, desserts, cards, and wordless, tearful hugs.

Over 500 people attended George and Bernie’s visitation and the day after that, the large church where their funeral was held was standing room only. They were a couple with many friends.

George was a very fit and young 70 years old. He was an avid golfer, power walker and bowler. Bernie was also so active it betrayed her 69 years. She liked to walk and garden and she loved children. They had been driving home from an evening with friends, spent over a pizza dinner. They were about two miles from their home near a beautiful lake in our city. They had stopped at a highway intersection for a red light, then had proceeded into the intersection when the light turned green. A 17 year-old boy (whom we later learned was a troubled soul) was driving 50-60 miles per hour, ran the red light, and his truck slammed into George and Bernie’s Oldsmobile on the driver’s side, pushing them into a stoplight and flattening it all the way down to the street. They were killed instantly. They both had seatbelts on but were so severely injured they could never have survived the accident. Days later Michael and I went to retrieve their personal items from their car and we were both overwhelmed at the damage to the vehicle. I have never seen a car so crushed.

It was one of the most terrible things I’ve ever known to see my husband grieve that sudden, horrible loss. It was so hard for him to grasp that he would never fish with his dad again, never help his mom in the garden again, never spend Christmas day with them again, and that they would never see their grandchildren again. So many nevers, so much pain, so few answers.

We knew we would have to begin our own new Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions with Michael’s parents gone. We had always gathered at their small, comfy home, and that could never happen again.

During that whole first year without them, I was more aware than ever before of how quickly our lives on this earth can end, how swiftly things can change forever and the chances for love and tenderness can be lost. I remember the first Christmas as a family without Bernie and George, I found myself still pondering and weighing the events and lessons of the previous eleven months. Life seemed surreal in many respects. But I was so struck by how fleeting a person’s life and passing can be, and I wanted to learn and change from what our family had gone through.

And now as I post this picture of my dear in-laws, I see that even after fifteen years, I’m still fairly adept at pondering and utterly lame at changing. When my own mother died suddenly in 1993 I resolved then to live in such a way that I would have no regrets if my life ended unexpectedly or someone else dear to me was taken. Why now, all these years later, do I find I haven’t been very successful in that resolution, that I continue to have some regrets and that my good intentions are often only that?

I can still remember the last time I saw Michael’s parents. It was on December 25, 1996, and sixteen days later they were gone. Our Christmas day with them had been a nice one and when we left, I kissed and hugged them both and thanked them, and said I’d talk to them soon.

As I said goodbye to their bodies at their funeral, there were so many things I wished I had said to them. Thank you, George and Bernie, for loving me and accepting me so lovingly into your family! Thank you for never calling my older daughters step-grandchildren, but always your grandchildren! Thank you for how generous you were with us! Thank you for your son Michael, who is the best gift of a husband to me! Thank you for all the Sunday chicken dinners! Thank you for everything…..I would have discarded the reserve and politeness that too often dictates our best behavior, and I would have grabbed them to me and held them and planted kisses on their faces. I would have said more, so much more. Looking back I could see that I missed many opportunities to be an encouragement to Michael’s mother. I saw that it had been easier for me to make small talk with his father rather than risk embarrassment by attempting to talk about deeper things with him. I am certain that George and Bernie knew I cared so deeply about them, but I’m not sure I ever let them know how much I loved them. Yes, of course I had said the words, but I think there could have been more actions to follow up the words. Words are easy for me. Sometimes living a life of real love is not.

Do you ever feel like there’s something in your life that you’re supposed to learn, yet you keep going around that same mountain over and over again, without ever really getting to the top? Oh, how thankful I am that God doesn’t have a Six Times Around the Mountain and You’re Out! kind of plan. His patience with me is so humbling, and sometimes it’s hard to fathom that He’s willing to work with me after so many failures.

I do know that if you and I are still alive, He’s trying to teach us how to love. He wants us to come to Him and place our trust in His Son Jesus, He wants us to love Him, He wants that love that He so freely pours into our lives to spill out onto others, and He wants us to be changed.

Most people are familiar with God’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 — it’s often read even at non-religious weddings. I wonder if people truly understand that the kind of love we’re called to, is quite impossible to live out, without God’s presence and work within us? If you don’t believe that, just read the words below and then try to walk in that kind of perfect love toward every person you meet, for one day.

Here’s part of the love chapter from The Message Bible:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

That is scripture.

Today, I will be going once again to the foot doctor to have the new viral outbreak of plantar warts on the sole of my right foot frozen. If you never got to see the charming photos from my first momentous visit, you can click here if you’re brave.

So this means, to my knowledge, that today I will have contact with my husband, my youngest daughter, my two Fosters, and the people at the doctor’s office. I know that if I stay close to the Lord, ask Him to fill me with His Spirit and presence and power this morning, and help me be sensitive to His promptings all the day through, I will be able to love the ones in my life in an extraordinary way. A smile, a fervent, silent prayer, a touch, an extra bit of patience, an unkind word not spoken….only God knows what kind of love He’ll ask me to give today.

The last time I was at this doctor’s office, the two women behind the front desk were unhappy and bitterly complaining to each other about someone else in the office. Their conversation made me sad. I have no idea how I could make any difference in a situation like that, but I can ask God to fill me with His love and presence, and hope that somehow a bit will spill out on them today.

My husband Michael needs my love as he deals with Parkinson’s. He’s like a sponge for my love and for God’s love. When I pour out my love and kindness on him, I can almost see his heart and spirit swell with hope and joy. When I’m distracted and inattentive to him and weary of his neediness, I’m sorry to say I can almost see his soul and spirit shrivel.

Who are the ones in your life that might be a tad difficult to love? I’ll bet a face or two comes to mind as you read this. We are bankrupt without love. And the kind of deep, sacrificial love we’re called to exhibit cannot be mustered up. There is no deep, untapped well of life-changing love within each human soul. The only real place to get real love is from The Bank of God. If we’ll go to Him and admit how parched and barren our lives are, and ask Him to pour His love into us, He will. But to keep going back to Him again and again requires humility, honesty and relationship.

This might sound very cliched, but that person in your life, the one who sometimes irks you to no end? You might not have him/her tomorrow.

I would never want to come across as preachy — I hope my words convey to you that I write about things I wrestle with in my own life. But I hope today you’ll allow me to encourage you, as someone who has been there, that there will be people around you today who need your love. And if you feel totally incapable of loving them, God is waiting for you to ask Him to help you do the impossible.

I must go and make breakfast now. The sun is coming up and the new day is beginning. On my way to the kitchen I’m stopping at The Bank of God to make a withdrawal. I’m bankrupt this morning and need some resources. Did you know there are Bank of God ATMs all over the world, even in your own house and car? There is never a line, and you don’t need a special card. There is always one within reach when the sincere words, “God help me to love!” are uttered. You never have to remember your PIN, and the reserves at The Bank of God never, never, ever run out.

God bless you all today,

Names that could have been

November 5, 2012 | My Jottings

I really think a lot of people grow into the meaning of their names. I can’t prove this of course, but I’ve observed it a lot, especially in my own grandchildren.

I am Julie Ann, but I was almost named Sharon Oma; Oma was my maternal grandmother’s first name. When my parents considered that calling me Sharon Oma would make my initials S.O.S., they thought better of it and fell back on their pick #2, Julie Ann. Julie means “youthful,” and I’m trying not to smirk at that thought right now, considering my knees.

Sharon Lindsay is my first daughter and she was almost named (I’m embarrassed to say this now, and immeasurably grateful it didn’t happen) Jessica Julie. There was also a time before I was even pregnant with her, that I thought I would name my first daughter Farrah Fawn. Yikes. If she were a he, she would have been Nathaniel.

Carolyn Beth is my second daughter and I never considered another girl’s name. Had she been a boy she would have been Jeffrey Alan. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Sara Yvonne is my third daughter and up until about two days before she was born she was going to be Katie Yvonne. Had she been a boy we would have called her Steven Michael (no cringe there — I still like it).

A man I didn’t know walked up to me once and asked, “Is your name Sandy?” I took a wary step back and said, “Ah, nooo…”  He said earnestly, “You look like a Sandy! I’ve never seen anyone else who looks more like their name should be Sandy than you.”

I recently told that story to Sara and asked her if she thought I looked like a Sandy. After some deep thought she shook her head and said, “No, I think your name would have to be stronger than Sandy. Something like Kay. Or Mavis.”

Pause, and solemnly think of that.

Here’s a picture of Mavis, waving at you.

Waving Mavis.

Sounds good to me.

Do you know if you were almost named something else? Or did you almost name your children other names?

A Quiet Weekend

November 2, 2012 | My Jottings

What do you have planned this weekend, friends?

Michael will be going out on Saturday morning with our son-in-law Jeremy because the first weekend of every November is deer hunting opener. Michael says yay and I say bleh.

I think I could shoot a deer if it were the only thing I had to feed my family, but it would make me very sad, I would cry when I gutted it, and then I would get all Indian-like and gravely thank the deer for giving its life to provide for our family. I would probably eat each venison meal very thoughtfully and intentionally. Coming from Southern California, I have never quite understood the deer-hunting culture we have in Minnesota, but I know being able to go out walking in the woods means a lot to Michael. He has done it every November since he was 12 years old. That means 51 years. I’m glad Jeremy is going with him, because he can’t be in the woods alone anymore, and I know it makes him sad and mad. Just this morning he was having an extremely difficult time getting a sentence out in an understandable way, and he muttered under his breath how much it s___s to have this disease. 🙁

While Michael and Jeremy are gone tomorrow, I will prepare for a granddaughter sleepover! Mrs. Nisky and Li’l Gleegirl are coming over, and we will play Farkle, draw pictures, perhaps make cookies, and read. Maybe we’ll even watch a movie. They will take a tubby in our fancy bath, and then sleep on pallets on Grandpa and Grandma’s bedroom floor.

If you read this post about my experience with Wart Warfare, you might understand what I’m feeling right now when I share that my recent surgery spread the virus. I have a new wart emerging on the bottom of my foot, right next to the old, slowly filling crater. Sigh. I have another appointment to have it frozen, next week.

I’m reading a book called Down the Common by Ann Baer, recommended by my Cornish friend Kay. I’ve finished two chapters and I’m already moaning and rocking (well, almost) with sympathy for the way the main character has to live, in medeivel times. What are you reading right now? Enquiring minds (and blog readers) want to know.

This morning I was getting ready to pay some bills, and I pulled out the next box of checks that had come in the mail recently. I’ve been ordering our checks from this company since 1984, and have had some issues with them the last two orders. Anyway, it’s a good thing I looked, because as I was getting ready to write a check to Minnesota Power for our monthly electric bill, I noticed that the account number at the bottom of the check was wrong. So of course I leafed through every single check pack and they’re all wrong. Hundreds of newly printed checks. I called the company and they’re reprinting them with the correct account, hopefully, and said they’d send them out with a rush on the order. It was irritating, but how thankful I was to have noticed before I started writing out a half dozen checks!

Sometimes I play a CD or a song over and over because it just hits me in the song-gut and I need to hear it again and again. I have no idea why that happens, but this is the song I’ve been listening to on repeat these past few days — quite the oldie. Michael and I took our two sweet foster gals out to dinner last night, and we had this playing loudly in the car on the way. Michael and I both sang the “doodle doodle doodle doo” part with all our hearts. Yes, we really did.

My country goes to the polls in four days to vote for the next President of the United States, and it can’t come too soon for me. I’m a political cynic if there ever was one. I think I would label myself as a conservative liberal or a liberal conservative. I just don’t fit squarely into either side. But I do cherish my voting privilege, and I will prayerfully cast my vote and then watch the results on television with the rest of America, since the polls promise a very close race.

I just had a handful of these chips and a small bowl of cottage cheese as the dip. I am not really someone who craves chips or salty things; but a flash back to my childhood brought this snack to mind and I thought I’d try it. As I munched I could see the blue and green flowered couch, the marble coffee table and the avocado colored sculpted carpet in the den of my house on Eckerman Avenue when I was a little girl. How can potato chips and cottage cheese be so powerfully transporting? Wow. Do you like any unusual snacks?

I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend at home with two-eights of my grandchildren. What does your weekend look like?

Thank you for making time to stop by here.

Doodle doodle doodle-doo,

Ten SAGgy Years

November 1, 2012 | My Jottings

Ten years ago when my friend Pat read a book called The Saving Graces, inspiration struck. What if she could gather a few women together so they could meet monthly over a meal, talk through their troubles, rejoice in each others’ joys and triumphs, pray for each other, and see each other through life? She asked three of us if we would be The Saving Graces with her, and it was unanimous–we all said yes and held our first meeting. That was in 2002, and the way we remember that year is because the birth of The SAGs happened right around the birth of my granddaughter Clara.

The acronym SAGs made us all chuckle. Not only did we all need saving, need loads of grace, and have a few sags of our own, but God knew how much we would come to mean to each other.

To celebrate ten SAGgy years together, Pat, Gail, Lorna and I recently drove a couple hours north to Grand Marais, MN, and stayed at one of my favorite places, Croftville Road Cottages. We went up on a Thursday night and stayed until Sunday.

We ate candy. And kept a fragrant Frazier Fir candle burning. (Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

You would never know by looking that such a little cottage is quite spacious inside, has two bedrooms, a good sized kitchen, living room and bath.

Pat and I drove up together on Thursday afternoon, and after dinner at My Sister’s Place, we drove up to an overlook on the Gunflint Trail. Even though it was dusk, we could still see the autumn reds and oranges all around us, and the ocean-like grandeur of Lake Superior on the horizon.

Gail and Lorna drove up later, and below you can see Gail getting the first look at her bedroom. A nice little stove kept things toasty, and just outside that sliding glass window at the foot of her bed we could hear Lake Superior pounding.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke to a beautiful sunrise the next morning. This is Lorna with her chair turned toward the view, spending some time in God’s Word.

A distant view of Lake Superior:

A close view of Lake Superior, taken from our cottage living room window:

We each had our own bed to sleep in. I set up my queen-sized inflatable mattress each night, and put it away during the day.

When the SAGs get together, we never lack for things to talk about, and we never feel uncomfortable with silence or tears. We were all looking forward to three days of just hanging out.

Pat and Gail spent some time on the swing, right on the edge of the Lake.

We brought our own food for the most part, but one night we ate dinner at The Crooked Spoon. Pat and Gail were happily anticipating their French onion soup.

Lorna and I had garden salads along with our soup.

We never grew tired of the Lake. One day it was grey and restless, another day it was deep blue and glistening. I don’t think I’ll ever get over living so close to such a treasure.

Our last dinner together was a treat. Lorna made a mouth-watering quiche, with bacon and all sorts of vegetables in it. We had Great Harvest bread, fresh cherry tomatoes from Lorna’s garden, a green salad. I can’t remember what we had for dessert.

Probably more candy.

We played Farkle. We read. We did our Bible studies. We watched a movie. We talked. We encouraged each other. We recounted some of our best SAGgy memories.

And we wondered if we will all be here to celebrate our 20th SAGgy anniversary. If we are, we’ll all be in our mid-sixties by then.

I took my gratitude journal along, and devoted a couple of pages to our weekend together, thanking the Lord for bringing us together ten years ago, and for the fellowship and friendship we share.