Monday, February 23, 2015

Wicks waiting

When I was a little girl, fifty-odd years ago, my mother marched us all to pre-church every Saturday. A few minutes behind the screen confessing to a voice, and time in the center aisle repenting, then she'd give each of us a few pennies or a nickel to put in the jar, so we could light a candle.

I was supposed to light ONE and pray. But all those little wicks were waiting, so every single week I cheated and set several to sparkling.

Recently I've taken this woman's habit on, to start each day by lighting a candle, pouring a cup of something hot, sitting so I can see the bird feeder, busy with activity, outside the window.  A celebration of another day, my little corner of the living room transformed to a holy place.

Then when the day is over I put the rubber stopper in the tub, pour in bath salts and bubbles, set out a towel, and light another candle. For awhile another corner of the world where I am an island. When I'm sufficiently melted I grab a fluffy towel, blow the candle out.

Flickering light as bookends to my day, sentries guarding my world.

Lighting candles because I can remember to blow them out. I am self-sufficient, for now. Twenty or so years from now I may well be in a different place, where my son or daughter has removed the knobs from the stove, as I did for her just a few weeks ago. No forgotten candles on coffee tables. None beside tubs full of too hot water I can't get in and out of.

Twenty years changes everything. So does ten. So does five. Nothing stands still. For now I celebrate my life, and hers, by lighting candles, morning and night, remembering that everything is a fleeting gift. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

When little chocolate donuts are soul food

It's the weekend, we made it! A morning of wearing pajamas too long, bed-head, coffee and more coffee, and a morning with no agenda except to just be.

At some point today there will be dressing, taking Miss Lily for a walkabout, we'll need to eat something. Surely there will be an oozing into the day of the stuff of life, but for right now, just one morning, there is the glorious situation of nothing pressing.

The only item on my to-do list right now is pouring another cup of hot coffee, and eating more of those little chocolate donuts everyone loves, even though they're supposedly awful for us. I'm still not convinced. Sometimes life is about more than the calories or nutritional content. Sometimes it's about soul food.

This morning those little chocolate donuts are food for my soul. As is the quiet where the only sound in our home is the hum of the refrigerator motor, I can see sunshine coming through the back windows, and rascal squirrels running across the top boards of our fence.

I can feel my chest expanding, and not in the way teenage girls hope for. Being gentle with myself oozes into me, making space for room to breathe.

Probably because I bought myself one of those gadgets you wear on your wrist, and it tracks quality and length of sleep, lately I've found myself thinking on this 24 hours in a day concept. I'm realizing I don't have 24 hours. Nobody does.

Sometimes I wonder that God could have made us stay awake all the time, but He didn't. When sleep comes I often become so unconscious that people can come in and out of the room, enter and leave the bed, adjust the covers, lights on, etc. and I never stir. But I'm just sleeping. I'm not in a coma, I'm alive, but in a entirely different state.

Why did God design us to sleep away a solid third of our lives? Taking a quick look at it, it doesn't seem terribly efficient of Him.

My no-seminary-degree version is that we are so much more than human machines. We need vitamins and minerals and fiber and exercise and such. We also need a chocolate donut now and then, especially after a long, hard night of sleep that restores.

The very first sleep referred to was when he took a rib from Adam, to create Eve. Don't you know Adam woke up, wondering why his side felt sore?

I'm not the scientific type, with the grades to prove it, but I do know a lot of stuff happens when we sleep. Cell regeneration, etc. and of course babies and kids need more since they're growing at a crazy rate. But we continue to need a good amount of sleep throughout our entire lives, long after we stop growing, and I wonder if it's mostly because God knew we were made of fragile stuff. He didn't design us to be efficient, but rather to be. Just be. Beings rather than doings.

We need a chunk of the day to put it all down. To let our minds rest. Our souls rest.

So I don't have 24 hours in a day. If I'm taking care of myself, getting the sleep I should, then I have 16, or less, and many of those have names on them like grocery shop, laundry, pay bills, exercise, cook, come up with solutions to problems, clean house, drive here and there, etc. The number of hours is easily whittled away.

We were sitting in traffic a week or so ago, at 6:30 pm. It was dark, and I was struck that many of the people in the cars all around us would be back on the road in about 12 hours, before it was daylight, and they weren't even home yet. They still had to finish their commute, figure out food and eat, clean up, clean themselves up, deal with kids and homework, etc. then go to bed so they could get back up and do it all over again. At best they had a few hours of time that didn't have a label, and I remember being in that stage, where I shortchanged sleep so I could have an extra hour or two of free time.

I wonder what the world would be like if we all got the sleep we need? If we slowed down to a sane pace of life, spent some time every morning on the sofa with another cup of coffee and a chocolate donut, if we didn't live at such a frantic pace? Would there be less crime? Less divorce? Less suicide? Less illness? Less road rage? Less of everything that is wrong with this world of ours, and more of what is right? What if Putin slept more and ate a chocolate donut now and then?

For this weekend I'm going to live purposefully at the pace of a slug. Try to emulate life from a different era, when we weren't driven by phones and emails and too many stores and too much of just about everything else.

Instead of rushing out to buy flowers and chocolate, standing in line at a restaurant, the grandkids will help me plant pansies, then we're going to feed the ducks at the park, and watch Frozen while we eat still-to-be-determined supper on paper plates. No makeup, no fuss, no furious. Then tucking ourselves in early enough, and long enough, that we wake up refreshed.

We had a house full of people this past week, eight adults and a curly-headed toddler who slept quite well tucked away in a closet. We tried to anticipate their every need, fresh sheets, plumped pillows, flowers in vases, fluffy towels, coffee and breakfast bars, chips and guacamole when they came in at the end of a long day. Everything was geared to making them feel special, and refreshed.

But we forget to do it to ourselves. Or those closest to us who will put up with crumbs. Fast food and the cookies that didn't turn out, and clutter and frantic paces, and snippy words.

I remember I can't pour out what's not inside. When I'm empty, frazzled, worn to a thin edge, of course it will be painfully obvious to others.

Perhaps you'll join me, even for a day? A Valentines day where we treat ourselves and others with gentleness. A day with room for our chests to expand and take a breath.


PS I did send my mother flowers to be delivered today. I can already see the look on her face, when she opens her door, and realizes they are for her. Sooooo much better than getting them myself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Baking brownies, and how are you?

Yesterday someone I haven't seen since before Christmas made the wretched mistake of saying to me, "how are you?"

And I proceeded to make the wretched mistake of telling them.

That vomiting up of how you're really feeling, then you walk away, and instead of feeling better, you feel like you've eaten too much fast food or you should have ordered the small blizzard, and they, quite possibly, do too.

H. Jackson Brown wrote a book, Life's Little Instruction Book. He wrote it for a kid going away to college. I've read it and it's chock full of good stuff. You can go HERE to read some of his best quotes.

There are two that have stuck with me for over 30 years:

#1 never turn down a homemade brownie. To me that means it was baked in a home, doesn't matter a bit whether it's out of a box or not. Anytime I bake brownies, and offer them to anyone, and they turn them down, I quote him.

Take the brownie!

but #2 is even better, and less fattening:

become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know

That doesn't mean everything is going along smooth as butter right now. It's not. But I believe our words have power, even unto ourselves. I can talk myself into an angry frenzy. I can think back to a wrong, or a right and it absolutely affects my outlook. And my output.

So I wish I'd just said, "I'm doing okay, how about you?"

Sort of like a grown-up, mature, the world-is-bigger-than-me person would have. The person who asked has had her share to deal with since I've last seen her and I didn't ask a single thing.

I've had a lot going on lately, much of it difficult, taxing, unpleasant, heart-wrenching.

So has everyone else walking around, still breathing. I'm not the only one who woke up this morning. Yesterday I forgot that, and maybe the handful of days before that too.

I detest self-absorbed people, especially when they're me.

Today I'm baking brownies. Out of the box.

And if you ask me how I am, I'm great, how about you?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A fresh dose of grace

Sometimes a body has a rotten day. Or a string of them, til you find yourself walking around, blowing out deep breaths. And sighing a lot. And you come full-face with what flimsy stuff you're made of.

Eventually the sun goes down, and you're glad it's time to climb in the bed and pull the covers up over your head.

Thoughts of grace twirl and loop and curtsy your  brain to sleep. How much grace a body needs, how begrudgingly little you extend, and you drift off, aware it's amazing God even bothers with you most days.


Then you wake up, and make your way to the coffee pot, pour a generous dose of artery clogging creamer, and take a few long sips. Oh, the smell of coffee, the feel of a cup between your hands. And you sit there on your sofa, staring out the window at nothing really, but the familiar is comfort.

You walk through the neighborhood, letting the dog sniff every single blade of grass and already doused mail post, because the luxury of time and more time this morning is a fresh dose of grace.

At some point in the day, instead of washing floors and toilets, you sit and knit, wondering why on earth anyone knits socks, when they can be bought at the local store for $2 a pair. From somewhere inside you comes the answer - knitting a sock is a fresh dose of grace. Slaying thinking too hard about anything else except knit and purl and knit and purl, stripe after stripe as the sock begins to appear and maybe something in the world makes sense after all, even if it's just a sock.

Then you grab someone you love, someone in all ways familiar, and drive to the local drive-in for a root beer float. Hotdogs, unplanned, are $1.49 each. You sit and munch on that hot dog and slurp that root beer float, all the while watching young girls skate to and fro, and all your thought is taken up to wondering how they keep from falling down. And that is yet another fresh dose of grace.

At the supermarket, in the lotion aisle, the clerk has a quota and you're a number, and everything in you wants to snap and walk away. You listen, choose, thank, and walk away. Grace going the other direction as it should.

Home to a glass of wine in the hot tub, talking through the events of the day, thoughts pushed aside til now, problems, solutions, another fresh dose of grace.

Steaks on the grill, salad and potato, recorded TV, knitting at that same sofa you started the day at. Now it's done and ready to be packed away. The cover closed on yet another. And it wasn't such a bad day after all. Not so many big breaths this day. Fewer sighs.

More grace than a body deserves.  Undeserved merit flowing back and forth through a day, through a life. Off to bed, covers pulled up to your chin, thankful for a the gift of sleep and fresh starts every single day.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A C- day at best

It's bedtime. Another day packed away. Assessing it, some parts got an A+. Some were a complete bomb. When you average out an A+ and an F you end up with a C-, or 2.0 or something like that.

Unfortunately this day ended up with a C- or so.

Thinking on what went right, what didn't, where I got it right and where I completely blew it, has me thinking long and hard tonight.

I'm giving myself a measure of grace for feeling a bit worn and raw, but then so are those around me who are catching some of my fallout, because no (wo)man is an island.

Actually, right about now I'd love to go to an island, for a day or a week or a month, but that's not happening.

And maybe that's exactly what God has in mind. Turn up the heat, fan the flames, and give me an opportunity to notice some things that need changed, or at least tweaked.

So for the rest of this month, and almost a week of it has already zoomed by, I'm going to read one particular book, and attempt to do one particular thing I've never done before.

I'm actually going to read several books for fun or interest, but I've got one in mind that has been sitting on my bookshelf for well over a year, untouched.

I'll be back on March 1 to tell you all about it and this experimental, out-of-character thing I'm taking on.

My thoughts to end the day: hug someone, say you're sorry, be kind, don't take life so seriously, and if you're blessed to still have your Mom and/or Dad, call them. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Whose day is it to be God?

I'm here, sort of. A week of every single emotion a person could have, a family pack of nine crashing into each other, and sometimes holding on for dear life. We gathered together to honor my brother's life, then scattered again, heading back to where we each belonged.

After flying home for 24 hours to Texas, to empty and refill suitcases, then flying to Colorado, and a week of staying in hotels, I'm finally flying back home to Texas today.

There's a huge chunk of me that is so anxious to be with my husband, my dog, my kids there, my bed, my coffee cup, my bathtub, my life. Where everything is pretty much about me, and comfortable and I am distanced from most things difficult.

Everything in me would like to stick my head in the sand and hide.

A part of me is finding it harder to leave my elderly mother behind, in that little one room apartment, than it was to say goodbye to my brother.

I know he's okay. I'm not so sure about her.

And I tend to take the weight of the world on my shoulders, that 'I'll be God today' sort of thing.

The truth is I'm not. And God's still on his throne, and He's got this.

There are other family members stepping in and up to be sure my Mom is okay. That's good since she doesn't really realize things are pretty shaky for her right now.

So if you're out there, prayers please for me to put down what I can't carry, for trust that He's in charge, no matter what it looks like on the outside. And for my sweet, little Mom who is finding it hard to tackle some new challenges right now.

I'll be back soon, and I trust I'll have cheerier reports, from the sunny skies of Texas.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Last Conversations

It's nice when posts can be of cheer and celebration and such. Not all days are like that.

Two days ago I got a call that my older brother had suffered a massive stroke, caused by advanced lung cancer none of us knew he had. He will not recover from it.

Our last words were accidental, and were spoken in frustration and lack of patience. Not the way I would have chosen for it to go between us.

but isn't much of life like that? Not the way we would have chosen? Not another chance, knowing what you know, to go back and have another conversation, smooth over the rough places, say what needs to be said.

I am that person that wakes up every single day, anxious to jump out of bed and start my day, looking forward to what lies ahead, and the color of the sky never alters that. I am blessed to feel so, as I know this isn't the way with everyone else.

These past two days, since I got the call, have not been like that. Fitful sleep, tossing and turning, my head swarming, full of thoughts and aches and hurt and regret and wishing things were otherwise. So many long phone calls full of words hard to speak. A few that broke my heart to speak words - to my elderly father, saying the hard things nobody ever wants to hear. Feeling them as they go out into the air and can't be taken back, knowing how they'll fall on the hearts receiving them. Hearing my mother speak of how much she will miss him, and knowing it's more so than she can even imagine. She was always his biggest cheerleader, his place of refuge in the storm, as a mother should be. She was  not ready for this. This is the second son my parents will have to say goodbye to, and if there's anything in life that I'd scream 'not fair' over it's that. Too hard, nobody should have to go through that, but sometimes that's what life gives you.

You never ever ever ever know when you don't have anymore time. You don't ever ever ever know when you won't get another chance to say "I love you', even to those who may not receive it perfectly.

So as I'm living in this space and time of days beyond difficult, my mind is skimming over past times, and I'm remembering.....

the playhouse he built just for me when I was a tike, so I could play with my dolls, and also so he could use our father's hammer and nails.

the little wooden cat I received in the mail, from states away, where he'd gone to live when he couldn't live with us anymore. Less than 1" x 1", I still have it. Amazing how something so small can mean so much. A little wooden cat that arrived with no written words, but I heard them anyway.

the day I spent with him, asking him about his life and what he did, and listening for almost two hours while he told me, showed me.

the tickets I sent him to go see the Rockies, with his buddy, on his 60th birthday. Some of the best money I've ever spent. He lost that friend to cancer just a few months ago.

the phone call I made to him, when I wasn't in a hurry, with no agenda, and I was able to get him to really talk to me about how he was doing, what he was feeling, dealing with, etc. Even when we hung up I knew it was a conversation I'd treasure for years to come.

There are plenty of hard memories, and I'm not one to romanticize anyone. I don't want to be remembered as better than I was, I want it to be okay, to those who love me, that I was the whole package, good and bad and soft and hard and conflicting and making mistakes and moments of getting it right, and being loved and valued for the whole mess.

So that one, last conversation that would have been so different if I'd know it would be our last, it'll stand in my memory as it was. But it'll sit alongside other moments and conversations and I'll hang onto knowing that he knew I loved him. No matter how much time went when we didn't speak, or the words weren't all lovely, or I didn't care as much as I should have, or he didn't either.

At the end of the day, and you never know when that's going to be, letting those you love know you do, for good and bad, that's all we can do.

I know that he knew. I can live with that.