Category Archives: Relationship

I traveled to Portland…

My friend Kathy told me I need to write more.  So, I comply.

Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role…  I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.

I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly.  I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.

Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.

This, however:  Worthwhile.  To me, at least.

I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before:  gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband.  Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married.  For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends.  I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year…  But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends.  He’s a good man.

So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days.  Mountains!  The beach!  Gardens!  Farmer’s market!  City!  Country!  We packed a great deal into a short period of time.

One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.

This time is a treasure to me.  I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing.  It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us.  We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere.  There are far too many attachments here in the desert:  our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)….  So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success:  I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather…  Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment.  It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it.  I won’t.

So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.

In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.

at Salmon Creek

At Salmon Creek — on a little hike shortly after my arrival.  The only imperfection was that I forgot my binoculars at home, and there were many birds calling out to me, reminding me of my poor eyesight and forgetfulness.

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Mt. St. Helens — beautifully stark, profound in its impact, awesome in the recovery of the land.

We four:  Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

We four: Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

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At Oregon Garden in Silverton. I was quite amazed that, in its original state, Oregon had many hardwood timber forests. This particular oak was over 400 years old. The whole garden is very worthwhile, with both sculpted vistas, extensive veggie gardens, and acres of more wild, native greenery.

Upper Ape Cave.  This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lava tube.  Otherwordly and a priceless experience.  This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the cave.

Upper Ape Cave. This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lightless lava tube. Otherwordly and a priceless experience. This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the otherwise COMPLETELY DARK cave.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon.  What a gorgeous beach -- with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools.  I *think* I saw a puffin.  I also realized that this sweater I dearly love makes me look pregnant.  Love/not-love.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon. What a gorgeous beach — with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools. I *think* I saw a puffin. I’m holding sand dollars.  I also realized that this sweater which I previously really liked makes me look pregnant. Love/not-love.

My other favorite times:

  • Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons.  The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property.  We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
  • Eating.  Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f.  We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
  • Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard.  As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard.  Blueberry bushes.  In her back yard.
  • Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values…  I feel rich in the blessings of friendship.  And we laughed a lot.  And exclaimed over the same things.  We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
  • On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud.  We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us…  And we listened to the Housefires.  Time flew.  And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop.  This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction.  We were so grateful.  (Much laughter.)

I must return.  We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.

Trendsetter and other good news

Fiala was the flowergirl in the wedding of some dear friends in November. I made her dress.

My days aren’t always wonderful.  But, today has been smashing and I don’t want to forget it.

First, our mourning has been turned into dancing.  Earlier this week, we discovered that the awful scraping sound emanating from my Land Barge’s engine was its last, dying gasp.  It needed a new engine — to the tune of $3,500 or so.  This morning, someone called to tell us that, essentially, he is going to pay for it.  This “someone” is returning a favor for house plans that my husband designed for him.  I must confess that I have groused somewhat about what I feel is people taking advantage of my husband’s generosity with his home-designing skills, which he frequently does for free, or very nearly so, on the side*.  It seems to me that folks don’t comprehend the time, effort, skill, and flat-out genius that goes behind their remodel, or whatever.  I have strongly suggested that he charge what he’s worth.  He refuses.  I pout and feel self-righteous about at least internally defending my husband.  However, I will never breathe a word of complaint again.  Even enters my mind I will remind myself that GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL and HE WILL ALWAYS TAKE CARE OF US and no kindness is wasted in God’s economy.  I will give all future unkindly thoughts** a kick to the curb and not let them enter into the dwelling place of my ponderings.  Seriously.  My mind is changed FOREVER.  My paradigm is permanently shifted.

Secondly, something over the last week or so, of which we didn’t hear until today:

  1. Last week at our dentist’s office, as always, my five year old daughter Fiala was unfailingly kind and encouraging. She told the dental assistant, Shawn, that she looked beautiful, and gave her a hug and a kiss.
  2. Shawn went home, and when asked about her day by her elementary-school-aged son, she said that a little girl made her day, describing the incident with Fi… They talked about the name “Fiala”.
  3. The son’s teacher is pregnant with a little girl and (bravely!) told the students that she would let one of them name the baby. She set up a suggestion box in the back. Shawn’s son wrote down “Fiala”.
  4. The teacher announced yesterday (I think) that her new baby would be named Fiala.
  5. Buh-bam! Darling girl is a trend-setter, spreading her sweet spunkiness and genuine affection, getting babies named after her.

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*He is also paid to design houses in his full-time job.  🙂
**At least on this topic.  😉

An odd testament to love

My stepdad, Joe, passed away last Thursday.

It was a shock.

I visited him with Audrey and Fiala the night previous, as we’d gotten word that he had taken a turn for the worse.  He was mostly out of it, on pain meds, but we had some now-memorable exchanges… One was me asking him if he wanted music in his room — he LOVED music — and he did.  I made a mental plan to follow up on that the next day.  A sick man should have music.  He taught my children all sorts of silly songs over the years — he and my mom started dating when my 16 year-old was an infant;  they were married days after he turned one — and I asked him if he might have a silly song for my girls.  He replied, “Not at the moment.”  When the girls and I were about to leave, I told him I needed to go back home to nurse baby Jean.  “Do you remember baby Jean?” I asked, not sure how connected he was with what I was saying.  “Oh, yes!” he said, and his face lit up.  The girls and I prayed for him, I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me, too, and we left.

We got back home, and I told my husband, “He looks bad, but he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”

I was wrong.

He died early the next morning.

Perhaps this seems odd, but I think his passing might be a testament to how much he loved my mother, and that makes me feel a little bit better.

It had been a hard, hard year with Joe.  Well, hard ten months.  My mother passed on October 18, 2012, and for the month or so following, things were good with Joe, although he was terribly — understandably — heartbroken.

And then things deteriorated.

Much of the deterioration revolved around my mom’s will and the way estate law works in Arizona.

The short version is that he didn’t think that myself or my three siblings should inherit anything from my mother.  He genuinely felt entitled to everything she owned and saved, and felt that we weren’t taking care of him by signing our inheritances over to him.

My sibs and I couldn’t agree to his desires.  My mom appropriated some things to her children…  The bulk of the estate went to Joe.  There was much that estate law would allow us to keep, or claim — property which wasn’t exactly specified in the will — which we didn’t.  We siblings were trying our best to err on the side of generosity, to keep all fighting to an absolute minimum, to find common ground…  We simply were not successful, and Joe remained upset at us.  Angry, really.  He was angry with us.

So.

It had been a very, very hard time, a difficult year.

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I had long said that Joe was the most involved grandparent that my children had.

And, it was true for 15 years.

And then, not true for 10 months.

There were a few, encouraging steps forward… and those would invariably be followed by some giant sliding backward.

I’m not angry at Joe.  The issue of inheritance was a very difficult thing that was only resolved about a month ago.  But, even when estate matters were resolved, things were still not good, relationship-wise, with Joe.  While he was in the hospital, my brother-in-law suggested to Joe, “Can we call a truce?  And then, when you’re feeling better, you can be angry again.”  Joe thought that was hilarious — my brother-in-law is quite witty, and I think it was the perfect thing to say.  And, Joe agreed, at least in spirit…

While my family was on vacation earlier this month, Joe — who had for months been complaining of an ‘upset stomach’ — was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  And, less than two weeks after his diagnosis, he was gone.

I wrote to some friends:

Everyone handles grief so differently. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “He just could NOT move on,” and that fits with something else I was going to say: he has always tended towards bitterness and suspicion and hoarding… and we didn’t realize how much my mom kept that in check. In so many ways, she must have compelled him to move on, to get past “it”, whatever “it” was. And with her gone, there was no one who could speak that into him, and he just spiraled out of control. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but it seems like a testament to how much he loved my mom, how much influence she had in his life, what a difference she made in his outlook and approach to life… it makes me feel better. And even with his cancer diagnosis. I think he just might have given up. I think if she had been alive, he would have fought.

When my mom was hospitalized, my siblings and I frequently discussed how much my mom loved Joe, but how foreign to us were his ways of expressing love to her.  I found myself rather desperately hoping that my mom was loved as deeply as she…  well, I hate the word “deserve”…  Needed?  Should have had?  I’m not sure of the right word there.  I just wanted her to be loved by her husband.  That was really, really, really important to me.  And there were times when I found myself wondering.

Yet, this last week, I have been, indeed, struck with just how much he much have loved her… She made his life worth living.  She compelled him to go on.  She called out in him the things that were noble, and helped the ignoble to be manageable, far less noticeable.

I’m a mishmash of thoughts and emotions.

Such regret that relationship wasn’t restored by the time of Joe’s passing.

So sad…  Sad for my children.  Sad for Joe.  Sad for myself.

But, strangely comforted about my mother, whose absence is a deepening hole in my life.

I’m comforted that he loved her.

Mom and Joe

More birth pics of Baby Jean… correcting my memory

My friend Stephanie was at the birth of Jean Marjorie Joy, born on June 25.  She had her camera, and I knew she took a few pics.  But I didn’t know just how many until today, Jean’s six-week “birth day.”  Right after the birth, Steph went on vacation and was then busy with a number of other things.  She gave me a flash drive with her pics on it, a week and a half ago.  I don’t know why it took me so long to view the pictures…  Mixed emotions, I guess.  However, when I did, I cried good tears…  Collectively, they tell a tale of love, and of a day that shouldn’t be forgotten.  There are a whole bunch of pictures immediately post-birth, for a space of about sixteen minutes that I somehow forgot:  I just somehow absolutely didn’t recall those minutes, at all.  But, seeing the pictures, it all came back to me, even how it felt, to have baby Jean up on my swollen belly, only a minute post-birth.  “Oh… yes… I do remember that!  I remember it now!”  (You can read the original birth story, here.)

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My dear husband, Martin.

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He’s so attentive to me.

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Wouldn’t YOU love a man who held your face like that?? I would.

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Martin, and sweet Fiala, too. I look pretty relaxed in this picture, but believe me, I felt like I was dying.

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My brown-eyed girl, Audrey.

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I ❤ him.

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This was three minutes before Jean emerged. Note Fi’s hands over her ears!! And she’s watching the action quite closely!! I thought the girls left the room well before Jean was born, but I guess they were slow-motion minutes… Fi hung in there a good long time.

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I ripped my hair elastic out. Or someone did it for me. LAST push.

Like my friend Daja, who had her baby boy, Tegshee Walker, only a couple of weeks ago, there are some awesome crowning and baby emerging photos… But I can’t publish those.

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I can’t really show you the picture where Martin caught baby Jean, either. But this pic was taken only one minute after her birth. He must have handed her right off to me. Until I saw this picture, I absolutely did not remember this moment.

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Again, one minute post-birth. I remember now, feeling vast relief, feeling extremely shaky, not quite believing that this was my baby, but at the same time KNOWING she was, indeed, my dear baby.

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Alicia’s blonde head on the left, my midwife Pam on the right. Me in wonder.

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They were rubbing her down, helping her to pink up. I had previously remembered people doing that, but the bizarre thing was that I hadn’t remembered that baby Jean was IN MY ARMS when they were doing that.

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The best Daddy in the world. He loves her so.

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Only three minutes post-birth.

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I love her.

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First kiss as a family of eight. 🙂

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Jean has Martin’s brow.

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Audrey decides to come back in.

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Martin’s hand over mine, on our baby’s chubby, fuzzy back. And MARTIN is the one who put her little hat on. Again, while she was in my arms. But I hadn’t remembered that.

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Miss Squishy, 23 minutes post-birth.

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Daddy, Mommy, baby, love.

A guitar, a crib, a dashboard, and a book club (reflections on a year in a small, weekly home group)

The school year is winding down.

Among other things, that means the small group I’ve attended for the last 9 months or so will come to a close, too*.

A few reflections on “my” group this year:

  1. As a worship leader, I don’t get to pick my group.  Each August, I hear chatter between friends, “Whose group are you thinking about going to this year?  What night is it?  Whose house is it at?  Who is the leader?  Wanna go together??”  That sort of thing.  I don’t get to participate in those conversations.  I go where I’m assigned.  That’s good news and bad news.  If there is someone who goes to a group who is a particular friend of mine, it’s totally by coincidence.  I’m often assigned to groups that I wouldn’t have personally chosen, for one reason or another.  BUT… that also means that, each year, I get to grow closer to a bunch of people who, even if I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, God has chosen them for me!!  He knows what I need, even when I don’t.  It seems that, usually, God uses that year’s group to challenge me…  God knows that I need stretching and growth in a particular area, and proclaims to me, “Here is your opportunity!  And you can’t escape it!  Hahahaha!”  Yes, I envision God laughing at me like that.  He has a funny sense of humor.  However, this year, the group I’ve been in has been such… comfort to my heart.  Such comfort.  It is filled with thoughtful, caring, tender people, whose hearts overflow with love.  Usually, during ministry time, toward the end of our time together, I am playing my guitar, covering the environment, praying or singing over the interactions taking place in front of me.  In all my past groups, I’d rarely be the recipient of prayer.  I’m totally OK with that.  But, it has blessed me to tears that virtually every week, someone will come over and lay their hand on my shoulder and quietly speak a prayer of blessing and encouragement over me…  I feel un-forgotten.
  2. A family in my group this year has gone through something I can’t even imagine.  It has rent my heart.  For the past three years, they have fostered a baby since he was only a few weeks old.  Initially, they thought (due to the proclamations of the mother) that they were blood-related to this baby.  They didn’t find out until the baby was two, I believe, that he was actually of no blood relation.  However, they have loved and cared for him and cherished him as the son of their heart.  This past year, a distant blood relation of the child decided that they wanted the boy.  And, in what was a blow to all of us, the courts decided in favor of the distant blood relative, rather than in favor of the parents this baby has had for literally his entire life.  The mother approached me a few weeks ago…  “When he goes to live with his new family, I’d like you to have his crib for your new baby, if you want it.”  That killed me.  My heart has been so knit to this family through their struggle to keep their little boy…  And the crib is REALLY NICE.  Really nice.  I’m sure they could sell it on Craigslist and recoup some of the money spent.  But, they’d rather I have it.  They said they’d be honored.  Oh, my Lord.  *I* am honored.  The day their son went to live with his new, permanent family, about a week and a half ago, they brought the crib to my home.  So very, very bittersweet.  ~sigh~  But that crib will now be a reminder to me of that little boy who, in my estimation, should still be with the parents who raised him for more than three years.  It will be a physical reminder to pray for him, far away now…  And to pray for the parents whose hearts have been broken and broken and broken over this.
  3. On a few occasions, our group takes the opportunity to bring food and ministry to various families in need in our local area.  The last time was almost two weeks ago.  I was with a group of four others.  Usually, we have names and addresses and specific people expecting to receive us.  This past time, though, we were just sent out with bags of groceries and instructed to just pray about where to go.  The group I was in went to an apartment complex.  However, after walking around (up and down stairs) for about 30 minutes, I started having contractions and I could feel my ankles swell rapidly.  So, a man in the group and I went back to someone’s car to sit while the others finished.  This man had had a stroke five years ago and doesn’t walk well, himself.  So, we sat in the car and chatted.  I asked him all sorts of questions about his past, his stroke, his recovery, his relationships…  I kept asking and he kept talking.  It was a lovely evening, with cool breezes wafting through the open windows of the vehicle.  I kept thinking, “This is such a treasure.”  It’s hard to explain, but I had the thought, “Would I normally have 30 minutes to sit down and chat with a 60-something man?  No.  Would we ever go out to coffee together?  No.  But is this so valuable, such a blessing to the both of us??  Yes.”  Once again, it was like God saying, “I know what you need, I know what he needs, and I’m going to use this little opportunity that wouldn’t arise any other way to knit your hearts together.”  And I just kept thinking, “THIS is what being the Body of Christ is about.  THIS IS IT.  This is Church life.  This is what God does.”  He brings us into deeper and more sincere relationship, often with people we would not have chosen for ourselves to be our “buddies” but in the end, it turns out to be JUST what we needed.  God is smart like that.  🙂
  4. Lastly, I have been part of a small book club for… five years I think it has been.  Our group started out with eight women, all from “my” church.  As time has progressed, about half of us no longer go to the same church, but the group has persisted.  However, a couple of women have moved out of state, and one more is heading imminently in that direction, and on Saturday, those who remain had a little discussion:  “Whom should we invite to join us?”  And I was delighted to suggest a woman who is in my small group.  I just know she’ll be a good fit for our small group of diverse, thoughtful women who meet every other month to discuss a book which has (as is our goal) “Good Art + Good Message.”  We’ve read a great range of fiction and non-fiction, contemporary works and classics, poetry, memoirs, novels, and more.  The thing is this:  This particular woman whom I offered as a potential member, up to the other ladies…  Well, I NEVER would have known her, if it hadn’t been for small group.  We’re of much different ages, we don’t typically relate in the same circles of people…  We’re just in different walks of life.  But, after going to small group with her on Thursday nights, I know she is insightful, humorous, kind, and thinks deeply.  I very, very likely wouldn’t have discovered that, had it not been for small group.  And I look forward to getting to know her better through the book club.  And it’s good for HER, too.  We all want to be known.  We all want to be wanted.  We all need friendship.  We all long to be noticed and appreciated…

So, once again, I find myself thankful for my God, who knows what I need — and even what I want — well before I do.  And He is kind enough to set me up to “discover” it for myself.  He gives me those things, like gifts…  And I am sincerely thankful for His care over me.

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*My church has small home groups that meet throughout the school year, and then summers typically see a variety of special classes or Bible studies that last 2-8 weeks

Why it was good for me to drag my tired hind-end to small group last night… What I could have missed.

Small update to yesterday’s complain-y post.

The leader of my small group chose to teach/discuss passion for Jesus, and how His love for us stirs our hearts to love Him, and what that looks like, and how we live that out…

I got to share a story from this past week, where I had and opportunity to show love to someone when I didn’t feel like it.  I know that sounds minor, sounds insignificant.  But, to me, it was extremely challenging under the circumstances yet I knew it was something God was calling me to do.  And the results, the fruit of that, have been wonderful, beyond my hopes.

Later, we worshiped — which is toward the end, and which was really wonderful.  And I was grinning during part of worship, as I sang, if nothing else because two of the four songs I chose were so very fitting.  I love it when that happens.  Occasionally, people will ask the leader and me if we planned out the teaching to match with the worship or vice versa, and we say, “No… that’s the Holy Spirit.”

So, the first song was Sing, Sing, Sing by Chris Tomlin.

What’s not to love about You
Heaven and earth adore You…
You are the love that frees us
You are the light that leads us…

But even more fitting was Consuming Fire by Tim Hughes.

Consuming fire, fan into flame
A passion for Your name
Spirit of God, fall in this place
Lord, have Your way
Lord, have Your way with us…
Stir it up in our hearts, Lord
A passion for Your name!

Maybe that doesn’t mean much to y’all…  But it was like God saying to me, “See?  It’s good of you to be here.  And, see??  You hear from me, even when you’re not particularly trying to.”

After “official” worship is over, I continued to play guitar, as I always do, in what my husband calls “covering the environment”.  There were small clusters of people, praying for each other.  Often, during that time each week, I’ll just strum a chord progression, building it up, then bringing it down…  About half of the time, I’ll sing prophetically, usually fairly quietly over the group:  Just what I feel is in God’s heart to those gathered, in first person, His voice to His beloved…  Among other things, it helps me feel connected with what is going on during ministry time.  Since I’m the worship leader, there isn’t usually opportunity for me to pray for others, and only occasionally do others pray for me during that time.  I’m totally OK with that.  But, if I’m singing over the people, I’m still connected, and that’s good.  Last night, I had a prayer rising up in my heart.  Honestly, I don’t often vocalize what I call “prayer songs” — things that are on MY heart to God’s.  But, not only was it welling up in me to sing, I sang quite loudly, which I don’t usually do.  I usually stay in the background, not wanting to make it difficult for one person to hear another’s prayer…  I would glance up every few minutes, and all those present were just soaking it in, eyes closed, hands open, receiving, listening, participating in their own hearts, voices occasionally harmonizing with what I sang.  It just seemed that what was on my heart was on everyone else’s, too.  It was really beautiful.

After the group was over, while most everyone was snacking, I got to talk with a woman…  Well, she started to come to “my” small group only a few weeks ago.  I could tell she was unsure about the whole thing…  I had remembered — from some conversation long ago — that she was from farming country in Illinois.  So, when she came to the small group for the first time, I rekindled that conversation and discovered that her son lives in the tiny town — population 1,785 — where my paternal grandmother is living (in a skilled nursing facility, about ten miles from the home of her birth).  Again, perhaps that seems inconsequential, but it was another whisper from the heart of God to me, and more importantly, to this other lady, that she is CONNECTED to the Body of Christ, to this particular body of believers…  Belonging to His family is important to God.  So, I joked with her, “I waved to your son when I went to visit my grandma.”  And we talked again about loving the land, and family farms, and being married to men who love the desert.  It was good.

Later, after everyone had left, a mom who lives in the multi-generational home where our small group meets…  Well, she and her husband have been fostering a child for THREE YEARS.  Three years, since the child was only a few weeks old.  And now the birth mother’s extended family have finally “won” and this darling child will be going to live with the stranger-family (strangers, though related by blood) permanently in a couple of weeks.  HEART-WRENCHING.  The whole thing has very much shaken me.  But, I hung out with her afterward and we talked about the whole thing, which we do almost every week…  And I felt God saying to me, “See?  It’s good of you to be here.  She needs this.  You need this.”  And on top of that, she wants to give me the little one’s crib for our new baby.  A couple of months ago, a sweet friend re-gifted a different crib to me, that had been given to her, but it’s in dire need of new paint, and has been sitting in my storage room, waiting for me to get motivated.  This “new” crib is gorgeous, dark wood, and in excellent condition.  I felt both honored that she would give the crib to me… and having it will be a reminder to pray for that family.

And another woman…  the matriarch of the home, had earlier overheard the conversation I’d had about the farm and said, “Sit down here.  I want to read something to you that I read this morning” and she proceeded to read the whole of Psalm 65 in a translation I’d never heard:  The Voice.  It was achingly lovely.

You spend time on the good earth,
watering and nourishing the networks of the living.
God’s river is full of water!
By preparing the land,
You have provided us grain for nourishment.
10 You are the gentle equalizer: soaking the furrows,
smoothing soil’s ridges,
Softening sun-baked earth with generous showers,
blessing the fruit of the ground.
11 You crown the year with a fruitful harvest;
the paths are worn down by carts overflowing with unstoppable growth.
12 Barren desert pastures yield fruit;
craggy hills are now dressed for celebration.
13 Meadows are clothed with frolicking flocks of lambs;
valleys are covered with a carpet of autumn-harvest grain;
the land shouts and sings in joyous celebration.

She sent me a text this morning, early:  “Karen dear… there are songs for you to write in Ps 65 (the Voice).  I have the strongest urge to convey that to you I can’t even wait for a polite time to call you.”  That made me cry.  It was just one more whisper from God’s heart to mine.  One more sweet ribbon, tying me to His heart and to His people…  And I would have missed that, had I not gone to small group last night!!!

And then, to top the whole thing off, as I got into the car to drive the short distance home, I turned on the Diamondbacks game, and it was the bottom of the ninth, and J.J. Putz was closing it out…  We were leading.  I got home in time to see that last out being made, on TV.  🙂

And then I pulled out my book and read until I was drowsy, and then went to bed, very satisfied with the day, my heart full to overflowing, deeply content.  I felt like God had redeemed the day:  turned something that could have been an exhausting drag into something glorious.

CSAs, city ordinances, and scary neighbors, oh my!

Looks pretty good from the air, doesn’t it? Though this is Phoenix, it isn’t actually my neighborhood…. Not even close.

I tend to shy from endeavors that require me to be consistently organized.  It’s not in my nature.  It stresses me out.  I’m MUCH better-organized that I used to be;  it’s a necessity if you have five children and homeschool;  homeschooling requires at least a modicum of organization.  But, in general, I know my limits, and I don’t willingly volunteer for something that taxes my shaky organizational skills.

However, if you follow OSC on Facebook, you’ve probably seen my offer for you to join a Community Supported Agriculture — CSA — pickup that I’m hosting at my house.  This is something new for me;  I’ve never done anything like that before, where I am the point man.  Point woman.  Whatever.

In spite of my flaws, I decided to embark this adventure because:

  1. The CSA with which I have been a member for two years is now defunct, because the farmer needs back surgery.  That’s one of the dangers of buying your produce from one farmer!  If she’s down for the count, the food supply ends.  Not to sound callous about it;  I’m very sad for her.  We’ve developed a nice relationship and it hits me in the heart that she is in pain, and that her dream of being a direct-to-consumer farmer has gone up in smoke.  But in my everyday reality, her ceasing to function as a farmer means that I need a different source for my veggies.  If I want know who is growing my produce — which I do — I needed to find a different farmer.
  2. There are a number of CSAs and similar opportunities around Phoenix.  However, I wanted one whose cost was reasonable, and whose pickup location was near to me.  There weren’t any who met that criteria.  However, one farm — Crooked Sky Farms — had a number of people interested in joining a farm share in my area — many of whom had participated in times past — but no one currently acting as a coordinator.
  3. If I agreed to be a coordinator, I would get lots of veggies for myself.  AAALLLLLLLLLL for myself.  About $40 worth of organic vegetables for “free” every week, to use to my heart’s content — with which to cook, to experiment, to preserve….  As someone who is constantly trying to trim the grocery budget, yet eat in an ever-increasingly healthy manner, this was VERY appealing to me.
  4. I really do want to equip others to eat better.  Food matters. Food is intricately connected to our health.  If we eat better, our health will be better;  it’s that simple.  Healthier individuals make for a healthier society.  I’m interested in having a healthier society than we currently do, here in the United States.  We can’t get there without baby steps.  Eating organic is both an individual baby step and a societal baby step.
  5. Farmers matter.  Crooked Sky is single-farmer run, and employs 15 people or so.  Small business matters.  Small business DONE WELL is important to the economic strength of a community.
  6. How we treat the earth matters.  How food is produced matters.   Farming in particular, when done badly, is a tremendous source of soil depletion and pollution.  When done right, it is a tremendous source of soil enhancement.  Done right, farming IMPROVES the land.  Crooked Sky Farms won a local award for the best organic farm of 2012.
  7. With my two years’ experience of CSA participation, I had already decided that if I switched CSAs, I would prefer to join one that was just a little larger, still owned and run by one farmer, but with a little more diversity…  I mean…  if there’s a drought (which is likely!) or one planting utterly fails due to soil organisms (which is likely!) if the farmer has only 3-4 other veggies going at the same time, my share is likely to be sparse.  But, if the farmer has 30-40 things growing simultaneously, if one crop fails, I probably wouldn’t even know about it!  Farmer Frank Martin with Crooked Sky runs about six fields in the Phoenix area — mostly urban infill projects (which also delights me) — and has a few more further south in Arizona.  A diversity of locations means that all of his eggs aren’t in one basket, so to speak.
  8. If I hosted the pick-up at my own home, that would mean I could — duh! — stay at home, which is easier for me.  I really try to minimize the number of times, weekly, that I have to leave.  Going places simply takes a lot of time.  I figure that even if there are people filtering through my home for 2-3 hours on a weekly afternoon, I can still prep dinner, answer kids’ questions, and otherwise attend to my home and family, which would not be possible if I was camped in a parking lot somewhere, waiting for folks to come pick up their produce.

Given that preponderance of good reasons to join the Crooked Sky CSA, I was willing to immediately jump in with both feet as a coordinator.  My husband, though, cautioned me with a, “Whoa, girl!” and suggested that I contact our city to ensure that hosting an in-home pickup wouldn’t be violating any city ordinances.

Grrr….

The reason behind his suggestion is that, well, my hubby is a by-the-book kind of guy.  Additionally, we knew that one of our neighbors had already brought a lawsuit against another neighbor for an illegal in-home business.

Even though I could see the wisdom in making sure I was covered by the City of Glendale, I wasn’t thrilled about doing so;  bureaucratic hoops through which I need to jump annoy the snot out of me.  They’re difficult to unravel and time-consuming.  Half the time, they don’t even make sense!

All of this proved to be true.

It was difficult to even FIND the right person to whom I should talk.  Then, the initial response from that city employee was that I would have to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to allow a business to function out of my home.  To do this, a city employee would be assigned to me to help me walk through the process, then I would have to attend an evening hearing during a city zoning meeting.  Well, all right…. I would do it.  THEN, the employee told me that the fee for this process is $1,086.  WHAT?????  

Clearly, it made no sense for me to have to fork over that kind of dough for an enterprise for which I would be making basically no money.  I see it more as a community service, rather than a home business.  I do benefit from hosting the pick-up at my home, but it’s not really a money-making enterprise.

I appealed to my contact person at the City.  She said she would “go to bat” for me at a weekly meeting where these matters were discussed.

When she called me back about a week later, the news was GOOD!!  I did not have to obtain a permit!!

I squealed.

However, she did tell me that though the City decided that what I was doing did NOT constitute an in-home business, that “there’s no problem until there is a problem.”  In other words, if a neighbor decided that they were tired of the extra traffic, they could call and report me to the City and then I probably would have to obtain a permit to continue.  She advised me to contact all my neighbors and tell them in advance what I’m planning to do.  I had already thought about that, but had sort of been dragging my feet, especially as I knew at least one neighbor was quite litigious, and we only really know two other neighbors  on our street.

But, what had to be done had to be done.  So, I printed up my CSA FAQ sheet, the CSA contract (in case anyone wanted to join), and a cover letter to give, in an envelope, to each neighbor.  And, on Saturday, I went a-knockin’.  I planned to visit 13 houses:  the house directly across the street from us, plus the three houses to the east, the three to the west, on both the north and south sides of the street.  Fiala and Wesley went with me for about half of the visits.  I had to do it in sections, as talking to neighbors is pretty time-consuming!  I did get it all done in one day, though.  Of the 13 neighbors, I talked with nine of them in person;  for only four did I have to simply leave the envelope half-tucked under the front door mat.  I thought that was pretty good results.  Most of the people with whom I spoke I’d never met before!

Things I learned:

  1. I have some really great neighbors.
  2. My kids were hoping I’d discover some children…  Only one:  a ten-year-old girl, previously unknown to us.
  3. The litigious neighbor of whom I was a little afraid… well, he wasn’t home.  I met his wife for the first time, and she was LOVELY.  She was also from a family of six children, and thought it was wonderful that I was expecting my sixth.  She invited me into her home, which smelled amazing — chili simmering on the stove! — and we had a wonderful chat.
  4. Turns out another neighbor has five chickens, which I didn’t know.  They can’t eat all the eggs — five per day, and there’s just the two of them, an older couple.  She sent me home with a dozen eggs, and the husband said he would love to give me some pointers about raising backyard poultry as he has been doing it for years.  (They have lived in their home for 35 years!)
  5. Another neighbor, whose grapefruit tree’s branches are dripping with uneaten, ripe grapefruit said we could come pick them at any time!
  6. Another neighbor is a fifth-generation Arizonan, which is incredible.  My husband is 3rd-generation, and most folks’ jaws drop at that — that his grandfather came here in the 1930s.  This neighbor and I chatted for quite a while about our disdain of Walmart (but how we both find ourselves there more frequently than we care to admit!), and our love of gardening.  Her husband is using what used to be a fenced-in dog run as a fenced-in garden.  It’s not quite up and running yet, but that’s her plan, which I thought was great.  We also lamented about how we are so close to the area where the land is irrigated, and how we’d both love to live on the irrigated properties, but just can’t afford it (yet!).  One day, perhaps…
  7. One family on our street is from Bosnia.  It’s a four-generation household.  I think that’s wonderful.
  8. I learned some things about our next-door neighbor, the neighbors whom we know best… that they eat almost-all organic, that they use herbs as medicine as much as possible, and that they have a fledgling garden (the garden part, I did know already), and that they compost…  Hmmm…. sounds familiar!!!
  9. All of my neighbors were unfailingly friendly and encouraging, and said that they didn’t care a hoot about an increase of traffic along our street on Wednesday afternoons.  A couple of different people did thank me for informing them, saying something to the effect of, “It’s the not-knowing that would bother me, wondering about why all the cars were there, and what they were doing…”

I do still worry a bit about the folks with whom I was unable to speak directly.  But, over all, I would say that the endeavor was much more successful than I anticipated.  And I feel wonderfully having met new-to-me neighbors.

Perhaps this is hard to understand in other locales, but the whole Phoenix area is SO very transient.  People move here for work, then quickly move away when they discover that the “dry heat” touted in the tourist brochures is akin to a stiff breeze blowing out from an oven.  For a good five months out of the year, it is literally so hot that most people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to — straight from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned store, and home again.  It’s common for people to have NO CLUE who their neighbor is, to never meet them…  We’re used to people moving in, moving out, moving on…. and the foreclosure crisis of the last few years has only exacerbated that problem of unknowable neighbors.  I have actually dreamed of coordinating a little block party, and meeting so many people on my street kind of fires that up again…

But I think that would completely tax my organizational skills!!

Pecans, picture books, tradition, and memories of my mother

I have a friend with some tangelo trees and pecan trees.  I envy her.  Her property has irrigation, which is really needed to grow strong, large, healthy, productive trees in the desert.  We have two citrus trees which are nowhere near as nice;  they were neglected by the previous owner.  Actually, we had three trees, but one died (it was 95% dead when we moved here in July, and to my distress, we couldn’t rescue it;  it kept declining until its death).  One other tree is stunted and didn’t produce anything;  I don’t even know what kind of citrus it is supposed to bear.  The other tree is a medium-sized navel orange tree.  Its fruit is delicious (though hard to peel), but the whole tree produced about 30 oranges*.  I’m thankful for those 30 oranges, but I’m definitely going to make sure that the tree is well-watered and fertilized so that it produces MANY MORE oranges, next winter.  Thanks to the expert knowledge of my local, small nursery, I already learned that, in Phoenix, citrus needs to be fertilized on February 14, then again in mid-July, and once more in mid-September.

That makes me consider the valuable lesson of delayed gratification taught by growing one’s own food.  I think our society would be much more balanced in our perspectives if we all grew things to eat.

But, I digress.

In mid-December, my 13-year-old son Grant and I took my friend Jeannie up on her offer and picked probably 30+ pounds of tangelos (which are very tart, quite sweet, with easy-peel rinds) and about 10 lbs of pecans from her property.  Jeannie wasn’t at home, but her husband and I had a great conversation about homeschooling, parenting boys, and about land and growing things as we harvested.

The next day, before the children were awake, I sat at the island and started to shell the pecans.  As the kids trickled sleepily out of their rooms, there was a universal response of, “Wha…??” as they walked into the kitchen.  As in, “Why would you want to be doing that at 7:30 a.m.????”  But, each sat down at a stool to try their hand.  Soon, all five children were happily cracking away, breakfast delayed, perfect half or even whole nuts held up as a trophy of new found shelling-skill.  We exclaimed over eachother’s successes, and groaned over the occasional rotted nut or slipped nutcracker that resulted in a barrage of shell and nut bits broadcast over the table.

Quickly, in front of me, piled up the outcasts.  When one child didn’t crack the nut quite right, or the nutmeat was just plain stuck, rather than persisting (which is no fun, and can be hard on the fingertips!), they’d pass the nut to me.

It was all right.  It just meant that I was a whole lot slower than even my four year old, Fiala.  I worked at rescuing the stuck bits, buried in each shell.  It felt worthwhile, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away even the smallest nutmeat that could possibly be redeemed.

It became one of those unexpected moments where I found myself profoundly missing my mother.

I had a flashback to one of my mom’s favorite winter pastimes:  Shelling nuts in the family room, fireplace blazing, happily chatting around the family room coffee table, eating more than we shelled.  AND…. passing onto my mother our own tough nuts:  the ones we couldn’t best.  She redeemed them all.

I realized, as I worked on the bits of stuck pecans that December morning with my own children, that I thought my mother enjoyed the challenge of picking out the trapped bits of nutmeat.  Maybe she did.  She was like that.

But, maybe it was one of those things similar to how I thought she liked burnt toast, because she always ate it.  It wasn’t until my adulthood that I discovered that her burnt toast-eating was sacrificial:  She knew that we four children didn’t like burnt toast, but she didn’t want it to go to waste, so she ate it.

I thought she liked eating leftovers for lunch.

I thought she liked hand-me-downs.

And so on.

I thought she liked picking out those stubborn, stuck bits of walnut and pecan.

I would have liked to ask her.  I felt compelled, multiple times, to go pick up the phone to call her.  I had to remind myself that I could not.

I also would have liked to tell her that I was passing down what I didn’t realize — until that morning — had been a family tradition.

I have often lamented that tradition was in short supply in my childhood.  But, the longer my perspective is on my younger years, the more I realize that there were traditions tucked here and there… And every time I can pass one on, or share a joy with my children that I experienced as a child, there is such warmth in that, now more poignant than ever.

My mom passed on in October.  In general, I haven’t lamented her death.  She was long ill, and eager to go home to be with Jesus after years of fighting and staying strong.  It was her time, and as much as sad things can be, it felt very right.

I dearly love all of Robert McCloskey’s books.

I had an inkling, though, that there would be many days like these:  Where I would so love to call her and tell her something funny or tender or joyous…  And I just couldn’t.  And THEN I would miss her and deeply regret her passing.

So it was, with the pecan-shelling morning:  All five children happily chattering and squabbling over the nutcracker;  we only have one.  However, one of my children discovered that the garlic press worked wonders!  Ha!!  I had to implement a rule — which had echoes of familiarity — that each child can eat as many pecans as they cared to, as long as they were the one who shelled that pecan;  they can’t reach into the community jar and take a handful of others’ efforts.  “Did my mom say that, too??” I wondered silently.  I also remembered — and expressed to my children — how our pecan-shelling party reminded me of one of our most treasured picture books, Blueberries for Sal.  Sal’s mother had to tell her to go pick her own blueberries, and not take those her mother had picked;  her mother’s were for canning.  Similarly, the community pecans were going to go into Christmas baking and weren’t for general snacking.**  Again, the memories hearkened back to my mother, as she had first read the book to me, as a child.

Over the course of two mornings, we shelled about nine cups of pecans.  Then, our fingertips gave out, too sore to continue.  Still, nine cups was way more than I could have done on my own, despite how many pecans ended up in one small mouth or another!!

Pecans:  One of my happiest and saddest memories of this past month.

———————–

*It would have been about 40 oranges, but I discovered about ten of them with small plastic pellets lodged at various depths in the rind and fruit, and I had to lay down the law about NOT using oranges for airsoft gun target practice.  How could they????  Aargh.

*And, oh, how that added to our enjoyment of each baked good!!  Each child would say, “I shelled some of the pecans that went into this Cranberry Orange Pecan Bread!!”  Many items, we gave as gifts, and it really lent to the feeling of family, of community, of ownership, of pride in what we gave to others.

Domestic bliss didn’t last… but that is (almost) OK.

I keep waiting for life to return to normal.

I used to think that “a rut” was the worst thing that could happen to one’s life.

I now have turned 180° — or at least 160° or so — and have discovered that there is a reason it is called “Domestic Bliss.”  That is because when home life is wonderful, it REALLY IS wonderful.  Philosophers can devise witty sayings about how boring healthy families are, but when it comes down to it, if you have one, it really is lovely.

This past spring and summer was perhaps my most wonderful ever in my 39 years.  Well, I was 38, back then.  Everything was just right.  Parenting was going great.  I thought my husband was fabulous.  I had the garden of my dreams.  I had enough “spare” time to sneak in novel about once every 2-3 weeks, which, in my experience and for my personality is just right;  more reading than that means I’m not getting enough done in my home and family;  less reading than that means I’m stretched too thinly and stressed out.  We had just sold our house for more than we thought possible and had found the exact right place — right size house, right size lot, right location — for an amazing price.  I had lost about 20 pounds and was feeling great, and down to the same size I was before I had my first child, 15 years prior.  Other family relationships and friendships were sailing along at a beautiful clip.  Friends even purchased tickets for our family’s first-ever Disneyland trip.  Can you get much better than that?

I don’t think I’m a pessimist — truly — but I am enough of a realist to realize, even in the midst of all this amazingness, that it would probably not last forever.  It was one of those seasons where my prayer was, “God, please don’t let me forget this lovely season, especially if You’re gearing me up for hard times.”

And hard times have, indeed, come.  But, not exactly in the way that I had envisioned.

The good news is that I still think my husband is fabulous.  I have, in fact, grown in love and appreciation for him in the last couple of months.

By early October, my mother was sick, in the hospital, and appeared near death.

We were also in the throes of a remodel — a MAJOR remodel of about 40% of our “new” home — which I envisioned would take us about five weeks.

We also had a serious issue surface with one of our children…  Really serious, the sort of thing where it is just a deep, hard ache in a mother’s heart.

Then our dog got sick, a resurgence of Valley Fever.

Then my computer broke (I’m typing on my husband’s laptop), on which my children do about 1/3 of their schooling.

And… other things compounded my various challenges — like a dear friend (whose two sons are the best friends of two of my sons) moving out of state.  And a few other dear, long-time friends feeling led by God to become involved in various other ministries — leading them OUT of “my” church.  This put a hole in my heart, as well as made things logistically difficult, as I am now the lone worship leader for the 6-12 year-olds at church;  no one with whom to share that responsibility…

AND THEN, I found out I was pregnant with our sixth child.  And while that has been a huge joy — theoretically — I feel like crap, 24/7, and that just makes everything… extra-challenging.

And my mother did die, on October 18th.  That was hard.  It still is, especially when my four-year-old, Fiala, pipes up at lunch, scowl ensconced firmly on her face, “I don’t want Grandma to live with Jesus any more.  I want her to be here.”

We are still remodeling, nearing our 11th week of that massive project.  The good news is that I have a working kitchen.  I still don’t have a back splash, there is still some touch-up to do, I still don’t have a working sink in our powder room, and the legs of our built-in breakfast table (envision a bar, only larger and more rectangular) still need to be trimmed and stained.  AND, as I was dreaming — again — of the massive yard sale I’d have to enable the purchase of new furniture, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my Furniture Money would probably have to become Pay the Midwife Money.  Maybe that’s stupid, but it was one of those reality checks that made me groan, “Aw, man…”

Crappy picture taken with my phone, that shows evidence of my girls watching TV as I blog, and my home rather untidy, but about 97% remodeled.

My child with the “issue” is now in counseling, and though we’ve just begun, I think that will be really helpful.  Sometimes, it helps a child to hear truth from a different, non-parent source.  My husband and I are fighting — and winning, I think — not to feel like Giant Failures in Parenting.  Still, it’s been a blow to my confidence as a mother to have to call in the experts…

Our dog is still ill, but at least she hasn’t died.  The vet said that he rarely sees dogs with her blood titer level, because, “Usually a dog doesn’t get to that level;  they die before then.”  But, she’s on antifungals.  Sweet pup.  We’re not out of the woods, and it was hard to admit to my husband that I didn’t ask the vet to call in a three months’ supply of meds, which we could have done, and which is less expensive than buying it month-to-month, because I’m still not sure she’ll make it three months…  We’ll see.

My computer is still broken, which is making me feel like a bad homeschooling mom, because my kids haven’t done math nor typed anything in about a month.  Grant and Wesley also read from the encyclopedia on my computer…

The Sunday before I had the spate of friends become displaced from my life, in early August, the presence of God fell on me very powerfully during worship, and I felt God calling me to serve Him, and Him alone, for His sake — not for what I get out of my relationship with Him or out of my Christianity;  not simply because I was following my pastor (though I have a wonderful pastor — two of them, actually — absolutely amazing men of God who are excellent teachers and amazing leaders…)  I just felt Him calling me to Himself, no matter who does what, and when, nor what goes on around me.

I have really been clinging to that, and thankful to Him for preparing me.

I’m 11 weeks pregnant, and I still need to actually TALK WITH and MEET WITH my midwife, rather than exchanging phone messages.  I don’t know why, but I think I’m kind of dragging my feet about that.  It’s just one more thing that will go on the plate…  Know what I mean?

I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of complaining.

And I keep reminding myself how LOADS of people — billions of them — have it worse than I do.  In many ways, things really aren’t bad at all!  They’re just challenging, and I don’t enjoy being challenged.  I really don’t.

So!  That’s where I’m at.

Thanks for reading.  I wish I had something clever with which to tidily wrap up this post, but my stomach hurts too much to think of what that might be.  I think I’ll go make myself a piece of toast.

 

A different kind of birth (and “proof” of God)

A few weeks ago, I sort of got into it with a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook.  I’m still not sure it was wise;  I mostly got involved as a defense to my friend;  it bothered me to see his Christianity under attack.  I learned long ago, that one cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom of God.

John 6:44 (Amplified Version) “No one is able to come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me attracts and draws him and gives him the desire to come to Me…”

My encouragement to him was that if he wanted to see God, to know God, to have some understanding of God, to ask Him.  He’s always willing to show Himself to those who seek Him.

Yesterday, my pastor was teaching from I Corinthians chapter 1.  As he spoke, I perused the verses above where he was camped, drawn to this:

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.

And here’s why I was so attracted by these verses:  The friend-of-a-friend was searching for proof — undeniable, scientific, irrefutable, tangible proof — of God’s existence, and stated that he could not trust anything less reliable that that.

Strangely enough, I was thinking about this exchange while my mother was dying.

As she drew closer to death, the kindness, sweetness, and presence of God increased on her, and in her room.  It was remarked upon, countless times, by hospital staff and visitors.  It was not “scientific, irrefutable, tangible proof,” but to me, it was truly evidence of God being in her life, working through her, expressing Himself through the weakest, most vulnerable person imaginable.

It just seems to me that this is God’s way.

27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

It’s His way to express Himself through the powerless.

It’s also His way, I believe, having experienced it, to make lovely the very things that would seem to be the most tragic.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Romans 8:28 (NLT) 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

And this is incommunicable to those who require book-proof of God.

Another beautiful intangible I experienced during my mother’s last hours was this:

One of my favorite aspects of natural birth is the “community” aspect of it:  During the most difficult hours of labor, everyone present is ultra-attentive to the birthing mother in a minute-by-minute way, in almost a prescience — alert to the point of foreknowledge to what the mother might need.  The attention of everyone is fixed on her.  Birth becomes an effort of not just the mother, but of those who love her;  everyone does whatever they can to help the birth come about.  Her preferences, her loves, her comfort becomes the shared goal of all present.

It was that exact same way with my mother.

We sang songs she had sung to us as children, as well as her favorite choruses from church.  We reminisced.  We took turns snuggling with her in her bed.  She smiled contentedly, head tipped back, eyes closed, soaking it in…

And, as things became more difficult — labored —  my mother wanted to sit up, with her legs over the side of her bed.  Nevermind that this was virtually impossible, and nevermind that it wasn’t rational.  Just like a natural birth, when a mother just feels like she needs to be in a certain position, all who assist her swing into action to accommodate.  So it was with my mother, near the end of her life:  One behind her, supporting her back.  One on her side, arm surrounding her waist or shoulders, keeping her upright.  At times, someone else in front of her, keeping her from slumping too far forward.

I had the thought, multiple times, “We’re birthing her into the Kingdom of God.”

My mom had been in the hospital for three weeks.  At one point, several days earlier, I unexpectedly ran into an acquaintance in the halls, and glanced at his wrist., seeing a familiar, handwritten band.  “Are you a new father??” I asked.  He affirmed that he was, only an hour or so into the mind-bending experience.

I internally marveled at the circle of life, come to bear, right in front of me.

Perhaps that sounds cliche:  “circle of life.”  But at that moment, it was profound.

The day of my mother’s death, I was talking with a friend…  She is a hospice volunteer, and mentioned how — on countless occasions — on one evening, she would spend time with the dying, and the next day, she would hear news of a brand-new birth.  She has been struck, too, by the same notion of life coming full circle, and how right it seems.

And then, with some excitement, I shared with her — this friend who is not a mother — that sense I had had, comparing a natural birth to a spiritual birth, and how, though it was in many ways difficult, how full of God it was, how much it felt like that was His plan.

She completely understood.

I can’t express how important her understanding was to me.  Just by her being completely on the same page, tracking right along with my thoughts and feelings, I felt like God was providing His love and comfort directly to my heart.

Yesterday, at church, she gave to me what might be the most unusual — yet apt — condolence card, ever.  It was a wedding card, embellished and lovely.  Inside, she had pasted her own sentiment:  “Remembering our conversation… She’s with the Prince of Peace in her white gown;  beautiful Jean.  He sings a song only for her.  She is free of pain and sings with Him her savior.”

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