phases

Everything has a phase. Life, insects, business, illness, the moon, people. When this covid started states were given federal guidance for ‘managing’ conditions to ostensibly promote avoidance of the virus and maintain good health. The authority rested with the governors. I’m not sure this was the best plan but how could they not. Like a parent, they had to be fair. Every state has a governor.

So the country basically went into hibernation. Work from home. Shop for essentials only… if you could find them. Travel stopped. Playgrounds were empty. Churches were empty. I have to wonder if the effects would have been any different had the precautions been selective to age, strength, physical limitation. But nobody knew how it would or wouldn’t impact people. So we all sat at home.

Finally, late spring, after everyone missed celebrating Easter, graduations and other spring events some states moved to the next phase. Other states’ governors went totally rogue and power crazed. They tightened the screws. Then the riots. Chaos ensued. Everywhere. Protesting, maybe, but with violence. Not peaceful. Think what you will, I do not see what they are doing to accomplish anything aside from destroying livelihoods and dreams. We know they are organized, recruited and paid, these rioters. Some states have doused the flames. Others encourage the crazy.

So this phase 3. North Carolina just moved there this weekend having had phase 2 extended in 5-week increments since May. It does not escape me that the election is a month away. Our governor is not popular. He knows this. Ballot harvesting is illegal here yet it has been said there was evidence of it in 2018, when he ran for the office. I am not smart enough to sniff out political intrigue and aberrations. But I do know this state is tired of moving in circles. We are exhausted from frustration and boredom. Two entire seasons saw personal freedom in a straight jacket.

Whatever, we are coming up on a year since this weird virus made an appearance. I don’t normally obsess over a thing, not a nebulous one. But this was treated badly. Cancer patients could not receive treatment. Family members passed away alone. There must have been some way hospitals could take precautions so families could have spent some moments together. I know God was not surprised by any of this. I know He is fully aware of where this all is going. I just wonder if He wishes we had handled it better. All of us.

final

My mom passed away 31 years ago, today. It was a Wednesday. When Dad called me all he said, after I said “hello?” was, “your mother didn’t make it.”

Then dial tone.

I called Mom’s closest friend, told her what Dad had said. She had no idea what it meant.

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I knew.

Mom was a strong person. Maybe the strongest woman I ever knew. After college, 1943 she went into the Navy as a psychologist in WW II, in charge of a hospital psych wing in San Diego for Navy pilots. After the war she stayed in the reserves, became head of a NY ad agency’s accounting department. She and my father married, then moved to NC because they did not want to raise a family in the city. She was DAR, Junior League, in book clubs, bridge clubs, garden clubs and a scratch golfer. A lot for a daughter to live up to.

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I could never.

I miss her. She did not suffer fools, at all, and if I ever went off track she had little patience. If I ever complained as a kid she’d tell me to tell it to the marines.

She was tough. She was smart. She was brave. So when she died I had been a single parent a few years and she and I, once as close as sisters, had drifted apart.

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The Sunday before she died she called me. She had just got home from suffering two heart attacks in hospital. We talked about everything and nothing. She said some bulbs I had planted for her had come up, were they narcissus or freesia? Would I like to come visit soon? Yes.

The conversation wound down. “I love you,” she said.

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”I love you.” I replied. We hung up.

So when Dad called I was blindsided. But like so many things we just never know.

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Sad

Life is tenuous.

Death is part of life.

She is no longer suffering.

We will see our loved ones again.

I have heard these things all my life yet death never steals another person that I don’t doubt those words. I am maybe too literal, or too caught up in the here and now, but death is always surreal.

Or maybe it’s just frustrated anger.

I know it happens. I just don’t ever expect it to.

John Donne was right: “Any man’s death diminishes me,  because I am involved in mankind….”

You hear those stories about people in terrible accidents or illnesses who have gone, seen light, been in a tunnel and have come back. My own father had such an experience.

The late Rev. Billy Graham spoke of a dream he had more than once after his wife Ruth had passed away where he stood on the bank of a river and could see Ruth standing on the other side, and this gave him hope that he would join her someday. I like to believe he has.

But I know the strength of a dream, the convincing hoax of illusion so I am too skeptical.

Still, this person I never knew who played something of a role in my son’s splintered life is gone. I have to believe she is now whole again, now not suffering but filled with unimaginable, unfathomable joy at seeing her precious Savior.

Thank you to those who read my earlier post, or spoke about it or prayed for her.

You are those who keep hope alive.

❤️

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.”  Song of Solomon 8:6

where to

My father defied definition. He was a force.Whether of nature or not I am uncertain, yet he taught me so much, and nothing at all. He shared family history with my brother. He shared magic with me. Mostly tricks that he either explained, laughing, or I figured out to his delight. But something else. I wish I could put into words…

He taught me whenever anyone thinks they know it all they are dead. We never stop learning. He taught me to play chess. He showed me how to dig sand fleas for bait when surf fishing. He took me to Lincoln Center to see the magic of the Nutcracker ballet. We sat at a table with a beaten up aging boxer and his girlfriend at IMG_0088.JPGPaddy’s Clam House to eat lobster. We sang the Air Force “Wild Blue Yonder” and the Army marching song though he was with the FBI during the war because of a mountain climbing accident. But as I grew up we became contentious. We argued about just about everything. I reached an age where neither he nor anyone could teach me anything — I knew it all.

Of course, I didn’t, but our arguments were legend. When I worked for his company the shouting matches caused more than a few employees to quit and I couldn’t blame them.

We especially argued about Christians. Faith. Dad had always been a man’s man, self-made, self-sufficient. He saw Christians as weak, helpless, dependent. Almost like welfare recipients which he had complete disregard for. And emotions ran high when we had arguments about God, or Jesus or anything that was a large part of my faith. So we stopped talking.

That was not the answer. Eventually we began talking again but not about religion. Then he got older, began getting sick. Looking back I wish I’d done so much more. I wish I had read the book of Acts to him. He’d especially have admired Paul I think when he was shipwrecked. Dad loved sailing, all things maritime really and I think this might have hooked him at least a little into being interested in Christians. Especially how Paul became one. Earth-shattering if anything could be.

There are many places in the Bible where heaven is described. Ezekiel, where that contraption with flashing wheels and the being with the heads of an eagle and a lion, wings, talons… nothing I can visualize well, no matter how many times I read it. I also believe heaven is nothing like we can imagine so anyone that tries has to use the words we know which probably don’t even come close.

Dad became very sick after a fall where he broke 7 ribs and went through three or four bouts of pneumonia. My brother called me to tell me Dad’s doctor had told him we needed to be with Dad. So we flew home. Dad was in intensive care and the nurses kindly allowed us to stay with Dad all day. One morning one of his therapists came in to work on opening Dad’s lungs after breakfast. Dad had fallen asleep after eating. This was no small man. Nothing he did or said could wake Dad. He came back an hour or so later, same thing. Dad slept on. Throughout the day various people came to do things or speak with Dad, no response. Sleeping soundly.

At around 5 that afternoon Dad woke. He opened his eyes, blinking slowly and looked around the room. “Is this Heaven?” he said.

I asked him if he could tell us where he had been, what he had seen. He would begin a sentence only to stop abruptly, then begin again, stop again. I realized he’d been given a wonderful gift.

A friend of mine, a Priest, who I’d asked to visit Dad came by just after. I told him about Dad’s day, how no one and nothing would wake him, what he’d said upon waking. My friend slowly smiled. He sat with us a bit, asked a prayer then left.

Sometimes people, badly bruised and hardened by life’s knocks, twists and turns, are shown what is ahead for them. We none of us ever truly knows another’s heart.

God does.

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The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.   –Isaiah 40:8

darkness

I have the same problem with Holy Saturday that I have with Good Friday. Good Friday? When Jesus is crucified? I could never see much good in it at all. People refused to see Jesus as Messiah. He made a lot of important people angry telling them the truth about themselves so they decided by killing Him it would make their unhappiness go away.

It didn’t.

Like a guy I used to work with often said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Removing someone, moving to a different place will not change the person you are.

But Jesus could have, if they had listened, believed. So the same goes for Holy Saturday. What is holy about the death of a Savior?

When I was little like most children I was clueless about certain things. Church was a place you were polite and wore pretty clothes that you couldn’t make mudpies in. You could keep trying to destroy your brother during the week but not on Sunday. Or so I thought. Very thankful we grew up, neither of us destroyed the other and we are good friends.

But holy? The day after the man who was purported to be the Messiah dies? Savior of the world? He was the Son of God. Why did He die? Why didn’t He conquer the Romans?

Because He came to conquer our hearts. He came to overcome sin and death for us by sacrificing Himself on the cross so we by having faith that He is the Savior our own souls are saved. That was why He came. In love. Why that terrible Friday is good.

When God tells Moses to relay a message to Pharaoh, Pharaoh hardens his heart. Time and again Pharaoh relents only to change his mind and demand even more work, more bricks, less provision. So for the 9th plague God tells Moses to “stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” (Exodus 10)

Imagine. A darkness so deep, so oppressive, so blinding you can feel it. I have a hard time imagining what that is. Feelings are quite sensitive. Some more than in others, but we all feel. There is the dark when you wake at night from a sound sleep and stumble to get a glass of water. The dark that is in your mind when you know there will eventually be light. The darkness that can be felt is heart darkness. The dark of hopelessness. A darkness that may even take the breath out of your lungs? Maybe.

When I worked in northwest New Mexico I visited a monument in Arizona called Canyon de Chelly. It is not federally owned and has existed for more than 5000 years, home originally to Anasazi tribes. If there was anyone else at the canyon the day I visited I never knew it. The silence there, even when the dusty desert winds blew, was so profound it had a presence.

That must be what darkness that can be felt is like. A sinister, empty presence. A void but one that, having no structure, nothing tangential can still touch you, consume you. So by Holy Saturday, Jesus had died, He was buried. The disciples and other believers must have been terrified. They hid. Their hopes were shattered. Jesus had told them He would destroy the temple and raise it in three days but even though they knew He often spoke in parables who would have suspected He meant Himself? Not me, had I been there.

This is part of all He did for us. He took our sin, the certain threat of death to the cross. He took the inevitability of separation from God. He remained in the abyss of that terrible dark alone. He and His Father were separated in what must have felt like eternity.

So maybe this is why it’s called holy. It was His sacrifice for us: that He endure what God sent Him to save us from.

Thank You God.

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Trust

 

Ten years ago I retired from a job in New Mexico and planned to move back east to my home state of North Carolina. All my life it had been my dream to see the Grand Canyon. I invited my son to join me.

We stayed at the North Rim. It is quieter because there is nothing there but a gas station, a Park Service lodge with several rustic guest cabins and the Canyon. The South Rim is more popular, there are shops, restaurants and more hotels.

The Lodge at North Rim has a lovely dining room, a general store, saloon and cantina. Kind of its own little village on site. And some options for excursions.

Like mule rides down into the Canyon. Sounded like fun we thought so we signed up.

It is not expensive, money-wise but you basically sign your life over to the little company that manages it. There are registration forms, waivers, last rites and funeral pre-arrangements (just kidding!) But you do sign forms saying you will not hold the park service, the company managing the rides or anyone else liable in case of injury or death.

This did not daunt us. A group of about 8, we met our mules, were assured each animal had a placement in the line where they were friendly with the mule ahead of or behind it. In my case that wasn’t quite true since my mule was determined to rest its head on the right flank of the mule ahead, who was not quite so accommodating. Sorting this out was not easy. We had been strongly cautioned before we set out on our ride not to attempt to guide the mules. At all. The narrow trail down was maybe 3-4 feet wide. The mules by nature would walk the outer edge of the trail they said. Yes, I wrote that correctly. The outer edge. With a vertical drop into the Canyon of a few miles. I am dizzy just recalling this. We were also strongly cautioned that angering our mules by attempting to guide them might cause them to relieve themselves of us, hurling us down into the Canyon.

So I let this mule rest its head on the flank of the mule ahead of me. And was very tense.

This was a half-day ride so went maybe 3/4 down into the Canyon. I realized my life depended not only on this mule’s sure-footedness but on my ability to stay calm and keep from trying to control the mule. About halfway into our ride I began to relax. This mule had done this countless times. The mule did not appear nervous or afraid (not like I was anyway). I began to trust that this mule would if not protect my life, certainly not endanger its own life, thereby not bringing harm to mine. The views were breathtaking when I permitted myself to tear my eyes from the back of my mule’s head.  We got to base where we could rest, drink some water, walk around a bit. Then half an hour later we mounted up again for the ride back up the Canyon. This went far better.

We enjoyed our lunch following the ride and subsequent shower with a great deal more appreciation for the beauty of creation. Despite some agonizing stiffness from using muscles we’d not used maybe ever we did survive. And trusted. And saw a glimpse of God’s majesty.

IMG_0604.JPGLooking south off the North Rim toward Flagstaff, AZ

Autumn, finally

It’s been summer hot for so long fall colors completely surprised me this week. We went for our usual walk in the woods, rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I. Foggy morning, but we came to the millpond…

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Eerily still, drops of mist plinking into the pond, no crickets, no birds, no frogs.

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Lily, always looking for something of interest

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Lulu quite ready to move us along

So still, as though waiting for something. The autumn, a flash of brightness, the days grow shorter with brilliant reds, yellows, orange to show for it in maples, sweetgum, dogwood, cypress. Lighting our way through the onset of the dimmer winter, such as it is here, before they fall, those leaves, to carpet the forest floor. Then sleep. Dying to rest, waking in a few brief weeks to bring newness of life again.

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Enshrouded like this almost ashamed they’ve lost their summer’s glory, giving way, saying goodbye to this year’s offering of shade, food, nesting homes, the grace of the air we breathe. Cleansing our atmosphere for us, now losing their power to begin the long sleep.

Yet still, life emerges, continues amid the preparation for rest….

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barely visible on the leafy ground a turtle looking for a safe spot to dig its winter haven.

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no, Lily, don’t think he needs our help.

Summer, 2017, signing off….

darkness

I don’t remember being afraid of the dark when I was little. I do remember knowing without doubt that there were alligators under my bed and I had magic, invisible stepping stones from my bed to the bathroom if I had to get up in the night.

The disciples of Jesus knew a darkness none of us has to know. From about 3 in the afternoon of Good Friday until Easter morning. Jesus had told them He would leave them. He had told them He would be betrayed. They did not understand what He was saying. So when Judas brought the soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden the disciples fled. All but two– Peter and John. And Peter denied ever knowing Him.

They watched Him painfully dragging the crossbeam upon which He would die. Those who were with Him at His crucifixion saw the nails driven through His battered flesh and watched, waiting, until He cried out and died.

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They left Him. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two men known to have secretly visited Jesus with Pilate’s permission took Him down from the cross and buried Him in a tomb. The priests, afraid His disciples would play some trick and steal his body out of the tomb asked Pilate to set a watchman. Pilate told the priests to seal the tomb and watch for themselves. Which they did.

Jesus was dead. He was in hell. He was separated from God the Father. None of His followers knew what would happen. None knew what to believe. I know that I would not have known either.

Even the women who stayed by Him on the cross, Mary Magdalene, Mary His mother and Mary, wife of Cleopas did not know. Because Easter morning two of them went to see what they could do for Jesus in His burial but when they arrived the stone was rolled away. The tomb was open. An angel sitting there inside the tomb said to them “He is not here, He has risen, as He said.”

And then He began to appear to others– these women, frightened, alone, then His disciples, then about 500 other believers. He spoke and ate with them. They saw His body again. With pierced hands, feet, side. And they began to understand exactly Who He was. What He did.

The unimaginable pain of scourging. The suffocation on the cross. The humiliation of punishment for sins He did not commit. All for love of us. Then nothing. Darkness. His spirit in hell, separated from His eternal relationship with God, the Father.

He suffered all of this, even hell, so we won’t ever have to.

Only if we believe. And follow.

Love and serve.

It isn’t magic. It’s holy. And I am only human but I go to Him often. I tell Him my heart and plead that He will help me keep a soft heart. For Him. For you. For me. Forever.

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Mom

Mother-daughter relationships are complicated.

They shouldn’t be. The daughter will never be a clone-mini of the mom (thankfully), but there ought to be a modicum of respectful obedience.

Not with Mom and me.

I was never obedient unless it was by accident. Mom called me a maverick. I had horrible grades in elementary school. I day-dreamed all through classes. Looking back I realize what a waste that was. I could have learned so much from my mother. She was charming, attractive, gracious, intelligent, funny… no matter what, I did my very best to not be whatever anyone expected of me.

Mom tried everything. She encouraged me to play golf, her one true love. Too frustrating. She took me to her hair stylist for a perm. She agreed later how awful it was. She would take me shopping and I’d hate every outfit or piece of clothing she chose for me.

Not until my father’s business transferred him to New York did she and I become close. More like sister close than mother-daughter close. And then she got cancer. They operated and she came home. I’d had to learn how to use a mop and do laundry and cook in her absence, grudgingly as usual, but I did it.

She did recover. I went to college, convinced I had to find a fiance which I did. Before him though there was a terrible boyfriend I did not exactly know how to deal with. He wrote me letters telling me how unfair it would be if I stopped seeing him, no concern as to whether or not it was a good match. He thought my family had money so he hung on. Mom had the solution. The last letter I received I wrote “addressee moved, Tombstone, Arizona”.

The fiance who became a husband did not work out. So when that union ended Mom knew I cared little for things but she decided some of those wedding presents were worth hanging on to, so she thought. She drove me back to Tennessee to collect them the week my hearing pending trial was scheduled. China, my bedroom furniture, a few small pieces of incidental furniture, crystal, silver, stainless flatware… she had a mover pack up the lot and shipped it home. She knew at that point the fight had pretty much left me so she went to bat for me.

She was never one to take very good care of herself. Golf was her exercise but she had other things that finally caught up to her. She and I had had something of a falling out before Christmas 1988. It was the only Christmas I can remember not being with my family, intentionally. I had no idea she would leave this earth for her hereafter not 2 months later.

She phoned me the Sunday before the Tuesday that she died. She had talked her doctor into releasing her from hospital after she’d had 2 heart attacks in the span of 10 days. We spoke of some bulbs I’d planted at their beach house that had come up. Did I think they were the freesia or the narcissus? she asked. I didn’t know, I’d replied. Would I plan a visit there sometime after she was a bit stronger? I didn’t need entertaining, did I? Of course I would I’d said and no, I did not need any entertaining. We said “I love you”, and hung up.

Dad called to tell me she’d died and all he said was “Your mother didn’t make it.” I guess I knew what he meant but I didn’t. So I called her best friend and repeated what he’d said. She was as confused as I, but I by then knew.

Sometimes when I am up against a hard decision or in a corner I need to get out of I really wish she were here. She could finesse or deal with anything. And sometimes an answer comes to me, just as if she had told me herself.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

Friends

Friends are gifts we never know where we will find them, nor they us. Sometimes they are neighbors, sometimes chance meetings along the way– at the park, on committees, a fellow-supporter during a 5k, at work, walking our dogs, in the grocery store.

Each of us is a veritable trove of life… anecdotes, encounters, experience. Once that chord is struck when you just know this person will understand there you are with a bond, hopefully, for a long time if not for life.

Friends are more than simply allies or buffers or supporters. Friends help us find a completeness that, without them we are seeking for something in that friendship’s place. No matter how far away or how long since we have seen them they are always with us in some strange cosmic way. We remember things said, stories shared, situations experienced or resolved. So when we lose one it is deeply felt.

Oh we don’t lose the memories or the character they helped build in us. It isn’t as though we have to return the life they gave us when they are gone. There is simply no more to come.

I lost a friend.

She was my supervisor at the last library I was in charge of. But far more she was my mentor, and my friend. She had a dignified strength about her and the wackiest sense of humor imaginable for a nun, which she was. I last spoke to her mid-September, she was in hospital for a cancer which she did not share, only that she was concerned with a pneumonia that was developing. She at the time was at a rehab facility where she planned to overcome this blip, then resume her treatments.

She died 10 days ago.

So though she will always be a part of me for what we shared in this life I can no longer hear her voice except in my memory, can no longer “catch up”, can no longer hear her laugh.

I will miss her.