interruptions

My father was a very smart and talented person. He cultivated friendships. He genuinely liked people. Many were business associates and some provided serendipitous turns in our family’s life.

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One couple I recall very clearly from when I was around 9 or 10. They had a big picnic for families every summer, even with a clown to keep kids happy and out of the grown-ups hair. The couple owned a small business that was kind of faltering so my father offered to help support it and invested in it. As he retired years later, he learned the little company was in receivership and offered to pay its debts and bought it.

Begin phase two of our family’s life.

The business being in bankruptcy we knew we had nothing to lose. But it had offered an important service to the city so Dad was determined to get it going. And he did.

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Initially things went slowly. That first year, home for summer break I was sitting in a comfy chair reading one Saturday morning and as Dad came into the room he tossed a large manual beside me and said, “Read this. Monday morning you’re a typesetter.”

The company did not generate enough income to hire many people so at first our family did everything. My brother was applying to medical schools and interviewed people in his off time. My mother kept the books, paid the bills. Dad insisted on paying us, so I kept a tally of hours I actually worked during the workday. And so we went on until Dad got some impetus behind it.

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He asked people what they wanted to get out of it, what would be most helpful. He asked them to complete surveys and fine-tuned, tweaked and polished the little company until it was useful. And gradually hired a few more people and it started paying for itself.

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Some 30-years later Dad passed away and my brother and I kept the business. After a year or so it began to falter again, so I went back to see what it needed. It needed a lot. The years before he died, Dad had trusted others to manage things and neither my brother nor I were close by to help. So after a few months of tweaking, cleaning and many hundreds of hours of prayer, 14-15-hour days a friend of Dad’s approached us to ask about purchasing it. My brother and I discussed it and felt it was the best for the business.

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In a short span of 10 months or so I learned quite a lot. About a company, coworkers, stress management, keeping calm, and about myself. I understood how my father became successful.

Hard work. Selflessness. Redeeming the time. Wasting nothing.

So though that time was an unexpected interruption it was a crash course in humility, gratitude, inner strength, courage and complete reliance on God. Dad was no longer here to advise me. To this day I miss him, his deep belly-laugh, his wisdom, a no-nonsense approach to people and life. He never lied, and he always left people feeling better about themselves.

He was gifted.

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Lent

About 10 years ago I started taking this season seriously. I have way too much baggage in my past to believe I get to skate in any aspect of my life. I did not grow up in a family that lavished luxuries on either my brother or myself. Whatever I had I had to earn. We always had more than enough. But I remember a Christmas when my mother asked my brother and me if we would welcome an orphan for that day. I did not want that. So neither did my brother. I wish my mother had sat down and tried to help us understand what opening our hearts would have meant. I remember the pain in her eyes.

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Over the years I came to understand this season. Not quite as well marked as Christmas with so much hype. There are no Easter “carols”, no beautiful trees or decorated houses, no candles lit as Advent. I only recently discovered boxed Easter cards. Anyway, where Advent is a time of excited anticipation, Lent is a time for examination. Mourning in a way of the things we did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say and a time to shed what we were for more of who we could be. Or something. So people give up sacrificially to get closer to the person we’ve buried or hidden from ourselves. I decided those many years ago to stop watching television. I never believed I’d make it the whole 46 (yes. 46 because ‘they’ don’t count Sundays) days, but I did. Each year it’s gotten easier, even a few years ago when I became so addicted to schmaltzy Hallmark movies.

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In fact this year it seemed so easy I felt like I was cheating so I looked at what others do. Give up coffee. At a fellow blogger’s suggestion I tried that last Advent. It isn’t as easy as you’d think! One year when my son was in high school we divided Psalm 119 into doable segments and read through it during the season. I realized many well-known verses are from this psalm alone, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” for one.

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Other suggestions were to add something. Pray through the psalms. To pray for one specific thing each day during the time. Another was to give up sarcasm. Another, be more mindful. For an impulsive person like me this would certainly be a challenge.

In everything I do I hope to shed some old me that is worn, fearful, outdated. Then, when Easter Sunday comes I am more me. He knows what I mean.

 

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surprise endings

For many years in late summer I have enjoyed a week in the cool, forested North Carolina mountains in the heart of the Blue Ridge. It’s kind of a reset. On the surface my life appears stress-free… I am retired, my son is grown and living a happy, successful life on his own. But stuff does happen. Things build up. So these precious few days alone in the cooler air seem to clear my head and I get maybe not a do-over but a restart.

This is usually in prelude to a visit with my family at a beach south of where I live. We’ve been meeting there for the past ten years, for a week at a little inn where the same families come back each year. For better or worse it is our “family vacation” and I always look forward to it.

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Until Lily.

Two weeks ago today we were outside for the last perimeter check before bed. The people on the other side of the fence behind my house have a super-aggressive dog that loudly charges the privacy fence between us. Rescue dog Lulu, all 20-pounds of terrier responds in kind. Rescue dog Lily, somewhat protective of her little sister wandered over to be sure aggressive neighbor dog failed at her efforts.

Then Lily quickly walked back by me and sat down. Hard. I looked over at her. “Lily?”

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She turned to me. “Can you come over here?” I asked. She rose, painfully and with a pronounced limp came over to me.

No. But yes. The other acl is now torn.

So no plans. Cancelled the little mountain cabin the end of this month (I’d planned to bring Lily and Lulu this year). The only pet sitter I trust Lily with declined staying with her, understandably concerned about the intensive care Lily will require after her surgery.

I have not yet told my family I won’t be joining them though I have cancelled my reservation at the inn.  There is a reason for everything.

I reflected on life, years ago in my chaotic vortex, newly divorced, sudden responsibilities of single parenthood, jobs, schools for my son, sitters, car maintenance, the whole aspect of LIFE that happens for everyone but I had never had it all. And I believed that. I believed it was all on me.

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Bit by bit, mistake by mistake I gradually learned I could depend on God. No matter what it was… a new clutch for my car, an unexpected medical bill, leak in the ceiling. No, God did not come here to fix these things Himself. But He gave me peace. He strengthened me when I wanted to run away. He helped me persevere, gave light and calm in the storms.

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And I remembered my feeble prayers! Sometimes just a faint, “Help, please!” And He did. He heard me. He strengthened me. Every time. For any reason, crisis or not. He truly never left me. He keeps His promises, even when we forget, ignore, disbelieve or panic. He doesn’t give up on us.

My prayers in those times weren’t great. Sometimes I don’t think even I believed them. But He did. Because what or how or why I prayed them was not the point. His faithfulness is all that matters.

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So Lily and I will get through this. And about the time she is finished with her physical therapy and beginning to be strong the weather will have cooled enough for her to enjoy her walkies again.

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encouragement

Winter notwithstanding, this has been an oddly grey week for me. Lily has had a set-back all because of me.

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Her second recheck with her vet was so hopeful I threw caution to the wind. She was walking without a hitch as if she’d not injured her knee at all. So, forgetting they told me not to, I put her in the car and we resumed almost the routine we knew pre-surgery– went to parks, took longer walks. After about a week with all going well (so I thought), Lily’s surgery leg got caught in the slip cover when she tried to get out of the car. I helped her down, but it wasn’t right.

She couldn’t put any weight on her leg.

Convinced she’d undone the mend I called the vet and he recommended letting her rest a few days and, if she wasn’t any better he’d see her.

She wasn’t.

He manipulated her leg, pronounced her still ok, and I confessed my false confidence. Her pain and anti-inflammatory medicines were refilled. I was instructed to continue her walks at home to strengthen her leg and we came home, with her vet telling me to call again if she needed.

So that was almost 10 days ago. It’s been incremental but she is improving. What has been so discouraging on top of my own personal guilt are the well-meaning neighbors we’d pass on short walks through the neighborhood, who don’t know us or about her injury asking questions that basically translate to ‘why are you so badly mistreating your dog, can’t you see she is plainly in pain’?? And I explain though they remain skeptical.

So I have felt puny, as my mom would say. Then my brother called on Monday, not his usual day to call, and lent a sympathetic ear, which gave me a boost. God must have known that was a good start but then a prayer warrior from an organization I support called to see if I would like for her to pray with me! Still He lifted me again the next day when a good friend called just to say hello and listened to Lily’s and my quandary. To top the week my son called on Friday. I’d not heard from him in quite a while and was eager to hear his news and share a bit of mine.

So though we are still carefully working at restoring Lily to the level she’d reached before I feel better about it,  I am reminded how much others, those who understand, can truly lift spirits.

And I am grateful.

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Lulu has helped support Lily, too.

 

 

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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

writing

I doubt I would have even gone to college at all if my parents had not insisted on it. I really did not know what to study. My first choice of college was a school one of my (I thought) best friends attended. They were not happy about my grades. So another classmate suggested I apply to her choice. It made sense– at the time I was a New Jersey transplant and she was headed to North Carolina, my home state. As it happened my application was swept up because 100% of applicants were accepted to keep the little Quaker school afloat. And it is still floating.

Not surprising my freshman roommate did not make it past first semester. Had the school offered majors in marijuana and live-in boyfriends she’d have aced. So my second semester I went from endless nights sleeping on the commons area sofa to a single room.

But I digress.

Having no clear idea what I wanted to do with my life I declared an English major. For a reader it made sense. The critical thinking part I had to tweak a bit.

Likely the most difficult class was Modern Lit– D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Pretty sure I didn’t read more than a chapter or 2 of Ulysses. Probably the most senseless novel I read. Ever. Not only no punctuation but pages with nothing but doodles… Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was also completely lost on me. Somehow I managed to write coherent papers on these “works” but I’d have liked to’ve been a fly on the wall in my professor’s office just to see her try to make sense of my words. Especially with Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or Mrs. Dalloway. None of these books made a lasting impression on me. Certainly not like C. G. Jung’s Man’s Search for Meaning did freshman year.

Meaning? Seriously? I’d been raised to see the world completely differently, from the perspective of what I had to offer, not what it owed me. I guess my professors could see I was thinking just not as they intended.

C. S. Lewis (someone who makes infinitely more sense to me) in Christian Reflections said:  “Great authors are innovators, pioneers, explorers; bad authors bunch in schools and follow models.”

Well, these authors noted certainly did break all the molds which was why they were called modern I suppose. They broke free from the late 19th-20th century to be… themselves??

A few years after my divorce life started bunching up. Bills, behavior, responsibilities, jobs, all the obligations and processes single parenthood requires, in my case with little to no support. So realizing I would not benefit from any sort of therapy I bought a small electric typewriter and reams of paper and I wrote.

It was as if I tapped whatever the emotional lobe of the brain is and the words just ran. I filled pages and pages until I had 5 binders’ full of raw emotion. I am amazed they did not spontaneously combust in their box I had so much anger poured into them

Annoyance at the musty stigma of divorce, single parenting, lack of family support, a woman in what was then still largely a man’s world. I never blamed anything or anyone but first I had to establish the parameters of what I was up against before I could methodically, systematically start to tackle whatever blocked my way.

And I started to see those complaints, emotions, thoughts, anger, whatever, were all cries for help. Help that I would never find from people but did from God. So those words became prayers. And everything that I had begun to hide from, close myself to, strike out at fell away.

My perspective changed. My focus was no longer on my life, problems, dead ends but Someone else. Someone who made sense. Someone who could, and did, help.

Lewis goes on to say “…. authors are always ‘breaking fetters’ and ‘breaking bonds’. They have personality, they ‘are themselves’….”

I have not had the nerve to go back and read those journals since I packed them away, but I probably had better. At least to decide if I really want them around for someone else to find.

They came from the heart.

Picture0318181122_1.jpg“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”    Zephaniah 3:17

eventually, life

We’ve had a few false starts to spring this year. More than once I’ve been fooled into running to the garden centers to see their latest flats of bedding plants, herbs and vegetables. And when I put them outside sure enough there’s a cold snap, even a couple of nights of late frost burning the tender edges of the leaves.

There are many plants that come up year after year bravely through the snow. Crocus, daffodil. This year I had a periwinkle that bloomed.

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Some of the little flowers seem so fragile, delicate and tender it amazes me that they are completely unaffected by such a forbidding chill

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The bracken fern emerge very gradually, at first tight-fisted, their little fiddleheads clenched against the cold

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gradually then the sun’s warmth unfurling those little green fronds that grip so closely to stay alive

Picture0324181348_1.jpg (rescue dog Lulu patiently waiting to the right of the fern)

When I was little Sundays and church were a big part of my week. I looked forward to the friendliness and warmth, the bustle of families drifting into their respective Sunday school classes.

Children generally accept most things and question very little but I tended to be distracted easily so I can clearly remember some time after a particular lesson wondering why my teacher told us about somebody wandering around in the desert. Only later did I realize he meant Jesus’ 40 days being tempted by the devil.

And that was about the time I also realized that the ecumenical calendar was the same year after year. We spoke the same prayers, celebrated the same events of Pentecost, Christmas, Easter and the years were not flat, repetitive. It is an upward spiral.

The truth of those lessons and prayers reflecting the life and love of Jesus becomes clearer. I  paid attention. I hear His admonitions, His instructions, the meaning of taking up my own cross. The cross of humility, of selflessness, of love.

I hope one day those prayers take precedence over whatever smallness remains in me. Eventually.

“When they had brought their boats to land they left everything, and followed Him.”             —-  Luke 5:11

The art of waiting

Trains, buses, meetings to end, summer, spring, winter to end, families to arrive, holidays to come, holidays to end, vacations, the roast to be done, elevators, seedlings, appointments, babies, good news, these are all things we at some point wait for.

But now everything happens faster. Mail replaced pony express. Telephones replaced mail. Texts replace phone calls and thank you notes and party invitations and announcements. And so waiting has become obsolete. There is so much busyness and distraction waiting almost doesn’t happen.

But there it is. The medical test they gave you Friday and won’t give results till Monday. You wait. You can wait gracefully or anxiously. By the end of the wait you can have convinced yourself of horrible things, or not.

Waiting is an art. Kind of like aging.

My dad did not go gentle into that good night. Not at all. At the end he was so angry. He wanted me to give him something he could break. All I found was a straw. Not very gratifying.

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My mom would plant tiny spring flowers. They would begin to take root and she would check them each day, pulling a little on their leaves and tender stems. The ones that survived this encouragement lived and bloomed, but she had a hard time waiting for them.

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When we’re hungry it is hard to wait for food. Mostly we don’t have to, stuff is so instant now. Fast food drive through or microwave, in a matter of moments steaming hot food is available. Food in some form.

Sometimes problems or thoughts wake me in the night. And sometimes these thoughts do not surface, so I am left wondering why, after only 5 hours of sleep I am now wide-awake wondering what I am supposed to be thinking of. So I wait for whatever it is to surface. Invariably it doesn’t, or my brain bombards me with a hundred thoughts of that day’s sentences I heard, questions asked, arguments thwarted, incomplete thoughts… anything and everything except whatever it is that woke me. Sometimes it will come to me and I can work through it but sometimes it does not. So until or unless I can go back to sleep I wait for morning.

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Somehow everything is better in daylight.

And I have many things I pray about. Family things, social things, political things. Anyway, stuff I have no control over. Stuff I need God to fix, or change, or stop, or start.

So I pray, and I wait. I try to be good at this. I realize many components go into effecting change. And I know nothing is impossible with God. Yet some things do not happen when I believe they should. Or if they do I would have done them a certain other way. Sometimes they may not happen at all. But I have to trust God. I have to wait for God’s timing.

This isn’t easy, but it is the best way.

Picture0310181747_1Rescue dog Lulu has mastered the Art of Waiting

“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.”    Proverbs 8:34

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.”    James 5:7

Expectations

The past couple of weeks I was seduced. The temperatures reached all-time highs. We have had a hard winter (well, for here) and I wanted to believe it was finally, completely over. I expected the warm to stay.

The sun is out, the sky is as clear blue as I have ever seen but the wind is gusting over 30 miles an hour and it is cold. Well, for here it’s cold. 50 is cold after 70s and 80s. And 30s overnight. I expected full-on Spring.

I knew it was still February. I know the saying, “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb”, and it will. It always does. But somehow this year I was fooled into believing the cold was gone and this would be different.

Expectations. When what I want is so much stronger than what reason tells me. When all I believe and hope does not materialize because I didn’t consider all the factors. And sometimes there are factors in my limited experience I don’t know even exist to consider.

So I pray.

There are things I know that I pray for that are just not likely to happen. But they could. It is my way of being dependent on God. Having lived most of my life learning on my own, being resourceful seldom asking for help. Learning to get by with less than most because it was all there was and being happy with it. That was success for me, many times. And my dependence on God is really all I have. Everything else is a gift for which I am grateful but I cannot claim fully as mine. And if nothing else my prayer, if it does not change circumstances right away, changes me. It gives me peace.

My dad used to ask, “Why do you limit yourself?” Funny question. Experience stretches limitations, mistakes refine experience and grace allows others to share the success. So if I limit myself it certainly is unintentional. Who likes being in a rut? Or never growing or changing? So dreams, goals, expectations are visions of better. I use frustration to the same end. Something frustrates I find ways to change it or me so I don’t have frustration again. Not there, anyway.

Fear limits a dream. It’s not possible to achieve in fear. Caution is different. Fear paralyzes. And praying breaks the barrier of fear to where I know I can trust. It helps me know what is limiting me. It shines a light so I can see the fear or the unknown or the question that hasn’t been asked. It puts my dream into the hands of God who knows what’s best for me and when I should have it, or not have it at all. Choices. Opportunities.

If I do not expect anything I am not disappointed. Yet nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Or something like that.

Picture0303181417_1.jpg             Sasanqua camellia

So go! Trust! Try and try again.

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds  in Christ Jesus. Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”    Philippians 4:6-8

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”   Proverbs 3:5-6

Picture0303181419_1.jpgDawn

 

 

shadows under the door

So… family vacations. As my brother said, he couldn’t have planned it better if he’d tried.

Day 4 of our week my brother was not feeling well. And this is someone who never feels something to the point of concern. He forges ahead and gets through it.

We drove to a small emergency room not far from where his family and I were enjoying our annual beach week. After a ct-scan he was rushed to emergency at the larger hospital. Two a.m. he was put in a hospital room waiting for surgery.

Irony: They wake you about every half-hour through the night for something. As soon as daylight touches the edge of that windowsill they leave you alone.

So he dozed, on and off. I watched the shadows of medical people’s feet walking past his door. Waiting for those that would stop and take him to surgery. To healing.

Me: “Do you have any Bibles?”

Gift shop person: “No, sorry.”

Me: “Is there a chapel?”

Pink Lady: “I don’t know of one.”

Me: “Are there Bibles, anywhere?”

Pink Lady: “Not that I know of.

I remembered my Bible in the glove compartment in my car, reluctant to leave my brother should those shadows stop for him I ran outside to get it.

He kept dozing. Shadows kept walking. He woke.

Me: “Can I read you a psalm?’

Him: “Sure.”

Me: Psalm 91… basically assuring anyone frightened beyond their wits that God will keep you under His wings, under His feathers.

Comfort.

The shadow stopped. A strong, young man opened the door, asked my brother to give his name, birthdate. Correct patient. My brother heroically gets up out of the bed.

Orderly: “Uh, nope, not having you flashing people down in surgery. Get back in the bed.”

My brother: Laughter.

So he goes. I breathe a prayer to follow him, through pre-op, anesthesia, the cutting, post-op, recovery.

God heard me.

I walk down the hallway toward where the same strong, young man is bringing my brother back to his family, back to consciousness, back to life. I follow them to his room where his wife, daughter, my son are waiting.

Groggily my brother says, “Did he…” can’t finish.

Understanding, I respond: “Laparoscopy.”

Repeat: “Open cut?”

Me: “No. Laparoscopy.”

Brother: “Guy’s a genius.”

My brother is there, he can hear us, he responds, slowly as one coming out of deep sleep would. I joke that I have never in my life seen him inebriated. His wife, “Oh, he’s a happy drunk!”

My brother: “I drive better, too.”

Laughter.

We stay to visit as his nurses check his oxygen saturation which rises and falls like my emotions.

“I’m not going to code,” he says.

We laugh, but cautiously.

He needs sleep. We exit for the night hugging as best we can through tubes and wires promising to return in the morning.

“Love you.”

“Love you.”

Goodnight.