Archive | December 2014

An unfinished life

She never ventures far from home.  Never has.  She has a small, comfortable route that encompasses the few familiar destinations she frequents – church, the pharmacy, the grocery store, and the restaurant where they have the buffet with the greatest variety of vegetables she enjoys.  She moves a lot slower than in the past, but the days are hers to do with what she will with no one to rush her along and her leisurely pace still gets her where she’s going.   She relishes the freedom and independence she still has even when her bones dictate the plans for the day.  She’s never been one to wallow in self-pity or entertain discontentment for very long.  At least not that I remember.

Now a widow, she eats alone.  After years of preparing and serving meals, many of those years surrounded by the cacophony of children, the quiet is alright with her.  She misses those years, she misses her husband, but accepts with much grace the life she now has.  She doesn’t eat fast.  Never has.  She always times her arrival at the restaurant to be after the lunch crowd has come and gone.  It is easier to serve herself this way, and of course, quieter.  It was in this consistent pattern of activity that the young manager took notice of her.  I’m sure he recognized a good thing – the most faithful and loyal customer he had!  But it was more than that.  He was moved with a compassion for this one who slowly ate alone time and time again.

He began to stop by her table each time she was there to check on her.  Small talk.  Week after week they interacted and week after week they got to know a little bit more about each other.  He learned that she is widowed and that is the reason she sits alone.  She learned that he has a young wife and a little girl and big dreams for his future.  Slowly a new friendship evolved.  He began to take the time to sit with her for a few minutes as often as possible.  Conversation became easy between them; well, as easy as communication can be between a young Cambodian man with his rapid, broken English and an old woman who doesn’t hear as well as she used to.  (The opportunity to sit and observe these exchanges is a source of great amusement for me….)

Their conversations covered many topics and eventually came to their faiths.  She is a Christian and he is a Buddhist.  They’ve had many a question and answer session as they have endeavored to understand the basis of each other’s beliefs.  They listen to each other.  Really listen.  She is passionate about the truth of Jesus, but lovingly patient as she plants the seeds.  She is sensitive and respectful and places no pressure on him to convert nor condemnation for maintaining his differing belief.  She just loves him.  And he loves her.  He as adopted her as his American grandmother and she considers him one of her own.  This makes me smile.

She knows it was not chance or coincidence that they met.  She has long prayed that God direct her steps each day and is fully assured that He does just that.  She prays that she will see this young man’s heart turn to Christ before she leaves this earth, but also trusts that God’s timing is perfect.  She rests in the knowledge that she is doing her part.  She finds purpose in each day.  She hasn’t chosen, as some elderly folk have done, to be finished with really living.  This makes me proud.

She is old.  I don’t often think of her as being old, only when I watch from a distance as she walks.  I notice then how small and fragile she looks.  But no matter the outward appearance, I still see strength.  I want to grow old and be like her.  I want to awaken every day with a renewed sense that God still has something for me to do.  To believe that as long as I am on this earth my life matters to Him and to others. To live surrendered to His will, content with what He has for me, to go where He leads even if that means eating at the same restaurant day after day so that a young man can come to know Him.

I want to grow up and be like my mother.

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What lingers still?

Christmas has come and gone once again.  For some, the festivities linger with the tree fully trimmed and decorations still in place as they maintain the atmosphere of love and family and friends the season invites, wanting it never to end. Others have quickly dismantled the tree and packed away all evidence of celebration, glad the discomfort of difficult relationships in close quarters has passed.  Many returned to work today as the year-end demands its attention.  All are aware that a new year begins in just a few short days and while we understand that this brings no magical formula for change, we anticipate that somehow, some way, this number on the calendar will offer a fresh wave of hope for something more.

I don my rose-colored glasses as I look for the silver lining and sip on my glass-half-full in an effort to resist the disappointment of unanswered prayers.  I was sure God would have moved by now.  I was sure things would have changed more.  I was sure healing would take place.  I was sure direction would be clear.  I was sure restoration would come.  I was sure I would be on the other side of this valley.  Yet I am still waiting as the unresolved lingers.

Many a time my young and foolish heart embarked on its own way when God’s timing frustrated me.  Long before learning how to be still, action seemed to be the only salve for the ache of disappointment.  Sadly, the results always being that my latter disappointment was greater than the former.  Lessons hard learned. Thankfully, patience took root over the years and although waiting is difficult in many ways, there is a peace here that no activity can provide.  So I wait.

I’ve probably put more thought into the “reason for the season” over the last few days than I did throughout the pre-Christmas preparations. Immanuel.  God with us.  Jesus, God incarnate, coming to literally show that God is with us.

I am with you.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  I am your very present help in time of trouble.  I AM.

I yield and surrender my disappointment to this One Who is Faithful and True.  He is with me.  He is leading me through.  My focus was never supposed to be on the end result, that is His responsibility.  The fact that He is with me is the focus.  Learning more of Who He is as I walk with Him is the focus.

So as this new year approaches I am reassured that He is with me.  Not in a passive way, but actively working in my life and the lives of those I love to accomplish His purposes which are good.  He is the blessing.  This is the hope for the new year.  This is the focus.  Beyond what I can see, His plans continue to exist as time passes.  He lingers still.

 

 

 

Two angels in an airport

The memories come at such odd times, completely unrelated to anything I’m busy with at any given time. Some are old and faded, others as fresh and clear as if they had been my yesterday.  I hold these snapshots of my life close to my heart as if by doing so I am protecting them, keeping them exactly as they are, like old photographs that cannot be edited, rarely shared.  Perhaps it is because words fail me as I attempt to replay for you those voices and paint the picture in your mind of those faces as vividly as they are held in my soul. Perhaps it is because I fear that even if I share with you only the good and beautiful ones it will uncover the bad and ugly ones, too, as they are all mixed together, stored away in the same album of my past.  Perhaps it is because they will provoke questions that I do not want to answer or judgments I cannot bear.  Perhaps they are so precious to me that they are meant to be just for me.  Or perhaps I’m simply being selfish.

It was 5 am and we were at the small Mexican airport before it was open for business.  Friends had worked through the night to make the arrangements for me to return home.  I remember the impatience I felt at how slowly the employees were working to receive those standing and waiting, oblivious to the fact that my life had been irrevocably altered only hours before.  I can see so clearly the older gentleman who took his position at the ticket counter as he was putting on his red vest.  The travel agent who had delivered me to the airport presented my documents to him and obtained my boarding pass.  We were not friends as we had only met the day before, but I could tell she felt bad that she had to leave me alone.  I stumbled through my thank yous for her help and numbly walked through security.

It was only a short walk to the gate where I would wait for several hours before departure.  The waiting area was nice and attractive with beautiful potted plants scattered among the seats;  I watched the same gentleman who wore the red vest walk to the gate and change into a blue vest in preparation for receiving boarding passes; I remember thinking that was funny even though it was impossible for me to smile or laugh. What strange things to remember.  Most of the seats were empty as few had scheduled such early flights.  It had only been a few short years that I had been given the opportunity to travel but I had quickly learned how to nap in-flight and in even the most uncomfortable of airport seating and I was desperate to sleep here.  I wanted to close my eyes and not think or feel, but sleep would not come.

The shock of the news and the busy-ness of preparing to go home had kept the wave of grief from crashing over me.  Until then.  I sat alone with nothing but my memories and my body literally began to shake.  I was alone and cold and heartbroken and guilty and afraid.  My sorrow poured out with such vengeance it would not be quieted.   Regret came hard with its accusations and I believed every word.   I groaned and sobbed with every fiber of my being.  There was no room for embarrassment or self-consciousness for it would not be stopped, this exposure of my pain in a Mexican airport.

They approached me ever so gently.  They quietly took the seats next to me, tenderly reaching out hands of comfort before ever speaking.  One walked away and returned with a blanket, hoping to stop the harsh rhythm of my tremors.  The other stroked my back and waited with me, not knowing me or the reason for my pain.  I don’t remember if they asked or I just needed to tell someone, but I remember the sound of my voice as the agony poured out.  “My son is dead.”  They held me and cried with me and stayed with me until it was time to board.

I don’t know what sparked this memory today.  I don’t remember their names or their faces.  I remember their hands.  I remember that two complete strangers were willing to be uncomfortable so that they would be used by God that day, whether they were aware of Him or not.   They were probably on vacation and this was not on the list of memories they planned to take home.  But they noticed me and rather than ignore or offer a quick bottle of water and simplistic words of comfort that are really no comfort at all, they stopped and they stayed with me.  They stepped into my world of grief and reminded me that God was with me.  Not with their words for they said very little, but with their actions.  With their love and their arms and their inability to remove my anguish, they sat with me.

The bible is clear on the existence of angels, and charges us to always be hospitable should we entertain them unaware.  Were these angels that sat beside me?  Perhaps.   If angels do walk this earth with us in the form of humans, I strongly suspect this is exactly the kind of thing they are busy about doing.  But I rather believe that these women were just two ordinary souls like you and I who believed that people matter. Women who understood that people matter above schedules and itineraries and appearances and personal comfort. Women who knew from experience that lives can be painful and messy and inconvenient and uncomfortable, but they matter enough to approach a stranger.

I want to live a life that is unafraid to step into another’s circle and stay with them for a while.  To look upon the ugliness of their pain and suffering, even when it is out of my reach to affect it, and stay with them.  To hold back my tongue from quick words as I cover them with a blanket of love.  To notice them.  To cry with them.  I want to be willing to be uncomfortable in order to bring comfort.  I want to be His love and His presence and His hands.   Just like two “angels” in a Mexican airport.

 

 

A laundry day lesson

The postal service has a tag line to their advertisements for pre-rated box shipping:  “If it fits, it ships.” Today, I have a tag line for my laundry duties:  “If it fits in the washer, it gets washed.”  This new emphasis on the laundry responsibilities follows the family’s involuntary participation in one of the stomach bugs going around.  I pride myself on a healthy immune system and rarely get sick.  However, this was a particularly virulent strain evidently, and I succumbed to its attack only a few short days after the children. After an extremely rough 24 hours, I am now feeling a bit germ-a-phobic and am literally washing everything that will fit in the tub of my heavy-duty machine.  Laundry is usually my favorite of household chores as I love the fresh scent of detergent and fabric softener and the comfort of clean sheets and fluffy towels.  But today I am on a mission.  There is much to be done and quickly, before those buggers regroup and come at me again.

All is going according to plan except for the quickly part.  My dryer hasn’t heated well for quite some time now, so dry time is longer than normal.  It’s one of those things that I need to have repaired but rather than make the phone call and cough up the cash I keep turning the knob for a second round instead.  It’s just easier.  So normally the washer sits with its tub full of freshly agitated, drained, and spun items waiting their turn(s) in the dryer.  Not today.  The washer has decided to compete with the dryer in an effort to see which can take the longest possible time to complete their assigned duties.  It’s chosen to randomly get stuck in the spin cycle.

I rely on the buzzer of the dryer to alert me when it’s time to turn it on again or remove the items.  Knowing this little annoying sound will call when action is required frees me to walk away without another thought and set my mind on other things.  My washer, however, has no such alert.  Come to think of it, even it if had an alert it wouldn’t work if the silly thing is stuck on spin…  So as you may have deduced by now, several loads of laundry have spun for quite a while today – almost to the point of being very nearly dry!

With multiple loads of various sorts, I have used each cycle, varying load sizes, some with fabric softener, some without, and different water temperatures.  Finally, I have seen a pattern emerge.  It only gets stuck on spin if it’s a small load.  I have to pay attention when a small load is in so that I can stop it before it spins for 45 minutes.  (And just a fyi for all you laundry-doers out there:  you can spin wrinkles into your clothes that will not come out until washed again…)

Having been a homemaker for the greater part of my adult life, it is not unusual for God to speak to me through the mundane tasks that have filled many hours.  Today as I de-bug, I am reminded of how often we let the small things in life get us in a spin and catch us up in the insignificant when our goal is to accomplish something greater.  Often we handle the larger things that life deals out with more grace and faith than the small stuff.  Just as I am having to pay attention and listen to when my washer is stuck in the spin cycle, we should pay attention to when the small things have us going in circles.

I think this is especially true of this time of year.  To share my views on the holiday preparations will very likely make me sound a bit Scrooge-ish, so I will spare you the details of my opinions.  I’ve been in that spin cycle before and have no desire to go there again.  You know what I mean – impatience displayed as we stand in line, frustration mounting as we search rack after rack, tempers flaring as the children beg for more, more, more – all while “Peace on earth, good will towards men” plays in the background…

This is the season to celebrate that our Savior came to earth.  A magnificent event second only to His resurrection.  In reality, every season is a reason to celebrate Jesus!!  It is easy to lose sight of the big picture with all we have to do, but if we pay attention and listen we have within us an alert that will let us know when it’s time to stop and be still.  His Spirit.  He will lead us into peace, into the right priorities, and into the right activities that will bring Him glory, if we will stop spinning and listen.

Because of and through the heart of tender mercy and loving-kindness of our God, a Light from on high will dawn upon us and visit [us].  To shine upon and give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct and guide our feet in a straight line into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79

And the God humor for today?  Too much spinning just causes more wrinkles!!