half-mast

April 29, 2019

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Today the American flag flew half-mast, proclaiming to all in our city that a great man is gone. When we arrived at the national cemetery, Peter noticed the flag and asked if he had missed some recent tragedy in the news. I told him I didn’t think so … “it’s for PaCharley,” I added. Turns out, it was.
Three volleys of 7 rounds were fired before the graveside service, and empty rounds presented to my grandmother, along with the flag.
Last night my uncle was contacted about expected numbers at the church for the funeral. He was asked to give an estimate, so a few of us began to brainstorm. We listed the expected family members and then moved on to others. Someone suggested that attendance may be light, considering workday hours on a weekday. “I don’t know,” I said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the city cancelled work for the afternoon, so that people could attend the funeral.” After all, as I know I’ve written oftentimes before, PaCharley never met a soul he didn’t like. A soul.
Sure enough, the sanctuary was filled to over flowing. Though I didn’t actually know how full it was until after the service. We filed in as a family, to fill all the front pews, and it did not occur to me to look behind us. Only as the service was ending did I think to wonder how many were there; so I kind of snuck back in, doubling back around after the family procession. I walked up the stairs to stand in the choir loft and peek at the crowd that was there. A crowd of souls who loved my PaCharley.
*Funny thing—the first time I wrote that sentence, I wrote “souls loved by my PaC.” Same difference, I suppose. Loved. Loved by.
GramBea selected the hymns we sang and, on impulse, I left my seat to go stand beside her and hold her hand. I suspect I learned how to sing from her, as I’ve always automatically found an alto harmony. From the other side of her, my uncle joined the trio, with a strong tenor.
Before I married, I was accustomed to visits to the U.S., during which I would stay with my grandparents. We would often sing the doxology as a blessing, in a three-part harmony.
Today we sang that three part harmony once again. Hands held tightly, voices strong; so far as I could tell—or cared, for that matter—we were alone in a packed sanctuary. Alone except for PaC, who I know for sure was singing right alongside us from his new, eternal home.

Like a river, glorious
Is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious
In its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth
Fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth
Deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Christ Jesus,
Hearts are fully blest;
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest.

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home

April 23, 2019

IMG_0230Grief has no sense of decorum. So it did not occur to me to question my actions when I interrupted the chaplain, with his head bowed and hands folded, to place myself in front of my grandfather’s face. As he tugged on the tubes, wildly waving his hands, and craning his neck up while his head turned side to side, I planted my face in front of his. “Hi PaCharley,” I said. Over. And over. I saw his clear blue eyes. I saw him. He saw me.
After weeks of stoic, walls-up, business-mode, yesterday my dam broke. Intending to call my husband, and update him on the coming family meeting at the hospital, instead I lost it. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’m so sorry . . .” It was an involuntary, illogical (so I thought) reaction, but I lost all control.

Had our year gone as planned, we would not be here now. We would be in the flurries of school life, finishing out the year in Ghana. Only after arriving would we find out the family business that would occupy us so completely, for so many weeks, that would pass in a rapid blur.

Truthfully, over the past couple of months, I have questioned what I’m doing here at all. With nothing tangible to account for our days, they have, at times, felt wasted. And the “work” we’ve been doing has left me painfully aware of my shortcomings. I have been impatient with errand-running and hospital visits, and bad-attitudey about the changed grandfather he seemed to be. The man who never met a soul he didn’t like would now complain about doctors and nurses. The man who was always in a good mood spoke constantly of how bad he felt, and how much the tubes, the pricks, and the medicines were bugging him. He fought back, trying to coax forbidden foods and drinks from unsuspecting visitors. And I watched, stunned at the changes in this man I’d loved all my life. Mind you, he still had good moments and “normal” days as well, but the negative moments were so shocking to my perfect image of him that they overshadowed the good. I wondered why he couldn’t let people do what they needed to do to care for him, and I even resented the trouble caused for those closest to him.
But yesterday I realized how wrong my perception had been. When I saw him—and when he saw me—all I could think was I get it. I see. I see.
I see a man who has lived 92 beautiful and full years. A man who has given himself, without reservation, to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. A man who has worked hard, running his own business and rising up from the depression era. A man who fought well, who “won,” as his great grandson aptly noted, as a good, good soldier. A man who “fought the good fight, [who] finished the race . . .” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8, NIV)
And now, for the past few months, he has been unable to care for others, wholly dependent on the help of those of us who had always before come to him for that same help. He never wanted anyone to trouble themselves over him. He never wanted to be a burden, on anyone. And when the time came for his independence to be gone, he fought back.
One week ago, on his 70th anniversary, he told my grandmother that he intended to be home in a week. He told her this as if he was going to get back to independent living in the house he had loved for 50 years. But when my sister relayed this to me over the phone last night we knew what had happened. PaCharley was true to his word. PaCharley found his way home.

holy saturday

April 21, 2019

IMG_0218Holy Saturday. Sitting in discomfort. I’ve been mulling over that idea today, in what has turned out to be a needed respite from scheduled business. It has been a Godsend: a gift of silence, in a sense. Today we—those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ, recognize the solemn occasion of the day in which the earth was darkened by death. Last night, in our Good Friday service, we each hammered a nail to the cross, and then took communion. We recognized the part we each playing in nailing the Saviour of the world to a tree. We. Each. Me. I nailed my Lord to the tree.
A part of me rushes to clarify, right now. “Oh, but of course, His grace covers us . . . we are redeemed . . .” Yes. But I’m afraid I know, far too well, the depravity of my own soul. Yesterday, in particular, I was feeling the weight of my failings. It was a day of failure. A day I would like to deny. Like Peter’s denial of his association with Christ, I wish I could deny my association with my own dark soul. Instead I held the hammer in hand and I nailed my Lord to the cross . . . and then I knelt beside my husband. We ate the bread, and drank the wine, and sang of the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. Rolling as a mighty ocean. In its fullness over me.

Today we wait.
We wait for rain to stop, and the sun to shine. We wait for Easter Sunday.
And, in this family, we wait for a death thats imminence cannot be denied. My grandpa—my “Dad 2”—was taken, by ambulance, back to the hospital today. This time it was a move from the nursing home, not from the house. And with the way things have been deteriorating, I am afraid.
Could I be wrong? Certainly. Could he live to be 100? Certainly.
But the weight of my soul, on this Holy Saturday, bears a gravity of suspicion that this is it.
Leading onward, leading homeward. To your glorious rest above . . . And it lifts me up to glory. For it lifts me up to Thee.

Presumably

April 13, 2019

863D5863-DA26-4260-824B-79407B32E358I am spending this weekend in close (i.e. bunk beds in dorm rooms) fellowship with hundreds of women. Glorious companionship and estrogen overload…? Pardon the sarcasm: kinda couldn’t resist that after the image I described. In all seriousness, though, I have been needy for friendship. I had a revelation the other day that I blurted out when it popped into my head. “I have no friends!” And I made this particularly endearing comment in conversation with an acquaintance I was actually hoping would become a friend. Gee-now that’s going to make someone decide to jump up to the lonely plate, right? But what I realized, less dramatically, is that I have grown spoiled by a life of hardship. Yes, I meant to say that. Living as foreigners in somewhat remote areas of the world, I have spend years taking on all-consuming sorts of work while surrounded by other foreigners doing the same thing. In that setting, what happens is that you make fast, and strong, bonds with those in your community, not “wasting” time on any preliminary small talk that may be commonplace in more relaxed settings or situations. In short, I have had community that I have not had to work to achieve. So much so that my default life pattern has been to try to run away from social situations, needing more solitude than my life was allowing.
Things have changed.
I used to walk from home to work each day, and bike 5 minutes to shop, swim, and visit others. We now live in a house that sits on 2 acres, in a rural setting that requires long commutes to get anywhere.
My close friends used to live on the other side of our living room wall. I could literally raise my voice and be heard by someone who knew me—or, at least, who knew my role, my habits, and my daily needs. My only regular friends now are members of my own family. In one sense, this is a very good thing; I needed to learn how to be a grownup with my family. I also needed to learn how to be a friend to my husband (as opposed to my default “doing” of daily life, in which I take his presence for granted).
But back to the present: this morning I was too late for breakfast to sit next to the one I’d decided would be my friend here, from our first conversation Thursday night. Yes, “decided” (presumptuous, perhaps?). So I grabbed a seat at another table and found myself seated next to a bright-eyed, eager-for-smalltalk sort of Southern lady. You know the type …right? She asked me a series of stereotypical questions about how I liked living in the US again, and if I was ready to be settled. I started to revert to my annoyed clamming-up reaction, that my sociable husband often rescues me from. Then I caught myself doing it, and decided to instead try to be conversationally creative. I asked her a few questions about her own life and, well, I guess the tables were turned on me. Over the next half hour, I found myself amazed at the stories that this Canadian (yep) educator-turned-retreat-founder had to share. We had numerous “What? You too? I thought I was the only one…” moments (reference credit to C.S. Lewis). And I left that table inspired to seek out a few dreams I’d been trying to shove down as impractical or frivolous. Rejoined by my “chosen” friend 😉, I was able to go into the next morning session with an infinitely better attitude. Because when it comes down to it, aren’t we all making assumptions about those who surround us? And, conversely, aren’t others making similar assumptions about us?
I cannot afford to rest on my laurels and assume that friendship will find me. What was that about kindergarten learning? Shouldn’t I have learned this lesson when I was five years old? Slow learner, I suppose … or perhaps, more likely, just ridiculously hard-headed. You gotta be a friend if you want to have friends. Presumably…

*during today’s afternoon free time, I was intent on experiencing all the activities available, with my thoughts being that, as much as I am truly a lover of home and routine, I have to do the different and hard things in order to be truly grateful for the “boring” stuff that I actually thrive on. So I hiked to the top of the mountain. And I climbed to the top of a telephone pole, with the sole purpose of jumping off once I got to the top. Well, I was actually supposed to use the baton in my hand to ring a bell suspended in front of me-my supreme athletic coordination notwithstanding, I did not ring the bell. The best thing I did this afternoon, however, was climbing into a large, bubble-butted harness, pull my shoulder straps so that I was hunched into a position reminiscent of an oversized baby in a full-body diaper, and then pull a lever that would hurl us down for one exhilarating giant swing ride. I started out standing in line as a “single” participant, but two other women summoned me over to join them. The three of us held hands, falling together, screaming together, swinging together … laughing together. I stood in that line out of a somewhat mopey desire to distract myself from what I really wanted to do (jump in the lake, which was not yet allowed this season). But I left that line grinning widely, and knowing that today was good. Perfect? No. But good.

name calling

April 1, 2019

IMG_0125Go with it. This has become my mantra. Beginning, really, from when we landed in good ole USA a couple months ago; but certainly more pronounced on the current venture. Frankly, I am the least likely candidate for any version of a “go with it” mindset. I order my days with an intensity that would rival Michelle Obama’s personal assistant (or team of them, as the case may be).
And no, I am not orchestrating nationwide school lunch reform programs: these days, the significance of the tasks on my agenda can be as monumental as choosing whether Aldis or Walmart will be the best price for today’s grocery items (in case you’re wondering, we usually prefer Aldis for produce sales and bang-for-the-buck-wine; but time constraints sometimes make Walmart the preference). At any rate, my tunnel vision version of daily planning makes each part of my personal agenda vital in the perception of control. Here’s a sample of my (secret) internal schedule:
6:30 AM. Alarm goes off. Peter hears the alarm, comes in, and asks if I want to snooze. I say yes. 10 minutes later, the same scenario plays out. I say “No—I’m getting up.” He says ok and returns to his morning reading. The alarm alarms. For an hour.
7:30 AM. I wake up to sunshine and look at my phone. Apparently the alarm is still ringing, but no sound emits. I assume it has called so insistently, for so long, that it has developed a-la[rm]yngitis. I turn off the alarm: it’s definitely past time to get up.
8:15 AM. I wake up. Again. I smell coffee. Peter’s Perfect Pot. I need coffee. I get up.
9:00 AM. I start preparing for my run, which was supposed to start at 8:30 this morning. I put my running clothes on. I go out to test the temperature. I come back in and change into warmer clothes.
9:15 AM. I remember that I was going to put the rice in the pot to soak. I do that, and while doing so, discover other kitchen prep that might as well be taken care of while I’m at it.
9:30 AM. I head out for a run. My running avatar is a turtle. Generally I run alone, because official runners find it too much of a strain to force their limbs to go turtle-pace. I was a great running buddy when I had my last injury. I accompanied my super-speedy friend on a bicycle, finding my comfortable biking pace to be perfectly suited to her running stride.

Ok, so maybe my current schedule sample does not do a great job demonstrating my routine mindset. This season of transition, care-giving, setting up house, job-hunting, unemployment-related decisions, and next-step-planning has thrown a bit of a wrench in my usual pattern of highly-predictable personal structure. These days I may not manage the kind of routine I have grown accustomed to for the past decade; but my internal dialogue has not let go of the idea that I should still have such a routine. This default dialogue fights the urge to call myself a “lazy bum” when the day does not feel as productive as I think it should; I try to remind myself that I no longer need that old pattern—it’s ok to have a new normal.
Which brings me back to today. This is most definitely a “new normal.” We have been traveling for quite some time now. It started out as a flight across country to visit family. Now we have settled into Peter’s car (one goal of this trip was to retrieve it, so that we can be vehicle self-sufficient), so we are currently driving across the country.
There is nothing like five days stuck in a small car to make a movement-addicted body adjust (like it or not!) to alternative methods of distraction. Labor-intensive food is perfect (have you ever paid attention to how much time you can whittle away while focused on peeling a sticky-shelled hard boiled egg?). And brilliant brains (that shall remain anonymous) have been known to invent wordy name games. We passed a sign for a place called “Idahome” and I guffawed, slapping my thigh as I enjoyed the name. “I wonder if any other states can do that . . .” We proceeded to brainstorm, suggesting varieties as we ingeniously came up with them. “Oklahome?” suggested Peter. “Washome!” I proclaimed (my pronunciation of this word sounds somewhat like the expression “Wassup?.” He raised his eyebrows. “Creative license,” I insisted. We sat silent for some time. I was about to lose interest in the game, due to lack of success when I shot up and, after a dramatic pause, proudly proclaimed, “O-home!!!” I self-congratulatorily grinned. “That’s my favorite so far,” I added. Never mind that it was the last one we managed to come up with . . . in English. We moved on to Spanish. Then French. Now was my true shining hour. I practically danced in my seat when I christened “Chezarona.” Not yet tracking with my oh-so-smart brain, Peter commented, “Isn’t that a song?” I assured him that the brilliant nomenclature was exclusively mine, but did humor him by singing a version of the name that did make a reasonable imitation of the song “My Sharona.” Then I patiently explained the name to my French-impaired hubby. “See, you have to reverse the order, since the word for home—“chez”—comes before the noun it refers to. That’s why the second part of the state “Arizona” comes after that beginning. Only truly genius brains like mine, however, can automatically reverse the ordering of the state’s name so that it flows as a word. I’m so smart that I didn’t even know I was doing it!” (following the rules of this game as we had come up with them thus far, we would need to think of a state name that contained the last pronounceable letter of the word for “home,” and we would then insert the remainder of the state’s name after this word. French speakers may insert a quibble here, pertaining to the linguistic rule of not pronouncing the “z” in “chez,” but I really don’t think you should dwell on such details when considering the general brilliance of the game I have just described. I mean, really, why get caught up with minor grammatical details . . . ?
The main point you should take away is that, as I explained to Peter when we moved away from (i.e. exhausted the apparent possibilities for) this game, is that “only true genius brains can come up with stuff like this without even knowing that they’re being so genius about it; I was being brilliant and didn’t even know it! I’m still being brilliant and don’t know it . . .”
Yes, that was what we spent a good chunk of time on this morning. Time well spent? Arguably. But here’s where the “go with it” mantra comes in. I would rather be running right now. Or swimming. Preferably swimming, after warming up enough with a run to not mind the initial cold-water adjustment factor. But my physical self has no choice right now. This small space is it, and has to be it, for the long haul of the drive. So the lesson in all this is that sometimes you have to “go with it” and let new, unfamiliar sorts of experiences (i.e. playing with words and announcing ones own brilliance) replace the familiar ones that you default to because you know they “work” for helping you get through the business of each day.
Today is a day of juxtaposition: juxtaposed wide-open and small, seat-belted spaces; juxtaposed freedom-on-the-road and stuck-to-this-roadmap . . .
Today I cannot schedule my hours (or, minutes, if I’m honest about tendencies). But if I open up my hands, and heart, to what is actually in front of me (as opposed to what I intend or expect), I might just find unanticipated delights . . .

*Peeling a clementine, I held it close to my nose and inhaled deeply. After handing Peter the fruit, I couldn’t bear throwing away the peel, so gave it a home on the dashboard, so that it is on the official drying rack to turn it into potpourri.