Friday, January 23, 2015

Half of you

'I am turning 70!' You squeal in delight, with a clap of the hand. My mind immediately calculates my meager 35 and that it is exactly half of that. Naturally I comment. It's what I do, being the eternal 'baby' but what was most interesting was your response to me for it was one of patience. You patted my arm like: 'that's ok, you'll get to 70 eventually.' For 70! to you is not a bad thing but a thing of delight. 
Why wouldn't it be? After all you very nearly died. There's a giant purple smudge on the wall of the highway to prove it. Well, it's black now, but for a while it was purple. The color changed over time. Like a bruise.
Thirty and five years seem like a blink of an eye and I am quite certain I can fill the ocean with things I don't know. That I am hard on myself, and I know it, still doesn't make me age any faster. Why can I not be content to be my age, young as it is? Is it a youngest child thing? Always sprinting after older siblings with tiny legs, desperately trying to catch up time in some magical way? I just don't know.
I see my five-year-old son do it. Frustrated he can't do the same things his almost-eight-year-old sister can. She patiently tells him that she will reach the thing he can't, but rather than let her he pulls over the step ladder. I want to hold him, tell him he's perfect, and to let her help him. Is there some way to help him get over feeling too-young-for-this-itis now? 
Because I have a severe case of too-young-for-this-itis. At work. At home. Even at play. 
These last few weeks I have been making door art cards like an obsessed person. Before me sits a tiny piece of paper that with some scissors and glue I can turn into a little gift of art. So I did. Then again. In three days I had over a hundred. Before you pick up the telephone to have me committed let me assure you I have quit cold turkey. Well, mostly. I'm in the process of laminating them now and it is oddly satisfying to smooth the plastic. Like picking pebbles out of tennis shoes. 
I had resisted getting the book 'Jesus Calling.' My dear 70! friend fixed her sharp, racoon-like eyes on me and bluntly asked if I had gotten it yet. Reminding me she told me to get it six months ago. I hung my head in shame. 'No ma'am, not yet.' I go to a wake and a friend randomly brings the book up. I walk into my boss's office and there it is on his desk. Another friend slaps me on the thigh reminding me that our mutual friend told me to get it and insisting that I do. I decided to do what I always do- blame God and make it his problem. As in: fine, if you want me to have that book so bad then you buy it! But then I made the mistake of mentioning this to my beloved husband and he ordered one on Amazon before I finished that nasty sentence.
I blaze through several days, and have almost caught up already. January 12th's I get to last night, around eleven pm while I shove fast food down my mouth because I have a feeling it's going to be a busy night. I have a bad feeling. I don't always like being a person who has premonitions. "I will not show you what is on the road ahead, but I will thoroughly equip you for the journey." These words sink down deep. Probably to the place where I first stood on tippy toes insisting I grab something myself and refusing to let my big sister help. Or even deeper still then I can comprehend.
I am not half of you. Not even close. An eighth maybe. Heaven only knows what the good Lord will get through to me in the next 35 years, for the few lessons he has painstakingly finished took YEARS each. Bless my heart. And his. 
Trusting him through it all- especially through the nights of bad feelings- and that he will give me what is needed when it is needed is the lesson I'm in now. Going on about thirteen years now. We took a little detour when I chose to not trust and wandered off a few years. 
The lesson starting with a friend dying in a car wreck. So when my 70! friend was in a wreck, and they took her to the same blasted hospital my friend died at, I had this moment in the parking lot. This overwhelmed too-young-for-this-itis. This: I can't do this again God, I truly can't. So you told me not to. 'This time, let me walk with you. Don't leave me out here letting those emergency room doors slam in my face like thirteen years ago. Instead, let me in to this.' So I did. Clinging to the edges of his robe like a cat hanging onto the living room curtains, I stick and dig my claws in deeper. 
I pray and pray for the different stories swirling around me. One goes bad, as a boy dies and I had been praying for the big miracle and hoping against hope that it would be a Lazarus-like outcome. Instead we chat about what food we should take over- enchiladas? Pizzas? We discuss going to the funeral in business-clipped tones. It's the middle of my workweek so I decide not to go, especially since I went to last weeks funeral while he stayed home with the kids. We tag-team funerals.
Another one goes good as for years I prayed for a baby and there on my computer is the cutest, prayed-for face I have ever seen in my life. I keep flipping back to the baby. For right outside my window is the boy's house and I just can't even imagine losing a son. There aren't enough enchiladas in the world.
I bump into a father of another son I'm praying for and he tells me the next big event in their world is on Monday. Oh good, I think to myself, a whole weekend to pester God. If prayers are golden bowls up in heaven then I want to have an Ikea-like stack of a million racked up. 
On the back of the door art cards I wrote part of the verse the exhibit is based on: "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved..." John 10:9. The part that was left out was: 'and will go in and out and find pasture.' I think back to a sermon I heard years ago how shepherds used to lay down at the gate of the pen when they put the sheep to bed at night. Thus, their bodies literally made the door. 
A door that laid down his very life. 
This is the one I cling to. The one I pester with a million bowls. The one who equips me for the journey. The door by which I walk through, in and out of trials as simple as taking steps forward one way then the other. The eternal one who is ageless. Who 70! isn't even half of. 
In about a month the doors art exhibit will start and my psycho-processing that resulted in a hundred or so art cards will hopefully bless people. I re-read January 12th and resist the urge to skip to January 23rd. I will catch up soon enough. Just like I will be 36, and then 70, before I know it. Until then, this time, I do what he asks and let him into this. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Scattered hay

The smell of hay greets me each time I push open our back door. A scattered pile is sitting by the door. The hay had been for Kaiya's bunny which has relocated itself from the cage lined with hay to living underneath the porch. This drives our dog completely mad. He sniffs at the cracks, and whines. 

When I smell the hay my mind takes me to a stable. I'm quite certain that what I imagine is nothing at all close to reality. For example, I don't even know if they had 'hay' in the then and there of Mary's time. Or if middle eastern hay from over two thousand years ago was altogether a different thing entirely than what my husband picked up at a local feed store two months ago. 
I smell and wonder, each time. I wonder at what kind of person lets herself be used by God like that. My modern mind just can't wrap itself around: 'I am the lord's servant, may it be to me as you say.'

My mind gets stuck on my dear friend, still recovering from a car crash that nearly took her life. How uncomfortable a neck brace and a constant headache must be. Or on my neighbor who is about to lose her oldest son to death and how simply awful the waiting on that must be. On my friend recently diagnosed with cancer who tells me she is camping out on scriptures about trees. These are just three examples of the dozens of tragic stories swirling around tiny me.
And my mind gets stuck on how powerless I am to all this. That no matter how many pictures I draw for my friend I can't make her headaches go away. That the pizzas we take over to the mother don't do a damn thing to make her son better. That the tree I paint isn't imbued with any magic to make cancer go away. That my prayers feel powerless. And that is the hard, ugly truth of my lack of belief and even uglier- my pride that makes me think I am 'needed.'

This time last year I was desperate. My mother's face would swim before me just under the surface of absolutely everything. Cancer. Again. We scrambled to change our plans to go up to Kansas and I could only breathe out one-word prayers: please. help. her. Sometimes it took me all day to get that out. Please. please. please. I would get stuck on the word please. 
Sometimes I would say 'him' instead and it's a 'him' I've been praying for since I started praying at around age 11. I even had to swap with someone else who just couldn't pray for their one anymore either. So we traded our ones. That was about five years ago. Him. help him.
Sometimes I would say 'them' and it's a them I've been praying for since they lost their daughter. Because. I can't even imagine. When I do my kids get very uncomfortable, too-tight hugs from their mother who is crying for no good reason. I couldn't help but selfishly pray for another. Like that will ever take away the pain of the one they lost. Still. The words came: please give them another child.
Sometimes it was a different her, the same her who is all broken and head-achey now, who then I breathed out prayers in grief for her husband. And last year a new widow joined my prayers. I would breath them out together like they were twins. Who on earth wants to be a widow twin? Her. and her. 

Every single person reading this has a 'him,' a 'her' and maybe even a 'them' to. In fact, I bet you were picturing your ones and not bothering a wit of mental space about mine. It's ok. We all have our ones. 
The only answer I have to all of this thick sadness that makes me all sniffly, and I try in vain to blame on allergies, is to recount the good. For that's the thing. My first one I mentioned: my her is still here. A Christmas miracle given in January. A confused surgeon sitting across from me telling me the very thing I prayed for: 'I'm surprised.' I wanted to leap in the air and scream: 'huzzah!' 
Or the other answer to one of my one-word prayer streams: an announcement on Christmas Day that they were expecting. Hu-freaking-zah! 

Does it make it less that some of the other prayers I have to keep saying? That just when I think it can't get worse in some cases it somehow does? Nope. That would be like grumbling about having manna for breakfast again when having manna means you have been freed from Egypt. 
This year I have new hers, hims and thems. Ok, some of them are the same from last year. And some got worse. But some got better. I pull up the smiling baby face and grin back at her for starters. That one. I got to pray for that one. When I arrived at my grandmother's house a few weeks ago the first thing I did when I walked in was hug and kiss my mother. That one. That one is still here. I got to pray for that one. This week I will get to visit my dear widow friend. She is still here. Broken, but here. That one. I still get to pray for that one.

What if being willing to be used by God looks a bit like this? What if the prayers that we think are going unanswered are actually building something up in heaven? When we circle back to the same spot, like our poor dog trying to get to the blasted bunny, it is not for naught but is indeed making space for God to come in and do his thing? 

And if that's the case then the very best thing to say is: I am the lord's servant may it be to me as you say. And the best thing to do is to wait for him to show up and do it. To move aside your worry for the one you can hardly breathe  their name. To make space for him to come and do his thing. Right in the middle. Even if your middle is a mess scattered with hay. For that's the thing. You. You are his one. Your name. I bet you anything it takes him all day to just get it out sometimes. I am his one. Courtney. Oh Courtney. Would that you know how much I love you. 
Yes, indeed I do. May it be to me just exactly as you say. Scattered hay and all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I just can't get it together

All year long I've been saying that I'm doing good to leave the house wearing pants. Suddenly it's mid November and everyone has lost their mind in rolling out Christmas two weeks early and this sets off a panic attack. I stagger to church like an unkempt zombie and when I see that my lovely little church has an advent calendar all put together in neat little packets I grunt and snatch one up, practically snarling. 
Once in the comfort of a pew I start going through the packet and instantly I am overwhelmed. Little people to cut out, references to a 'poster' which I fear means piecing the six or eight pages together, and a small paragraph to read each night. That this is instantly overwhelming to me is a bit telling. I recognize that I likely won't figure out how to put the pieces together so I wander back to take a photo of the finished one hanging in the hall. 

The blessedly sweet children's director at our church, who makes sure to have some kind of simple advent thing for us each year and is the only reason my kids have ever had any kind of advent activity outside of church, asks if I picked up a calendar. I blubber and explain in my blubbering that I had but that I was taking a photo because I was certain I would screw it all up otherwise. 
She then says something brilliant: 'why don't you have Kaiya do it?' and I go from blubbering to beaming just like that. 
It is not lost on me that at seven and a half my sweet, caring daughter is more sweet and more caring than I could ever hope to be. Plus she has the superpower of being crafty. And wonder of wonders that tip-top school we send her to, a public one no less, taught her to read and my baby girl does hardly anything but read lately. Suddenly I see not a frustrated afternoon spent with craft tape and scissors but a peaceable evening watching Kaiya read to her brother the little paragraphs while they then tape little people to the poster. 
Still, I'm quite certain I'll find a way to screw it up. I already know I will likely have the hardest time finding a candle, having wisely given up on having an advent wreath with the requisite oddly colored candles years ago, lately even my pathetic attempts to just have a single, blasted, candle seems too much. When it occurred to me: so what? Does it really matter if we don't light a stupid candle when we read? Even further, could I just choose to not dive into the frenzy this time? Make a choice to sit back and admire the moments as they come and go?
This was one thing I learned this past week from my grandmother, as I was sorting through pictures to put some out for her funeral. For starters, finding one of her was a bit of a task. Her outgoing husband, also passed, was in pert near all of them. When I did find one of her she was usually off to the side, leaning back even, and admiring whatever antics her husband was up to or whichever grandchild was a baby or toddler. The look of appreciation on her face though, oh my, it was so deep and intentional. She was just 'there' and she was happy.
Typically, despite my best intentions, I lose a Christmas box every year. This baffles me as we don't have the largest house in the world and I usually stuff them in the garage somewhere, but still it happens. One year it was the one with the stockings, so now we have extra stockings. The next I couldn't find one of the ornament boxes so we now have extra ornaments. You get the idea.
What if this year, whichever box plays hide and seek I just let it stay hidden? I resist the pull to grab more and more, and instead seek for less and less? What if I decide to just put up the wreath and leave the outside decorations at that? Could there be something to seeking an intentionally simple holiday season this year? So what if, when I can't get it together this year, I just let it all stay where it is? In an: ungathered, unhurried, and unworried about place?
Maybe some will join me in letting a thing or two go this season. Watch the 'thing' float on down like a leaf floating on a gutter river. And instead, turn and smile at the scene before them, and truly appreciate what is there.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gold bits

When I was little, I was bouncing on my big sister's bed, with my twin brother. Little flecks of dust were floating down, caught on fire by sunlight which made them look like bits of gold. My brother started trying to eat them. Because he's a boy and that's how they experience things. I tried to catch them in my hand and this was about as successful as his attempts. 
Instead of more bouncing, at one point I just sat. I stared in wonder at golden bits of something that I'm quite sure was eternity breaking through. Back then I didn't have this theory of mine really developed. I was just in awe of the beauty. It's been something that my mind can't let go of though, the idea that sometimes the spiritual world breaks through to the physical one. 
"Basically her body is physically shutting down and she's going through the spiritual part of it now. Of letting go." My aunt's voice keeps making sounds through the phone but I'm off already. I should be listening, getting whatever details from this update on my dying grandmother's condition. Instead, I'm lost in wonder at what she is seeing. 
I have another theory, that when God bawls out Job and asks him where was he when God laid the foundation of the earth, and continues to list a whole chapter of wonder, that all of those places he names actually exist.  And if they do, it wouldn't surprise me if those close to death get to go to them. Could my grandmother be standing in front of the storehouses of snow? Or would she pick to see the ones with hail instead? Did she choose to enter the springs of the sea, or would she opt to walk the recesses of the deep? And, the forefront of my mind for the last couple of weeks: is she standing at the gates of death and ready to push forward through them? Where everything must be covered in gold. 
I am thinking about this as we go to a wedding. With my five-year-old son asking every thirty seconds: is that her (the bride)? And once the bride walked by: when are they kissing? At one point I glance up at some flies getting zapped by a bug-zapper. They flash gold each time. Kaiya, sweet dear that she is, points them out: 'look mom, fireflies!' I haven't the heart to tell her what it really is. I wonder, as I stare at the gold flies, do we all flash gold like that when we go?
Later, I stare at the golden dots running down the table topper. It's a beautiful wedding. All creams and golds. Like heaven, I imagine. Perfectly beautiful and I'm in love with everything. The bride comes out for their first dance in a dazzling gown that looks like someone chopped up a star into bits to make it for her. All night long when I glanced at her I had seen the girl standing in our kitchen, listening to our instructions to her as a babysitter. The golden star dress suddenly snaps me out of that and she is a woman wearing eternity. 
Early the next morning, in the wee hours of night, my Gramman pushes through that gate and goes home. I imagine if we had spiritual eyes to see there was a golden supernova that went off like a bomb when she left. A woman wearing eternity, walking through the gate to what's next.
What if- all of the gold breaking through is connected? From the flies, to the sunlight, to pretty wedding decorations and most of all the gold that comes from a saint going home? And what if, the noticing of these moments, is extremely important? Like an agreeing with eternal in this temporal, like just pausing for a moment and giving thanks opens up a whole door of superpowers, most powerful of which is the ability to keep one grounded when all the universe swirls in crazy madness around them. 
What if the gold bits of our days are like the 'treasure' of this game of life, and we would do well to collect them into our very souls each day. Like the Israelites dutifully eating their bits of manna each day, maybe we get just enough for what is needed each and every single day. Just gold bits are all we get in this life, but it's the next life that they say the streets themselves are made of gold. 
For now, I'll rejoice at each bit of gold that breaks through, and I'll set the rudder of my heart pointed to heaven so I can navigate through the choppy waters of this hard life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

How to die well

It starts in a flurry, this sudden plan to go see my 90-year-old ailing grandmother. Some friends had asked if they could take our kids with them on their family vacation. Since that meant being without children for ten days we thought about our response for exactly .0083 seconds. A resounding 'yes' was given. 
I had just taken time off for our beach trip so I resigned myself to only taking the Fourth of July off because fireworks set off something inside of me. The wild splash of light stirs up something in my soul. But then my dear husband makes a simple suggestion, to go see her since the grueling drive to Tennessee would be remarkably easier without children. 
Before I know it we are there, albeit slightly addled from the overnight drive. We settle into my very hospitable Uncle and Aunt's house and as I set my bag down in their familiar guest room it hits me: just what exactly am I expecting out of this trip? For I had been able to tag along with my sister back in the fall and essentially said my goodbyes. Thankfully the cancer my grandmother was diagnosed with seems to be very slow and I had told my husband that I wanted to go see her again. My grandfather was declining at a time when we had just bought a new house and were doing our best to stay afloat, but I regretted not getting to go see him one last time. So when he asked me, do you want to go see her? I said yes on the exhale.
Upon arriving at her farm the sweet lady immediately launched into stories. She pert near talked the entire time, mainly recounting a story of a woman who had helped her mother with daily household stuff. To hear my Gramman tell it though the lady was actually an angel sent from God to aid them when they needed it most. 
The next main topic was how hard they had to work, and the constant stream of chores that went in to their daily life. It is not lost on me that she tells stories of hard work on a farm and I come home to play FarmVille. That, granted, while I have a harder job than most, it still hardly compares to what life was like then. When so much of our day is spent looking at an electronic screen, how can we comprehend being dirt tired and dirt covered?
One topic that comes up is the Oregon Trail. My grandmother mentions how when she volunteered at the local library she stumbled across an ad imploring people from Memphis to come to Oregon. She went on to explain that the ad explained there was free land if they could just 'get there.' It finished with a long list of things they would need to survive the trip. With no small amount of shame I must admit that my primary reference point to understand what she was saying came from an awful Tom Cruise movie. I kept seeing him triumphantly waving a flag.
When she spoke of 'covered wagons' a mysticism entered her voice. What she focused on though was all of the work it took to prepare for the Oregon trail. The long list, and how exact it was, and how likely it had taken someone who had made the journey to write such a detailed list. For they had it down to the exact moment you were supposed to cross the Rocky Mountains. 
"Guess what that date was based on?" She asked, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, and we stare at each other across her kitchen table, "Grass! For the cattle..." We nod like of course that made perfect sense. 
On and on she talked about all the work that went into such a journey. Don't we get that it is so like life? That it is work, hard work, and it's a journey to get somewhere. In between these stories come out random bits about her plans, how she's arranging her finances and so forth. It's like for all the world she's packing up the flour, the salt, and cramming into her covered wagon. 
I think she's timed it just right. That she's managed to cross the Rockies when there is still grass for the cattle. And while most of me is grieved and wants to cling to her wagon wheel and scream 'not yet,' there's a delicate balance to this timing. To making the journey successfully. And my dear, pioneering, grandmother has made it just right. All that is left now is the homestretch. The downhill sprint from the Rockies into to the promised, free, land. Well, free for us, someone had a to pay- there always is a price. I hope Jesus will be waiting for her with outstretched arms. For clinging to his robes would be far better than waving a silly flag. 
I don't know what I was expecting from that trip but what I got was this: how to die well. You die well when you do so with an attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness. When you reflect on your life and recount the stories honestly. When you say your goodbyes and prepare to say a very important hello. You die well when you see your wagon full of stuff for what it was, a means to an end and certainly not the end itself. When you see your body as a vessel, a covered wagon, that gets you to a new place. This life is just a journey, it's the next one where we truly live.