Sunday, August 7, 2016

WHERE HER HEART IS (My sister, Sherry)

It’s blueberry season in Michigan. They are plentiful and inexpensive, so our fridge at the cottage was always full of them during our two-week vacation to the shores of Lake Huron.  Every day our thirteen-year-old grandson, Timothy, stood on one side of the kitchen counter and fed sweet little blue orbs to his baby sister, Gracie, who hovered in her little counter seat on the other side.  Gracie is not likely to remember these particular Michigan blueberry days, but she will know, viscerally, that her brother is an ally.  There is a sacred bond between this boy on the outer edge of adolescence and his sister who cannot yet say his name. I think perhaps she allows him to hang on to that thin thread of childhood he is generally trying to stretch his way out of. It’s an interesting and tender thing to watch.
We left our kids and our cottage three days ago and flew to San Francisco for my husband’s semi-annual American Bar Association conference.  When I get to join him on these trips I sleep in and laze around while His Honor attends judicial meetings, then we are off doing some adventuring together.  It’s been a hectic summer for us. I know there was a June and a July in 2016, but I can’t remember where they went. Though it is now August, typically the hottest month of the year, we were shocked when we walked out the doors of our hotel and shivered in the cold summer fog that crept in from the bay. Familiar goosebumps rose on my skin.  DejaVu goosebumps, on aging skin.
Later, sitting on the bed in our room at the Marquis, I searched online for suggestions about how to spend our days under the Golden Gate.  As I scanned various top ten lists of things you shouldn’t miss in San Francisco, I realized I had already done nearly all of them.  I haven’t been to SF for years, probably decades even. It struck me that what I know of San Francisco I owe, almost entirely, to my sister.  Sharon is the oldest of seven kids.  I was kid number six. 
Sherry was about Timothy's age when I was born. It was Sherry who stood on the other side of the high chair and nourished us. When our family moved to Pittsburgh PA from the small town of Shelly, Idaho, Sherry had just graduated from high school.  I was five years old then.  I remember climbing the steps up to the airplane and looking back at my sister, who stood on the tarmac bravely waving, smiling through her tears. It is one of my earliest memories; sitting on that plane in 1963, weeping as we flew away from our dog Schatze and my oldest sister.
Sherry put herself through college at Utah State and Idaho State, ending up with a degree in Speech Pathology.  Through a series of fateful events she ended up working in the Bay Area of northern CA. By then we “three little girls” at the tail end of the seven kids, were swirling into our teenage years.  Sherry had remained connected to our mom and us through long distance calls (in the days when those calls cost a pretty penny) and love packages she sent home.  Matching dresses; Diamond almonds in assorted flavors (before they were available in local stores); super sized taffy suckers from the Lemon Tree; deep red dyed pistachios and salty white ones (the kind that left evidence on your lips when you snuck them from the marble bowl on the dining room shelf.) Books, and jewelry and other tokens of love, Sherry sent from across the country.
When Sherry was settled and working full time, with a place of her own, we extended our summer trips to Idaho further west… over the High Sierras and all the way down to the salty shores of the Pacific Ocean. We camped out on the floor of her apartment.  Swam in her pool and flirted with the guys. Ate Franco American spaghetti and white bread with butter, or ramen noodles we purchased from Cost Plus, before ramen noodles were available in local stores.
Sherry introduced us to Cost Plus, the birthplace of my addiction to unique bargains, a haven of magical finds unavailable anywhere else in America. She drove us to Berkley and the outlet shops, when they really were shops attached to factories, where seconds and over runs were sold at bargain prices; where your sisters had to hold up a sheet around you when you tried on your Gunne Sax dress because there were no dressing rooms. Coit Tower, the Golden Gate, and Fisherman’s Wharf, when the piers were full of real fish and fresh Dungeness crab that was so fresh it didn’t smell fishy. The tiny little pockets inside our cheeks tingled with the taste of Boudin’s warm, fresh sourdough bread. We nearly hyperventilated inhaling the combined scents of salty sea air and rich chocolate at Ghirardelli Square. We were haunted into the foggy night by the echoing bark of sea lions and crashing waves on the rocks along the shoreline. Sausalito and Monterey Bay and the beautiful green landscapes of the wine district. The lunging motion sickness brought on by a trip down Lombard Street. San Francisco, I realized today, is nestled in the cells of my senses, planted there years ago by my oldest sister, and the one just younger than her who followed her to this place.
Today Dave and I decided, on a whim, to hop on a cable car. The driver stood behind me, leaning the full weight of his body back against the lever, his deep voice calling to the riders as they hopped on along the route “Move away from the door”.  My eyes lifted from the rising and falling of the steep streets to the top of the trolley car, with its layers of white painted wood.  The familiar metal bell clanged as we went. Metal screeched against metal as I imagined the massive cables running under the streets pulling us along like the cables that pull an elevator. We rode the California line, up past China Town, where a symphony of drums panted under a long yellow dragon floating through a sea of people.  “Fisherman’s Wharf”, he called as he pulled the lever and rang the bell. If my arthritic knee had not reminded me otherwise, I could have sworn I was fourteen years old!

Except for the evening spent in the police station, reporting my stolen phone and wallet, this has been a beautifully reminiscent trip for me.  It was here, against these waters, that my husband proposed to me over forty years ago.  Here, I found the world a much broader, deeper, more vibrant place than the little potato farming town of Shelly and the brown necked mill worker city of Pittsburgh.  Here I got my first whistle from a passing fella.  Here I found by dreams expanding, and my world unfolding; all under the safe wing of my sister.

Today Sherry texted me, on the phone I no longer have, and asked if I had found the heart she left here (cue Tony Bennett). It think it's a lost cause.  A part of her will always remain here, even though the rest of her is planted in Utah one house away from us. 
Tomorrow, with a little luck and a case number from the police station, they might allow me to board a plane and go back to Utah.  But for tonight, one last night, I think I’ll turn off the hotel air conditioning and crack open the windows on this high rise, hoping as I drift off to sleep that I can go back to that place where the magic sifts in like summer fog under the great Golden Gate.
Thanks, Seestor.

WHERE HER HEART IS (My sister, Sherry)

It’s blueberry season in Michigan. They are plentiful and inexpensive, so our fridge at the cottage was always full of them during our two-week vacation to the shores of Lake Huron.  Every day our thirteen-year-old grandson, Timothy, stood on one side of the kitchen counter and fed sweet little blue orbs to his baby sister, Gracie, who hovered in her little counter seat on the other side.  Gracie is not likely to remember these particular Michigan blueberry days, but she will know, viscerally, that her brother is an ally.  There is a sacred bond between this boy on the outer edge of adolescence and his sister who cannot yet say his name. I think perhaps she allows him to hang on to that thin thread of childhood he is generally trying to stretch his way out of. It’s an interesting and tender thing to watch.
We left our kids and our cottage three days ago and flew to San Francisco for my husband’s semi-annual American Bar Association conference.  When I get to join him on these trips I sleep in and laze around while His Honor attends judicial meetings, then we are off doing some adventuring together.  It’s been a hectic summer for us. I know there was a June and a July in 2016, but I can’t remember where they went. Though it is now August, typically the hottest month of the year, we were shocked when we walked out the doors of our hotel and shivered in the cold summer fog that crept in from the bay. Familiar goosebumps rose on my skin.  DejaVu goosebumps, on aging skin.
Later, sitting on the bed in our room at the Marquis, I searched online for suggestions about how to spend our days under the Golden Gate.  As I scanned various top ten lists of things you shouldn’t miss in San Francisco, I realized I had already done nearly all of them.  I haven’t been to SF for years, probably decades even. It struck me that what I know of San Francisco I owe, almost entirely, to my sister.  Sharon is the oldest of seven kids.  I was kid number six. 
Sherry was about Timothy's age when I was born. It was Sherry who stood on the other side of the high chair and nourished us. When our family moved to Pittsburgh PA from the small town of Shelly, Idaho, Sherry had just graduated from high school.  I was five years old then.  I remember climbing the steps up to the airplane and looking back at my sister, who stood on the tarmac bravely waving, smiling through her tears. It is one of my earliest memories; sitting on that plane in 1963, weeping as we flew away from our dog Schatze and my oldest sister.
Sherry put herself through college at Utah State and Idaho State, ending up with a degree in Speech Pathology.  Through a series of fateful events she ended up working in the Bay Area of northern CA. By then we “three little girls” at the tail end of the seven kids, were swirling into our teenage years.  Sherry had remained connected to our mom and us through long distance calls (in the days when those calls cost a pretty penny) and love packages she sent home.  Matching dresses; Diamond almonds in assorted flavors (before they were available in local stores); super sized taffy suckers from the Lemon Tree; deep red dyed pistachios and salty white ones (the kind that left evidence on your lips when you snuck them from the marble bowl on the dining room shelf.) Books, and jewelry and other tokens of love, Sherry sent from across the country.
When Sherry was settled and working full time, with a place of her own, we extended our summer trips to Idaho further west… over the High Sierras and all the way down to the salty shores of the Pacific Ocean. We camped out on the floor of her apartment.  Swam in her pool and flirted with the guys. Ate Franco American spaghetti and white bread with butter, or ramen noodles we purchased from Cost Plus, before ramen noodles were available in local stores.
Sherry introduced us to Cost Plus, the birthplace of my addiction to unique bargains, a haven of magical finds unavailable anywhere else in America. She drove us to Berkley and the outlet shops, when they really were shops attached to factories, where seconds and over runs were sold at bargain prices; where your sisters had to hold up a sheet around you when you tried on your Gunne Sax dress because there were no dressing rooms. Coit Tower, the Golden Gate, and Fisherman’s Wharf, when the piers were full of real fish and fresh Dungeness crab that was so fresh it didn’t smell fishy. The tiny little pockets inside our cheeks tingled with the taste of Boudin’s warm, fresh sourdough bread. We nearly hyperventilated inhaling the combined scents of salty sea air and rich chocolate at Ghirardelli Square. We were haunted into the foggy night by the echoing bark of sea lions and crashing waves on the rocks along the shoreline. Sausalito and Monterey Bay and the beautiful green landscapes of the wine district. The lunging motion sickness brought on by a trip down Lombard Street. San Francisco, I realized today, is nestled in the cells of my senses, planted there years ago by my oldest sister, and the one just younger than her who followed her to this place.
Today Dave and I decided, on a whim, to hop on a cable car. The driver stood behind me, leaning the full weight of his body back against the lever, his deep voice calling to the riders as they hopped on along the route “Move away from the door”.  My eyes lifted from the rising and falling of the steep streets to the top of the trolley car, with its layers of white painted wood.  The familiar metal bell clanged as we went. Metal screeched against metal as I imagined the massive cables running under the streets pulling us along like the cables that pull an elevator. We rode the California line, up past China Town, where a symphony of drums panted under a long yellow dragon floating through a sea of people.  “Fisherman’s Wharf”, he called as he pulled the lever and rang the bell. If my arthritic knee had not reminded me otherwise, I could have sworn I was fourteen years old!

Except for the evening spent in the police station, reporting my stolen phone and wallet, this has been a beautifully reminiscent trip for me.  It was here, against these waters, that my husband proposed to me over forty years ago.  Here, I found the world a much broader, deeper, more vibrant place than the little potato farming town of Shelly and the brown necked mill worker city of Pittsburgh.  Here I got my first whistle from a passing fella.  Here I found by dreams expanding, and my world unfolding; all under the safe wing of my sister.

Today Sherry texted me, on the phone I no longer have, and asked if I had found the heart she left here (cue Frank Sinatra). It think it's a lost cause.  A part of her will always remain here, even though the rest of her is planted in Utah one house away from us. 
Tomorrow, with a little luck and a case number from the police station, they might allow me to board a plane and go back to Utah.  But for tonight, one last night, I think I’ll turn off the hotel air conditioning and crack open the windows on this high rise, hoping as I drift off to sleep that I can go back to that place where the magic sifts in like summer fog under the great Golden Gate.
Thanks, Seestor.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

FATHER

They divvied up her children among her sisters. She lay unconscious in her hospital bed, a blood clot in her lung and another in her heart. “Prepare yourselves,” the doctor said, and so they devised the plan; this child would go here, and this one there, and on down the line.
Days earlier, in a moment of rage, my father had thrown my mother down the stairs.  She lay there in a heap until she regained herself and crawled up to bed, exhaling into her pillow until she drifted off.  She was pregnant at the time.  When she shocked everyone by recovering, and insisting that her children remain with her, they tried to get her to abort.  “Let’s just see what happens,” she told them.  Months later my sister Ann Marie arrived.  I think she received an extra measure of goodness and tenderness because of the journey she and my mother shared when they descended that flight of stairs.
The other day I spent a few hours with a young friend who had run away from home.  Frustrated and tired, he recounted the anger he felt toward his father.  Ironically, he was angry at his father for being prone to anger.  When I brought this to his attention, he pursed his eyebrows and raised his fist to the air and declared that I have no idea what it feels like to have to live with this kind of anger. I listened.  And then, when he finally let me get a word in, I stopped him.
“I do.  I do know how it feels. You don’t know my past, and you cannot tell me what I know and what I don’t. I know how it feels to watch your mother’s blood run down her neck; to see your brother chased through the kitchen with a baseball bat, or a knife. I know the sound of a fist on the door, on the table, on the flesh.“
He stopped cold, his rant cut off by compassion. His eyes softened and he whispered regret. “Really?  I didn’t know.”
My father was a confusing force in my life.  I know he loved me. I know it. And yet I can hear the voice of  Marianne in the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility, looking back on her relationship with Willoughby.  “I can tell you he really did love you,” Elinor tries to comfort her sister Marianne, to which Marianne responds “But not enough. Not enough.”
Perhaps the most noble thing my father ever did was abandon us.  Because he walked away and never returned, my mother lifted her head to the light and squared her shoulders and on we went, united in our shared history and future.
A handful of years later the man who would be the father to my four children would enter my life and rewrite the definition of father for all of us.  It took me many, many years to understand and embrace the fact that David will not fight with me.  It has taken me as many years over again to understand that David will fight, that he does have a passionate heart and a devotion to causes worth fighting for.  He simply won’t fight with me. For years it made me frustrated. But now, nearly four decades into marriage, I feel the blessed assurance that he is on my side, that he is true and faithful.
Sometimes I try to jump out of myself and into the imagined lives of my children.  I feel their sorrows and their joys and their weaknesses and their marvelous strengths…at least as far as I know them.  And always, in those moments of empathy and imagination, I feel that underlying current of a father who believes in them, who loves them without condition, and who supports and champions them in their honorable choices. That current of fatherly faithfulness runs like blood through the veins; constant and steady and enriching. 

Perhaps it is the contrast that makes my David shine on Fathers Day.  It’s the heart swell that follows the heartache.

Monday, March 28, 2016

40. BRAIN FREEZE (CALVIN)

I have a thing for Slurpees - those frozen confections of the Coke variety. I'm sorry to admit this. I wonder if excessive submission to Slurpee temptation has affected my brain.  You know, too many brain freezes?

Yesterday I followed four-year-old Calvin up the stairs to his bedroom. As we climbed, he reminded me that we were going to make little minions out of polymer clay.
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” I said as we stepped onto the landing. 
He turned to me and said, “Gummy, I think my brain is better than yours.”  He said it somewhat apologetically, like he was sorry this was the case but we would just have to live with it. 
“I know, Buddy.  Good thing I have you around,”
I think on some level he felt a prompting that such a statement might not be socially prudent.  He tried to explain: “I mean, things just stay in my brain. So many things.”  He pursed his eyebrows as he said this, and I was tempted to take him in my arms and tell him I was so sorry.  It has been obvious to us since he was very little, talking in full paragraphs at 18 months old, that he had a gift for communicating. And with that gift we also learned that he had a memory like a magnet and life was just a pile of tiny metal shavings.  Poor boy.
Fortunately for Calvin - the master of logic and memory who is trapped in a pre-school body - he has Beth for a sister.  
Beth is two.  Her passions are the color pink and princesses. She is fearless and funny, and she adores Calvin. Today the two of them ran around the back yard of their home in Spokane, (where I am visiting) in search of the Easter eggs their daddy had hidden. By the time they had collected all the eggs my heart was just a puddle on the back porch. Beth would spy a purple egg up in the branches of a tree, and Calvin would reach up, grab it, and put it in her basket.  When Cal found an egg before Bethy did, she would squeal “Good job, Bud!”  It was almost unreal how sweet they were to each other, and how joyful they each were for the other’s success.  I wondered silently if these were the same children I had taken to the play place in the mall last night.
Tonight as Jordon, Annie and I sat talking at the close of this Easter Sunday, we were recounting the joys and challenges of these treasures God entrusted to their care. We were recollecting Calvinisms through the last few years. Then Annie lamented: “I’m worried… I mean seriously worried… about Calvin’s spiritual future.” When I asked her why, she replied that he was just so logical.  And intelligent.  She was worried that he would try to find logic in the gospel of Christ and…well, that it  might come up short.  So many adversaries of the Word use words to explain Him away.  Beth, well, she’s all heart.  People with heart and a propensity for goodness find easy access to direction from the Holy Spirit.  But the minds of scientists are frightening to us who are feeling-based. Today when we were reading a book about dinosaurs Calvin commented that perhaps he would be a scientist when he grows up. That powerful left brain can do marvelous things.
I’ve been pondering Annie’s words tonight, while I whisper prayers for her and Jordon and Cal and Beth.  I’m thinking about some of the most intelligent people I know.  People whose left brains (the side of logic) are well oiled and purring inside their heads. I’m married to one of these. And the Spirit reminds me that this man, who is brilliant, wipes the tears from his eyes in movies, at church, during Hallmark commercials  and even ball games far more than I do!  In fact, next to Dave, I feel like a calloused Neanderthal. 
Not that I know anything about the human brain and its functions, or even that much about the feeling heart.  But it is apparent to me that logic does not have the intrinsic power to override feelings. We tend to categorize things, and people, saying they are either logical or passionate. I believe we do ourselves a disservice in this.  So I am telling myself to cut it out! Quit categorizing!

I want Calvin to know that his brain, which is for sure better than mine, is no more important than his heart.  His Momma is a perfect example of the power of the heart to work hand in hand with the brain.  She is gifted in her work, highly respected in her field, and renowned for her technique as a therapist in Speech Language Pathology. But her sweet spot, the place where she hits home-runs in life, rests in the tender part of her chest. Let your heart lead you, little man, and then your brain.

And speaking of brains, I’ve heard we humans generally do not use our's to their full capacity. Not by a long shot. I’m thinking that if we are only using a portion of our brain's potential, that there is much we are not able to understand, and perhaps are not yet supposed to understand, that will one day be available to us. One of the things that intrigues me about my David is that he is not bothered by unanswered questions.  If his heart is at ease, he is not disturbed that his brain does not comprehend certain things.  He believes, without apologies, that the Lord will fill in the blanks in His own time.  For a man with a brain that makes it impossible for anyone to beat him in word games, he sure has a simple kind of faith. 

Calvin, there will be things you will not be able to figure out down the road. Maybe even tomorrow morning. Let that be ok. Trust that God knows how it all fits together, and that one day He will share it with us when we are able to understand it.

I see myself in 1000 years or so, looking back on major questions I have about my church, my life, and the many weaknesses I have that I cannot overcome. I see my brain, which by then may be functioning closer to capacity (having been removed from the "brain freeze" of humanness),  understanding what is not logical to me now. I see myself saying “Duh, why didn’t I think of that back then?”
For now, because I am basically a four year old spirit in a senior citizen body, I have chosen to trust that even though I don’t understand certain things, Someone does.  And He has asked me to trust Him.

And so I do.  And so should you, boy of my heart!
______________________________________________________________________

This, my dears, is the last of my Lent writing for 2016.  It is currently 2:30 am and Calvin will be jumping on my bed in a couple hours. I have spilled my brains and my heart into this exercise and shared it with the people I love as a token of gratitude to my Lord for the capacity to communicate. I think it is marvelous that we get to interlace our lives and thoughts with each other. I am living proof that by communicating with others, we understand more about ourselves.


These past 40 days of writing combine to represent my hopes and desires; concepts that I wish to take with me to the hereafter, and that I also wish to leave to my posterity.  I have too much physical stuff hanging around my house (my poor family knows this!) You can toss all of it when I am gone.  But these words? They speak my heart, unedited and written most often after very long and tiring days. Forgive my mistakes and lack of literary finesse. Take whatever nuggets are useful and inspiring and keep them.  They are what I would put in your HOPE CHESTS and mine.  I love you all, and I do love my Lord.