for mom

We will all shout for joy when you are victorious

we will lift up our banners in the name of our God

There must be some things

that the heart understands

when the mind does not

well of course we know that

I think that is why I cried when I saw you

over the phone tonight

and all the

(is memorabilia the right word?)

the precious things

the mile posts

the rewards

the symbols of struggle

the art produced through it all

it may be you would never have produced such

ART

had it not been for the darkness

sorrow

tears

wailing

pain

which seems horrid

and some people would look at that and ask…

does God really exist then?

surely God would not allow suffering like this 

but you have looked at it

boldly

or sometimes shaking

between fingers-covering-eyes

but looked at it all the same

all the time

every time

and asked instead

where’s Jesus in this story?

because you know

Jesus is always right there

in the story

with us

with us.

and that’s what I’m learning

from your story

to look for Jesus

every where

when

how

and even though I don’t know many details

that’s why my heart cries

when I see the

ART

which is, to borrow dad’s word,

glorious

in the truest sense of that word.

Glorious because it points my heart

straight back to

the real Glory

because

seriously people

have you seen what God can do?

So

well-deserved congratulations

on anniversaries

on victories

and on beginnings

and may God grant you

many

many

many

years

to tell this story of His victory

your victory

and even a little bit our victory.

(and now I think there’s a favorite song your granddaughter would like to sing for you…)

(96) belong {five minute friday}

This word – belong – it feels appropriate, meaningful, after weeks of being in and out of the homes of family and extended family and strangers-who-are-actually-family and friends. We’ve driven miles upon miles of late, through a handful of massive western states, and hashed and rehashed conversations, trying again and again to be the ministers of reconciliation that we’re called to be. Well, that doesn’t quite sound right. But that line from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has come to mind at least a time or two for me – isn’t that what it’s all about, the ministry of reconciliation? Ultimately reconciliation to God, but these past few weeks have been filled with many opportunities, some grabbed onto and others lost, for reconciliation between people.

What does it really mean to be part of a family? I’ve wondered this as well. I’ve married into this family I’ve been visiting and I’m still an outsider in many ways. Going through the photo albums means weeding out handfuls of pictures that don’t belong anymore because that person isn’t part of the family any more. (Divorce seems like such a terrible thing.) I’m a recent addition – just 3 years – and in some ways, I feel the shortness of that period of belonging. I hear the reminiscing, the stories, the nostalgia, the anger, the hurt, the bitterness, the resentment, the longing, and I know I have barely scratched the surface of this family’s collective story. But I want to belong and so I listen closely, I balance in the awkward tipping point between my comfort zone and their modus operandi. Going forward, I am part of the writing of this family story. I belong in it, even if I don’t quite all the time feel that I belong yet.

***

(After about a bajillion years of blog silence, okay, just a month, I’m breaking the ice with a post in response to the writing prompt courtesy of Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday writing challenge – 5-minute free write, free of editing and self-critique. Check out her blog at lisajobaker.com).

(88) deep breath

across the field

It’s a small house just a few hundred feet back from the highway, behind a line of big juniper trees. There’s a bird bath and a few bird houses mounted on tall stakes beneath one of the trees. A big pecan tree shades the garage and a rose hedge divides the back garden from the dusty open field where herds of “goat head” thorns wait to pierce unwary feet. We throw the trash all together into the big burn barrels, but Grandpa stopped burning the trash years ago, they tell us. Now someone comes by to pick it up. There’s an old paper box under the sink, lined with newsprint, and we send it out to the burn barrels a few times a day with one of the uncles or cousins. One of the grandkids swings up into the tree in the back grass and a cousin starts a pick-up basketball game, launching the ball toward the goal mounted over the storeroom door. An uncle makes sausage gravy and I make biscuits from a mix and we serve up a hearty breakfast around the counter in the kitchen where Grandma and Grandpa always used to eat and watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

at breakfast

basketball goal

The house expands with an effortless deep breath and we all rush in to taste the memories together. We pull down a few old photo albums and relive the glory days of the house, when the grass was greener and the irrigation tank was surrounded with willows. It was like another world, their own forest right in the front yard. The tank was bulldozed years ago. Grandpa used to flood the yard to water the grass and there are pictures of all those little boys – especially the 6 older grandsons – splashing around in it. My husband is second-oldest and he remembers it all so well. This is one of his favorite places in the world, he tells me. “Your other favorite place is wherever I am, right?” I joke to make him smile.

back yard sunset

This house knows how to hold a big family. It doesn’t feel crowded, even when we’re all milling around, overflowing through the kitchen and onto the mauve recliners and flower-print sofas, great-grandkids rushing in and out through the front and back doors, just as happy to play here as their dads always were. They’ve taken my 23-year-old brother-in-law, the youngest cousin, captive and he seems happy enough to acquiesce to their wishes and play with them. We play cards and CatchPhrase, drink a lot of Coke and Dr. Pepper, and eat New Mexican-style Mexican food almost every day. And we muddle through the mess of family together too. Love covers a multitude of sins, it’s written, and we do our best to love over and through the hurtful words and hurt feelings, trying to hear all sides to the stories and judge not, lest we be judged.

living room sitting

catchphrase

The funeral is on Saturday afternoon. In the morning, we go and say goodbye to Grandpa’s body. Grandpa’s wearing a purple tie and so is my husband. I bring him a handful of tissue and hug him tightly, as if a hug could soothe the ache of grief. Six of the 8 grandsons are here this weekend and they’re enlisted to wear white gloves and carry the casket. It’s strange to think of all the times he swung them up onto his lap or carried them around as babies and now they carry him. After the graveside, we escape the bright sun and tumble back into the cool church gym where they’ve laid out a Southwestern potluck feast, fried chicken, potato casseroles, a spread of salads which include pasta and Jell-O, and a table heavy with red velvet and pink lemonade cakes.

coffin

That night, the house is fuller than it might be ever again and I know that Grandpa is loving every moment. I hope Grandma feels the joy too, but she’s at her new home, where it’s clean and cool and they look after her 24/7. Her daughters told her with heavy hearts that Daddy had died, but maybe it’s a blessing that she can’t remember anything for long. When we visit and she asks us if her sweetheart will come to visit later, we say maybe he will, but he’s busy now. “He’s a wonderful man,” she tells us and we agree.

with Zacks gma edited

And then the house breathes out and we disperse again. By Tuesday morning, all the extended family is gone. By Wednesday afternoon, it’s just my husband and I. A day or two later and we’re cleaning to leave it nice, just like Grandma and Grandpa would have liked. The spare key is hidden for when his aunt and uncle come by on the weekend. We leave the light on over the sink and in the hallway and say goodbye to every room. All the beds are made up and we’ve washed a couple loads of towels and washcloths, the last evidence of the big family visit last weekend. There are a few to-go containers filled with cake still on the kitchen counter and I feel bad throwing them away. My husband stops the grandfather clock and the finality of the goodbye sets in hard and heavy.

Grandpas shoes

The house is quiet and empty as we drive away that last time. When will we be here again? Sometime soon the daughters, his aunts, will divide out the furniture, the knick-knacks, and sell the house and the farm. This precious place won’t ever be the same, not without Grandma and Grandpa here. The memories are strong and sweet with gratitude, accompanied by that edge of grief burning our throats.

One last glance over our shoulders and we’re off. This is the life we are living, a life of loving and letting go.

looking back

(87) a wake up call

“The Wake-Up Call for the One is feeling a sense of intense personal obligation…” (The Wisdom of the Enneagram)

Funny that this little line should land in my inbox tonight.

Intense personal obligation.

You mean about things like feeling responsible and stressed about issues with someone else’s child’s health insurance, a matter I cannot help with or solve and one they are handling perfectly fine?

Or somehow being available in relationship, all the time, to just about anyone who crosses my path, from the stranger at the back of church, to the friend I haven’t talked to in half a year who calls out of the blue, to the family I live with?

Or possibly about orchestrating peace at a funeral weekend with a large extended family, some of whom I haven’t yet met, and between whom there are a variety of very confusing and seemingly volatile relationships?

This last one is a heavy burden at present, although it’s a burden no one asked me to shoulder. When parties on all sides are loudly calling on everyone else to grow up and act like adults, well, I feel infuriated and queasy, wondering if I’ll even be able to hold myself together and act like an adult in the middle of it all. I am just not that good at hiding my anger or other emotions. As much as I’d like to bring peace with me, I don’t exactly know how one becomes a peaceful person. If peace is a feeling, I’m not feeling it right now. If it’s a gift, I’m not sure I’ve received it.

It would always be easier to face this kind of thing if I was in “a good space,” you know, centered. But then again, more often than not, it seems we’re thrown into these sink or swim occasions without all the proper preparation we believe necessary and, more often than not, that turns out to be okay, or even a good thing.

In the middle of it, in the sinking or swimming, in the raging, nauseating, unjust craziness of it all, well, I suppose I can learn to trust Jesus.

He knows the stories. He knows these people, inside and out. He even has me figured out on a level I can only begin to imagine and He isn’t worried. Maybe if I can lay down that intense personal obligation and just reach out for His hand — forget sinking or swimming — I can walk on water.

(86) it’s a wonderful life-cycle {flashback}

When they left today, Grandma said goodbye to my niece, saying “Have a wonderful life.”

I realize suddenly that I am not ready to lose my grandparents, to bid them goodbye. I realize that I hurried through my goodbyes today. What if those were my last?

It is strange to watch as one generation prepares to depart as another enters. The world as I know it is changing. I will lose my remaining grandparents someday soon and my niece may not even remember meeting them. They will be a story to her, not real people.

As I see Grandpa fading, I realize they are almost stories to me. Who they are is not who I remember them to be, not the grandparents who took us shopping and out to lunch, who let us spend the night in their hotel room when they came to visit, then took us to breakfast at Marie Calendar’s across the parking lot, who lived in the gorgeous old house made more wonderful by the huge dollhouse, the muddy creek along the spacious back yard, the big trampoline, and the tire swing, who let me carry away 50 pounds of apples off their trees and delighted in stories of my newfound interest in canning, who came to piano and dance recitals, school presentations and end-of-the-year parties, college graduations, and weddings.

Today my niece, just 5 or so months old, sat with Grandpa and gnawed on his big thumb and fingers. He looked at her with this sort of softness and muffled delight. Maybe he was remembering her mama, his granddaughter, sitting on his lap a couple decades ago. Or maybe even his daughter, her grandma sitting there once.

***

I wrote the above on April 10, 2013. I saw Grandpa again in August and he passed away in September. This April visit was the last time my niece spent with Grandpa. The life cycle continues and the challenge is to live in the moment.

He would want us to have a wonderful life, to play a lot of music, to work hard, to travel well and often, to love our families, to take care of each other and of people less fortunate than us.

I think of him often, but I anticipate I will especially when I vaccinate my future children and remember his fight against polio, when I drive by the Clackamas shopping center and remember how he almost-single-handedly tackled the project of convincing homeowners to sell their land so they could build a grand new shopping center, when I pass by Marie Calendar’s or Shari’s (although I probably won’t stop!), when I come across lemon meringue pie (his favorite), or happen to have donuts and coffee for breakfast.

This life is strange, thrilling, terrifying, so full of love, so full of relationships, so full of sorrow. This reflection is all the more poignant in the wake of Zack’s grandpa’s sudden passing on Friday. I actually wrote a draft of this post on Thursday night and then on Friday night I was helpless on the other end of the phone, unable to reach out to comfort my grieving husband.

I am writing this to remember Grandpa, but more than that to struggle through these seasons of growing up, growing older, watching generations cycle and families shift. The transitions are sometimes slow, sometimes sudden, always laced with a intense spectrum of emotions. I don’t always understand it, but I am caught up in the unbearably beautiful swirl of it all.

(73) grace on the kitchen floor

I sat on the kitchen floor
in the midst of the unfinished process of the day’s life
mostly just a heap of dishes waiting there
and a half-finished meal in process
and the floor in constant need of mopping

And this beautiful, small person
climbed all over me,
welcoming me to her level
with overwhelming affection,
sharing my tea and
showing me what life really looks like.

There was so much grace in that moment;

That is where I want to live.

(71) letter #2 to my niece

Dear little one,

I had a bit of a hard week and today, after the miracle, after the laughter and long sigh of relief, I could retrace this miniature journey and see how blessed you and I are to have such wise family and friends. Each person I spoke to had a word or phrase of wisdom that stuck with me and helped me be calm and attentive in the important conversation today.

And you helped too, sweetheart. You are teaching me that loving you means making space for you and letting you fill up that space. I suppose there are times when us grown-ups must just get things done (dishes and food preparation and cleaning and such), but is there anything else really as truly valuable and sweet as tickling your ears just to hear your laugh? Or reading (or reciting) Moo Baa La La La again with your cuddly little self in my lap? Or retrieving smashed pear from the recesses of your high chair so you can continue your tactile exploration of food?

Without even trying, you fill me with such joy and hope, just when I need it the most. And it makes me want to separate more unscheduled time just to watch you curiously explore the world. I think you are teaching me to slow down and practice embracing the moment, little one. No wonder Jesus encouraged us to become like little children.

You cannot begin to imagine how completely loved you are, just as you are. I hope you will never doubt it. And I cannot begin to explain how thankful I am for you. It’s nighttime now and I hope you sleep well, amor. I am looking forward to seeing you again in the morning.

All my love,

Auntie Ani