A Year

Hard to believe that a year has passed since my last blog post. A lot has happened in those twelve months! Here’s a recap:

Last April: we closed on our Salt Lake house

May: Anna had hip surgery

June: John officially retired (his short-term disability ended as well as his job)

July: we moved to Oregon

August-December: we purchased an acre of property adjacent to our daughter, Morgan and her husband, Ryan; we researched wetlands and met with the state of Oregon to make certain that where and what we wanted to build would be legal; we fought red tape and blackberry bushes; we hired an architect to design our house and shop based on Anna’s sketches; we got all the necessary okays from Tillamook County and finally got our building/other permits.

January-April 2018: we hired 3 excavators—and finally found one who could do the job; we dug trenches for utilities, poured the foundation and stem walls for the house and shop.

More importantly, we celebrated John’s 72nd birthday, thanking God he is still active and pain-free. And alive.

What’s next? In the next couple weeks, we hope to get the flooring prepped and poured. After that, we wait for the frame- and truss-builders who should complete their work by the end of May. We hope.

We’ve learned to literally take one day at a time. Some days I’m not so good at it. After all, we’ve been in Oregon for nearly 10 months and all we have to show for it is outlines of concrete in grass. I am so very aware of the ticking clock and wonder if this house will be “ours” instead of just “mine.” Each time I throw questions into the sky, the same answer keeps coming back: “Trust Me.” Only God knows the future. Because of that truth, I remind myself that He cradles the present with loving hands. I know He cares for the minuscule concerns that keep me awake at night. I don’t need to try to figure everything out or plan for every contingency. All He asks me to do is keep trusting Him.

I’ve had a year to practice. Maybe someday I’ll get the hang of it.

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Lasts

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After 27 years of ownership, we are selling our house. As we pack everything, I am continually struck by how many “lasts” we face—the last cupboard emptied, the last letter I wrote from my office, the last meal in our sunny dining room. Little stuff, but I am marking their place in our history as I say farewell. And yes, it’s sad. We have so many memories tied to that home! And yet I realize these “lasts” could be much more heartbreaking. I am so grateful that I don’t have to say goodbye to John…that I am not faced with “Is this John’s last breath?” or “Did his heart beat one final time?”

I can’t help but think of how many people don’t realize until it’s too late that they just faced a “last” without knowing it. A dear friend kissed her husband goodbye without being aware it was their last kiss—he passed away from a heart attack later that day. Four parents—acquaintances of my daughter’s—lost their children this week to the devastating genetic disorder, MPS III. Another sweet friend called her husband for dinner—and he never made it to the table.

Lasts can be excruciatingly painful. Yet God is the Lord of firsts. He promises that His love and mercies will never end and that they are new each morning[1]. Today I resolve to cling to these beautiful and fresh firsts—I will start my morning by thanking the Lord for His many blessings and for the ones yet to come. I will be grateful that we love because He first loved us[2]. And most importantly—that I will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…[3]

 

1 Lamentations 3:22-23

2 1 John 4:19

3 Matthew 6:33

Words

Recently I was introduced to a talented and witty comedian. A group of us watched his comedy act and yes, he was funny. For a few minutes. When he started talking about genitalia, the room got quiet…except for some nervous laughter (probably mine). Although the comedian used the anatomically correct term for a man’s genitals, he used a pejorative expression for a woman’s. Hint: it began with P.

Every woman should be offended by that derogatory label. It reduces the essence of a female to her sexual use. Nothing more. She has no heart. No mind. No soul. Yes ladies, it implies, that is all you are good for. Even more tragic is that same word/idea was recently promoted by a women’s march to inform the world that they are more than just that reduction. Uh, excuse me? Why would anyone stoop to use a phrase that degrades womanhood to supposedly elevate the gender? Isn’t that counterintuitive?*

I imagine someone responding with, “Don’t you realize that meanings of words change? What that term used to imply is different now.”

Thank you for your two cents. And I agree. However I would venture to say we should avoid volatile words that slander one’s race, value, gender, etc. as much today as yesteryear. Ask the Jews what the Nazis (and other “ethnic cleansers”) labeled them to justify genocide (their words diminished the Jews to subhuman). Or ask African Americans what society called them two hundred years ago to excuse slavery…and why some people today use the term when insulting them. What would happen if a United Nations interpreter chose that comedian’s word to describe a woman because they thought the two words were interchangeable?

Words—and labels—matter. I will grieve the day my granddaughter comes home from school crying because someone insulted her with that derogatory name. But I shudder to imagine that she herself would use that atrocious terminology to describe her gender because it is “normal” and “everyone says it.”

Women—wake up. Don’t tolerate debasing labels for the sake of so-called humor. And definitely don’t embrace defamation of your own gender to try to make a point.

Can a woman carry fire next to her chest and her clothes not be burned? (paraphrased from Proverbs 6:27 ESV)

*I almost used the word “crazy” or “schizophrenic” but I am being conscientious of my word choices!

Plans

I was never very good at chess—probably because there were too many variables, too many game pieces and way too much strategizing. I found it difficult to plan far enough ahead and make the right moves to win the game.

Lately I’ve found that “planning well” has again eluded me. At this stage in John’s and my life, we face too many variables. Like: what if the house isn’t ready to sell in the next couples weeks? What if the doctors say we need to stay in Salt Lake for John’s medical treatment? What if we haven’t downsized our possessions enough? What if…? We’ve planned, re-planned, modified and changed our action points many times in the last several months. Just this morning I ran across our “Master Plan” and scoffed at how our present situation looks nothing like I thought it would be by February 2, 2017.

A man plans his ways…and the Lord laughs. So says a variation of the biblical proverb*. I always took it to mean that God snickers at our feeble attempts at planning. Not so much anymore. I believe His laughter (if He actually does laugh at our schemes) is more of a doting father’s who sees his child trying to work out all the angles and contingencies of an unknown future. I image Him shaking His head as we play at life like we’re playing a game of chess, trying to strategize so that we have everything figured out. If this happens, then I will do this, but if that happens then I will….

How silly of me to try to manage outcomes. How can I cover every possibility? I have only to look at my most recent “Master Plan” to know I fail. Again and again. If I go further back in my history I see how God has sometimes taken me on completely different paths than I had wanted. But always, He directed my steps in ways that benefitted me and glorified Him.

So…should I continue to make plans? Sure. But I am learning to hold them very loosely. With open palms I lift them up to the only One who knows the future and say, “What do You think, Lord?” With confidence, I move forward, sensitized to the possibility of His gentle hand steering me in a different direction.

(*The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9 NASB).

The Waiting Room

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Most of us have experienced sitting in a waiting room to see a doctor or dentist. Perhaps a lawyer or minister. One thing we can all agree upon: the experience isn’t pleasant. The chairs are uncomfortable, the magazines out of date, the wait much too long. Sometimes the rooms have interesting features like an aquarium or TV screen with a distracting show. One thing these rooms have in common is we are barred from the “holy of holies”—the place behind the barrier of doors, monitored by what feels like armed guards.

The last time John and I went to see a doctor, I couldn’t help but notice the demeanor of our fellow wait-ers. Many stared ahead, avoiding eye contact. Some spoke in hushed tones. Others clutched the hand of their loved one, apprehension marking their faces.

Over the years, I’ve heard people talk about “being in God’s waiting room.” They describe their anxiety as they mentally pace. They wring their hands as they stare at the barrier, wondering if or when God will “open the door” and answer their prayers.

Hoping that exercise would bring me comfort, I recently pictured myself in God’s waiting room. Surely He knows I am there. He knows the prayers that press against my heart. In patience I rest and wait. I was just getting comfortable with this imaginary scene when a thought struck me. Um…hold it. Isn’t there a Bible verse that says I can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence*? Then why in the world am I in the waiting room?

Without fear, I push open the barriers and march into the inner room. High and exalted, God sits on a throne with His robe filling the temple^. I mount the steps, take a tremulous breath and crumple at His feet. Leaning my head against my Father’s knee, I pour out all my anxieties.

I don’t need to wait for an appointment. I don’t have to sit outside until some angelic messenger ushers me into God’s presence. I can approach Him at any time, day or night. My Father waits for me…so that He can lavish mercy and grace to help me in my time of need. Praise God.

*Hebrews 4:16     ^Isaiah 6:1

Abba

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December 8, 2016: It’s 1:17am. Hands clenched, I stare at a dark ceiling. I can’t sleep. Not because I don’t want to, but because I am aware of suffering…right next to me.

John is hurting.

I hear every whimper, every groan, every sigh. He appears to be asleep, but his body is saying otherwise. He struggles to turn to his side, the effort almost impossible. After another moan, he again settles.

I can’t take it anymore. As quietly as possible, I get up and head to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Weariness consumes me. As I wait for the water to heat, I calculate that I’ve had only three hours of sleep…if I can call that half-stupor “rest.” Head bowed, I slump against the counter.

“God, please…”

That’s all I can utter. What prayer do I begin that I haven’t said a thousand times already in the last few days? Does He even hear me?

I stare at the ceiling again—this time its details are visible because of the range hood light. I know He sees. I know He hears. What more can I say?

The Lord’s Prayer tumbles into my mind. Jesus told His followers to call God in heaven “Abba” which roughly translates to Daddy.

“Daddy…have mercy,” I plead to the stark white above me. That’s all. I don’t know what to ask for that doesn’t sound selfish or whiny.

After I finish my tea, I crawl back under the covers in the dark bedroom. I hold my breath, listening. John’s side of the bed is too quiet. With trepidation, I reach over to make certain he is okay. When I feel warm skin, I breathe a sigh. I whisper into the darkness, “Thanks, Daddy.”

Knowing I can call the God of the universe my Father cocoons my heart with comfort. No matter what John and I face, I know my Daddy is watching over us.

The “C” Word and the “P” Word

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Cancer—the “C” word. Say it and you can get a range of reactions from something short of a scream to a shrug with a “Oh, my <fill in the blank> had that.” A rather broad scope, wouldn’t you say? But both responses are hard on the heartstrings. The almost-scream makes me want to pat their back and comfort them. As for the shrug—I’ve found that silence causes the least trauma (to me). One question or comment will cause the “shrugger” to launch into a blow-by-blow description of the experience their friend/loved one/neighbor had—including gruesome details and usually punctuated by the pronouncement “Oh, they’re dead now.”

Definitely TMI.

So what is the optimum reaction to a cancer diagnosis? I’m sure it is different for people, but I am most comforted by the “P” word—“I’ll Pray for you.” Regardless of whether or not they ever get around to praying is irrelevant. I am still humbled by that simple phrase. Their very statement is a prayer. And it’s enough.

And by the way, I don’t mind hearing “I’ll pray for you” over and over. Tell me as many times as you want. I won’t get tired of it. And the beauty is God doesn’t get tired of it either.

(Originally posted December 22, 2016)