Pleasing My Father

E54EBB88-E0C8-4FEE-B1A7-18A07D2E5861

I went out to get the mail. I knew it probably wouldn’t be there, but I needed some fresh air…and steps…always steps.

It wasn’t there.

I wasn’t ready to go back into the overheated house. (One of the challenges of living with an older person with no insulation on her bones.) I knew that older people kept their homes warmer. I just wasn’t ready to be in a house where the furnace ran most of the day. The air was warm and sometimes hard for me to breathe.

Fresh air would do my brain some good. I sat in my chair and soaked in the sun and bird songs around me. My eyes closed in a moment of sweetness.

As soon as my eyes opened the sweetness was gone. No longer did the bluest sky fill my vision. Nope. All I could see was the dirt and debris. And the song of the birds was replaced by my father’s voice. I was transported back to high school, I found Dad in the garage cleaning and grousing. Dad took great pride in his well manicured lawn and clean garage.

The image barely passed and I found myself looking for a broom and dust pan. Items found, I quickly set about the task of sweeping the garage, porch, and front walk.

Sometime around my third pile of sand and stuff, I thought, “Dad would be pleased.”

My dad died in 1989. I never felt like he was proud of me. Not proud that I was fourth runner up to Miss Teenage Columbus. Not proud that I was a First Class Girl Scout. Not proud that my class elected me to student council as I was entering High School. Not proud that I graduated in the top 10% of my class of over 30. Not proud of anything I did, or who I was.

Once he told me I’d never write anything anyone would ever want to read.

And yet, here I was sweeping out a garage in a house he never lived in…hoping he would be pleased with me, with the job I had done, that I’d even thought to care.

When I was all finished I sat back down in my chair. I felt a brief wave of sadness flow over my heart. But just as quickly as it was gone, I felt a warmth—the warmth of a smile. In that mysterious way of knowing, I knew it wasn’t a smile from my dad. This smile came straight from my Holy Father. The One who knows me, loves me, walks with me, stays right by my side. The One who created me, sustains me, encourages me, strengthens me. The One who is always proud of me.

My name is written on his hands.

So is yours.

DDC5D52C-C446-4B30-8D1D-102B2F0C4BFF

Last Words…

(Once again going through writing files. Finding this the day after the tragic helicopter crash that killed nine people in California, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter, just seemed serendipitous. That and realizing how sick my mom was last week, well, I just want to encourage us to say those things that need to be said to find healing, comfort, and closure.)

My dad died in August 1989. He had cancer of the bladder that metastasized to his lungs, kidneys, and finally the brain. In July, he had a seizure, and while his body kept functioning, my dad was gone. I came home while he was still in the hospital. I was sitting with Dad, giving Mom a break, when the fog in his brain lifted. He began speaking clearly and using familiar hand gestures and expressions. It was so good to see him. He started to make me a diagram on the tablet I was writing on. About thirty seconds into what he was explaining his writing and his speech began to slur, and he was back in the fog.

A few weeks later, we received a call from Mom. The hospice nurse had told her to gather the family. They didn’t know if he would even make it through the day. It was the quickest trip from Kansas City to Columbus we ever made. That was Friday. Dad lingered until Wednesday. Each of us had our time by his bedside. We all said lots of things, but I don’t know what he heard. More than anything I said, what I wanted was to hear him say he loved me…one more time.

Last words. They hold such power and weight. Jesus knew that. As he came to the end of his time, he gathered the disciples close, and gave them his undivided attention and teaching. As I think through those lessons I’m thankful Jesus’ last words to Peter weren’t about his betrayal, but were an instruction to feed Jesus’ sheep.

Last words. Here’s the problem with them. Jesus knew when he was going to die. He had the opportunity to plan out those final meetings with the people who mattered the most to him—an advantage not many of us have. We rarely have a clue what could happen in a day. This was driven home to me when the husband of a friend had a colonoscopy done, and two weeks later he was gone. Or when my fifteen year old nephew fell off a cliff at church camp and died. Or when one month after becoming friends with a precious, encouraging woman, she was killed in a head on automobile accident.

So here’s what I think the challenge for us is. We have to learn to somehow live as if all our words were our last words. As if all our lessons to our children were the last lessons we were going to give. Would it make a difference? Hopefully, there would be more love and grace. When asked if he knew he only had a short time to live if he would change anything, John Wesley replied he would not, implying he was already living with a sense of the importance of each moment. Are we there yet? I know I’ve got room for improvement.

In Ken Gire’s book, Reflective Living, he discusses the Shema. He describes how important this was to the Jewish believer. It would be the first thing they said every morning and the last thing said every night. Their last words before they died would be the Shema: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:5, NIV).”

If we were living this kind of ALL consuming love, perhaps we would come to say all the things we need to say while we’re alive. I believe living all out this way will make Jesus’ last words more real to us, and help our words, first and last, count more now…

…and in the end.

Tracing and Anticipating

I wrote this in 2009 and posted it as a note on Facebook–it came up as “memories” reminder. I’m reposting it and will edit it later. I needed the message.

wp-tracing-abc

Our three year old grandson, Asher, started pre-school this fall. From the get go, we knew he was a bright child. He even came on his due date. We watched Baby Einstein videos with him until we all knew them by heart. Very early, he knew his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

At Pre-school they are teaching the kids their letters and numbers and having them trace them. Asher walks around with his left hand in the air, at the ready for the next thing to trace. If he isn’t tracing the letters, he’s counting how many characters or letters are in the word or string of words. He traces letters on the TV, on boxes, on books, from the newspaper, or on the shirt someone has on. One day, I found him sitting on the floor in the dining room. We have a shelf there with accident/spare clothes for him. He had all his spare shirts lying out and his own shirt off. When I asked what he was doing he looked at me with that “isn’t it obvious, Mema” look. Then, as matter of factly as he could, he informed me that he was tracing. Every letter around him screams to be traced!

Reflecting on Asher’s tracing, I began to see three components that made Asher such a good tracer. First, he walked through his day, minute by minute and room by room, anticipating, no expecting, that there would be letters to trace or count. What do you eagerly anticipate? A quick read of Romans 8 paints a clear picture of what we need to be anticipating.

Anticipating that God is at work, that he has a plan and it includes us, drives us, spurs us, motivates us to be ready. Asher walks around expecting to find something to trace. His little hand is often in the air, making circles, like an airplane getting ready to land. The word tells us we are to be ready, to always have an answer when someone asks us what are hope is about.

Could you do that? I’m not asking if you know some specific plan or canned presentation. I don’t care if you have scripture memorized, but can you (from a sincere heart) tell someone, “This is where I was. This is what God in Christ did for me. And this is where I’m headed.” It’s your story, are you ready to tell it?

And finally, I have been so impressed by Asher’s focus. His questions reveal his passion to learn more. He listens to all our conversations. I know this because often my words come back to me through him. It has caused me to be more conscious of what I say and how I say it. We’ve even had to resort to spelling things we want to keep above his head. Everything he sees is an item to trace. If he’s not tracing letters, then his finger runs around the circumference or perimeter of an item. Some days he carries his step stool from room to room so that he can be sure to catch whatever you’re doing.

Right now Asher seems to be practicing the fine art of learning. It reminded me of Brother Lawrence’s continual practice of the awareness of God. And I started to wonder: what keeps me from anticipating God at every turn? Do I have preconceived and limiting notions about who God is and what he can do? What keeps me from being ready? Is it fear, or busyness, or ignorance of the urgency, or God help us: lack of love? What keeps me from being focused? The enemy is the expert at divide and conquer. If he can get us to thinking in terms of sacred and secular, he knows it’s just a short distance disconnecting our head and heart.

When I was in seminary the second time around, a Sunday School teacher asked our younger daughter, Beth (Asher’s mom), what she wanted to be when she grew up. Beth’s answer struck the teacher enough that she made sure to tell me. Beth’s answer was, “a student like my mom.” There is always a need for us to put into practice what we know, but oh, that God would rekindle in each of us the insatiable desire to learn.

Then we would, like Asher, be anticipating, ready, and focused.

wp-asher-scrabble-3

Getting Ready for Reunion

WP HS 40 yrs

August 8 is rapidly approaching.

My 40th High School Reunion.

How can it be that?

Did I blink?

Did I slip into some kind of Brigadoon?

Am I really staring at turning 60 in two short years?

So many questions. So little time.

Some days I feel like I’ve lived five different lives, and then it’s like I haven’t lived at all.

One of the ways I sort through thoughts and feelings is to put the words out in front of me. I do my best thinking out loud.

Today’s Reunion Thought: Angst Revisited

WP HS no more angst

Definition: noun
1. a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.

I will never forget walking up the sidewalk by what was then the practice field. It was wide and long…very long, and I was having trouble breathing.

I was sure I would never forgive my father for uprooting me from the place where I felt like I was finally starting to connect.

I didn’t know anyone here. I was sure no one would ever want to know me.

Mustn’t cry. But I wanted to cry and to run. Life was over. I was sure of it.

WP HS crowded halls

And so began the awkward angst-filled dance called High School. All the struggles with wanting to fit in, wanting to be liked and loved. The only moments when I didn’t feel alone were the moments when I happened to sit with a girlfriend in the bathroom weeping over the latest break-up. “What’s wrong with us?” we would cry.

Oh the battles with the monster “Enough.” Never smart enough. Never thin enough. Never enough.

WP HS coffee

It wasn’t until many years later when I got together with two friends from the ‘Burg and listened to them that I realized how un-unique my feelings were.

I’ve been doing some online reading about the experiences of others as they struggled with the whole reunion battle. Should I go? Why bother?

It seems the older we get the greater the need to look back. Who would have thought that what lies ahead would hold scarier moments than first loves won and lost, first jobs, and first wings of freedom.

Someone likened going to a reunion to getting a ‘do over.’ I can live with that. I’ve been living my do over for several years. And some of that process and growth has actually been helped by unexpected connections I’ve made on Facebook.

Here’s what I’ve decided: Life has been good. I have had my share of challenges, and enough disappointments, failures, and shame for three people–not that I was trying to hoard it. But my focus here on out is where it needs to be. I’m counting my blessings and thanking my God, especially that my dad yanked me away from where I was comfortable and planted me somewhere I could flourish.

So to the class of 1975, let’s enjoy this occasion.

WP HS 40 acronymn