Short Stories Series: Three Stories about God and Giving

I know, no stories for a long time, and then three at once, and no pictures either. So use your imagination. You have one.

Story One

The first story is one that Robert Morris tells. He is a televangelist who writes and speaks a lot about his experiences with God as a giver. He will say with confidence that he has never been able to out-give God and this is one of the stories that he uses to illustrate that.

He wanted to give his wife a gift for her birthday and asked their daughter to find out what his wife wanted. After the daughter had talked with her mother she reported that she had been sworn to secrecy. Robert was determined to reward his oft self-sacrificing wife so he told his daughter she was released from her promise. His wife had talked about a certain purse that she knew was more expensive than she would ever buy for herself, and she really didn’t want her husband to buy it for her either. She figured he might try if he knew. That was why she made her daughter promise not to tell.

Robert says he was floored when he heard how much the purse cost. He evidently didn’t or couldn’t buy it and he felt sad and was wondering what he should do. A widow lady in his church enters his story next. She came up to his wife and gave her a gift. It was the exact purse that his wife admired and wanted. God’s message to Robert was simply “I wanted my daughter to have this gift.”

Hearing this remarkable story, I was struck with the thought of how it would feel to receive uncommon extravagance from God, how I would feel loved and valued. To feel like the daughter of a king…

Story Two

The second story is about my own experience with giving. I met Darnelle when he was about ten years old. He was in a struggling, single parent family, and we developed a friendship centering around music. I was teaching piano at the time and he wanted to learn so I gave him lessons. Over the years he was frequently in our home, mostly in times of need. He seemed to always be out of work, sometimes homeless and sleeping in his car, when he had one. We gave him money, helped him buy cars, fed him, and gave him shelter and prayed for him. Nothing helped for very long. Every call from him eventually got down to asking for money, and finally I was done. I said no. Rather than helping him, it seemed we were enabling bad decisions.

Recently, even though we now live thousands of miles from Darnelle, I received a text from him. As usual, he was stranded and out of money, on his way to a new job. He just needed enough money to get there. I didn’t see the text until an hour after he sent it and when I replied to it, there was no answer. He often used someone else’s phone when he didn’t have one so I assumed that was the case.

Two days later, the husband and I were praying, and it occurred to me to ask God for wisdom if Darnelle should somehow connect with us again. Sure enough, I got a text. He was desperate and asked me to “walmart-to-walmart” him some money. I didn’t want to stand in line forever at Walmart. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been “suckered in” one more time, but I knew I had prayed about this. I didn’t doubt that he was in some kind of need. God has been generous with me and I felt that he was asking me to be obedient and help Darnelle one more time. I sent the money, not because Darnelle had asked, but because God had asked. Everything belongs to God, including my money.

Story Three

The third story is, again, about giving. And about God. I have a daughter who is getting married, in a pandemic year when everything is a little bit crazy. She is a hardworking equine veterinarian and barely has time to wash the manure off her clothes, much less plan a wedding. But, she made time to try on dresses. The lace, tulle, and frills (at extravagant prices) transported her to a different vision of herself as a beautiful bride. In contrast, her practical self was staring at her school loans and numerous bills. She said “no” to the dress and tried to be satisfied with something less.

We had conversations about this decision. I knew it was not in her nature to spend thousands of dollars on a dress to wear once, ONCE. She wanted reasons to feel good about the lesser dress she was planning to wear and I gave her some. I told her she could choose to be satisfied with whatever decision she made. I told her that I was praying and trusting God to bless her, “his daughter”, with her heart’s desire for this special time in her life. And I truly felt that those were not just words. They were God’s message to her.

With the time growing shorter and tension mounting, Julia was feeling the weight of things that weren’t getting done, weren’t turning out quite as well as planned, weren’t what she had hoped for. I got another call. Things were more hard than happy. Right in the middle of the disappointments, I could see the dress, and I didn’t know what to do except to keep praying for her.

On the same day that I said okay to God and gave Darnelle $100, someone precious gave Julia a gift of a beautiful dress. It was one she had tried on and loved but didn’t feel she could buy.

I don’t presume that God spoke to the generous benefactor in an audible voice, or that he even presented himself as God. I’m pretty sure the generous benefactor knew nothing about the backstory of Darnelle and obedience in my life. But I have seen and heard that God is always at work in ways that are so complicated they can only be described as mysterious. Somehow he can bless Julia, he can bless a man stranded on I-95 with no gas in his car, and he can bless me with answered prayer, all connected with the same circumstance. I know he will also bless the person who cared enough to dress a bride in a beautiful dress.

Four Women, One Dress

Tonight I am at the sewing machine. I’m remodeling a dress for North Carolina daughter. I can’t be sure it will fit her but I have a fair idea of what is needed. I’m praying with every seam that it will turn out well. I think the prayer will be answered and I’m sewing with confidence.

The material is satin. It’s creamy white and soft and surprisingly different from today’s satin, because it is 70 years old. Seventy years ago, my grandmother sat sewing with this same fabric. She was a skilled seamstress, making a wedding dress for her daughter. Her daughter was a different size than my daughter so I have taken the dress apart to resize and change the design a bit. I have to admire her work. She was careful, and gave attention to details. It was a beautiful dress. I have seen it in the pictures of my mother’s wedding.

Grandmother Clementine Warner Boone

Expectations of what wedding dresses should look like have changed so much from 1950. I don’t know what they are making them out of these days that they should cost thousands of dollars, but I know the one my grandmother worked on was made out of love (and satin, and lace).

The work on this project has been an emotional experience for me. I take apart a seam and realize that was thread put there by her machine. Her hands touched the fabric in this very place as she guided it under the needle. She probably peered closely at that button as she sewed it on, just as I am as I remove it. We are linked, she and I, by many things that aren’t tangible, but this dress can be touched and felt. The whole idea is kind of eerie, almost sacred, to me.

And our daughters, the one who wore it so long ago and the one who will wear it next month, they are also linked by the same dress. Mothers and daughters, four women, seventy years, one dress. I love it. It has specialness that can’t be bought.

But as I said, we will see if it fits and seems appropriate for the ceremony. At the least, it will be in a picture. And to some of us, it will look beautiful. Just sayin’…

The Place Things Go to Be Forgotten

I just went over to take a quick picture of something to send to someone, but Mom had the garage door open and I went in to see what was going on. She had pulled everything out of the utility room. Stuff was everywhere and it looked like a lot of work for a nearly 88 year old to be doing. “What’s going on here?” I said, wondering whether those would be famous last words.

There’s a phenomenon that occurs after traumatic times involving death and loss. It’s kind of a restructuring of priorities, a re-evaluation of one’s life, a need to do something drastic to counter the trauma. My brother had talked about it in our early morning “touch base” session at Mom’s house. He was going through it, having just lost his wife to cancer. He was cleaning house, looking at everything and making decisions to keep or not. And evidently, it was contagious. Mom had caught it.

Her first excuse is always that she’s looking for spiders. Spiders are not allowed to live in Mom’s garage. It was only a few months ago, in the spring, when all the corners got “broomed”, and everything, including a freezer full of food, was moved and cleaned under. But we might not have done the utility room thoroughly, and today was the day.

“Since you’re here, would you mind going up in the attic and getting the blankets you said you saw. Tell me what’s up there, and bring it down if it’s something I should look through.” Mom doesn’t go up in the attic any more. It has one of those pull down ladders which is only wide enough to fit between the ceiling joists. The ladder is a little scary at any age, but certainly in one’s eighties. I had been going up and down, storing things, ever since we moved up from Florida two years ago – kind of the curator of the attic museum. Things only go up in the attic if they are willing to be forgotten for a while.

For the next half hour I tossed items down the hole, rearranged boxes, poked around reacquainting myself with the contents of containers, calling down to Mom as we made decisions. What to do with that set of dishes that used to belong to a friend’s mother, now deceased? What to do with the bag of fabric strips for braided rugs? What about all those fake flowers, and knick knacks that got replaced? Why are there two boxes of old jeans up here? How many good cardboard boxes do we need to save? Almost all of it came down the ladder. It looked like an attic explosion, with Mom in the middle of it.

This looks neater than it really was. But notice, no spiders anywhere.

“Don’t worry. I won’t do it all today.” She reassured me that she was only going to put things back in the utility room. I packed up a few things to take over to my attic for a few years. I stood, trying to think why I had come over in the first place. Although it felt good to organize and de-clutter, I was feeling a little guilty about the mess we’d made.

I guess it’s all a part of the grieving process, and everyone does it differently. Some of the things we do are helpful, some aren’t, and some don’t leave us feeling the way we thought they would. But we need to do something, a cleansing of sorts, and then maybe we can go on, one day at a time… just sayin’.

A 2020 Celebration

I’ll bet with all the memes and jokes about 2020, you are surprised that I’ve found something worth celebrating this year. But I have! I’ve actually found many things worthy of celebrating and writing about.

Today I had a great report from a cancer screening test and I couldn’t wait to celebrate by taking a long, long walk. It felt so good to swing my arms and stride along. I had not been aware of being anxious, but apparently I was. The relief made me feel lighter than air. I had asked for my health to be protected, knowing that is not always how things work. Good health is not the ultimate sign of God’s approval, and he even works his purpose through the death of his most loved persons. I guess when you have the intelligence to create life, to restore and make anything brand new, and when you plan to eventually resurrect all who’ve died anyway, you think a bit differently about death in general. Nevertheless, I admit that I struggle to keep God’s perspective in mind at times. And I particularly don’t like cancer.

For me, there is no better way to celebrate than to move, to see, to experience the natural world. I could give you the short story – it was a beautiful day and I saw a deer and two snakes. Or I could show you with my pictures, which I love to do. August is the last month of summer. Everything here in the north is maturing and getting ready to die or go dormant in a very few weeks. The colors are different, the grasses and flowers are going to seed. You can feel the progression of life cycles that are expertly designed to show us things about God, if we will look, and think about what we see.

The irresistible trail (a miracle, not a single mosquito or deer fly did I swat.).
Hospital trail, Beaver Pond Loop, where rest stops are furnished with urinal and chamber pot, naturally.
Beaver Pond, with beaver lodge in the distance.
There is a snake in here, but you have to look really closely. I nearly stepped on it before it crawled off the path. Adrenalin moment.

If you put away thoughts of COVID19, politics, natural disasters, and riots, I’ll bet you can find something to celebrate in 2020 too. I’d love to hear about it.

#eveningwalk

It’s been a harsh month, this August has. When I’m on an emotional roller coaster for days on end, this place where I walk is like a medicine for everything that is wrong with the world. It’s not long or strenuous, less than half an hour for most but longer for me. I never tire of stopping to look for the beaver, or pulling out my phone to check the name of a plant or flower. I know which direction to look for deer and usually see several. My walks in the evening are graced with sunsets and in spite of having lots of trees around, I can see lots of sky and clouds.

Each scene that I photograph is like a gift from God to me. For every one I capture there are dozens more that I don’t. In a way it’s special to be the only one witnessing these moments that are physical, but also spiritual in a way that is hard to explain. I guess it’s realizing how big nature is, how complex, how constant, and that it was created by someone bigger, more complex, and more constant. But it’s also wonderful to be able to photograph and share what I see. It is just too magical out there for me to be the only one that sees it.

My life problems line up differently after the evening walk. I’m reminded of a different perspective. I’ve been calmed, loved, amused and often surprised with some new discovery. Sometimes I look through the lens and see the scene take on a different look, even more awesome than I thought (although sometimes less awesome). I must share with you this evening walk.

Shadow play on the quaking aspen screen
August flowers are purple and gold
The fence hasn’t been electric for years, but there’s something picturesque about the sign.
My camera loves the way the light comes in horizontally at this time of day.
Even from a distance she knew I was there.
The sky is really the only and the best place for clouds to be appreciated. So big.
The patchwork barn. Not much light left but I always have to have a barn picture. I love this barn.
Most evenings the sun gives a parting wave, a touch of warmth in a cool blue sky before it turns dark.

Waving Goodbye

It’s kind of a rule with some, that you wave goodbye until the people leaving can’t see you anymore.

It’s 2020, the year of the pandemic and other notable events. Our “pod” as I’ve come to label it, has been decreased by four significant persons. With that comes the strangeness of loss, and of uncertainty. What is life going to be like with all these changes?

Our small community consisted of my mom, my brother Dennis and his wife, their two children, myself and the husband. It expanded when my sister-in-law’s parents moved into a newly built house down the street. My brother designed it as a retirement home for him and his wife- for “someday”. But for now it was going to be convenient for Mary Pat’s parents to be close, so she and Dennis could help them when needed.

Unfortunately, it was Mary Pat who needed the help. Breast cancer returned with a vengeance. It has been only eight months, and now she is gone. It has been a difficult last few weeks. Both sides of our families have gathered to help and to mourn. Houses have been full. Schedules have been disrupted, and it was hard. She was at home when she died and we were with her. It was a little like waving goodbye until she could no longer see us.

Our pod also included a trio of women who we call “the sisters”. They have become like family to us over the last 25 years, included in our family reunions, our weekly sabbath gatherings, and countless festive occasions. Michelle is the elder sister, being almost 94. Judith and Susan are in their 60’s now, adopted as young children from Vietnam. Retiring from their daycare business led them to buy a house in a warmer climate and they have been planning their move for months, it seems.

Our “pod” plus a few extra visiting family members.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of stressful preparation during this last week before their trip. They left this morning, with another one of my brothers driving a Penske truck loaded with the things they needed to set up housekeeping. Moving is always a big, stressful affair, especially when you have been a long time in one place. It is safe to say that the week’s work has left us all tired and a bit emotional. We are praying they have a safe trip. We waved goodbye this morning.

I know I will recover, but right now I am somewhat disoriented. There has been so much to do in so short a time. I didn’t feel like writing even if I’d had the time, which I didn’t. I move toward simple tasks, with clear cut goals that take my mind to a different place for a period of time; organizing a closet, doing a puzzle, cleaning the kitchen, taking a walk.

Life in 2020 has not been what any of us expected, and certainly not what I expected for my family. It has been an exercise of faith, and like most exercise, it has been strenuous. It doesn’t always feel good while it is happening, but there is a sense of it being worthwhile and useful. I have felt God’s watchfulness and his care in many ways. He has listened to my questions and complaints, and received my anger, confusion and exhaustion with great patience. I have felt loved.

I hear you, Mary Pat. You weren’t afraid and I won’t be either!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary Pat that was handed out at her memorial. It is testimony to her faith in God’s goodness, and mine as well. When you know God is good and in charge, there is no need to be dominated by feelings of fear. The crazy weirdness of 2020 becomes opportunity to exercise faith, grow stronger in trust, and remain hopeful. That’s where I’m at. I will not be afraid, just sayin’…

What She Saw

“What is that?” She said it several times, as we tried to tell her it was the ceiling fan that she was looking at.

She had been at home for two days since being admitted into hospice care, and really hadn’t said anything coherent for longer than that. The pain in her head had been overwhelming and made it hard to talk. Even thinking seemed to hurt her. But now her eyes were wide open and she was looking up from her bed and asking what she was seeing. And clearly it wasn’t the ceiling fan.

“Wow, oh wow!” Over and over, with awe and surprise she said it in a way that made us wish she would say more. “Oh, my gosh!” This she said not with fear or dread but with an expression that she would have used for an unbelievable sunset or some other one-of-a-kind experience.

It had been excruciating watching her, such a beautiful, generous, loving person, go through the agony of cancer treatment. Even worse, when the treatment stopped working and the pain increased, along with uncontrollable and incapacitating symptoms, we wondered how God would explain why it was happening this way. All along, we kind of knew God wouldn’t explain but would just say that he knew and he was there. It was hard, mostly because we always think we can understand. We’re reasonable people.

At last she had seen something and it occurred to me that she was now much closer to understanding than any of the rest of us. She was seeing something that took away fear, and seemed to give her peace. Maybe what she saw made all the pain make sense, or at least made it worth going through. She seemed thankful, and at rest.

And now, I’m very curious. And I’m thankful and more convinced than ever that God will prove himself good.

Things I Love About God

I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before, but since I’ve been thinking about God a lot lately, now is a good time. We are having hard happenings in our family. Cancer has struck again and the loss hurts. But our faith is meant for times like this and we don’t grieve like those who have no hope.

Things I Love About God

1. He makes his own decisions, is not anyone’s puppet or genie.

2. Ultimately, no one spoils his plan. No one.

3. He is pure genius in so many ways – his creation of time, for instance.

4. He is love, and made me capable of loving.

5. He made me with emotions. I can know pleasure, joy and also loneliness, depression and need.

6. He gives me hope that he can fill every need I’m capable of feeling.

7. Restoring is his passion.

8. He lets us have surprises.

9. He is mysterious and has secrets.

10. He makes me think, unless I am too tired and then he just loves me.

Me-Kwa-Mooks Park: West Seattle

It was the last day of my visit to Seattle. Younger daughter and I were walking down Beach Drive SW, on our daily exercise walk, looking for something interesting to see or do. She mentioned a park that we would soon be walking past that had some very nice features, and more of an old growth, untouched atmosphere. We decided to venture into Me-Kwa-Mooks Park.

This saying is credited to Chief Sealth, sometimes called Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle is named. The Duwamish people were the original inhabitants of the park.

Me-Kwa-Mooks is an Indian name meaning “shaped like a bear’s head”. If you use your imagination, you might say that about the West Seattle peninsula, especially if you had a map or a good aerial view. The entrance to the park is on the east side of Beach Drive in a small clearing with several picnic tables. The trailhead is identified by a sign and several plaques that are covered with brush and barely legible. Like most other parts of West Seattle coastline, this park is located on uphill slopes that end with a rather steep climb up a bluff. It’s about 20 acres of heavily wooded, undeveloped land.

The trail is narrow and you have to hunt for it.

Undeveloped, perhaps, but there are trails and some evidence of work having been done on them. Someone had been pulling out piles of English ivy, an invasive plant, and there was an irrigation line visible along the path in places. But there was no signage, and some of the trails ended abruptly. Having been there before, younger daughter knew one trail led to another entrance farther down on Beach Drive. She also knew that there was a trail that led to the top of the bluff. That was the one we wanted.

This was a path that suddenly didn’t go anywhere.

The trail to the top, naturally, was the trail that kept going up in switchbacks, becoming steeper and less easily navigated. It eventually went straight up, a dirt path with no natural hand holds or places for feet to rest. But, lo, there was a hose – the flat, cloth covered kind – and it came from somewhere up above and held our weight, so we grabbed it and climbed. And just when the hose no longer followed the path, we saw a rope that finally helped us to the top.

Don’t know why this hose was there but it came in handy…
We could have used a longer rope.
This was our exit point. Wouldn’t your inner child just love to have a creepy hole like this to dive into?

The Wikipedia article about the park states that in 1994 a bunch of 4th and 5th graders from a local school helped make the park. That’s exactly the feel I got from our experience. It was a mythical, magical forest, perfect place for tree forts, treacherous paths, and dangling ropes leading to “who knows where”, a kid’s dream playground.

We made it to the top, mostly because there was no way we were going back down some of the places we had been. It was clearly not everyone’s “walk in the park” and I was a little surprised that it was accessible in this day of lawsuits and litigation. Risk was involved. We had fun, but I’m thinking most people take the other path. Just sayin’…

A Pretty, Long Walk – West Seattle

We didn’t walk very far on Sunday, but we made up for it today. We took Charlie with us. He is a curly haired Wheaton terrier who generally likes to go out for exercise.

Meet Charlie. Also notice the beautiful flowers.

The first hour was a city walk, past houses that face out to Puget Sound. As you might expect, they were on the expensive and extravagant side, but so interesting to look at. Built on the bluff with creative driveways and staircases, and landscaping that had me taking pictures every few minutes. We walked south from Alki and ended up at Lincoln Park. For us it was around 10,000 steps, for Charlie it was considerably more and he was thirsty. We were looking for a water bowl, which can commonly be found around fountains, since so many people are walking their dogs. Charlie found one.

Small gardens with joyous profusion
Gardens that probably have professional caretakers
Sidewalk gardens, purple lavender abounds…
Gardens with random wildflowers

Next we headed east through the park in the direction of California Avenue. It is the main business street that runs down the middle of the West Seattle peninsula. Our only stop was to buy water at a gas station, again sharing with Charlie who was beginning to act a bit tired. Our walk north toward home ended up going through Schmitz Park. It was like entering a different world.

I’ve written something about Schmitz Park every time I’ve visited Esther in Seattle because it has an access right behind her house. I ALWAYS visit this park. I’ve not been anyplace like it and consider it a magical, singular experience. It’s an old growth forest with trails following a large ravine from the top of the bluff, down to lower elevations near Alki and the beach. The trails are not fancy, not paved. There are no signs directing where to go. No railings on the steep portions. Click this link for more visuals of Schmitz Park.

The Hidden Forest

The forest and the ravine insulated us from the noise and heat from the city street. It was shady and dark, with the sounds of water flowing into the central stream. Many parts of the path were wet with cool mud and took some navigating. It must have felt good on Charlie’s paws. And 20 minutes later we were home, having done nearly 20,000 steps total. A good walk, I’d say.

Home again to Esther’s daisy garden