Friends. Most of the time I am aware that I have some, here and there, people to smile at, speak with, do an occasional lunch or other outing with. But then there are those times when people show up, at great expense to themselves, when I am not at my loveliest or in the greatest of circumstances. They are the truest of friends who show up and do life with us, me and Dennis, when they wouldn’t have to. That is what happened last week.
It surprised me when my invitation to come “up north” was accepted not just with “sure, we’ll come someday”, but with “when is a good time – I’ll buy tickets…” Not many visitors make it up here, although it is a great place and to cool off in the summer. I also was thinking of the perfect time for them to come. My whole local family was taking a two week Alaskan cruise. I couldn’t see how we could go with them since I had just done my Grand Canyon trip. I was fairly content to stay home, watch the animals, water the plants and weed the garden. Having friends come would be the perfect thing to keep me from feeling sorry for myself.
Arlette, a.k.a. “French girl” has been one of my best friends for several years. Her husband, Dwight, and my husband, Dennis, started the American Aldes office in Sarasota way back in the 1980’s. They had heard a lot about our Wisconsin home since helping us move last July. Now I had a chance to show them some of its charms.
It started with the three hour trip from Minneapolis airport to Hayward. Then we rushed them off to eat at The River Deck, a waterfront restaurant where my nephew had just started working. It’s also the location of the National Lumberjack Championships, which had to impress them (I think). And although we didn’t visit it, I did point out the gigantic Musky (at least three stories tall) in the nearby park.
Eating out was one of the easiest things for us all to do together, and I had my list of favorite places. In addition to the River Deck, we were able to go to The Angry Minnow, and Garmisch Resort. Each of these places had its own unique vibe and I think we all enjoyed the differences.
One of our lunches was a bit different. It was on a boat, out on my favorite Round Lake. I had heard of the Jacobson’s project from my brother. Ralph Jacobson and several of his friends built the “Galilee”, designing it to host small groups on the lake, as a ministry opportunity. He and his wife Carrene, served us lunch and spent an hour showing us their part of the lake. It was a beautiful day, weather wise.
Thank you, my friends, for your supportive visit.
Dwight and Arlette, the brave ones.
Slapping mosquitoes on a hike. Photo ops were brief.
Five days to go, then the adventure starts. I’m worried.
It’s another rest day, with only about 4,000 steps. My legs are feeling tired very quickly and there’s a hint of shin splints. I’m worried that this will continue, or that I’ll do something unwise like switch my shoes out, or forget something important, or get sick.
For some reason this is also the week when we have meetings with a lawyer to get our wills settled (a two hour trip to the city), and the week when paperwork for our house sale closing is being mailed back and forth, a physical exam for a new life insurance policy, and the week when youngest daughter is flying here to be with her dad while I’m gone. There is a lot going on. A lot to get ready for.
That is why I took time yesterday to run away to the empty sun porch over at my brother’s house. It was a time to just sit, do some journaling and thinking. It was a time for “dog therapy”. Scruffy came and sat on my lap.
Scruffy and I have gradually gotten used to each other over the last few months. I sometimes take him for a walk, and I’m usually along when his mom and dad take him for a walk. I always pet him and try to make him feel special. He didn’t always come up and want to sit on my lap, but we seem to have bonded now. I pet him, and since he can’t really pet me back (but I think he would if he could) he licks my hand. I think that’s dog language for “pet me more”.
Scruffy and I have things in common. For one, we have hair the same color. We both love to go for walks and are easily distracted when we are outside. We’re both a bit aged. I could think of more, but that will do. All this to say that when we sit somewhere together and just chill, it is relaxing, for both of us, but especially for me. I think I worry about more things than Scruffy does. Dog therapy is quite effective since I take my cues from him and don’t worry about anything except whether my lap is comfortable for him to lay on. He is most definitely a lap dog.
Scruffy says hi to Cricket and Ellie and wants them to know he enjoys their astute comments. Dogs really have it together. Just sayin’…
Part of my problem as a writer is that I often feel like a minor player in someone else’s drama. Even if they don’t write their own story, I feel like I’m stealing if I write about it.
In searching for reasons why he was diagnosed with Lew Body Dementia just weeks after his retirement, the husband has wondered if he is supposed to share his experience with others. Could it be he is meant to encourage others in some way, even though he is pretty sick about this whole thing? He actually says he might start a blog, or write stuff down as he thinks of it. For several reasons, I think the chances of him writing anything are slim.
For one, he has a history of brilliant ideas that never see action. I don’t see his diagnosis changing that.
Reason two – he doesn’t have experience expressing feelings. He has them, but they don’t usually bother him or beg to be shared. He would like to share things now, but they end up coming out in long, convoluted histories of his life journey accompanied by tears, and a tone of desperation and sadness. He’s doing it a little better now, but the first couple of weeks were tough and any compassionate person who had time to listen patiently ended up crying with him and giving him a hug.
Reason three is simply that writing is work and work isn’t something he’s looking for. Too much mental work makes his head spin.
It’s true that my story has a lot to do with his story but, of course, I tell it from a very different perspective. He reads what I write. I wonder if I will be able to write what I really think or will I change the narrative because of the effect it might have on him?
Interestingly, the two things that have helped the husband and I know each other better in the last few years are our “together” prayers and my blog/journal. I guess in each instance I tend to be more open, truthful and informative. In each instance he feels less threatened by my words because they aren’t spoken to him – they are conversations with God or my readers. He listens better. And the same goes for him when it comes to telling God his thoughts and concerns – one might as well be honest. I learn things about him that he doesn’t think to tell me.
It certainly isn’t that I don’t want him to write his own story, from his own perspective. I do. But not writing about this part of my own life has been hard. The vague feeling that I couldn’t write about this big thing happening to us, has made me not write much at all. Somehow, when there is “an elephant” in the room, so to speak, writing about anything else takes second place to wondering about the elephant and what it’s going to do next.
That elephant is on my mind most all the time. I might as well write about it. Probably have to. Just sayin’…
I did not write this. It came to me from a friend and was written by Rachel Macy Stafford. I found words in it to make my own. I think there is something here for everyone to take to heart. Read and see if I’m right.
My Vow to Soften
I’ve had enough of my hard edges.
I’m tired of straining my voice.
I’d like to loosen up and laugh a little more,
Be a positive rather than a negative.
I’d like to feel the upward curve of my lips.
I’d like to surrender control of things in which I have no control.
I’d like to let things unfold in their own time, in their own way.
I’d like to participate joyfully in this fleeting life.
I’d like to be softer
And this is my vow:
I vow to listen to opinions – I don’t always have to be right.
I don’t always have to agree or have the last word.
I vow to hand over the hairbrush, the pile of laundry, the school project,
The task before us. “How would you do it?” I will ask.
I vow to step aside and respect a new approach.
Success might be difficult to see at first; I vow to keep looking.
I vow to be more accepting of quirks and mannerisms.
I vow to be more accepting of tastes and styles unlike my own.
I vow to remember he is in the process of becoming; she is in the process of finding her way.
And they are more apt to do it if I stop telling them how.
I vow to regard “weaknesses” as hidden strengths.
Inner gifts can be nurtured when I stop plotting ways to alter, change, and “improve”.
I vow to greet my family and myself with a loving smile, no matter what happened yesterday.
Grudge holding only hurts us all.
I vow to pause before correcting.
I shall take a moment to consider if the mistake even needs to be mentioned at all.
I vow to stop nitpicking until it bleeds.
I vow to demand less and inquire more.
I vow to listen
And expand my thinking.
I vow to be a voice of encouragement in a demeaning world.
I vow to be a silver lining spotter in my family’s little world.
I vow to be softer today than I was yesterday – a softer voice, a softer posture, a softer touch, a softer thought, a softer timetable.
I vow to be softer towards the imperfect human being inside me and beside me.
By being softer, I can hear more, learn more, feel more, and love more.
At last I will fully see.
I will see his colors.
I will see her colors.
I will see my colors.
Perhaps for the very first time.
The colors might take my breath away,
Bring me to tears
And offer long-awaited peace.
I shall soften in order to illuminate the colors of the soul.
I shall soften so the human being within me and beside me can shine.
©Rachel Macy Stafford 2016
From where did this one pink cloud come? So singular and alone it was floating in the path of light coming sideways in the evening. Is it the evening because it divides the night from the day evenly? That’s what I was thinking about. I had to stop and take a picture of the cloud.
Darkness was approaching, and so was a man on a bicycle. He was a friendly man and called out to me, also on a bicycle, and to the husband who was walking. He asked about the electric bike I was on and came over to show us a picture on his cellphone of another electric bike he had just been looking at. He talked fast and easily about bikes, having put about $4000 into his ride, with special rims on the wheels and a rear approach sensor. He was a serious rider. In fact, he only rode bikes, because he had lost his license a while back.
He was riding home, well not exactly home. He was riding to his tent in the woods. Yes, homeless for the time being but making the best of it. Clean (had just showered at a shelter today), well groomed and nourished, and looking more like a yuppie fitness freak than a vagrant, he gave us several stories of life in the woods. He was a loner by choice and kept his camp clean and decked out – 2 tents, because he had lots of stuff. Oh, and he was a veteran of the Gulf War.
He was employed at Goodwill Corporate for three years now. He had another valuable bike which he kept locked up at work. It had always been a problem to keep it safe while he was away from camp. What was he to do, chain it to a tree?
He wanted to get housing but he just didn’t make enough where he was, and there weren’t any better jobs that he knew of. He told us where his last three camps had been, and I knew every one of them, had driven/walked by and thought “now if I were homeless I might try to hide in there”. The place he had been just before Hurrican Irma had been by a creek. That night he came home from work and everything he owned had floated off in the flooded field. He said it was a real pain every time he was made to move. When you have a big camp, it takes quite a few trips to relocate it all. Sometimes they don’t give him much time to do it. He has to leave stuff behind.
The husband was getting antsy, tired of standing and listening and it must have been obvious. The man’s name was Jody. He apologized for talking so much. It was just that he didn’t get to talk very often, especially to strangers who didn’t know anything about him and asked questions that didn’t sound threatening. He rode off on his really cool bike. I’m not going to say that I didn’t think about offering him a meal next time he rode by, or a shower, or maybe a yard to camp in next time he got chased out. I did think of those things, but he sounded like he was handling life pretty well so I said nothing.
We battle winter in much the same way as southerners battle the long, sweltering summers – we move from one “air conditioned” space to another. The difference is that we condition our air to be warmer than the outdoors and southerners condition the air to be cooler than the outdoors.
The condo that Mom and I are in has some lovely air conditioning features. One is the heating system itself. It is hot water heat that circulates through the floor. I often put my feet down and feel the warmth of the floor, which makes everything feel warmer. Another wonderful warmth comes from the fireplace. When you have a chill, there is no nicer way to warm up than to back up close to a fireplace with a glowing fire. Modern fireplaces can heat up a whole room in no time at all.
While I spend time in various warm spaces in Wisconsin, I find many of the same things to do that I do in Florida. However, I think it is true that there is more time spent doing quiet things. The short days, the darkness, the cold, all give me excuse to stay inside and eat, knit, read, eat, watch TV, do puzzles, talk on the phone, look at Facebook, cook, and work, of course. Mom and I do all these things, and while we do them we talk about All of these normal activities seem different when I look out the window and see the bare trees and a world white with snow. I am glad and content to be inside where it’s warm.
Being with People
Some of my favorite times here in Wisconsin turn out to be in the car with people I care about, taking them where they need to go. Winter driving hazards can make it difficult to travel. Places people need to go are often farther apart. There is safety in numbers. So, we get chances to spend time in the car, talking to each other. Last week it was an hour’s drive to Ashland with my aunt and uncle for a doctor appointment. I learned a lot about them during that time. Yesterday it was a drive to the hospital in Duluth with my sister in law for a radiation treatment. It was good just spending time together.
In thinking about how I battle extremes of weather in the places I live, I’m coming to the conclusion that I had better do it mentally if I want to do it well. I need to set my mind to seeing the good, the beauty in my surroundings. I need to avoid isolation when it starts to make me uncomfortable. I need to be active when constant introspection starts to drive me crazy. I’m just sayin’ that the battle isn’t always taking place where you think it is.
By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning.
It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.
One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning, had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.
The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”
“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.
They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.
I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.
“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.
That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.
What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…
J had cautiously “moved in”. I don’t think he trusted that we were willing to let him have the room because it was just weird. His culture, his background was so different from ours. Why would we do that? That is exactly what he asked me one night when we invited him to share our meal. “How do you love people so much?”
I hate being caught off guard by questions like that. I kind of know why I do what I do, but I’m never sure if that’s the most helpful answer. It’s not just because I can offer help, but because something stirs my heart and mind to do it. I know I’ve prayed to feel the right kind of love for people I encounter (because, frankly, I don’t have it, yet) so when I’m given an opportunity to act, I take it as an answer to that prayer. I’m being taught. I think what J wanted to hear was that I had a personal interest in him, not that I was in God’s classroom.
He’s been desperately short of cash ever since he came and there have been several instances where he has asked for $10, $15, etc… for food or to put gas in the car. He’s always waiting for the check from work to show up and for some reason it gets lost and has to be reissued. It’s never timely. When it does come, we don’t really know how much it is or where it goes. Because he’s been injured on the job and is on “light duty” with frequent time off for doctor and therapy appointments, it’s probably not much.
We three, me and my cousin and his wife, were in the car ready to back out of the garage. I was taking them to the airport for their flight north and had plans to drive on to North Carolina, alone, to visit my daughter. Goodbyes were said, and to my surprise J asked me to come back in the house for a moment. My cousin said “He’s going to ask you for money”. Very possible, I thought. But when I went in, J simply gave me a hug and said “I love you.” That was it. It was a very good send off and I’ve thought about it a lot since.
The tables have been turned and I’m questioning “How can he love people like me so much?” Class is in session. More to come…
Defined: 1)A cloth produced especially by knitting, weaving, or felting fibers. 2) A complex underlying structure: “the fabric of society”.
I hardly ever meet fabric I don’t like. I like to look at it, feel it for smoothness and thickness, see how it lies and bends. I love to make things with it, which is why I have accumulated what we call a “stash”. It’s fabric that is waiting to be used for something. It might have been bought for a specific project which never got off the drawing board, or it may have just been too good a price to pass up, but of course, I’ll figure out how to use it later. From every project that does get done, there are scraps of fabric and even these have a charm all their own when combined with each other in various colors and designs. That’s what I love about fabric – the endless variety, beauty and usefulness that it’s capable of.
From years of sewing everything from clothing for my own family, wedding dresses for friends, and home decorating with curtains and coverings, to clothing for horses, and dogs, I have gained a respect for cloth. It has to be chosen correctly for its purpose, positioned to drape correctly, handled and fashioned “just so” or it will not behave. Watch a couple episodes of “Project Runway” and you’ll see what I mean.
I have often thought while sewing (really, I have) that there are so many parallels between fabric and society. That second definition really says it all. The fabric of society that is us, is complex and it underlies everything that is important and dear to us. We all have our part in making that fabric look and act the way it does. We are those fibers that get woven together in actions and dependencies over a lifetime. We are stronger together, but we are only as strong as the weakest fiber and there are many things that can stress and weaken us.
There are some fabrics that are woven with the expectation that the fibers will be smoothly aligned and uniform. Others show the beautiful twists, turns and flaws that make them unique and priceless. I get kind of excited just thinking about it. It always sets me thinking about whether I make the fabric of society weaker or stronger. Do you see what I mean?
I could also call these thoughts “My Struggle with the Bride of Christ”.
I would like to say that the church is a group of believers that show the world around them what God’s love is like. It’s a group of people doing loving things that people shouldn’t be able to do, in fact can’t do, without God doing those things through them. God’s true church is loved by each individual in it, and in turn, the church has a selfless love for each individual belonging to it. I’m wondering if that’s possible this side of heaven…
I’ve been thinking about heaven, and about the church, a lot lately. Tonight I couldn’t get to sleep for the thoughts that kept troubling me. Heaven, I thought, will be a place where I won’t have to wonder if I’m in the right place. All around me will be a community of believers with no doubt who they’re worshiping and no disconnect with those they’ve come to know and love.
I have been blessed with a pretty close family all my life. We have significant differences but we are bonded together, having the same parents, the same close proximity to each other during our formative years. We sat alongside each other at the table, in the car, at church. We did life together. It wasn’t necessarily our choice, but it made sense and it was good. We’re grown now and our lives are less connected, but in our heads and hearts, we are still family. We make efforts to spend time together. We have grown to love each other. Where else can we go for that sense of who we are and how we came to be?
I think I want my church to be like my family. I want my church to be the place I belong because people know me there.
I try to imagine the first Christian churches, like the one in Philippi. We’ve been hearing sermons about those people, the Philippians, in the church I attend. In Philippi, a city in biblical times, some very unlikely first converts were drawn together by a God, actually a spiritual parent, who suddenly gave them a chance to know their life’s purpose. A wealthy business woman (with a house big enough to share with other believers), a Roman policeman and his family, and a formerly demon possessed slave girl were suddenly bonded by love for that spiritual parent. They started spending time together as they learned. They probably ate together, went places together and came to know each other’s stories as they talked. They had to have had some pretty divergent viewpoints, but there wasn’t another church just a few miles away that was more “their kind of church”. They were the only church, until such a time when church growth separated them into communities based on locale. Even then, they probably kept in touch.
So that’s what a community is really – people who live next to each other, doing and sharing life. I wonder if the reason Christian believers don’t always do church well is because they don’t do community well either. That’s what I’m struggling with. I don’t do community well, not even in my own physical community. I share a driveway with people living in five other houses and rarely do we connect over anything. I know their names, but I guarantee, if they moved away I wouldn’t know where or why, or even care. We haven’t spent time together and are only bonded by… a driveway, I guess. Our cars and our preferences allow us to shop in different places, work in different places, be entertained by different things.
And although some people try to make it different, our churches are very similar to our poorly connected communities. When I live half an hour’s drive from the church I attend, it’s pretty safe to say I’m not doing life next to anyone else from church.
It’s a struggle to know and be known. And I think God is going to get tired of me not doing it.
God can arrange times when transportation isn’t easy, when choices are few, when knowing and working with the neighbor next door is a matter of life or death for me. He will do that if that’s what it takes to teach me to love my neighbor. It’s probably so important to learn to love and get along because I will have to do it, like forever. “Like forever” is my description of eternity. And although, I’m not going to attempt to give a description of heaven, I think it will be a place where I don’t have to wonder if I belong and I probably won’t be driving 20 miles to church either. Just sayin’…