Saturday, May 5, 2018

Somehow

My backyard has a path we designed. It is curvy, its edges are made of concrete, and within the path is decomposed granite. Those who walk in are led to a circle containing a firepit encircled by various uncoordinated chairs—the chair from the backyard of my childhood home that has been repainted several times, a wicker rocking chair, a child's white Adirondack chair I picked up at Goodwill for $4.99, a painted redwood bench. As I pictured the area ahead of time, I envisioned all of the chairs matching each other, cheerful red Adirondacks inviting people to ease into them, but I have come to appreciate the way the circle looks with chairs that shouldn't go together, but somehow do.

"You always say that, Mom," my daughter chuckles as again I explain my fascination with shoes. "Look how each designer had the same amount of space to work within," say, the length and width of a Size 7 shoe, "yet they each created something different with a similar amount of space and materials." I have the same thoughts at bakeries, ice cream shops, and while walking down the street in New York City noticing and enjoying all the different scarves women have chosen to drape over their outfits. Sometimes I wonder why a certain combination works when it shouldn't, wondering why a woman chose that scarf to go with that outfit. But she walks confidently as though the scarf was made to be worn with her clothing.

Within my sibling group, we have a phrase we use: "It's way important," we will often say, repeating something my nephew Christopher would say when he really, really wanted to play with a toy one of his cousins had. With much intensity and with every cell in his body involved in the expression of his feelings, he spit out to his mom after she explained he would have to wait his turn to drive the Little Tikes car, "But Mom, it's WAY important!"

Something became "way important" to me this week as well. Preparations had been made for my son's Kyle's book-launch party—who was bringing what, the time we would gather, food we would eat, games we would play. Balloons were filled with helium, inhabiting most of the space in my car. But something was missing. I had to bring a decorated cookie.

I called the cookie place where Brent purchased a cookie 34 years ago with writing on it that said, "Can I marry your daughter?" he presented to my dad. The same establishment had decorated a cookie for us bearing the image of a purple blow dryer as we celebrated my daughter-in-law Destiny's receiving her beautician's license. That fifteen-inch-in-diameter of goodness bore varied messages of celebration over the years. I learned, however, the company had gone out of business. I looked at Wal-Mart and Sams Club, but both places had pre-decorated cookies I would have to un-decorate in order to create the bumblebee-themed cookie I envisioned.

So I purchased a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough and some tubes of yellow and black frosting. I baked the cookie then pulled it out of the oven, and we drove to Kyle and Destiny's house while the cookie cooled. Destiny was wearing a shirt with the symbol of Kyle's website on it, a bee, so she sat as a model while I traced out the image with frosting onto the cookie, and she cheered me on while I worked.

The word that keeps visiting me as I write this is, "within." I tend to imagine that life would be richer if there weren't limits but am learning to value to what can happen within those limits. What is God inviting me to within this seemingly too short half hour I get to share conversation and coffee with my daughter? or the only one night away with my husband? What would God have me do with the paycheck that is smaller than I expected or with my energy and time that never seem quite enough? What will the designer draw in this limited space?

The Psalmist in scripture says this: "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places." If I live stepping into the path of this truth, I can also live believing what is meant to be will happen within those places, things that, like my odd set of chairs, maybe shouldn't even go together.

But somehow they do.



My backyard has a path we designed. It is curvy, its edges are made of concrete, and within the path is decomposed granite. Those who walk in are led to a circle containing a firepit encircled by various uncoordinated chairs—the chair from the backyard of my childhood home that has been repainted several times, a wicker rocking chair, a child's white Adirondack chair I picked up at Goodwill for $4.99, a painted redwood bench. As I pictured the area ahead of time, I envisioned all of the chairs matching each other, cheerful red Adirondacks inviting people to ease into them, but I have come to appreciate the way the circle looks with chairs that shouldn't go together, but somehow do.

"You always say that, Mom," my daughter chuckles as again I explain my fascination with shoes. "Look how each designer had the same amount of space to work within," say, the length and width of a Size 7 shoe, "yet they each created something different with a similar amount of space and materials." I have the same thoughts at bakeries, ice cream shops, and while walking down the street in New York City noticing and enjoying all the different scarves women have chosen to drape over their outfits. Sometimes I wonder why a certain combination works when it shouldn't, wondering why a woman chose that scarf to go with that outfit. But she walks confidently as though the scarf was made to be worn with her clothing.

Within my sibling group, we have a phrase we use: "It's way important," we will often say, repeating something my nephew Christopher would say when he really, really wanted to play with a toy one of his cousins had. With much intensity and with every cell in his body involved in the expression of his feelings, he spit out to his mom after she explained he would have to wait his turn to drive the Little Tikes car, "But Mom, it's WAY important!"

Something became "way important" to me this week as well. Preparations had been made for my son's Kyle's book-launch party—who was bringing what, the time we would gather, food we would eat, games we would play. Balloons were filled with helium, inhabiting most of the space in my car. But something was missing. I had to bring a decorated cookie.

I called the cookie place where Brent purchased a cookie 34 years ago with writing on it that said, "Can I marry your daughter?" he presented to my dad. The same establishment had decorated a cookie for us bearing the image of a purple blow dryer as we celebrated my daughter-in-law Destiny's receiving her beautician's license. That fifteen-inch-in-diameter of goodness bore varied messages of celebration over the years. I learned, however, the company had gone out of business. I looked at Wal-Mart and Sams Club, but both places had pre-decorated cookies I would have to un-decorate in order to create the bumblebee-themed cookie I envisioned.

So I purchased a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough and some tubes of yellow and black frosting. I baked the cookie then pulled it out of the oven, and we drove to Kyle and Destiny's house while the cookie cooled. Destiny was wearing a shirt with the symbol of Kyle's website on it, a bee, so she sat as a model while I traced out the image with frosting onto the cookie, and she cheered me on while I worked.

The word that keeps visiting me as I write this is, "within." I tend to imagine that life would be richer if there weren't limits but am learning to value to what can happen within those limits. What is God inviting me to within this seemingly too short half hour I get to share conversation and coffee with my daughter? or the only one night away with my husband? What would God have me do with the paycheck that is smaller than I expected or with my energy and time that never seem quite enough? What will the designer draw in this limited space?

The Psalmist in scripture says this: "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places." If I live stepping into the path of this truth, I can also live believing what is meant to be will happen within those places, things that, like my odd set of chairs, maybe shouldn't even go together.

But somehow they do.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Part of Me

I dance. It's not that I necessarily ought to run out onto the dance floor at wedding receptions with the 20- and 30-something-year-olds, but I do. And yes, I wake up the next morning thinking maybe I should have sat and talked more with "the people," but I couldn't have not danced. And only Martinelli's is involved, honest.

However, when a deejay plays a song I don't love or that sounds foreign to me (which is mostly everything written after 1980), I am able to sit it out. And those digital-ish new songs that kids jump vertically to give me a chance to sit down as well. My generation dances back and forth, not up and down.

I didn't always dance. Years ago, a family wedding was approaching for my nephew Bryan and his fiance, Karis. "You won't catch me on the dance floor," I explained to Kelley, my son's girlfriend at the time, now his wife. "I'm too self-conscious and am not that great at dancing." She gave me some wise instruction. "Watch everyone who is out there dancing. Almost everybody looks goofy. So just go out there, be goofy with everyone else, and have fun."

My husband still mostly refuses to dance, but when the song "Unforgettable" plays at a reception, he knows wherever he is in the room, that's his signal to join me on the dance floor. He holds me tight, and we sway, and for that three minutes and twelve seconds, all is well in this world.

It was fall in 1974, and my junior high school was throwing a dance. Not a get-invited-by-a boy-and-wear-a-corsage dance, just a lunchtime dance. My friends and I confessed to each other we weren't sure how to dance. So we did what every insecure adolescent girl would do: we asked a popular girl to show us how.

I felt brave approaching Kati in the locker room after gym class, asking her to show me and my friends how to dance. She kindly showed us. First the feet. Step left. Then bring your right foot to a tap towards the left. Step right. Then bring your left foot to a tap towards the right. Add a little swing with the arms, left in front, right behind, then switch, and you've got it. Over and over we practiced until these two steps became a part of us.

That junior high dance step is still a part of me. When I am dancing and run out of moves consisting mostly of choreography (if the singer is singing about living on a prayer and being halfway there, I choreograph accordingly) and of copying anyone around me who seems to have something original going on, I return to my junior high basic steps. And I picture the locker room benches, the lockers, the aisles, and the popular-but-approachable instructor teaching us to sway back and forth.

I woke up with wet eyes this morning. I woke up thinking about dancing. I woke up thinking about dancing when the deejay plays a song you disdain. The song that was never on your playlist. The song that you would never have chosen for yourself. The song that sends you running to the restroom to not have to hear it or has you thinking you must be at the wrong party entirely. The new widow has it playing at her house, as does the family ordering a hospital bed for their loved one to be comfortable living out his last days at home. The young couple leaving the hospital maternity unit to return home with empty arms.

My dad's life ended with a foreign, unpleasant song, living his last year and a half as a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic. "Unbelievable," he would sometimes utter, even just mouthing the word when his ventilator would not allow him to speak. Tears would sometimes run down his cheeks, tears he was unable to wipe away himself. Yes, he said and did many inspiring things in his injured state as well, but there were times he just had to be sad and mad awhile, times he refused to join the dance for a time.

He would have turned 85 this month but died at 66. I've walked through April saying out loud, thinking to myself, praying, I suppose, "There are many 85-year-old men in this world. Why couldn't my dad have been one of them?" The question goes unanswered, but I find myself asking it again anyway, wondering why the song of my life doesn't include having parents who are still alive.

We're having a family party Monday night, of all times, because Tuesday my son Kyle's first book is to be released. Desserts, a photo booth, games, and black and yellow bee-themed decorations are in the works. We won't turn on music and clear a spot to dance, but we'll be dancing just the same, to one of those I-can't-help-but-dance tunes.

I enjoyed breakfast out with my two daughters and two daughters-in-law this week. I want my dad to see the beautiful young ladies his granddaughters have become, to meet the lovely girls my sons chose to marry, who bring even more love into our family. I want to hear him to laugh out loud at my son's writings. I want to see his eyes get wet with happy tears. I want to overhear my mom calling forty of her friends to tell them what's happening in our family.

I want them to be at the party. They won't be at the party.

When I am happy mixed with that bit of sad as we celebrate and I don't know quite how to move, I'll reach way down deep to that first song of love God ever sang over me. I will see him showing me, step left, then right. Now add the arms. And I'll dance.

It's just part of me.





Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Tear


Early Thursday my car rolled across Walnut Avenue while my navigation system steered me away from the freeway to avoid stopped traffic. My mind wandered to a healing moment I had experienced years ago. My mom and I were at a women's event at church. It was a Saturday morning, and round tables filled the church hall. We were sitting across the room from each other, both surrounded by our own friends as we sang worship songs. We began to sing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." Through the crowd of standing women, my mom stooped and leaned to find a space through which she could peer at me. She waved her hands until I saw her. Our eyes met, and she smiled a smile that said, "I see you, and I love you."

This stemmed from one of my family of origin's remember-the-time stories we often told. "Remember the time eight-year-old Diane went forward in church to receive Christ and no one saw her? We were sitting in the late room behind the sanctuary listening to the sermon. She asked Mom and Dad, 'Can I go now?' and they said, 'Yes,' thinking she was running off to Sunday School early. On the ride home, she noticed no one was saying anything about her big decision. So when we got home, she sat at the piano and played 'I Have Decided to Follow Jesus' over and over and over again, hoping we would notice. Finally, Ginger telephoned and said, 'I saw Diane go forward in church today. How exciting!'"

The look from my mom brought a smile to my face, a tear to my eye, and healing to a place deep inside me I didn't even realize needed healing. I will always cherish our moment of exchanged glances.

I drove further westward on surface streets and thought about the word "compensation." There are times I notice God giving back to me and others something we previously went without. While growing up, my cousin Dave had one sister, and their parents had a fancy car. He envied our crazy family of eight, whose clunky VW van offered a bumpy and noisy ride. He now has 14 children and drives them in a mini-bus! I have a friend whose mom died when she was young, and she now has friendships with older women and herself mentors moms with young children. I notice God giving these compensatory gifts in ways I least expect. He provides, but not necessarily in the way we expect or through the people we think he would use. I grew up feeling I wasn't seen, being in the middle of a large, busy family. So the times God reminds me he sees me are extra meaningful.

I pulled up to a stop sign at Reservoir Street, where a surprise tear ran down my cheek. Thankfully no one was behind me, so I lingered there a bit, cherishing my tear and letting my heart expand with gratitude. Where the two roads intersected, a memory of my mom's intentional glance intersected with a month-old memory. 

I was in Israel touring with a group from the church my little brother pastors. We visited the Jordan River, and Rod performed baptisms there for whoever wanted to be baptized. A couple from our group had a guitar and sang some songs as we lined up and one by one were prayed over and immersed into the river then lifted up from it. Right before I stepped into the river, I asked the couple to sing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." 

When my turn came, Rod had one hand on my shoulder and one hand on my clasped hands while an assistant on the other side did the same thing. He asked me if Jesus was my Lord, if I had trusted him as my savior and wanted to declare my love for him. "Yes, absolutely, yes!" I beamed. Rod prayed the most beautiful prayer over me—a prayer that elicited deep sobs of gratitude as he thanked God for my children, for my healing from hepatitis C, and asked God's blessing and guidance over me as I sought to grow more in love with God and to love others with his love. It was a prayer that said "I see you. I see your heart."

As I sat at the stop sign, lingering with my rolling tear, I knew God had peered through the hazy morning, around the many cars, stooped down, leaned in, and looked at me with a smile that said, "I see you, and I love you."