Saturday, September 23, 2017
I deactivated my Facebook account.
It wasn't one thing -- it was a thousand one things. Here's my theory:
Before Facebook you might work next to someone day in, day out for a decade and never know how completely ignorant they were with regard to environmental issues. Or Obamacare. Or junk science. And so on.
But on Facebook, you even get to interact with complete strangers who comment on your comments and you find yourself in a twisted spiral of annoyance that is way out of proportion to what the issue deserves.
I'm an addict ("Hi, Sharon"), so while I want this to last I know better than to count on it. But I didn't just close the browser and remove the app from my phone like I usually do. Unfortunately I can reactivate my account in about three minutes, but still -- the gesture seems meaningful somehow.
Monday, July 24, 2017
The first book I remember owning was a big children's Bible story book. I can still feel what it was like to be sitting on the couch with Mom or Nana reading to me and while I don't remember what the cover of the book looked like I can see some of the illustrations in my mind's eye: there was a giant hand hovering behind the earth -- like God had just thrown a fastball -- that illustrated creation, for instance. There was a picture showing Noah reaching out of the ark to retrieve the dove returning with the olive leaf in its beak (floating around in a big boat filled with animals sounded like a foretaste of heaven to me). And I had an actual Bible -- it had a picture of Jesus on the cover. He was sitting under a tree and was surrounded by children. The sky was a quite unbelievable royal blue, but I thought it was all beautiful.
Mom took us to Sunday School when we were little, but not church; I don't know why. Dad didn't go with us and at first we went to Anona Methodist Church in Largo. I have no memories of ever entering the church sanctuary at Anona, which is a shame (I was baptized there as a baby, so I DID go inside -- I just don't recall it). Even then the small building was quite old -- my great-grandparents Sara (Hammock) and Irving Meares were the first people to be married in it way back in 1901, and the cemetery behind it contains the graves of the largest gathering of my relatives anywhere. It was built as a community church originally, serving people of various faiths. Today that old building is a prayer chapel. I keep meaning to stop by, to see if it's open. I've been past it so often, but I've never dropped in.
I attended kindergarten at Anona Methodist Church too. In those days kindergarten was optional and I'm pretty impressed that Mom signed me up (maybe I was driving her crazy and it was a way to get a partial break -- my brother is just 11 months younger than I am, so it might have been a chance to spend one-on-one time with him). My teacher was Goldie Kreitzer -- a Jewish name if ever there was one (I don't know anything about her background and I'm sure I didn't even know what a Jew was back then). I loved Mrs. Kreitzer and I loved kindergarten. I wonder if we went inside the sanctuary during kindergarten? It would seem likely, but I don't remember.
My two favorite things were fingerpainting and music. Fingerpainting satisfied my tactile sensibilities. Mrs. Kreitzer would take us into a room adjoining our classroom, help us into a smock, put a big glob of red or blue or green paint on a piece of cream-colored paper, and let us go to town. I can still feel the cold paint squishing between my fingers. The only thing I knew how to create were flowers that I made by smooshing the side of my closed fist in the paint, so that's pretty much what I always did. The end product wasn't important, of course -- it was all about the process.
As for music -- well, "music" is kind of a stretch -- we had blocks that we would bang against each other or hit with sticks, and a few bells, and something resembling castanets, but we just called them "shakers." One child would be chosen to conduct the orchestra. She would stand in front of the class on a chair with a conductor's baton (adults were so reckless with our safety back then), raise her arms, and begin. No tune, no rhythm -- but it felt glorious when I got to be the conductor! Leading the class satisfied my need for attention, I guess. Or power. Everyone had to at least pretend to pay attention to me.
I still have a friend from my kindergarten days -- Kitty Wright McNeel. My oldest friend.
I don't know why Mom switched from Anona Methodist to Seminole Methodist -- it was closer to our house, but not by much. I have a few hazy memories of church at Seminole -- mostly because Mom made me join the children's choir. I hated it because the practices were barely organized chaos and I had such stage fright that I could only whisper when it was finally time to sing in front of the whole church. Oddly enough, I remember one song quite well that we learned in choir: The Church's One Foundation. Go figure. "Chaos" describes my memories of Sunday School there, too. I hated it. I was always sure someone was actually going to get hurt and I also wanted to learn, which was impossible in that environment.
Mom finally gave up -- again, I don't know why -- but I felt relief more than anything else.
On the day of first-grade registration I met Joanne White, another new registrant. When I found out that she lived on my street I was elated. Joanne is about six months younger than I am but just made the cut-off for first grade. Her mother was older than mine and different from anyone I'd known up until then. She was short and broad, had a loud voice and a northeastern brusqueness. She had been raised Catholic, I remember, but had converted to Protestantism at some point. The bus stop was probably half a mile from my house (again -- parents let us do things then that they would be arrested for today) and I'd pass their house on the way. Mrs. White would invite me inside (actually, she would insist that I come in -- she was not about giving me options) and we'd all have morning devotions. There would be Bible reading and then prayer. She taught me to pray using my fingers as reminders: the thumb was family and friends; the pointer finger was people who pointed me in the right direction -- pastors, teachers; the tallest middle finger was for government leaders; the weak ring finger was for the sick and the pinkie, the smallest, was for myself.
Joanne invited me to come with her to a club called Pioneer Girls (that's us in our uniforms above -- Joanne is on the left). Pioneer Girls was like Girl Scouts -- we earned badges, went camping, etc. -- but God was a major focus. I was in Brownies (then Girl Scouts) and Pioneer Girls, but I liked Pioneer Girls so much more. God was working on my heart. I knew of him, but I still didn't know him.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Last year I got to attend The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference. I was so inspired by the speakers and the music and the worship that I was feeling pretty jazzed about doing something for God. Something that I wasn't currently doing. And I thought that maybe writing a blog might be that something.
Don't take this the wrong way. I don't think I'm the female incarnation of Charles Spurgeon or that I have been touched by God in such a way as to make every pixel that proceeds from my keyboard a nugget of gold. I don't think any of that and, in fact, am closer to the "why would anyone read anything I write?" end of the spectrum. But here's the deal...
God gives each of us gifts and the reason he does that is so we'll use them (to edify the Church, further the Kingdom, bring him glory -- whatever, but first you have to use your gifts). I like to write and I write all right (yeah, I did that on purpose) and there is a reason why there is not only one book in the world or one author writing about Jesus or football or romance or gardening. Different writers speak to different readers and I'll allow that there's an outside chance that the way I write or the things I write about might speak to someone out there. I used to know that no matter what I wrote I'd have one reader -- Mom -- but that's not the point. The point is that I love Jesus and I want other folks to love him too. I'm flawed (and all my friends just said "Amen!"), but I'm redeemed. We are each a story penned by God, we are each image bearers, and because of that are worth knowing. So...I'll write.
I was talking with my friend Susan one late night at the conference about the possibility of blogging and she noted that there aren't that many blogs written by women my age (today is my 59th birthday -- I was a much more youthful 57 during our conversation). You can't log on without stumbling over a mommy blog, but for whatever reason there are many fewer empty-nester blogs.
So I came home and started a blog and...quit.
Why will this time be different? I don't know, to be honest. Maybe it won't be. But I read this article about older women the other day and one of the what-should-I-do? suggestions was this:
"There’s a void of women writing from the middle and later years, for reasons both varied and complicated—no doubt because life as an older woman is itself varied and complicated. Be it aging parents or rebellious teens or emptying nests, not everything we experience should be shared. But some can be. Start a blog, submit an article, or tweet your observations about life and gospel and kingdom. Tell your story. Your perspective is vital."
So there you go. My "perspective is vital."
I've actually been blogging for a very long time -- since 2003. On various platforms under various blog names. I used to blog a lot -- almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Then...Facebook. If video killed the radio star, Facebook did the same to a lot of personal blogs. My writing went from longer form to snippets (okay, sometimes I write too much on Facebook). And my blogging became worse than sporadic.
Because I've blogged for so long, though, I still walk through life thinking, "How would I write about this?" or "What a great blog post I could make out of that." I always used to say that I never knew what I thought about something until I'd written about it, and I still think that's true (which means I haven't known what I've thought about things for a while, I guess).
But here's the biggest thing: I want to share why Jesus matters starting with why he matters to me. I have wasted so many years running away from God or going through the motions or doing the right things for the wrong reasons and it's important to me not to waste the time I have left. As the above-linked article cautions, I don't want to forego the important things in life in pursuit of the inconsequential.
If I keep this up it will soon become apparent that finding balance is my biggest challenge. I want to focus on the important -- so does that means I need to stop watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" reruns? Do I have to give up fiction and only read the Puritans with an occasional Tim Keller thrown in as a beach read? I ponder things like this -- probably too much. And I'm not being serious. Okay, I am. Kind of.
The verse that I keep thinking about over and over is Ephesians 5:16 in the King James version: "Redeeming the time because the days are evil." And short -- the days are short. I am almost to the day twenty years younger than Mom was when she died (and, of course, I don't even have that guaranteed to me). When I was twenty that seemed like a boatload of time; now it seems like nothing. What can I produce for Christ in the next two decades if that's allotted to me? Will he bestow on me the oh-so-desirable "good and faithful servant" sobriquet when I see him face to face? Will I finish my race strong to the end?
The key, I think, is to wake up every morning and know that today is the day I must rely on God. Today I can do nothing without his grace. Today I have to preach the gospel to myself: I can do nothing of value in my own power -- he has done, is doing, will do everything I need. We are blessed to have been chosen to be God's instruments here on earth and everything else is froth.
So I'm going to give this a shot and we'll just see where we land.
Mom died on January 25th; we're about to hit six months without her. She'd been sick for a long time, so this should not have been a surprise, but I never believed it was going to happen -- at least not as soon as it did. My poor stepfather, Don, had been calling me the week she died, telling me that he wasn't sure she would last until Friday (my plan was to drive down there that day), but I was sure he was exaggerating. It's a horrible defense mechanism -- I simply refuse to believe bad news and I'm really good at the whole denial thing. It does protect me emotionally, but I almost didn't get to see Mom one last time.
I talked with her over the phone on Tuesday, the 24th. She could speak, barely. I told her to wait for me and she told me she didn't think she could. And I talked with one of her nurses. They were moving her to hospice -- that shocked me into reality. I made quick plans to drive down the next day.
I don't remember the exact times, but I got to her room sometime Wednesday evening. Don was there as was my brother, David. When I walked in she looked up at me with surprise and said, "What...?" I think that was the last word I heard her say; I honestly don't remember. I have photographs of memories of that night, but nothing long and clear. She put her hand out toward me and I took it and said, "What am I doing here? I had to come and see you." I couldn't bring myself to add "...and say goodbye."
The television was going -- Food Network or HGTV -- those had been her constant companions over the last couple of years as she had grown progressively weaker and her world had shrunk until it consisted only of the living room and television.
Don was exhausted. He had taken such good care of Mom -- such, such sweet care -- and the guilt I feel today is less about what I did or didn't do for Mom than what I didn't do for him. We live about eleven hours apart. It was very hard for me to get down to Florida because Bruce, my husband, works in a different state and is gone during the week. We have dogs -- big dogs -- and kenneling them is not cheap. So the routine for the past year or so had been Bruce coming home on Thursday, me leaving on Friday and driving to Florida, Don leaving Saturday morning and spending the day and a night with friends, and me driving back home on Sunday. The purpose was really to give Don a very short break. You had to get up with Mom several times a night, so Don never really got a good night's rest. I would sleep on the couch the first night there so I could hear Mom in the guest bedroom and Don could sleep on Friday night. He slept at my aunt's on Saturday, coming home first thing on Sunday mornings. I gave him a short break, sure, but it was so minimal and I only came down once every few weeks. I should have helped more somehow.
Once I arrived at hospice, Don needed to go home to get some rest. I told him I'd stay the night. He left and it was just Mom and David and me. David went outside to smoke a cigarette and I was given a gift that I'll always remember. I moved as close to Mom as I could get and took her hand. She turned to look at me and I told her I was going to pray. I thanked God for giving me such a sweet mother. I prayed that she would know how much she was loved and I prayed that she would soon be in heaven with Jesus. (The worst part of Mom's death is my uncertainty with regard to her spiritual status. She was never very forthcoming, never really wanted to talk about it. She would sometimes say the right things, but never with enough certainty to give me peace.)
David came back and we sat there in silence (except for the dreadful television). I watched Mom's breaths and then suddenly she didn't take one. I watched and watched and then there was one more. But that was it. Her eyes stayed open, but she was gone.
Mom and I loved one another very much, but we were an odd pair. We had almost no interests in common outside of Alex, my son and her only grandchild. We were comfortable around one another and could easily spend days together and I don't ever remember us arguing -- ever. As she got older she'd get on my nerves occasionally and I'd bark at her and she'd stop doing whatever it was that had annoyed me. (For instance, Mom was a lifelong Democrat. She would always blame my conservative leanings on my father -- as though I inherited them the way I inherited my blue eyes and double chin. I got no credit for thinking about positions and coming to a different conclusion than she had, and one day I called her on it. She never mentioned it again.) But honestly -- the times we rubbed one another the wrong way are so minimal as to be not worth remembering.
So I've mourned Mom since she died, but what has surprised me has been the way her death has affected my emotions in unexpected ways. I cried almost no tears for Mom, but I've sobbed for the losses of others. I know that when I'm crying because someone I barely know has lost her brother I'm really crying because I've lost my mother. I have experienced more nostalgia this year -- an aching sadness tinged with sweetness (but mostly sadness) -- for earlier times. I've spent hours on Google Earth looking at places I lived twenty, thirty, forty years ago and mourning the changes. I know this is all related to the biggest loss I've felt so far -- and I know how blessed I was to have reached the age of 58 and not experienced any traumatic losses. (Yes, I lost Dad and all my grandparents, but for various reasons the losses were not as great as losing Mom.)
I have been acutely aware of how painful and difficult and broken this world is. I compare my easy first-world life to the lives of the majority of people throughout history and marvel that human beings have survived. I've prayed "Come, Lord Jesus" over and over. I've withdrawn from some activities and plunged deeper into others. The whole process has been interesting to observe.
Mostly I have been so grateful that God has made his presence abundantly clear this last half-year. He has guided, he has blessed, he has loved me exuberantly and lavishly every step of the way. I have a husband and son who are loving and kind and good. I have friends who know what is best for me sometimes better than I know myself and they have provided guidance and support and my only fear is that they don't know how much I love them. So this year has been the best of times and the worst of times -- but mostly best because in those worst times are fleeting glimpses of gold and I see God's work even through eyes filled with tears.