The most important thing in my life is my faith in Jesus Christ. I don't take it lightly. Yet, I am constantly challenged to check myself to make sure that my current views and beliefs line up with the bible. The bible to a follower of Jesus is the blood to our soul; without it we are going to die. The bible is actually the word of God, Jesus is the Word and thus what we have to know the heart of God here on earth. But I do have to check myself and make sure that I am not in love with the bible alone (meaning in love on a intellectual level and not really in love with Jesus). In love with Jesus may sound strange because we are usually romantically in love with someone. When I say in love with Jesus I mean that he is the one on my heart, on my mind, the object of my devotion and affection.
Where I am challenged is sorta two fold. I will talk about the first and then the other in a following paragraph. I am constantly challenged by the Word of God. When I read it it is not a passive text to me. I am challenged in how I view God because I want to understand him correctly, not just how I fancy him. I am challenged in how I live out my life because:
For the word of God is living and powerful,
and sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing even to the division of soul
and spirit, and of joints and marrow,
and is a discerner of the thoughts
and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
I can attest to this, because the Word of God pierces my heart and corrects me constantly. To follow Jesus isn't like a club you join and then you get your membership card and you are done. No, to follow Jesus is to subject yourself to a lifetime of sanctification. He, through his Word, the Holy Spirit, and hopefully our Christian bothers an sisters, are working out the dross in our metel, if you will. Jesus wants his church, his bride, to be pure and thus he constantly works on purifing me because I am one of the people who make up his church. I have to say that most of this work for me, right now in my life, is in the realm of my attitudes and what comes out of my mouth. The beauty of how Jesus works in sanctifying is that he is gentle, patient, and persistant. He doesn't go all at me in every area at once. It's like I am a little child and we are focusing on one or two things at a time.
Why does he purify us believers? He wants us to be holy as he is holy.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober,
and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to
be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
as obedient children, not conforming yourselves
to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as
He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all
your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
Of course, we are not going to perfectly achieve this as we live here on earth, but we can become more and more like him. Also, our efforts to be holy do not save us from the wrath of God. We are all born sinners and seperated from our creator God. His wrath was on us because "We all sin and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 The good news is that Jesus took the penalty for the sins of the world. When he died, was buried, and rose again he took on our sins and the punishment came on him. He died for us, in our place, but rose to life. God made it simple, we need to have faith that all of this is true and put our faith in Jesus to clear our name with God. He took our punishment and we are considered justified (like in a court of law when a person is exonerated). This challenges me over and over again because I see that there is nothing that I ever did to desirve this and there is nothing that I could ever do to earn Christ love and forgiveness. It is a done deal and my part is to believe it. Amazingly simple. What is challenging is living it out. The bible tells us that once we believe this we are made into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is the idea behind the term born again. When we believe on what Jesus did for us, we die to sin and are made alive with him. We are born in our spirit and given the Holy Spirit to live in us. Our body is actually the temple of the Holy Spirit. That is a glorious and heavy thing. To have God living inside of me is incredible, but he is always there with me, when I live in rightousness, or when I choose to live in unrightousness. I could actually grieve the Holy Spirit who lives in me. That is a concept you don't hear much of, but it is a real thing Christian friend. I desire to live in a way that brings God glory and honor and am challenged to be wise in how I live and not grieve the Holy Spirit.
Here is the second thing that is very challenging. When you get a group of followers of Christ to gether you get a lot of different ideas about the things of Christian living. I think this happens for a few reasons. The first reason being is that each of us are at different developmental stages in our life with Jesus. You could not sit in a room of mixed ages of people and have the 2-year-olds and the 32-year-olds agree on the same thing. We have different ages in our faith. I am 42 years old in my faith. I can't expect someone who is 6-years-old in the faith to have the same bible knowledge and experience in life as I do. This causes differences. Another reason that we are different I believe is due to the churches we attend. Not all Christian churches are the same, and not all churches are practicing the true teachings of the Christian bible. You could have a room full of people who say they are Christians but it could very well mean different things to different people. If one does not get into the bible and read and study it for themself they could easily be misled. Just because a pastor says it doesn't make it true. Our true North, the compus of our faith is the Bible. This can even be challenging because people interpret the Bible differently. Some people like to extract a verse and give it meaning that it doesn't really have. Some people like to heavy on one part of the bible and neglect the others. Some people do not believe the Old Testament is relavent anymore and only read the New Testament. It is challenging to be united even in one faith. This is not at all what God intended. He wants his body, the body of Jesus Christ, the church to be united. How on earth can that be accomplished? Read and study your bible Christian. Humble yourself before God and committ to obeying what the Bible teaches. Find a church that teaches the bible, where there are not celebreties but bothers and sisters in the faith wanting to uphold the Holy Word of God, have faith that Jesus alone is their Savior from the wrath of God against sin, and who want to live in truth and love. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is challenging and you will ever be growing. The Bible teaches that we are aliens and strangers here on earth (I Peter 2:11) and that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We will have struggles and will live in a world rift with sin, but we have our hope in Christ and the eternity that we will spend with Him without suffering or sorrow.
Are you also a follower of Christ? What do you find challenging?
You do not need to hear to listen.
To really be heard doesn't depend on your own volume.
Words can fall on deaf ears and never really be heard. Sometimes those deaf ears hear more than the ones that have the physical ability to hear.
Our souls long to be heard. We are creatures that need to connect, to be heard and mirrored back the very things we express. But the physical act of hearing has nothing to do with if those expressions are really heard.
I have a new friend named Jeannie. I work in a quilt shop and she shops there. My new friend is deaf. She wears a hearing aid, but I do not know how much she can really hear. She says that she reads lips and has taught me to speak normally to her and not try to enunciate my words. We have had delightful, supportive, caring conversations over the cutting counter. She has shared her life with me and I with her. She is special to me because she listens. Her responses are helpful because she hears with the invisible ear of empathy.
This year has been a painful one for me. I have a kiddo that has endured a lot of physical pain that I have barely been able to help relieve. When you are a mother, your child's pain becomes yours but is carried differently than their physical pain. A mother's pain is deep in the heart. Jeannie listened with the ear of empathy and it was a soothing balm to the ouch deep within. Her empathy came alongside me and invisibly held my hand and walked a few steps with me. This act of empathy made me feel less alone.
Right before Christmas, she shared her own pain of not wanting to go to a Christmas party at the retirement apartments she lives at. This was the first Christmas since her husband's passing and she wasn't up for it. She was happier being in the quilt shop. I was happy that she shared with me. It was good to be able to return the gift of empathy her way. Good friendships go both ways and are a dance of give and take.
You do not need to hear to listen. Reading a letter or email has no sound and no need of the ears, but it is a way that you can listen to a friend. Looking at the countenance on a friend's face can speak out loud what is on the inside. The length of an embrace can shout a need for love and support.
We are told from the Word of God to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
Quick to listen. Every one of us needs to be heard, really heard. I encourage you to give others the precious gift of listening with the intent of caring for them right where they are at. That my friend is the invisible ear of empathy.
What if I'm not selling anything? What if I'm not trying to get you to look at me and admire my life? What if I'm not clever or funny? What if my kids are no longer cute? What if I have nothing to prove? Then I've got nothing. I have no material for social media.
I think that is why I write here. I've got thoughts. I have experiences. I have lived through a few things. Most of my life is lived internally. I always fancied myself to be a very outgoing extrovert. I think that could have been a false self, or maybe I just out grew her. What really goes on in my life you can't take a picture of and post it on Facebook or Instagram. Words are actually my photographs.
I have been in a long trial. You know the things that James writes about. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
I haven't had pure joy. I have a lot of self contemplation and struggle with what is going on on the inside. I'm telling you this because I know that you go through it too. How do I consider a trial, the very thing to bring about emotional and physical pain to be joyous? Really James, really Jesus? What kind of teaching is this? This flies in the face of the "Christian" teaching of wealth and health. When you really look at what God has to say about life you start to realize how different it is than popular messages that get taught and circulated in our world today..
I have come across this verse this summer, or at least one like it. I have had to really chew on it. I have had to apply it to the fact that even though God could heal Jake of the pain and disability he is in, He is still righteous and faithful in answering my prayers with a no. "The LORD is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does." Psalm 145:17
I have had to cling to this. This is what I have in the mist of no sports games, dances, or awards to show for Jake's life right now. God is faithful in all he does. Jake and I are both believers in Jesus and that makes us belong to God. Whatever He does in our lives is faithful. Even though on a surface level I feel that we are not living in the normal, and I have doctor visits that affirm that notion, we are living with a God who is faithful.
Jake wants to do work that will help people. He is learning first hand what a difference it makes to have a caring doctor. He is also learning the loneliness of being ill and not having any outside support. He wants to be a caring friend because he know how important it is.
I am learning what it is like to have to navigate the medical system. That is teaching me to persevere. Also, I have learned that unless another has suffered similar to you, they just don't get it and it isn't personal. They have no way of knowing what it is like to be in your shoes. And yet, when you find that one person who knows because they have been there it is like finding a fresh glass of water on a hot summer day. I hope to be that person to others.
So I've got nothing inspiring, funny, or light. No cute pictures of my kids going to dances, winning at football, or getting an award. I have to trust the unseen one, who is doing unseen work in my family and my heart.
Do any of you tire of seeing only success out in the cyber world? Do you long for more of what is real and for people to show all facets of their life? I'm a realist and just can't be untrue to myself. Anyone else out there like that too?
Playing cards was just simply a part of my life as a kid. I grew up before cell phones and computers were in the lives of common folks. We had to entertain ourselves with simple things like cards. In my family we would play cards when relatives would come to visit, and we would play cards to pass the time on Christmas and summer break when the days were long and there wasn’t much to do. My card playing years were about 1978 – 1984, I was between 8 and 14 years old. Little did I know that the act of playing cards those years was simultaneously embedding memories in my brain that would surface some thirty plus years in the future.
Somewhere out in the world at that time was someone whom I had yet to meet and would not meet for decades to come, but whom I would also play cards with. Maybe he was playing cards in those years too. During my card playing years he would have been in his 50’s. He would have been someone that seemed old to me at the time, as he was only three years older than my maternal grandfather. It would have been impossible for my younger self, the girl I was in those years, to have imagined making a friend out of someone that much my senior. His generation was so foreign to me. They were the people who lived the history that movies were made of. They were they people that would dance the jitter bug and listen to radio programs before television. They were from a bygone era and I thought would be gone by the time I reached this current era.
John is the friend that I would play cards with. A surprise in my life. A link to my past and a hand to help me go into my future. There were connections that I have tapped into as I have spent time with him; things that surprised me and that I hadn’t bargained for.
Fast forward from my card playing years to now, 39 years into the future, and I would find myself needing a part-time job to pay for an online school for my youngest son. I only needed to make a little per month to take on this new expense. I wasn’t looking for a career, my career was still to be wife and mom, but I was looking for a job and I wanted to do something that mattered as I worked for the extra money. I took on a job with a company that hired caregivers for people who needed help in their later years. In late October of 2016 I was asked to fill in for another caregiver at John’s house. My other client had gone into the hospital and I was no longer needed there and I needed to do some temporary fill in jobs to get some work hours.
The first time I was at John’s house he kicked me out. He said he had a friend coming to take him to a church to listen to something about politics. It was an election year, and a month away from voting on who would be the next president, with the first female running for office. It was modern times and we live in the liberal state of Oregon, so I thought he could be telling the truth, people were heavily talking about this election, but I wasn’t sure if his story was true because he also was in the grips of dementia. He was kind about it, the throwing me out. He had things to do and places to go, and I had to go. I left, but parked my van away from his house in watch of what may and may not transpire. Calling into work, I told them the situation and that I would stay near until I heard about what was really going on. I wasn’t sure if he really had a friend coming or he just wanted me, the stranger, to go. The phone call that I got from the office assured me that they had talked to his son and he thought that it was true that John had other plans and I was free to go.
The next day I arrived at his house he was ok with me staying. He took me down the hall, reassuring me that he wasn’t going to try any funny business, and showed me to his office. There on the wall were pictures of him in his navy troop, photos of the ships he was on in WWII, and photos of he and his beautiful wife around the time of their wedding (she had passed away 2 ½ years prior to my first days at his house). After that we sat in his living room and visited. There was nothing else to do because his house was immaculate, orderly, and he didn’t want anything done. I somehow made it through my three-hour shift and left, glad I would not have to return. He was a nice man, but sitting for three hours was not what I wanted to do for work. I like to be productive and am not one to sit still.
I took a couple other fill-in jobs and then was called to see if I wanted to go back to John’s on a regular basis. I declined this offer since there was nothing to do. I felt good for not accepting something that I didn’t feel comfortable with, but quietly and gently there was something that tugged at my heart for him.
I knew that tugging, because I have had it before. I have felt the drawing of the Holy Spirit in my life. Sometimes the leading was simple yet a little odd, but at the other end of where I needed to go was blessing both for myself and the other person involved. I had to go with that tugging, so I let the office of my employer know that I would take on John as my client. I was now to be one of the caregivers to this spunky man of 89 years.
We quickly hit it off. He had a great sense of humor and loved when I joked with him. I loved learning of his life in Dos Rios, CA as a young boy, and learning the characters of his story; his mother and father, brother and sister, grandmother, the school teacher he loved and the two boys who were friends of his. One of these boys had a hole in his pants and was climbing down the chain that held the tire swing in the school yard. These two boys didn’t have a mother to mend their clothes and didn’t have underpants either. During the decent down the chain, one of the two brothers got a testicle caught in the link of the chain. The teacher came to his rescue and told the snickering girls to all leave as she untangled that unlucky testicle.
I have heard many stories that have poured forth from John’s memory. Now did his memory serve him well, or was I getting half- truths from a good story teller? I don’t know. But for the time we were together, every memory and story was taken as his truth for the day. His dementia was a bit of a mystery to me. He seemed to be really with it and know what was going on. Knowing him for only weeks did not give me the full spectrum of knowledge I needed to successfully handle each day’s new issue.
On Veteran’s Day he was sure that he needed new glasses. Due to the training for this job, I became aware that I would possibly be taking my client to dr. appointments and assumed that taking John to get new glasses was in line with my duties. At the optometrist, he sat and tried on different styles of glasses as I and the lady who worked there helped him pick the right pair. He would always wear his “cone scooter” (this was his name for his hat) and on it was embroidered his years and branch of military service. This hat attracted attention, magnetizing strangers to him to thank him for his service. He was thanked that day as well from one of the ladies that helped him choose his glasses. He sat next to me and as we bantered back and forth, as we had grown accustomed to doing, he would smile and I knew that he was enjoying himself.
At some point during the verbal frivolity, he then surprisingly asked if I would marry him. This was funny coming from the man who thought it was good that I was a married woman, assured me that there would be no pats on the butt when I was with him, and that there was nothing between us and wanted to know if my husband was okay with me doing my line of work (I’m assuming him meaning spending time alone in another man’s house and running about the town with him). In the spirit of fun, I accepted his offer of marriage! And in a way my heart would become "married" to him, in a different kind of love and commitment than I had known before.
Once his glasses came in, his friend took him to get them, and according to John they didn’t work for him and he wanted them returned. One of his grown children, after the fact, asked me if I was aware with the issues with his eyes. No, I was not. I felt silly for following him down this path and began to see that my view of him may have not been accurate. Things would come up as important for that day, but would fade into the background the next. There was a benefit of my believing his daily concerns to be real and because I took him seriously I gained his trust. Trust was going to be an important part of our relationship as he declined deeper into his dementia and needed help and reassurance in the near future.
In the month that transpired from that day to his 90th birthday (12/21) I would often listen to him tell of how he wanted to die and how he didn’t want to make it to his 90th birthday. But you see, for some reason unbeknownst to him, John was just not dying. He wanted to with all his heart. He wanted to go to bed and not wake up. He wanted to be with his wife.
During that month, I heard stories of how he came off a LCPV (landing craft personnel vehicle) on different islands in the Pacific arena of WW2 on and near Okinawa only to be met by Japs (sorry if you are offended, but that is what the Japanize where called during the war) and it was a kill or be killed. John killed. John survived. He was only 17 when he enlisted in 1944 and served through the end of the war. It was amazing to me that I sat next to someone five evenings a week who had survived what was the fate of so many, the war. He survived for 90 years. So many people of his generation would have loved to have some of those extra years. But John wanted it all to end. I told him he was one tough cookie. I told him that he had been good at so many things in his life, but he failed at dying. He would grin at that!
His 90th birthday came and went, and then Christmas and New Year’s, and he was still stuck on this planet, and he was declining. His health seemed good, but his memories were fading, conversation was getting difficult. Alas, I had an idea to see if he liked playing cards. We needed to fill in the time that I was scheduled to be there as his caregiver. I started out playing the simplest game I knew, War. For a short time we played this, but then I wondered if he would be able to learn a new one. I told him how to play Go Fish and he took to it like a duck to water. I think that maybe he had played before and it was somewhere deep in his memory. And that is how we filled our time together, talking and joking with one another for our first hour together, then playing multiple rounds of Go Fish (which when I was winning he would accuse me of cheating! And little did he know that I was really holding back so he could win at times too!), and then me cooking him dinner and cleaning up. We had a rhythm to our time together and it became easier to fill the time. At times it was difficult to leave when my time was up. He would look at the clock, it would be 6pm, and he would tell me that I needed to get out of there. He was very aware and respectful of my time and the need for me to get home to take care of my family. I was starting to feel like he was family. Maybe I crossed a line as a caregiver by caring too much.....but I didn't care.
The first four months of this year have been hard on both of us. John’s memory has been fading and my life has been consumed with trying to figure out how to help my sick youngest son get well. There had been times that I shared with John about my son. I didn’t mean to mingle my personal life with his, but he was kind enough to ask about me and my family. Something had transpired from my initial first days with him to now and it had transcended the duties of the job of being his caregiver to also becoming friends. He would give me advice based on the things I would share with him about what was going on with me. He treated me with respect, thanked me for what I did for him, laughed with me and even called me a “smart ass” with a twinkle in his eye. I would be a little bit of a smart ass with him, because he loved it and could take a joke so well. I never thought being called a smart ass would feel like a term of endearment, but it did because of the person it came from.
In being a caregiver to an elderly man, I felt that part of my job was to give him a place to be the older man and share his wisdom as my elder. His wisdom didn’t feel condescending but more like a tool that he was using to shape me. It worked because he showed a real interest in me and respected me as well. I felt like I was not the only caregiver in the relationship, he cared for me too.
As we play cards something strange was happening to me. I would get flashes of memories, seemingly unrelated events in my younger life. At first I didn’t know what was happening, why were these memories coming to the surface? I finally realized that these memories had a time span of later elementary years to Jr. high years, the same years that I had played cards to pass the time. Something about seeing the cards triggered random memories from those years. Memories, I have a lot of them. I can close my eyes and be there in my mind when a memory appears. I also have had a time that a lot of my memories have been blocked. When I suffered from post-partum anxiety, after my third son was born, my brain was so tied up in working out stuff that I lost a lot of memory from that time. The brain and memories are a very interesting thing, something that we often don’t have control of. My memories popping up came without my trying to resurrect them and John’s memories of his life were dying without his trying to make them go. It was a strange paradox to realize.
These memories were giving me a window into a part of my life that I think needed some work. For some reason I needed to reconnect with the girl that I once was and I needed to open up myself to some healing. Funny how these things come about.
As my memories rose to the surface I realize that I had a good past but there was some things lacking. My memories were aiding me in personal growth, just as John was growing me in telling his stories and giving me advice. My memories, his stories, and his advice had shown me some of my weaknesses, longings, and areas that I need to grow in. I suppose that I had been ripe for this type of relationship. I needed this man just as much as he needed me.
Other things about my time with John connected to that same card playing time. When I was a kid I watched a lot of the old Little Rascal shows. As we sat at his kitchen table playing cards I looked up on Google on my phone that age of one of my favorite actors on the show. Spanky McFarlin, one of my favorite Rascals, was born almost two years after John. When I was a kid watching the show those kids seemed to come from such a far off time, a time so different than my own childhood. And now, sitting across from me was someone who was Spanky's contemporary. I was friends with someone that in age could be one of my favorite Rascals that I thought as a kid came from ancient times. Another thing that bridged my childhood to my friend John's younger self was big band music. As a kid I would play my grandpa's records and my sis, cousins, and I would dance to the amazing music in living room while the adults visited elsewhere. I have loved this music every since and the old soul inside of me felt at home listening to it. Now, as I would cook dinner, I would play Pandora on my phone and tune it into the Glenn Miller channel. He enjoyed that. Some days John would leave the tv on while I cooked dinner. Often he would be watching one of my favorite tv shows of my grade-school days, CHIPS. It was interesting to see old familiar faces of the actors and hear the music that went along with the show. Do you see the connection. Over time I saw it. All of these different things were bringing me back to a time that I was transitioning from being a kid to going into my teen years. It was a time that as a child you are your true self and then as you start to change you become so self aware that you edit and change yourself to be some version that other people want you to be. For some reason I needed to revisit that time, and being with John took me there. And something magical was happening, I was able to tap into a part of me that needed some developing, and he was there to teach me some lessons that I think I missed back then.
I have come to realize that people in our lives have something to give us to aid us in our growth. I like to think of it as puzzle pieces. John had a piece of the puzzle to my life that I needed. Playing cards with him is something that I really wouldn’t have done with anyone else at this time of my life. Everyone else is too busy to play cards, but I needed to play cards, listen to big band music, watch CHIPS, and spend time with someone from his era. I needed to have time to slow down and revisit this younger me, and John, being 90 with dementia sure did slow me down.
As time went by, playing cards became more difficult for him. His near vision was making it difficult to see the cards and I suspected that his mental decline was making the game less enjoyable as well. We stopped playing cards. I had to find something to fill our time. Our times of long conversations was fading as his ability to remember his stories and keep a conversation going were passing. Luckily the bad winter weather was taking a break and the sun started to shine!
Somehow, I discovered his love for ice cream. I think maybe his daughter clued me in. We would drive over the Willamette River to a far-off Baskin Robins ice cream shop and get kid size cones. After that I would take him for a drive. We would then, on other days, take off to different parts of town, or even out of town, to get ice cream and take drives. We would comment on the budding trees and make other small talk. I would play the Glen Miller radio station on Pandora through my phone that was connected to my van's stereo. He would sometimes know the names of the songs that came on and sometimes sing along. He would often try and get me to drive slower. I would tell him that I had people behind me that wanted to drive fast. He didn’t care. He had forgotten about the speed at which life was lived when trying to get to some place on time. He wanted to go slow and see the scenery. It was nearly impossible to slow down, but I did when I could. And this is how we would fill our time together.
As I’m writing this I just feel choppy. I don’t feel that I can express in words the labor and beauty I found in having John in my care and me in his. We had many talks. We connected. We agreed that we were friends. He said that I was family. He became family to me. Sometimes it was easy to go spend time with him, other times I just wanted to stay home and take care of my family. But what I learned from him is priceless. I got paid money from my employer, but I got paid with a valuable education from John and his two adult children whom I was in contact with and got to know as well. I learned a little more about John and his story through them. They both had very different views of the same man. They shared with me their views and parts of their lives as well. Their stories that they shared with me aided in the lessons that I needed to learn.
There are too many lessons to write in detail about. There are personal things from my side of all of this and theirs that I don’t want to share, but from all of their stories and my internal workings of memories, the big take away was this, what you do in your family matters, it seems to matter more than all other relationships. It matters what parents do and don’t do with kids. It matters how you live, it will affect your family. It matters that you care for one another. Families can be resilient, even when there are deep hurts. Love and forgiveness are the most important traits to have. And yet love and forgiveness may never come from the ones you need it from and you may have a hard time giving it to some more than others. People and their lives are complicated.
What I first thought would be a place where there was little work to do, had turned into a place where there has been much work to do. This man had survived the Great Depression, WWII, and all the ups and downs of his time on earth and worked hard. Now at the evening of his life, his life intersected with mine and he had work to still do, and this work was on me. He has been like a computer program that has been installed to find and fix something that has gone amiss in the program. He taught me some things and healed some things. I am a better woman and more whole because of him.
He has often told me he didn’t know why he was still alive. I told him that it was because I needed to meet him.
Today I took a little trip out into the country to visit a very old cemetery. The sign at the entrance said "Zena Cemetery - 1859". I had stumbled upon this place as I was taking my 90-year-old boy friend out for a drive. (Yes, he is male, 90, and my friend. I am his caregiver and it is all good.) We have been having gloriously beautiful weather here in the Willamette Valley these past few days, so I grabbed my light recording devise and ran for the rolling hills!
The grave marker in the picture above looks like a game piece for Chess. I find the artistry of it stunning. I am so fascinated by how ornately adorned bygone graves are marked. After reading grave stones I am left wanting more, like at the end of a good novel, wishing to know the fuller story about each person there. I like people and cemeteries are full of them, well their bodies at least. I love life, and death is a part of life. I work with a man who wants to die and we have had many conversations about his life and his desire to see it end. So before you think that I am morbid take all this in consideration. I hope you too find beauty in these photos and my interest in old grave stones.
The first photo is of two that were born around 190 years ago and I was surprised by the way the sun dances in front of the headstone with the picture that creeped me out! The fourth photo isn't beautiful but has a very heavy feel to it. The heaviness of the stone makes me think of the heavy weight of the truth that we all die. " Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Hebrews 9:27-28
The last photo is a little funny to me. It is so stately erected as a monument for two lovers, whom obviously the lady had successfully snatched herself a younger man of approximately 6-7 years!
Size matters. Lately I have been feeling small. No I haven’t lost weight, and it isn’t because I am short. I have been feeling small because of War, the Ukraine, a cemetery, and the outlet mall. Each of these I encountered last week and it got me thinking about how small I am.
We have a little bichon frise dog who gets really excited about talking a walk. She holds in her poop and pee and saves it for the special occasion of being harnessed and leashed for her walk, and wants to leave her mark somewhere other than our back yard. She also gets really excited when she sees other people on our walk. One day last week we met a man who wore a bill cap hat that was embroidered with something about his military service. After asking if he would say hello to my dog, because she is dying for attention and loves getting pets on her walk, I asked about his hat. This question opened a wide door to me learning more about his service to our country. Now being that I am not too familiar with military service, I listened and had to ask him to clarify things that he said here and there in the conversation. He served in the Iraq war, and I was too embarrassed to admit that I knew little about it. During the beginning of the war I had stopped watching the news. Postpartum stuff hit me hard after the birth of baby number 3 born in 2002 and the news was too overwhelming and depressing. For my survival I shut out a large part of the world. What I gained from talking with my neighbor was the fact that there is a very large world out there, beyond my nice suburban way of life. He lived in it and now has to live with the effects of it (ptsd). I felt grateful for my nice peaceful life, when many more like this man that I was talking with had worked hard and risked their life for my suburbia. I felt small in the midst of this man’s life experiences.
After ending the conversation my little dog and I traveled on. As we were walking past the newly constructed houses that are being built behind ours, I passed two of the construction workers. I politely said hi to the one man who was sitting in the driver's side of his work truck. In the midst of exchanging niceties, we started an interesting conversation. He was originally from the Ukraine. He told me stories of how things were there when he was a boy, how corrupt the government was, and how much people distrusted each other, and how his father wanted to get his family of 12 children out. This man had a Russian type accent and was about 10 years younger than myself. As he talked freely of the history of his country I felt small because at times I didn’t know what he was talking about. I think at the time he was experience life as a 9-year-old boy, I was living mine as 19-year-old girl. This conversation made me realize more acutely that there is so much going on around the world that I have absolutely no idea about and how small my own world is, even when I am so wrapped up in what is going on with me and think it is such a big deal. It is weird to think that at about the very time he and his family were trying to get out of their country and were risking their lives to do so, I was just wanting to get out of town for the weekend to go to the beach.
A day or two after these conversations I was downtown with my 14-year-old son. Years ago we visited the cemetery in that area and walked around reading headstones. This cemetery is on a main street and we drive past it often. What is really interesting about it is that the headstones have really old dates on them. The cemetery was opened some time in the 1840’s. So reading headstones is a weird thing to do, I know, but it is really interesting when you read them and consider that they mark the remembrance of a life lived. Some of the stones made me sad, like the one of a very young woman who was only 21-years-old at her death. I wondered what cut her life so short, was it disease or was it childbirth? Other stones made me feel glad that the person who was buried beneath had gotten to live into their 60’s (I am guessing that would be a long life for their time). What struck me was that there were so many people buried there that I knew nothing more about them than what their headstone said. I knew that there was so much more to their story. That was only one cemetery, in one town, in one state, in one country. There are so many people who have lived on ahead of me and their story will never be known, they didn’t make the cut of the history books, but their life was just as much valid and important. I had to come to terms with the fact that their fate is the same fate of mine. I will live and then die and probably won’t be remembered too far into the future. It made me feel small and it made me wonder how I should be living my life out even if my story only makes a small mark on this planet.
Three days later I took my 16-year-old son to an outlet mall about 15 minutes drive north of our home. Oh my, how I hate going there on the weekends! It was crawling with people. We walked into the Nike store and I was amazed at how many people were in the store. They young man who greeted us said that things had actually slowed down and that it was even more crowded earlier. Thank goodness we were not their earlier. Now, I really like people and fancy myself a real people person, but this crowd in a closed-in space was making my stomach feel a little weird. Another sensation I get when in a crowd of people is the overwhelming awareness that God made all of these people and knows everything about them and loves them. I am one in a billion of the people who walk the earth right now and crowds remind me of how small I am.
All of these experiences of last week don’t make me feel insecure, that is not what I mean by feeling small. I know that I have a place in this world, but in comparison to the whole world of people who lived before me, all the people who live in other places than me, and all the people who share the same area of the world that I live on, in relation to them I am 1:1,000,000,000 (roughly). That is a small ratio! This makes me think of another ratio that is extremely important. Ratios are all about one thing being compared to the size or amount of another thing in the math world. So when I consider God almighty, creator of the heavens and earth, of things seen and unseen, I realize how very small I am. He is my creator. I exist and am alive because of Him. This is the very realization of my ratio of me to him. He is great, I am not. This is His world and about him and not me. He wants me to be humble. He wants me to be humble in a world that exalts man and what man can do. This is sometimes hard to do, but he wants me to realize who I am in light of Him. Humility means to know your place and act accordingly. In light of who God is, my place is not to go around thinking I’m something great and promote myself, but to promote how great He is. This actually is such a relief. It is a heavy thing to always want to make your own name be known and worrying about how you are seen by others. It is a joyful thing to point to Him and make Him known to others.
Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
2 All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
For those who are believers in Christ Jesus and have decided to follow Him, the only way is to humble yourself before God. We are saved from sin and death by the grace of God through faith in Jesus and it is our privilege to walk in humble obedience to him by the power He gives us in the Holy Spirit. “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.
I am often faced with how small I am, I think God really wants me to get that and let it sink into the marrow of my bones! He keeps me in a humble state in life as the caretaker of our little home. It is private volunteer work that doesn’t get a paycheck or win an award like an Oscar. But really, life isn’t about our station, but how we live and whom we serve. This next verse sums up a simple and small life beautifully:
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Do you ever feel small? Do you too want to leave your mark on the world? Knowing that I don't have to be great. because God created me to be me, great or small, helps me relax and know that my life will matter in the small things that God calls me to.
I may not make a great mark on this world and be in the history books, but I want to make a great mark of faith in Christ expressed through love. I want to mark the world around me with the colorful markings of the love of God. For that is the real stuff of life, great or small.
Yesterday was Sunday and I had church in my car while I was listing to the top 30 countdown of the hits of this week in the year of 1997. Who would of thought that you could connect with God listening to TLC, Arosmith, Whitesnake, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and their contemporaries. I was on the road all day! We started our trip from CA back to where we live in Oregon at 7:23 am. For most all of the trip I was following the truck in the photo above. My husband was driving it back home after we bought it from family.
Music has a way of taking you back. As I drove I remembered parts of my life in the decade of the 90's. The memories spanned from heart break to great joy. But what I think that God wanted me to really focus on what was right before my eyes. I was focusing on his provision the whole way home.
My middle son is soon to turn 17 years-old. That late 90's baby needed a vehicle to drive so he could step into the next phase of responsibility and growing up. I had been praying for a car or truck for Drew, but didn't see God answering it with a yes. After having dinner with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law I could then clearly see that God was at work behind the scenes. The truck once belonged to my husbands uncle and then it belonged to his niece. Our niece had friends that were selling their truck and she bought it, which put hers up for sale. My sister-in-law tried to sell in on criagslist.com in their area but it didn't sell. She posted it on facebook and my husband saw it. He was more willing to buy from family knowing that the truck had been well taken care of. Other things happened in our life around here that opened up the opportunity to buy the truck. God was at work, but I couldn't see all the parts and pieces that had to transpire to get to this point.
As I looked at the back of this truck for about 8 hours, listening to 90's on 9 on Sirius XM, God made it very clear that I had before me His provision. And then as the songs keep playing and I was reminded of times of my life in that decade I remembered another thing that I had prayed for long ago in the early 90's and God provide that too. Jeff was an answer to the prayers of my younger self. I was able, with the aid of those songs, see that my husband had worked so hard and provided so much for me. This thankfulness welled up in my heart, because I could clearly see how faithful Jeff has been and that I was very blessed to have him.
Sometimes marriage can be bumpy, and a woman can wish for romance and butterfly feelings again. The thing is, like the lady who owns the quilt shop in town said to me Friday as I was there to buy thread to work on a baby quilt on the trip to CA, "Nothing is perfect." She of course was talking about quilting, because I was sharing with her about my frustrations over not getting my quilt blocks just so. But her words resonate with me. The truck we got wasn't perfect. The truck is a 2000 Chevey and has been used for many things, it has dents, a little rust, and could use a paint job. The man I married isn't perfect, and the woman he married isn't perfect, and our marriage has a few dents and scratches, a few rough patches, but like the truck, it runs pretty darn well!
So church in the car while listening to 90's hit music was pretty cool. God was teaching me that he always provides, he has blessed me with a husband that has loved me and worked hard so I could in turn love him and the kids and work hard for them. Also, I got to enjoy some of the amazing beauty of God's creation. As I had a view of a majestic mountain that was snow capped I was reminded of Mount Sinai and the Isrealites. God made food come down from the sky for them! Amazing how God provides.
So I leave you with this question, what are you needing, and have you asked God to provide?
This whole Starbucks red cup thing is silly. But since it is in the media and being talked about, I would like to offer a different view.
I'm first a follower of Jesus, a wife of 25 years, a mom to three boys, a baker/cook, a photographer, a friend, and a writer.