The Gatekeeper

It used to be that we would send cards to remember someone on their birthday or anniversary. And though there are many advantages to the Internet and the connections we find in social media, it has also changed how we acknowledge those we love, or at least like a little. Maybe not for the better.

Facebook has become the gatekeeper for my greetings. It tells me when someone has a birthday, and that someone might be a dear friend or family member or merely some casual acquaintance in the diary of my life that is now represented by my FB friends list.

If in securing my private information from data miners and hackers, I neglect to post my birthday info, then I don’t exist—at least in the birthday world; whereas, other years when it was posted, I received greetings, well wishes, and dancing GIFs and cake emojis. Quite a happiness pill. Until you realize that you were not on anyone’s mind, let alone their calendar. And it’s so easy. You can even copy and paste the same greeting if more than one of your “friends” has the same birthday.

Easy peasy.

Queasy, sort of.

I am guilty of relying on FB myself; though I must say, I only send greetings to those names that appear if I have some reasonable relationship with them, either past or present. If it is a person I barely remember or one who tends to hijack my posts on food to make them political, I use the strength of my will to ignore FB’s reminder. They get no greeting, and certainly no dancing cake and candles.

I am not saying we should rewind the clock and go back to cards and stamps, though that would be nice. Texting, email, and even FB are quick and easy ways to stay “connected”—whatever that even means anymore. And as my hubby reminds me, FB is just a tool, no different that putting an important date in a phone or written in a notebook. Maybe.

And I’m not pouting . . . well, I am a little. But we have come so far down this technological road that it just might be too late to put this genie back in its bottle.

A Record of Wrongs

I kept diaries off and on as a kid, chronicling important stuff like supper menus, sibling squabbles, and crazy crushes; but it wasn’t until I began to travel and sing full time that I started journaling in earnest. Over the years, it has been a great way to keep a record of people, places, and important events. But . . . and this is the problem part . . . it also became a way of venting, praying, and scribble-screaming. When I was mad at my husband, Dear Diary got the full load of anger and frustration, but I was not as diligent to record the apology or act of forgiveness. When others wounded me or each other, I recorded the offences, but not necessarily the resolution.

In I Corinthians 13 in the NIV translation of the Bible, it states that love is patient and kind and also keeps no record of wrongs. A while ago, that last bit jumped up and grabbed me. Ouch! I began to realize that my record of wrongs was in a box underneath my bed. And I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

To be honest, it has been an effective way to work things out in my mind—to pray and vent without burning bridges; and it also has helped this non-confrontational person let the perpetrator “have it” without crumpling into a pool of tears, and then not saying what she really wanted to say. Cathartic!

I knew I couldn’t just shred the many journals. They recorded births and deaths, accidents and healings, failures and accomplishments. The history that even included betrayals is important to me, too, so as to keep people and timelines in order at those pivotal moments of my life. (May end up in a novel, after all!) But there were things I knew I had to make disappear—things that would be hurtful if ever read by family and friends. And so, I started the task of going through my adult life in print, whiting out and sometimes ripping out that record of wrongs.

It has been painful reliving periods of trauma and pain, going through them once again. Crying once again. It has been instructive, getting a glimpse into who I was and who I have become. A lot changes between 20 and 70! But most importantly, I have been able to once again forgive—to let go of the wounds that have a tendency to wrap their tentacles around a heart. Some situations were healed and some were not, but I can see that if God kept the long list of my wrongs, I would be forever lost.

In His book, He sees Jesus. In His book, I am covered. And I am thankful for that.

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I Corinthians 13: 4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My House Is Haunted

My house is haunted.

I detect the wily ways she uses to move about, subtle but there,

unnerving.

My husband notices dishes that I have previously washed—meticulously, I might add—and they will have miniscule specks of baked on something or other. Not enough to be “dirty,” but just enough to be irritating.

She is saying, “I’m here; get used to it.”

Shoes I have put away appear in walkways so that I almost trip over them if I’m not careful. She sprinkles dust in the night. She leaves the light on in the garage, burning electricity, making me burning mad.

What is probably most disturbing is that every so often she appears in my mirror, her white, disheveled hair, her wrinkled brow,

those staring eyes.

I stare back; I glare back, but

I cannot be too irritated for too long because she does look familiar;

and she looks to have stories to tell; and yet,

she seems trapped, prowling around, haunting my house.

After All This Time

One day slips slowly by, minute by minute, filling up its hours.

One life slips slowly by, hour by hour, day by day, filling up its limits, bounded by health and will and intersection with others on this human path; and

the child’s mind is still there behind the lined skin, the greying strands, thinning. And

the insecure teen is still buried somewhere in those pieces of flesh and neuron, hiding

behind her guitar, trying

to convince the world she is worth something—

trying to convince herself.

And the wandering, wondering minstrel is there with her boundless creativity and her endless insecurity, all muddled into one mass of synapses firing

with the only thing giving weakness away, the red blush that fills her cheeks,

announcing to the world that she is floundering in this finding of her way.

And in a corner is the hesitant bride, sure and unsure,

all the same,

loving and yet not knowing how to love, hoping against hope that she gets it right.

And the mother and the teacher and the artisan and the Christian—jumbles of crisscrossed wires, confident, failing, falling and rising,

sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, now tucking it all in the folds of the grey.

In these slowing days, she can pull out a thread at will and feel what it was like. It’s gone, but not. Each memory has settled into its place.

And there should be a contented sigh to see it shuffled and settled; and yet,

when wisdom should frame it all,

when lessons learned should feel so sure,

she feels she is only beginning this journey.

How can it be that this weighty five pounds of flesh should still be wondering and wandering

after all this time?

I Am Broken

I am broken; I am mended.

I am broken; I am scarred. Lessons learned and some forgotten,

and I say, “Again, Lord, really—again?”

Round and round, my thoughts conflicted, hope and despair in this raw dance,

sure and steady, moments from the fall,

and I am broken; I am mended.

I am broken; I’m dependent, neither seeing nor knowing at all.

Jan. 4? Already?

Well, I am already late.

I thought I would try to write something on my blog this year, if not every day, at least several days a week. I used to be more faithful to do that, but between California and Texas, I lost some of my words. They are still kind of there, but mostly float to a place of capture only as I try to sleep.

I didn’t think moving would be so hard. I knew it would be hard physically, but the grieving–the loss of people and places left behind–has been harder than I imagined. (But I don’t miss Gov. Newsom!)

We have come to a very picturesque place, but we have no friends, just barely a church, no family in this town. We chose it because it is the halfway point between far-flung grandkids. But at our age, setting up a homestead in a new place is challenging, to say the least.

Covid is a factor, I think, in having some people keep their distance, but mainly, being retired means you don’t automatically have a community to plug into. Finding a church where you are not hired to do worship. walking in with a sort of Jesus-pedigree, is challenging for someone like me who is basically shy until you get to know me or unless I am singing to a crowd or doing live television. Just being a plain old parishioner in search of a parish is different and unsettling. And in this process, I have lost some of my words. Life and passion.

I have lost them to exhaustion and worry.

I have lost them to the loneliness and blank-staring, realizing that halfway in-between might just as well be a half continent away.

I have lost them to the stream of dissent and political pundits that crowd the airwaves and my mind waves in this tumultuous time.

But it is high time to fight back. To reclaim the right to think and write and find joy in the middle of all the mess. To create and not destroy.

To be confessional.

To change and be changed.

Stuck in the Middle!

How this giant, metal tube even makes it airborne is a mystery in the first place, but equally mysterious is how fellow passengers can for hours of motion and constant white noise be content to keep window shades down, eyes glued to phones, and be silent except for the momentary few mumbled syllables deemed necessary when trying not to step on each other while edging bodies into these narrow aisles and hard cushioned excuses for seats.

How can the people around me on both sides of the aisle be content with taking off and hurtling through the atmosphere without glimpsing the world outside? A mystery. But also, an irritation for the powerless one in the middle. No control. Penned in. Victim of turbulence, exercising blind faith that we are really flying and not in a fake simulator, part of some grand experiment—or hoax.

To top it off, having to wear a mask accentuates the feeling of claustrophobia—trapped side to side, front to back by non-communicative people, also hidden behind their masks. Does no one like clouds at 33,000 feet anymore? Does no one like to check now and again to make sure the engines are still attached to the wing? With no view to the big, wide world, how am I supposed to know what part of the USA I am going to crash into should this turbulence continue to shake the metal bolts apart that hold this tube together? How will I know the correct time to start a rousing verse of “Abide with Me” if I have no visual cues as to our elevation?

But here I sit in the middle, the squishing, you-don’t-deserve-an-armrest middle, nose running, face hot, eyes staring straight ahead at the pixelated screen with a black and white cartoon jet making ever so slow progress on the line from Dallas / Fort Worth to LAX. I accepted the sugary soda and the dry, round pretzels from the anonymous attendant not because the meagre offerings would assuage my hunger, but just for an excuse to take off my mask and breathe the recycled air more freely.

Interesting that: The miracle of covid is such that if you eat the junk food offerings without a mask, you are afforded an uncanny measure of protection from all things viral. It’s like a pretzel force field descends while you munch, or why else would our all-knowing handlers allow it? Of course, none of it makes any sense.

Once finished, the mask has to go on again, or you will be firmly reminded that the force field has been lifted, making everyone once again vulnerable. It apparently has a short shelf life. Again, I slip into the cone of silence, those on either side still staring at their phones, all windows closed tight in the steely, grey cabin light.

Footnote:

On the long flight home, once again I ended up in the middle. The person by the window slept and snored on taxiing, slept and snored on take off and ascent. He was so out of it, I decided to risk lifting the window shade by him. He never stirred except for his vigorous exhalation, so I enjoyed my cloudy view over his inert body for many aerial miles. Some time later with the rising of the sun, he woke up briefly to notice his shade was up. He slammed it down with vigor and went back to snoring. Of course, I looked straight ahead and said not a word; though I was formulating a lie in my head about the naughty attendant who had possibly desecrated his space.

Next time I need to take a long trip, I am going by car where I can always be guaranteed a window seat and plenty of leg room.

When I Was Young . . .

When I was young, I dreamed big dreams of earth and sky,

of progress and promise.

Context was safety, and I was so safe as to not know what real danger even looked like.

Though it would not have been right to stay in that cocoon of love and acceptance,

I often wonder

if that young girl had known what was really afoot in the wide, wide world,

the wild, wild real world,

would she have dared to traipse beyond the green fields,

the treehouses, and sandy riverbanks,

the hot-breath Holsteins, the feral cats made tame,

the safety of happiness, of home?

Would she have dared to sling a Harmony archtop guitar over her shoulder and run headlong into the unknown,

to explore the more complicated

and often darker underbelly of the world.

Probably.

But can I go back home now?

Psalm 61:1-3–Lilly’s Amplified

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Hear my cry, O God;

my cries wet with tears,

sometimes quiet, sometimes raging, but always desperate.

listen to my prayer.

Let not my feeble words fall on deaf ears;

let not my groanings fail to rise higher than my ceiling.  

From the ends of the earth I call to you,

wherever I am, and every situation,

in the light and in the dark.

I call as my heart grows faint;

as discouragement eats away at my resolve,

as pain thunders across my body and mind;

lead me to the rock

Jesus, Rescuer, Savior,

that is higher than I

stronger and wiser, eternal,

not tied to this fallen flesh. 

For you have been my refuge,

ever present, even when I didn’t know it,

a safe place to run to and hide from the night of soul,

a strong tower against the foe

against evils without and within,

hear my cry, oh, God.

 

“Cats in the Cradle” and Other Untruths

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Sandy and Harry Chapin wrote a song in the 70s called “Cats in the Cradle,” which told the story of a parent too busy to be involved in his child’s life; then, when the parent is retired and free of obligation and wants to get together with the child, who has since grown up with responsibilities of his own, the parent is filled with regret because the child gives the same excuses that he once used for not spending time. 

I remember being impacted by the weight of the message; and though it in no way was the situation in my own home, I knew it probably applied to others who were so into themselves and their careers that they did not meet their children’s need for relationship and connection. And I knew that would be a very bad thing: tut, tut. So the lesson is a good one–to make use of the time you have because soon it will be gone.

Implied, though, is that if you invest totally in child rearing that the relationship with an adult child will not be distant and will be satisfying for all. Except that is not always the case. A parent can be totally present, involved, and committed with time, energy, and money; and yet, the adult child does not take the time and effort to connect consistently and stay close.

My experience: Even after a long, hard day working the fields, milking cows, and in the winter, driving the snowplough, my dad always took the time to watch cartoons with us or play a round of softball. Mom was a stay-at-home mom and was always present–too present sometimes because being present meant if you did something wrong, you got caught immediately.  They were our biggest fans–always at our performances or games or whatever we were involved in. They drove us on long trips to church camps and gatherings when it would have been much easier (and cheaper) I’m sure to stay home and rest. They were present and involved both physically and emotionally.

So when I, who had a bad case of wanderlust, thought going to college at a school much further away than my sisters and brother was a superb idea, they supported me and all of my dreams, though looking back, some were definitely a bit squirrely. They were in my corner 100%.

When I moved to California, even though I wrote and performed songs about them and our close relationship, I seldom called because it was too expensive for me. Of course, I didn’t write either, though there was nothing wrong with my arms. It was more a case of living life with zest and knowing my folks were there somewhere in the background rooting me on–though without any updates on my exploits, they had no idea what I was doing or whom I was with. (I didn’t either all the time, which is rather terrifying to look back on.) Sometimes, I would get lonesome and call home. I would let it ring, but then I would hang up before they answered because I couldn’t afford the call. Somehow that felt like I had touched home; but obviously, it was more than lacking on both our parts and especially theirs who had no idea what I was doing. Dad told me later when I confessed to that practice that I should have called collect. And yes, I should have.

Mom and Dad visited out here in CA once, and our family drove back to Canada every so often; but now that they are gone, I regret how much time I let slip by without contact. I felt close to them, but in many ways, I was living off old memories rather than creating enough new ones. They raised us kids to be independent, but for some reason, the busyness of career and raising a family crowded out what I see now as a lack in my devotion to my parents and my obligation to give back. They were always there for me, and even though far away, I could have done much more to stay connected.

So the “Cats in the Cradle” guilt trip may apply to some who neglect their kids and are not involved and present, but there is just as much guilt to go around for some of us who got it all and still went traipsing off, living life, without looking back–at least, not often enough.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. My parents would not have wanted me tied to their apron strings, and they were proud of my traveling music ministry, my family, and my accomplishments, but when I re-evaluate the “more” that I could have done to stay connected, I have regrets.