Thunderstorms

lightning

My youngest child has always been terrified by thunderstorms. She peppers us with questions about how close the county or town is when a warning comes on TV. If we have to take shelter, she is literally petrified to tears. I think she may have had a breakthrough, however, during the last bad storm…we’ll see if it lasts.

Her sister needed dropped off at a school function just as a recent storm began moving through. Even I didn’t like the looks of the clouds, but radar showed only a thin line which would pass quickly, so into the car we went. She was so scared she was in tears and wouldn’t speak. But she loves science and knowing how things work, so after we safely deposited her sister, I began explaining the science behind the rain and lightning which, at that moment, were pretty spectacular. Pretty quickly, her curiosity began to overtake her fear, and she began to ask probing questions where my initial explanations fell short. Soon she was actually admiring particularly cool lightning streaks. By the time we arrived home, she was as chatty as only a 5th-grade girl can be.

I wish I could say I had brilliantly planned this strategy, but it was a reactionary instinct. As I thought about it afterward, it makes sense: generally the only way we overcome our fears is to face them. This was the first time she’d really been out in a storm, as well as the first time it had been explained as a necessary part of nature. In hindsight, of course it worked.

The lesson was a good reminder. As I think back, I’ve only experienced real personal growth when I’ve moved outside of my comfort zone. I hope the lesson sticks with my daughter–I hate seeing her that scared. If it does, we’ll use it as a teaching moment, to help her see how to face her fears. I fear that is a skill she will need.

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” –Christian Nestell Bovee


Lost

ribbon

A friend vanished from our lives last week. The shock has hit his community of friends hard…it isn’t supposed to happen this way. He and his son went hiking on an impromptu trip to the Colorado mountains and literally disappeared. They called off the search a week after they were last heard from.

I first met Damian as he was joining and I was exiting the women’s council at the company where we worked; it would be the first of three times we passed each other in transition. I was intrigued as to why a guy would ask to join an all-female group. That took courage, and because of it I admired him immediately. Damian is easy to like. He has a ready smile, and when he’s with you, he’s really with you. Since he went missing, I’ve been amazed not only at the number of my friends who knew him but who were also touched by him. They are dispersed not just geographically, but also by gender, age, and job. His family deserves to know how widespread his impact has been.

The shock of their sudden disappearance and lack of closure on their fate have been unsettling. Media headlines used the words “missing” and “lost”, but as I kept Damian and Evan in my prayers during the week of the search, I knew they were never really lost. None of us ever are. While we may lose our way, physically or spiritually, the God who made us and loves us is always with us. We may lose our ability to sense His presence, but He is there just as surely as the oxygen we breathe but cannot see.

My prayers have shifted to Katherine and Lauren as they deal with their loss. I have faith that Damian and Evan are now safe and loved and at peace. My wish for their family is some measure of that peace, knowing that the world is a better place through the many lives they have touched.

“Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  –Romans 8:39


Funeral Music

ship

While the 1992 movie Prelude To A Kiss was only moderately entertaining, the main premise of the story stuck with me because it didn’t make sense…until recently. When a pessimistic young bride agrees to a dance and kiss at her wedding with a strange old man, they switch bodies a la The Parent Trap. We eventually learn it is because at that moment, each wished to be the other. I instantly understood why a cancer-stricken old man would want to trade places with a young woman, but why did she envy him? Apparently, the appeal to her pessimistic outlook was that at the end of life, there was no longer any reason to be afraid. I heard her words, but the explanation fell flat, making no sense to me.

I finally get it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowly realized that human existence always has been, and always will be, hard. No one is immune, and that’s coming from someone who recognizes I’m more blessed than perhaps 99% of the world’s population. Philo’s famous request, to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” is so true. The older I get, the more tired I get; I wouldn’t be young again for anything.

Yet, I haven’t become a pessimist – quite the opposite. It may sound morbid, but I long ago chose the music for my funeral. I’ve gone to lots of funerals of loved ones–some of which are great memories, though the mood was far from festive. I’ve chosen my music to send a clear signal about my own beliefs. Though it’s normal to be sad at a funeral for those we will miss, I don’t want my family and friends to grieve for me–there isn’t any reason to. I’ve had a good life (hopefully far from over), I’ve been loved, and I feel that I’ve made a difference. Most importantly, I don’t believe death is the end. I’ve discussed why I believe that before.

At my funeral, I want Jimmy Durante’s I’ll Be Seeing You played. I chose this song because I believe it, plus it’s impossible to listen to Jimmy Durante’s voice without smiling. I’ve also chosen Into The West from Lord Of The Rings. It imagines souls as ships passing from this horizon onto the next. Just because we can no longer see them does not mean they are no longer there. And finally, I want The Old Rugged Cross played. It’s one of the old hymns from my early Baptist days, but I mostly want it in honor of my beloved grandfather, who requested it played at his own funeral.

But the finale needs to be this short video of Gonzo the Muppet singing I’m Going To Go Back There Someday. If you haven’t seen it in a while, I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it…it’s guaranteed to leave you smiling. I suppose that’s how I really want to leave all of you someday.

The Unknown Shore

“A ship sails, and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says, She is gone. Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large now as when I last saw her. Her diminished size and total loss from my sight is in me, not in her. And just at that moment, when someone at my side says she is gone, there are others who are watching her coming over their horizon, and other voices take up a glad shout … There she comes! That is what dying is. A horizon and just the limit of our sight.”

–Bishop Brent


Security

bulb

One September morning back in Minnesota, I got up early to let the dogs out through the garage door. When I flipped the garage lights on, I groggily noted that one of the light bulbs was burned out. The ceiling was high enough for a ladder, so I told my husband about it and left for work without another thought.

Halfway to work, he called. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said. The light bulb was not burned out after all, it was removed, sitting unharmed on the workbench. It took a few seconds for the implication to hit me. Someone had been in our home that night. I couldn’t remember if the door into the house had even been locked that morning…that someone could have easily gotten into our home where we were sleeping. It was a deeply unnerving feeling–that violated feeling people talk about when they’ve been the victim of a crime.

The ending was mostly happy. We placed the light bulb back into its socket and installed 2×4 brackets on either side of the door into the garage…no one was ever going to get in that way again. A week later, there were fresh signs on the outside door jamb that someone had tried again. The new security measures held up, but it unsettled us once again.

We told ourselves it was likely just kids playing a prank. I mean, who unscrews your light bulb just to show you they were there? Nothing in the garage was missing, and if someone had wanted to get into the house, they would have. Still, we weren’t reassured. Most of us Americans are spoiled, without serious safety or security concerns. There are exceptions, of course…millions live in unsafe ghettos. But we live in relative security compared to entire countries whose people live daily without it. Friends from Russia and Brazil marvel at the fact that our homes aren’t walled off. The evening news constantly shows us countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Afghanistan where life is insecure. We watch the far off stories, and–maybe–say a small prayer that there but for the grace of God.

Humans crave security, though most of human history has not afforded it. Safety ranks behind only basic life-sustaining needs in its importance to us. Given life’s uncertainties, many look to an unseen force for our security:  if we can’t get it here, is there hope for it elsewhere? Many of us are fortunate to live in a place and time where we will never need to give our safety much more than a second thought. I’d have been perfectly happy to go through my whole life without having to. As for me and my house, we will continue to look Elsewhere for ours.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” –Helen Keller


State of the World

alone

This picture is my answer to the 17th question in Matador’s 20 Questions for the Spiritual Seekerto non-verbally describe the current condition of the world. I see a world of souls traveling not just alone, but lonely, beat down by the troubles of this world. There are times of love and laughter, but there is also violence and loneliness, sickness and poverty. We each wage a never-ending battle against these forces, in a constant struggle to balance them in our favor.

Here is my answer to the 18th question: What is my one wish for the world?

love

Peace.

“There is such a shelter in each other.”  –Nick Laird


Can You Go Back?

Victor

My grandparents owned a little vacation home in Victor, Colorado from before I was born until they retired in a different part of the mountains when I was eight. We called it a vacation home, but it was really just a small, turn of the century house built during the gold rush. Victor, with its sister city Cripple Creek, peaked at a population of 20,000 between them around 1900. By the time my grandparents bought the house in the 60s, the combined population had dropped to less than 750. I don’t know what my grandparents paid for it, but they sold it in the mid-70′s for $6,000. I just saw a very similar home for sale online listed for $139,000. Grandma would be upset she didn’t hold on for a better deal.

My memories of the place are unrealistically idyllic…I can see that now through my adult perspective. But as a child, our visits there were an adventure. It was small, two bedrooms and one bath, a living room, and a kitchen/dining area. My guess is about 800 square feet. I remember the furnishings looking old then, and not “antique old”, just worn. There was a small box of toys with missing parts on the porch and a black-and-white TV with a large cabinet and tiny screen which got a couple of channels, but otherwise entertainment was up to us.

I don’t remember hanging out in the dark house much: with the stunning Rocky Mountain scenery one step outside the house, why would you? I do remember heading five miles to bigger Cripple Creek to ride the train, browse the tourist shops (the candy store was my favorite), or see the “famous” melodrama. I remember long drives and sweeping vistas between small, neighboring mountain towns, each a to-be-discovered jewel of history and Victorian architecture. I also remember my anticipation of riding the deep, underground elevator in the nearby Molly Kathleen Mine. What I didn’t predict was how boring a mine would be to a 6-year old who lacked the adult perspective of its historical significance and the imagination to appreciate what would drive men to choose that harsh lifestyle.

Beyond the few snippet memories of evening meals and cold bedtimes in the house itself, my most vivid memory actually happened just outside of it, playing in the front yard with my kid sister in the shadow of the glorious Rockies. The neighbor lady, ancient Mrs. McCreedy, kept a couple of horses just across the narrow street – we sure enjoyed watching them. One cold summer morning, as a bonus to the horses, a kitten wandered through our yard into hers. I was allergic to cats, which only made them irresistible contraband. Besides, kittens are put on Earth precisely for four- and five-year old girls. We had just begun to play with the little ball of fur when crotchety Mrs. McCreedy popped out of her house to yell at us to get off of her yard. It didn’t take twice! She looked just like the witch in our Hansel and Gretel book, who lured children into her candy house. We weren’t going to make that mistake. I suddenly lost all interest in playing outside, despite Mom’s surprised queries when we suddenly popped back inside. It’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?

It sounds like the area has changed a lot in the 40 years since I was last there. Cripple Creek approved gambling years ago, bringing in much needed jobs, and casinos now line the historic Main Street. Grandma didn’t approve. Listening to her describe how the changes ruined the once-picturesque area, I had never wanted to go back until recently. I don’t know what changed my mind, but it’s now on my bucket list. I just learned that despite multiple return trips to Colorado over the years, my parents never went back either. Grandma and Grandpa are gone now, and my parents (and me, too) are getting older. I guess I just want to revisit that thin chapter of my childhood one last time. I’m going to try to convince my parents to go with me–a long weekend trip down memory lane, with the people who originally walked it with me. I’ve always heard you can never go back…I think I’m going to try just this once.

“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book – and remembering, because you can’t take it in all at once.” –Audrey Hepburn


Two Classes Of Citizens

Sneetches

A friend recently ranted on Facebook about someone who had no use for her until he found out she could help him. I understand her anger–I remember well my own first such experience.

I was a fresh college grad, and the head of our small internal audit department cubicled right next to me. Day after day, he ignored me without so much as a hello, until my first promotion. Suddenly, he was super chatty…the difference was stark. I was appalled. I was ok with him when I thought he was just socially awkward. I suddenly was not when I realized he was only a status-conscious jerk. Ever since, I have had the least use of all for those who believe in two classes of citizens:  those who they believe can help them, and those who can’t.

I can tolerate obnoxious jerks, as long as they’re equally obnoxious to all of us. I’ve even become near-friends with some of them, as I got to know them and discovered they have value to add. I can also handle neurotic, flawed people who struggle to maintain healthy relationships with others due to their issues–I don’t mind going more than halfway. But I can’t stand someone if they’re only being nice to me because they think I can do something for them. I can’t trust them…they’ve made it clear the only person who will ever matter to them is themselves.

I believe in the value of every human being, even the jerks. But I’ll also admit to the irony in struggling to find value in those who don’t feel the same way. Heaven knows, this world doesn’t need more second class citizens.

“Play fair. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” –Robert Fulghum, Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten


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