Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Courtship of She, Gone Awry

A well-dressed, handsome suitor decided to treat his lady love to a leisurely rowboat ride across a clear, green lake on a fragrant spring afternoon.

She basked in glorious, butter-colored sunshine and in his attention. He placed a cushion on the seat for her and made sure there were cool drinks and nibbly bits of things to eat. Her comfort was his utmost concern.

Languidly, she stretched out her legs and kicked off her sandals. He engaged her in conversation about myriad things and laughed at her witty comments. She enjoyed his company and thought, I could spend the rest of my life with this man.

No sooner had that thought crossed her mind than a shadow passed over his face, and his mood shifted like a thundercloud passing over the sun. He fell silent and didn't engage in her attempt at small talk.

Increasingly alarmed after a few minutes of stilted conversation, she leaned forward and asked if he felt ill.

Without words, he glared at her. Yanking the oars back in, he stood while the little boat rocked precariously. He bailed. He leapt out, causing a great splash, then fully clothed, swam toward the middle of the lake, not the distant tree-lined shore.

Stunned, she gripped the splintered sides of the heaving vessel and called out, “Are you okay? Are you hurt? What is wrong?”

He curtly shouted,“I’m fine! Aren’t I allowed to go for a swim? Must you mother everything I do? Can’t I just be myself?”

What should she say?

What should she do?

The threatening thundercloud of his mood had changed without warning into a full-on squall with thunder and lightning. In shock, she questioned herself rather than him.

Did she misunderstand his intentions?

Maybe she misread his loving care all these weeks past.

Maybe he didn’t want to be with her after all and his mother made him do it. What kind of a remark was that anyway?

Maybe she smells bad.

While the drifting would-be lover floated and kicked and mumbled, his lady love took charge.

Removing herself from the cushioned seat, she tossed a life jacket in his direction and maneuvered herself onto the middle plank.

Gripping the oars, she checked for the closest shore to get away from his floundering self. 

Her suitor angrily slapped the water on both sides of his bobbing body.

“What’s the matter?” he yelled. “Do you always have to be in control?”

This little story could end one of two ways.

#1: Looking in surprise over her shoulder, dripping oars suspended over rippling water, she replied, “Oh! I’m so sorry. Your jump was unexpected!  Honestly, I'm not trying to control you. I thought you were mad at me for some reason and wanted to give you some space. I shouldn’t have second-guessed you. Please forgive me. Here, I’ll help you get back in. I’m so sorry. You take the oars of the boat and our relationship.”


#2: She flung a ferocious glance over her shoulder while she pulled hard at the oars like a woman on a mission. Sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades underneath her Egyptian cotton-covered back. Rather than yell, she let the breeze carry her strong voice, “Stuff you, Jack! If my father knew what you’d just done, he’d tan your worthless hide. You are 'allowed' to do anything you want to. But not with me. Swim home on your own, buster.”

Which would you choose?

"Flattery is like cologne water: to be smelt of, not swallowed."
Josh Billings (1818-1885)

"In all things there are three choices: yes, no and no choice, except in this — I either choose the truth or I am deceived."


Friday, April 11, 2014

Meeting Gerri


I noticed her, pacing in front of the gas station.

A slightly-built older woman, her shoulder-length gray, straggly hair poked from underneath a brown and white knit beanie.

On this sunny, warm-ish morning she wore a thick red jacket with a fur-trimmed hood, topping dirty blue jeans. In her hand she held a plastic bag full of purchases that she’d made inside.

I lowered myself into my car and looked sidelong at her.  Homeless woman, I thought.

My phone chirped with a message from a client. I busied myself answering it before I finished the rest of my errands.

She kept looking at me.

Oh Lord, why is she doing that? I hope she doesn’t ask me for money. I don’t have any.

I finished my message, turned my car on, and put it in gear. I looked up. There she was, coming toward my partially rolled-down window.

Oh no. Please God. I don’t like this.

“Excuse me,” she said with a smile. Her teeth were brown. “Are you going up Lost Mountain Road?”

Relieved, I said, “No. I’m heading back into town, in the other direction.”

“Ok,” she cheerfully said. “Thank you.”

She wandered back to the front of the newspaper dispensers and stood with her back to me.

I sat there. Put my car in reverse. Started to pull out. Then stopped. A still, small voice that I’ve learned to trust held me in check. I pulled back into place.

I leaned my head out the window.

“Ma’am? Do you need a ride?”

She didn’t hear me.

I got out of my car and said it louder.

She whipped around with a beatific smile and said, “Yes!”

I returned her smile and said, “Hop in.”

I’m glad the windows were partially open. She smelled of horses, dogs, unwashed skin and sour breath.

“Where do you need to go?”

“Oh, just up the road a mile or so. Off of Slab Camp Road.”

My planned afternoon was hijacked.

Firstly, I rarely do this. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I gave a stranger a ride. In this day and age, I consider my safety. But I trusted The Voice.

It wasn’t a short jaunt. I think she really misjudged how far she’d come.

My journalism experience in interviewing came in handy as we conversed easily about a lot of things.

As we traveled past lowland meadows dotted with sunshine-colored daffodils and dandelions I learned that she likes to travel. She dreams of becoming a travel writer. Her name is Gerri. One of her favorite things to do is gather brochures from visitor’s centers in various places she’s been.

My trusty little red car climbed higher into the mountains. I learned that she camps by herself in a tent in the wild peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range between Sequim and Port Angeles. She can make a campfire from wet wood, and spends her days hiking trails around her base camp--when it’s not raining or hailing or sleeting.

I turned left onto Slab Camp Road, and she told me I didn’t need to take her all the way in to her camp. The roads are really potholed, she said. She could walk.

“How far?” I asked.

“About two miles,” Gerri said.

Well, I knew her mileage counter was way off, so I kept on. “Nah,” I said. “I’ve got an all-wheel drive. She’ll make it up.”

Upward we went over winding, packed-dirt, rutted and pot-holed roads. I learned that she got a ride into town this morning from fellow campers. But she’s looking for work when she has gas money to fuel her big, old model Ford SUV and has applied to rent homes in Sequim proper.

About 20 minutes later, we pulled into the end of the road where vehicles from other campers and day-trippers were parked.

“Can I give you my phone number?” she asked as she got out of my car with her plastic bag that had been nestled between her feet.  “Maybe someday when I’m in town we can meet for coffee.”

Her lined, weathered, un-made up face was so earnest as she peered down at me on the other side of her window. A tentative smile twitched at her lips.

My hesitation only lasted a fraction of a second. We swapped numbers.

I turned my car around to head back down the mountain. Dappled sunshine filtered through giant firs and cedars. I smiled.

I pondered.

I nearly didn’t go to the gas station first. It was not my first stop. But I was distracted by my insistently chirping phone that morning and missed the turn where I should have gone.

My steps appear to have been ordered for me today.

I would have missed out on the blessing of being a blessing.

I hope she calls.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in…” Matthew 26: 35

Monday, February 17, 2014

Of bushy brows and vision

I leaned my head back into the U-shape of a hairdresser’s sink underneath a bright fluorescent light.

Her busy hands rinsed my hair in warm water. I closed my eyes and sighed. Nice, I thought.

“So are we waxing your eyebrows today too?” I heard through my reverie as she worked soft conditioner through my strands.

“Um, no,” I said. “Just the color was fine. Thank you.”

My friend Lisa said, “Wait a minute.”

She wandered to where I reclined. By now my eyes were wide open.

“What?” I said.

“Oh girlfriend. You have a bush growing on your forehead. You’re getting a wax.”

So I did, but I really didn’t see the need. However, I could tell a difference when she was done. I looked polished.

A few months later I stopped by a place in a shopping mall at Christmastime to get my nails done. That’s all I had time for.

“You want pedicure too?” the lady asked as she filed away on my nails.

“No. No thank you. This is fine,” I said with a smile.

After a few minutes, she peered at my forehead.

“You want waxing?” She said with a concerned frown between her neat eyebrows. 

Good grief, I thought. Not again.

“No, I really don’t have time today, but thank you.”

“Hmmmmmm. One side is not even with other. You look lopsided.”

I just smiled and shook my head, “no.”

So I spent the rest of my self-conscious afternoon wanting to get home to a mirror and tweezers.

Are my eyes really that bad these days? I am older now, and I wear magnifying glasses to read. I wear contacts to see far away. As I age, I find that women of my decade laugh at ourselves and what we see and don’t see. Like whiskers and stray eyebrows.

The other night I sat around a table in a cozy dining room with a few new friends from church.

These women are my “home group.” We have a lot in common: tough upbringings, raising children who are adults and are now raising their own children, marriages that brought heartache and didn’t last, and the joy of finding ourselves amidst all of life’s stuff anyway.

During a discussion of things we have learned about God throughout our lives, it came about that we have learned a lot.

Would we do some things over again to gain the fruit we now enjoy?

Surprisingly, a lot of us said, "yes." Some had to think about it. Some experiences were too painful and raw to consider.

One woman said that she learned about God’s unfailing faithfulness in a way she probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and that she is grateful. When tough days come her way, she remembers. And she doesn’t worry; she has the benefit of hindsight.

I pondered this.

As we age, our physical vision wanes. But sometimes our spiritual sight becomes 20-20.

This morning I stopped on my life path for a moment. I turned my face backward and looked down 52 years worth of road.

So many twists and turns. So many branches that were side-roads, but ultimately led back to the main path.

I truly can’t say I regret everything. I’ve learned too much. My vision is clearer the older I get. God’s skill and wisdom at work in me is sharper. He worked for my good even though I was blind when He did.

There is a Bible verse that means more now in my older age than when I was young: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but then we shall see [Him] face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know [Him] fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 12:12

I think this is true this side of heaven as well. I have learned where to keep my vision:

“…let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1b-2a

I realized, as I turned my face forward again and took another step on my path, that I am right where I need to be.

My vision is just fine, thank you.

Bushy eyebrows and all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The dreaded black day

It’s just another holiday.

My son, and other men I know repeat like parrots, “Valentine's Day is a holiday made up by greeting card companies to make more money.”

Well, that’s not accurate. It's been around for quite awhile, as you can read from this Wikipedia excerpt:

The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.

Greeting cards came much later, so there.

But I digress.

The point is, what holiday is not man-made? Similar to Thanksgiving and Christmas, this holiday with heart-shapes is about love of family and friends--and giving gifts to show that affection.

In typical American fashion, we swing like chimps on vines from holiday to holiday, often overlooking the “why” of it. We neglect to remember that some people are alone. Some people want to close their eyes and wake up on the other side of it. Some people act on their feelings of despair in harmful ways.

Those of you who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s likely remember Valentine’s Day parties in the classroom. We each decorated our paper “mailbox” ready to receive little cards from each of our classmates. After gorging ourselves on pink and red cupcakes and cookies made by room-mothers, we got to open our mail.

For some children it was the highlight of the day, especially if you were a pretty girl that pre-adolescent boys vied for. Other children were mean. They left out the undesirables or even went so far as to write cruel things—anonymously of course.

So, from an early age, it has been instilled in us that this time of year shows us whether we are loved and valuable to anyone or not.

Silly, huh? But it’s what we do.

I have two failed marriages. Neither husband was very big on Valentine’s Day. That’s why our marriages failed.

Seriously, though, it did hurt to make a genuine effort to make sure someone else felt valued by me, only to receive a half-hearted last-minute card and coffee mug. Another one.

In my single years between marriages, I referred to the holiday as the Dreaded Black Day. My boss made it brighter though. He bought red carnation corsages for all the women at the newspaper. Station by station, room by room, dressed in a dark suit enhanced by a red boutonniere and red tie, he asked us each, “Will you be my Valentine?” No small feat, considering there were only three male employees.

Last year. Four days before the Dreaded Black Day, I escaped my living conditions in Australia. Not only my heart was at risk, but my health. I spent nine months trying to get back home to America.

During that time, my eyes were opened.

Two families took me under their wing and roof when I had nowhere to go, and not a lot of money to live on. Two other families helped me in other practical ways, and made sure I had fun, busy weekends to give me a break from stressful things I dealt with.

When I landed at the Seattle airport, one of my best friends launched her tiny self at me and enfolded me in a great big bear hug. She took me home and tended my wounds.

Other friends and family inundated me with e-mails, text messages, phone calls and invitations to welcome me home.

I am surrounded by love.

Funny thing is, I always have been. For the first time in my life, I know it.

I don’t know why I was so blind before. These people have always been around. They have always loved me. I have always loved them.

I think of giant redwood trees of northern California. Their cones contain up to 200 seeds when they fall to the ground.  But it isn’t until a raging fire consumes the cone that seeds can grow.

Once set free, one seed grows to nearly 300 feet tall and 50 feet in diameter. Two hundred seeds make a forest.

This year, I understand. This year, I embrace the forest of love that has been there all along.

Which brings me to the most important Love of all that I finally understand:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands…” Isaiah 49:15-16

And, “Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. The flames will not set you ablaze…since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.” Isaiah 43:1-3

It’s not just another holiday to me this year. It’s one that reminds me that I am indeed, truly, always and forever loved.

Count your blessings. You’ll feel much better. You ARE loved.

Happy Valentines Day.