Sunday, March 28, 2010


No smile is so candid as that of a man or woman with Alzheimer's disease. To look full in the smiling face of one who has been robbed of higher function is to glimpse a soul now unblemished by pretense. Stripped of sophistication, their smiles often mask confusion, but sometimes radiate a young child's joy.
This morning from my place in the choir I watched Gene stretch an enthusiastic hand out to greet Phyllis as he made his way up the aisle ahead of his faithful wife Kay. A sweet grin spread across his face, testifying to his recollection that God's house is a good place to be, in fellowship with others.
We opened our books to sing and I caught the eye of Judy, whose powerful soprano voice has been silenced by this awful illness. Delight registered on her face as she seemed to recall from somewhere in the depth of her being the breath before the first note.
When the trinity of body, mind and spirit is broken, when the mind goes, we often say the person is gone. Truly, the person we knew is in the process of going, and it is agony for the family. But those smiles are postcards to those left behind, reminding us that the ones we love will one day repossess their minds in the new heaven and earth.
Surely the God who knit us together in the womb retains the pattern of our being and will restore us to health, as he did his own Son.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Treasure in the Attic

I have a recurring dream of rediscovering seldom visited rooms in my house. Down a hallway I turn a corner and move from light to a darkned suite of fully furnished, unused guest rooms. Down a path, I come upon an entire guest house that I apparently own but never visit. Within, I see evidence that other people have lived here, are living here now. They are aware of me, but I've been completely unaware of them.
Finally there is the attic above the garage with no visible entrance. I have to climb through windows, scale walls and cross a beam to get to the door that has no threshold. But I marvel that I do not come here more often. It is filled with treasures from my childhood and those of long-dead ancestors; lovely furniture, old toys laid out on tables like rummage sale goods.
The last time I was here I noticed a bird of prey chained to the wall. He'd been left a can of seed to sustain him. I was afraid to unchain him, fearful he would peck me and I would bleed.
This morning I recalled these dreams as I read Listening Prayer by Leanne Payne. In one chapter she comments on the disconnect Westerners experience between their heads and their hearts and how unaware we are of our souls. There is treasure that is ours for the taking, space we've been allotted we do not claim, people we do not engage with. God is there, but we are off in another part of the house keeping busy.
I'm amazed at my lack of understanding of my own heart. I often know what I think; less often what I really feel. Are the tenants in my guest house people to fear or people to engage with? Do I need to wake up and chase them out, begin to collect rent or provide or expect service? Should I unchain that bird and begin to sort through the treasure in the attic?
If my heart is Christ's home, is the fact that I am such an infrequent visitor to large parts of my estate significant? Lately in more lucid dreams I have turned on the light in the guest rooms and contemplated how to incorporate them into the rest of the house. I've talked to the caretaker of the guest house about how to deal with the squatters. I've yet to avail myself of the treasure in the attic and make a decision about that bird.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Sunday, April 14, 1996, 6:30 am I finally make it to the passenger drop-off at Union Station in Chicago following the directions of a hotel doorman who pointed me down a one street going the wrong way. Street blockades protect recent road work with the inflexibility of the usherette protecting the stage door at the Royal George theater. To get here, I glued the front end of my rental car to the rear end of a purposefully driven cement truck, trusting the driver knew what he was doing. He did.
I drop off my sister who is heading East and tell her to ask the cab driver letting off a fare in front of me for directions to 90 West.
"As if he'll tell me, " she says.
But the cab driver bounces out of his cab over to my car window and in lilting English asks me for a piece of paper so he can write down directions for me. I hand him my Hertz rental agreement and he scribbles down street names, crosses them out, scribbles some more and then says,
"I have a better idea, just follow me."
We wind through the palisade in the street and twist and turn for an interminable time. I'm thinking,
"He forgot I'm following him. He's on his way to pick up another fare."
"He's leading me down to the river! They'll find my body floating past the Navy Pier before noon!"
Shaking off those thoughts, I consider,
"What a guy. This fellow is burning time and gas to help me, even though he knows there is no way I can pay him for the mileage he's running up on the meter."
Suddenly he leads me onto the freeway entrance and herds me over to the left, in the direction of O'Hare. I pass him and mouth a heartfelt "thank you!" He waves, veers right off the freeway and disappears.
Thank God for the cabbies in our lives, who take time to point us in the right direction.

Friday, March 19, 2010


This Sunday marks the first anniversary of my Father's death. In his memory, here is the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service.My sister and I called him Papa. In some senses, he wasn't unique. He grew up in tough times. As a very young man, he fought in World War II and survived to come home, marry, buy the home he lived in with my mother in Mountain View, CA for over 50 years and raise two daughters. But I want to talk about the ways in which he was unique.
I was raised by a man with good character. From him I learned fortitude and perserverance -- to stick to a job until it was done; that a job worth doing was worth doing well. Whether it was getting on a train to commute to his job at PG&E in San Francisco every day for 34 years, or a building a project at home, Papa always had the right tools for the job, and he taught me how to use them.
When I was in college I commuted to San Francisco for two summers and worked in the file room -- he said that to this day there are invoices PG&E can't find because of the time I spent in the files. Papa loved to tease, but his teasing was kind. Despite his cruel illness in his final years, that sense of humor never left him. He cracked jokes literally until the day he died in an Alzheimer's care home in Sonora, CA.
Every one of Papa's caregivers said the same thing about him. He was a gentleman. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. He loved football, good food, his cats and all the neighbor's cats and the city by the Bay, but most of all he love my mother and his two daughters. He wasn't a churchgoer, but I had the privilege to witness his declaration of faith in Jesus and his baptismn in our church in Campbell about 10 years ago.
I also had the privilege, along with my mom, of being with Papa when he left this world. Our prayers were answered and God took him gently. His character shone through to the end. He communicated his love to us and he worked hard to leave us well. He was prepared for this journey, with his earthly affairs in order and his spirit in God's hands.
I miss you, Papa.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Three experiences compel my attention; watching actors chew on good scripts, reading quotable authors and encountering the wise apostle who can flip you on your ear with the turn of a phrase.
On TV this week Peter, the saavy politician in "The Good Wife" who wandered from his marriage, meets with a black pastor on the advice of his campaign manager. He's out for the black women's vote, freely admitting he has no understanding or interest in a Savior who died for his sins. Meanwhile, back at the office, his good wife Alicia succumbs to tempation, locks lips with her boss, comes to her senses and runs home to sate her lust with her husband.
Noticing the time Peter is spending with the pastor, she asks,
"Are you becoming religious?"
"I don't know," he answers, "I want to change," he says, tapping two fingers to his heart. Then he tells her the pastor wants them to attend church.
"That would be interesting," she says with a decided lack of interest, and heads back to her separate bedroom.
Hold that thought. Then consider a quote from William James on self-deception:
"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
Back to "The Good Wife." Alicia thinks she is being a good wife because she is trying to avoid temptation. She'd be shocked to think she had used her husband for his body, but been largely uninterested in the state of his soul. What prejudices did she rearrange when she ran home to the arms of her husband and made love without forgiveness? (In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to say that I love both these characters.)
And now to the apostle. Years ago, Paul turned my faith on it's ear when he nailed me for the distance between what I want to do and what I actually do (I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:15).
One of the painful things about writing is that it requires honesty. What am I not honest about? Today I picked up a book titled "i told me so; self-deception and the christian life" by Gregg A. Ten Elsoff. This should be an adventure!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Casting God

In A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller the author suggests that we consider carefully who we think we are talking to when we pray. I often cast God in benign roles that focus on what He can do for me. Example: God is my boss, and if I serve him well he will give me good things.
Yesterday, Spring peeked it's head up through the warming soil and I began to think about the writing I am sowing on the path that meanders before me. Laying the seed before God, I entertained thoughts that if I just keep trying different things -- a writer's group, a daily blog, the Iowa Summer Writer's Fesitival, one day God might say "Ch ching! You have chosen Door Number Two! You win!" I had just cast God as a game show host.
God is not a boss to please or a game to win. Daily I must remind myself of who I'm talking to -- the great I Am -- holy, righteous, lover, judge, creator, sustainer. That casts a different light on my role in this relationship.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fashion essentials

I admit it. I love fashion. Not high fashion, I'm more the middle or low church when it comes to the liturgy of apparel.
I love the seasonality of fashion -- new colors, new sleeve lengths, new possibilities. I love the challenge -- what can I introduce into the tired collection sagging on my closet rod that will make it fresh and keep me current.
There is something about keeping current, moving with the tide. When you stop keeping pace with the current, you are in danger of drowning. So perhaps there is an element of competition, a quest to remain vital.
There is creativity is combining the old and the new. I love to observe how others accessorize and adapt their ideas to my own style.
There are layers to the what" and "why" of fashion. What am I trying to say about myself? Why do I choose this basic over that eye-popper?
There is an element of respect for others and for situations in fashion. I learned that when I went to Sears for something I deemed essential in the middle of moving into a new house. Too exhausted to care what I looked like, I thought I could slink into anonymity without changing the ratty t-shirt, unflattering shorts, flat hair and no make up (you can do this when you are 25, but it you are 25 you don't like to see your mother do it!).
As I handed over my credit card to the sales clerk, she looked at me in horror and blurted out, "What's the matter with you?" I actually apologized to her for coming to the store looking like a dragged cat and she proceeded to give me a life lecture. I don't remember exactly what she said but I do remember being suddenly aware that my "I don't care" attitude was dragging others down the drain of my spiraling exhaustion.
That's the yin and yang of fashion. It's at once a a whim of change, an urge to update, a quest for something new, a non-essential diversion; and its an acceptance or denial of the effect we have on other people.
It's always been a presbyterian sin to notice what others are wearing when you're supposed to be focusing on the message. But I confess, I'll be noticing that hint of glitter in your trendy scarf that draws me to the glimmer in your eyes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Butterflies pass through stages much like people do. Each stage involves a transformation, a becoming. Maturity is perhaps the most beautiful stage of a butterfly's brief time on earth. After much struggle, a lovely winged creature emerges and graces our world with transient beauty. Bittersweet, its time is short, its beauty fragile and soon gone.
I too am nearing the end of my winged cycle, aware of how short it is -- this time to gather all my energy and fly.
Butterflies appear to flit more than fly. Flowers that offer sweet sustenance are their destination. The struggle on the ground is over. They take to the air for a brief period, beat their wings a prescribed number of times and then beat them no longer.
Butterflies are solitary creatures, choosing the society of flowers. They are polinators, ensuring the next generation of fields and orchards. Each generation of butterfly moves the species forward. Butterflies are pro-growth.
Choose carefully the flowers you visit. They will be the ones you help perpetuate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Salad Days

Travel is disorienting. That's why I like it. Travel rips me from my routine and stumbles me into new worlds.
Like sectioning an orange and adding it to a salad, travel gives me a tasty new enviroment. an orange may have been pouting in the frig, threatening to get mushy and grow mildew, but released from its skin and broken apart the sections take on new life in the milieu of a Fiesta salad plate. They release flavor when paired with dates, nuts and leafy greens showered in vinaigrette. They bring joy to the palate.
Travel keeps me from molding in my temperature controlled environment. Pulled apart, I evaluate the sections of my life against the desert landscape that plays out before me or the yellow birches whipping by my train window. I vow to discard the small, misshapen sections and make better use of those now fully mature, ready and waiting to grace my salad days.
"Waiter, please, add a salad to my order."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flying Solo

Challenging assumptions is a life's work. I assume I am on the right course, similar to those around me. I fly serenely on autopilot. my settings tuned to keep me abreast of the flock. It doesn't occur to me to ask,
"Who's the lead pigeon here?
"Where is he leading us?"
Even knowing that the leader is likely clueless and the direction all wrong, I take comfort in knowing that God cares for his flock. But what if I were to reset my internal compass and head in a different direction?
Heading off would mean leaving the safety and security of the flock. Flying solo, I would have to exert more energy and be more alert to the conditions around me.
I'm a social creature, a collaborative spirit. To what purpose would I take off on my own? To get out from behind the tail feathers in my face that mess with my view.
Do not follow me. I'll come back and report when I find something.