Storage Closet

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Boxes of envelopes;
envelopes small.
Could conceal in the
palm of my hand.
Envelopes long
from wrist to fingertip.
Once white,
grayed;
once red,
paled.

Years stuffed
in little envelopes.
Dust motes fly.

I bend to
drag the boxes
from under the stairs;
trail
across asbestos
tiles.

History’s trail.
Years and years and years
marked by envelopes.
Decades
of effort
of sacrifice
of giving
of planning
of believing.
It’s down to this.

I run my hands through
my hair and ceiling popcorn
kernels dance in the air.

Pretty precise tiny handwriting
floats across the envelopes;
the gift marked,
the giver denoted,
the register
straight,
documented with deliberation.

I recognize some of the names;
Mother’s tales of
busy church life.
I recognize Daddy’s method.
The stuff he stored in neat, tight
packages.
Earlier years
dumped humble-jumble,
before his time here.
No one’s done storage since.
Did organization die with him?

The ghosts of worship services,
classroom flannel boards,
babies and toddlers nursery,
men’s softball teams,
Women’s Dumb-M-U,
Vacation Bible School,
Christmas pageants,
Easter cantatas,
they’re all here.

This life has nearly ground
halted.
The old guard, anyway.

The generations
who began,
succored, labored,
loved,
gave;
now gone.
I’ve seen
epitaphs,
visited grave sides, sang at
memorials.

Yet, life goes on,
similar,
tho’ different.

These old walls
to be painted,
asbestos tiles
replaced,
choir loft converted
to worship band stage;
failing pews faded into
sturdy chairs,
their rows march.

It’s a whole new world.
Strange to Mother’s
ears and eyes.
Different name,
different affiliation,
different heritage,
different style,
yet the same
point.

Worship
Train
Give
Love
Tell
Believe.

So great a cloud of
witnesses
smile,
applaud,
know they
laid the groundwork,
ran their race well.

This place is temporary.
This life is temporary
I remember.

Still, I’m comforted by the
sameness,
the continuity.
I like the purpose I find here.

I know
one day someone will
clear out my
storage closet.

I’m headed for the eternal
just like the generations before.

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Four Part Harmony

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

The calendar says Spring. Mild temps and blue skies. It mostly is here but my friends in Nashville have snow flurries today. Snow in March. Winter Vortex has reached its icy fingers south this year. Fingers that crawl along the keys, trilling the notes, filling the ears with the soar, the pound, the Montague and the Capulet of the couplet flowing into sixteenth notes on the sixteenth of November when there could be snow and winter’s blast, but not here. And not now.

Here is where the surf and sand and desert flowers bloom at the foot of tall peaks as the keys lift and fall and music runs up and down the scale. By the way, I saw a scale today. A scale model plan for a cardboard microscope, so inexpensive and versatile it could be used in far-flung places where no funds exist for medical care, and so easy to create that one day every boy and girl could have one in their book bag. Assuming, of course, there will be book bags necessary to carry iPads and tablets and iPhones. Or perhaps, all the technology will be embedded in their skin. No book bags necessary.

Further assuming, of course, technology will continue to amaze and capture our money and time with ever evolving advancements in productivity and touch-friendliness thrills that we just can’t live without.

Like the trill of the falling and rising ivory and ebony, pulled by the taut wires to the soundboard; the same as vocal cords to the human soundboard. I’m enthralled and amazed at four female voices tight harmonies at they pelt out a tilt on traditional Sweet Adelines barbershop harmonies gone modern with jazz riffs and scats.

See, people continue to amaze me at what can be accomplished when someone believes and tries and stretches and achieves. Frankly, I’m more impressed at a Cappella tight jazz harmonies than I am a piano virtuoso. And I do love piano.

No, I can’t do either, although I can sing better than I can play, but the piano keys don’t change. Well, they can go out of tune, but the relative space between a half step or a full step remains, right?

Can’t say the same about the human vocal instrument. Not enough diaphragm support or not enough air coming in or the throat tightens and the riffs and scats don’t go traditional or jazz. They don’t impress at all. That human instrument requires rest and fuel and strength and stamina. Not to mention hard work. And control. Now that is truly amazing. Taming the vibrato, tuning the chords just so and controlling it to go from soft soothing to loud and powerful. When it’s done right? Exquisite. And should the notes be placed out on the tongue or operatically back in the throat? Which style floats your boat?

“Wish I had boat,” she said, as she sat on the edge of the bathtub, trailing her fingers through the water, making waves in the floating fallen hairs and particles of dried hairspray and collected dust. “Maybe then I’d clean this bathtub more often.”

With a groan, she stood stiffly, used the handle of her cane to help pull herself upright, got her feet turned around and started out of the bathroom, “Not that it matters, since I can’t get in the tub anymore.”

“Oh, you could get in,” I said as I push the lever down to empty the tub, “I just have no idea how I’d get you up and out.” I wield the long handled cleaning brush through the water to move the hair and debris toward the drain.

The drain whirlpools, catching the dreams of someday when there’s money I’ll travel, jostled in the swirl of snapshots of youth decayed to frailty and hairs grayed, bouncing against today’s dandelion flowers peppered on green grass and the hummingbird feeder hook on the tree limb that sways empty in the breeze, encircled by the tiny glistening quiver of birds looking in vain for a sip.

The kaleidoscope spins pink light from the window sheers; Febreeze air freshener particles dance, tickle my nose and gag my throat in the dance with Sassoon Ultra Hold hairspray, Baby Wipes moist, Polident denture wash, Fragrance Free Depends Women’s Underwear, Witch Hazel Pore Astringent and Ponds Cold Cleansing Crème.

What I want to know is this. How does she come out of this bathroom without smelling strange? She’s the queen of sponge baths. Can’t get in the tub anymore and making the trek to the shower in the other bathroom, more than once a week, is too wearying a task to even contemplate. So she says and so it appears. Yet, she doesn’t smell bad. Perhaps the magical powers of these conflagrating aromas cancel each other out, or buoy one another up? Their harmony rises and falls at the flick of the aerosol.

Not that I mind. As long as she can sponge bathe, that’s one less task for me. I dread the day when I’m the giver of sponge baths. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want her or me to be compacted to that. I pray for her to go quietly in her sleep after a normal busy day of private bathroom ablutions and unbidden spontaneous naps in her chair at the dining room table in front of the TV, Irish tenors and Doo Wop harmonists her lullaby.

I don’t want to be the caregiver of diaper changes and bed-fast ministrations. I want the song to be easy. I want to sing the song I like. I care about me. I care about my comfort. I am selfish.

Help me, God. Move me beyond self. Be here with me in this, God. I’m helpless, without you. I’m all about me, without you. Take her easy, God. Trill the music of the life dance through the melodies of the lift of her spirit to you in soft soothing tones of rich harmony; the Trinity reaching to welcome her spirit; the glorious finale to her four part harmony.

Art heart…

The heart lunges, it hungers, it leaps.  I’ve seen it try and pour itself out in saving others or giving to others in a beauty that is unrecognized by the fearful, the hurt, the hungry.  They lash out against the heart’s beauty.  They misunderstand.

I get the beauty, but of course, I compare.  Me to her.  Me to him.  Aren’t I silly for doing that?  What’s to compare?  Their uniqueness shrivels my plainness?  Or does my beauty shine a hue that differs from their rainbows?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Take the strutting peacock, for instance.  That’s just the male.  The female, the one he’s strutting for is plain and mousey by comparison.  Which begs the question, if you follow, does the male with his bright feathers, tips in bright, bold eyes, think he is beautiful?  Or does he strut because he is ugly until chosen?

Perhaps it’s far simpler.  His DNA is programmed for bright hues and strutting and her DNA is programmed for simple, plain, protective style that melds into the ground cover, hiding there to protect the young, making the nest look enticing to the fabulous, plumed, brilliant, stunning MALE.  And so they choose and so they mate and so the breed continues.

They did what they were born to do.  They follow instinct and fulfill their destiny.  I get tripped up in the search for my destiny versus some other person’s destiny – hers or his; my potential versus hers or his; the choices, the options are myriad.  Too many to comprehend and embrace.  Perhaps that is why I get nothing done and accomplish squat.  Which way to go?  Which dream to follow?  Which heart to embrace?

I ponder and try to reach beyond the sameness of this morning.  Nothing new there; it’s the common challenge as the everyday breathes on all sides.

I call to Mother and she comes to my desk, slowly, her balance steadied by her footed cane.  Sun shines its morning glow through the eastern window with a glisten on the gray streaks in her dark hair.

“I can’t stand here looking at pictures,” she leans on the cane, “I have to get some breakfast.”

“I know,” I rise from my folding chair and help her get seated.  “Just this one; you’ll love it,” I maneuver the laptop so that Mother can see.

My nephew’s wife posts pictures of their two girls, toddlers, on her facebook page.  In this picture, the littlest one grins, every inch of her body covered in happiness, her big blue eyes saucers of joy.  Her older sister looks shyly at the camera, her smile demure, her big blue eyes tentative.  They’re both dressed in ruffled, polka-dot cotton shirts and tot sized blue jeans.

“So beautiful.  I want to squeeze both of them,” Mother reaches up and adjusts the angle of her glasses for a better view.  “They need to come see us again.”

We look at several pictures until Mother pushes herself upright and with careful moves of her cane, returns to the kitchen.  There’s a slight lift to her movement.  She drank in the beauty of two new little lives, health’s glow on their skin, bright eyes, fluffy hair and pint-sized outfits.  She doesn’t feel any better than she did before; it’s the beauty that has lifted her.  She’ll get her breakfast a little easier now.

So shall I compare my beauty to theirs?  To some artist?  Shall I stifle the creativity that I didn’t know was there because it looks different from all others?  I find myself picking at our differences.  I see the lack in my creative well.  I feel drab and useless.  I am ineffectual.  I am not an artist.

It’s no good stopping at that sore spot.  The lack is too painful.  I push on.  I seek the truth.  I dig until I find it.  Or it finds me.  God programmed their DNA.  God programmed my DNA.  I’m not the artist she is or he is.  I am my own artist.  I will take my cue from Mother.  Absorb the beauty, let it escape the synapses of my gray matter to run down my arms and spill out through my fingers.  I will create.

fly high…and sing your song…

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

We lost another one this week.  That makes two in the last eight days.  First, Bob, then Charmaine.  Elderly, frail friends of Mother’s.

People she knew for nearly forty years from church.  People, who were hardy, still working with busy productive lives when she and Daddy first met them.  People, whose lives morphed and changed into retirement, followed by the death of spouses and the total rearrangement of how they lived; people, who once self-reliant, at the end, relied upon others.

Mother hasn’t been feeling well, so I told her the news carefully.  She seemed to take it in stride as part of the everyday markers of her elderly life.  After all, Daddy’s gone too, and he was her mainstay.

Charmaine and Jim retired and moved back to the mid-West to be near their kids.  Maybe ten years ago?  Then Jim got sick and died and Charmaine’s daughter was around to do the caring.  Now Charmaine’s gone.

Bob nursed his ailing wife while he worked full time and then she died.  Mother says he was never the same after those exhausting years.  Is that why Alzheimer’s took over his capable brain?  In the end his daughters had lie to him to get him to leave the house so that they could get him care.  Bob’s gone now, too.

A flurry of birds in the backyard catches my eye as sparrows dart, flutter, and settle on the grass and the green is painted into a polka dot green blanket with hopping browns and grays.  Today’s sunshine reveals a glitter in the multi-layered hues of their feathers.

Squawk!  A blackbird clutched to a swaying high wire interrupts and the sparrows take chirping flight up into the bare oak branches.  Low to the ground, along the fence perimeter, there’s black fur that moves stealthily.  Feral cat.  Could be that squawk was a warning, right?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

So, those ended elderly lives?  Makes one think; ponder; if you get my drift.  The shortness of their lives doesn’t hold a candle to the song bird, the Cedar Waxwing, trilling on the bare Apricot branches.  Those dudes only live two or three years.  That’s short, my friend.  Or it is when compared to Mother’s eighty-plus-year-old friends that just sang their last, breathed their last.  Well, you get the point.

But, does it seem short to the Cedar Waxwing, or does it seem normal?  They’re born, they’re fed, they learn to eat and to find their own food and water; their instinct keeps them moving ahead, they make music, they make baby birds, they feed them and push them from the nest.  They make more music.  They die.

It’s all perspective.  The light we’re seeing from the stars, by the time it gets to us, those stars have died.  The music of Chopin or Pachelbel, it’s ours because they lived and created, but they’re done now too.  Even so, they left something behind.  So do the stars, so do the Cedar Waxwings.  Their beauty and their songs are captured and saved on YouTube on in some documentary for us to enjoy.

Here’s what keeps crawling around the edges of my mind, “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?”  That was Matthew, a Jesus follower, noting down his observations of the cycle of the birds in the skies above him over 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

Matthew’s been gone a long time, but he caught the truth and left a record of it for us.  It’s life.  The value of life.  The preciousness of life.  Your life.  My life.  The bird’s life.  Ok, I’ll admit it, as much as I don’t like feral cats, the feral cat’s life, as well.  Life.  We see it replicated from one bird to another; one cat to another, one human to another, but it’s a gift.  Matthew said it was a God given gift.  It is.

image: google images

image source: google images

I see that.  I feel it inside.  I’m aware life is a gift and not something I can make or bring into being.  Nor can I control how long life lasts.  Oh, I suppose I could throw in the towel to my life’s fight and find some way to end it.  The problem is that’s only the life that exists in this earthly world; the one we can see and touch.  But, it’s not the soul.  There’s no ending to the soul.  The soul comes from God and he controls its destiny.  I need to remember to hold it in an open hand, because I can’t control it.  Just like I can’t keep that Cedar Waxwing living on forever nor can I predict how long before Mother loses life.  Her life and soul came from God and back to God she will go.  I will go.  You will go.  Take comfort.  God loves you and the soul he gave you.  Meanwhile, fly high and sing your song.

Wind.Rain.Wild

image source:bing images

image source:bing images

The rushing, bustling, whistling sound in the back corner of the house draws me to the half-window of the back door.  The backyard is soggy.  Two streets over, a lone palm tree, at least twenty feet above rooftops and oak and sycamore and elder trees, sways back and forth, five feet east then five feet west.  East and west, it sways.  Near the top of its long bare trunk, the fronds of its grass skirt are whipped up and down and around in a frenzy dance of wind and rain.

image source:parktography

image source:parktography

On the white wall of the garage, the scarlet blooms and green leaves of the bougainvillea normally stretch wide and high, but this dim morning they droop, weighted by the pelting rain; fat drops gliding the hills and valleys of each bloom and leaf, dropping staccato onto the ground below.

At the side of the garage, that spurt of growth from a seed dropped there by some bird or carried there in the dung of the possum or the feral cats has grown tall.  It seemed like a weed at first; its roots unreachable amid stuff stacked behind the garbage cans, so over the months I whacked away at the sideways shoots until today, what I see out in the storm is a burgundy maple, taller than the garage roof.  It sways just like the nurtured and wanted trees in the yard.

Water has washed the paving stone path from the porch to the garage.  The birdbath is full, its surface dappled with rain drops.  Even the squat, sturdy grapefruit tree, leaves fat and steady, fruit ponderous is swaying.  I see no one.  No person, cat, dog or bird.  They’ve all gone to dry ground somewhere.

image source:bing images

image source:bing images

It’s not unusual to hear predictions of rain that never materialize for us.  It’s not unusual for a breeze to change the sky from clear to muddled clouds, while all remains dry.  It’s not unusual for rain in the hills or along the coast to miss us.  It’s not unusual for those same storms to mean mudslides and damage in other places.  Even so, I’m grateful this little valley that is normally spared wild weather has not been passed by this time.  This wind, this pelting rain, they are rare for us.  Exquisite.

The earth, the grass, the plants, the flowers, the trees; they drink, they are washed.  Dry turns to plump and nourished.  Yellowed winter grass drinks deeply, its tint turning even as I watch.

The wind and the rain and the wild storm remind me of a truth.  Each season returns in its appointed time.  The maker of the wind and the rain began it all and so it continues.  I take comfort and rest.  I smile at the wind and the rain and the wild storm.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

I fill my lungs with washed air.  I drink in the power of the storm.  I open the dry spots of wariness at Mother’s health and find them moistened and soothed.  I feel the deep well of an unknown future start to fill.  I hear the dry crackle stress of hard choices ease into possibility’s supple cloth.  I open my hands and hard tensions untangle.  I watch the hope of a creative spark take nourishment.  I feel the expansion of my spirit.  I embrace the bubbles of joy.  I stretch with energy and settle into hope.  I turn from the window and continue on, cocooned by the rushing, bustling, whistling of the storm.

Chartreuse and Blood

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

Violins quiver, bows strike, pull, push, strings pulsate to the beat of the harpsichord’s twang.  Shadows dance round and round, through the center, along the perimeter, hoop skirts flounce, tails sail, the light shimmers between the folds of the curtains, around the length of the arms that encircle one another in the proper mating dance.  The pace quickens, the dancers pin ball across the room; my watching mind and eyes driven by the whirling dervish of non-stop violin and harpsichord, all treble clef sixteenth notes.

Ah, the musicians have moved on to flute, violin and harpsichord.  Lovely.  And some eighth notes.

Thank goodness.  The pace on the first piece was non-stop into drivel, pounding away at the ears, pounding away at the brain, pounding away at the muscles, pounding away into foot tapping, pounding away into pulses that fire the fingers into hard pounding, pounding away on all the wrong keys.

Violin answers violin, violin dances in partnership with violin, flute leads violin, violins join to follow, they sway from treble clef to bass clef and the ears are happy to have some deeper sound, if you get my drift.  All those high notes can get to you after a while, right?  Add some bass and basso profondo and give the ears a break, why don’tcha?

The light trilling of the high flute is airy and dainty, skipping across meadows searching for a perch, while the contra-alto flute is sorrow and depth and longing and hunger fed by its miseries, its moves more ponderous; its expressions richer.  Together they plumb the heights and depths of emotions buried yet cascading to the surface in an upward belch of beauty.

My eyes are drawn to the inner door opening.  An overweight woman comes through the doorway, makes her way stiffly to the outside door, opens the door and leaves.

The spell is broken.  I pull out my ear-buds and lose Bach and the orchestra.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

The ballroom with its dancers is replaced with this waiting room, old asbestos twelve-inch, off-white floor tiles polished to a bright shine, plastic molded chairs in chartreuse with a slight dip to the seat and curve to the back, in the same shade of chartreuse as the freshly painted walls contrasting to the white counters and paperwork.  Unusual to be in a waiting room where there are only two décor colors.  No framed pictures of flowers or meadows or mountains.  The only things on the walls are the posters touting the benefits of regular doctor care and employer minimum wage requirements.  They’re white with black print readable only up close.  From a distance, they make their own type wall decoration.  I’ve noticed of late that many doctors’ offices have no magazines, in fact, no reading material at all, in their waiting rooms.  Good thing I brought my iPod for listening.

I put the ear-buds back in and Bach returns.  I close my eyes and instead of ballrooms and dancers, I see the reason people are here, the reason people disappear into the inner door, the reason the nurses go through paperwork and the reason they call people’s names and the reason for all the chartreuse and white.

image source:Bing

image source:Bing

It’s to camouflage the red that flows behind that inner door; the red that’s collected through sharps into small vials with rubber stoppers, the red that will be centrifuged, the red that will be shipped and messengered, the red that could result in bad news, and tears, and fear, and dread; the red that could result in no news because no news is good news, right?

The harpsichord and violin soar and the red flies upward, painting the chartreuse with dots, with streams, with puddles, with cascades, with spurts, with fountains.  It bounces with each note, settles in the rests, spins with the flute, sprays on the crescendo and with the retard of the last bar, coalesces back into the vials and pulls on the rubber stopper hats.

“Ready to go?”

My eyes open.  My friend is standing in front of me, a wad of cotton under a piece of tape on the inside crook of her arm so that no more of her red escapes.  I’m only here as designated driver.  My red is safe.  I’m happy to exit the chartreuse and white, to leave the collected red behind.  I know one day I’ll have to give up my red, but not today.  Today, I escape.

Trailing clouds of glory…

image source:google images

image source:google images

Seventy-five degrees, blue skies, birds twittering their songs in the trees with leaves swaying in the breeze, it’s a perfect Southern California fall day.

I go out and put water in the flower petal shaped birdbath for Mother since she hasn’t been feeling well.  She loves being outside, keeping the bird bath clean and filled with fresh water, but she’s out less and less these days.  Anyway, I add fresh water to it, right?  And above me, somewhere in the long, leafy branches of the apricot tree, a bird starts putting up a racket.  And I do mean racket, if you get my drift.

It’s a funny sound for a medium sized bird with red on the top of the head, a white throat, gray chest and black wings.

“Quack.  Quack.  Quack.”  Or if you prefer, Wikipedia says, “waaka, waaka, waaka.”  Sounds like “quack” to me.

I come back inside and the silly bird gets louder and louder.  The next time I look there are three of them at the bird bath.  Acorn Woodpeckers, so Mother says.

“Do you think that bird called his family to tell them there’s water in the birdbath?”  I ask.

Mother makes her way over to the kitchen window, her cane clunking right along with the quacking outside the open window.  Plunk, quack.  Plunk, quack.  Plunk, quack.

“Maybe so,” Mother says, “I’ve seen four of them at the birdbath, and two are young ones.”

They fly before long but the yard, which had been quiet until I turned on the water, is now filled with Sparrows and Finches poking around in the grass and there’s a busy squirrel moving up and down the fat, old trunk of the Apricot.

The quiet and the still has been replaced with chitter-chatter and an infinitesimal undulation of teeming life.  Bees and Hummingbirds vie for the prominent spot at the feeder; flies flit, butterflies dip and sway, ants march along the path, spiders swing on invisible threads and over the fence, the neighbor’s dog yaps.

Sunday afternoons have always meant no pressure to accomplish anything of significance and so I sit on the wooden bench rocker with the sun warming the top of my head and my skin.  The birds were startled when I came out, but the longer I sit still all the movement in the yard, trees and bushes returns.  I’m drowsy in the sun.  A kite floats overhead, its tail trailing just above the fence.  I reach up and catch the tip and am aloft.  As I look down, our patch of green shrinks until it’s just a tiny dot in the middle of the curvature of the horizon.

I see now how infinitesimal my grasp on life has been.  How small my dreams that only lived among the known heights and depths of what I could see and touch and hear and taste.  This blue ball in the swirling black expanse studded with twinkling dots is but a speck in all the universes that stretch to infinity and on and on.

I must go higher.  I urge to go higher but I am impotent as my balloon has no inertial dampeners, no life support, no sublight engines.

I lose height.  I float downward; the dots of green, the dark of mountains, the blue of the ocean, the black of its buried depths rush towards me; the tip of skyscrapers fly past and become giants once again.  I recognize the Apricot branches and aim for the back yard rocker where this trip started.

I’ve seen the heights, so what will change?  What will I believe?  What will drive me on through each day now that I know the truth?  Will I be satisfied again with being comfortable when someone else needs food or clothing or comfort?

No.  I cannot be happy with just getting by when unknown possibilities are there for the nurturing.  I cannot be buried with the stress of the temporariness of an aging body, a dying world.  I cannot allow the stresses and concerns of the tangible consume all my time and effort.  My thoughts flit back to the vastness of space and time.  There’s more; there’s a universe more; seek it, reach for it.  I find myself agreeing with Wordsworth,

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory
Do we come From God, who is our home:”

Certainty

image:elliottback fir tree

image:elliottback fir tree

Choices, decisions, blue sky revisions into gray.  Live Christmas tree settled into its new hole in the center of the backyard.  All by itself at three and ½ feet tall with great expectations of one day rising higher than the fence then towering over the garage.  But first its roots will need to expand, stretch, wriggle their way further into the rocky, root soil under the winter grass.  When and if it survives and grows and towers, its tips could fill the yard, closing all paths of access to the grapevines and the alley and the garbage cans.  How would Miguel mow the grass in the back quarter of the yard?  How would we get to the nectarine bounty that returns each year to the tree in the back corner, next to the butterfly bush?

But that’s all years away, right?  It takes time to grow, my friend.  There’s a pattern and a sequence programed into this tree’s DNA that even plant food can’t replicate, if you get my drift.  But it’s the years flying by at super-speed, that I’m seeing here, trailing changes as wisps of clouds or sifting as the smoke from that fire in Angeles National Forest last week that made the sky red and brown and black for a while until it cleared and revealed it’s handiwork of change.

We hadn’t been that direction for days, so when Mother and I drove to church on Sunday, in the beautiful blue sky morning, as we crested the hill where the 57 on-ramp merges into the northbound lanes headed for the 210, I looked to the hills for what the fire had left behind and saw an expanse of black hill like one part of a patchwork quilt, rising between the billowed up greens and browns and yellows of the rest of the rolling hill patches.  But what surprised me were the small, scattered here and there across the hills, spots of gray.  Bare spots like the hair on a dog has been pulled out at random.

From the church parking lot, closer to the hills, they were even more evident.  As we were leaving, I put the bag with our Bibles and study books in the car and waited for Mother to make her way out of the building.  Her movement is slower these days, but she still gets there, hair permed and styled and sprayed, purple slacks, flowered blouse of pinks, purples, greens and yellows under a white sweater.  Her pinkish-purple lipstick matching her necklace of Sugilite pinkish-purple stones that she loves to wear.

image:lauramariemeyers

image:lauramariemeyers

“See those bare, gray spots on the hills,” I said when she got close enough to hear what I was saying.

She stopped walking, steadied herself with her cane and looked up, “Yes.”

“That’s where the fire was spreading from Glendora to Azusa.”

“Oh, it did get close, then, didn’t it?”

We get settled in the car, without hurry as Mother puts her cane in the floor of the back seat, carefully settles herself in the front seat, putting her purse on the floor and tucking the purse strap over the edge of her seat and under her leg.

My thoughts alternate between flying forward in time to seeing myself no longer at this slow-Mother-pace and back to moderating my speed to give Mother time to get where she’s going.

Will I be in this town, live in this house long enough to see that live Christmas tree spread and grow and fly high in its growth in the yard?  Mother could live another ten years or die in her sleep tonight.  Only God knows.  Only God knows the beginning spark of life that wrote the DNA in the tree and the DNA that with time will fill up those gray spots on the hills.  He’s the one that will hold Mother’s soul and spirit when the slow life of her DNA takes its last breath.  I try to envision the future, to find some comfort in picturing what might come next, but that’s as futile as believing for a certainty that I can tell which side of that Christmas tree in the center of the yard will grow best now that it’s out in the wind and sun and cold and heat.

I long to know my certainty.  I need to know.  I think life will go on after Mother’s speed has one day slowed to a stop.  I want to know my life will go on; at least for a time.  I do know my turn to slow to a stop will come.  Someday, sometime, somewhere and when that happens, the unchanging constant is that the creator of all DNA will be there and his time does not slow and run out.  He continues beyond eternity.  After all, since he’s big enough to create DNA, he’s big enough to hold the future.  My future.  This I know.  For a certainty.

Christmastime

image source:kansastravel

image source:kansastravel

Christmastime is here.  Carols on Cd’s and choirs on TV, tear-jerker movies of lost love and found meaning and purpose, laughter at silly lyrics of ‘you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch’ and ‘No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses, I only like Hippopotamuses’ float across the air, the dark night lit by twinkling lights on houses and yards decked out with clear LED strings around trees, over fences, up chimneys and draped on bushes.  Whole streets are transformed into wonderlands of colors and sparkles and strings of lit icicles along roof lines.

There’s the flap on the media about how much more polite and less threatening it is to say ‘Happy Holiday’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ and kids now have Winter breaks from school instead of Christmas break.  They’re still out of school, though, and most of them still go to bed on Christmas Eve all hyped up and excited about those wrapped gifts under the tree.

The politically correct police try to pretend there’s no deeper meaning than Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman and apparently big business agrees as we’re inundated with advertising to urge us to shop, shop, shop, spend, spend, spend, until we collapse from all the stress and turkey and pie overload.

But there’s something deeper, richer about the last days of December than the other days of any given year.  After all, why do people decorate the outside of their houses, put up trees inside, bake goodies to give away and spend hours shopping and wrapping gifts?  If it’s all just a marketing ploy why does the time of Christmas mean excitement or joy, or peace or any number of other feelings to millions?  Oh, sure, not everyone has a happy Christmas memory from childhood but why do we all long for the warmth, the promise of peace and the happiness that seems to go with the time of year?

How could the world’s people, so different in their customs, their traditions, their histories and their memories all want the same things, peace and joy?  And keep on wanting those things generation after generation, time after time?  And keep on trying to make life less bleak, less dark, less painful.  More filled with light and beauty.  And peace and joy.  Why?

Unless.  Unless, we were made with a soul and a spirit that respond to joy and peace.  Made with a soul and a spirit that crave the knowing that we were made for something greater than the everyday.  That we were made for joy and peace.

It was that same craving that sent those three Wisemen on a road trip, following a star that they believed would lead them to the very originator of joy and peace.  They found that joy.  It came to the world in that tiny baby, Jesus.

image source:jimmyharmon

image source:jimmyharmon

Every year we go through it all again, we wrap those presents, decorate that tree.  Every year we search for peace and joy.  Every year we’re reminded of the real meaning of life.  And if we listen to the twinkling lights, the rustling of the wrapping paper and the faint sound of carols through the night, we’ll find that peace and joy.  Just like the Christmas carol says, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come.’  Come for you.  Come for me.

Dreams of Famine

image source:endtimesresearchministry

image source:endtimesresearchministry

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least seventy percent of all Old Testament stories that are told by teachers to little children, and that are written in Bible Study books for Sunday School and preached on by ministers in pulpits are about David.  His life as a shepherd, as a future king, as a fugitive hiding from the reigning king, his glory days as well as his failure days as the greatest King in Israel’s history.  Even stories about his son and heir to the throne, Solomon, are all remembered and told in light of who he was, David’s son.

All that is well and good; there are things to learn from the cautionary and the triumphant happenings in David’s life, and believe me, I’ve heard them all.  More than once.  Like, over and over and over again.

The life story that most appeals to me, however, is not David’s.  It’s Joseph’s.  He was a favored son.  Not the worst way to begin life, right?

God gave him a gift: he had dreams that let him and family know what the future held.  Useful skill, right?

He was part of a large, wealthy family so he lacked for nothing.  Sounds good so far.

The biggest problem was that he was favored by his father above his ten older brothers.  They did not take kindly to that.  And then, to make matters worse, he talks about these visions or dreams he’s having, which might be ok, I mean you could tolerate some silliness from a much younger brother, but the dreams were all about how he was going to be the most important, the leader and his brothers would be his subjects.  This was far before Israel had a king, so the very idea was foreign as well as repugnant.  And all those typical, human emotions reared up in his brothers; anger, jealousy, envy, bitterness, rage, hatred and they smacked Joseph up the side of the head and knocked him into a deep pit.  It was the lone voice of reason of his brother, Judah, that saved him from being killed and instead he was sold into slavery.

When we see Joseph some time later in Egypt he has proved himself so capable that he had full charge of the household of a wealthy and prominent man, Potiphar.  God appears to be on his side again and it seems he landed on his feet, so I’m thinking, maybe this kid has more going for him than just being a favored, pampered son.  I’m happy things are going well for him and though a slave, he has the use of wealth and prominence, so he’s better off without that big, shepherding family that no longer wanted him around, right?

Or not.  Again jealousy and rage are dogging him, this time from the master’s wife and the result is that Joseph is thrown in the pit again.  Imprisoned.  For years.  Can’t have been easy, but even in prison there’s still something different about him.  God speaks to him in dreams.  And then tells him what the dreams mean.  Not only that, he rises to the top of the prisoner hierarchy.  The guys in charge see his value and put his skills to work.

This says to me that whatever Joseph did, wherever he was in those years since excitedly sharing his dreams with his brothers, he did the tasks well.  He was trustworthy.  He was not a cheat or a con-man or miserable or depressed or angry.  He never gave up.  He even reminds guys who are getting sprung from the dungeon to remember him to the man in charge.

His code of behavior and his persistence pay off, or to put it another way, when God was done working on him in the prison, He got him out.  And once again Joseph rose to the top so that by the time the land is deep in famine, he is in charge of all the storehouses in Egypt.  He has the power to destroy or to honor those who work for him and anyone who appeals for help.  And everyone, Egyptians and the rest of the nearby world, come to him for help.  Including his brothers.

This is the big moment.  This is when we will see the underbelly of his character.  Is he still angry?  Nursing an old grudge at the betrayal by his family?  Has his heart turned to false gods and practices of a foreign land while he’s been away from his own heritage and his own people?  Has he stayed true to God and the faith of his father, Jacob, his grandfather, Isaac and his great-grandfather, Abraham?

“You meant it for evil,” he tells his brothers when he has revealed who he is and they are begging for mercy, “but God meant it for good.”

I wonder.  How much trauma and loss would I have to go through before I totally gave up in self-pity?  What if I was ripped from everything I knew and it was seventeen years before I saw any of my family again?  How would my everyday vision in those long years have to be changed so that I could see that God meant it for good?  For me.  For the people my life effects.

Joseph is the guy who shows us what it means to truly believe and to fully trust in God, even when there appears no end to the nightmare.  Is it any wonder that when his brothers finally came to him, he broke down in tears and moaned and lamented so loud that all the neighbors heard and Pharaoh sent word to find out if he was ok?

One last thought.  By the time Joseph is a power in Egypt, married with children, he is no longer telling about dreams from God.  He is living the dream from God.  The fulfillment is right in front of his eyes, yet there is no boasting.  No, I told you so.  There’s just joy to be with the family he hadn’t seen in seventeen years.  Oh, and he keeps on doing the job God sent him to do.  He saves the newly formed Israelite nation from being wiped out by a famine.  Now that’s living out the potential God gives.