Friday, July 1, 2016

The Dirtpile

Once, there was a golden autumn afternoon.  The kind of golden autumn afternoon that holds the air transfixed, full of abundant stillness and gratified life.  The sky was crisply blue and the air shimmered.  I was cleaning house on this afternoon, not usually a great pleasure, but the day pushed itself in through the open windows and filled my heart with its glory, even while I changed sheets and vacuumed.

Having thrown open all the windows in the house, I gradually became aware that for some time, I'd been hearing the happy voices of little boys at play in some not too distant neighborhood yard.  I knew that they, too, were in the halcyon grips of the beautiful late-afternoon; I could hear it in their happy, contented voices.  Although I'd not really been listening to their words, suddenly they became quite clear, excited shouts floating through the stilled air:

"Okay!  Let's go!"

"WAIT, I have to tell my Mom!"


I stopped to drink in their pleasure, and imagined them scrambling to grab their favorite toys and running to be the first to start the tunnel that they'd dig from both sides of the pile until it met in the middle and their fingers wiggled through the gritty dark to find each others.  They were having a blissful day already, and it was about to get even better.

That evening, I told Dan about it all ... how palpable the beauty of the afternoon was, how happy the children were at play, and how tangible their anticipation was at the prospect of playing AT THE DIRTPILE.  It had been heavenly.

Dan was quiet for a minute, and then he said, "I wonder if there's a dirtpile in Heaven."

We savored the thought together, and then we decided yes.  For sure.  For bliss to be complete in Heaven, there must surely be a dirtpile.  When we'd cleared up that weighty theological question, with complete understanding there is absolutely no biblical basis for our conclusion, we decided that's where we'll meet when we both get to Heaven:  at the dirtpile.  "Meet ya at the dirtpile!" became shorthand for all the things:  I love you ... this is a great life ... I'm so glad it's you ... when this life is over we have hope of even better.

If you didn't know Dan and had the chance to listen in on his memorial service, you might have thought he was a saint, based on the honoring words spoken about him.  Every great thing said about this man I loved with all my heart for more than 28 years is wholly true, but they're not the whole truth.  Dan would flat out tell you he was no good.  Literally, those are his own words: "I'm no good."  And then he would go on to tell you about his hero, Jesus Christ, who was wholly good - so good in fact that His death paid the price we all should pay, for all our sinning.

I sat in the pew at his memorial service and wondered if Dan was listening, too.  Somehow, I hoped he could know how loved and respected and enjoyed and appreciated he was.  I also wondered if, along with feeling the joy of knowing that people really do see your best self in spite of all the contradictory material we give, was he wiping away tears of laughter?  Because, like I said, he'd be the first to tell you he was no good.  I, being his wife and knowing him better than anyone else, would just look at you and shrug at that.  Aren't we all just no good?

Here on earth, we know each other, but we never really know each other fully.  We glimpse each other's greatnesses, but they're obscured by our weaknesses.  But it's a blissful thing to know and love someone, even so.  The Bible says, "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known"  (1 Corinthians 13:12, emphasis mine).  In Heaven, we'll know those we've loved, but without the obscuring of sin on both sides ... and it will be even better.

As I think about the incomplete telling of a life, all scrubbed clean of the no good for a final memorial, it strikes me that's what we must be like in Heaven.  There, we will be truly free from sin, truly scrubbed clean of its residue, and in the presence of the Hero who made it all possible.  We'll be all of the unique good that God created each of us to be, and none of the bad.

The "perfect" man we memorialized on June 10 is the man I'll meet again in Heaven someday.  I do believe there is biblical basis for that ... I'm willing to wait to see about the rest.    

I'll see you at the dirtpile, LtDan.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Freefalling in God's Hands

     Back in May, I was counting down the days until June, expecting it would be blissfully uneventful.  As a month of many wonderful things wound down, LtDan and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary on May 28 with a fun little get away to our favorite hotel, and we ushered in a new month that promised to be days upon days of life as usual.

     God, however, didn't consult my plans for a slow and easy June.  Dan passed away, out of this life and into eternity, on the 8th.  Never have I felt more out of control - freefalling through life - and at the same time so firmly in the hands of God.  

     Writing is where I feel the feelings and figure things out, but I'm not ready to begin the avalanche.  Even though I don't understand it, I have complete trust in God's timing, and I'll write about that eventually.  But for now, I'm with Bonnie Raitt: to believe in this livin' is just a hard way to go.

     It took me a couple days to realize that the throbbing ache all over my body is my heartbeat.  As dramatic as that sounds, and as deep as this grief runs, I do know that we'll be all right.  In the mean time, I laugh at how not being able to find my writing students or the right classroom last February seemed like life was out of control.  But I find my advice to be as applicable in the big out of control of today as it was in the small out of control then.  Maybe you can use some reposted advice, too.

When You Feel Out of Control (Repost from February 2015)

Dearest Children of Mine,

I don't think I considered myself a "Control Freak" growing up.  I'm not sure I even considered myself a Control Freak ten years ago.  Maybe the need to be in control is something that comes with age.  Maybe it comes with realizing just how fragile life really is, and the necessity to let the people most precious to you venture into the great wide world without holding your hand.  

But I think Control Freaks get a bad rap, because controlling (what you can) about your life has a lot to do with your personal sanity, and what's not to love about someone taking personal responsibility for their own state of mind?

Here are a few tips for those times when life feels like it's spinning out of control.

Set Yourself Up to Feel at Peace

I promise, this isn't a not-so-subtle attempt to get you to clean up your room, HOWEVER ... your environment impacts your mental state more than you may realize.  Keeping your place in order gives you a stable and soothing place to operate from when life throws you curveballs, and it's one less thing to distract you or stress you out.  Life feels better when there's order around you, so especially if you're feeling out of control, give yourself the gift of order.  The result and the singular act of exerting yourself on your environment will make you feel better.

Identify What You DO Control

It's important to identify what you can and can't control in life so you don't use up your energy trying to fix things that you simply can't.  You'll reduce your stress level considerably if you ask yourself if you have any power over a situation before you get involved with it.  When there's something you can do, take action and do that thing!  And when you get to the place where there's no more action you can take, admit to yourself you've come to the end of your influence, and let it go.  Don't dilute your energy by focusing on things that are outside your control.  Throw your action and focus and intent behind what you do have control over.  

Know (and do) What Calms You

When life goes bonkers, you'll naturally gravitate to things that settle you, and you may not even be aware of why it is that you're doing those things.  Explore and observe what calms you so that when things feel out of your grasp, you can purposefully turn to them to find some peace in the storm.  For me, it's putting things in order, which I didn't fully realize until last summer when the Hospice nurse made her first visit to see your Granddaddy and I was furiously organizing his linen closet.  Small comforting actions may not impact the big things you're concerned about, but they will make you feel better.

Don't Lose It

Have you ever listened to Fighter Pilots talking to each other in the middle of a battle?  Or 911 Operators taking emergency calls?  They aren't speaking clearly and succinctly and politely because they necessarily feel calm - their training is forcing their response to the situation.  I wish I could tell you that life goes according to plan most of the time, but sending you off into the world with that unrealistic expectation would do you a huge disfavor.  The truth is, much of life is about coming up with Plan B.  This is normal.  The only thing you are 100% in control of is your response to life, whether you're on Life Plan A, B or Z.  Your response to the setbacks in life become a habit - don't practice losing control when life gets crazy.  Remember that you have control over your response.  Practice staying in control.  And if you don't feel like you've got what it takes, pretend you do.  Pretend you have what it takes to stay in control ... until you do.  

See?  When life spins out of control, you can still have a plan.  It mostly has to do with controlling yourself.  It's the only thing you have control of anyway :o)

Friday, June 10, 2016

In Constant Sorrow

It's with deepest sorrow, and greatest love, and highest affection 
that I repost this entry about my husband today 
as we reel from his wholly unexpected passing on June 8.
Honoring him in every way possible is balm to the soul.

Let me introduce you to Lieutenant Dan.
He cooks! He grills!

He wears ranch shoes ...

He drives a truck ...

He practices Zero Minus One ...

He loves Texas ...

He loves his kids ...

He loves his dogs ...

He loves vacation ...

He loves America ...

He is super nice to foreigners and senior citizens (and he misses his Uncle Roy terribly) ...

He’s an MK (Missionary’s Kid) ...

He's an IT guy, but what he loves most is driving the tractor and working on the ranch ...

When he decides he’s going to do something, it’s as good as done ...

He's irreverant unconventional ...

This is his hero ...

Now that our children are approaching the age when they can begin thinking …. and I mean thinking--- no more! - about marriage, it scares me how much we thought we knew back in 1988, when actually, we didn’t know squat.
We’ve been married 23 years. That blows my mind.
In some ways it seems forever - in some ways it seems like we were driving away from the church just hours ago.

We’ve both changed ... and not changed. Who we are is different ... but the essence of us is the same.

The solitary thing that makes all the difference is that Lt.Dan and I both love the Prince of Peace. And when that's true, you know where the other person is trying to go. Even though you can't predict who someone will become ... you know their template for who they’re striving to be.
Every single day I’m thankful for Lt.Dan … he makes me smile, he makes me laugh, he’s still a great date. He's most definitely my best friend. And for me, he’ll always be the best man in the room.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Best End of May

I may or may not have mentioned that our May was so busy  packed with lots of life to live.  At the end of this lovely action filled month was the best event possible to end a long month, much less 10 weeks of missing one of your children.  

In March, our eldest shipped off to Army Basic Training.  He wrote us some wonderful letters at the beginning, but after the first couple of weeks, his schedule (understandably) didn't allow much time to sit around and write letters. There were a few all too short phone calls, just long enough to grow a healthy appreciation for long conversations.  But at the end of May the wait was over and we attended Basic Training Graduation.

 How awesome it is to see one of your children doing so wonderfully well.

We arrived at Fort Sill on Family Day, looking forward to Charlie Company's informal presentation before the graduates were released for some free time.  We seated ourselves with many other families and patiently waited for the program to begin.  It was supposed to start at 9:00, and I tried not to judge that the program hadn't started by 9:40.  That's when I got a phone call from Ben ... apparently, we were waiting in Foxtrot Company's part of the building  - ha!  He told me to walk to the sidewalk and head the other direction, at which point I saw two young men in dress blues waaaaaay down there.  It was him!   

That moment was just the best.  

It was such a shock to see him with next to no hair - it's certainly the shortest it's ever been.  And he's worn a beard since he was ridiculously young, so it was a double shock to see him clean shaven.  Abbie later accused me of being starstruck by him (and yes, okay, she totally nailed me, what can I say?) but I don't think I was alone in that for one minute :o)

 We took a brief driving tour of Oklahoma, which by the way is beautiful, and ended up at a quaint hamburger joint called the Meers Store and Restaurant.  

We had the obligatory burgers at Meers, which was established in 1901.  It was filled with ramshackle charm that was only overshadowed by amazing hamburgers which were only overshadowed by the BEST peach cobbler and homemade ice cream in gargantuan proportions.  Two minutes into the meal, Ben sighed with exasperation and I thought something was wrong with his burger.  He laid down the three bites that were left and said, "I forgot that I have more than five minutes to eat!"

We took our soldier back to the hotel to relax a little bit, and he took a nap - the first one in ten weeks,  a well-deserved nap!  He stayed in uniform the entire time, shiny shoes and all.  Other things of note were that he had to be with at least one other person at all times, and he could not walk and use his phone to talk or text - he had to stand still if he was looking at his phone.  That one might be a good one for the civilian world :o)  

After the most wonderful day of just drinking in how great he looks and how happy he seems to be and how comfortable he is with what he's doing and where he's going, we took him back to base so he wouldn't miss his 8:00 curfew.  

The next morning was graduation!  The graduates were seated before the chapel was opened, sitting at attention (or that's what it looked like), very stern and serious.  Drill Sergeants were introduced (they looked terrifying), distinguished graduates were honored, and each graduate marched across the stage to shake the Commander's hand.   It was a pleasure during the graduation ceremony to honor the veterans, Ben's granddad and uncle among them.  After singing the Army song, the graduates were presented to a room full of immensely proud friends and family.  "These men and women have overcome every obstacle to become the newest defenders of America" got an easy standing ovation. 

Following the ceremony, we gathered with LtDan's parents and his sister and my brother and sister.  Ben chose Korean food for lunch and we all thoroughly enjoyed a huge and very tasty buffet at Pusan restaurant.   

We're all just a tiny bit proud!

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to just relax - after ten weeks of high structure and rigid schedule, Ben just wanted an afternoon with no plans at all.  I don't blame him a bit.  He got a video game fix, and we updated him on important internet things that went on while he was gone.

The one and only unhappy thing about the entire time was that Nathan had to miss the event because he couldn't get off work.  It was a double whammy of good and bad, since he's proven himself well enough to step into a position of greater responsibility but that meant his schedule wasn't as flexible as we once might have hoped.  But his younger sister and brother represented well for him.

It was time to take our soldier back to base; graduation at 10am and off to Advanced Individual Training at midnight.  It was time to go and I couldn't stop taking pictures.

Before he left us, we went to see the obstacle course area and Treadwell Tower, a 40 foot high beast that all soldiers went up and down many times over the course of their training.  Ben got called out for smiling on his way down once.  Our boy is a thrill seeker.

We were standing in the common area with other soldiers and their families, taking pictures and chatting for just a few more minutes.  Ben had just explained that you are not to step on the Charlie Company emblem painted on the ground when he yelled a booming, "At Ease!" and everyone stood still at ease ... one of the Drill Sergeants was walking through (a woman Drill Sergeant, as a matter of fact, very impressive).  This is what you do when someone of higher rank enters a room, call out "At Ease!"  Civilian that I am, I instead took a blurry picture of the brick wall in my flurry to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, because I'm cool like that.

He's off to his next post in San Antonio, where he'll go through sixteen weeks of medical training along with many of his fellow basic training graduates.   He said his sergeant told him on Monday - Memorial Day - that the job of a 68W (medic) is to make people's Memorial Days less memorable.

I hope he does that many, many times over. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Springtime Mercy Hunting : In Search of "Fine"

How are you?  I am fine.

That's how I began every letter I ever wrote until age ten :o)

'It's May! It's May!  The month of "yes, you may ... " '  (name that tune!)

"Yes" is all over our calendar.  Of the 31 days in May, only 8 days have nothing scrawled over them, and only two of those "nothing" days sit next to each other.  Maybe that doesn't constitute busy in your world but it sure does in mine.  I could see it stacking up back in March, and the things just  kept. on. coming.  All good things, every one of them ... but for an extroverted introvert who needs time alone to revive and restore energy ... well.  I kept finding myself  thinking and saying and writing, "May is CRAZY BUSY!!" and feeling the requisite adrenaline rush to determine whether fight or flight was necessary.  This is the self talk you're supposed to be wary of.  Finally, I rescripted myself to think/say/write, "There's a lot of LIFE to be lived in May!"  I also programmed myself with phrases like "This is going to be SO FUN!", "I can do this!" and "It's all going to be FINE."  Thank you, Gretchen Rubin and HAPPIER Podcast #57!

When I swiped through the pictures in my phone, I realized I haven't shared a Mercy Hunting expedition since last fall.  Mercy Hunting is looking for things new and delightful every day ... being mindful that God's mercies never come to an end and are new every morning; I snap pictures of things that make me happy and remind me.  Most often I find those things when I'm on my morning walk, but God's mercy doesn't keep hours.  

Just to catch you up, here are a few things that happened during this lovely spring ...

I walked through not one but TWO pairs of boots.  Although mud boots aren't the best footwear for taking exercise, I find my ankles feel just a tad too exposed when I wear walking shoes and walk through the fields along the creek.  Although I've not seen any snakes yet this season, there's evidence that cold-blooded creatures are coming out to play.  Our puppy Maggie had a snake encounter and was apparently bitten on her mouth.  We heard her yelp and saw her streak out of the tall grass heading for the house.  Her face was swollen and she was vastly lethargic for a day, then she was fine the next morning.  That should teach her to put her nose into snaky places.  Meanwhile, Blanca the cat lounged in patches of sunshine.

Nathan, our #2 son, turned 21 in February just before we went on a family cruise.  Twenty-one!  It seems like just yesterday he was learning to ride his bike in the cul-de-sac and playing Mega Man on the Nintendo.  He's the perfect mix of Good Times and Keep Your Head on Straight.  He works as a waiter at a popular Mexican Food restaurant, and takes great pride in serving his customers well.  I'm so proud of him.  

Ben, our oldest, left for Army Basic Training in March.  We've had seven letters from him since he left, and spoken to him on the phone less than 30 minutes in total.  But every letter and every minute on the phone has been a treasure.  We've also had two (form) letters from his commanding officer, explaining what to expect at the graduation ceremony, tactfully worded to convey, in case there was any confusion, that our son no longer reports to Mom and Dad but to the US Army.  We LOVE the company Facebook page where we get glimpses of what's happening in training.  The good news is there are pictures!  The bad news is everyone has the same haircut and clothes!  We're SO looking forward to seeing Ben at graduation!  

Always every year I think spring will never come, and that the trees will never fill out with leaves like they did last year.  I'm always sure the drought has finally done us in ... I am the ye, of little faith.  But slowly and surely, the green starts to pop out.  I was so sad that what I thought was our lone dogwood tree was cut down when the pipeline came through our back pasture.  But I found another small one this spring - what a delight!

We've had water in the creek pretty consistently all spring long, which is so great to see after years of drought.  Several trees lost their grip on the bank and fell into the water, but I'm learning that's part of the natural cycle.  The dogs love splashing down into the creek water to cool off.  They also enjoy dragging strange things into the yard for us to find; the weirdest of late was a leg bone from a cow (I guess?).  The cow was likely the victim of coyotes - our dogs just found the bone and brought it home.  You never know what you're going to find in the yard when you're in the country.  

As spring gained traction, the field across the creek exploded with yellow wildflowers.  It always makes me think of the field of poppies Dorothy has to cross to get to Oz that makes everyone fall asleep :o)  I started a meditation practice during my morning walks that has a significant impact on my state of mind, and this is the view before I close my eyes.  Then after five minutes of still, I look up into the green and enjoy a few moments of fluttering leaves.  

Our homeschool co-op's drama department continues to grow and raise the bar on the standard of excellence.  Every production, I wonder how in the world can they top this one, and then they do.  Aaron and Abbie auditioned for Alice in Wonderland, Jr. and Aaron was cast as the Dodo Bird a.k.a. The Monarch of the Seas, and Abbie was cast as Petunia, one of the Girls of the Golden Afternoon (the nerdy one, as it turned out).  The production was a rainbow riot of color and fun and the cast was packed with personality.  They had a BLAST, from auditions to the cast party after the final show that took over IHOP's big banquet room until the wee hours of the morning.  

I adore all springtime wildflowers, but it seems here in Texas bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes are the most special.  We don't have bluebonnets on our property, but I was delighted that our patch of Indian Paintbrush was bigger and more expansive than ever this year.

The Junior Class executed a successful Senior Kidnapping on a bright and cheery Saturday morning.  There was food and games and the whole shindig ended with a paint war that was much much fun.  Definitely a day to remember!

I found these white flowers, that vine through the grass and under trees and hang down the creek bank are wildberry vines ... maybe blackberries?  If you note where the white flowering vines are, you know where to look for a snack in a few weeks.  Whatever they are, they're delicious :o)

I always say the little blue flowers that appear first are my favorites, but it's hard to stick to that, once everything starts blooming.  Really, I love them all.

Lt. Dan and I attended several business training events ... wherein my brain came very close to exploding what with all the information.  One weekend, I checked in with the hotel desk attendant and she asked if I was there for the Star Trek Convention ... I'm still trying to figure out exactly why ... but when she asked, I started giggling and then she started giggling and it was a minute before we gained our professional composure.  I heard that Captain James T. Kirk - I mean William Shatner - was going to be there, but Lt. Dan and I were too involved in the craziness (in this case, the term is correct:  Crazy Fun but also a TON of learning) of our own business training and we missed him.  But, as you can see below, we did see some Star Fleet officers.

I got my car washed.  Which isn't really big news, except that it was "the works", professionally detailed, inside and out.  I don't know about you, but when you're supposed to list things that make you feel indulged, or things that are "treats", I have a hard time coming up with a list.  But I LOVE to have my car sparkling clean and feeling like new.  So last year I decided I would treat myself to professional detailing each new season.  It's the little things, right?

My Sweet Girl went to prom.  Maybe you thought homeschoolers don't have proms?  Ah no, that couldn't be further from the truth.  This particular prom is the Texas Christian Homeschool Prom, and the theme was Paris circa 1900.  Paris, complete with the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, the Champs-Elysees, NotreDam, Point des Arts, and the Catacombs.  In attendance were Napoleon and his wife, Musketeers, traditional mimes, Vincent Van Gogh, Belle and Gaston, Quasimodo, Christine and the Phantom of the Opera ... and 1,760 High School students who danced the night away.

We have a frequent evening visitor these days.  He swoops across the east side of the treeline and then up into the trees over the standing water at the end of it.  Sometimes he likes to sit on the loafing shed.  Maybe this is the same barred owl that Abbie saw out the window once during English class?  If so, his name would be Merlin.  We never see his friends, but we can hear them talk to each other.

We had a girls night out and went to see Wicked!  What a fun show!  Hurrah for Dallas Summer Musicals!  

When I decided to flip my outlook on the month of May, I determined to say yes to three things:

1.  Yes to every opportunity that pushes me out of my comfort zone and toward growth.
2.  Yes to more life experiences.
3.  Yes to being busier, because being busy with intention and purpose renders the most satisfying rest.

It's been a month of blue skies and puffy clouds, wildflowers and wildlife, song and dance, learning and laughter.  It's been so fun!  I think I can do it!  It's all going to be FINE.  

I'm going to make it to June after all.