Musings on a Sleepless Night

It’s the days leading up to a holiday once again.  I’m finding myself at something of an impasse, caught in between my activities of the last 8 months and trying to transition into those dormant months that lie ahead.  The relentless rains as of late have saturated my soil to the flood stage grinding the last of my planting to a halt.  Awkwardly I attempt to throw myself into holiday cleaning and food preparation, as my mind wanders back to the chores left undone.  And to thoughts that run through my head, battling for dominance over the disciplined regimen I try so hard to keep.

Something disconcerting that I have become aware of is how difficult it is to avoid being self-absorbed  when you are on your own.  Sharing your life with a spouse is a built-in safeguard from being egocentric, and this is yet another loss of that protective bond. How strange it is to discover this hidden casualty!  As if the list of losses will never end.

I spent a few hours today with a trusted friend.  She has a keen understanding of human nature and sees with clarity, situations that completely elude me.   My words sometimes ramble, but hers are concise and accurate.  She keeps me accountable.  I’m often amazed at her wisdom which is always unassuming and clothed in kindness.  She is a dear companion.

I will attempt to sleep though my soul is restless—restless but not anxious.  I am comforted by the peace that surpasses my own understanding, the hope that gives me security in the Father’s providence for my life.

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The phone call

13 Years ago tonight my dad died.  The phone rang telling me that he might not hang on much longer. I called you, interrupting your evening meeting with the church pre-school.  You were the elder, treasurer, and church liaison with the school. Your input was always  needed, always important, always sought after.  You wondered why I called you, telling me there was nothing you could do;  you would be home when the meeting was over.  I guess you were preparing me over those decades to function perfectly all alone—and so I do.   He had died by the time you made it home.

I’m learning a new aspect of Christian living.  Our human nature makes it easy to latch on to doing works of “ministry.”  People pleasers find it especially satisfying to work endless hours  filling every spare minute of their lives serving on church committees, filling in anywhere there is a gap in church participation, and enjoying the commendations of the grateful congregants.   But here is what I’m learning: even in church ministry, if we are striving to do good works by our own will,  our efforts are nothing but filthy rags.  Unless and until we get to know our God intimately through His Word,  being ever changed by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, these works are merely self justification.  Accepting God’s lordship over my life is key in this ongoing process of sanctification.   If He is not sovereign to direct my life as He sees fit, then my efforts are in vain.

I often wonder about the things you are learning now that you are in His presence.  But only momentarily, as I have  so much to learn about God’s provision with each day that I remain.  And should I think  I’ve learned it all, He will quickly deflate that ego so I may continue in His plan for my life, set before the foundation of the earth.

 

The graduation

Our little one graduated today. By that I mean she’s leaving her first school and going into the next couple of grades like our kids did.  It’s interesting to be able to watch her from afar. Normally I’m interacting with her but today I could just observe.  She’s  lovely as you would imagine but also very poised.   She did her best to listen politely to the number of speeches by school officials, even turning to watch them as they spoke.  Parents around me were holding back tears—many unsuccessfully—as they imagined their babies growing all too quickly.  I had to reign in my thoughts as well, but not for the same reasons as they.  I continued to watch her, somewhat spellbound.  Now and again she would look into the crowd out of the corner of her eyes—just as you always did—she looked just like you. I watched the expressions on her baby-doll face; they were your expressions.  The way you held your mouth, the look of intent as she concentrated, the hint of a smile—that little smirk of yours–as a playful thought dashed through her mind.  She mirrored your face so closely, I was taken aback.

I don’t understand a lot of things. I don’t understand how a child who was so young when you died can carry your expressions.  They clearly are not learned responses.  Yet she is her own person, thriving in the love of Godly parents. And your prayers for her play out each day in her life. She will do amazing  things; God will use her mightily.

The early years

It was the late fall of our college senior year.  I discovered that the new Student Union building had a music room, and I was in need of some refreshing by my Beatles late one afternoon during the bustle of mid-term preparation.   I approached the desk to ask for an album, and there you were with your long thick dark curls and suspenders ready to take my request. You liked the Beatles and put the album on the overhead speakers.  When I returned the next afternoon and requested Imagine, you handed me headphones—no John Lennon for you.  Headphones on, I became lost in the songs of this new album, and couldn’t help swaying to the beat.  I glance up at one point and saw you smiling in amusement at me.  We were both children, not yet 21.  You had worked your way into this rather cushy work-study job and were quite adept at it.   I would discover later that you were adept at anything you set your mind to—much as our granddaughter is now.

I had not only stumbled into the music room that afternoon, but also into a love that consumed me.  We struck up a friendship quickly.  One night a bunch of us got together in a friend’s dorm room to hang out and listen to music. You were sitting behind me.   I let  my right hand fall by the chair;  your finger tips reached out and touched mine.

That winter break was the longest I’d ever known. I ached to get back to campus.  Back at last,  there was sledding  down the snowy hills at lower campus on food trays that we sneaked from the dining room.  There were walks  in the chilled early spring air.  I continued working on multiple paintings to be finished before my art show; one of them featured you and to my surprise, was recognized by passerby’s as I worked on it.   There was that morning that I awoke for class to the Paul McCartney song you dedicated to me over the campus FM radio—your deep voice softly introducing it over the air waves.

We progressed toward graduation, now a month away.  You began to be nervous.  We were young.  You came from a broken family of abuse and abandonment.  You distanced yourself.  You quickly flitted to her.  She was laid back. She was permissive.  She was less dangerous.

I met your mom and a brother at graduation.  They were kind and sweet.  They knew who I was.

It was a hot summer. I was broken and empty but never let on.  I drove to Salem one weekend.  The Tarot cards said you were looking toward me.   You had left her as quickly as you found her, and gone west to find yourself.  There were no cell phones back then. There was no money to be spent frivolously.  I continued to search out teaching jobs as I waitressed.  We were in a great recession.

That fall I got a letter. You had hitchhiked back to the east coast.  You asked me to meet you in Boston in a week.   I drove to the subway station and took the T the rest of the way.  By God’s providence, I ran into a good friend in the middle of Boston—she was one of my bridesmaids 2 years later.  We ran into another college friend, and spent a couple hours walking the city.   It was the last time we ever saw him.   You never showed.

Once again I ached.  I was a fool.  That love wouldn’t die.  Then I heard from you—was it a call or a letter?  I can’t remember.   You had gone to Boston.  You had shown up an hour before our set time.  You walked the streets alone.  You didn’t think I’d come so you left before the appointed hour.  You asked me to meet you outside the college campus the following week.  I reticently agreed.

I drove to the town where we had first met.  I waited an hour.  Once again I realized the folly of hope.  I resigned myself to loss and headed for my car.  At that moment you showed.  You had hitchhiked.  It was hard getting rides.   You were weary and disillusioned from your summer in Yellowstone.   You had just now been offered a good job and would be a fool to reject it.  You didn’t want it—it would mean moving far away again. You were overwhelmed.  I asked “Why do you have to take it?”  You looked bewildered and relieved.  You’d not considered that.

So our friendship picked up again with letters.  Letters that have crossed the country and back over the years.  Letters that are somewhere in the attic.  I will find them and read them someday.

I moved to Maine the following summer. I needed to find where I belonged.  You came up one weekend.  In an obscure tiny town several miles from the boarding house where I was living,  we ran into the glorious Saviour.  You moved up to Maine. We began graduate work at a Bible college.  He changed our lives for eternity.

You have moved on into His eternity.  I am still that youth at heart.  I still have that hope against all odds.   I live constrained in the Father’s loving will.

 

The computer desk

I’ve been cleaning out your computer desk most of the day; it’s an enormous job.  You were a saver; you possessed a sentimentality  few knew about.   There are personal  letters and memorabilia, bank statements from the last 26 years neatly filed.  Newspaper articles,  e-mails that you always printed out,  letters to the editor that you deftly wrote boldly defending scripture.  There are maps,  directions to friends’ houses, addresses, cards and photos.  There are reams of paper with minutes to the many meetings you attended, scrawled with notes in your handwriting.  There is artwork and letters from the dozens of children you financially supported all over the world, there’s  our children’s school records you so carefully preserved.  There’s stacks of financial papers, and obituary bulletins of lost loved ones.

And then there’s the CD’s.  Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and everything from Joni Mitchell to the Beatles to Chris Tomlin and Watermark—dozen upon dozen of CDs, even tapes.   There’s an eclectic collection of sermons from Calvery Chapel ministries,  D. James Kennedy, Charles Stanley, and John MacArthur.  There are home made CDs mostly music—but some that are most unusual such as the dedication given to you by the church we attended for so many years.  I listened and heard the voices of our children commemorating you,  and so many friends—some no longer on this earth.

You continue to speak from the grave.  Through the music you loved, through your Bible study notes—barely legible to the human eye—through the sermons you listened to and the sermons you gave.    You are heard through the articles you wrote, and through the tremendous admiration and love expressed by so many friends—all captured on tape.   But  you also speak through your notes of your anguish—those things people never saw, never knew existed. That part of the human soul which carries the doubts, the anxieties, the restlessness, the fear.

And I continue to be caught between two worlds, finding great difficulty to establish myself solely in the present, or perhaps wondering just what the present is.  I have molded for myself a lovely shining armor which I am quite careful not to tarnish.  But there are cracks; and if one could see through them they would see  vulnerability that I wish to keep hidden.  I so do my best to carry on;  to study, to learn, to contribute, to hope, to trust. And I keep these things treasured up in my heart.

Year six

I was working on the woodpile today.  It was a bright, cold, crisp day–the very kind you enjoyed.   Finding satisfaction in  the simple strenuous work, I reflected back to that last fall you were here.   You had rebounded nicely from your brain surgery those first few weeks, and decided to cautiously run the lawn tractor.  You didn’t zip around the yard at full speed as usual, but drove slowly, soaking up the autumn sunshine. I kept a watchful eye as you made your way around the perimeter of the property, past the late blooming flowers, and the turning leaves.  Later you told me that this was the first time you had ever enjoyed mowing so much.  There was none of the usual rush.  Your senses picked up the fragrance from the still-blooming rose hedge,  the beauty of the gardens, the warmth of the ground and the coolness of the off shore breezes.  It was a simple joy, the kind that is hidden in the familiarity of every day activities.  The kind that is overlooked until something jolts you from the usual.

The following week you didn’t fare so well.  I watched with concern as you rode more carelessly around the yard, running over my bordering herb plantings and asparagus beds.  I feared you would hit the trees. You were losing the control you possessed just that short week before.  Your brain couldn’t keep up with the newfound freedom you wanted to possess.  The following day I found you sitting on the mower in the garage confused—you couldn’t find the key.  I had to tell you that I took it. You sat there despondent—I wondered how much you were realizing.  I felt like a heel; I was taking away your independence and pleasure—even now my heart continues to break at the thought.

If there was one thing I could somehow share with my loved ones in this sixth year of your absence, it would be this.  Enjoy the ones you love.  Treat each  other with extreme kindness.  There will always be trials, always be conflicts, always be pain and misunderstanding.  But there is great joy in sharing.  Great joy to be found in the effort of understanding someone who you love–and being understood.   Do not waste your short and precious time on this earth with the misery that comes unmet expectations. Instead allow yourself the freedom that comes from trusting that God has indeed planned and purposed your life—and those in it.  Rest in the knowledge of His abounding grace and love for you.  And let you heart be satisfied  with His immeasurable joy.

lights

Looking out through the inky sky over the blackened fields I see occasional dots of light making their way in the distance.  Are they coming from work? Do they have a family to come home to? Are they carrying burdens that weigh on them? Like a benevolent  monarch I gaze out from my province contemplating, but not connecting with, those  in the darkness.

Peering into the inky recesses of my cognizance, I see occasional dots of light flickering their way through my recollections. Bright memories of kind words  faded over the years.  Flecks of friendships—snapshots frozen in time—remembered yet not embraced.    Speckles of love, sparkling in brilliance,  vaporizing into my consciousness. Like others before me, I ponder these things in my soul.