Fierce

LEOPARD

(source)

For my birthday, my Washington sister-in-law gave me the book Writing Down the Bones. I suppose it sounds rather gruesome, but it isn’t. The idea is just to write. Sit down. put pen to paper, crayon to paper, hands to keyboard. Don’t worry about what it sounds like. I just read the chapter entitled “Writing is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger”. We writers want to shape it all, have it come out looking all recognizable and stuff. It simply isn’t like that. We can’t have it “made to order”. Sure, we can edit afterwards. But even then, our roles are limited. Let it come out, uncensored and wild.

This is where I have struggled in wring about Barb. I am having a tough time getting the words out in any coherent fashion. We were in Wisconsin for 3 services – a viewing, a funeral and the interment at a VA cemetery in Union Grove. One of the speakers at the funeral used the word “fierce” to describe her. I suppose it has negative connotations, but it fit her. She was fiercely loyal to her family. She stood up for her friends. She believed wholeheartedly in the power of the cross and in the United States itself; no half-measures for her. She was all in with every art project…though she did not finish them all, we discovered as we attempted to excavate her studio/craft room/lair.

I did okay at the viewing. Not a fan of them as a rule, but understand the necessity. All of my father-in-law’s siblings and spouses showed up, one from as far away as Florida. Some of the cousins came, too. That felt like a reunion. We caught up, laughing and talking and sharing stories. I suppose it was the Nazarene equivalent to a wake, minus the food and liquor.

The funeral was tougher. The songs reminded me of how Barb served the children in the church and community. She taught Sunday school, helped with VBS and supported missions. She and George were missionaries in Kenya for a year. Ruby and I cried together. Barb and Ruby had a special connection. Her creativity inspired Ruby. She encouraged Ruby to make things, draw and paint. She taught Ruby to use a sewing machine. The American Legion supplied a small cadre of soldiers, some old and young, one elderly gentleman bent almost double, another sporting a ponytail. They all proudly saluted the casket. We trooped outside for the 21-gun salute and “Taps”. I flashed back to my grandfather’s funeral, Col. Daniel Murray Cheston III. He was a West Point graduate who helped plan the amphibious invasion at Normandy. Back then,  we stood outside in the May air for the flag folding and everything. The officers folded the flag and presented it to my grandmother. “Your country thanks you for his service.” I also remembered Grandpa Giles’ Isham’s funeral, with similar honors.

The flag presentation for Barb happened at the VA cemetery. It rained that day, cooling things down slightly. The floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the chapel revealed a moody sky. The very brief service in the chapel contained scripture readings by one of the pastors of the Nazarene church and the flag folding by a white-gloved officer and enlisted man, all sharp synchronized movements. Another 21-gun salute went on outside during the flag folding. And “Taps”.

Life isn’t “made to order”, though we dearly wish it was. We don’t get to choose the things that happen to us, because wouldn’t we choose better?! Less pain and sorrow, please. Despite some rough experiences during Barb’s brief stint in the Navy, she never stopped believing in the mission of the armed forces. She was proud of Zac’s decision to enter the Air Force and looked forward to his bootcamp graduation. She never lost faith in America’s military or her God. As we drove to her final resting place at Q-24, I considered what it means to press on, even when circumstances turn against you. She was fierce, and she will be fiercely missed.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. – 2 Timothy 4:7

Unwelcome?

I’ve meant to write something every day we’ve been in Wisconsin. There simply hasn’t been a good time. Now, as we prepare to fly back to Washington, I have a little time. Everyone else is asleep.

Finding a place to stay in the Madison area proved challenging. Turns out the National Cross Fit Games are coming up in the beginning of August. Competitors have checked in early to get used to the humidity, aka swimming while walking on land. We found a place in McFarland. We arrived at midnight local time to a house located on a quiet, established street. We walked into a house that smelled sour. However, a few unique touches greeted us.

I love me some Betty Boop.

I mean, how often do you show up at an Air B&B place and find a piccolo in your room? This is a first for me. Memories flowed over me. Marching band. Stars & Stripes Forever. The ringing in my right ear. Anyway, I picked it up and squeaked out a few notes. Because, why not?

The décor was…eclectic.

I won’t even mention the collection of pig mugs.

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But these are the sum total of the good things. The carpet smells of paprika. We had doors made of paneling and 1970s mass production hollow core. Every time someone opened or closed a door, the hallway shook. Each bathroom had exactly only 2 sets of towels, one of them white. White! The A/C kicked up to 75 at midnight, leaving us drenched in sweat. Jonathon would stumble out to the hallway and push it back down to habitable levels.

But this, folks, was the capper for me.

Separate microwave for guests and family.

No use of the basement at all.

It felt like we weren’t welcome here, despite paying a hefty sum for the privilege. I am all for quirky and understand the nature of staying in someone’s home. We’re guests. We were blessed to find a place to stay at all. Yet this attitude of guilty until proven innocent grated on us. We asked the homeowner for the key to do laundry but she wasn’t available. Tra-la! Thanks a million. Probably better at this point if I *don’t* sign the guest book.

Just when I couldn’t handle another bratty detail from the homeowner, I remembered the backyard. Stepping out of the hermetically sealed house onto the back deck brought us into another world brimming with life. Hibiscus bushes hosted hummingbirds. Wild rabbits came and grazed any time of the day, seeking a quiet, shady spot. Cardinals called to each other from treetops. Masses of cicadas alternately roared and whispered. Ruby and I spotted orange and blue butterflies fluttering around. And yesterday, out of nowhere, a wild turkey wandered into the yard. The yard is only maybe 20 x 50′, hemmed in by woods and a broken-down fence. Nothing impeded the creatures from finding their way to us.

This 5-day trip has been busy and frustrating at times. Sometimes, in the moment, the minor irritations eclipse the greater blessings. I have searched for God’s peace as we move from one venue to another to honor Barb. This tiny yard offered a respite for us weary travelers, reminding me of who has it all under control. He welcomes us to come to him every moment of every day.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. – John 14:27

Starts and Ends

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Tis the season for changes.

On Thursday, Jonathon’s mother died. Just one year ago, we travelled out to Wisconsin to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. In August, a month later, they discovered her 2 inoperable brain tumors. All the pictures are now coming up in my Facebook feed. The picture just before we got on the plane. The mustard museum. And more. This week, Jonathon’s youngest brother kept in close contact via text. She was fading fast, marked unresponsive last Saturday. She was unable to swallow or speak, yet managed an “Love you” to her youngest son. She also said she  had no pain. They increased her morphine as her body shut down and she was able to let go in peace. Barb passed into glory on their 51st anniversary.

Two days day before that, Zac travelled up via shuttle to MEPS in Seattle. MEPS is Military Entrance Processing Station. You stay overnight, in Zac’s case in a hotel room with one other guy. Staff examine you physically, take blood and urine samples, and put you through bizarre fitness tests, like duck walking wearing only underwear. Zac took the ASVAB to enter the Air Force, scoring 97 out of 99. He was sworn in on Wednesday. On Thursday, after he returned home, he was offered a fusion analyst position. It’s a good gig, only open to the top scorers. Zac turned it down. He wants to return to MEPS in order increase his overhead lift from 80 to 100 lbs. and take another technical test to earn his first-choice position. He is psyched and encouraged and ready, practically jumping out of his skin.

It’s been a bittersweet week.

As I put Dakota through her paces this morning, the blush sunrise and setting gibbous moon greeted me. My head swirled with logistics for the trip back to Wisconsin for the funeral, the 3rd in a year. Need to get dress clothes for the kids, as Shelton’s uber casual style won’t cut it. Zac desperately needs a haircut. How will I keep up with classes?

Barb was someone who challenged the word impossible. She took on daunting tasks, creatively solving problems and making the best of the worst. We ate Isham pizza in her honor last night, a recipe she created while living in New York City as George completed graduate school and the two oldest Isham boys were toddlers. She got her B.A. in Fine Arts in her 60s. She pretty much planned our wedding back in 1992. She held out hope for hopeless situations long after many of us. She bought my wedding dress, on sale for a (then) astronomical $200. One of Barb’s fondest wishes was to see Zac graduate from boot camp. Zac’s endless term with braces precluded his entering any military group until very recently. I like to think Jesus whispered of Zac’s acceptance to her before she left us. Somehow, she knew.

I looked up at the towering trees. The air smelled piney fresh. We’ve had days and days of tropical, humid weather. Rain, dark clouds and gloom lasted way into our usual summer. But now, sun.  I thought about road races. Often, the start and finish are at the same place. You make a great loop of sorts and end up right where you began, passing through hills and valleys and sometimes dodging traffic. Everyone runs their race and finishes the best they can. We all came from our Father who created us; to Him we return when our race is run.

See you on the other side, Barb. Enter into His rest. Thanks be to God.