When Dreams Attack

I know I haven’t written much lately. I’ve been reintegrating into regular life and applying for jobs and, and, and. But I need to write. It’s a part of me. Every time I try to get away, I find myself missing it. It’s one of the tethers in this world, at least for me.

I found Ruby sitting on a couch in the rotunda the other morning. She was crying.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?” I asked. I sat down next to her and hugged her.

“I dreamt that Chloe died,” she sniffled.

Uh oh.

“Oh, I’m sorry. But she’s fine.”

I pointed out the black Muppet cat, curled at her feet. Ruby nodded.

“I wanted to make a blanket out of her fur.”

Um.

“So I cut off her head.”

Whaa…?

She started sobbing.

“Then I saw her ghost.”

OK. Now what, God? I breathed in and out, holding her. I decided to ignore the ghost comment.

“Ruby, do you really want to make a blanket out of Chloe’s fur?”

I looked down at the long, luxurious fur on the most mellow cat in Christendom. It is very soft and touchable, yet manages to get everywhere. It has always reminded me of

troll doll

But she doesn’t need to know that.

“Well, I want to keep her around. I don’t want her to die.”

Folks, I believe this is how taxidermy on household pets got started.

“Chloe won’t live forever. And I’m sure you’d never cut off her head. Let’s enjoy her while we have her. God gave you the sweetest cat. There will never be another Chloe.”

Isn’t that what we all need to be doing, appreciating where we are, when we are, and who we’re with? Tomorrow is not promised.

Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  – Psalm 103:15

I hugged Ruby a little closer and smiled at Chloe. I swear Chloe smiled back.

Ruby & Chloe

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday Tiny Things

Photo by wikipedia.com

Photo by wikipedia.com

I don’t know what to say today.

I stepped out into the cool, pink-tinged morning.  I inhaled the still air, scented with honeysuckle and petunias.  The sun lingered on the horizon –

Wait.  I have to help Ruby get frozen bread into the toaster.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  The sun lingered on the horizon, backlighting the sky.  I started walking.  During my injured calf state, I discovered how much warming up counts towards getting a good run in.  Like stretching, warming up has never been on my radar.  Until I got hurt.

“Mom, can today be pajama day?” Not today, Ruby.

So. Back to this morning. I headed east then turned up the hill…

“Mom, look at this!  Rex caught a squirrel!”

I followed Ruby and looked out the back door.  Rex, mouth full of chipmunk, stalked around the carport and vicinity.  His face held a mixture of pride and confusion.  Where can I put this down? his darting eyes seemed to say.

I watched the drama for a little while.  Chloe hovered over the fresh kill.  She leaned over and sniffed it.  Rex reached out a paw and batted the dead carcass.  Then he picked it up in his teeth, tossing it in the air.  Flying chipmunks are not as rare as you’d think in these parts. Rex carried his prize to the side yard and laid down beside it, content and spent.

Okay…where was I?

Zac appeared before me.  “How are you today?” I asked.  He grabbed a pen and a napkin. Uh oh.

“You have a sore throat?” He nodded. “How bad is the pain?”  He wrote 6/10.  Poor thing.

I walked up the hill.  Weeds and horsetail grew by the curb.

“I wonder what it’s like being dead,” Ruby mused around a bite of toast.

Sigh. Never mind.

Living in the Dash

grave marker

Last night after dinner, Ruby, Jonathon and I went to the park.  I’ve mentioned this park before. It’s got a red swing and a baseball diamond, some paved paths, a covered picnic area and a small basketball court.

It’s also right next to the cemetery. Quiet neighborhood, that.

Ruby lifted herself high on the swing, her feet outstretched.  Jonathon and I talked.  The sun had lowered itself enough that we sat in the shade. Tired of the swing, Ruby jumped off. We all meandered down a wooded path. It ended in a stagnant pool of water, surrounded by mud and mosquitoes. We didn’t stay long.

“Hey, why don’t we visit the graveyard,” I suggested after we followed another path to nowhere.

The other two agreed.

Now, I’m not a morbid soul.  But I read a book awhile back and I realized we don’t think about death very much, if at all.  We need to.

The cemetery’s gate stood open. We walked into the gates, the sun shining down on everything. No breeze stirred the air. We wandered among the headstones.  Willeys.  McCraes. Fredsons. Then…Baby Hammond. Arnold, who lived 10 days. Ella, who lived four years.

We talked about what it meant to have “Beloved” on your tombstone. How had that person lived?  We found husbands and wives, buried together.  “Married 1938”, entwined with roses and doves, greeted us.

But sometimes, the headstones had things like “Mary Smith 1930-1996” and “Clyde Smith 1930 –  “.  Clyde, apparently, still lived on somewhere.  How was he?  How did he feel, with the other half of his one-flesh gone?  How did these parents, living decades longer than their children, make it through that hell?

Some stones didn’t stick up above the ground at all.  They stuck fast in the dirt, etched with “Charles Martin 1888-1957”.  No room for any sort of epitaph, only the particulars of that person’s timeline. Shelton’s pioneer days must have been rough.

“Mom,” Ruby called. We walked over to where she stood.

The body below the grass was only 13 years old.  He had collected bouquets, a crystal guardian angel hovering from a pole, and several small spotlights. He died only a few months ago.  My eyes filled with tears.  I recognized the name of a local young man who died under mysterious circumstances.

We lost our taste for trying to unravel histories then. We admired a few more markers and then turned for home. The sun dipped low on the horizon. We drove home through the gathering dusk. I remembered my mother-in-law telling us her family used to picnic at the family plot.  It seemed rather a dark place for a meal, to me.  I think I’m starting to get it now.  It’s a way to celebrate the lives of those we’ve lost.

We never know when our time here on earth will end.  How are we living in the dash ( – ) between birth and death? Yes, this life feels like a dash sometimes, but that’s not what I mean. Because when it’s all said and done, and we stand before God, we will have to account for our stewardship of the relationships in our lives – husbands, wives, children, friends, coworkers. God has always been in the “people first” business.  Are we?

Overcomer

A young woman who attended our church died this past Sunday in a car accident.  It was a head-on collision as the other driver, also a young woman, crossed the double yellow line to pass the 3 slow poke cars in front of her.

The gal had just turned 20.  She had recommitted her life to Christ and walked away from some bad choices in order to start over. She had a new joy inside.

Our church held a sort of impromptu memorial for her last night in lieu of regular Wednesday night service.  Through a series of reschedules due to illness, I was part of the worship team.   Members of the deceased’s family, who found a wonderful new church home years ago, started filing into the sanctuary.  We kept on rehearsing. I thought, Oh, we’re one of the few churches who have a midweek service.  Guess they needed to connect with God. Great to see them again and hug their necks.

No.

Those of us onstage shuffled, filled with nerves.  When your kid/sister/niece/granddaughter dies unexpectedly, emotions roil.  We didn’t know that to expect; how could we serve?  Could we offer any kind of comfort? And anyway, where *was* God? How could he allow this to happen? My little girl is gone! She’ll never get married or have kids of her own.  The great defeatist, Despair, lingered in the room. I could almost see his enormous maw of pain, open and fangs bared, ready to swallow the grieving visitors.

I quickly scanned the song lyrics in my head.  Uh…yeah. The love of God.  His comfort. Wanting more of His love and passion for others.  His goodness.  Holding on to God’s word. Good, good. And oh, “death has lost its sting.”

Gulp.

I didn’t want to offend them.  Death, especially of someone so young, isn’t something to be taken lightly. I haven’t lost anyone very close to me – yet. I realize death waits for me on the horizon, hovering like a dark cloud.  I can’t avoid it.  I can’t dodge it.  We will all die, unless Jesus returns first.  Period.

We sing a lot of songs about death, frankly.  Most of our worship songs are peppered with references to Jesus’ death on the cross, the resurrection, overcoming death, etc.  Honestly, I reckon we sing them without thinking an awful lot about them. The words, that is.  Yes, Jesus died and rose again.  Yes, the last enemy of creation – humans in particular – is death.  We’ve all mentally assented to the idea of death as the last frontier in this life.  Did we actually *believe* it, that when this life ends, we’ll enter a glorious heaven and receive Jesus’ embrace on the other side?  When it came time for application, could my faith stand the test? I didn’t know. I don’t know.  I only hoped we could latch onto God’s truth and soothe the hurt of those marvelous people. We could usher in a place of peace and understanding of our eventual victory. We could, for a short time, close the gaping mouth of grief and place our broken hearts into God’s hands for mending.

The service turned out to be a great time to talk about the reality of death and how to handle it.  I pray the families received comfort and a sense of God’s presence, despite the painful circumstances. I know I did. We will see our friend again, in the sweet by and by.

This girl’s death woke me up.  I don’t want to waste any more time.  I will give Zac all the hugs and noogies I can.  He’s gotta know I love him.  I will tickle Ruby until she comes close to peeing her pants. I will love and honor Jonathon all the days of my life, preferring him above all others. I will listen more closely to the quiet, small voice that guides me into caring for others while I still can.

 

O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – I Corinthians 15:55-57

 

Death Becomes Her

Not this movie.

Not this movie.

This month’s Book Pages gave me much food for thought.  I ran across an article about a book called Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  Which is most definitely not this

Still, it’s a good song.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the book, was written by Caitlin Doughty.  I guess she writes a blog and has a website. I’m not…real hip to death.  Several elders in our family died over the last couple decades – grandparents, mostly.  And a few friends of friends.  But I don’t have direct experience, first hand, with the Grim Reaper.  Not that I’m looking, you understand.

What intrigued me about Ms. Doughty is that she had such an early experience with death.  It changed her forever.  She pursued a job at a crematorium after graduating with a degree in medieval history.  I suppose perhaps the two seem related, given the mortality rate during that era.

Her book outlines what really happens when someone dies.  I haven’t read it yet, though I put a hold on it at our local library.  I’m excited we even have a copy in circulation.  Shelton, you big city, you!

The book review piqued my interest.  The interview, however, really got me going.  She said, “Death is a human condition, and it’s perfectly OK to be fascinated by it, perfectly OK to want information about what goes on behind the scenes.  It’s not morbid, or deviant, or wrong.”

She makes a good point.  We consider curiosity about the arena of death to be macabre, or disgusting at best.  Maybe that isn’t a fair conclusion.

The interviewer, Alden Mudge, his name plucked right out of a Dickens novel, suggested she might be on a mission of sorts for people to have a closer connection with death.

She agreed, and backed it up by saying,“I am on a mission!  I would never claim to be an objective reporter.  Death affects everything we do as humans, and we’re much healthier when we understand this.  Other than television and film, we never see death any more, it’s not a part of our daily lives.  We view this as ‘progress’ but I don’t believe it is.  We need the reality of death to remind us that we are not immortal, and our actions have real consequences.”

We don’t raise and kill our own animals for food, generally.  We let others do that and we stalk the white aisles of supermarkets for our meat.  We have a low infant mortality rate. A great percentage of mothers survive childbirth, too. Our careers consist of sedentary pursuits, looking at a screen or pushing paper or sitting in padded-chair meetings.  The most dangerous thing we might do all day could be to cut up vegetables for a salad.  Most likely, though, we have a bag of lettuce in the fridge, shrink-wrapped for our protection. Advances in medicine and greater understanding of sanitation have increased our life spans and quality of living.

Looking at it from a spiritual perspective, I’m not very heavenly-minded.  I’m mostly moving forward, head down, accomplishing the next task. I have long-term and short-term goals, but they’re not end-of-life items.  I haven’t picked out wallpaper for my mansion in glory.  I don’t think about the eternal repercussions of my actions as much. I consider avoiding disappointing those I love here on earth and trying not to make Jesus look bad.

But Ms. Doughty makes me think about the whole package.  I need to take better care of those in my care.  We could eat more healthfully.  Getting enough exercise is important, too.  Even more than that, what am I doing with my time?  If you look at dead bodies all day, they spill secrets to you.  Too much worrying.  Too little self-love.  Too much beer.  Too much sex, drugs and crazy living. The focus of our lives becomes all too clear, often to perfect strangers.

I guess it makes me think I need to be better acquainted with the reality of death. Until Jesus comes back, it’s our lot to go through physical death. I desire to make the most of each day. We won’t live forever. One day, it will be our last stop.  The conductor will punch our ticket and we’ll step off the train. Will we be proud of who we’ve become, living in fellowship with God and others?  Or will we fervently wish for a do-over?
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. Revelation 21:4

Dead Rats Tell No Tales

 

This morning, a special present lay in the carport.  Sigh. I love cats, but sometimes I wish they’d bring home rubies instead of rodents.  Of course, those rubies would probably be stolen, so maybe not such a great idea. I wouldn’t do well in a maximum-security prison. Rex would balk at the orange jumpsuit.

Over the years, the cats have killed dozens of mice, rats, moles, voles, birds and, a crunchy cricket and one very large squirrel.  I should mention the first spring we lived in our house, lizards roamed the countryside.  Rex made short work of the scaly gray reptiles, ripping off their tails first. I’ve also seen Rex eat insects caught mid-flight.  Chloe, the feather weight, is our resident bird-catcher. Quite coordinated, our furry friends.

One thing I noticed about dead critters:  they get quiet.  No more flapping, squeaking, scratching, digging or chirping.  The varmints are d-e-a-d. Birds won’t greet the morning with trilling song.  Squirrels won’t scamper across tree limbs to power lines, dodging the street below.  Mice and rats, well, won’t burrow into our house.  Rex and Chloe put an end to their regularly scheduled programming. I always feel a little sad about finding downed birds.  I love watching them soar and dip and enjoy their songs.

As a human being, I’m on the predator end of the spectrum.  I’m rarely considered prey.  I do the hunting and gathering. Yet as a Christian, I know the devil considers me fresh meat.  He tries to discourage, derail and generally discombobulate me on a regular basis.  I Peter 5:8 says:  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

Gulp.  The context makes it sound like El Diablo wants to swallow me whole. I don’t like thinking about it.  I get a little uneasy, considering somebody wants me destroyed. Satan would like nothing better than for all evidence of God wiped off the face of the earth.  What better way to hurt the Creator than to attack the redeemed ones, bought by the sacrifice of Jesus?

I must up my game and be on guard.  I need to pay attention to what I’m thinking about (Phil. 4:8) and how I speak (Phil 2:14-16).  I don’t want to end up spiritually dead, silent and still.  Because that’s what the devil does:  he silences us by making us feel impotent and unworthy.  He squelches our praise even as it rises in our throats. God’s plan is for us to be soaring above our circumstances, riding the current of the Holy Spirit, singing our songs.  That’s where I plan to be.

 

 

 

Friday Fellowship

Today, I took 2 little girls to the park.  We strolled the beach and looked for seals and seashells.  Then, we met another little girl whom Ruby’s friend knew.

“Stella!” she said, addressing the adult accompanying the small blonde girl.  Ruby’s friend hugged Stella (not her real name), a woman in her 60s with short gray hair and glasses.  Stella looked over at me, curious.  She smiled her welcome.  I smiled back.

Stella and I shook hands and introduced ourselves.

The girls took off for the play structure.  They clambered up the yellow stairs.  Ruby zipped down the blue slide, a multicolored streak of lightning. The other two girls chattered and chased each other.

Stella and I sat on the green metal picnic bench nearby.

Almost immediately, she asked, “Are you a believer?”

Wow.  Talk about knowing each other on sight.  I told her I am, and the church we attend. She and her husband attend a CMA church.

“Many years ago, we almost became the worship pastors of a CMA church,” I told her.  “But they had a hand saw in the worship band.  We…couldn’t stay.”

She laughed out loud with me.

She told me about nursing her dying father for five plus years.  He suffered from dementia.  Once it came time for hospice, she could not handle all his needs on her own any more.  She told me of the care of the chaplain and the nurse, who read the Bible to her father.  All believers.

“It was so sweet.  We had times of prayer together,” she said, her voice wistful.

As she talked, I was struck with how death can be a peaceful, kind experience.  I’m starting to think about this more seriously as my parents continue to age. The people around us make such a difference.  Their actions, words and attitudes can help or hinder. It takes a special kind of person to serve those who are making their way out of this world and into the next.  It could crush your spirit if you weren’t a believer.  Might crush it a bit, anyway, since loving others would be part of the job duty.  When you look after someone, you often give a small piece of your heart away.

We had a great conversation. I had been feeling a little low upon entering the park. Her presence and joy encouraged me.  I hope I encouraged her as well.  We hugged each other goodbye.

“I feel like I already know you,” I said.

“It’s the spirit of God in us, ” she replied.

Amen.

 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39