November 15, 2011

Fullness and Emptiness

Here I am, Lord.

Young and strong and ready.

A pitcher brimming full.

Waiting to be poured out

where you direct.

Here I am, Lord.

Spent and tired and overworked.

A pitcher empty and drained.

Waiting to be filled again

by your grace.

Here I am, Lord.

Sick and depressed and grieving.

A pitcher cracked and broken;

Unable to be filled.

Waiting to be healed

so I can hold your living water again.

Here I am, Lord.

Rested and refreshed and renewed.

A pitcher nearly filled again.

Waiting to be restored

back to fullness in you.

Here I am, Lord.

A pitcher made in your image.

Sometimes full, sometimes empty,

somtimes broken, and sometimes healed.

Waiting to learn

what you can only teach me

by changing the conditions of my existence.

October 25, 2011

Now And Forever

This past Saturday, together with Cheri, my new bride of six months, I attended the wedding of my stepson, Gary. The wedding was held in a Baptist church in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Gary married a lovely young woman named Jessica (having a daughter of my own named Jessica, I think it is a lovely name for lovely young women).

The bride and groom seem very much in love and very well matched for a long and successful marriage. It was, by all accounts, and by my own observation, a successful wedding. I’ve spent a good deal of the past year, and now this whole past week, contemplating what might constitute a successful marriage, and what it means to have forever-love, because, as we all must know by now, successful marriages don’t always follow successful weddings.

The wedding was American traditional, with modified vows chosen and edited by the bride and groom. Near the end of the vows the preacher asked each of them to recite this vow: “I, Gary (Jessica), promise to cherish, honor and love you, Jessica (Gary), now and forever. (I didn’t write it down during the ceremony, but to the best of my recollection it went like that.) The ceremony included an exchange of rings and the preacher talked about how rings symbolize love with no beginning and no end.

Just six months ago I’d gone through a similar ceremony, reciting similar forever-love vows for the second time in my short life. Sitting in the front pew of the church for this ceremony, together with the other seven parents and step parents of the bride and groom (and living in a society where marriages which end in divorce are more common than marriages which last a lifetime) I was struck by the irony of people taking and speaking such vows of forever and undying love when the odds are so stacked against them.

Romantic human love does end. It happens all the time, and the eight “parents” of the bride and groom at this wedding ceremony were living proof of it. Sometimes love dies, or the loved one dies. Sometimes we kill love. Sometimes love comes to a natural, amicable end, and sometimes the end of love is violent, and terrible, and love is supplanted by its close sibling, hate.

I’d been nervous to meet my new bride’s ex-husband, Woody, the real father of the groom. He attended the wedding with his second wife, Sue. (More irony; Sue was my first wife’s name.) Our meeting and our exchanges over the wedding weekend were amicable, however, and all in all the two real mothers, two real fathers, two stepfathers, one stepmother and one step-girlfriend got along pretty well. There was a palpable tension hanging in the air throughout the wedding weekend between exes and new spouses. But the love and good feelings and well wishes, which manifested in good measure, ultimately prevailed. Life and love are not always simple, and neither are they always easy.

I am merely an armchair psychologist and watcher of demographic trends, and I do not profess to be qualified to say why, or even if, marriages “fail” more often now than they once did. I am also not really qualified to say too much about why romantic human love ends. But it seems to me that one reason romantic human love ends sometimes is because we are human.

Being human means we are self-centered. This is practically a tautology. We want what we want and we want it now. It’s hard to honor and cherish another person, even a loved one, when they fail to properly and timely honor and cherish us. Can you believe what she did to me?!! Why I oughta ….

And let’s be honest. We are, none of us, perfect. We make mistakes. We forget. We get focused on our careers and our kids and our hobbies and our friends and our doing-good-to-others and we get too busy to do all the right things love requires to stay strong. Sometimes we get angry and mad and mean and demanding, and we blow it. We sin and we stray and somehow, before we know it, though we once never thought it possible and it’s not what we wanted or intended, love is sick, and love is wounded, and sometimes love dies.

The brother of the groom, Doug, is a Christian believer who once stated to me that “no marriage can succeed without God.” It is an interesting postulation, but, even though I believe in God, I don’t completely agree with that statement. Surely there are some atheists and agnostics and Buddhists out there who have succeeded in their marriages. What I can agree with, though, is that no love can last forever, and consequently no marriage can last, unless the participants emulate the model of love God uses – which includes forgiveness of wrongs, and grace, and wanting what is best for the other. Christians use the Greek word “agape” to describe that kind of love. The agape kind of forgiving love is different than romantic love, which is called “eros” in the Greek.

I also think we soft-sell the word “commitment” in the wedding-vow ceremony. Sometimes when romantic love flags or fails, it simply takes a gut-check kind of commitment to stick it out for better or worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. This is not to say that I believe everyone should stay married no matter what. I don’t believe that. Still, you get the sense that some people are throwing in the towel before they give it their best shot.

But nobody starts out in marriage intending to fail. Nobody says “I do” love you, or vows “I will” love you forever, when all along they really mean “I don’t” and “I won’t.” Well anyway, no decent person does. And yet, despite our best intentions, despite our promises and our vows, romantic love ends, and marriages end.

All the happy wet and tearful eyes at the Gary and Jessica wedding, my own included, were proof enough to me that we all still believe in romantic love. We root for the young lovers who take the forever-love vows. We’ve seen love succeed and we’ve seen marriages succeed, and we know it is possible – if not easy. And we are suckers for new beginnings. This love will last! This marriage will succeed!

But broken vows and ended marriages aside, what is a “successful” marriage? I suppose if we agree to use the phrase “their marriage failed” when speaking of divorce, then a divorce, itself, could be the sole measure of the failure or success of a marriage. I don't think so. I've seen a few marriages that, while they didn’t end in divorce, could never be called “successful” marriages. Conversely, one should ask, must a marriage last forever, or “until death do us part,” in order to be called a success?

My late first wife, Sue, and I were once part of a church planting effort in Clovis, California. A small group of a dozen or so people planted a new Christian church. Over the course of eight or so years that church saw attendance grow to over 100 people, saw a significant number of believers’ baptisms, featured hundreds of meaningful worship services, bible studies, home group meetings, celebration meals and events. Our children were raised in that church. Through that community of believers we all were connected to God and blessed. But then, for reasons hard to understand, the church eventually shriveled and died, and closed its doors forever. Some would say that church was a failure. But I would say that, while it ended, and the ending itself was a form of failure, during the time it was alive that church was a success. And for those of us who were a part of that church (especially those who received salvation and baptism), the good experiences were worth it, and will continue to be a part of who we are forever.

The Gary and Jessica wedding weekend featured a lovely young couple and their lovely siblings, and even a couple of lovely grandchildren, who all exuded a joy and mutual love and caring that usually only come from loving parents and loving homes. Somewhere in their marriages the real parents, and even the step parents, must have done something good – must have had and modeled real love – and these young people were born of that love, and were and are the living proof of it.

It was clear to me that the love between the former marriage partners of the bride and groom was once very real, and while their marriages ended due to human failures common to humans, there still is a remnant bond of love. No, the marriages won’t be resurrected. But on this happy occasion of a new marriage, and of these new pledges of forever-love, there were knowing looks of pride for how their children turned out; there were hugs and handshakes and genuine words of affirmation and well wishes to their children, and to each other, amongst them all.

So it seems to me that when a marriage ends, notwithstanding the human failures to keep the forever-love vows, we ought not always use the phrase “the marriage failed.” It’s too harsh and frankly it is not always true. If something good came from the years of marriage - good love, good experiences, good children, growth, life, living, learning - we simply cannot look at all of that good and call it failure. The good part is success. The love part is success. The love of children who come from a broken, ended marriage, and their love and their children, are all a part of the continuation of the success of love.

And though the marriage has ended, and though lives take irrevocable new courses, people are still connected by unseverable relationships, and forgiveness, redemption, and a form of love more like agape love are still possible. Even though romantic human love sometimes ends, the purer form of love, agape love, never does end. And that, after all, is the true now-and-forever love.

As for Gary and Jessica, they are the new hope for a true now and forever romantic love. As for the rest of us working on a second or third try, well, love is a powerful thing, and hope springs eternal.

September 1, 2011

Soarin' Above It All

There is a ride at Disneyland's California Adventure Park called Soarin' Over California. It is an awesome experience complete with big-screen surround video of great California scenery, and the sensation that you are actually soaring over it all, seeing it live. They integrate smells of ocean air, smells of orange blossoms, smells of pine, great music and other sensations into the ride to incorporate all your senses. There is something about soaring that simply lifts the soul, and soaring over grand scenery, with great music and sounds and smells from the environment you are seeing is an amazing feeling.

This past two weeks I have been up at Lakeview Cottages at Huntington Lake, California. I have had some great days out on the lake fishing and watching the Osprey and Eagles soar over the lake, doing some fishing of their own. The winds come up the western slope of the mountains from the San Joaquin Valley and the Osprey, Eagles and Hawks up here just kettle for hours, soaring on the uplifting winds, soaring above it all.

When I think about soaring I think of being set free. I think of grand, sweeping, effortless movement through the air, and feelings of elation. Having visited Sue's grave at Inspiration Point Tuesday morning, I wondered if that's what it feels like for sick people who are released from their decrepit bodies. I imagine their spirits soaring free, unencumbered, elated.

I drove down to Merced Tuesday night so I could head into the office Wednesday morning to make payroll and do some month end check runs and reports. The nights up at Huntington this past two weeks have been moonless and clear, with cazillions of stars popping out of the black sky. The drive down was like a dream. No traffic, great views of the starlit sky above through my truck's "sun" roof, great views of the lights of the valley below. I played an Andrea Bocelli c.d. with the volume cranked up. Now that man has a pure, clear soaring tenor voice. The music just lifted me. I was soaring, elated.

When you soar you do not think of your troubles, if you even have any. You are above it all, in the moment, in the groove, and life is good. I saw a young African American boy, perhaps, 3 years old, walking along with his mother yesterday morning. The boy was cute as could be, dressed in jeans and tennies with a colorful button up shirt and a small red day pack on his back. He pulled his hand from his mother's hand and he literally bounced along the sidewalk, flapping his arms like a bird and beaming a great big little-boy smile, soaring in his own earthbound fashion. I'm sure the mere sight of him raised the spirits of everyone who saw him.

This is the feeling I get when I am in the mountains. Sunday I hiked to Indian Pools with my brother Jim, his girlfriend, Coreen, and Cheri. A bunch of guys took the soaring dive into the pool. Invigorating! Then, Tuesday morning a group of people hiked with me to the Grouse Creek falls. My long-time friend and mentor, Art Froese, jumped into one of the ice-cold pools at the falls. That sensation of ice-cold water awakens all your senses and sends you momentarily soaring.
This is also what it feels like to be in love. It was a year ago Friday night, here at Huntington Lake, that I proposed marriage to Cheri. She said yes. Falling in love, and being in love is an adventure ride I recommend even more highly than Soarin' Over California. It awakens all your senses and makes you feel truly alive. Soaring. Elated.

Go on! What's holding you down? Take off and fly!

May 26, 2011

Memorial Weekend Bust

Thursday May 26, 2011. Circa 3 p.m.

Huntington Lake Resort.


Road in front of Museum.

Road in front of Huntington Lake Resort. Note snow blower working.

View toward Lakeview Cottages from Huntington Lake Resort.

April 24, 2011

Trip-N-Falls Hike

Standing on the Yosemite Valley floor and looking up, it seemed like a good idea when Cheri suggested we hike to the top of Yosemite Falls. There's a good trail all the way up, she said. Looking at the picture above, you can see the draw above the lower falls, cutting to the left and then around the granite cliff and to the right where the upper part of the trail goes. The lower part of the trail starts about four tenths of a mile to the West (left in this picture) and makes a series of steep switchbacks up to about the level of the highest part of the lower falls, and then traverses the ledge to where you get a good view of the upper falls. We ended up on the granite point just left of and above the upper falls. Click on these pictures for the full effect.

The sign says it's only 3.4 miles. What it doesn't say is that the first 2 miles is nearly straight up, and the last mile and a half is covered in snow and ice.

This is a view of the upper falls. The white stuff at the bottom of the falls is ice. The ice cone at the base of Yosemite Falls is sometimes referred to as the "snow cone." The super chilled water freezes on descent and forms ice crystals. Some of the ice forms on the rock walls and when it breaks off it makes loud noises, like thunder. Some of the ice from the snow cone, together with ice formed in the lower falls and ice that forms in the stream, forms a slushy deposit in Yosemite Creek below Yosemite Falls known as frazil ice - a phenomena seen in Yosemite only in March and April. We saw it and I got some good pictures, but instead of posting my pictures I am posting this YouTube video about frazil ice. It is amazing to watch, and educational.

From the trail there are great views of Yosemite Valley below.

The trail next to the base of the upper falls was also covered with the ice blown from the upper falls. Above that point, most of the trail was covered in snow.

Looking back down through the draw the trail goes up, you get a sense of just how steep this trail is. If you haven't been training or working out, you will want to take a different and slightly saner hike. Like from your car to the visitor center, where you can look at pictures of the upper falls. Or something like that.

By the time they get near the top, some hikers have really gotten beat down. Cheri kind of lost her head for a moment.

The upper rim of the canyon had a 6 to 10 foot snow base, give or take. The trail was slippery, but well packed in most places.

Tired, but victorious, we made it to the top. The struggle was worth it, as I was treated to a rare view of Pink Dome gleaming in the sun.

Getting out on the edge and looking over was not really advisable here.

But like I said, you can lose your head getting up here. So I lost mine and went out to the edge and looked over anyway. It's a spooky-long way to fall. I'd get frazzled too, falling over this precipice all the way to the bottom.

The trail was slippery going down. And she was tired already. What-ever!

April 17, 2011

A New Revolution

The sweet peas in my front yard are going crazy this year. More than a few passers-by have mentioned how remarkable and memorable they are. Their fragrance fills the whole cul-de-sac. This year's sweet peas are something of a tribute to my late wife Sue, who started this patch of sweet peas six years ago. While it was me who worked the ground in February and planted these seeds from last year's pods, my flower-loving neighbor Linda says this year's magnificent crop of sweet peas is like Sue's last hurrah -- a sort of final farewell and a reminder of the fragrance and color and beauty she added to our lives. I met Sue when I was still just a boy, and she is part of who I am and she always will be; and whenever I see sweet peas I will be reminded of her. When I was a much younger man -- well, o.k. -- just a boy, the Beatles sang Revolution. Back then the Beatles were fresh and new and edgy. Their music was a revolution of sorts, and it affected the world, and in its way the Beatles' music changed the world. But that was 1968, and the world has made quite a few revolutions since then. Like Sue, the Beatles are gone now. John Lennon, who authored "Revolution," is dead. But like Sue, the Beatles' music also affected me, and it is part of who I am. I still like to listen to Beatles' music sometimes on the oldies' stations. Listening to the Beatles reminds me of good times gone by. The world continues to have revolutions, and to make revolutions. I met another very nice lady, Cheri Sarmento, and we were married April 12, 2011. Robert Heinlein said that "(t)he supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive." The world -- at least the one I inhabit -- is full of ironies. Cheri also loves flowers, and managed to mix a few of the sweet peas in our front yard into her bridal bouquet. We then honeymooned in Yosemite National Park, where almost exactly a year ago I took a trip with Sue's cousin, Bruce, to mourn and reflect on Sue's passing. Yosemite happens to be one of Cheri's favorite places, and it continues to be one of mine. Last April I blogged that the granite walls of Yosemite were weeping. This year they were literally gushing -- gushing with an abundant spring run-off and new life and joy. Cheri and I climbed from the Valley floor to the top of Yosemite Falls, which hike I will blog about next. We stood on the point which is just left of and above the upper falls in the picture above, looking down at the top of upper Yosemite Falls. It was no small feat to get up there, as there was a lot of snow on the trail above the lower Yosemite Falls and the entire top of the Valley Rim was heavily snow-covered. The Ahwahnee Hotel was our honeymoon destination. The Ahwahnee is an incomparable lodge in one of the incomparable places in the world. Kings and Queens and Presidents and many famous heads-of-state have stayed in the Ahwahnee. Perhaps revolutions have been hatched there. One definition for "revolution" given by is "a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm." I like to think of this type of paradigm shift as inspiration. If it is inspiration you seek, you can find it there. We did.

In the great dining hall of the great Ahwahnee lodge there is one table called the honeymoon table. It is at the base of the highest window at the far end of the dining hall. It looks out to the west, with a fantastic view of Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Falls. It was there that Cheri and I toasted a new revolution. Salud!

March 8, 2011

Get What You Deserve; Or Not.

The 1985 movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford is an interesting movie contrasting the lifestyle and faith of the Amish with the lifestyle and faith of modern American society. On the one hand I am enamored of the simple way of life the Amish have intentionally chosen, and I admire their strong faith in God and devotion to non-violence. On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing Kelly McGillis in the buff and loved the scenes in the movie where Harrison Ford beats up a teenage jerk and where he kills the bad guys. So you can see I am caught somewhere in the Limbo between admiring Godly faithfulness and the witness of simplicity and non-violence on the one hand and admiring nudity of beautiful women, worldliness, and the administration of just violence and vengeance on the other.

Scenes with Kelly McGillis aside, my favorite scene in Witness is where Harrison Ford is dressed as an Amish man and is en route, in a caravan of horse-drawn black buggies, through a small Pennsylvania town. But Harrison Ford is not really an Amish man. He is a tough big city cop who is hiding from bad cop-killing cops while he recovers from a bullet wound. A couple of teenage town jerks are harassing the Amish and won't let their buggies pass. One of the jerks rubs his ice-cream cone on the nose of an Amish man, knowing the Amish man won't retaliate. Harrison Ford gets out of his buggy and walks up to the two jerks and tells them they are making a big mistake. One of the jerks then acts like a jerk and mimicks fear before pushing Harrison Ford, whereupon Ford breaks his nose with a single punch to the face. It's a scene that leaves every viewer with a very gratifying sense that the jerk got what he deserved.

Ford's violent act of nose-breaking retribution was witnessed by several townsfolk, and it was what outed him as not being a true Amish. The Amish purport to leave retribution and punishment for criminal wrong-doers to the civil authorities here on Earth, and judgment and punishment for moral wrong-doers to God in the hereafter.

I got to thinking about this retribution thing again Sunday morning sitting in church and listening to a message from Phil and Rici Skei on 'The Power of Reconciliation.' Their primary text was 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, but somehow I got backed up a verse and read this: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2 Cor. 5:10. So, it would appear that maybe we are going to get what we deserve. Bummer.

I have encountered quite a number of morally self-justified people here on Earth who really do hope and pray that evil-doers here on Earth will get what they deserve on Judgment Day. For a number of reasons I don't count myself among them. First, and foremost, I kind of hope I don't get what I deserve on Judgment Day. Somewhere in the Bible I think I read something like, "as you judge others, so shall you be judged." (See, for example, Matthew 7:1-6) So, while it is gratifying to see the other evil-doers get what they deserve, I am kind of thinking it will be best for me if the judging standard on my Judgment Day is set real low; And so I am willing to have the bar set low for other evil-doers too.

The whole idea that I am going to get what I deserve on Judgment Day put me into a bit of a self-pittying funk, but I came out of my self-pittying funk just in time to hear Phil Skei describe something interesting that Jesus did while he was on the cross.

[As a side note, Phil did not make a big deal of Jesus' crucifixion, as many do, and I was glad about that. He correctly pointed out that many thousands of people were crucified on crosses before and after Jesus, and many people have sacrificed their lives for others in myriad other ways.]

The interesting thing that Phil described was that, while hanging on the cross and while yet still being tormented and tortured by his persecutors, while dying at the hands of his persecutors, Jesus prayed to God saying "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34.

He could have seen to it that they got what they deserved. He could have called down the wrath of God on his tormentors, could have parted the Earth and had them swallowed up and buried, never to be seen nor heard from again. But somehow he had compassion for them even at that moment.

Yet we won't even forgive the little wrongs done to us: the neighborhood kids who paint graffiti on our mailbox; the slights of our own sisters and brothers; the hurts and wrongs of spouses, parents and kids; the people who cheat us out of a few bucks. Fill in your own personal situations.

Somewhere in the din I heard Phil say something like "brokenness is a human condition."

The reconciliation of our broken relationship with God is a result of forgiveness. That we might not get what we deserve on Judgment Day is a result of forgiveness. And the healing of broken relationships in our lives here and now could be the result of forgiveness.

Wow. Gimme some of that.

February 27, 2011

California Dreamin'

I've been enjoying these "springtime" flowers - daffodils and pansies mostly - for the past week. My snap dragons are about to pop. My sweet peas are already two feet up their trellises. This is, what, February still?
Eat your hearts out, you ice-bound northerners, mid-westerners, and east-coasters.

February 10, 2011

A Woman's Role - Here and Hereafter

A friend of mine recently lost his wife to cancer. He's a few years older than me. Well, about 16 years older. Not just for that reason, but also for that reason, he sees the world a little bit differently than I do. Still, he's a smart guy and I respect him for his faith and his values and for his business knowledge and what he has done in his life. In family, in business, in charitable works and the life of the church he has accomplished great things. Together with his wife of nearly 50 years, they accomplished great things.

So this morning, over coffee with another mutual friend, he inquired what we thought our relationships with our loved ones will be like when we get to "the other side." ("The other side" is my term for "heaven" or "the afterlife.") In the course of a wide-ranging discussion it became clearer that he had a simple agenda for his question: he missed his recently-departed wife and he hoped to be with her again someday.

However, the can of worms had been opened and spilled, and could not be recontained. Myriad questions came of this first, innocent inquiry. How will we recongnize each other on the other side? Will we experience emotions on the other side like we do here? Will there be such things as anger over wrongs never righted, forgiveness not yet given or received, and feelings of love? What if we had more than one wife in this lifetime and all of us make it to the other side? Who will we be with in the hereafter? What about those people who stayed married in this life but who hated their spouses? Would they be forever stuck together in the hereafter? What about people who died as infants, or too young. What will they look like? What about someone who, like my wife, died at 53. What if I live to be 80? Will she look 53 and I'll look 80?

Somehow this conversation segued to the roles that women serve in the here-and-now versus the roles that women might play in the hereafter. Will there be marriages on the other side? Will there be sex on the other side? Or will those things be irrelevant? Will there even be any gender differentiation on the other side?

I am not really qualified to answer these questions, but I do have some experience with women, and I have opinions about the role of women. I grew up with a stay-at-home mother in the day and age when being a stay-at-home mom wasn't yet seen as being somehow inferior. I had four sisters (and a brother). I had a few girlfriends way back when, and then, at age 22, got married and was married to the same woman for 29 years. My wife died of complications from cancer about a year ago, and I am confident that, like my friend's recently-departed wife, she is already on the other side. I have two daughters, ages 22 and 23. As my daughters forge into and through young adulthood without their mother, and as they yet grieve for the loss of her, I have had the temerity to get a new girlfriend and to, gasp, propose marriage to her.

So I have already given a fair amount of mental and emotional energy and thought to these questions about the role of women in the here and the hereafter. Now having had this recent meandering conversation with friends, and having further contemplated these questions, here are some of my underdeveloped thoughts, from one man's perspective, on the roles a woman plays now, and later.

Woman Child - The Birth of Innocence.

There really is something pure and completely innocent about a newborn baby. Even as young girls my daughters were unbridled in their joy and laughter, and it always delighted and amused me the way they would come running and throw themselves at me when I would come home from work. I don't really know if there is any difference between boys and girls at birth, because my wife and I only had girls. But it is my observation that very soon after birth there are differentiations of behavior between boys and girls.

The Teenage Girl - The Birth of Guile and Charm

Somewhere along the road of growing up we all learn behaviors that are less than innocent. I remember telling my teenage girls that they couldn't wear certain revealing clothing in public. They'd leave the house in perfectly acceptable modest clothing, but unbeknownst to me they had the revealing stuff on underneath. As soon as I was out of sight, well, you know how that works. And this very behavior is part of the not-completely-understood powerful attraction between boys and girls. What is the role of women in the world? Why did God wire girls and boys this way?

Young Woman - The Birth of Beauty, Strength, and Love

In thinking about beauty I tend to contrast the typical woman from the typical man. In general I think of women as beautiful and men as, well, rugged. Oh sure, there are some rugged women and some beautiful men. Not that I don't think rugged is beautiful, too. I love the rugged mountains and think of them as some of God's most beautiful creation. Still, I tend to think about women as softer and men as harder -- more hard-edged and hard-headed. That softness that women have translates to a different kind of beauty than mere physical beauty and a different kind of strength than mere physical strength -- sort of like a strength of moral character.

A woman's softness also translates into differences in how women and men relate to each other and to others. And these differences between women and men create a mutual attraction. Like they have something we men lack and which we need, and we have something they need and which they lack. Why is that?

Wife - The Birth of Relationship and Companionship

We are not made to be alone. That's why. When God created Adam and Adam was all alone on Earth he was lonesome. Duh! God, Himself, said: "It is not good for a man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18) So God created Eve to be Adam's Earthly companion. According to the creation story in Genesis Eve was created by taking a part of man from the man, and so, for a man to be complete he has to be in relationship with a woman. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife. (Gen. 2:24) Presumably there is a symbiotic sense in which, to be complete a woman must be united with a man.

Mother - The Birth of Babies

It is the most obvious thing, and still it has to be said. Without a woman there are no babies. Of course, the same is true about men, but, while important, the role a man plays in the birth of babies is, well, miniscule compared to that of a woman.
If you have ever experienced the birth of a child, particularly your own child, then you might have experienced the compelling and profound awe of birth, and the compelling feeling that God really does exist. The birth of a child really is one of God's great miracles. That experience may be the closest we can come in this lifetime to understanding the awesome creative power of God. Something from nothing. Something new and as-yet untainted by any human experience.

The Mother Parent - Birth of Nurturing

Since my wife's passing a year ago my daughters and I have really experienced how much their mother was a relational buffer -- sort of a relational softener -- between them and me. There's a certain compassion and depth of love and nurturing and caring and care-taking that a woman brings to the child-rearing table and which most men lack.

There is a real, if not slightly muddy, delineation between the role of men and the role of women in the parenting world. There is a real-ness to the idea that a father plays a different role than a mother in the rearing of children, and that, in the same way that a man needs a woman to be complete and a woman needs a man to be complete, a child needs both a father and a mother to experience completeness; That without one or the other, the child will be lacking.

Why, then, is there only a heavenly father, and not also a heavenly mother? In the realm of spirituality don't we also need both the aspects of father and mother, man and woman? There are some who argue that God has all the elements of both man and woman; that in saying that we are created in God's image, the reality is that, even though we are different, both men and women are created in God's image. Separately we are incomplete in reflecting the image of God, but jointly we have all the elements.

The Biblical parable of the prodigal son, as told by Jesus (see Luke 15), seems to depict the prodigal's father in the role of God, welcoming back the son who had rejected him and sinned against him but who had come home to seek forgiveness and to be restored to the family. Interestingly, in Jesus' parable there is no mention of the mother of the lost son. But when the lost son returns the father "is filled with compassion" and he does things which, in the culture of the time, only a woman would have done. For example hiking up his robes and running to greet his returning son and falling on the son and kissing him.
Rembrandt's painting, Return of the Prodigal Son, picks up on this issue. In Rembrandt's painting it appears that the right hand of the father, placed on the left shoulder of the kneeling son, is a woman's hand while the other hand is clearly a man's hand. The painting depicts the father embracing a kneeling son in a very motherish sort of way. The implication is that God is both father and mother; both male and female; both masculine and feminine.
I have a sense that gender roles may be unimportant in the hereafter. I am thinking we will be more unigender on the other side. I don't think we will be called upon to procreate and populate the heavens. I don't think there will be girls and boys and women and men as we think of them on the other side. I think we will recognize each other, and that we will experience emotions such as joy (and sadness about those we loved who didn't make it to the good place), but our relationships will be more like platonic friendships than familial in the earthly sense. But really, I don't know. I am hoping to get there someday and to find out.
The Sick and Dying Woman - Birth to The Other Side

One of the questions my friend asked at our recent breakfast is "why does God let sick people suffer before taking them home?" In asking the question, he was expressing some frustration that his wife had to suffer from her illness for as long as she did. I experienced some of the same emotions about my dying wife.

There are a few times in life where God, and our thoughts about God, are brought into sharp focus. Births and deaths are two of those times where our thoughts of God are acute. Let's be real, when people we care about die, or are dying, we wonder where they will go. What does the other side look like? How will God deal with them? How will God deal with us -- with me -- when our time is up?

And those who are right with God and who go bravely are witnesses. There is a God. There is another life. There is another place, and what we think of as dying might really be just the beginning of a new life on the other side. People who are right with God get to go to the good place on the other side. Get right with God so you can go there too.
So it makes a little sense that, if someone other than the dying person -- but who is close to the dying person -- needs to get right with God, God might let the dying and suffering go on a little longer than he needs to. Not so that the one dying will suffer more, but so that the one not yet saved will suffer less.
I don't know why, but I still clearly remember a Paul Harvey radio show where Harvey discussed the topic of death and dying. At the end of the show, Harvey said something like this: "If all the fetuses in all the wombs of all the pregnant mothers in the world could get together, and if one of them should then be born, they might all say, 'Poor old Jane has passed away.'"
Pastor Larry Martens emailed these Bible references to me:
Luke 20: 27-40 - "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection." - Jesus
Mark 12: 18-27 - "When the dead rise, they shall neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." - Jesus

January 30, 2011

Already Gone - An Anthology of Loss

1. Youth

Once upon a time I could
do it well and do it good.
Once upon a time, recall
I could darn-well do it all.

Once upon a time I was
all of that and more.
Once upon a time, you see
"can't" wasn't known to me.

Once upon a time I was
always in the know.
Once upon a time, alas,
was a dang-long time ago.

This is not a fairy-tale
this is but a rhyme,
about the new reality
of youth gave-way to time.

'Twas time I had abundant once,
time's now in short supply.
My youth's already gone, my friend,
and nearly so am I.

2. Dad

The plumbing needed fixing,
and I thought of you again.
All the things you made me learn,
I didn't appreciate you then.

And the things that I can do now,
are many thanks to you.
I thought I should say "thanks, Dad,"
its the least that I could do.

But old age and disease,
were things you couldn't fix.
And communicating thanks, and death,
are things that I can't mix.

You're already gone now,
and Mom is nearly, too.
You're already gone now,
and a thought will have to do.

3. Mom

Well I saw you just the other day,
your laugh was just the same.
Unfortunately for me, Mom,
you didn't know my name.

All the times you wished me well,
and all you did for me,
your love was ever-present,
'til I was fifty-three.

At seventy-nine I thought it was time,
to say "I love you, too."
But though you're still here,
your brain's already gone,
and I don't know what it will mean to you.

4. Wife

For thirty-four years together,
we shared a lot of life.
I your loyal husband,
you my loyal wife.

Loyal we were, and committed,
and with you life was good.
Still I didn't always treat you,
as well as I could, or should.

And now I ought to tell you,
with words and acts and such,
that through it all, above it all,
I loved you very much.

But the cancer didn't know you,
and neither did it spare.
You're already gone now,
and it's too late to care.

5. Daughters

When I was young
My girls were too
And they were always there

They're older now
And always gone
It seems they may not care

I had them once
When e're I wished
To mentor, teach or play

I had them then
To admire and love me
And every word I'd say

But time has changed
My little girls
To young adults who know

And time has changed
Me in their eyes
To one washed up and done

I had them then
But this is now
And they're already gone

6. Girlfriend

Your bags are packed and ready,
but you don't want to leave.
A promise has been made though,
and kept it has to be.

This journey's for another,
it isn't what we wanted.
This time away, we hope and pray,
will mend the grieving haunted.

So out the door you're trudging,
and over there you'll go.
Our love you're not besmudging,
time will prove it so.

Now of our love we've written,
this sad and lonesome song.
But with me you can't sing it,
'cause you're already gone.

7. Sin

In my life I'd plenty,
by any measure known.
More food and love and money,
than one man needs alone.

In my life I've wasted,
for belly, gold and heart,
what many wished they'd tasted,
a teeny tiny part.

In my life I've sinned,
constrained by boundaries gray.
Not black and white,
nor wrong nor right,
have guided me my way.

A few who know me judge me,
as wasteful worthless trash.
These assessments bore me
as rubbish and as rash.

Forgiveness, yes, they may not need,
The Bible can be tossed.
Jesus only came to save
the broken and the lost.

And lost I am, and broken,
my sins are more than one.
But Jesus' saving grace I've taken,
my stain's already gone.

January 9, 2011

Winter Wonderland At Lake Tahoe

You've got to click on this picture for full effect. Only a few months ago this was a beach.

You can see the lake from the upstairs windows. Believe it or not, there's a hot tub on the deck.

Somehow this tree makes it through each winter. The mere thought of spending a whole winter here sends chills down my spine and leaves me hanging in suspense.

Biggest gingerbread house I ever saw. Kind of makes you want to reach out and snag a gum drop. Hey! I see that hand!

Olympic Drive. 4 wheel drive and snow tires are de rigueur.
And now a real-life video drama, sledding down the "madder horn" "mountain" at "the beach."
Goodbye, cruel world.