Changing Gears

There are days when I catch a brief glimpse of my reflection in a mirror or a storefront window with slow and puzzled recognition. Yes, indeed that aging face, with the too long shaggy mess of curling hair is actually me! The image I see reflected there does not in any way match the mental picture that I have in my head. I think my brain got stuck around 50, and somewhere in just the right light (or lack thereof) I still expect to see that face, recognizable and familiar, reflected back at me.

I recently made the leap into retirement, which conjures up the completely wrong image. I drug myself over the finish line, gasping and exhausted. The death of my father preceded my retirement by less than a month, and to say that I was on emotional, physical, and spiritual overload would be an understatement.

Like many of my fellow Americans, I have been exhausted by the political chaos that surrounds all of us. It has taken a toll on my sense of peace and well-being. Let’s just say that I hoped for more, and have been sorely disappointed, some days I am scared witless, and most days just heartbroken by the realities of prejudice and hatred that was festering just under the surface.

In spite of that, I find myself shifting gears. I have had some sort of “job” all of my life. Children who grew up in big families in the 1950’s and 1960’s were part of the team of workers. Everyone was a vital contributor to the welfare of the household.  I’m sure there are still many families that function in that way, but it isn’t as prevalent as it once was.

I now find myself at home and setting my own agenda for the first time since my children were very little. It is an interesting time for me. I spent the last six months of my working life silently “yelling” at myself to “get up, get to work, get things done.” Now, I am just quietly plodding along. some days are full of accomplishments, and others are just days spent thinking, praying, analyzing ideas for…all kinds of possibilities.

I tell my self that my lack of check marks for “things done” is partly due to the shock of having lost my father. I think it is more than just that. I’m still “shifting gears” to a quieter, more contemplative life.

And that’s okay.







In My Father’s House 

I’m blessed to be a parishioner in a church whose shepherd travels home often to South Carolina to visit his eighty plus year old parents who live in the same home and small town he grew up in. He enjoys time with family and friends from his high school days. He worships in his same little home church with folks who have known him his whole life long. How I envy him those lasting ties to “home.”

I have no such place to go. I’m nearly sixty-six years old, and embarrassed to say that knowing I have no “home town” makes me very sad. My parents left their families and homes in Kentucky to move north when my father answered the call to full time ministry, so there were no cousin birthday parties, no families gathered together every Sunday to over eat and argue over Jesus and Vietnam. We were adrift in a sea of other folk’s families. 

Add to that geographical relocation this cold hard fact-preacher’s kids move. A lot! And sometimes in the “wisdom” of bygone days they were either forbidden or discouraged from looking back, almost like we would all turn into pillars of salt like Lot’s wife. I always felt that woman got a bum wrap, she really just wanted one more mournful look at the home she was leaving. I understand her need in the deepest part of my soul. 

In spite of the long ago “wisdom” of my elders I now know that we all need a place to fly to when life gets us down, or life is so wonderful that we need to share, or we seek the warming comfort that only the familiarity and sameness of a consistent “place” brings. I have strived diligently to provide that “place” for our children and grandchildren. The grands have often asked for reassurance that we will “never move” from the home their parents grew up in, and the place that seems unchanging, steady, and warmly welcoming to them. But I have no “place.” No hometown. No place to run to and seek that warm comfort. 

And so today my mind has gone wandering back to my first Ohio home in Appalachia where mournful longing for heaven in hymn singing was almost a weekly requirement for worship. If I close my eyes I can hear the melodies of those hymns, like I’ve Got A Mansion Just Over the Hilltop. Just between you and me, I had no clue what a mansion was, let alone if I was ready to die to get one!

Back then our lives were fully immersed in Christian training almost twenty-four seven. (Thank God for The Mickey Mouse Club on our grainy little black and white TV screen.) Dad started early to try and save our rotten souls. We stood and sang to his demanding level of perfection as our Mama plunked out those old country hymns for what seemed like hours on end. My older sister was an early reader, so Dad cherry picked this verse for her to teach us.  “In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not true I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you .” Dad and Mom were good singers, and their voices blended well together as they got misty eyed singing “this world is not my home.” Some days those deeply emotional voices made me feel as though the bus was leaving for heaven at the earliest possible time!

Today has been a long and emotion filled day. I have spent time with two people close to me who are near the end of their journeys here on earth. One is a younger man, only fifty years old, with young sons. The other is my father, who at age eighty-eight years old has lived a good long life. The younger man has stage four cancer, fully invasive, and gut wrenchingly pain-filled. He entered hospice today and is valiantly attempting to limit his pain medication so that he can be alert enough to say goodbye to his loved ones. He has fought for over four years to stay here with his family. I want him to have more days!

My father lies unmoving in a bed, at times in pain, but mostly not. He’s unable or unwilling to fight to get better, and at eighty-eight his body is stronger than my fifty year old friend’s. Why? Why God? I just don’t understand. 

I’m not wise about how God chooses times and places and circumstances for taking us home to dwell in his “house of many mansions.” And to my shame I sometimes think I know when he should and when he shouldn’t. I know that God’s ways are far wiser, but in my frailty and sorrow for my young friend and his wife and sons, I stumble into my prideful thinking. 

I’m just hoping that as we say goodbye and “see you later” to these kind, God loving men, that I can keep my mind fixed on that place of comfort and peace and safe familiar belonging that waits for us there, in God’s house, where Jesus is.  

Jumping Down Off Your High Horse

     When you are very young you think you know everything. I think this naivete is a cloak of ignorance that envelopes us so we don’t just quit before our lives even get started. If we are honest, we all wore that “cloak” at some point, before real life intervened, before we landed face first into the muddy messes we created in our lives, before we really knew God’s  forgiveness, or even acknowledged our need for it.
    I remember thinking I knew a lot about life.  What is it about lack of real life experience that gives us that surety, that unflagging judgement, that indefatigable sense of knowing “better?” I’m confessing I was there once, before real life and frequent failure brought me down a few pegs. You know the drill…before you get married you are a total expert about marriage…before the birth of your own children you know oh so much about parenting, like “only bad parents have bad kids,” you know, really insightful things like that. Life teaches, oh how it shapes us and chiseles off our sharp judgements.
     When I was a little girl, our family went to church every Sunday. We had to, my Dad had to preach the sermon and Mom had to direct the choir and teach Sunday School.  Our job was to be quiet, stay clean, and sit still. (It’s harder than it sounds.)
     I remember sitting in the front row of the church choir and reciting the beautiful liturgy of the old Methodist hymnal’ s communion service. There is a line there that to this day, more than fifty years later, still stirs my soul. “I am unworthy to gather the crumbs from beneath your table, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
     I sat there, week after week, and year after year, not knowing that I had been healed. I was too young to even know I needed healing.
    This year I will be sixty-four. I have been shaped, chiseled, forgiven, and healed. I still have so much work to do. Life knocks us down off that high up place. We know how much we do not know, and it is daunting and humbling.
    But God uses all of it, the good and bad, the triumphs and failures to fashion us for his purposes. And through it all our greatest gift is a brand new perspective, from a new place, far less “sure” of our own strengths, and no longer looking down on those around us.
    We jump on down off our high horses.