Only Love Matters…

Every other Sunday evening, I take my mother to church. Connie, my sister, and I take turns. The service we attend is called: Country Church. Most of the folks that attend are older, and the music is kind of down-home with more than a hint of Southern gospel. They have a background set that looks like an old country store. The band and worship ensemble wear western boots and an occasional western hat. The service begins with the worship leader…or maybe that should be trail boss… greeting the congregation with “HowDEEE!”
Really….
Pure kitsch…
But… I sometimes kind of like it. (When my eyes aren’t rolling…) Mainly because many of the songs they sing are ones from my childhood. It reminds me from where I came, and my heritage, or at least some of it. Mom really enjoys it, especially the preaching. That part I sometimes find hard to sit through. It is a Southern Baptist church, and the conservative slant can really grate on my moderate nerves.
Mom is 89-years-old. She has increasing, age-related dementia, exacerbated, I think, by the fact that she has bi-polar disorder. We never knew that as we were growing up, but noticed that about every 7 years, she would have a depressive break. Looking back, and talking to my brother and sister, I think that each break changed her. She is on medication now, but my sister bore the brunt of her last break, and it was really difficult for her and Butch, my brother-in-law. Moving here has been an opportunity for me to take on some of the load of dealing with Mom.

As I considered moving, that was one of the issues that worried me. How would I respond to Mom? Our relationship, or maybe it is more accurate to say my relationship with her, has been difficult. Yet I am not sure I realized that, until the last 10-15 years. It especially became apparent to me after my divorce, and I began to take some classes in seminary that led me to explore issues with my family of origin. Especially issues with my mother. I had to take an honest look at this most intimate, and fundamental female relationship.
We each begin existence encased in the body of another person. When we are born, the mother-child relationship is extremely important, because in it we find our most basic needs are met, or they aren’t. We learn a lot about the world, or rather what we expect from the world in terms of safety and comfort and provision in this one relationship. Even though a father can come alongside to care and help a mother meet the needs of an infant, the child’s attachment to its mother contributes to what it feels about life and the world… and themselves.
I won’t go into it here, but Mom’s illness affected me in those earliest days of my infancy. I have needed to look back, be honest about the lack of stability in our relationship, but also other parts of my life as a growing child. I needed to grieve it, which included anger at the way I felt I was perceived by my mother. I felt like I was expected to be a heathen, and many times as an adolescent, I fulfilled the expectation nicely. I know that she and my father loved me, but I couldn’t gloss over how some of their decisions, manner of living, and approach to life; which included Mom’s illness; affected me. I am NOT trying to figure out where to place blame. Blame is a form of denial, not truth-finding. I needed to understand why I felt the way I did for much of my life, so I could begin to heal, grow and change.

When I first moved to Florida, near my mother, and siblings; I was still angry with her. I now understand the anger was both natural… I needed to feel it… but it was tied to my own unfulfilled expectations of her, and how I wished she would have interacted with me. This was a necessary step in my healing. When she called…I didn’t answer. I seldom spent time with her. I was afraid that her tendency to live in guilt would affect my thinking and feelings about myself. It had my whole life, and I was just being freed from it due to personal growth, and God’s grace. She felt the absence, too, and kept trying to get me to draw nearer to her. By using guilt… so it was a vicious circle.
Then I became involved in a relationship with a woman that eventually didn’t work out. When we broke up, I began to explore my part in the break-up. I did a similar, much more extensive process when my marriage of 23 years ended. In both circumstances, I tried to examine what I did well, and what I didn’t do so well.
One day, as I was thinking about the most recent break-up, I believe God spoke to me, and helped me realize that in order for me to go forward into another relationship with a woman; I needed to seek reconciliation with my mother. Or, more honestly, reconciliation with my feelings about Mom. I needed to see her as she is, was, and what she was capable of being, rather than what I wished and expected her to be. She needed to be a flesh-and-blood person, with great strengths and great failings. I needed to see… her… not a caricature of my own making. I was beginning to believe I could see her as a sister-in-Christ…as the Beloved of God. Maybe, if I could see her in that light, I could love her as she is and was, and maybe even…myself. God began to show me that, as she continues to grow older, and more child-like, I would sort of father my mother. This began to give me some hope, because I enjoy many aspects of being a father. Age has softened me, too, so I am more patient, and am able to find humor instead of frustration…

Mostly…
Every quarter, Country Church has a service with only music. They call it: The Grand Old Gospel Opry…
Of course they do…
The Grand Old Gospel Opry is quite popular especially with the crowd that usually attends Country Church, which are generally senior adults. Mom, however, usually doesn’t attend because she likes to hear the pastor preach. This past Sunday evening was one of those nights and there were “Special Guests” to go along with the regular bunkhouse gang. (Actually, the worship team and band is quite talented…) On this night there was a bluegrass band and a men’s quartet, a man and wife who travel as evangelists, and other groupings of people that attend the church.
We began with congregational singing. I enjoyed the songs, because they were ones we would sing while my family was in evangelism. A noticeable theme began to evolve with each song: Heaven.
“That makes sense…” I thought. “Play to your crowd.”
The evangelists got up next and began to sing together. I was reminded of sooo many couples I have seen and known through the years. People that travelled from church to church, singing and preaching the gospel. People like my family. This was before four-dollar-gas and one-hundred-dollar-a-night motels; when singers used pre-recorded-sound-tracks that weren’t considered karaoke, and there were only three or four channels on TV, so there weren’t as many entertainment opportunities to compete with the drama of revivals. My first thoughts in response to the couple were pretty negative:

“C’mon brother… don’t you know that your time has passed? That style of doing church is dead and ineffective.”
However, it occurs to me just how much I needed to see them. They were like characters emanating from my heritage of faith. People who put aside a safe, and consumptive lifestyle in order to tell other people about the Christ of new beginnings, of new life, of resurrection… I need to embrace that heritage. It was hard and disruptive… for me, but also for my mother. Mom raised three kids on the road, from one conglomeration of church services to another, all the while having to keep the kids occupied and quiet every evening for a couple hours of church, while sitting IN FRONT of scores of people that could be VERY critical of the preacher’s wife and kids! It was keeping the kids entertained in the car through endless miles of travel. It was keeping the family fed while in poverty, and in clean clothes washed either in borrowed washers and dryers, in a laundromat, or in the sink of a travel trailer and then hung to dry on a makeshift clothesline. It was using cold starch on my father’s white shirts, so they would be… just….so……. It was being the kids’ first (and only at least for a period of time) teacher. It was singing in front of people though she felt intimidated by her self-perceived lack of musical talent.
A tough life…
A committed life…
The service wound along until a trio of women began to sing. Mom said that one of the women was…

“…the daughter of the song leader. She just finished college and is really pretty. I wish I knew somebody that knows her, so I could introduce you to her.”
“Um…. Mom….she is the same age as my daughter…”
“Oh…”
Right now, to my mother at times, I am still about 27. A young man. I think it is because I am single, and we weren’t around each other for so many years. For my first birthday after I moved here, she gave me a book entitled: “God’s Little Instruction Book for Graduates”.
Well… I have been in grad-school for the past three years…
And I confess that in my OWN mind, I still feel like I am 27… at least until I wake up in the morning… then my body says: “Helloooo 52…”
The most beautiful part of the Opry was several songs into the set of the men’s quartet. I had been enjoying the quartet, and remembered how often we would drive many miles to hear quartets when I was young. My dad loved men’s quartets. While he was in college and grad-school at small religious schools, Dad travelled with other young men in a quartet doing public relations for the school. In fact, that was how my mom and dad first met. Dad’s quartet held a concert at the church my mother attended, and they first noticed each other. Eventually, Mom enrolled in the same school.
Pretty effective public relations, I would say…
My father was the first tenor in that quartet, and as Mom and I listened to the first tenor of the Opry quartet singing lead; she leaned in to me and said with quivering voice, “That makes me think of your dad.”

I gently put my arm around my mother, and pulled her tightly against me. She began to quietly cry freely.
For just a moment, my imagination took me to a little church in West Virginia, and I saw a young woman, with striking auburn hair and expressive brown eyes, about 17 or 18-years-old sitting in a hot, crowded sanctuary listening attentively to a group of young men sing. One young man especially held her attention… the good looking first tenor with the crisply starched, white shirt beneath the trimly cut black suit. His hair was dark, and slicked back, and she noticed that as his gaze travelled across the crowd, it would linger with increasing frequency in her direction. With each repeated gaze, both their hearts would beat a little faster. After the concert was over, she would go to the table with information about the college he represented, and ask for a brochure… just to, you know, learn about the academic programs. He would shyly approach her, and their eyes would once again meet. He would hand her the brochure… their hands would touch ever-so slightly… Sparks!
As she cried, my heart cried with her.
For her loss of her Love…
For the loneliness in her life now…
For her desire to be near him again…
Somewhere inside me, I began to see my mother for the first time. The past disappointments and frustrations I felt through the years didn’t really matter. Love began to vibrate for this woman that bore me and introduced me so imperfectly to the world. I saw, instead, God’s beloved daughter. My natural fatherly instincts began to take over. As the song ended, and before we began to applaud, I kissed her on the forehead, as I would my own daughter.

Before I moved to Florida, I wrote four blogs in which I suggested the need for me to be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage redeemed to me.
God is doing just that…

Empty Calories II…

(This is a continuation of a post from several days ago…)

And yet…

It isn’t the end of the story, as John tells it. The story continues as Jesus leaves the crowd and his companions to venture into the mountains by himself to pray. The disciples go down to the shore, enter their boats, and push off into the sea. A surprising response to both the miracle, and to Jesus’ absence, but life once again must go on, even after miracles… Darkness catches the disciples in the middle of the sea, without Jesus, and a storm rushes in. As the disciples despair of life, they find Jesus…

…in the middle of the sea

…in the middle of the storm

…walking on the water

…the disciples fear him a ghost

…and Jesus calls Peter onto the water

…catches him when he falls

…then gets in the boat and it comes quickly to shore.

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I have a renewed friendship with a woman I knew in college. At the time, we were basically friendly acquaintances, whose paths crossed in the music department while in choirs, operas, and the like. Eventually, she married a guy that shared an apartment with me at the time. I really liked the guy, and he was especially caring for me when my father was killed in a truck accident. Our lives took sharp turns away from each other after college, and she enjoyed a deep love with my buddy as well as shared ministry with him. They had two daughters later in life, and while the girls were young, he was found to have cancer. After a heroic battle with the disease, he died, and his wife… my re-found friend… was left to raise the girls alone. My buddy did a wonderful job of organizing their financial affairs during the final stages of his disease, so his three girls have been supported and cared for by him even from the grave. He was and is a wonderful, courageous father and husband… one for his daughters to remember as a model as they eventually enter relationships of their own.

Lori, Dave’s wife and my friend, has born the grief in heroic fashion, too, I must say. Even though Dave’s provision has cared for their needs, and her church family was deeply supportive, she still has had to walk through the dark storm of grief, loss, and the wet blanket of loneliness which seems to suffocate hope at times. I imagine her to be like the disciples in the boat, on a violently tossing sea, fighting despair and trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus through the darkness, rain, and waves.

This year is the fourth since Dave’s death. Each New Year, Lori tries to find a one-word theme to pull her through each day as a faith-mantra that invites her gaze to continue to slice through the storm to find the Beloved Christ walking upon the open sea. This year, our friendship was renewed due to a Facebook status I wrote at the end of 2012 which was trying to point towards the living presence of Christ in 2013 even before we arrived there. I wrote the status, as a message not only to others, but also to myself. I suggested that we either do or do not trust that God loves us, and is capable of bringing resurrection out of death. Lori and I exchanged comments about the post, and I suggested a beloved book I have read: Ruthless Trust, by Brennan Manning. Through this interaction, Lori decided to use the word, Trust, as her theme for 2013. We are now reading the book together and conversing about our lives and God’s presence in them.

I will include below some excerpts from Ruthless Trust about following the confident, water-striding Christ:

Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for the love of it” (Pg. 2)

 

“Unwavering trust is a rare and precious thing because it often demands a degree of courage that borders on the heroic. When the shadow of Jesus’ cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, loneliness, depression, the loss of a loved one, when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place—at those times we may cry out in anguish, ‘How could a loving God permit this to happen?’ At those moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.” (Pg. 4)

 

“Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God. Fear of the unknown path stretching ahead of us destroys childlike trust in the Father’s active goodness and unrestricted love.

We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case. Our trust does not bring final clarity on this earth. It does not still the chaos or dull the pain or provide a crutch. When all else is unclear, the heart of trust says, as Jesus did on the cross, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46)

If we could free ourselves from the temptation to make faith a mindless assent to a dusty pawnshop of doctrinal beliefs, we would discover with alarm that the essence of biblical faith lies in trusting God. And as Marcus Borg has noted, ‘The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change.’

The faith that animates the Christian community is less a matter of believing in the existence of God than a practical trust in his loving care under whatever pressure. The stakes here are enormous, for I have not said in my heart ‘God exists,’ until I have said, ‘I trust you.’ The first assertion is rational, abstract, a matter perhaps of natural theology, the mind laboring at its logic. The second is ‘communion, bread on the tongue from an unseen hand.’ Against insurmountable obstacles and without a clue as to the outcome, the trusting heart says, ‘Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you without any reservation and with boundless confidence, for you are my loving Father.” (Pg. 6-7)

 

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.” (Pg. 12-13)

 

“Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred, and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives betrays a distrust in the love of God. It shows that we have not accepted the acceptance of Jesus Christ and thus have rejected the total sufficiency of his redeeming work. Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.” (Pg.15)

 

Hopefully you get just a taste of the feast within this small book. Trusting God is stepping out of the boat of perceived safety all-the-while feeling like an idiot! Risking trust will most likely open us to the criticism of those still huddled in fear in the thin structures of the boat of legalistic comfort, and humanly constructed and maintained moral safety which is inherent in human empires… especially religious ones. The crowd in the boat will most likely shout words of shame in our direction, and our inner voices are tempted to pick up the chant and even expand them. Yet the grace and mercy of the walking Christ invites us to cast the words into the depths of the untamable waves of God’s forgiveness. There is no going back… Rather… full speed ahead!

The Passing of an Era…

In the past several years, I have made it a habit to find a second place to spend several hours a week. A second place is somewhere other than where I live. I used to choose a coffee shop primarily, but since moving to Florida, I found a bar/restaurant as my hang-out. There are different reasons why I might like one spot over another:

 

Design/decor…

 

Proximity to my home…

 

Quality of the product they sell…

 

Attitude of staff towards those who want to hang out…

 

Usually, however, the spot I choose has more to do with the staff, and people who also hang out there.  I have found it enjoyable to kibbitz with staff, and to find conversations which serendipitously happen. I am often amazed at the stories of people that I learn just by being a fixture in a place. Friendships happen, and life is shared. I love the process until the process ends, because a place closes. That is what has happened to my most recent second place.

I don’t remember the first time I stepped into The Sloppy Pelican, but I remember that every time I went in, the staff was friendly and seemed to get along with each other. That is a key to a great second place: the people who work there enjoy each other. I love a group of employees who have a great work ethic, and a playful attitude with each other and customers. I will definitely miss my friends at The Pelican. I came to know and care for them.

I knew some of their stories…

I knew the spouses or boyfriends of them…

I knew if their relationships were healthy or dysfunctional…

I knew of their second jobs…

I knew of their kids…

I knew a little of their dreams and how they spent their free time…

I prayed with them…

I pray for them…

We came to love each other… all over a beer or two.

I also got to know some of the musicians who came to share their talents there. I even came to know a few of their fans and wives and children and fathers and friends and business associates, and became friends with them as well.

It was quite lovely…

Actually, it wasn’t that different from being in church, as far as the social aspects were concerned. I was frequently surprised how often conversations turned to God, or faith, or past experiences in church. The conversations scattered between positive experiences with the above, or hurtful ones.

Honestly….

… I kinda felt like Jesus…

…with Zacchias…

…or Matthew…

…or Mary Magdalene…

I only hope I did Him justice. I know I didn’t do it perfectly by any means, but often I realized the presence of God’s Spirit speaking eloquently through me. Not something I would expect, nor was raised to expect, when my tongue was slightly thick after a beer… or two. Love seems to seep into places we least expect it to be…

… all over a beer or two…

But the affect wasn’t one sided. These folks’ lives spoke to me, as well. I marvel at the hard work of Alejandro, removing trash, lugging food, cleaning the floor, replenishing the liquor cabinet, and doing just whatever needed to be done; then working a day job mowing lawns Monday through Friday. He always has a smile and warm greeting: a GREAT attitude. One evening, Alex told me of his 4-year-old daughter and her fresh diagnosis of leukemia. His day-job gives him benefits, so her medical care is covered by insurance, yet he continued to work at Sloppy for extra money. Actually, he didn’t receive an hourly wage there. He worked only for a share of the tips given by customers. His life gave me a different perspective on the importance of giving a tip after a meal.

I was amazed in the way the staff dealt with customers, and their savvy in knowing when someone was being deliberately unkind and/or belligerent, or just allowing the alcohol speak, with no mean intention. They also had each other’s back, while continuing to do the job.

I pray each of my friends will be guided by the kindness of God towards ever-greater health and loves. Hopefully, our paths will cross again…

Bridges Intact…

There is a bridge not far from my house. It is one of those bridges they have down here that part in the middle and both sides raise to allow a sail boat or other large boat go from one part of the inner-coastal water to another. It is interesting to watch the huge pieces of steel roadway raise slowly and part in the middle until it is all clear and then begin to lower until they once again meet in the middle to allow traffic to cross. The sides of these bridges are not connected. They are designed to have a minute separation, in order to allow large obstacles to pass through, yet not destroy the bridge’s capability to connect one side of the land to the other. Although they appear seamless, the connectedness is really due to the structure which supports them and the integrity of the material of which the sides are made.

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The other night, I was returning a couple of movies to the Red Box at a nearby 7-11. I waited for a guy standing in front of the machine to make his selections. He took awhile, and since it stresses me out a little when someone is waiting impatiently to the side of the machine for me, I decided to wait in my pick-up while he finished. As it became apparent he was finishing, I got out of my truck to make my own selections. At about the same time, a car pulled up right next to the box, and an attractive 40-something woman got out of the back seat, and approached the box before me. She turned her head slightly, and noticed me waiting.

“Oh, I’m sorry… were you waiting?” She said brightly.

“Go right ahead.” I replied. (Did I mention she was attractive?)

“If it helps, I know exactly what I want, so it shouldn’t take long.” She was friendly. VERY friendly, and we kept on talking for a couple of moments about the movie she was getting. I had already seen it, (Descendants, btw…) and I recommended it strongly. But she kept on talking. It was kind of nice, actually. I had noticed a man sitting in the front seat, and when the conversation continued… at her urging, I might add… he rolled the windows of the car down. Internally, I wondered what was behind the gesture. What was his motive? Did he want to hear the conversation? She asked me if I lived in the area, and when I said, “yes”, she responded that they did as well. Now… maybe she was just really friendly, and I am just overly sensitive, but the conversation and the man’s actions just felt… weird… like he was jealous or something. Suddenly, he turned in his seat towards the back seat, and I noticed the cutest little girl of about 3 sitting in her car seat. He said something to her and she responded.

Aloud I said, “What a CUTIE PIE!” ( Does anyone really say that word anymore?)

The mother (at least I assumed she was the mother. The girl certainly resembled her) thanked me. I then approached the open passenger side window and spoke to the man, “You have your hands full there, Dad. She is SO cute! You better carry a baseball bat for all the boys…. and swing for their knees!” Both parents laughed, and whatever tension I felt, subsided.

While it is true that my imagination could have been running away with me… I wonder… I have learned to trust my intuition, and I felt really awkward in the conversation with the woman and the man’s action and countenance in response to it.

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 Last Sunday, I attended another church which my family has recently been attending. I went primarily because their are single people my age, and the church I currently attend has single people who are significantly younger than I. While I am not an age snob, I realize that if I am ever going to find a serious romantic relationship that works, I need to be around women my own age. I was early for the service, and my family hadn’t arrived yet, so I hung out in the yard outside the church. As I sat in an iron swinging love-seat, I saw a thirty-something couple talking to another thirty-something woman. The woman who seemed to be with the guy had auburn hair and was very attractive. The other woman was blond, and also very attractive. I always find the interaction between women to be quite interesting. Auburn-hair was quiet, and seemed to be outside the conversation, and was instead watching the interaction between Blond and Husband/Boyfriend. Blond spoke in a very animated fashion. She would touch Husband/Boyfriend’s arm every so often. She laughed a little too energetically when he said something funny. To my eyes, she seemed to be flirting. Auburn-hair looked.her.up.and.down… She would only laugh slightly at Husband/Boyfriend’s words. She could see how Blond was reacting, and was not comfortable with it. All the while, Husband/Boyfriend seemed to be clueless to these signs by Blond, or was enjoying how engaged she was with him. Eventually, the pastor came over to the group, and began to talk with the three. This conversation was fairly short, and Auburn-hair and Husband/Boyfriend eventually left. I found myself wondering about the pre-story and post-story. 

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I have been privileged to live in an intact family for my childhood and until I left for college. My father was killed in an accident when I was in college, so I was unable to see my parents’ marriage age as they did. Both my brother and sister have strong marriages. So I am the lone divorce in the family. I must say, I am looking for how marriage works. It would be easy to say, “Just stay together…” , but it isn’t always that simplistic. I am trying to learn from my past, as it comes to hoping, and searching for a long term relationship, if God blesses me that way.  I believe in marriage. I really do, although to people already embroiled in the steady, monotonous tasks of daily life,  romance and staying in love may seem to require too much energy. It is easy to allow the monotony to siphon away the value of just being together. Many times, it is the things two people DON’T say that can build the wall that can slowly grow between them.

I remember a conversation between four of the members of my seminary cohort while I was in Portland. There were three guys, two of us divorced, and one young woman. We heard of her struggle to find an identity separate from wife, mother, daughter, pastor’s wife, etc. I asked if she thought her seminary studies were part of her attempt to explore this identity. She responded that maybe it was, and she was tenaciously holding on to her educational program, because she was learning so much about not only God and the church, but also about herself. I mentioned that she was incredibly intelligent and talented. With eyes looking straight through me, she said, “That’s the first time anyone has ever told me that…”

I am positive her youth pastor husband knew these things, but I suspect he thought she already knew it, so didn’t think he needed to mention it. She didn’t know it. She needed to hear it. He needed to say it….

Disconnection…

which threatens to widen.

After this interaction, my friend Darrell, began to tell us something he had just read by Richard Rohr.  Darrell took a napkin and drew a picture which resembles the motion of the draw bridge near me. Rohr suggests that when a man and woman marry, they continue in parallel lines for awhile, as it relates to educational, vocational, and financial growth. Both usually have similar options in these areas, so the perceived “value” of each person within the culture remains in a similar trajectory. When a child is born, however,  the woman’s trajectory begins to go downward, while the man’s continues to climb.  Opportunities for personal growth occur more frequently for the man. Even when a woman continues to pursue her career, many of the cultural cues to her are that she bears greater responsibility for the children. Many women also feel this strong pull even without any shame-filled messages from culture.

Now… a quick word for the increased activity of father’s in their young children’s lives. I notice more men out with their kids. It seems that younger couples are doing a better job of sharing responsibilities which children bring.  I would be interested to see these marriages in 15-20 years, and see if their relationship as a couple is enhanced by this shared commitment.

Rohr’s theory is that eventually, as the children begin to leave home, the trajectories begin to reverse. The woman begins to go upward, as she has more time to develop her skills and talents; while the man’s begins downward as his career path peeks, and then begins to descend. The key point in the marriage, is when the trajectories get close, and the question becomes, “Will we reconnect, or get lost in an attempt to redefine the rest of their lives. Will they address the issue collectively, or independently? His theory is that if they do this together, the marriage will last and deepen. If they do it independently, the marriage is headed for trouble.

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However, there is a time and place for healthy separation. Each person needs to remember their personal responsibility to work through their own feelings. We can’t expect another person to know that we need encouragement. It is easy for blame to creep into everyday hassles. I have lived that. I know that DOESN’T work. Now I want to learn what does.

Separate yet connected…

Like the bridge…

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I wrote in previous posts on this blog, (Symmetry and Redemption) that I would be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage would be redeemed to me when I moved to Florida near my family of origin. I also suspected there would be depths of redemption of which I could not know. This is one of them, I think. My brother’s and sister’s marriages are very different. They have each lived VERY different lives. Collectively, they have marriages which have lasted almost three-quarters of a century. I need to learn from them. I need the redemption of hope.

I’m sure that if I were to ask Bill and Margaret, and Dan and Connie, they would say that the ultimate, saving foundation of their respective marriages is a living faith in God.

Active, mutual forgiveness and grace…

Daily renewal of love…

Laying aside perceived rights, yet identifying conflicting priorities…

Open intimacy and desire…

Treating each other with respect…

These are gifts from God which keep love close, and warm.

I just need to keep my eyes, and ears open….

Home…

I saw him walking across the parking lot of the local coffee shop and restaurant I have procured as my new “second home”. He was rail-thin and wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and colorful, floral tie tucked in to the top of his pants. His outfit was topped off by a gray fedora. He could have walked right out of  the 1940’s if it weren’t for the white plastic shopping bags he carried in both hands. His outfit raised my eyebrows, as it didn’t quite fit in the laid-back, casual atmosphere of the beach community in which I now live. What made me really smile, though, was the bouquet of flowers which peeked out of one of the bags. I smiled at this older man, dressed to the nines, and at the thought of who he might be surprising with his unexpected gift of affection. I loved the thought of the way her eyes would light up at the sight of the flowers. Of how he would look 20 years younger in the uniform of a previous generation. She would smile, put her hand to his face, which would wear a slight smile, and then give him a slight kiss on his cheek; which he would bend slightly to receive…

Don’t you just love, love?

I moved into a house recently. It was somewhat dirty, as the woman living there previously had resided there for over 10 years, and loved cats. I have worked hard to clean it and paint it; along with the gracious help of my brother and sister. I thoroughly cleaned the kitchen cabinets. I got as deep in their bowels as my arms could reach. When I did, I found scrunched behind one of the drawers, a letter from the Prudential Life Insurance Company. The letter was yellowed, and I almost threw it into the 50-gallon trash bag in the center of the room. However, a question suddenly tugged at my mind…. “What year is the post-mark?” Upon Re-examination, I found it to have been sent and received in 1952. The letter was from some accountant, or some sort, doing PR with a client whose whole life check had not been received yet. What I loved, however, was the back of the envelope. Scribbled hurriedly in pencil was a note:

“Honey,

I have gone to the store to get a box of crackers. Be right back.”

I LOVE this snippet of everyday life from 9 years before I was born. Something about that note drove itself deeply into my soul. It felt as if the soul of the house had revealed itself to me. I began to ask questions about the myriads of people who had lived in the house before me.

What were their joys?

What were their tragedies?

Were there retirees down for the winter?

Were there young couples beginning their lives together?

Has there ever been another single man given the opportunity for a re-start of life?

Have there been parties in the backyard?

Was there anger and yelling within these walls?

Was there delicious love-making in the bedrooms?

How many cups of early morning coffee have been savored on the back patio?

Who was the handy-man/amateur woodworker that used the shop?

How many cakes were baked in this kitchen?

I have named the design style I am using in the current makeover: “Post-Modern Retro.” I know…. a bit dissonant, high-sounding name for a little paint, a few light fixtures, and furniture (which isn’t much at this point). However, the letter got to me. I want to pay a certain level of homage to the history of the people who have lived in this house, in this neighborhood.

At one end of the street is a really small park… no… I mean, REALLY SMALL… complete with two benches which are within feet of the seawall, holding back the inter-coastal waters. Across the water, are a bevy of tall condos. At night, it is absolutely beautiful. In fact, my first night to sleep in the house, I walked down to the park and sat on the bench to take in the beauty of the place. There was a full moon that night, with a cool breeze blowing. The light of the moon danced across the waves blown by the breeze. The lights of the condos teased with questions about the people living within the luminescence. I was sure they had a wonderful view, yet I would not have traded with them for the one I had at that moment. Sure, I would have loved for someone to be there to share the moment with me, but I am content with the fact that God was there… and God was smiling. In fact, I KNOW God was there, because at the other end of the street where I live, sits a large Catholic Church. It is so close, I could shout out my confession to the busy priest, as long as the traffic isn’t too busy. One day I will go to mass there. Every weekend, our little street becomes excess parking. ESPECIALLY on Easter! I love that….

Frequently, God reminds me how beautiful life is. It can be so easy to get caught in the urgency of everyday, and the immediacy of our need to control, and manage life…

effectively…

efficiently…

professionally…

…that we miss out on the beauty of our weakness. How God creates innumerable quiet refuges for us to enjoy. Rest for our souls, just within view. The Church of God at one end of the block, the Creation of God at the other end of the block, and life lived in connection with both. I think that may be the Kingdom of God, which Jesus said was near….

I will receive it with gladness.

She…

She

I am convinced that God IS both

male and female…

father and mother…

sister and brother…

bride and bridegroom…

I will confess to you that throughout my life, there has
been an inward search…

outwardly also, when young…

and now again, while older…

for a perfect woman.
Maybe not perfect for someone else,

but perfect for me…

One who would love my strengths,

celebrate them, while also,

telling me,

showing me,

helping me

dig them from the depths of Imago Dei which I keep deeply buried within my own shame.

A woman who could reach within the defensiveness of my

embarrassment and resistance

to touch the pain connected to my weakness. To caress it with

the kindness,

the gentleness,

the sweetness,

of grace.

A woman of beauty whose sensuality flows from mountains of passion which teem with

life-giving and affirming

abundance.

Who is unafraid to lay bare

before me,

beside me,

beneath me.

A woman of intelligence, without the need to degrade my own;
not threatened by my masculinity,

yet smiles

when I express my own feminine side.

Yes, the woman in my dreams…

in my heart…

for which my soul longs…

and my eyes search…

I am finding…

Is God…

Yet…

I still long to be held…

to be hugged…

for a smile…

for the music of laughter…

as a foretaste…

of Home.

Can You Post a Comment From Someone Else’s Blog? I am…

I like Donald Miller’s books… Blue Like Jazz… Searching for God Knows What…. and his others also. Awhile back, he wrote about whether God needs us or not. You can read his post here:

http://donmilleris.com/2011/05/25/love-is-a-need-not-an-emotion/

The following is my comment in response to his post:

I used to work at an apartment complex for low-income senior adults. I loved it! I remember one Valentine’s Day, I was walking into the cafeteria and met one of the women who lived there and I said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” I then gave her a hug. She had lost her husband earlier in the year, and while we hugged, she said, “That feels SO good!” I hugged her specifically because I knew it would be a hard day for her. It was her first Valentine’s without her Valentine, and I knew it would be a difficult day. I never expected her comment, though. The physical act of affection felt good to her and she responded like a sponge to water.

I figured that was especially a female response to the absence of loving touch. However, the intervening years have brought divorce into my life. It has been a year and one-half since it was final, but that was preceded by some VERY bad days and lonely nights. Your post reminds me of that little lady’s comment, and of how I am now the sponge which feels dried out.

I believe God is love… but he needs human skin to contact human skin. That puts the life of Jesus in a different light, as well as the metaphor of the church as body. Love physically, neurologically changes us and we need to be loved and to love. The zeitgeist of our times in North America seems to be division, and I believe the church’s best revolutionary witness is to live lovingly with each other and people who not only don’t share our faith, but are antagonistic to our faith.

We are now God’s skin, and the world is dying to be touched.

Thanks for your post, Don, and I am really happy that you are in love!