It just gets better

new growth

 

Peggy Lee’s song from the 60’s, “Is that all there is?” came to mind this week when I saw many of my young friends post pictures of graduation and the prom on Facebook. A former grad admitted to me that the whole thing was a little disappointing. After looking forward to it her entire school career as a magical night of glamour and celebration (and possible romance) in the end it was the same old people standing around in expensive, uncomfortable clothes saying and doing the same dorky things they said and did last week –and the week before, and the year before.

Dare we admit that some of the moments we were told would be the highlights of our lives were not all that brilliant? I came away from my high school grad party thinking like Peggy, “Is that all there is?” (Mom worked so hard to put together the perfect evening, but I was not permitted to go to the prom dance and since my dress was a gift, I never got to choose it. The guy I had just broken up with turned up with his fiancée and the last minute substitute escort was called home by his mother because she needed help getting his drunk uncle out of the bath tub.) Even if everything had turned out as planned I think I would have been disappointed.

The problem: I have an imagination.

Sometimes I feel like asking people not to give rave reviews to a movie or book or performance –or even a cleaning product that sounds like heaven by way of a sparkling shower door. I almost wish people hadn’t told me how wonderful life experiences like a wedding or childbirth and breastfeeding or a vacation in Mexico or a standing ovation after a performance were because although there were wonderful moments in all of them, secretly my imagination took liberties went a step further than reality. As great as many experiences have been there was usually a bit of “Is that all there is?” when they were over.

Solomon said it first in the book of Ecclesiastes, the book that epitomizes is-that-all-there-is disappointment and the limits of human’s wisdom and logic. He wrote, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” and “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (He ends the book of his experiences with this: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”)

Peggy’s song repeats Solomon’s observation of vanity:

If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing.

Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.

Peggy’s song also dared to address fear of the final disappointment:

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.

If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?

Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.

For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,

when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself,

Is that all there is?

Perhaps disappointment is our greatest fear. Perhaps this is what motivates so many sermons and pop theology books. They are less about hope and faith than the pragmatic guarding of our hearts against the possibility of disappointment.  Like King Saul before his first battle we take things into our own hands when it looks like God may not show up in time to make our party a success.

I think the best moments in my life have been surprises:

-coming around a corner on a logging road to see an entire hidden valley of golden tamarack aglow in low evening sun,

-my wee little grandson this week, bringing me a grocery store flyer and pointing to a photo of watermelon to show me what he wanted when he is too young to have the words (Yes, I gave him some.)

-my “barren” daughter announcing her pregnancy

-my precious son, held prisoner in a dark basement of depression, coming up the stairs into the light saying he wanted to be baptized

-my four-year old grandson telling me he had a dream of sitting on Jesus’  lap and being hugged and hugged and hugged

-my husband covering my desk with Lindt chocolates on our fortieth Valentines Day together

-hearing a voice say “Run!” when I was up in the woods praying, then discovering that when I dared to attempt it the asthma and arthritis that had crippled me for so long were gone

-my mother with a broad smile and look of recognition on her face toward someone we could not see as she stepped into eternity from her hospital bed

-and so many more.

I believe this is not all there is. I believe God gives us promises that will not be disappointments. I believe that my imagination will not spoil the surprises he has for me because I am not capable of going a step beyond the greater reality. My imagination is no match for his.

Is that all there is?”

No! Not by a long shot!

Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine—to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen! (Ephesians 3:21, 22)

Oh, dear children of mine (forgive the affection of an old man!), have you realised it? Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 1:3)

Hearts open wide

Photo: bleeding hearts in my garden

Yesterday, in the wee hours, I was rushed to the hospital with a medical crisis. The hospital staff was wonderful and within minutes an I.V. dripped relief into my arm. I won’t deny that I was in a lot of pain -excruciating pain. I was moaning and writhing and praying but I wasn’t afraid. I knew what caused the pain. I had experienced this scenario before and since capable people moved quickly to help and I knew we wouldn’t be hit with a big medical  bill (oh God, thank you for Canadian healthcare!) I could patiently (or semi-patiently) endure.

By evening I was home and still a little stoned on morphine, but doing quite all right. I debated about whether I really needed to swallow the pain meds I was given before I went to bed, but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get some sleep, so I did.

When I awoke I had a horrendous headache, my hands and face and throat were swollen and I felt like I couldn’t get enough oxygen.

I was afraid.

It’s one thing to trust and patiently endure pain when you are fairly certain of a positive outcome eventually. It’s another when you have no idea what’s happening. This is not the time to introduce yourself to God or to re-new acquaintances. This is a moment when all you can do is squeeze out a “HELP!!” kind of prayer.

Obviously I’m OK now. I’m sitting here listening to Fernando Ortega, drinking Earl Grey tea, and posting a photo I took this afternoon of some of some bleeding heart flowers by my window. Their hearts open wide to sing his praise. God is good.

And if I had been sitting in heaven drinking tea with Jesus instead, he would still be good. My heart opens wide to sing his praise. Allelu.

Let us who are afraid find refuge in Christ and redemption assured in His name.

By day and by night we delight in His love and forever His words will remain.

Sing allelu, we rejoice in Your love Most High…

Fernando Ortega sings “Allelu” from The Odes Project -from the oldest collection of  hymns of the early church set to new music:

Mom’s treasure

I grieved my mother’s death ten years before she died. Like a lot of nurses her body gave out under the physical strain of caring for people. Pain forced her to leave her perfectly starched cap on the shelf and her white stockings in the drawer. She never gave up her duty shoes though. Years after she went on disability she would lean on Dad’s arm and hobble in to the same shop downtown to buy another pair.

We assumed it was the pain meds that clouded her once brilliant mind -that or the chronic lack of sleep. Even after the pain gave her an excuse to stay in bed she seldom slept more than four or five hours a night. She would bake bread and wash floors before her day shift when she still rushed into the oncology ward for report. I don’t think she knew how to sleep more than that. She was the hardest worker I ever knew. Sitting still was a sin. A dreamy bookish daughter was a totally alien creature to her.

The Alzheimer’s kind of snuck up on us. But she knew -and wrote final letters to her children and gave instructions for her funeral while she could still write. We found them stored in her security box.

My greatest grief came early in the disease process after we finally sat down for the heart-to-heart she had been promising for so many years. She finally listened.

An hour later she repeated a question that made me realize she had not retained a word of what I said.

I grieved for the conversation that would never happen. I drove home and stopped at a roadside rest area when I couldn’t stop the tears. I never cried like that again, even though I was aware, at every visit, of saying goodbye to another little part of her that was gone forever.

The disease progressed relatively slowly. Dad was heroic in his efforts to care for her by himself, but after he had a mild stroke and wouldn’t consider moving and none of us lived close enough to take over the 24 hour intensive care she required, there was no choice but to find a facility to look after her.

She was a lousy patient. This frail little lady who was too weak to lift a piece of sandwich to her mouth decked two nurses she considered to be incompetent.

Here’s the other embarrassing thing. Mom was never racist -well, perhaps mildly, but less than most people of her generation — but to her it was 1930 something in Saskatchewan and she was a young girl who had never seen a person of colour before. She was very frightened of the staff who were all, with the exception of one fiery no-nonsense Scottish woman, Asia or Jamaica born. She didn’t know what country she was in. She thought she had been abducted.

There was one night though, when she and I sang our way through a dozen hymns. She didn’t know who I was, but she knew all the words and even sang harmony. After she sang she told me about the Jesus she was singing about. She lit up, “Oh, he’s wonderful.”

Two minutes later she was crying out in agony. When a young patient was rolled through the hospital on a stretcher she thought it was her dear brother who been killed in a car accident. He died in that accident sixty years before, but her grief was as fresh as if she was hearing the news for the first time.

One afternoon while out for a hike I cried out to the Jesus she loved and asked him to please take her. I hated to see her suffer. She was so confused and no position the nurses put her in was comfortable.

Two hours after I prayed my brother called. Mom died –two hours ago.

I didn’t cry.

Dad said he was holding her hand as he read a book. She had been in a lot of pain that day. When he looked up again to check on her, her eyes were focussed on something on the other side of the room. He said she had a look of surprised delight on her face, as if she recognized someone she loved and had been waiting for. He tried to see who it was, but before he could ask Mom, he knew she was gone.

When I was sorting through my mother’s things in drawers and closets I found bits of rolled up paper with bible verses written on them. Promises. I knew that at one point she had memorized huge portions of scripture and quoted it at night when she couldn’t sleep. I took the verses and put them in a wooden box. They are my treasure.

Yes, I have a good inheritance.