Remembrances

Remembrances

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Best friends, L to R: Jenni Carstensen Pavia, Jenn White Davidson, Val Starkgraf, Laurie White

There is a photograph — and we all have one somewhere — that speaks volumes about my life and friendship as a young person. Granted, there is a story this photograph does not tell about all my very deep friendships with various teachers, but if you want to boil down who my very best friends were in junior high and the first few years of high school, this is it. Left-to-right we are Jenni Carstensen Pavia, Jenn White Davidson, Val Starkgraf (me), and Laurie White.

This was taken in June 1995, on the day of our junior high school graduation in 9th grade (our school was 7-8-9, not 6-7-8). I had, of course, been crying for days. For so many reasons, Sequoia Junior High School was my “safe” place for three years. It was a real community with amazing teachers who really, really, really cared. I was one of the favorites of many for various reasons (the page-long letters in my 9th grade yearbook speak well to this — I had more teacher signers that year than students!). But as far as friends my own age? This was the group. I don’t remember who Laurie had for homeroom, but Jenn, Jenni and I had Vicki Guleserian, so we’d known each other from the very first day of 7th grade.

I’m being — essentially — held up and surrounded by my best friends. That’s what always gets me about this picture: art imitating life. Strong as I am, I rely much on my friends (as they rely on me) for support.

Given that we moved so much over so many states and schools until I was twelve, arguably, this set was the closest thing I’ll ever have to “childhood” friends.

We’ve mostly kept in touch. Jenni and I are members of the same church, I’ve seen Jenn a few times since high school, I would get together with Laurie when I could (I was living out-of-area for awhile, then she was living out-of-area when I moved back in 2011). We were both in-area again after she moved back from Salinas a little over a month ago. Getting together was high on my list.

Apparently we’ll be getting together on Wednesday, under about the worst terms possible.

She was twelve days older than me. Thirty-three year-olds aren’t supposed to die, that’s not how the world is supposed to work.

Apparently the world didn’t get that memo.

Of the three of us, I’m the only one in this photo — besides Laurie — who can make it to her funeral on Wednesday. That’s killing me — especially since she and Jenni were inseparable BFFs for so many years — but at least Jenn (who now lives in Maine) got to see her the Saturday before she died (and died very suddenly — none of us even knew she was sick — viral meningitis, MRSA, encephalitis…nasty business, headache and disoriented Wednesday, dead Friday).

I still generally don’t have words for this, I just don’t.

Can there be words for this?

I’m not sure there can be.

We didn’t share the same cosmological worldview, that’s been bothering me for a lot of different reasons. I know what I think, but what to say about that that? Is there ever a time to have that conversation, and what should I say about it? Still thinking about that.

I went onto Facebook and pulled the photograph that was used in her obituary. Yes, she went to zookeeper school, but she didn’t love the cute/fluffy animals most people love — she loved the reptiles.

It was just who she was — a girl who loved hugging alligators (though, to be fair, she did love some cute/fluffy animals, like her dogs).

This photo speaks volumes about much of what my friend loved best. She was — and is — loved by so many. There aren’t words for the hole she will leave in my life. She was one of the kindest and sweetest people any who knew her had ever know — you can’t ever “replace” a person like that.

Her Obituary:

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Laurie Rae White...girl with gator, because, why not?

Laurie Rae White (1980 – 2013)
Obituary

April 14, 1980 – July 26, 2013 Laurie Rae White passed away on Friday, July 26, after a brief illness. Laurie was born in Mission Hills, Calif., on April 14, 1980, to Karen and Gary White. She was their only child. The White family moved to Simi Valley in 1985.

Laurie went through the Simi Valley schools, graduating in 1998 from Simi Valley High School. She graduated from the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark College in 2006. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology at CSUN in 2009. She earned her master’s degree in education at Claremont Graduate University this past May. She was a biology teacher by trade, working this past year at Soledad High School in Monterey County. She was hoping to teach closer to home this year. In addition to being a teacher, Laurie was an excellent musician, a writer, an avid reader, a good artist, and a local actress, appearing in musicals at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center for two years.

She is survived by parents, Gary and Karen White of Simi Valley; grandparents, Ben and Trudy Bronwein of Santa Clarita; uncle, Elliot Bronwein of Santa Clarita; aunt, Bonnie Becker (Gary) of Moorpark; and aunt, Rae White of North Hills.

Laurie’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, August 7, at 3 p.m. at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, Simi Valley. In lieu of sending flowers, please donate to your favorite charity.

I’m not sure I’m ready for Wednesday. I’m not sure I can be ready for Wednesday. I’m not sure I will ever be ready for Wednesday…but Wednesday is coming, whether I like it or not.

Blessings — VKS

Post-script — One of the things that has marked my life is deep and profound loss on a lot of levels. I try not to live with regrets, and I know I’ve written in this post from last April about the idea that we need to live life as if we might never see those we love again — that we should make sure they know they are loved. Please, may the words of how much you love your friends and family always be your parting words. You will never regret this. — VKS

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The View from the “Clouds”

The View from the “Clouds”

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A pastor friend posted this video on Facebook on Tuesday (21 May 2013).  Though he wasn’t the first person in my feed who did, his comments gave me pause.  He wrote:

He died yesterday at age 17.
How does a kid know so much about parenting?
How does a teen know so much about life?
How does one suffering know so much about joy?
How can such sorrow and loss shout hope and purpose?

When we talk, Sunday after Sunday, that it is possible to have joy in all things, he shows it is possible.

So how can I put the wisdom of this life, with all its joy, hope, and courage into my life?  I want to be like him when I grow up.

Before watching the video, I replied:

There are those among us who have not only spent life living, but watching and thinking — the introspective contemplatives.  It is in the presence of these individuals that one realizes what “an old soul” truly means.  Most live simple lives that only impact the lives of those in their immediate world around them, but every so often the words of one or another of these remarkable persons are preserved and handed down. Often we find the writings of these individuals as mature adults, but in peeling back the layers, realize the individuals in question were long remarkable. Add to all of that the knowledge that he knew that life is short, fleeting, and precious long before most people figure out they aren’t invincible and immortal…that’s how.

The video:

Love the video. Zach gets it — got it:

“Because you can either sit in your basement and wait, or you can get out there and do some crazy stuff.”

“Life is just really beautiful moments, one right after the other.”

“It’s really simple actually, it’s just…try and make people happy. Maybe you have to learn in less time, maybe you have to learn it the hard way, but as long as you learn it, you’re gonna make the world a better place.”

So many people clutter up life with just…things that don’t even matter. The younger this can be learned — the sooner this can be learned — what does matter, the better. The gift that Zach’s cancer gave him was a clarity about this. The thing that can be the greatest evil in this world is not isolated incidents of wickedness and depravity, but the wholesale distraction on a massive and societal level toward ephemeral things and away from the beauty and preciousness of what makes life…life.

Not the best shot of either one of us, but there we are

Not the best shot of either one of us, but there we are

I have a dear baby niece who I try to see a little bit every day. She’s about four and a half months old (younger in this picture) — a sweet, willful, sassy little thing — this child has known what she wanted since before she was born. But she came into the world with little expectation from life — as we all do. Everything is a fascination, and there is so much delight and joy in her as she experiences life. What she wants is simple: to be with those she loves who so dearly love her, and to experience (and delight in) the wonder of life that is her world.

At what point will she be told that’s not good enough?

At what point will she internalize that ‘that’s not good enough’ is true?

The thought that there will come a day when that will be true fills me with profound sadness, because that is the day she will lose her life…the part that matters anyway. Because Zach is right (though I’ll be the first to admit this is a difficult truth to always internalize at every dark moment):

“Life is just really beautiful moments, one right after the other.”

If we ever lose that perspective, we risk losing — forfeiting — all the goodness, joy, hope, and love possible in this life.

For all my love for life (though not always love for the way my own life is going), for all the words of love, of hope, of encouragement…I tend to spend a lot of time on the theological dark side. Sin, evil, pain, suffering, death — what do these things mean within the parameters of a Christian worldview, what does God have to say about it, and how do theologians across the ages weigh in on the discussion? And there is a lot to be found on the subject, because the primary narrative of the Bible is not of children of light living in the glory of eternal light — the primary narrative of the Bible is God’s great rescue plan for broken humanity.

Please remember that the world didn’t start out as a place of light, it started as a place of darkness (see Genesis 1). It is, in-fact, impossible to know light without darkness. That’s not to say that the light does not exist without darkness, it is to say that it will not be noticed: for though the stars burn as brightly during the day as at night, their light is lost to us during the day because of the light of the sun.

Sometimes what makes a thing most noticeable is its deficiency.

“How does one suffering know so much about joy?”

Because amid suffering it becomes apparent that joy is the only thing that really matters. I frequently raid the theology section of a local used book shop, and was having a conversation Tuesday afternoon with the owner about my general distaste for the “heaven tourism” genre. It isn’t about whether I believe or disbelieve the accounts, it’s that I don’t find them relevant or important. I pointed to Philippians 1:21, and said that what interests me more are the books by the people who have wrestled with and internalized “to live is Christ, to die is gain” because they have faced death. It may or may not be a hard word or a hard sell to an eschatologist to say that I don’t give much thought to “what’s next,” but I don’t. I have deep enough Roman Catholic roots for God to be “allowed” to be mysterious. I know God keeps his promises. There are enough broad brush strokes in the Bible to understand the glory and benevolence of heaven without needing a tour map and itinerary. I have an eternity of “later” to think about “later,” what don’t have a lot of is “now.” A friend of mine presented the thought a few months ago that in-light of my trials, suffering, and constant illness this year she wished I could just sleep until 2014 (my reply to that can be found here). I wrote:
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Time is precious…

fleeting…

measured in breaths…

in sunrises and sunsets…

in grains of sand…

in waves on the shore.

It cannot be bottled, nor saved

nor kept, nor held —

only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

What Zach understood is that life — what we make of it, how we live, and how we die — is a matter of perspective. Whatever we go looking for in this life with intentionality — goodness or evil, hope or despair, joy or sorrow, beauty or wretchedness — we will find. One of the most profoundly affecting things I’ve ever done in my life was volunteer-visit hospice patients. Because hospice patients are a distinct group — a person has committed to not seeking further medical treatment for his or her terminal condition at that point — my various patients gave me the quiet gift of a very close view of death and dying. One thing I discovered first about hospice patients, but then chillingly realized applies to every single living human in my world, is this: absolutely everything about how a person lives his or her life and faces his or her death is tied to the question of whether or not he or she fears death.

Everything.

I have faced my own death many times, and have been called to be a part of the death and dying process of many pets and people. Now there are those who do not fear death who still fight it a little — e.g., what can be done to fight this cancer, do I have a chance? There is a line, however, in a certain type of patient that never makes it to hospice — the patient who fights to fight, even when fighting is of no practical use and destroys the possibility of living and dying with dignity, because their soul has no anchor but to this life and to this world. Realizing how these people lived long before they died, the quiet similarity I’ve noticed — especially among women — is that defying the aging process on all levels becomes a macabre obsession. The thing is though, in the time spent trying to defy aging and death (which, face it, our culture shoves down out throats) we actually surrender control of our lives — minute by minute, dollar by dollar — to that same distracting, dark spirit that steals our days by filling them with ephemeral things. Zach’s view was:

“Death is just another thing on the agenda, kinda. Yeah, it’s scary, but the only reason it’s scary is ’cause you don’t know what’s next or if there is a next. So it’s kinda like sittin’ in the dark. And so you can either choose to be freaking out in the dark and thinking, ‘okay, what’s out there?’ or you can just relax and fall asleep, and be happy and content with everything.”

And it’s by this view — in not “freaking out” but knowing to “relax” — that I know Zach did not fear death, he had a greater peace.

And one of the greatest graces that facing death — reckoning with Philippians 1:21 on a very personal level — is that it can teach you how to live.

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Zach knew this.

Because if a person can come to the place of peace to know “to die is gain,” it completely removes all distracting and self-serving, fear-related barriers to the “to live is Christ” portion of that verse.

Given his words:

“I want to be remembered as the kid who went down fighting…and didn’t really lose.”

and statements made this week by his family, following his death, Zach knew that too.

And its my own deep knowledge of the truth of that verse that brought me to the position I took with my friend who owns the book shop, because there are a lot of really wonderful and rich verses in the Bible to use as an anchor for life, but time and time again I keep coming back to Philippians 1:21.

It’s the ultimate win-win (which Zach also knew).

A pause to fly a little close to the earth with respect to joy and Philippians for any who might not be as deeply familiar with my favorite book in the Bible as I am (or as my pastor friend). Firstly, one of the most beautiful renderings of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (i.e., Philippians) is to be found in The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (click here to read it). And to read it (in any translation), one thing that is most striking about this epistle (“epistle” is the $10 word for “letter” in Bible-speak) is that it drips with hope and joy…sometimes on a nauseating level.

Seriously, read it…joy, encouragement, hope, love (and the most beautifully succinct passage on the incarnation of Christ is to be found in Chapter 2).

So what’s the story behind the writing of Philippians? Paul hints at it — he was in prison.

Prison?

Yeah, prison. He was chained to a guard 24/7 and used the opportunity to evangelize the guards. Prison — not much joy and hope to be found there. And yet? In Philippians we have one of the most beautiful books in the Bible coming out of the darkness and despair of unjust imprisonment written by a man who was eventually martyred.

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Paul knew what Zach learned — life is too short and too precious to brood over unalterable injustices. In this broken world terrible things happen that we have no power to prevent or to change, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow the poison and define our days by brokenness. The world was not created broken, it was created beautiful — God made it and saw that it was good. All the goodness didn’t drain out of the world at the fall — much goodness and beauty exists still, albeit imperfectly, and it’s up too us to seek it.

That’s how such sorrow and loss can shout hope and purpose — because sorrow and loss have a walk-on part in eternity for people of faith like Zach, they were not the main characters of Zach’s life, and they will have no part in things to come. Sorrow and loss certainly shaped and informed Zach’s last few years in this world, but by no means did it define him or his beautiful life.

“When we talk, Sunday after Sunday, that it is possible to have joy in all things, he shows it is possible.”

Yes, he shows it is possible, but he also doesn’t deny the bad days. What any who choose to find joy in all things will tell you, is that finding joy — and light…and hope — in profound darkness requires intentionality.

“So how can I put the wisdom of this life, with all its joy, hope, and courage into my life?”

Well that’s the answer, isn’t it: intentionality.

Please understand that finding the goodness, hope, joy and beauty in this broken world is not equivalent to turning off one’s brain and declaring that bad things and brokenness do not exist (“La, la, la — not listening!”) — they do, and they are just as real as all of the good and beautiful things. What intentionality means, is looking at all the good and all the bad, but choosing to honor the goodness of life as more important to value than the bad. It really is that simple…and yet it is so damnably easy to be distracted down the rabbit hole of despair.

Intentionality is no easy task, but it is possible for all. We don’t need to be some kind of super-saint sitting on top of a mountain contemplating life 24/7, it is perfectly possible to be intentional — each and every one of us — in everyday life. It does require a bit of contemplation.

Marginally connected to my application and acceptance to one of the best Jesuit universities on the West Coast U.S., last fall I started delving into the history of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola. I really like what Loyola had to say about much; his Spiritual Exercises (basically a month-long retreat), The Examen, and so many of his other spiritual disciplines are an amazing and simple way for everyday people to grow closer to God in a very practical way that — really — anyone can do. Ignatian Spirituality is one of the most practical approaches to conducting an interior life that I have found. And don’t think just because Loyola was a Roman Catholic, that this is somehow a “Catholic” thing and doesn’t apply to Protestants, it does. Ignatian Spirituality is a really great tool box for practical faith, and for more information I would recommend reading The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ as a great place to start (he’s very readable and approachable and funny — this will not be a slog, Martin is great!).

Because one of the best ways I’ve found of being intentional about life is the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things — all things. There is a passage from the First week of the Spiritual Exercises that both inspires and challenges me. I’ve quoted it before, but I just keep coming back to it because it is so clear in what it teaches: come what may, our ultimate desire should be anything which enables us to best praise, revere, and serve God (which echoes the famous question/answer from the Shorter Catechism to The Westminster Confession of Faith: Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? / A. 1. Man’s Chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever). Loyola wrote:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

To be intentional to seek to lift up what is good and worthy (regardless of circumstances), to find God in all things (regardless of circumstances), and to desire what will best enable us to serve God (regardless of whether the circumstances that come of it are particularly comfortable or desirable to us) — that’s the secret to living a life of hope and joy and courage. Embrace today, it’s the only “today” you’re going to get.

That is what Zach knew.

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Sylmar hill walk. Sylmar, CA. 8 MAR 2013.

And so Zach journeys on without us, and we sojourn here without him. I immediately thought of the Mr. Rogers quotation when I started writing this post:

“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you many never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you will leave at every meeting with another person.” — Fred Rogers

because whether Zach knew it or not, we know it of his beautiful life. It is a challenge to us, however — for if we leave something of ourselves with all we meet and in the lives of all we touch, what are we leaving? It cuts both ways — positive and negative. Seek to be intentional that what you leave is positive (as Zach did).

Blessings – VKS

Post-script: I’ve been intermittently watching Zach’s video “Clouds” on YouTube all week as I’ve been writing this (always makes me cry):

Blessings and storms

Blessings and storms

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Thus far it has been the most beautiful birthday weekend since 2001.

Today — the morning with my church family.

I will write more later.  For reasons that have nothing to do with festivities, I haven’t slept well in days; presently I’ve been up for hours after…maybe…five hours sleep (after a day of walking about L.A.. with friends — NOT adequate for my day!!!).  It occurs to me that I would live as a servant for the rest of my life if only I could have a truly safe place to rest each night where I could sleep in total and absolute peace, a place where I could attain true and real rest.

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I haven’t slept in complete and total peace since 2002.

That’s a definitive part of hell I think — no rest.  The fact that I haven’t slept in eleven years both with peace and without the occasional Benadryl for help is truly maddening.

It has been a beautiful weekend full of so much love and delight and celebrating life.  Still no baby guinea pigs to celebrate with, but I pray that all goes well and that Annie delivers safely and soon.

But even amid so much love and so much joy and so many blessings, the dark reality that we live in a very darkly broken world looms large in so many ways.  I see it well, but would go completely insane to focus or dwell on it.  And I really do mean that: completely insane.  I am, however, sane as sane can be to know NOT to focus on such things.  Still…scary stuff.

Part of what has kept me up this night is a very brief note from a very dear friend who is probably very much more ill than she would ever admit.  It renews a question raised in my mind last fall when her collegues were piecing together a story that involved years of silence on the subject — will I ever see her again at all, in this life or the next? (there has long been a question mark on the last point)

Forever is not merely a very long time, forever is forever — it means “always” or “never,” but “eventually” and “hopefully” and “someday” are just not part of the “forever” equation.

Is a chronic and progressive illness more than that is my question (one of so many questions).

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Thunderstorm viewed from the back side of Pine Mountain over the Lockwood Valley and Frazier Park, taken 30 SEP 2010

Storms loom in the distance.

I can feel the air changing, I can see the thunderheads building.

There is no peace in this.

Last night, before I went to bed I wrote:

“What I wish from life is not much, or shouldn’t be.  I wish for peace and stability enough that there may be room and provision for me to continue to exist in the world while I remain in the world.  I wish to love and serve God with everything I have while I am in the world.  There may be a problem with this, and it is making me ill.  May God’s favor and provision be with his humble servant, I have no answers.”

Because provision is the open question at this point.

I wrote more at-length to a few friends last night when I got home.  The subject line of that e-mail was: “Wishing for the kind of faith that would make anxiety attacks impossible.”

So much looms and so much is wrong, even on this bright and beautiful weekend filled with joy.  I am not focusing on the darkness, but neither am I ignoring it.

God help me, only he can fix this.

The intro to the backstory to Casting Crowns’ “Praise You In This Storm”:

The full song:

Life is hard, silence is hard, waiting is harder, God is still on the throne, and a word on friendship

Life is hard, silence is hard, waiting is harder, God is still on the throne, and a word on friendship

I tell myself I will have more time when __________.

Then I get sick again, and again, and again (mending, better, but not well).

Of course, if my laptop worked properly that would help.  Blogging from a fakey tablet keyboard is insanity as I can type about 60 WPM.

So much is swirling these days…

I got Annie’s due date wrong, clearly, so waiting for her pups.

Don’t even get me started on the roaches.

Up half the night every night from being sick.

Appointments…here, there, everywhere, but nowhere close.

Public transit here, there, everywhere else.

Kiddos…life with kiddos…staying out of the middle of little kid drama when someone is having a bad day.

Thinking…dreaming..writing…but not blogging.  There are some pieces of a person’s soul fit for the view of God and dearest friends only.  What comes down through the blog is the stuff distilled through God, friends, and prayer…nothing raw, nothing too personal.  I find it funny sometimes that people think I’m too free or too open.  I think those who have known me longest know I measure things out carefully, and rarely tell all.

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There have been some dark days lately, but there haven’t been a lot of conversations.  Conversations are what always make me think…and write.  Conversations, questions…maybe I’ll find something this week?  I’ve got a few things I poke at, half-written.  There aren’t enough people in my day-to-day life, few deep and meaningful conversations.  I wonder when the last time was that you — whoever you are — took very real time to take things beyond a mere “How are you?”/”Fine.” level.  A person can die of loneliness for being “How are you?”/”Fine.”  People won’t give you an answer they know you won’t take time to hear.

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Take the time to listen and to care.  Take the time to really be a friend — it really doesn’t take much.  Taking time to love is always time  worth taking.  I have a lot of friends who don’t have time to be my friends.  They love me, I love them…but even though I know it’s not the message they wish to send at all, the one that gets handed down by default in many cases is: “You are not worth my time.”  We are Americans, we keep ourselves irrationally and pointlessly busy.  I undertand this, I live here too, I see it all.  Still…I’ve worked with enough people at the end of their lives to know that no one regrets not being fully caught up on TV programs.  Life in this world is short, fleeting, precious, uncertain — life and time are a precious gift, don’t waste them.  Be intentional in your friendships.  Pick up the phone, send an e-mail, even just send a text.  If you’re thinking about someone pray for them and then send even a brief word.  If you’re “on my list” you know about this.  People notice when you truly care, and love and care are lethal to loneliness.

And yet probably no conversations today.  Today?  Taxes need to get finished.

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Hugs with the Skeffy Favorite 29 May 2011

But all in the back of my mind are thoughts of this little guy — Mr. Skeffington (“The Favorite”®) — quietly slipping from life, alone.  He’s about 6¼ years old, a real sweetheart, and a funny little guy.  He belongs to my sister, but lived with me for over a year.  I love him dearly, and yet soon he and his funny little voice and funny little face will be gone.

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Mr. Skeffington, July 4th weekend 2009

This is the sad part.

It is expected, but it doesn’t make it easier.  It does suck a lot of joy out of waiting for Annie’s pups though.

Sad day…hard week…but God is still on the throne.

Perfect storm, stormy night

Perfect storm, stormy night

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So my touch of a stupid cold has turned into pharyngitis, which I’m praying won’t turn into bronchitis.  Coughing up chunks of *magically disgusting* is not my favorite way to pass the time.

Monday was fifteen hours there and back to Ventura, Tuesday was twelve hours there and back to university.  Yesterday I decided to stay local and work on the new-to-me bike I picked up last week that will eventually be my pretty sweet ride.  It is amazing how what looked like “really clean” after removing a thick layer of dust an hour before sunset now looks “really dirty” in direct sunlight.  I’m the kind of person who *does it right* — not merely a quick wash, but scouring with 00 steel wool to get off the rust (employing borax as needed), and then a good synthetic car polish clearcoat over it all.

Yesterday I got the handlebars done, installed the new (very lovely!) synthetic leather grips, and installed a larger saddle that almost matches perfectly; the cupholder gave me fits, but the two new replacement reflectors were easy (the original owner pulled the originals off to install lights).  Didn’t have time to do the bell (KA-CHING!), but since I’m not going anywhere until I fix the wobbly back wheel, that doesn’t matter much.

The fender struts are going to be a nighmare (there really is no way to “rush” scrubbing rust with steel wool), and those are the worst because of how much I have to take apart to do it right.

Eventually this will get done and it will be a beautiful thing, but for now the “what’s clean” just makes everything else look that much more dirty.

And even though I tried to work in the shade, the UV index was crazy high and I ended up with sunstroke and sunburned.

I also, for various reasons, ended up with a screaming migraine such that I wasn’t sure I could make it home.

I did, but I passed the night in screaming pain, blind in my right eye, running a low-grade fever plus a sunburn…unable to sleep, tormented by the nightly battle to keep the bugs away, basically just wishing death and unable to focus or hold a thought in my head.  Is that dramatic?  No…there are some places of pain and illness that can take you to a place where that pain or illness is the only thing that can be processed.  A broken shoulder is certainly one, and migraines can sometimes be severe enough to be another.

I was there last night.

Still found enough energy for a few short messages to a couple dear friends.

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The night was mostly sleepless, but eventually the meds kicked in and I was granted the mercy of a few hours of the sleep I so desperately begged for.

For in the case of pain and suffering, restful sleep is a great mercy.

To be fair, I still feel like I was hit by a truck (just no longer like I was also dragged by one). I had much to do today, and I am supposed to watch all three kids tomorrow (ages 5, 3½, and 2). I’ve canceled physical therapy to be quiet and rest (I’m not good at this).

I’ve been so constantly ill and recovering for so many months, I honestly thought I was “safe” and would stay well this time. It’s a hard thing to wonder when this season will pass, and how long it will take to truly fully recover enough to face the rigors of a life spent doing “normal” things — working, family, enjoying life…living. It’s hard to feel left behind. It was especially hard to trek out to university on Tuesday, to be in that place, to know I have every right to be there — and someday I will — but also know (and feel) how far this beautiful place was from my own present-tense reality.
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So much of my own journey always makes me think of Rudy: click here for the best link I could find for the conversation with Fr. Cavanaugh when Rudy first arrives in South Bend.

It’s hard to know that what you want is also where you are supposed to be, but that for some reason the timing is wrong. God? I’m still here, you’re still here…but where? I have no answers, though I remember all the weeping for joy…and then for sorrow. It’s a lot to deal with, especially with zero real prospects of what to do with myself until the timing is right.

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Double rainbow near Pine Mountain Club, Kern County, CA. Taken 30 September 2010.

Today I’m just too tired to care.

I’ve been reading a lot in recent months, and much on suffering. I think there really is something to the idea that chronic illness can bring a person closer to Christ. Now, certainly, there are sometimes some pretty wild explanations given for that, and the motives for that bring us to that place are sometimes selfish-from-desperation, but close is close. It’s easy to gloss over the “encounter” gospel accounts, but the longer I live, the more people I meet who have lives that perfectly square with some of the darkly broken lives in the gospel accounts (knowing the woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years — watching how that is destroying her life — is hardest).

My own life, spirit, and health are broken in many ways, but through that I can see (with a very different view) the deeper truth of the hope — a desperate hope — of all who sought this man, Jesus.

There is great humility required to ask for mercy.

There is great faith required to receive it.

Should I spill my secret that some of the best and most wise things I say or write in personal correspondence are not of myself but are inspired? It’s true, and I rarely remember any of it once I enter into a deeply prayerful place while writing. Often the words which touch others deeply were some small aside thing on the way to a greater point. Don’t think that God doesn’t hear our prayers, because he does. It is the absolute weirdest thing in the world to be used by God to answer someone else’s prayer, not know you’re doing it, and then be told later about some inspiring thing you never remember saying or writing. I have been keeping copies of my own correspondence for years, and to have a reference for so much I never remember writing is part of the reason why.
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One of these things came up on Monday, when I was visiting with a friend in my day’s travels. She said that words of mine — spoken or written to her in a time when she was in the midst of a very dark time and so was I — that really stuck with her were: “Life is beautiful.”

I never remember saying or writing this, but God-be-praised because it is the truth of his glory. Yes, we discussed it: that life is beautiful, life is always beautiful…but sometimes you have to look really, really, really hard to find that. I hold that life is only worth living if you can find God in all things. But I’ll also be the first to admit that there is a level of pain and suffering where I am so distracted and consumed by the pain that God is impossible to find.

That doesn’t mean he’s not there, it just means our focus is distracted in a way such that we cannot find him: that which obstructs our view to God by no means removes God from our reality, it merely removes God from our limited perception of apparent reality.

There is a difference, and the difference is a huge one.

There is the greatest hope that can be hoped in the promise of that difference.

Trying to “be still”

Trying to “be still”

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One early memory verse in my Christian life was: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I cannot underscore enough how much I am totally dismal at “be still.”  And yet?  I have been sick four times in the past three-and-a-half months, plus I was stuck in bed being very quiet for a full month with a broken shoulder that is still mending.  One dear friend once said something to the effect that I live life to the fullest better than anyone else she knows.  I love life, and I love life from having faced death so often for so long.  I love God, and I live to serve him with gratitude, love, compassion, creativity, imagination…and dynamic (fiercely dynamic) energy.  Soli Deo Gloria are great words to live by and to build life on.  Sometimes I serve quietly, but I’m nothing if not a force of nature (even if that force of nature manifests as a presence of peace).

All of which — for good or for ill (probably ill) — leads me to draw lines and equate my utility with my worth.  Thus, because I’ve spent better than two-thirds of 2013 stuck in bed?  I’m going nuts.

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, taken 12 MAR 2013, Los Angeles, California

I was actually supposed to begin my upper-division requirements for a degree in Theological Studies (to finish undergrad to prep for seminary) at an amazing (and prestigious) university in Los Angeles a couple of months ago — but, of course, the accident messed up everything, and unless I can find a cosigner for the private loans to cover living expenses (almost everything else is covered) I’ll be stuck out of school (but perpetually knocking on that door) for years until I can build enough credit to qualify for loans myself.  This is the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me, and feels like absolute failure given how many doors I watched God swing wide to bring me to that place.  I’m not giving up, but I can’t fix this.

I read, I write, I try to keep in-touch.  I pray, I encourage.  I do what I can from afar.  It is really hard to feel “useful” or “needed” with one arm, or when helping me requires so much from those I love.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

Cold weather, poor health, limited funds for “fun” transportation has kept me off the Metro and home more than out in the world, but I can’t help but think that every day I don’t get out of bed or don’t walk out my door is a day wasted for the Lord’s service, that somehow I am missing divine appointments by cutting myself off from humanity.  There is so much need and so many broken people in the city…surely  even the smallest kindness to acknowledge the forgotten and marginalized makes a difference in the balance of eternity for all involved — what can I say about the days I keep my bright smile indoors?

All I have is my words, are my words enough?

So this week it is the flu…and I’ve cleared my schedule and quarantined myself from friends, relatives, church family until at least next Wednesday.  My immunity at this point is shot to hell, and all I can do is “be”…and be quiet…and pray…and read.  In lucid moments I write.  I barely sleep.  I’ve been drowning myself in juice and Vitamin C in a desperate attempt to flush my ravaged system and clear my head.  I honestly don’t remember the last time an illness hit me so hard instantaneously.  I joke that when I am sick I’m a “germ factory,” but this is “germ factory” on the level of a germ warfare machine (impressive, but to no good end!).

Enough is enough.

I was blessed for a season to be called as a hospice volunteer to visit hospice patients (as I have faced death I do not fear it, so hospice is actually a very good fit for me in a lot of ways).  My longest-lived patient had severe dementia and congestive heart failure — he was dying by inches, and he was dying by inches nearly alone.  I remember one of his more lucid afternoons he commented how hard it was to be a blob.

I’m not a blob, but I definitely have days when I feel like one.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I have a window, a window that overlooks an alley and the street.  There is an auto body shop across the street.  People pass, children pass, dogs pass, cars and trucks pass.  I’ve memorized the trees and rejoice when pigeons fly close.  I have the guinea pigs.  Most days this is my world, confined to a 7’×9′ store room with no TV, no radio, no movies…just books and the internet…and God…and my thoughts.

The husband of someone I know from church asked me last Sunday how in the world I know so much [about the Bible and theology], did I study it at university?  I blurted out what is — basically — the truth: that I’ve spent much of my life in solitary confinement reading and writing too much.

I’m there again.  If St. Val wasn’t eccentric enough to begin with, she’s certainly moreso now.

So much is swirling about what to do with myself, with my life, how to manage, how to get by, what’s next…

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I only wish I knew…but for now the only thing in the world I can do?

Be…still…