Clifford, The Big Red Truck

The big white van, a.k.a. Big Bertha a.k.a. airport limo, was traded in for a red truck, a.k.a. Clifford. As more of our children fan out to put their own dents in the world, ours is shrinking. I remember when my mom had to learn how to cook for less. The crockpot was downsized to a pot. What a bummer. Crock was one of my favorite meals. Barbara continues to adjust to only five kids at home. Six, including me.

            Anyway, my plan was to get a pickup and a dog of my own and cruise around town really slow. One of my favorite movies is Grand Torino. In it Clint Eastwood has an old Ford F-150 and a dog. Strangely, the guy I buy autos from looks like a young Eastwood. “Do you feel lucky, punk?” he would say as he showed me around the used car lot. Not really.

            While peaceful transfers of power are fresh on our skulls, my transport of power shifted down to an extended cab where my 18 year old, 6’5” son, looks like “Elf” squeezing into the back seat. I have to admit that new things don’t carry the excitement they used to. Must be over time our sensors get a bit worn out. New doesn’t satisfy like it used to. I’ve talked to my peers and find they carry the same attitude.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to have a red truck. The fact is, the thrill isn’t the same as getting a red Radio-flyer wagon as a pre-pubescent, skinned kneed boy. Why not? I mean, where have all the flowers gone, long time passing? Have I become one of the walking dead? Is youth really wasted on the young? Is desire thrown into the glove compartment?

            Let’s get more dumpy, shall we? Every now and again I think of all the packages I’ve set on porches. The next day, there was empty boxes set out. I’ve been at it for over thirty years now. I’ll wager that much of what was in those long ago deliveries are now in the trash bins of the world. At the least, Goodwill is cranking out a living from all the material girls…and boys.

            Is there a point, or poignancy? Clifford gets me from point A to point B. Yesterday I threw the remnants of a new wood floor in the bed of the pickup among many other dilapidated items to haul to the transfer station. I look forward to going for drives with my honey. There’s something about seeing a couple in a pickup truck that spreads a smile across my face.   

Honestly, Clifford is the object of my affection for now. It’ll wear off soon enough. That’s okay. Things are to be appreciated, taken care of, utilized, etc. It’s a used truck and it is designed that way…to be used, not as an object of idol worship. Except maybe when I’m idling at a light next to another truck hoping they’re envying me rather than the other way around. Just joshing…kinda.

            Keep on truckin’ ya’ll!

Note: Not me in picture above…I wasn’t that cute.

Verse for 2021: “Come unto Me…” Jesus

Hindsight

We’re about to look over our shoulders and attempt to frame a year which seemed like a decade. The overabundance of information has dulled its own edges. We’re left scratching our heads wondering where the truth lies. Truth lies. Hmmm.

            I really want to write with the goal of resolution. You know, tie up 2020 with a nice bow and archive it in the attic. When we hit a deer, square on, in the early hours of this disheveled year, I should have known… I shy away from giving credit to omens or karma, but we all here revert sometimes to how our year began with a synchronicity of headlights, eyes, and a doe flying over our car like a reindeer.

            A yearly update used to roll off my fingers. Well, almost yearly anyway. One thing I’ve come to grips with is the consistency of my inconsistence. This year, being one in millions, and millions, and millions, I think I’ll try to hit some bullet points–if there are any bullets left, that is.

            I don’t need to write about masks, except to say when I find them in parking lots or by the side of the road, we’ve all been wearing them out (I mean that in the broadest sense imaginable.). Social distance? May I say, we’re still going the distance? Throw in politics, protests, lockdowns, economic duress, violence, and the static electricity of media, and voila! A goulash full of goo.

            Stop! Geez Jer, you’re always holding a half empty glass of prune juice. I’m actually considering a prune juice regimen. Do they make prude juice too? Wait. What?

            Anyhow, we’ve attempted to put the fun back in our dysfunction around here, with much success. I began with laughing at myself, which is where all humor is better off birthed. Bent souls all are we with creased personalities, depending on which fold comes into view, we see to it forgiveness or gratitude is applied.  

Our family is like a stew, thick and rich with history. When everyone brings it home for the holidays, it’s like adding water. A broth gives the dysfunction freedom to float around in the soup of us. We had such a wonderful Christmas knowing this is our family, birthed, adopted, and simmered together to warm us all. What a God given grace and mercy.

            As we headed toward winter, hospice showed up. 2020 was finding it hard to breathe, think, and hang on. Let’s say there is no fun in funeral. One friend’s grandmother quietly passed away. Then my sister Ellen lost her fight with dementia. Then another friend lost his son through brain cancer.

Death is not proud, and this year, humility was summoned time and again. Our faith was needed, and the Object of it was found faithful. God holds our grief and questions. Tensions get our attention if we make space to ponder and pray over them. I’ll have to admit making space isn’t always my first choice. Who wants to feel pain and loss? Yet, whatcha gonna do, stuff or ignore it through a plethora of escape modules? Yeah, sometimes.

Then there’s the two of us. Barbara and me, navigating this year closer than ever. We always discuss about being on the same page and what that looks like. We admit our differences–more as time passes. Barbara, boots on the ground, verbal processor, queen of diplomacy, and observer of the wide array of the world’s offerings. Me? Well, I continue to internally ponder, ten feet off the ground, and twenty paces away. My non-verbal processor looks for ways to button up thoughts, and find that the button fell off in the wash. Kinda like 2020.

I gotta say though, we are more we than we ever were. (Can I buy a vowel?)  I’m super thankful for all the grace God has dumped on us. Mercy too. Oh, how we need both! Our goal is to finish well, and grow until our time is up. I love her deeply.

A few more words to wrap up, button up, and then buckle up, because you never know when a deer might make a run for it.

Can I say it now?

“Hindsight is 2020.”

Cliché perfecto.

Listen, as we drive further into 2021, if we make space for it, our rearview mirror will eventually frame the most poignant events.

I pray the good, the true, and the beautiful will manifest in all our lives. I hope the two greatest commandments will be housed in our hearts this year… Love God, and love our neighbor.

Happy New Year!

My verse of the year: “Come unto me…” Jesus  Matthew 11:28

Green, Grass, Outdoor, Nature, Trees

Laying Down Markers

We’ve all done it,

we’ve lain down markers.

We can’t remember everything,

so we recall some things

over and over until

a cairn is placed on our

memory like a now moment

saturated with eternity.

*

She had been gone a while.

I was a punk kid with

a short sleeved sweatshirt.

I saw my Ellen

asleep on the couch;

jean jacket, bell bottom

denims; her lower lip

adrift from the upper.

*

I dropped any hesitance

to interrupt her dreams.

I leapt like a flying squirrel,

draping my body over hers.

No shame. Flawless delight,

and tears bursting over her

like watering an arid absence.

We were we.

*

Markers, like paperweights,

holding down vignettes

that could blow away

with a gust of dementia.

Cairns set like stepping

stones to cross our

stream of semi-consciousness.

The gravity of grace.

*

Honoring the hippy of the long gray hair; my sister Ellen who passed away last weekend from complications of dementia

Sunday Psalm 11/29/2020

I watched the frost efface

as the sun rolled out

like a resurrection.

There is more shine through

the disrobed maples.

Even the burning bush

flamed out, its fires

gathered and sucked

from the curb.

There is a settling into

winter like a turning dog

on his bed.

We sense the withdrawal,

of warmth, of life,

of precious things.

We’re thankful to have been,

we pray to be,

to lean into winter

so spring will eventually

catch our fall.

Thanksgiving 2020 Thoughts

“In everything give thanks.” The Bible

            Everything? No caveats? Splain me Lucy, please…and thank you. Does this 2020 year opt us out of the verse above?

I certainly don’t want to change this holiday to Thanklessgiving. The verse came way before the last Thursday of November was christened a national day of turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and the Detroit Lions. (Raise your hand if you’re really thankful for the Lions.)

“In everything give thanks.”

Does the last ten months provide the perfect-vision-perspective? I think that maybe we have become short-sighted when it comes to hindsight…I know I have. One year? I certainly hope we can find more context than that. In the history of the world, a year is like a penny in an ocean of quarters. Decent context is hard to find these days. A tweet is worth a thousand words. A screen shot is seen around the world. There are not enough soundbites to satiate a soul.

“In everything give thanks.”

What does everything mean anyway? I suspect it might mean everything. Sounds mean. I mean, how the heck does every blinking thing deserve our gratitude? Deserve? Everything requires a grateful response. Now that’s humbling, but not impossible. I don’t think God would ask of us the impossible, if I may be so bold. God is Love, and could be Love says this is the way, walk ye in it.

I suppose we have the option of being all binary about it. Either you’re grateful or you’re not. Oh, if it were that simple. The verse says “In everything give thanks” not “In everything be an ingrate.” God knows.

Maybe it’s because I’m an older, more weathered human. If all of us are honest, the losses are piling up as we live on. 2020 isn’t an exception, it’s a proof of historical precedence. As one author I read has said, “We’re living in a gnarly world.” I might add, we were born into a gnarly world. We bear an entry wound, and certainly will leave an exit wound.

“In everything give thanks.”

I’m smiling as I read what I’ve written thus far. Come on, Jer, get to a point. You’re such a Debbie downer. (Sorry to all the Debbie’s out there.)

This day, Thanksgiving 2020, there is possibility. If God says give thanks, then by golly I will. I’ll start by thanking God for you! I thank God for family. I thank God for the gift of life! Oh, so much more!

You fill in the blanks…

“I’m thankful for ________.”

Prayer:

“Lord, thank you for a pause in life to be more intentional in our gratitude, even when it’s hard. Amen.”

Hugs!

Jesus Wept

This was the writing prompt I found:

In order to grow, I feel I need to…

            Cry.

            That’s all. Simple. I’d John 11:35 it. Jesus didn’t cry though. He wept according to some versions of biblical text. One short sentence. Two words. Jesus wept. Period. Full stop.

In order to grow, I feel I need to…

            Weep.  

            Weeping seems like more of a holistic release. A slow burn. Letting the tears fall where they may. Instead of blood-letting—tear letting, as it were. Slit those ducts open and let it rip.

            Fill in the blank: _______ wept.

            I used to cry quite a bit, back in the day, before pain, hurt, and loss weren’t thrown into an everlasting pyre and minimized as “life is difficult”– nothing to feel here. What the… How in the world?

“Have a heart,” they say.

“Do I have a heart?” I ask.

My as-sigh-nment this week from my counselor is to sit with the pain. What pain? Which pain? I’ve been to pain and back many times. Haven’t you?

Wait.

Sit.

Jerry, sling your memories over your shoulder as best you know how. Gather up your humanity and come down to the river. Be brave and vulnerable. I’ll help you unpack it. You know how people say “I laughed until I cried.” It works both ways, you know. You’ve said over the years “tears lubricate the soul”. You’ve stopped taking your own medicine. Your heart is broken, but not broken open. I Am a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. I’ll sit with you by the river as long as it takes. I want to replace the stony parts of your heart and give you a heart of flesh. Do you want a heart like that?  

  

“He leads me beside still waters and restores my soul.” Psalm 23

  

Going and Coming

Never-never mind

the wherewithal.

The acuity wanes,

searching soul-level

perceptions.

Blank stares burning

focal points down.

Unfinished sentences

atrophy further

into the silence.

Their memories left

for us to curate.

We place warm dignity

over the frontal lobes.

Our prayers shape

around a long farewell.

We know them,

and they knew us.

Let us come as close

as we can.

For Ellen, Nathanial, and Oma and all who love them.

“God, my shepherd!

I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner

right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head;

Your beauty and love chase after me

every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God

for the rest of my life.”

Psalm 23 The Message

For Rest

The other night, after my face was warm from the glow of the T.V. I took Apollo for a roundabout. Dog and human under a canopy of a starry starry night. No earbuds. No screen. Simply deep space and fire hydrants to bounce contemplations from twinkle twinkle to tinkle tinkle.

The next morning no word from the burning bush, so I walked to the other one by the garage. The red flamed leafs buffered a cool breeze, but offered not even a whisper. The leaves still spoke though. Color, loud and clear. “Red is our flame,” They said. “Don’t try to extinguish us. We will surrender soon. We will lay ourselves down.”

Then I sat bare foot on the back deck, early, coffee and a small stack of books. Each time the wind picked up the crimson maple leaves fell down. My mind quieted enough so I could feel my heart.

“You are never a great man when you have more mind than heart.” Beauchene

Why is nature so nurturing sometimes? Mother Nature–so apropos I suppose. Like a few evenings ago when we piled into the car for a drive. After a while our breathing found a rhythm. The beauty, deer, and cozy houses dotting the countryside relaxed our shoulders. We got out in it and were the better for it.

I’ll wager that if Jesus showed up and found us overthinking, worrying, and grasping for some sense of control in a schizoid world, he might send us out. I remember my mom doing that very thing, maybe for her own sanity, but nevertheless pushing us out into infinite air to breathe.

The order of the creation story is God saved the best for last. Us. Humans. There was a lot of creating going on before we arrived on the scene. God spoke and bam, out of chaos, order. Out of darkness, light. So much lush, sensual appropriations. It was a set-up–for us.

This weekend I walked nine miles through a forest full of trees. My legs were complaining loudly at the end, but my heart thanked me. Nine men and a cream colored lab hiked the Jordan Valley Trail in the northern Lower Peninsula on a crisp autumn day. The trail’s personality bore resemblance to a thirty-something—just enough weathered skin to settle in, but a passion for what’s next. There were so many metaphors laying around like dead trees. The path, a single rut, wound up, down, and around like a vein, carrying us like platelets as our chests felt both heart and lungs react. Air flow. Blood flow.

We’d ascend to ridges to step along the spine of foothill-like amalgamations, then descend to find the Jordan River meandering, chit-chatting over rocks and weaving through fallen debris.

If a tree falls in the forest… If a rivers babbles in its crevices…? Does anybody hear?

 Again, my heart searched for a baseline—a resting rate. I left much behind for a few days, we all did, and some of it oozed out over the campfire that night, seasoned with a ballad-singing, guitar-playing soul.

The forest was like a bold lettered clarion call to not loose heart. The trees, both fallen and upright whispered, “We’ve been waiting for you. We’re here for rest. We grow and fall just like you. We understand.”

The river had something to say as well. “Eternity is in your heart, like my open-ended flow.”

I know it was really God speaking like a creative via a brush stroke or the rhythm of pedantic pentameter.

“I Am, you know, and here you go. Get out into My gallery, and I will give you rest… Forest.”

Sunday Psalm

With each meandering breeze,

crimson leaves dripped

from the melting maple.

A crowd of color is

forming beneath.

A circular red spread

like a ring, humble,

thankful embers of redemption.

I’ll gather them up

eventually, but for now

I pray for soft kisses

of wind on each

falling flame.  

The Hippie of the Long Gray Hair

On my way into the store for dog food and sour cream I stopped and took in the last call of the sun. You know, when the magnifying glass of the horizon burnishes the great circle before it drops below the surface. A man was trying to capture the image with his phone a few spaces over. Futile. I thought of Elton John.

“Don’t let the sun go down on me.”

Isn’t it funny how the greatest metaphors are so easily dismissed, or just missed? Lately, when the sun is a bit weary and heads under the covers, I think of my sister Ellen (The oldest hippie I know.). She sundowns every evening. Jack, her husband, texts me updates a few times a day. More like downdates after supper. Sundowning is a term attached to people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Sundowning turns my sister from forgetful half sentences (Of which no two fragmental sentences cohere.) to an obstinate curmudgeon. Curmudgeoness?

When dementia began defacing Ellen’s brain at a more rapid pace earlier this year, it was time to get more help.

“Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody!”

Her kids, my siblings, gave Jack some respite. Needless to say it’s a lotta work to manage a person who can no longer manage. Applause and thanks go out to all!

So, I found myself in the same living room that held my mother sitting in a lazy boy wondering who I was. It’s been almost ten years ago. The other day I stopped by to visit Ellen and sat across from her on the same couch. She says I’m still her boy. I’ll put that in my pocket!

Don’t cry Mare, this was your idea!

The crazy thing about this dementia is the teeter-totter aspect of it. Like my other sister (Mare) said it’s like Ellen doesn’t just become like a little child. In fact, as I’ve observed, a stutter step of doing life took over. Stubborn and snarky. Frustrated and fun. Up, then down. Jack texts me often…”She’s back!” As we come and go, she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.

“I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.”

Ellen, the hippie of the long gray hair. Those who love her pluck the petals of she loves me, she loves me not. Mostly, Jack wonders what petal is it today, this hour, this moment?

“Love, love me do. You know I love you.”

For now, we who know Ellen hold on to her memory for her. I’ll remember for her the time I jumped on her like a flying squirrel after a long absence. I was just a kid, but the memory is as fresh as dew. Like I said somewhere else, round and round her memory goes, but this time it spins out of control. The centrifugal force peels her fingers off the stories which once were milestones of her identity. We do what we can but still feel…

“helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still calling her Ellen, we all are, for good reason. Her spirit, soul, and body are still spouting her humanity. It’s her mind that has wandered off because her brain keeps misfiring. C.S. Lewis once stated “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We happen to have a body.” I wonder if God sent most of her mind on ahead to scope out heaven and left little half thoughts with us to try to decipher. Easy there Jer.

“It’s a long and winding road to your heart.”

The other day I walked in, grabbed the reaching tool thingy, you know, the one with the trigger you pull, and on the other end it clasps things you can’t get at. Anyway, Ellen was wearing her winter hat with the ball on top. She kinda looked like a cone-head. I grabbed the ball with the tool and lifted up the hat to check under the hood as it were. She smiled. I smiled back. Such a simple thing. Showing teeth. Curling the mouth. Revealing dimples. I’m sure Jack would tell you it’s the little things that hot-wire hope in the midst of hopelessness. Small gifts.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, Bra.”

I don’t know what a bra has to do with it, but life is going on, even in the small significant world of Ellen and Jack and attendants. I believe a Big God sees what’s going on there. Ever present, maybe a bit more present when worship music fills their little living room. God isn’t watching from a distance.

Back to the sundown metaphor and how it reminds me of Ellen. How about this? The sun can’t set without getting up there first. Up. Down. Just like the hippie of the long gray hair. Life.

Sure,

“Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away.”

But,

“Here comes the sun, do and do do.”

This has become a song that reminds me of Jack and Ellen