Thursday, June 13, 2019

Road Tripping Baja

The Mexican Federal Highway 1, was completed in 1973. Google maps claims that’s twenty-one hours of driving to La Paz (click on the ‘family road trip’ icon and that time doubles). Their marriage tenuous, my parents seized on the idea of going south through Baja. I was thirteen, my sister eleven. Was this road trip borne out of an article in Westways magazine? An aching hope that peninsular beaches would wash away present pain? For the kids? Adventure called; Baja beckoned.

A seed of the wild was at work in my folks. Evident in each parent when separately seen. Mom took us to the mountains. Dad played with photography. Somewhere in them, between them, this connection. A seed stifled.

An album in a box contains black and white photos from that trip. Taken with my Brownie camera; mom, dad, sis, a statue celebrating the 28th Parallel. I have few memories of that trip. Fighting to stay awake---the rocking of the car lulling me to sleep. Watching the scenery in-between fights with my sister. Many bathroom stops—mom was taking a diuretic. Pemex gasoline—that’s funny when you’re thirteen. Roadside shrines, and ribs at Senor Frogs. I can’t say what the trip stirred in my parents. Still a portal opened, a seed planted. 

Is this hankering for road trips my nature? The same DNA driving my parents to drive? That same DNA motivating my grandfather to flee Russia—the most grandiose of road trips. Or was I nurtured by highway? Solid and safe the car takes care of all my needs.  Transporting me to a place where hope is just in the distance. A seed takes hold.

I've seen countless backroads since then. Cresting hills and plummets into washes. Hours in the cab with close friends. Honeymoon with the wife. Weeks in the summer with the daughter checking out ‘America’s best ideas.’ Every October and Summer seeking adventure. Other people’s stories. Vistas and visions of beauty around every turn. Hope just beyond the horizon. A seed blooms. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

But I Own A Mr. Coffee

Been thinking about status and stuff lately….

“Nope,” I said, shaking head;
Don’t have a Moen, or an Axor for my sink,
Counters not Formica, It’s granite, I think.
Willamette, Santa Rosa, Napa, Malbec?
Second shelf; on sale, I just read the label on the back.
Say what? I don’t know what ‘expendable’ means,
But I own a Mr. Coffee to grind up my beans.

"Yup, I agree,"
I’m working blue collar with a bachelor’s degree---
My nights aren’t always off nor weekends always free.
Vacations booked with triple A; Hotels dot com for beds;
Flying economy, ‘Oh the people next to me!’
Using our shoulders for their heads.
Don’t stay in a five-star, don’t eat Michelin,
There’s a patio view from the room we are in.
Glory! We've been able to go places (you know the beans they grow),
Kona, Antigua, Andhra Pradesh,
Mr. Coffee brews them delightfully fresh.

“I’ve made more…,”
Director, boss, manager of store;
Ego likes the title, soul its’ freedom more.
Oh contentment; staying in my lane is hard,
Competing with the Joneses jacks the credit card.
I step back, sigh, laugh—pursuit of status is a gyp,
End of the day we all end up in a crypt.
By some standards I don’t have much,
A kid, wife and God who loves me,
And I own a Mr. Coffee!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Waiting In The Parenthesis

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

“You are silence and song, you are plain as the day, but you have hidden your face--For how long? How long?” ---Andrew Peterson, The Reckoning

It’s been a year of waiting. Waiting for mom’s healthy return from the hospital. The return home in hospice.  Hospice by its definition is a waiting. The final ‘home-free’. Then a parenthesis.

Open-parenthesis; the memorial service. Margaret’s’ waiting is over. Now the children wait. Our son married in March. The wedding is both an end to waiting and the beginning of a process of marriage. Returning home, the waiting continues.

The house is up for sale. We must move. Searching for a rental. We Zillow countless houses, make calls to realtors, open-houses after work. Hoping to find the right one; making an offer, waiting for acceptance. In all the waiting there is tension.

The wife is looking for work. They want her for interviews. Anxiously she pursues the process. Again the waiting. The tension. We want the waiting to end. But what if she doesn’t get the job?  What if we don’t find a house? Pressure is walking through the process. Hope is that the outcome will satisfy.

Easter is a time of waiting. We taste the disciples last week with Jesus. This “walking with’ as we celebrate passion. Holding on while hosannas rattle windows and high-priests. The confusion of that first communion; Roman soldiers, kangaroo court, crucifixion. Taut and heart wrenching the same question asked; the same cry ascends, “How long?” 

The resurrection doesn’t end our longing. It affirms the answer. In the parenthesis we live as aliens aching for a place to settle. We all seek security. Afflicted and needy we want the pain to stop. The resurrection assures us we will be satisfied. There will be a final celebration, final homecoming, final reunion. The waiting will be over.  Close parenthesis.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Wisdom For Taking The Next Step

Many a questioning, many a fear,

Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

My brother-in-law is in crisis. Flying in to sit with his mom in hospice. Seeking space from his impending divorce and dying dreams. Sharing with him thrusts memory back to my own divorce and the dying of my parents. The question he asks: What to do next? The short answer—do the next thing. The next right thing, though, doesn’t happen in vacuum.

Knowing the next thing to do requires a framework. In pain, with raging emotion ranging down-up-and down again, clear thinking is hard work. In the anger I felt at my wife for forcing me out of the house, for breaking trust, I could have made terrible decisions. Framework saved me. I’d cultivated a handful of deep male relationships. I had vowed to live in biblical context; to seek peace, hope and joy. Framework is crucial.

Process and planning aid in the process. Some days “doing the next thing” meant getting out of bed and going to work. I wanted to roll into a ball or spend the day brain dead with eyes on a screen. Mercifully windows of peace and sobriety would open up for hours or even for days. Those are good times to translate framework into planning. However you best do it; excel spreadsheet, pen and paper, text messages whatever works; do it!  What are the next steps necessary to get a job?  What can I do to communicate commitment to my loved ones. Do I need to (figuratively) take an axe to anything (this question is best asked in a sober, peace filled frame of mind). Taking this step may shorten the periods of despair. 

Let people speak into your life. This requires humility. Telling them to take a hike negates this step. Go back to step 1. Not everyone gets to give counsel.  Only those you trust.  Those friends and professionals you’ve given access to your soul and guts. Listen. Process. 

Gaining traction in crisis requires work, fortitude, perseverance. Doing the next right thing is not easy. We all know that soul that took short-term shots without looking at the big picture; no framework, no process, no community. The ship-wrecks, train-wrecks, the Breaking Bad. Coming through victorious requires more but starts simply: do the next thing. 

Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Numbers Of Our Days

The numbers are constant. Twenty-some thousand white blood count. Eight o’clock phone call from the nurse’s station. Another delay. When it looked like coming home was an option. Pills at four-hour and twelve-hour intervals, Room 432, Stage 3 to stage 4. Phone call on top of phone call. Souls turn bitter that marinate in this. Being steeped in friendships leads to thanksgiving.

Three of us huddle together after church.  These two friends voice prayer for my wife and her mom to a God that is triune. One by one friends text. They drop by. Those inside the inner circle give permission to call them anytime; to scream, to ramble, to question, to complain, to be…Trying to count them, the sum of caring people surprises me.

“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.” The Psalmists’ cry is that we learn to be wise with our days. A lifetime of 24-hour days. Hospital stays and every trial seem an interruption. They are not. They’re part of the whole. It’s not a giving up or a giving in. It’s a working out, sorting out, hanging in; “And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Kenosis, Christmas and Hope

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself…”

Kenosis is the Greek term.  It means Christ emptied himself of divine attributes in becoming human. Clash of kingdoms. Spirit puts on flesh. The Christmas gospel captures hearts because of this.  Stories of humans making spiritual decisions. In spite of circumstance.  Magi setting personal lives on the shelf in response to the quiet shout of the Heavens and the words of a prophet. Joseph and Mary strike out for Jerusalem as a couple---a pregnant couple putting trust in angel words and First Testament writing over reputation. A desperate despot who thinks the writings may be true…whoa to the two-year olds.  In the midst—grace, peace, forgiveness. Which is why I find such hope in the Christmas story.

We trust in a coming king and a present God. Still normal life looks, well, normal. Water heaters still go out on Christmas.  Governments seem at best to burden the governed.  At worse they persecute them.  In early December Chinese police detained Pastor Wang Yi. “As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission,” Wang wrote. “Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.”

There is another world.  A risen king. We try live in that way; crucified with Christ living as Christ.  We hold fast to Bible word; “all things work together for good, It is He sits above the circle of the earth, He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless…” This Christmas, we encounter normal, joyful or dismal.  Still may we find hope.  For the things we see may not be the way they truly are. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Waiting Room

In wheelchair he sits and reads the list
Of medications he takes;
Should Prednisone be listed because he only
Took it four days?
His wife, caregiver, or both sits beside
Him trying to pronounce each prescription.

She sits taut and ridged like the
Words she speaks;
Germanic or Swedish some
Language that’s hardly romantic.
Her son, definitely her son, sits beside her
Affirming roadblocks for each new drug.

A young woman sits there by the window holding
Her phone and talking;
She’s alone except for the voice on the phone
And the company of a cough.
She doesn’t seem to fit with the others though
She shares a sense of the same despair.

I sit and watch them all as they wait for the nurse
To call their name;
Wondering if this waiting is better because
It’s a first world waiting.
Bound to the others by common infirmity still
I bounce and dance out into the rain.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Time For Listening

“You reached out to touch me, I said oh no, it's too true,You and me, we know too much…” Mark Heard
A time for silence, a time for listening. A bunch of deciding between. Quiet when we should be loud. Turning up the wrong voices. Turning off the quiet ones. Some sounds are overwhelming. Shattering glass and gunfire throw off two-stepping at the Borderline. Sirens in the Sierra and Santa Monicas. Coming on the heels of mid-term elections and time change. Many voices; devastating.

Mine should be a loud voice; singing a song of thanksgiving. Hugging those close. Serving the ones with devastating stories to tell—we all have a story to tell. Whispering life to those with ears to hear. Turning backs to dark, hurtful (“hurt people hurt people”) voices; like heroes covering others in that country bar. We cover our ears.

We whoosh through life. Flesh says shut self into soundproof shell. Keep it out, keep them out. Humanity says fling open the windows. Swoosh; wind blows in, life in, air in, breathe in. The wind blows too strong some days.

The listening is important. The cross calls me to hear the cries of the world I live in. To help lift burdens; by listening or carrying. The cacophony is likely to burden. High pitched tension the norm. I must listen to my soul. Rest as I must. Too often I want escape and insulation. Jesus’ example fleshes out this tension. Daily serving, teaching, living. To calibrate he climbed mountains---to hear from his Father. May I know when to lean in, when to lean out, and how to listen throughout.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

One Must Have A Mind Of Desert

One must have a mind of desert
To delight in gale and dry heat of day giving way to
Cold brittle nights forcing stars awake from under their blankets

Waking the coyotes who dig for water that
Surfaces for Bighorn sheep and Cottontails,
Water that San Andreas fault and fissures force into springs,

Hot saunas, cool oasis flowing through aeolian dirt that
The permanent shelled turtle thrives in though always sifting,
Like the wind always blowing dust, barely bringing wild rain

Pounding rapidly, soaking soil that can’t grasp precipitate but
Creosote, Cholla and Ocotillo, deep rooted, thick skinned,
Grab hold of moisture and fight to hold tight until Spring

Loosens calloused fingers, rough, brittle, from cracks grow
Fairy Duster and Paintbrush; polychromatic on stark backdrop
They make their stand; dig in for one more season.

---Inspired by the poem, The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens and by prompts on writing poems at

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ninety Nine

A desolate drive,
Not desert,
Farm after farm,
Occasional tree,
Two hours in,
Choking smell of cow.

Sister studied there,
Rural school,
Miles from home,
Chasing art and wine,
Five years in,
Fleeing parents’ grasp.

Truck stops and fast food,
Each off-ramp,
Bathrooms aplenty,
Billboards boast lawyers,
Eight eight eight,
Marring the landscape.

Dinuba Reedley,
Nuts, raisins,
Short stretch to sis,
Where’s the Kings river?
One short hop,
Sweet time with sibling.

A regal river,
Time changes all,
Images remain,
Fifty years in,
Cherished moments still.