Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't Cry For Me, Argentina


Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina played softly in the background. It seemed like every time I turned on the radio the song was playing. It must have been a warning I didn't pay close enough attention to. I took a deep breath, swallowed my initial response to my husband's announcement and replied with a lot less emotion than I felt. 

Argentina? It’s only been a year since we moved to Arizona.”

“I know, but I’ve been doing some research, and a lot of retirees are moving out of the country for economic reasons. Countries, like Argentina, are less expensive to live in than the US, and right now the peso is running three to one – US dollars. We would have three times the income down there.”

“But, what about the government, the cultural differences, the language?”

“Sweetheart, they have a very stable government, the country is breathtaking and the people are very friendly. I know because Joan’s mother just retired there and she is living very well on only her Social Security. Not only is it a beautiful place to live, and inexpensive, but enough people speak English she hasn’t had any trouble communicating with the locals.”

“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to go back home to visit my family since we moved here, and it’s only twelve hundred miles away. Argentina will be much farther.”

“Yes, but we’ll be saving so much money we’ll be able to do a lot more traveling. We could use Argentina as a spring-board to Europe, Africa - and back home.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, let’s just explore it, okay?”

I agreed to look into the possibility of relocating, praying fervently that God didn’t really intend for me to leave home, family and country.

After a sleepless night, I slipped out of bed before daybreak, made coffee, and went directly to my reading room.  I desperately needed the assurance and guidance I always found in my devotions. That morning the Gospel reading was from Genesis 12: 1: And the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of your country, and from your kindred, and out of your father's house, and come into the land which I shall show you.

No. Oh, please no. I didn’t want to be like Abraham. I did not want to leave my country, all of my possessions, and especially my family. How could I leave my kids? Granted they were all grown, but my grandbabies? How could I leave them?

Bill, completely oblivious to my anxiety (helped along with the brave act I was putting on), enthusiastically made the necessary inquires about life as an expatriate. When it came time to actually solidify plans, I dropped to my knees and indulged in some shameful begging.  

In answer, my devotions included Matthew 19:29:  And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.

I thought my heart would break.

That night I had a dream. I was in a long hallway lined with locked doors. It ended abruptly, the floor falling away into open space - a star-filled expanse stretching away into infinity.

Rather than being afraid, confident God would bear me up and not let me fall, I raised my arms and leapt.

With the dream’s message fortifying my spirit, I set my face toward Argentina.

Less than one month before our scheduled departure, our vet announced our fifteen year old Brittany spaniel was unfit for air travel. The seventeen and a half hour flight, with lay-overs, would kill him. Undaunted, my husband checked into a cruise ship. Many have kennels and allow guests to bring their pets. It was July, winter in Argentina, and there were no cruises.

We then had a problem. We couldn’t leave Rusty, nor could we bear to put him down, the lease on the house was expired, and we had reserved storage units and movers.  Our solution? We bought a large RV and set out on a five month travelling adventure. I had been snatched out of the fire and delivered right into heaven.

It was then I understood Argentina was my test, just as the sacrifice of Isaac was Abraham’s test. God is to be placed above everything - and He means everything. He has priority above country, family, children, grandchildren and especially self.

Now, whenever I hear the song, Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina, I think of Abraham and Isaac, of relinquishing my will to His. Oddly the song seems to be playing a lot on the radio these days…..

Friday, May 20, 2011

Haunted



My tormentors strike when I am most vulnerable, early in the morning while I am still hovering between sleep and wakefulness. They go after the old wounds that have never completely healed, re-writing the original story, embellishing the worst moments, digging deeper into the tender flesh. These demons have many names: Heartbreak and Betrayal, Fear and Anxiety, Should Have / Could Have, If Only and What If.

On this particular morning, Heartbreak and Betrayal slunk into my room. Scene after scene played out of past, present and future anguish. Through a senseless misunderstanding my close friend, Deidre*, and I argued, then stopped speaking. I wanted to reach out, to somehow mend the rift, but she would not return my calls. If we accidentally met on the street or in a store, she turned her back and walked away.


It was then the Great Accuser entered, followed immediately by Guilt. This Judge and Jury accused me of allowing Jealousy, Pride and Selfishness to thwart my efforts at reconciliation. I turned my back against Apology and Forgiveness and fell into step with Stubbornness and Fear.


Staggering from these blows, I rose, went to my reading room and snatched up my devotional, God’s Little Lessons on Life for Women.  I flipped through the pages to Forgiveness.


Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though our sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:18

Once our sins are forgiven, we must not pick at the scars. Forgiven sins stay forgiven.

Reflecting on the power of this truth, I laid the book aside. A white veil dropped in front of my eyes and I was transported to a large space filled with hundreds of other Believers. Before me stood the Gates of Heaven. 

Filled with jubilation I turned to the woman standing next to me, arms outstretched, ready to embrace.  It was Deidre. My arms dropped to my side.

It was then The Holy Spirit spoke. He reminded us we had been washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb and none of the pettiness and imperfections of our previous lives mattered. Rejoicing, we let go of all of the heartache, resentment and fear. We embraced, joined hands and walked together into Paradise.

The veil dissolved and I was back in my room.

One by one Guilt, Fear, Heartache and Betrayal backed away. They lingered in the periphery, hopeful, waiting, searching for another opening, another chance to attack, but my faith held them at bay.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Are you haunted? If so, what lifts your spirit and sends your tormentors away?

*Name has been changed

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Love Is….

The instruction book said it would only take five minutes. I looked up at the darkening sky, the freshening wind and repeated, “Only five minutes.....”

After a full day of moving, I really wanted a hot shower and to climb into a clean bed, but my husband decided winterizing the RV at the same time we pulled it into storage would save a trip.

I took a deep breath. Okay, I can do this.

Bill leaned closer to the valves. “Now which way do the switches go?”

I repeated what the book said, then added. “To pump the antifreeze through the lines all the water taps must be opened. When the antifreeze begins to come out of the tap, there is enough in the lines to prevent freezing.”

“Okay, I’ll get the hose hooked up to the valves. You go open the faucets.”

Tucking the instruction manual under my arm, I bent into the wind and raced around the trailer to the back door. Inside, I opened the kitchen faucet – and groaned. Water poured out, a lot of water, which of course ran down the drain and into the holding tank. The bathroom faucet was the same, as was the toilet. We had forgotten to drain the lines before dumping the tanks.

I retraced my steps back to my husband. “Honey, guess what we forgot to do? When I opened the taps, a lot of water went down into all of three of the holding tanks. At least a gallon, if not more.”

“That is too much water to leave in. It'll have to be drained.” Bill slumped against the trailer. “I’ve already taken off the hitch and put it in the storage compartment.”

Yup. He did, and it would take at least twenty minutes to get it out and hook the trailer back to the truck. Then it would be at least another ten minutes to pull the trailer over to the storage facility’s dump station. And then roughly another half hour to flush the tank, move the trailer back to the parking spot, unhitch and put everything away. Not to mention getting the antifreeze into the water lines.

"Let's come back tomorrow."

"No. I want to get it done. We've got enough to do with painting and unpacking. I don't want to stop and come back over here. And, it's getting too cold to put it off for very long."

"Okay." I looked at the instruction manual. Obviously it takes five minutes if you first follow the suggested winterizing check list.

“Well,” The Love of My Life said, “It’s clear water. We can just run it all into a bucket and walk it over to the dump station. It’d be much easier and faster than re-hitching the trailer.”

“We don’t have a bucket. You took all of them into the house.”

My One and Only sighed and then winked. “I told you we should keep one bucket in the trailer.”

It was an old joke between us, his way of admitting I had been right and he was wrong. I didn't laugh. I kept my mouth tightly closed. What was that scripture? Love is patient, love is kind...I was trying.

 The chain link fence rattled and swirls of dust raced through the lot and around the RVs. A cloud of leaves, papers and several ducks blew past, just above the tree tops. I hunkered deeper into my coat, wishing I had spent the extra money and gotten the one that reached to my ankles with an attached hood.

I looked at Bill. "So what are we going to do?"

“I don’t know let me think a moment.”

Another cold gust of wind blew across the open lot, and amazingly an old bucket rolled out from behind the RV parked beside us. It was neither cracked or broken.

Bill placed the bucket under the discharge valve and opened the first gray tank. Clear water trickled out, filling only half the bucket. The second tank was also clear and held less than the first. With the bucket only three quarters full of clear water it was easy for the two of us to carry over to the dump station.  After pouring it into the dump tank, we carried it back to the trailer and placed it under the drain valve. Bill opened the Black Tank. Thick, odorous black sludge oozed into the bucket.

Bill stated the obvious. “We forgot to flush the tank after dumping it.”

I said nothing. My mother told me if I couldn’t say anything nice, not to say anything. And what was that scripture verse again? Love is what?

Next came the Really Big Mistake. “Well, there can’t be that much left. We’ll just drain it into the bucket.”

"I am not sure about this."

I watched the sludge pass the halfway mark, then the three-quarters mark. Bill caped the valve when it came to within one inch of the rim. We both stared at the bucket.

“It’s too heavy to carry. We’ll have to haul it over to the dump station in the truck.”

My stomach rolled. The truck bed was fully carpeted and the storage lot was unpaved and filled with potholes and bumps.

I swallowed. “Are you sure?”

“It'll be fine. You sit in the back seat and watch. If it starts to slosh too much, holler.”

Oh, I’d holler alright. .

Carefully we loaded the bucket in the back of the truck, leaving the tailgate down and the hatch open. Bill inched the truck across the lot to the dump station. My Darling did a fantastic job. Only once did the goop sway close to the edge.

After dumping and rinsing the bucket, we went back to the trailer and stood for a few moments eyeing the Black Water valve. How much was really left in there?

Bill slowly shook his head. “I don’t really want to try that again, do you?”

I did not need to reply -  verbally.

“Okay. We’ll hitch up the trailer.”

The sun was now low on the horizon, casting deep shadows over the storage lot. The temperature had dropped another twenty degrees and I was certain I had frostbite on my hands and feet.

It seemed like another century passed before we finally pulled the trailer to the dump station. At that point frostbitten toes and fingers were forgotten with the emergence of a new problem. The coupling on the dump station hose didn’t fit our flush valve. The hose would have to be pulled through the trailer to the bathroom. I pictured the dirty hose dragging across my beige carpet and clean tile to the back of the trailer.

I wanted to cry, but was certain the tears would freeze to my face and I'd have worse problems. I said nothing, and help Bill drag the hose to the front door and fed him the slack as he moved down the hallway to the back. It wasn’t as bad as I envisioned. The hose was only slightly dusty and Bill was very careful not to get water anywhere but in the toilet. Within forty minutes the trailer was back in its storage spot, the hitch and other towing equipment were put away and we were once again reading the instruction manual on how to pump in the antifreeze.

 Simple, except the antifreeze jug had too narrow a neck for the water hose to slip through, and there was no other way to get the antifreeze into the water lines except to pump it through - using a hose.

“Sweetheart, would you go see if there is anything clean in the trailer we can pour the antifreeze in?”

“We took all the pots and pans, as well as the buckets into the house.”

“Well, please go look and see if there isn’t something we can use.”

I went back into the trailer and dug around for anything that was more than a couple inches deep. I found a foil casserole pan. It was just deep enough to submerge the end of the hose in the antifreeze.

By the time we pulled out of the storage area, the sun was behind dark clouds and the street lights were coming on. I really wanted that hot shower and clean bed.

Bill made a suggestion. “It's too late to cook. Let’s get a burrito at that little place I saw just up the street.”

I gritted my teeth. For the last two months Bill failed to recognize any other fast food choice. I was certain if I ate one more burrito, not only would I look like one, I’d be one.

The small deli had hard chairs and grease, lots of grease. I left half of my chicken burrito on the tray. The other half sat in one, large heavy lump in the pit of my stomach. I didn't think it would ever digest. It'd just sit there, forever.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, Bill commented. “We are out of ice. Guess we’d better stop on the way home.”

I didn't say a word. I just looked at him.

“On second thought, let’s just go home.”

Good man.

I know love is: patient, is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians: 13: 4-8)

Love is all of these things. Forgive me, Lord. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is- TIRED!

We drove west. The clouds parted along the horizon, revealing a bright red glow, the last breath of sunlight bathing the world in ethereal light. Bill took my hand, raised it to his lips.

"Sweetheart, I love you with all of my heart."

"I love you too, Honey."

Love is...wonderful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Come Into the Light

In the dream golden light filled the church sanctuary and moved slowly down the center aisle. Responding to a gentle urging, I stepped into the soft glow and was joined by two close friends. 

An infinite crowd stretched beyond our sight into absolute darkness, an eternity of yearning, terrified faces, afraid of being judged unworthy and rejected.


I spoke. “Don’t be afraid. This isn’t meant for only a few. This is for everyone. You are invited, regardless of your past. Remember, because of Him you are forgiven. Join us. Come into the Light.”

The radiance faded. The dream ended.

I slipped from bed to my knees. “Dear Father in heaven bring those sad, scared faces to You. Offer them encouragement, give them strength. Help me to help them. Make me your instrument.”

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
                                                The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Although we were from different churches and different denominations, we stood united in our faith, bathed in His Divinity. We joined hands and faced outward, away from the light. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother

Mother’s Day. As with everyone else I have been thinking of my mother , reminiscing of all the times she stood beside me, encouraged me and comforted me, especially during the crises of divorce and widowhood. However, one event stands out from all others.  

November 1, 2001 Mother collapsed with a brain aneurysm. My dad rushed her to the hospital. Doctors did not have good news. Mother had only a twenty-five percent chance of survival. A Medic-Vac flight was called. Neurosurgeons were altered and waiting in another town a hundred miles away. We were told not to get our hopes up. Mother might not live through the flight.

During the two and half hour drive to the other hospital, my dad planned Mother's funeral. He told us which dress he wanted her to wear and which scriptures he wanted read. He talked about what he’d do afterward, whether he would stay in the house or move. I prayed –begged- God not to take my mother. I held out for a miracle.

My sister lived near the hospital and met the Medic Vac flight. After conferring with the doctors, she greeted us at the door with good news. Mother had survived the flight and was in critical, but stable condition in ICU. 

For three weeks Mother was unresponsive, finally rallying slightly on Thursday, November 22, Thanksgiving Day - Mother and Father's 50th wedding anniversary, exactly to the day. My sister cajoled a local minister into coming to the hospital to bless my parents' reaffirmation of their wedding vows.

It wasn’t what we had originally planned. Mother was to wear her gown, Daddy his suit, and they were to stand before the church congregation, followed by a dinner cruise on the local steam boat with family and friends. The hospital room was a little more drab, but we were overjoyed she was still with us.

Her improvement was steady, and after forty-five days and brain surgery, Mother was released from the hospital. She was home for Christmas.

Now, ten years later, she has fully recovered. Even her eyes have returned to their normal color. Right after the aneurysm struck, Mother’s eyes turned from hazel to dark blue. Now they are hazel again. And Mother is running, as she always has, to the mail box, to the shop in back of the house where my dad tinkers on his projects, and everywhere else she needs to go. She never walks. She is sewing and knitting,  and has taken over the cooking, cleaning and bill paying to my dad’s unending delight. She is also back to grabbing her broom and chasing my father out of the house and back to the shop when his teasing wears her patience thin.

Family will gather this Sunday either in person, or on the phone, and reminisce about her “wreck”, as she calls it, and give thanks to a merciful God who has given us a few more precious years with this faith-filled rock we call Wife and Mother. This November Mother and Father will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.