Sunday, February 28, 2016

Random Observations on Inattentiveness

Two weeks ago, my car was fatally rear-ended by a woman who wasn't paying attention.

Don't get me wrong. I'm eternally grateful neither Jack nor I was injured in the crash. I wish the woman driving the other car well and hope her injuries were superficial. (She was transported to the hospital but appeared to be mostly okay.)

But my car was rear-ended for the third time in 18 months, this time fatally.

I really loved that car, a red Mazda CX-9. It gave its life for me and Jack, performing honorably. I miss it.

The consequences of her inattentiveness have surprised me in the past two weeks, so here are a few random musings upon those consequences.

1. Ambulance-chasing lawyers are killing trees. The amount of junk mail I've received (including two identical mailings from a single lawyer which arrived on the same day) is preposterous.

2. After three rear-endings, a person is apt to become a bit paranoid about cars coming up from behind. It occurred to me that a giant sign on the back of my new car might make me feel better. "Please Don't Hit Me!"

3. Whatever we're paying police, paramedics, and firefighters isn't enough for the amazing work they do. On the day in question, the wind chill was near zero. To a person, every first responder was polite, caring, compassionate, and kind. The police officer who took us home even helped the tow-truck driver unload my groceries from the wrecked car. My heart overflows with gratitude for them.

4. I mentally shut down at the prospect of buying a new car. I'd rather have another root canal. Fortunately, my husband had my back on this one, performing a spectacular speed-shopping feat of bravery (engaging car salespeople takes courage). He found me a close replacement for my vehicle at a pretty great price. All I had to do was show up and sign papers. Thanks, honey!

5. When you want a red CX-9 right now, it's a sure bet the only color available within a two-hour radius of your home will be black.

6. On Tuesday, I drove the new car to a cafe before Bible study. As I left the building, mocha in hand, I saw a shiny new black car parked on the side of the road and thought, "What a pretty car!" I did not recognize it as mine. Emotional ownership will come, but slowly.

7. Going from two more years of car payments to five just plain sucks.

8. Having both a black car interior and a golden retriever forces you to let go of obsessive neatness, which will lose to dog fur every time. The saddest part of having dog fur in my new car: the dog's not even set a paw in the car yet. The fur floats in on the people. 

9. Going behind the gate of a giant, deserted, body-shop parking lot to retrieve the registration from your totalled vehicle on a Sunday afternoon makes you feel like a bad-ass.

10. To the guy who almost slid into my not even a week-old car at a traffic light on a snowy Friday morning...thank you for your quick maneuvering. Had you hit me, the police would have had to lead me off to the psych ward. I truly would not have been responsible for my actions.

10. Pay attention out there, folks. Our cars are fun and convenient and useful and sometimes even cool, but they are big and potentially dangerous. Be safe.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Unintended Consequences: Dog Hair

Years ago, when I started my minimalist wardrobe project, my plan included black pants, skirts, and jackets, which coordinate simply and perfectly with colorful shirts or sweaters. But the sad truth is this:

Source Unknown
My black fleece jacket, which I basically wear all winter even inside because our house is freezing, currently looks like this:

That's right. I had a cuddle with Daisy the Golden Retriever this evening, so the jacket is particularly hairy, but in truth, the picture pretty much captures the norm.

You try not cuddling a Golden who thinks she's a lap dog. You're not really given a choice. Besides, cuddling a Golden lowers your blood pressure and reduces stress.

It's science, people!

When I go to church on Sundays, people--mostly older ladies--pick fur off my clothes. It used to be embarrassing, but now, well, I've basically given up.

I choose to make a virtue of necessity and view the fur as a necessary accessory, but when the elbows wear a bit more on this jacket, I think I'll replace it with charcoal gray.

That might help hide the fur.

Or not.


Just keepin' it real.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Like the Fool I Will Always Be

Earlier this year, I had a dream in which I floated on a dark and infinite ocean. Impossibly huge waves lifted me and occasionally curled over my head, but I felt oddly at peace, calm, not worried about drowning at all, even when utterly submerged and tumbling in the water. As I drifted under the water, the thought drifted through my mind that sharks or other monsters might be in the water with me, ready to attack out of the darkness, just like the monster that lived under my bed when I was a child. But the thought of these leviathans caused no distress as I floated. I didn't fight or fear.

I floated and trusted.

Unlike most of my dreams, which disappear in the first fizzy minutes of consciousness each day, this one stuck with me, and the images of water, waves, and floating pop into my head almost daily, especially in the past two months.

I've body-surfed through 2015. The year's final months held a lot of grief and sadness and unwanted change, and also held great friendships, wonderful support, boundless love, and amazing grace unmerited. My response to all the negative things has largely been to meditate on staying afloat in an ocean storm.

"Don't fight the waves, Susan. Just ride them in a spirit of trust and gratitude for all the positive things."

Then, today, I read this quotation from Roald Dahl.

Superficially, Dahl's words and my dream have very little in common, unless you care to interpret merely floating as being lukewarm, which I do not. Floating generates far too much peace to be in any way bad. Instead, I think these two thoughts complement one another; they are, in a sense, different sides of the coin of life.

On the obverse of the coin, much of what happens in life is outside our control. Friends unfriend us, crises crop up, loved ones die. We can't stop these things from happening, as much as we might want to, and so floating through them, processing them, accepting them, trusting that things all work out in the end...this makes sense.

On the reverse of the coin, we have control over some things, like how we choose to use our gifts, how we choose to treat others, how we respond to the blessings that pour onto our lives like honey from the hive. We can choose to open ourselves enthusiastically to the good in life and throw our energy into multiplying that good stuff, spreading it around in a world starved for peace, love, and grace. This also makes sense.

If you're wrestling with resolutions this year, perhaps my dream or Roald Dahl's words or both together might help.

Do you need peace? Are you fighting the waves, tilting at windmills, running on a treadmill, exhausting yourself? How might you find peace this year and learn to float, trusting that life is what it is? Pursue peace.

Have you lost enthusiasm, become cynical or jaded or simply lost? How are you throwing energy into negative things, which will drain you, instead of throwing energy into positive things, which will fill you up? Be an enthusiast.

Instead of resolving to lose weight or eat more vegetables, I resolve to float in faith and enthuse with energy. I suspect that being an enthusiast leads to peace, and that in finding peace I will also have lots of energy to hug and love my passions. I also suspect that at times I will fail spectacularly at both resolutions, but even baby steps forward in both will be wonderful.

Care to join me?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

More Christ

Have you ever noticed how we human beings complicate things? We seem to be infected, as a species, with a More Virus. If a little is good, more is better. This disease shows up all through history. Consider Anglo-Saxon law codes. (Yes, I'm going all weird and medieval on you this Christmas. It's been a while; please humor me.) The earliest codes written by the conquering Anglo-Saxon kings were short, simple affairs of a dozen laws, each stated bluntly in a sentence or two, but over the centuries, these codes grew in length and complexity, eventually developing into the incredibly complex English law of the late middle ages.

We do it with law, we do it with our closets, we do it with our lives. More. More. More.

How do you like it?

When it comes to More at Christmas, there's a point of diminishing return. How many traditions can you carry on--reasonably--before they become a burden rather than a blessing?

Elf on the Shelf anyone?

Since we traveled this year for Christmas, I knew keeping focus would be tough. We had more to consider...packing, traveling for uncertain weather (do we really need heavy coats and gloves?), arranging for a neighbor to keep an eye on the house, putting Daisy in a kennel.... The usual chaos, plus More.

I'm proud of myself for keeping a level head through all of this More, and I've actually had lots of fun and very little stress.

Part of the credit goes to the Travellers' Christmas Eve service we attended on December 13. What a great idea! People who enjoy the candlelight service but would be away for Christmas could enjoy the full Christmas Eve experience a few weeks early. We sang all the hymns, heard the scripture, and received a lovely sermon from our pastor of adult discipleship.

That service grounded me so much. But it occurred to me that my grounding required More work from our church staff. It's a reminder of just how hard pastors work during the most stressful season of the year. Thankfully, not all More is subject to diminishing returns. More service to God, more celebration of the birth of our Savior, more focus on the real reason for the season blesses everyone.

More shopping, more spending, more debt, more baking, more decorating...not so much a blessing. Enough is enough.

More light, more life, more peace, more love, more hope, more joy, more Christ. There's never enough.

Never. Enough.

I wish you More Christ this Christmas, and just enough of all the rest.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sharing the Light

In times of hateful rhetoric and social-media viciousness, it's important to find sources of light and love and hope and humanity. When all we hear is the negative, our perspective becomes so warped by fear and anger. Finding balance in the Information Age can be such a challenge, so here are three very, very different sources of light I've used lately to offset all the darkness.

Humans of New York: Reading this Facebook page -- and the community's comments -- almost always lifts me up and reminds me how much goodness there is in the world. Ordinarily, Humans of New York (HONY) focuses on random people in New York City, telling mini-stories about them. The stories may be funny, sad, poignant, moving, hard, uncomfortable, tragic, provoking, warm...the full range of human experience. Recently, the page has featured stories of refugee families who are heading to the United States after truly horrific experiences in war-torn areas of the Middle East. Read the comments on those stories. You'll be reminded just how generous and amazing Americans are.

Most recently, the page highlighted the story of Aya, a refugee whose family was rejected by the US for resettlement. In all the political rhetoric, it's easy to forget that these are real human beings with real needs. Humans of New York reminds us that when we know others' stories, we are moved to love and compassion. As long as others remain "other" and somehow less than human, it's easy to hate. When you hear their stories, you are reminded that we are all so very, very human.

Daily Good: This site offers up well-written articles on subjects as diverse as outer space, forgiveness, and neuroscience. Most articles concentrate on living a "good" life, with emphasis on wellness, mindfulness, gratitude, compassion, and faith. Here's a blurb from their About Us page:

Often times, watching the nightly news and reading mainstream newspapers it's hard to remember the presence of good in the world. And yet it is constantly around us. The world is full of everyday heroes and true stories of transformation. They have helped sustain life down the ages in a multitude of ways, small, simple and profound. DailyGood aims to shine a light on these stories and in doing so to change the nature of our conversations. If it can spread a few smiles along the way it's purpose is served.

I forgive them the incorrect apostrophe and missing Oxford comma because the content is so positive, so uplifting, so encouraging.

Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County 2015: For friends of Opus, Milo, Cutter John, and dandelion fields, what a delight that Berkeley Breathed decided to bring the strip back on Facebook this year. Here, social commentary and laugh-out-loud humor meet in a delightful revival that's arguably better than the original strip.

Vote Bill and Opus, 2016!!!!

We could do a lot worse.

How do you turn on the light these days? I spend a lot of time with my church community, which is a huge help, but sadly not everyone has a church that lifts and enlightens. Please share your sources of light in the comments!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghost Stories

For the most part, I'm a sensible, scientific Christian who loves Harry Potter but harbors no delusions that witches, ghosts, and magic wands are anything more than fascinating fiction.

But there have been a few times when strange things were afoot and made me wonder. 

When George was in navigator training, one of his good friends lost his fiance when she was hit by a truck while walking on a sidewalk. On the night before the funeral, he was alone in his bedroom, sobbing, when he felt someone take his hand. He felt a sense of peace and knew that she was okay and he would be okay. There was no one else in the room. 

The next morning, he shared the experience with his fiance's aunt, who immediately freaked out. Her sister, the deceased's mother, had just told her about having the exact same experience the night before. 

George and I made a pact that whichever of us dies first will come back and hold the still-living's hand for comfort.  

The only other unexplained experiences George and I have had all happened in our home in Boise, Idaho. Very shortly after we moved in, we were asleep, and I awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the sliding door in our bedroom. We didn't have curtains up yet, and with the neighborhood lights, I could see quite clearly that no one was there.  

When I told George about it the next morning, he claimed I dreamed it, but it didn't feel at all like that.  

Some nights later, with a light snow on the ground, we both awoke to knocking on the glass door. The snow was pristine, not a footprint in sight. 

George believed me. 

One Friday night, I taught a class at Boise State's weekend university program. George wanted to go out with friends, so he told me he might hitch a ride with them and meet me downtown at a bar when I got off work. If he couldn't get a ride, he'd be home waiting for me. 

I pulled into the garage next to George's car. Still not knowing whether he was home, I entered the house yelling, "Are you home?" Quite clearly from the guest room, I heard George reply, "I'm in here!" 

This surprised me, but I headed to the guest room.

There was no one there. 

No. one. 

George was already downtown with our friends.

Oddly, I didn't feel the least bit threatened or creeped out. The dogs, who were crated, acted as if all was normal. When I let them out, they weren't interested in the guest room or anything other than greeting me with the lunatic dance of unrestrained dog joy upon sighting the mistress (to paraphrase Dave Barry). 

Given our experience with the knocks on the glass door, George withheld judging my experience with his disembodied voice as a sign of impending mental breakdown. After all, when the final strangeness hit, we knew for sure it wasn't just me.

George was sitting on the bed and out of the corner of his eye saw a small brown puppy run across the bathroom toward the closet. It was definitely not one of our dogs. 

Perhaps our house was built over a giant reservoir of hallucinogenic gas that slowly leaked inside, causing auditory and visual disturbances for us both. I mean, if we were really crazy, don't you think our symptoms would have gotten worse over time? Right?

What I like about all of these stories is how the supernatural (or simply inexplicable) events were not at all scary or threatening. In fact, they were either benign or comforting.

And those are ghost stories a person can live with.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tiny Problems

In a discussion about when we pray, I shared that one of my most powerful times to pray is on Wednesday nights in winter when I take the trash to the curb. Our driveway is quite long, and as I gaze up at the black sky full of stars and planets and the occasional meteor, I find it impossible not to appreciate the greatness of God and my own tiny little place in His Creation. I must, must!, express gratitude for that.

So now the joke among my church friends is that garbage reminds Susan to pray.

I'm okay with that.


The ocean provides a similar effect. The steady beat of waves on a shore, the rhythm linked to space and the moon, the sense that you could never, ever control that massive entity teaming with life and energy and death...the ocean is, indeed, big enough and powerful enough to make us feel very, very small.

A regular check on our hubris grounds us and reminds us that those problems which distract our waking hours and disturb our sleep don't mean as much as we want them to mean. We need to let go of our self-importance and maintain some sense of perspective.

Perhaps praying while taking out the garbage isn't so strange after all.

Where do you go to make your problems tiny?