Tuesday, February 3, 2009

God's Good Gifts...

Today. Mom and JoAnne arriving at the ocean after hiking across the dunes.

With all of the posts I've been putting up of our recent outdoor adventures at the beach, on the dunes, and along pretty hiking trails, my sister says it's like Mom and I are on vacation. And it really does feel like it! The weather has been crazy-warm and wind-free, and-- ahhh-- it's been blissful! It's common to have a few of these days on the coast every January or February, but not for weeks on end like this year. It's been summery, only nicer because there's not that cold, hard summer wind blowing on the beach.

The weather has been a gift-- unbelievably pleasant and strengthening. For some people, dark winter days can seem long and endless, and lack of plentiful sunshine can be dispiriting at times. This effect is even stronger in times of difficulty or grief. So, truly, this amazing weather feels like a mercy. A gift just for us.

Someone asked how long I'll be here at my mom's house. Will I move here permanently? That is such a nice thought, but I don't know how long I'll be here, and, no I won't be moving here permanently, unless, of course, the Lord has other plans. As it stands now, I have a husband who is trying to leave Washington DC ( but things beyond his control are keeping him there). And we have our own home across the mountains in the desert. Only God knows how long I'll be here at Mom's. For now, I just carry on, one day at a time, and I count it a huge blessing to be here.

I have to say, though, that I do miss home. I miss the everyday domestic rhythms of homemaking. I miss the busy daily puttering and making things pleasant about the house. I miss decorating for the seasons and going to Goodwill with Michelle. I miss the work of home-- the cleaning, carrying wood to the porch, shoveling the walks (though it's been unseasonably warm there this winter, too), building morning fires, daily walks down our country road. I miss messing about in my own kitchen and being hospitable. I miss the neighbors and my friends. I miss seeing my daughter, her husband, and my two grandsons almost every day (I miss them all terribly). I miss a lot of things.

Mom has made being here just about as easy and ideal for me as it could possibly be. I feel at home. She gives me total space and freedom to do what I want around here and to do it my own way. She is amazingly easy to be around. I love being able to spend so much time with Mom and the family. I love being here on the coast again; I'm so enjoying the beauty and the longtime friendships I have here.

But, again, no matter how nice it is for me to be here now (and it really, really is), I'm still away from my home. I'm 50-years-old, and I've had my own home for a long time. When it's all said and done, I'm really a visitor here, in both very lovely and very difficult circumstances.

There are the daily reminders of Dad. My bed is in his office, so all around me are mementos of his life and his days. It's sweet and bitter all at once. Mostly, it's been nice to look around and see his gifts and interests and abilities and character traits, all clearly communicated in his books and pictures, in the quotes he has around on his desk and around the room, and in the amazing organization and arrangement of his things. I love seeing all of this.

And Mom grieves, of course. I see it as nothing short of heroic how she deals with her situation every day. She smiles and presses forward with amazing cheer. She is thinking of others all the time. She is positive and aims to learn and grow, both in her faith and in her character, through struggles and difficulties. I am sort of in awe as I watch her choose how she will proceed each day. But, of course, she also weeps. It's next to impossible to come to terms with the end of a beautiful, truly loving and happy marriage that lasted 54 years. Nothing can ever be the same, really.

And that is part of the reason for our "vacation."

Mom has always found a peace and rest in being near the ocean. When we were young, whenever things were stressful or Mom was exhausted, she'd load us in the car and take us to the beach. She'd sit there in the sand and watch the steady, rhythmic waves and sense the reality of God's love and presence and care while we kids ran and dug in the sand and splashed in the water. We were a family who spent much of our time at the beach, and not only in times of pressure, but just because we loved it, too.

Years later, even though Mom and Dad lived just a few miles from the ocean, Dad would take Mom up the coast to a place where they could stay in a room for a few days with large windows overlooking the beach. He knew this was the most relaxing, refreshing thing in the world to Mom-- to stare at the ocean-- so he was giving her the best gift he could. Mom could either sit inside at the table by the windows or walk out the door and hike up the beach, and she loved nothing more than these little vacations.

No doubt Mom's love of the ocean started when she was a little girl. Her father was a tugboat operator for an Oregon coast lumber company. He loved the water, had his own small boat, and regularly took Mom out in the water, down the river, and across the bar to sea. She says this was what she loved doing more than anything else as a child. She loved the rolling and breaking of the waves and being with her father. She felt safe and happy.

As we were driving in the car recently, Mom told me that she was trying to live by something her father used to tell her about going through rough seas in the boat. He said that you have to go straight into the waves. Don't turn sideways or try to outrun them, or you'll be swamped or capsize. Go straight into them. And that's what Mom is doing now, every day. She doesn't want to sidestep things or run away from them. She's trying to go straight into the waves and deal with things as they come. She's taking, head-on, the many new responsibilities that have now become hers. With God's help, she wants to face things directly and deal with them.

Another thing that Mom said has helped her is remembering something my Grammy (my dad's mom) told her once. When my dad was a boy, Grammy lost her little four-year-old girl. She said the death of her little daughter was unbearable, and the only thing that helped her to survive it was to walk. So she did. She said she walked and walked and walked, and it was the way she got through it.

Mom is also a walker, and she has been since I can remember. She still loves walking. And so she walks. She walks up and down the road. She walks on the treadmill. She walks down the beach. She walks the hills with me in town. We walk and walk together because I need it, too. And Mom says it really does help her. Plus, we just plain enjoy the invigorating fresh air and the exercise. It strengthens both body and spirit.

Isak Dinesen said, "The cure for anything is saltwater; sweat, tears, or the sea."

I think that Isak Dinesen was onto something. Mom is onto it, too. (And I hope I am as well.) The "salt" of the beautiful, powerful sea; the sweat of hard work in the yard and around the house, along with all of the walking; the tears that give release and bring some relief; they are each healing and consoling and strengthening. They are, truly and powerfully, good gifts from God.

And the weather, too. I really see it as a mercy and another of God's gift. It's given us a chance to have this little "vacation."

God is good to us all.