Monday, August 30, 2004

Summer Evening in an Old House



It is a wonderful life, you know.

This early evening, Tom puttered around in the basement, as he is wont to do. Naomi cleaned her two rooms upstairs for pending company and let her cats run around with ours on the middle floor, where I sat soaking up another summer sunset.

I dialed the radio to Big Band era music as I am wont to do, especially when long ago years feel more inviting than this present one. So the music played and so did the cats, one of them meowing over and over because of the toy mouse she'd captured (and still held) in her mouth. I sat, reading, in our sunroom with all the windows opened wide. Who can ever get enough of a deepening summer breeze? Beneath a pool of light, I sat at the 1940's metal table with a book from the same era, occasionally flicking away a tail on the page from another of the cats. And at the low window sill just in front of me, sat yet another cat watching the neighbors come and go.

I, too, watched the neighbors walking past, and then I thought of Mrs. Murphy. She and her husband built our house nearly 70 years ago~~she outlived Mr. Murphy and remained in this home for 50 years, total. I wondered if she, also, used to sit here in the sunroom reading and listening to Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller. I looked around at these walls and thought, " Which colors did Mrs. Murphy choose to paint them? Did she and I ever use the same ones?"

When we first moved here, it was easy to imagine Mr. and Mrs. Murphy having lived within these rooms, because even though the house had one other owner 9 years inbetween, it still felt like the Murphys' house. Mr. Murphy built this Craftsman bungalow for his wife and then they moved here from Canada. I could see them sitting in here on pre-war furniture, both reading newspapers beneath floor lamps. Or I could imagine Mr. Murphy building things in the basement while his wife folded clothes farther down near the laundry chute. And clearly I could see the widowed Mrs. Murphy, many years later, sitting on the front porch handing out candy to the neighborhood children on summer evenings just like this one (this story from my neighbor who knew the Murphys).

But as the years go by, Mrs. Murphy becomes foggier to me because somewhere in the midst of painting all the walls, hanging homemade curtains and rearranging furniture, this became our house. It no longer feels like the Murphy's house, because it isn't. We've made it ours.

Oh, the Murphys will always be a vital part of this house's history. But right now, tonight, Tom, Naomi and I still live here with beating hearts. Sometimes I might imagine Mrs. Murphy sitting in the sunroom on a quiet summer night just as I am, but she will always belong to another time. It's our turn now to live in this enchanted cottage. And as Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, "...now is now. It can never be a long time ago."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Handing Out Thank-You's

When I was first-married, (long ago and far away) I attended a Women's Bible Study each Sunday night. Once while we shared prayer requests, "Jackie" told us about her job at our small town market.

She said that what happened to her the day before was typical. A woman with a full grocery cart had basically ordered Jackie to wheel it out to her car. While the sun blazed, Jackie unloaded the bags into the trunk in a neat row. The woman got into her car, slammed the door and barely missed hitting Jackie and the cart as she left the parking lot.

At that point of the story, Jackie looked up at us with tear-filled eyes and said, "Couldn't she have at least said, 'Thank-you for unloading my groceries'? Is that asking too much?"

I never forgot Jackie's story or her question. Twenty-four years later, I've nearly always thanked those who bag my groceries in supermarket check-out lanes. And with every single thank-you, I've thought of Jackie's tears on that Sunday summer evening.

I guess this story brings up at least two points. One, that we never know what a lasting impact our words have on each other. Words are powerful, convicting things and can spur us into action. I'm glad Jackie shared those words that night. Thanking people who go out of their way for me has become a habit and a part of who I am.

One more point: The ungrateful woman from so long ago, if she is still alive, doesn't even realize that she also helped me. Because of her bad example, I vowed never to be like her.

But oh, how much better it is to inspire others by our good deeds!


***

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Curse of Shyness

Shyness, a curse? Yes, that's the way this formerly shy person sees it.
As a child I was painfully shy. Ditto as an adult. I won't go into the reasons for my shyness, but rather, the awful effects.

I cringe when I think of all the years I was too shy to encourage strangers downtown with friendly words. Myself, I went through a bout of depression in the 1980's and I remember how much the kindness of strangers meant to me during those years. When I think of how my shyness kept me from blessing others who needed uplifting words just as badly, well, like I said, I cringe even now. How could I have been so selfish?

And how often did my shyness keep me from defending truth? How many times did I choose to keep quiet while others were maligning people I knew or those in leadership positions? The Bible says we will be held accountable for not speaking up when we should have (and not keeping quiet when we should have, also). More shuddering...

How many times could I have shared a story, a newspaper column or a Bible verse with people which, at first, may have surprised or challenged them, but in the end, would have lifted them higher? But because I was "too shy," how often did I dismiss those opportunities? How many God-given blessings of obedience did I lose?

How often was I too shy/afraid/cowardly to give compliments? Or to voice gratitude? David Grayson said, "Looking back, I have this to regret, that too often when I loved, I did not say so..." Been there, done that...

How many people did I put-off visiting because I was too afraid to go alone? With many of them, I no longer have an open door, either because of distance in miles or because death has separated us forever on this Earth.

Well, you get the idea.

But for the last few years I've been leaving a different legacy. And oh, what a different kind of life I lead! Brick by painful brick, Jesus has helped me dismantle this wall of debilitating shyness and now it remains a very short wall which I can usually step over with His help. Especially when I remind myself of the consequences of hiding behind it, instead.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

My Bit of Heaven On Earth

Ask me the word which describes my home and I wll reply, "peaceful." And it isn't even an elaborate, full-of-conveniences home, either (nor will it ever be). No, it's a simple two-story Craftsman Bungalow on a tiny lot on an average street. Our backyard is downright miniscule, but my secret garden is back there along with a bird refuge of sorts. In fact, we have regulars who dine every morning at our backyard cafe on the Birdseed Special whose chatter probably mirrors the regulars at the coffee shop downtown.

Inside our house lives three people, six cats, 7 pet mice and some wild mice, too. I sit here at the computer and hear the non-pet mice above my head. Or think I do. My daughter promised she will buy a humane mouse trap for us, but please, please do not use an inhumane one, she says! I must remind her of that promise because those occasional squeeks and scratchings above me bring scarey pictures to my mind of mice falling upon my head...

Anyway, for 11 years we have lived and loved each other inside this house and shared a myriad of experiences. And now we often share our home with our daughter's sweet boyfriend who adds joy to the scheme of things. I'm glad I've kept a diary the past five years to rescue our days from slipping into obscurity. Mostly the diaries record the happy moments of which there are hundreds, perhaps thousands. And even the sad moments make the glad ones more precious.

There are the big moments, of course. The days when our daughter graduated from high school, then college. The two times my husband received his associate degrees. The dinners and birthday parties we've held, as well as the weeks we've entertained and played tour guide to out-of-state friends and family.

But more often I choose to recall the smaller moments. The sunny mornings I've played with our cats with the pen light upon the walls... the time our daughter snuck two kittens home from the flea market on her father's fortieth birthday...the summer afternoons my husband and I have shared lunch at the front porch table... the hours the three of us have felt connected in the kitchen and laughed together... the evenings I've watched the fireflies dancing in my secret garden...

Oh, give me a million more intoxicating moments of delight to savor for the years ahead when life will change bit by bit. Help me grow in grace and not be afraid to s-t-r-e-t-c-h my boundaries just a bit and to never, ever think that my best days are all behind me. Most importantly, may I have an anticipation even now that life will always be as good as I make it.

That is my prayer for today.