(This was originally published in November of 2013)
On October 18, 2013, Grant had a routine hernia repair. For several weeks following that in-and-out surgery we were on what sometimes looked like a wild goose chase.
I imagine that some days we have sort of looked like Gilligan’s three hour tour. In the planning it was a simple outing but in the doing it turned out that we were were quite unable to find our way back to the quiet shore we had left and by the second week in November we understood that we were in an entirely different world, one not of our choosing.
We were launched Cheerios-like as though shot from guns, on a journey from which we would not return. On November 14 we were told by the oncologist and Knight Cancer Center that he had metastasized, untreatable cancer.
Further details or test descriptions never change the bottom line. The doctor’s willingness to use many different phrases to say the same thing doesn’t change the story– the thoughtfully formed words kept on saying the same thing.
Both Jesus’ earthly ministry and Scripture illustrate repeatedly that Christianity is no religion – it is a relationship. Christianity is not a placebo for making life feel all better.
It pulls no punches, makes no excuses, denies no pain, pretends no easy answers, and never presents a Sovereign God who does the “there, there” routine.
What He says about life stands up to the test of life as it is. So it was for Grant and I during the less-than-four-months remaining to us.
When Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;…” the man knew what he was talking about.
Perhaps an easy reading suggests that Solomon was talking about alternating experiences while our times of mourning and dancing may present themselves as overlapping concentric circles.
Also on November 14 Grant congratulated me when we confirmed that Mailboxes and Old Barns was in print. We laughed and cried, hugged and sort of shook our heads at the bizarre experience of receiving final sign-off documents for the manuscript on the same day that the docs said, “It’s incurable.”
We marveled at the peace in which we were wrapped. We continued our familiarization tour with the sharp heart-pain that put me – again – within the shelter of his arms, where my tears fell on his chest while his fell on top of my head.
During those days we learned that you can slow dance to the Gaither Vocal Band – and yes, we danced like no one was watching.
We didn’t expect the book to be available until the first week of December at the earliest so were pleased, and crushed, and confused.
About twenty years ago I was handed yet more family memorabilia and realized that I needed to think about how to preserve what was contained in the precious books, letters and pictures, in my own memories and all the records. It seemed particularly urgent to me because of the incongruity of my growing up on the prairie and our sons growing up in southern California.
If it weren’t for the blog opportunities that became commonplace in the last few years it might still have seemed too cumbersome to think what to do with the gathered material. About eight years ago, I began to sort and assemble materials for the purpose of writing the stories that would summarize bits of this and and pieces of that.
Just verbally telling them to our now-late-40s/growing older sons would not necessarily mean they would be preserved or passed on. They had to be written down. I thought there would be value added in their preservation. So this blog was established to become a work room, an online office for writing, deleting, arranging, sorting, and gathering.
If we do believe that our overall lives have significance at all – whatever our context for thinking that – then the things from which the sum of the whole is drawn surely have value: the whole is valuable because of the value of the parts. An endless focus only on what lies ahead may have the effect of diminishing the value of what lies behind us.
What we are is traceable to events and people of the past (which were not all good – of course not – and it would be silly to pretend they were). But I do have the option of choosing what is good and right and valuable – and treasuring it.
Everything I shared in the stories that eventually filled the book is absolutely true in character and in detail. I shade no event. I invent no stories to finish out a post. That’s why I think of them as word pictures. A picture of a time and place that is outlined, not with cameras or paints or water colors – but with words. Intending that the reader should read – and see.
I began writing the stories with a single focus – to get the task done. My parents and grandparents did a remarkable job of documenting and preserving their lives in photos, documents, letters and a variety of handwritten records – with the technology we have available to us today, I really thought it would be a shame not to put some effort in getting their work and my own memories of the life they built for us into permanent form.
I set up my blog in order to have a place to drop the things I was writing just so they wouldn’t be all over the place.
Then I thought: I sure want to write as well as I can so the acid test would be – let someone read it who really has no vested interest in liking it. So I ventured into the uncertain world of letting a couple of online acquaintances read as I posted.
I became more aware of the limits of my writing and noticed the occasional presumption when I unnecessarily included some personal bit about an old neighbor or family member (someone born before 1900 or before 1925) and then realizing – “Oh dear – why would I record that foible? Why record that now to sit here forever? No. Take that out.”
So then to think again – what’s the purpose? Just pictures. Word pictures.
I never intended to show all the pictures. I wanted to show the pictures of what has blessed my life. So I just kept writing – not knowing where any of it would go – just knew I had to write it down for our sons.
I grew up on the prairie where nobody new moved in and nobody old moved out – the same people had lived on the same farms from around 1900 when the land was first broken.
But us? By the time our sons graduated from high school, we had moved about nine times, mostly within California – nowhere near our roots of Montana and Minnesota. We had also been divorced for 6 1/2 years of the 28 years we spent in California, remarrying in 1984 while the boys were both in high school in Palmdale.
I knew what I had been able to put in their hearts…I knew their hearts were oriented to true north – but they didn’t know the details of true north – too much of it was a blank map – not just a blank place on a map. They didn’t know the blank spots on my heart map. They couldn’t know why I climbed the well tower. They wouldn’t know what it meant to bring in dry land harvests that seldom exceeded twenty-five bushels per acre. They wouldn’t know what it meant to look for a sick cow, finding her dead, and having to go home and tell Dad.
How would they know if I didn’t write it down? So I wrote. Sometimes with tears running down my face.
About three years ago, as the not-yet-named Treehouse gang stumbled through the woods looking for each other – again – we clicked our little grasshopper poppers through the mists – we barely knew one another’s user names from other sites and certainly didn’t have any particular expectations. We just knew we had formed relationships that mattered so we kept clicking. Kept dropping the trail of crumbs. Had some interesting stop overs.
When we finally came to rest in the woods and found new digs under construction, the first assignments were handed out in a pretty random way and after putzing around awhile, we just sort of started doing stuff that needed doing. That’s pretty much what we’re still doing as far as I can tell.
Each one just does what needs doing today. Writes a post that they have been thinking about for awhile. Tries out an idea. That’s how the Sunday MBOBs started. I asked the group if they thought that might be interesting….and also thought that it might help me to keep writing if I knew I had to.
The task of writing each Sunday has revealed some of my limits but has also surrounded me with encouragement and exhortation that could have been found nowhere else. The friendships and relationships that I have found in trying to put words here every Sunday for you to read are absolutely astounding – both those on the front side, in the threads and the depth of blessing in those on the back side, among the admins.
Sundance, Ytz4me, stella, Ad Rem, Menagarie, WeeWeed, WaltzingMatilda, Patriot Dreamer – these people hold my heart. In these recent days they have literally borne me along in arms of love, speaking strength into my very spirit when I have been overwhelmed with both the joys and sorrows of life in which we are living at the moment.
The process informed me that everyone has such stories and such memories within, or some longing to have them. There is some sound from their own heart that responds to the sounds from mine. We find comfort and strengthen in saying what is so about ourselves and our histories, in a hundred different ways. We sit around the campfire and talk. It’s good. It’s so very good.
It is a priceless privilege to stand in your midst, with sorrow (but not sorrowing as those who have no hope) and with joy (knowing that MBOB is now a harvest brought in).
My participation in the threads is not much these days – I don’t have the resilience or strength just now. The final matters involved in getting the book into print have actually been minimal over recent weeks because it was right there and ready to go, with, of course, no understanding on our part about the context in which it would come to life.
We are filled with gratitude that we made it! It would never have happened without his unconditional love and support. He is my rock.
So – this MBOB, about the book, couldn’t be written without talking about what he is dealing with. We are living the mix of joy and sorrow: we are grateful that joy mixes with sorrow, and that we have one another.
I may write in another format about the journey he and I have been given but today we just want to joy over the completion of this task –
– so come dance with us!