Skydiving for a gift

I stared at the certificate. A certificate for tandem skydiving. It was a gift for my fortieth birthday from my husband. Good grief. Jumping out of a plane and parachuting to the ground?

We lived in southeastern Washington state at the time, and from a private airport nearby our family orchard, a guy offered tandem skydiving. I don’t remember the guy’s name. What do I remember? Entering a small airport facility and obligingly watching a safety video. Then, scrawling my name on scores of papers to sign off any future liability claims on the guy and his small business. I admit, I didn’t read the paperwork, too impressed with the reality that this gift indeed came with risks.

I remember donning a one-piece suit, very lightweight and colorful. I wore my farm boots and mittens, knowing it would be colder higher in the air. We walked to a personal aircraft and the guy humfed-phoofed open a door. He attached a halter to his upper body then attached a halter to my upper body.

One last click and we were securely attached together. The guy directly behind me. We slid in and sat on the floor of the plane. No seats.

Through anxious eyes, I noticed the pilot was sitting on an upturned bucket. The question came to mind of, a bit rinky-dink don’t you think, Cheryl? But on the farm, rinky-dink was common especially when something broke and a job needed to get done ASAP.

The motor revved. Blades twirled. The plane moved forward and lifted off the ground. The pilot knew what he was doing.

As the plane gained altitude and circled, my heartrate increased. Paralysis set in.

The guy behind periodically looked at his watch, which included an altimeter. I could see the watch because we were attached and when he stuck his arm out, the watch was inches from my face.

A couple of times, he said, “It’s okay if you want to back down now. Say the word and we will go down.”

I almost did say, go down, but later figured that the paralysis that kept me from speaking was more my desire to accept this gift despite the risks.

Then he said, “I’ll open the door and count out loud. On three, jump and arch your back.”

My brain could not process his words along with my desires and fears and wonderings about the children’s piano lessons later. My mind, however, stopped listening to the “me” brain. I had to obey the immediate need so kept repeating as a reminder: On three, jump and arch my back. On three, jump and arch my back. On three, jump and arch my back.

The door went open. I gasped. But on three, jumped and arched my back.

Motor noise was replaced with strong wind. I couldn’t breathe. Air would not go in or out of my nose or mouth. I held my mittened hand in front of my face to block the wind force. Allowing me to breathe.

I looked around. Held my arms out. Completely unaware of the guy attached to me behind.

I listened to beyond the wind. Unseen air currents spoke. Ah-ha, thank you for supporting me, I thought. Then I recalled the guy behind me. He knew how to work with the unseen force, without trying to control it.

A parachute whooshed open. Silence.

I identified an existence intact with the vast landscape of sky, farms, houses, trees, and roads. It countered, no, it encompassed, my familiar yet limited picture of our home community, of which for decades, I’d only absorbed from the ground or inside a plane. This new picture showed the possibility of more. More wholeness.

Soon, we landed in a circle marked out on the ground, within walking distance to the airport, where my husband and two daughters waited to take home a shaky, giddy wife and mother.

I was exhausted for two days. Pretty sure I used a year worth of adrenaline that early clear morning when I accepted a gift that came with risks, kind of like accepting the unseen yet powerful gift of forgiveness for being hurt or hurting others while working to meet the immediate need.

Discover love and truth

During my college years, I met my future husband. He wasn’t perfect but neither was I. We wed after my graduation, and June 25, 2020 celebrated our thirty-seventh anniversary. Explaining the heartfelt love and truth shown me through our relationship is slippery, like soaping up in the shower with the intent to become squeaky clean, but as the warm water flows, in a blink, I’m fumbling and grasping air in vain because the slick soap escaped my hands to crash to the floor.

Oh sure, I’ve managed to get through a shower without dropping the soap, but no matter what I write, words and human analogies are slippery. They can’t define the love and truth that give meaning to life. Neither can marriage.

Unmarried people also experience the same love and truth that gives meaning to being.

Whether married or not, a relationship is a commitment and the commitment to discover love and truth wins the day.

Discover.

Not expect. Not demand. Not think, that love and truth, at any point in human life was found or lost in any sense of being complete.

Yes, I feel more complete with my husband and the family we’ve grown, rather than without. And as much as I love, trust, and rely on him, I must, every minute, commit to discovering love and truth, rather than look to see if he took out the garbage, otherwise life becomes empty and love and truth seem to slip away.

But it’s me who slipped. So I re-commit to discovering more of the love and truth that ever belonged and continues to embolden, enrich, and embrace me, my husband, and you.

Ps. 66:5-10–Modern English Version

Come and see the works of God;
    He is awesome in His doings toward mankind.
He turned the sea into dry land;
    they crossed the river on foot;
    there we rejoiced in Him.
He rules by His power forever;
    His eyes keep watch on the nations;
    do not let the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah

Oh, bless our God, you people,
    and make the voice of His praise to be heard,
who keeps our soul among the living,
    and does not allow our feet to slip.
10 For You, O God, have proved us;
    You have refined us, as silver is refined.

Adjusting Effectively

Thirty years ago, in Washington state, one week before harvesting our sweet cherries, it rained. And rained. The cherries drank in the water, causing their delicate skins to burst and crack. Open to mold. For the next three weeks, I watched our source of income rot and drop to the ground. I cried and had nightmares. Yet I didn’t want to wake up to my feelings of despair, anger, and hurt.

Positive thinking? Useless. And ineffective up against my feelings.

I wrestled with the need to adjust. Do I adjust to a new normal based on loss? Do I adjust to loss as the new normal?

Answers to those questions were blurring. So, I backed up. To find a more effective way to adjust. But maybe, it’s the very act of adjusting, that packs the punch?

Looking to history for insight, I sat down and read a bit of religious writings for input and happened upon a story about a forlorn, destitute mother who was asked by a wise guy, what do you have in your house?

The question jerked my mind. From thinking about what I lost, to thinking about what I have.

I’ll be honest here; my mind wasn’t too pliable at first. I was scared. I begrudged our downsized house and reduced buying habits. I resented having cherry trees that brought grief yet still required our care and borrowed money.

That’s all the further I got in the thought process before our young children demanded my attention. Up I got to go give it, but with my newly jerked mind, I glimpsed an adjustment had been made in mind.

Instead of answering the demands of loss, I answered the demand of family love.

We had in our house, family love, and I could hold it tight by sharing it.

After discussing it with my husband, I picked up the phone and called Social Services. We became licensed foster parents. Not for everyone but fostering for our family worked.

Three years later, the cherry crop brought in a gain. Large enough to pay off the debt and obtain a house with windows that didn’t let dirt inside (sandstorms are popular in southeastern Washington).

And guess what? The gain had as much power as the loss. Brief power.

Life makes sense when I adjust to the knowledge that gains and losses don’t define me.

But the good I have in my house does. Even if that good looks puny. And growing family love proves to be an effective adjustment.

Christ’s love leads

Rose and Sam ate together silently in tangible peace. They talked together, walked together, and lived together. If Sam went on a brief outing, Rose paced perilously under the tall poplar trees that shaded their favorite meeting place, sweating profusely with impatience for Sam’s return, who seemingly brought back calm and relief. In other words, Rose was a sour pickle. Until after Ivan entered the picture as an uninvited visitor and some of that sourness went sweet.

Ivan was an orphan. Found and taken in for care by a neighbor of Rose and Sam.

On his own, Ivan soon discovered the buddies on the other side of the fence. Whether instinctively or guided, Ivan ambled, quiet as a feather to Rose and Sam, and contributed to the tangible peace.

Ivan always returned home for the night, staying safe and fed. His guardian of course, knew where he’d been during the daytime. She watched Ivan like a soldier, ready to protect and defend.

The guardian familiarized Ivan with his new household and carried him on a shoulder to introduce him to more neighbors, but soon, she had to admit that her method of watching was outdating faster than computers and she’d miss out if she didn’t transform for the better, her watching method.

Instead of watching to defend, the guardian watched to learn and organize what Ivan staged.

Ivan was indescribably respected by all, but then how could Ivan not be respected? He carried the formidable apparition of a mixture of gratitude, neutrality, worth, and forgiveness.

Counterintuitive to human nature, Ivan presumed living for life before living for himself. He approached others as if they were held in peace and purpose. In other words, Ivan didn’t approach others as if he had to give or get them peace. Ivan’s amazing approach sometimes mystified but also calmed and relieved me.

Yes, I was the guardian. Rose and Sam were horses. Ivan was a baby quail, weighing no more than a breath when found next to a dead mother quail. But Ivan took to his new home, cheeping furiously until I finally figured out the food he could eat.

He rode on my shoulder, or head, when I walked the orchard.

As for my riding, for years I’d been riding Rose in the Horse Heaven Hills of Washington state, and believe me when I say, Rose was sour, persnickety, with a nailed-in mindset that framed sweaty, precarious fear of the new, which made me afraid too since she weighed half a ton. Then I saw Ivan standing on Rose.

Do I laugh? Do I worry? Not really. I watch Ivan travel a trajectory of calm and relief. That watching inspires me to follow.

I Cor. 6, The Message, “When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God’s ways instead of a family of Christians? The day is coming when the world is going to stand before a jury made up of followers of Jesus. If someday you are going to rule on the world’s fate, wouldn’t it be a good idea to practice on some of these smaller cases? Why, we’re even going to judge angels! So why not these everyday affairs?”

Moving Our Stuff

Yesterday, I met a woman who recently moved to the Village of Florida. From Alaska. Next to my staying home, her action was avantgarde. But come to think of it, I also know of a young family who moved from New York City to Ireland. And two days ago, an acquaintance told me she’s moving to Hawaii. Well, well, a pretty much global shutdown means we can still be safe and move.

The movees have one thing in common. Downsizing. They happily left behind “stuff” to take on new adventures, new positions in life.

Twelve years ago, my husband, Doug, and I prepared to move from Washington state to New York. Exactly this time of the year. At the beginning of “garage sale” season.

“Hey, Cheryl, the neighbor is having a garage sale today. He said we could put some of our stuff on his lawn,” Doug told me, as I sat in my pjs, sipping from a coffee cup.

Doug took a few nick knacks from shelves and sauntered out the door to the neighbors. He returned for items from the kitchen, then stayed at the neighbors to help with his sale. While I finished breakfast and got dressed.

Soon, Doug dashed back into our house and said, “Wow, it’s busy at the neighbors. So many buyers. Come on, help me carry our sofa outside. We can just put it in our own lawn. The buyers will come over here.”

“Um, are you over doing it?” I asked as I reluctantly carried my end of our sofa outside. “Don’t we want a sofa in New York?”

After plopping the sofa down, I noticed the people. Garage sale lovers, galore. Wandering over the dewy lawn, searching and calculating and deliberating.

Doug and I hauled a few more things outside as requests shouted through the air, “Got some tools? How about an extra pair of boots? My kid needs a bike.” It got to the point where I just brought serious buyers into the house. One savvy lady, looked in on my unmade bed and said, “I’ll buy that bed and let you use it until the day you move before picking it up.”

Sold.

Needless to say, the three-thousand-mile move to New York occurred with a lot less burden.

In the twelve years since, we haven’t missed a thing. Except. Except, I’ve thought a few times about one picture. It was only a print but worth a lot in sentiment. It’s an image of Daniel standing serenely upright in a lion’s den. Each lion represents a character, of say, hate, fear, envy, revenge, vanity, cowardice, but all unable to move Daniel who is standing still, yet moving in a mind of a humble powerful truth of life, indescribable yet real.

That image shouldered me through a deeply troubling time of self-doubt and loneliness. I was going to bring the picture to New York.

But at the garage sale, I’d taken a woman into the house to show her a dresser. “Follow me, the dresser is in the back room. Sorry for the mess,” blah, blah, I blathered. Until I noticed that she had stopped in front of the picture of Daniel, hanging on the wall in the hall. I stopped. My mouth closed. I observed.

As she began deciphering the many meanings brought about through the image, her face showed a mixture of near-tears relief and recognition of a hope possibly regained after believing it lost.

“Would you sell this?” she asked solemnly.

“To you, yes, five bucks,” I said.

“I’ll pay your more,” she said.

“No. Our deal is to remember we’re not alone and we’re always loved.”

Everyday Heroes

I suppose I have heroes. I can quick think of: Jesus, Mary Poppins, Yoda, Wonder Woman,  veterans, Bill, Olive. But I knew Bill and Olive personally. I connected with Olive through church and I connected with Bill through fruits and vegetables.

While living in Washington state, I managed a farmer’s market.

One dry, hot morning, a man limped over to me, wearing a broad grin that matched his magnified happy eyes behind glasses. His limp didn’t cause me to think he was elderly, although he was, because he was strong and upright. It was the limp of…what’s the word?

“Hi, I’m Bill,” he told me before asking. “I live on Garfield Street and have a big garden with extra fruits and vegetables. Can I become a vendor?”

“Are you the person with the grape rows covered in nets?” I asked.

“Yes,” he marveled.

“We live on Garfield Street too, and I always notice gardens,” I explained.

Ca-clang, clink. We were securely attached. It was as if we’d known each other forever.

I told Bill he could sell his fruits and vegetables at our stand, where my husband sold sweet cherries. In no time, Bill showed proficiency. We could rely on him to run the stand. “Can we pay you?” we asked.

“I don’t want your money,” he told us. “I want something to do. I retired a few years back and I need work, I need to think and count or I’ll get stupid.”

Bill had energy not only to sell at the market twice weekly, but also drive up Garfield Street to help us on our orchard.

When our girls entered school, Bill’s house was the drop off for their bicycles before walking over a dirt path to the school. He made sure the tires were filled properly and the chains were oiled. Bill was my peace of mind, as I knew he was watching the children like a caring wise hawk.

Like Olive, Bill lived into his nineties and died before the turn of this century. They talked about life “outside” the 1918 flu epidemic, the great depression, World War II, the Asian wars, no electricity to homes, births, deaths, fads, family dysfunctions, financial losses, financial gains.

To clarify, neither Olive nor Bill was stoic. By no means. Olive and Bill expressed feelings, not as if they owned those feelings, but as if those feelings come and go. They could be serious or humorous.

Olive and Bill treated life from the position that all human events are neither unprecedented nor uncertain. Neither precedented nor certain.

Olive and Bill caused me to ponder transcendent feelings and events.

“I learned to weld and build fighter planes during World War II,” Olive told me once with the same humble, matter of fact tone that talked about going to the grocery store.

“When I had a wife and two kids, we sold everything, bought a trailer and truck, and drove around the country to find jobs. One job was teaching myself how to lay cement and build a tarmac,” said Bill with the same aplomb that sold fruits and vegetables as if it was a rich adventure.

My heroes.

Piano lessons

Piano practice persists in our household. Daily, our adult daughter thumps out Mozart classics, ragtime, and a few songs from Star Wars. I don’t mind the noise, I mean music, even when the sounds curdle my brain. Imperfect practices lead to perfect performances, or so the cliché wants us to believe. But I do believe music encompasses more than sound.

When I was a kid in Washington state, piano lessons were mandatory for two years. Mom would shuffle me and my four siblings to Mrs. Courteau’s brick house once a week for lessons. My older brother and younger sister were naturals. Or they paid attention and practiced, either way, they improved to performance level, in front of people other than family and obligated parents of other students during piano recitals. When grown and married, each with two children, all four of my nieces and nephews became piano students also.

My younger brother unambiguously marked the calendar and quit piano on the 730th day after he started lessons. He hasn’t touched a piano since. “I’d never force my children to take piano lessons,” he told me years ago.

The middle sister and I quit piano lessons before we were seniors in high school. Probably because we’d rather spend thirty minutes watching Gilligan’s Island on television rather than practicing piano. Although, the change in activity didn’t require much thought. Whether watching TV or practicing piano, our priority was casual snacking. Piano keys jammed with cookie crumbs.

After I went to college in Colorado, I was shocked to find myself searching for a door to a large brick building, after hearing piano playing through an open window. After finding the door, I walked into the foyer and acted as if I was majoring in music. Not horticulture.

To map out the music building, I walked the halls and noticed small rooms, each room containing a beat-up piano and bench. This discovery initiated a quest to find piano books. A hymnal from church was a cinch to acquire, and thus I began what amounted to piano therapy for four years of college. Which in turn, after getting married, piano playing was my marriage therapy, then mother-calmer, then a tool for our children to practice on, then empty nest friend. Christmas carols always a favorite.

Middle Sister has pianos in her household also, however, it’s because she restores them to former glory after decades of neglect in a barn or storage shed.

I brought a used, dandy piano to Warwick. Our six-year old granddaughter and three-year old grandson sit with their mother and thump high and low end keys while she plays. Sometimes, our son-in-law takes his violin and bow out of its case and plays along with the piano.

No lack of wrong notes played. Timing nonexistent.

But they keep practicing, week after week, and I notice my ears slowly agreeing with my heart, which knows that harmony and order have never been broken or lost. Harmony exists, alive and well, and can be found in the slightest movements and tones.

Looking Up

Blooming Dogwood trees. It’s happening around town. And for me, each tree causes a flush of memories and calm. I’m not talking about a calm that sits down with a cup of cocoa and good book to read. I’m talking about a calm that says, I know, I know, I don’t know.

The statement begins agitatedly, I KNOW. Then quieter, I know. Then in a whisper, admits, I don’t know.

I release all “my knowing,” look up and…calm. Even if for a second. It’s the calm of trusting goodness.

In Washington state, one Dogwood tree ornamented our orchard. One. One Dogwood tree on the outskirt of our forty-acre orchard. An orchard planted with about eight-thousand trees, all blooming delicate pinks and whites.

The one stood out.

While the fruit tree flowers came in bunches of nickel-sized florets, flailing every which way, the Dogwood flowers carried a look of independence. The Dogwood flowers were large, the size of saltines and they faced upward.

Each time this year, I’d walk to the one Dogwood tree and cut a few long stalks of flowers to take home, arrange in a vase, and put on top of the piano. The Dogwood flowers became my classic décor when hosting Easter dinners for family and friends and anyone else I previously bumped into in town to invite, no matter what their religious or nonreligious background.

We all had one thing in common, appreciation for, or at least getting a kick out of the dignity and uniqueness of the grandiose Dogwood bouquet.

But the next day, those flowers went to the compost pile, because they started stinking.

I know, I won’t be hosting a dinner anytime soon or bumping into people, because I hardly go into town and when I do, I avoid people.

I know, my typical way of seeing and celebrating this time of the year, full of renewal and friendship, has been contradicted and dashed.

It’s enough to make me look down and feel afraid, frustrated, weary. Apathy grabs me. But I shake it off and say, nope, I don’t know. Or rather, I admit that what I currently do know won’t last. I don’t need to hold onto what I know.

More knowledge will come. It is coming.

And every day of late, even when I’m not trying, glances of Dogwood flowers infuse me with increased knowledge of a trust in life and renewal.

I John 1:1-4
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

Something to do during COVID-19 pandemic

From the “Index” of 21st Century Science and Health, 6th edition, look up references to your choice of the following words, typed in bold font below. When reading the references, ask yourself questions.

Guidance.

How can we feel Soul guiding us through social-distancing, rather than feel the pull of emotionalism?

Angels are exalted thoughts that guide us, so what type of indestructible angels get us through chaos and vulnerability?

Divine Truth guides byspiritual rules, not human rules, therefore what human rules can we distance ourselves from? What spiritual rules can we live, move, and breath?

Environment.

How do we read human mind without fear, but with healing compassion, such as Christ Jesus did?

What other types of activities and ideas, other than “song, sermon, and Science” show trust in Spirit and spirituality and offer comfort to humanity?

How do we possess and reflect “God’s dominion to bless the environment” when using the internet?

Peace.

Staying on the side of “Science and peace” isn’t danger-free, so what errors of thought do we banish to stay protected and safe?

The “peace and order of divine Mind” doesn’t come by avoiding COVID-19, but by treating it with spiritual understanding, by respecting advanced thinkers, and what else?

Like a “dove,” how are we symbols of peace? Like “evening,” we can trust peace and rest to overpower mystification and weariness.

World events stretch Easter

Easter stretches like Silly Putty as world events yank and squash our views. And the COVID-19 pandemic has me wondering, can I get new views of Easter from divine Mind, rather than from world events?

Arguably, Easter began before Christianity, to celebrate the world event of the beginning of spring, signifying new life.

Among many other amazing world events came Jesus and his story of resurrecting, three days after being crucified. About three-hundred years of yanking and squashing, in 325 the Council of Nicaea stretched Easter and people began observing the resurrection. Basically, Easter shaped into a Christian holiday.

When reviewing the story of Jesus up against the current pandemic, I’ve noticed Easter take on a new shape: Jesus’ resurrection can be my resurrection, defined as rebirth. In other words, my goal isn’t to avoid disease or death but to live the patience, integrity, and trust in Spirit that Jesus did.

We read in Matthew that before Jesus prayed alone in Gethsemane, he told a few of his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Well, the disciples didn’t “watch” but that’s another story. “And going a little farther [Jesus] fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”

Jesus was sorrowful, sad, a sadness that would lead to death, however Jesus didn’t go to death because he ultimately did the will of God, Life, and lived.

Rather than be obsessed with COVID-19, I can prayerfully contemplate divine Mind and thoughts.

Unseen ungodlike thoughts can be dangerous and they do die, whether it’s a virus or human vanity, however, I can not be sad and I can do the will of God with my heart, soul, and body by rebirthing patience, integrity, and a trust in divine Spirit. I can see and feel Easter being stretched into clearer views of a life worth living.

“The resurrection advances individual and collective consciousness, it moves thought out of spiritual dullness and blind belief into the perception of infinite possibilities.”—21st Century Science and Health

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