Think outside box when in Big Boxstore

The blackhole of Walmart is treated with humor in our household. It’s been treated with awe and disgust in the past but that’s not near as pleasant, so you can imagine the hoots and hollers when my husband brought home a package of 10 underwears. Not size large mens. But size large boys.

“You could lose weight,” said our son-in-law. “Or go back to Walmart.”

Losing that much weight is impossible but in desperation not to return to Walmart, my husband actually admitted, “I tried to put them on.”

Superstores have a place. If anything, the place of convenience. But convenient for what? Well, for me it too often meant the convenience to buy too much. Not thinking outside of the box, I finally saw that type of convenience was feeding the human habits of addiction and throwing away the future. Like eating or gambling problems.

The problem of getting sucked in. By so much stuff. And its promises of good deals and convenience? Lies. All lies.

First off, I don’t need near as much stuff as I believe. Second, if I do need something, I can mooch it off my daughters. Just kidding, but shopping for too much food leads to too much eating or rot. Bummer futures. Both.

Life isn’t about resisting hard work and inconveniences but about tackling them with a worthy future of balance and goodwill.

And because my husband lost his Trac Phone, purchased at Walmart years ago, and because I found his flip phone out on the deck, after it got rained on and wouldn’t resurrect, we made the decision to go to Walmart. Early.

While walking to the entrance, I got a brain flash. I’ve needed washcloths for about a year now, so I said, “Hey, I can get washcloths too.”

Yep, although I haven’t been to a superstore in half a year, I already began straddling the rabbit hole of consumerism. But after entering the store, I caught myself and said, “We have to stay together, or we’ll get lost or buy too much.”

Walking toward Electronics, I put myself into a mental straitjacket and gave myself lectures. “No, Cheryl, we don’t need another watermelon, or Honey Bunches of Oats, or toilet paper, or winter shirts, geesh, those donuts smell good, keep walking to electronics.”

But when passing a muscular bin of underwear, it grabbed my husband and yanked him in for a purchase.

Making greater efforts to stay on the straight and narrow, we then found and purchased the phone and washcloths before hightailing it out of the store.

We’re now waiting until our three-year old grandson can fit into the boys size large underwear.

“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!”– Philippians 4:4, The Message

“On our spiritual journey, if we sympathize with mortality, we will be at the beck and call of error and follow a zig-zag course getting nowhere. If we travel with the worldly minded, we get sucked into a nasty cycle. A good example of this is randomly walking around the shopping mall, making feel-good purchases and eating junk food with friends. We return home, thinking we had a good time and feeling satisfied. However, when re-thinking the situation, we realize that too much time and money was wasted. So, we repeat the trip to the mall but buy books on time and financial management, or on dieting.

“Our moral and spiritual progress is monotonously slow if we constantly bounce back and forth between futile habits and the hope of forgiveness. Selfishness and stupidity cause constant retrogression. We must wake up to Christ’s demand; however, the waking generally causes suffering. We may even feel like we are drowning and struggle to stay above water. Through Christ’s precious love our efforts are rewarded with success.”–21st Century Science and Health

Menus change, God does not

Listen to the following menu because it has changed. If you’re calling about Covid-19, press one, if you’re calling about racial injustice, press two…if you’re calling about economic failure, press nineteen.

Please wait, your call is important to us. All our representatives are busy.

Whereas we have the option to:

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” –Psalms 37:7

If time has less power than God, Love, then “waiting” isn’t a matter of waiting around for something to happen. To wait patiently is to wait on God with perseverance. To serve Love.

A new baby

The expected birth found us ready and waiting, for the last two weeks. Neighbor Mom and Dad were ready to go to St. Anthony Hospital and, along with other neighbors, we were ready, on call, to watch the baby’s three-year old sibling when the time came.

An ultrasound showed the baby, not so much waiting as hanging out content as a pearl in a shell.

So, let’s briefly go back in time.

Oblivious to a near future, the pregnancy was celebrated before epidemical rumblings turned into roars. We could easily foresee, along with their three-year old and our two grandchildren, another child happily loping around on our lawns with no fences between.

Happiness wasn’t dampened as time passed and circumstances changed. But travel restrictions brought about some rethinking.

The neighbor’s immediate family members live far away.

The parents got caught in conversations between us neighbors offering to help and their families wanting to travel to help during the birth.

How do we comfort the joyful yearning to share the birth, but the need to stay home?

I lessened my judgmentalism about people traveling. Birth and death define human life but it’s the love in between that lives. I could respect their decision to travel. But as it turned out, they found comfort in staying home.

Fast forward to last Friday night, when all of us near and far, were texted a photo of the newly born infant. Picturesque. Powerful. Pure.

Another neighbor was home with the three-year old.

The birth went well. But the professionals wanted to watch Mom and Baby for 48 hours. So Dad came home, spent time with their three-year old and then brought him to our house before returning to the hospital.

Grinning ear to ear, Neighbor Dad was operating on adrenaline. Their three-year old caught the eye of our three-year old grandson and they nearly collided with excitement to go play. The noise level of the house ramped up double notches. Our daughter and I stood and smiled and nodded as the enamored dad told us details.

After the dad left our house to go to the hospital. After their son and our grandson played until they because starved. We congregated in the kitchen for some chow.

I asked the three-year old, “What is your baby brother’s name?”

“Baby Brother,” he said.

Sometimes I too can’t remember names or the correct words, but it doesn’t lessen the meaning or anticipation of joy.

Sure enough, the three-year old expressed unadulterated joy a few days later when we came to see his baby brother. His joy wasn’t dampened by the fact we all stood a ten-foot distance away on the porch. Neither was ours. Joy closed the gap.

An August Birthday

It’s Mom’s birthday today. Although her deathday was nearly ten years ago, she still bustles with aliveness to me. Parenting isn’t easy, but along with Dad, Mom managed to corral five kids into a family nice to one another. The kind of firm niceness that pretty much kept us out of trouble.

After growing up and becoming a parent myself, it felt arduous to know or capture this kind of nice.

I get peek-a-boo insights into this knowledge. Even now as a grandparent. And more often since March. Since my immediate familial members and I have been very chummy and living together steadfastly. In the same house.

In the same house where I hear just about everything.

I can tune out most sounds, except stressed, shall we say, loud speak. Eh, I mean, yelling. It happens sometimes.

For example, a few mornings ago. Parental yelling.

After which, my daughter, on the cusp of bursting tears, came to me and said, “Oh mom, it’s exhausting to yell but how do I get the kids to clean their room without whining?”

She was pretty disgusted. Probably because I stood there looking as useful as a door to a cobwebbed attic.

But, and what I’m about to type, didn’t come by means of a thought-process. I didn’t reason or recall a string of logic. I didn’t give a pep talk. I didn’t ask her, how does this make you feel, because her feelings were plain and clear. I just knew.

Nice.

Niceness exists. It’s alive and multiplying. The seed within itself.

I admitted or knew, this niceness that Mom validated when she cleaned my room and did my laundry until I left for college because she knew I’d rather be working out on the farm with Dad. It’s the niceness that thrives on the power of teamwork. It’s nice to respect one another’s uniqueness yet require expanded talents, since somewhere along my childhood, Mom did get me to clean my room and do laundry.

I even sort of learned to cook, okay minimally, in between baling hay, training fruit trees, and graveling roads on the farm. But when home, I saw Mom cooking without grumbling, teaching me it was possible.

When becoming a mother myself, I put the mental plow to the ground and tilled the soil that let me take on this heritage of niceness when doing housework.

Don’t for a second think that my plowing came painlessly. We’re talking plowing a planet here. I whined, fumed at my husband, yelled, and made myself miserable for at least ten years, but one day while standing on a mountain of dirty laundry, sorting clothes and stuffing the washing machine, the word “infinite” knocked on my mind. I opened the door and snickered. Infinite laundry was translated into the possibility of infinity. Eternity. No wonder Mom is still alive to me.

As for my daughter the other morning, my response was, “Oh for Pete’s sake, I cleaned your room until you were fourteen years old.” Her children are six and three.

We smiled at one another and chuckled. Not because her kids are younger but because, it was nice.

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.

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