Thursday, June 10, 2010

Porch Theology

We three sat on the front porch, wrapped in fleece throws, sipping coffee early this morning. Such is the month of June in Minnesota. I, in the swing, Ron and Stephie in the rocking chairs, surveying the yard we've been busy fencing and landscaping these past few weeks. A squeaky sound caught our attention. We looked up to see Mimzy, our cat, making running motions against the glass of the picture window with her clawless front paws, hinting at her wish to join us.

"That cat!" I said to Stephie. "Do you know what she did the other day?" We all regarded our furry feline, the perpetually bratty "child" who never ceases to provide us stories to scoff at, with a mix of anticipated amusement and irritation.

"I told Dad that the yard is perfect, now that the gates are in place, for Mimzy to come out and have some recess from the house. Dad expressed his doubts that she would stay in the yard, but I insisted I would watch her. And I did. The first day, she slunk around the entire perimeter of the fence, pausing only to stare wistfully beyond. It was hardly the blissful success story I'd hoped for but I brought her in with me to try again another day. The next day, I took her out again and nearly dropped my iced tea when, within minutes, I looked up to see that fat thing perched on the top rail of the fence about to leap over."

Stephie laughed. For an animal that seems clumsy and day-dreamy most of the time, we have found Mimzy in some pretty ambitious places.

I sipped my coffee and turned my back to the prisoner at the window. "Seriously, is she never happy? First, she has complete run of a climate-controlled, three-story house with two litter boxes that are kept very clean. Food appears magically in her dish whenever she wants it and there are always treats for the asking and fresh water. She has access to the softest beds, the best perches in a dozen window sills, and the comfy couch-backs. She is pampered and brushed and petted and adored. When we notice her desire for more we offer her the yard: Now she has a shady porch with new furniture to lounge upon while she watches birds at the feeders and fountain. There are patches of flowers to hide in, sunny rocks to nap on, and butterflies and bugs galore to chase. But is she satisfied?"

Stephie noted, "She's just like Adam and Eve! She thinks you're holding out on her!"

"YES!" I exclaimed. "Surely there is something more out there beyond the glass window, beyond the picket fence! I saw her as she searched the fence for an opening that first day--she didn't even have a plan, just 'I need to get out of here!' And what is 'out of here?' Why, there's the busy cat-squashing street mere feet away with the squirrel remnants to prove it! And stray dogs that would delight to grab her hairy little body and shake it lifeless--her with not a claw to defend herself! Doesn't that all sound like fun? She's so dumb!"

Yep. It's true that "Curiosity kills the cat." It isn't just human nature to never be content, apparently, it is also feline nature. To be curious without wisdom is dangerous. And that is where we found ourselves this morning--remembering a garden that was not perfect enough. The one thing Adam and Eve were told they could not have was the one thing they felt they must, at all costs, obtain. Oh, how we have hated rules and boundaries ever since! We regard them as awful, restricting, chafing limitations imposed by a joyless, power-hungry Deity. But what if we regarded the Thou Shalt Nots (what we can't have outside the fence) as the Thou Shalts (all that we're allowed INside?)

Thou Shalt: Love God So Much That All Else Pales in Comparison
(Embracing what matters most and will last forever)

-Respect & Honor the Name & Person of God
(Remembering that God is God and you are not)

-Remember to Rest
(Enjoying work without working yourself to death)

-Treasure Thy Parents
(Learning from elders' wisdom and living long enough to have honor returned)

-Protect and Preserve Life
(Giving the weakest and most vulnerable equal safety and value)

-Be Loyal to Thine Own Spouse/Honor the Covenant of Marriage
(Experiencing security in relationships of faithfulness and trust)

-Be Truthful with Thy Neighbors
(Expressing words that have meaning)

-Be Content and Thankful for Everything Thou Hast
(Acknowledging that every need you have will be met)

Oh, to be learn contentment in our own gardens with our own stuff with a God who loves us enough to protect us with limits! We can learn a lot from a cat.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Letters to Heaven

This was a weekend for remembering. And I found myself remembering you, Gram. I went with Dad to the cemetery in Alex because I thought it would be good for me to know where all the family is buried. I have never been a big fan of cemeteries. I feel so out of place there, like an uninvited guest in someone else's yard. This is a place to be reverent, I've been told, and to show respect. I always feel uneasy.

It is a sweltering day, the only relief from the heat a wind that whips against us and bends the flowers low. The cemetery is such a big place and it's easy to get turned around. Grandpa Swartz is buried here, I take note. And near him my uncle Jerry and Aunt Sally. There is the big Sexton stone with your parents' markers beneath. And Grandpa Thompson. And you--Delores Elaine Thompson--these sixteen years since October 1994. Mom and Dad set pots of flowers on all the graves and water them from a metal bucket. You would have smiled to see who all else was along: Kath, and her three sons that you have not met. And Kim and Amy are with me. Remember all the many hours you played with them and let them take pictures of themselves being silly with your camera, all the game shows they watched from your couch, all the treats you indulged them with? They remember. You watched them play with their dolls and laughed at their vivid imaginations. You said, "Someday they'll be I wish I could see that. But I won't."

"Oh, SURE you will!" I responded glibly with the naive invincibility of a 30 year-old. I thought I could convince us both that you'd never die.

In 1997 I gave birth to another daughter, Victoria, and she is with us, too. Whenever I say her name I think of your own beloved aunt, Victoria, and her house nearby on Lake Darling. You would have loved this child so much. And little Kim and Amy are mothers now, too--four small children between them running amongst the gravestones, straining to carry a pail full of water. These are my grandchildren. I am a grandmother. I am not "Gram" like you, but I am, "Nema." Having these little people in my life has given me a new perspective I did not have before. There are so many things I wish I could tell you now, so many things I understand that I did not know then: How I want to give them the world. How I want to protect them and worry when they run with sharp sticks. How sad I feel when they are punished even though I know it must be. I want to be the kind of grandmother I had. You were the best. I couldn't wait to tell you things that happened in my day and you had all the time in the world to listen until I ran out of things to say. I've never known anyone who has cheered louder for me or been more interested in the everyday details of my life as you. If I can reflect a small portion of that love to my own grandchildren, I will consider my life a success.

As we step away from your grave site, we pass an obscure marker in the ground almost overgrown with grass. Dad pushes it back with his foot and reads the name, "Angeline." He reminds me that this was your childhood friend who died of cancer at the age of 20. Dad says, "Someone said that you are never really gone until the last person who remembers you dies." Then he adds, "I am probably the last person who remembers Angeline." Except for me, Gram. I remember her. I remember you telling how she had a vision of Jesus coming to her in her pain at the end of her life and how Jesus took the pain but told her he wanted her with him. I remember that story, even though I never knew Angeline. I remember how sad your face was when you talked about the little girl you played with and how old I thought twenty was then and how far away death seemed for all of us.

And now you are not with us. There is just a granite stone marking a place in the grass along with hundreds of others--so many it is hard to find your name. But you are close in my thoughts. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you and miss you. And when I die you will still not be truly gone because my children and their children will remember us still. And we will be together. And all the stories I have saved up to tell you all these years can be told. We will have all the time we need. To remember...

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children.

Psalm 103:15-17