Monday, August 31, 2015

Eternally Examining

O, that all of life could be a vacation, a breakfast of bacon and eggs and pots of tea at 11 am. A leisure stroll down the beach among tide pools where depressions in the rock cradle a cornucopia of textures and colors. And I with my journal have nothing calling upon my attentions but the beauty in these still pools left behind by the receding tide.

O, that I could study these pools of life and discover the names of all the creatures within. What are their names? What do they eat? What do they do when the tide comes rolling in over their heads, pulling and pushing like a tug-o-war of water.

Hello, limpets upon limpet. Hello, crab with the beady eyes hiding in the crevice between the purple spiked urchins. 
Do you know about the waves crashing nearby, little crab? Do you know that we humans up here are frolicking in the same water that brings you lunch. Yes, we are. We just made sport of it. I don't suppose you do that do you?

Alas, I cannot study you little crab because the tide is coming in, because the moon goes round the earth, because the night will come. And I will grow hungry and tired and cold. Perhaps I must leave the study of the crab for eternity where I will have the always now to examine infinitesimal things. Today I am mortal. I cannot.

Where go a mere five days lavished with gifts heaped upon my lap? Why do the hours flit away when I pay no attention to them or meal times or nap times or wakings or sleeps? I will tell you how it happens. It goes this way: when I, like a child, meet every unexpected newness as a sweet surprise. 

The arm of an old cypress to sit in while journaling! Surprise!

A view of alcoves and cliffs! Surprise!

A content husband who sketches beside me! Surprise!

Passing tourists willing to photograph Phil and I in front of a blueish of blues sea! Surprise!

The bright green tufts of growth attached to rocks! Surprise!

The yearly hospitality of two dear relatives! Surprise!

The time Phil took to make Ed and Barb some garden signs for their house! Surprise!

The great adventure that I take with this man! Surprise!

The two little children who are awaiting our homecoming! Surprise!

O, that I could continue naming these little surprises in the daily grind that so often becomes drudgery. O, that I could see all of God's sweet graces raining down into my open hands each day so that I, like my children, might be unaware of the passing of time. Then I should reach the end of this life sooner, and the forever afterwards will begin where I shall have eternity to study the small things that I left behind in Monterey and the small things that I miss each day with these children, not because I haven't the eyes to see them, but because the tide is coming in, the night is coming, and people are tired and hungry.

I sleep well knowing that no detail here shall ever be wasted when I shall have eternity to examine it for all its beauty and context and purpose.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Small in the Sea

I spy the black and white striped legs of a hermit crab traversing the course sand and broken pieces of shells. I spy his sister two inches from his antennae, and there are their parents watching, and a distant in-law who has just returned from a vacation to South Pool where silver and orange shell-polish is in vogue. And off to the left is Tiny Tim, just a whipper snapper learning to lug his home across the terrain. They gather around Aunt Elma's empty house to decide if it's worth moving into themselves. But no, the interior decorating is a bit too eccentric for anyone in this hermit crab family. They prefer midnight brown with spires or gold and silver. Maybe the distant in-law will want this house.
 In the shallows of the tide pools I find numerous quantities of these little creatures. They pick through the tentacles of a sea anemone or riffle the long lobes of sea lettuce. They look like groupings of tubby old men trying to find their spectacles and maintain their dignity in the middle of a windstorm. And not far from them the white-foamed waves are rolling ever inward against the granite outcroppings. The tide is coming in and the old men haven't found their spectacles yet. I'm afraid they never will before the swells sweep them away. 
Already the rising waters have submerged my footrest where the green sea anemones are so closed in upon themselves and encrusted with a mosaic of broken shells that anyone might mistaken them for the rock. One touch and those spotted bulges shrink inward like shy children.

Next to them a gold and cream striped limpet clings to the wall. These paddy-hat wearing mollusks are all foot suctioning tightly in place. My fingernails were unable to pick them off the rocks, but the vain decorator crab is able to pry them up and use them to adorn his own shells. I saw it at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where other decorator crabs were using sea lettuce, surf grass, and algae to blend into their environment. The crabs will snip off pieces of material, chew their ends to roughen them up, and sticks them on their shells. When it's time to shed the old shell and grow a new one, the decorator crab will sometimes transfer some of his old ornaments to the new shell. Goodness! Hoarding among crabs! Have you seen the ocean and its lovelies? There's much more to be had.
I have found a fascinating beauty. This coralline algae grows as flat as pancake batter clinging to the rocks where it spreads like purple paint. Given enough time, it grows upwards in pink and purple segments that look like animal vertebrae or a rack of antler-like branches. Little purple trees of the sea washed up in a tangle of kelp. The sun will bleach it white and the waves will crush it to tiny bits.

How small the beauties I see if allowed to be Annie Dillard of the sea!

But alas, the sand fleas are itching me and Phil has finished stacking rocks and now it is time to go.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Surprised by Gratitude

1. Children calmly deposited with Mama Mina
2. Parched brush on the brown hills that smell of sage and Coyote Bush
3. Driving through ponds of morning fog still clinging to the coastline
4. White cliffs separating our CRV from the sea
5. Santa Barbara's Spanish architecture
6. Bree cheese melting in my sandwich at a hippy-cupcake cafe
7. Sweet texts of busy children faring well miles behind us 

8. Meandering down isles of nursery plants while Phil speaks Latin
9. Our $12 check-in fee at Cambria Pines Lodge thanks to a gift certificate from the Stevens
10. Chasing retreating waves and kicking up yellow sea foam
11. Abrading our feet on the pocked sandstone cliffs that we climbed

 12. Dolphin sightings amidst pelican and seagull's mad diving
13. Dashing through calf-deep water to scramble up a rock outcropping surrounded by ebbing waters
14. Feeling the mist on my face from the crashing waves that slam against my mounted rock
15. Footprints of children in the sand and the warm thought of my own
16. Climbing a white piece of driftwood sunk into the sand
17. The mist-blown spouts of humpback whales whose glossy backs flash in the evening sunlight as we dine and watch
18. Berry and white chocolate cheesecake and a decaf coffee while watching the orange sun set
19. The sea at dusk, the color of the inside of an oyster shell
20. The silhouettes of the Spanish Moss dripping off the pine trees
21. Spa in the moonlight
22. Three invigorating dips in the pool to cool down from the spa
23. The sounds of coyotes, owls, and mice outside our window
24.  A Duraflame log lit in our lodge room
25. Sweet stillness in the evening after a day of play

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Granada Heights Friends Church

Church is a complex thing. It’s full of arms that rocked me in a room once painted with bible murals. It’s full of hands that gave me donuts and Big Sticks, and lifted me onto the organ bench so I could run my fingers over the keys. It’s full of familiar voices that preached and performed and lead children in singing, “Johnny works with one hammer, one hammer, one hammer. Johnny works with one hammer, then he works with two.” 

It is full of closets storing the paraphernalia from Wacky Wednesdays and Joy Bells and START. It’s full of remodels that left doors in hidden places and made rooftops accessible through oddly placed windows, and left patches of ground between rising buildings, patches of ground loved and attended and then left to the weeds only to be rediscovered, torn up, planted, and loved all over again.

Granada is a complex thing. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I could see no end to the love my elders gave me at church: a prayer, a role in the Christmas play, carpeted boxes to sit on in the library, and foreign food to taste at booths on Missions Sundays.

Then suddenly I was grown-up, and my elders were moving away or pushing walkers or displaying their true colors or losing all their memories of me and the love that they showed me. And I wished to find the gods of yesterday and allow them to coddle me again while I looked up into their wise faces and thought them unbreakable.

But church is an iconoclastic thing. Breaking down our idyllic visions of people and places and events, and compelling us to seek someone greater and stronger and eternal. It is how God works to remind us that we, like this church, are flawed. We must look past the noisy boulevard, the lipstick-tube steeple, the problematic acoustics, the imperfect leaders, and the persnickety attenders, we must look past it all and see the source of the love overflowing here. Here in this imperfectly perfect church.

Fearing to launch on "full surrender's' tide,I asked the Lord where would its waters glideMy little bark, "To troubled seas I dread?""Unto Myself," He said.  
Weeping beside an open grave I stood,In bitterness of soul I cried to God:"Where lead this path of sorrow that I tread?""Unto Myself," He said. 
Striving for souls, I loved the work too well;Then disappointments came; I could not tellThe reason, till He said, "I am thine all;Unto Myself I call." 
Watching my heroes—those I loved the best—I saw them fail; they could not stand the test,Even by this the Lord, through tears not fewUnto Himself me drew. 
Unto Himself! No earthly tongue can tellThe bliss I find, since in His heart I dwell;The things that charmed me once seem all as naught;Unto Himself I'm brought.

Streams in the Desert. Compiled by Mrs. Chas. E. Cowman 1925 (August 21) 

Friday, August 14, 2015

How to Raise the Perfect Child

It’s possible! But you’ve got to do things right. Perfect children are made by walking a fine line between many mistakes.

1. First, properly deal with the crying. Refrain from always rushing to your child’s side when they’re crying. If you don’t refrain, they’ll learn that the best way to get what they want is through crying. This becomes a form of manipulation. So let the baby cry it out. But not all the time. If you don’t comfort your child enough, they might grow up to be a fearful, insecure, little creature who isn’t sure of your love. And you know where loveless teens turn. Yep, to drugs and alcohol.

2. Dress your children well. By well I mean not immaculate lest they become vain or develop a rebellious disregard for personal appearance. But don’t let them wear dirty or mismatched clothes either. Then they’ll never learn to dress professionally and they’ll end up collecting aluminum cans for a living.

3. Don’t do everything for your children or they won’t learn to do things for themselves. They’ll end up living in your home well into their forties. On the other hand, if you make them learn independence and self-reliance, they might never ask for help even if they really need it. They’ll sooner lie, steal, or go bankrupt than ask you for help.

4. Discipline is simple. Do it and the worst thing that can happen, aside from possibly getting arrested, is your child may break all your rules as soon as they’re out of your house. On the other hand, if your children aren’t discipled enough, they’ll have a hard time coping with authority, schedules, and jury summons.

5. Be the peacemaker when siblings are arguing. But not too much now or they’ll never learn to work things out for themselves. No interference at all might turn out children fighting tooth and nail to be first.

6. Be smart about strollers. Too much time in the stroller means no exploration for baby and a greater chance of obesity and lack of motivation. But if you let them walk, just be careful. They might run across a driveway without looking and at that very moment a car will back up and run them over. But don’t worry. They won’t die. They’ll probably just become an atheist quadriplegic and write books about how a good God would never let this happen to them.

7. Then there’s money. Whatever you do, don’t forget to talk to your kids about money. Silence on this subject results in the making of a government leech. Give them a budget and explain the value of money but don’t overemphasis cash. Otherwise you’ll make them Ebenezer Scrooges whose only goal in life was to penny-pinch and make a profit.

8. Beware the television! Too much T.V. leads to ADD and laziness and an inability to entertain oneself. But don’t withhold the boob tube either. Otherwise they might become a social wallflower, entirely ignorant of cultural references or social cues. Or, when freed from their television-less home, they might become a video game addict to make up for their lost screen time.

9. Homeschool? Absolutely. What are public schools anyway but organized chaos where no one learns anything anyway except where to get drugs and how to say “sex” a hundred different ways. Then again, if you homeschool your child, they might not learn how to cope with worldly peers, difficult teachers, or group projects. They might end up one of those social weirdoes.

See, it’s easy. You too can raise perfect children by following these simple guidelines. Control their lives properly and voila! A guaranteed trophy child who behaves well in restaurants and makes excellent choices as a teen.

Results may vary, although all results should be good if you are good enough yourself. Just make the right choices and those little blank slates will be nurtured to perfection, the kind of perfection that needs no grace. 

If perchance you do everything right and still produce a prodigal son or miser or murderer or teen mom or, heaven forbid, a sinner, then regain control by cutting them out of your life. After all, we all know that God has no use for those sort of people.

Once you’ve severed your relationship with any foolish children, take a deep breath and remember that even God’s own family went astray. Look at what happened to the Adam and Eve or the Israelites. Keep yourself apart from them by casting the sinner out of your midst. Then when your righteousness gets you to Heaven, God will congratulate you. He’ll probably say, “What am I doing here as God? You’d do a much better job creating people.”