Monday, October 23, 2017

Eternal Discovery

Scorn not eternity as a monotonous strumming of harps
Or an austere chorus endlessly bending the knee.
Cast it not aside as dull, unlike the riotous and rowdy hell,
Where the mischievous dance like an endless Halloween night.

For hell must forever be shrinking into a repetition of uniform insanity, 
While Wisdom’s haven swells with the god-men’s inventions and strength.
And if that inspires you not, muse with me then the possibilities
When Wisdom indwells man and our dreams are birthed in eternity.

Consider the untapped power then coursing through our veins, 
When God remakes us to rule without blindness or misdeed.
Then amidst a thousand dangers that hitherto we’d only feared,
We pursue without exhaustion all knowledge, strength, and design.

Might we harvest lightning, contrive alloys, and wrinkle time
To delve into seas and galaxies much deeper than sci-fi films?
Might we learn the languages that birds and reptiles and mammals speak,
And astride our own pterodactyls, teach them to dodge ocean cyclones?

Might we too study genetics, the formation of all creatures,
And bring the ancients' beasts to life: the pegasus, dragon, and griffin?
Might we lay out architectural foundations along rifts of tectonic plates
And delight in collapsing towers: a test of titanium and diamond?

Might we, the lovers of stratagem, create thousand-hour diversions
For those who revel in riddles and puzzles and mazes and clues?
Might we learn lava’s pulsations, the throb of underground rivers,
And hold back volcanic cinders to move islands and spare sea creatures?

And might I meet with my fellow muses in a marble amphitheater,
Gathering accounts from all peoples to weave a new narrative.
There we shall choose our words from all the tongues of the world
For we have time to flesh out the stories the imagination longs to tell.

All dreams stopped short by adulthood, closed doors long barred or burned
Now take flight and reopen, when to us that kingdom is given.
How my soul longs for that place where Wisdom is in us and with us.
And we the rulers bend the knee, delighting in the discovery of eternity.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined,
what God has prepared
for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

Monday, October 9, 2017

Staring at Piles of Trash

The world is full of grime and foulness. Some places more than others. And I cannot help seeing it there on the parking lot asphalt at Vallarta or in the dark on the sidewalk where the cockroaches skitter past my sandaled feet. I caught sight of a bearded man pulling up his pants after squatting in the gutter last night on Beverly Boulevard. I see red-faced men standing in the check-out line with their Modelo boxes, and I see the heavily made-up ladies with their see-through blouses and hot pants pulling their significant others down the grocery store aisles. I see despondency and weariness in the sunken eyes of the security guard. On the drive home from the grocery store, I see the pile of broken furniture, papers, shoes, and glass at the bottom of our alley. That pile continues to grow and spread as people riffle through the debris that some residence left there. It makes our neighborhood feel run down.

I was paying for a decaf coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru, and Rose from the back seat said, “That lady is pretty.” She was referring to the cashier who was rather lovely. She was young and looked like she might be from Spain with her high cheek bones and almond-shaped eyes. I agreed with Rose who then said. “You’re not a pretty lady, Mommy.” I decided to ignore that last bit. Why even address it? Children will talk, and while I could correct it, some things I must let pass. 

There is too much unpleasantness in the world to correct. Too much that can cause offense or loss of appetite. Too much dirt and rudeness. And I think I must let most of it pass me by like a thoughtless comment from a child. It is neither my responsibility nor in my best interest to point or comment or post.

This isn't some sort of blindness to the ugliness in the world or putting a smiley face on a terrible situation. Rather, it's not staring at the piles of trash for too long.

Let them pass us by. Look elsewhere.

I certainly appreciate it when other people look the other way when my children make a scene in public. And the nervous tension in me dissipates when Philip compliments something about my dinner when I know it doesn’t taste very special. I’m obliged to others when they maintain eye-contact when I’ve just discovered deodorant streaks across my shirt. And I admire those in my life who talk about prickly personalities as both fascinating and comical to meet.

When Philip and I were first married, I would complain about the service on our drive home from church. I couldn’t hear the singers because the instruments were too loud. The sermon needed more stories. The church pews were so uncomfortable. No one asked me a single question in fellowship group. And some old lady presumed I was her audience. Nothing went right.

Philip would be silent. Or reply how the Sunday service seemed to him. He’d enjoyed a particular song. He got to give his grandfather a squeeze. He appreciated the pastor’s take on that passage. He was glad to see that they finally removed the lumber that was leaning against the D-building stairwell. And the fruit on the citrus trees were turning orange.

No one needed to tell me that we saw things differently. I thought he was too easily pleased. 

“Didn’t you see anything wrong?” I’d ask.

“I guess I’m just a simple guy,” he’d reply.

I tried not to take offense, but in my mind I was turning his humble comment into an insult. I understood him to mean that I was complicated. Too difficult to please.

And though Philip said none of these things, they were somewhat true.

I had looked so long as our church's flaws that that was all I saw. I supposed that is why some people get divorced. They spend so much time reviewing their spouses mistakes that they see nothing good in them.

But to always be reviewing the good of each other is transformative. It turns the world inside-out. It makes more days delightful. It makes the company of more and more people pleasant. It adds more and more restaurants to our lists of good eats. It turns out happy homes and grateful hearts. It makes the world bigger. To name it in our minds. 

I know this because is has happened to me. I go home from church nowadays thinking, “How lovely! How encouraging! How inspiring! I'm glad I went.” I finish up most days thinking, “How homey! How restive! What fun!” And I leave the company of others thinking, “How kind! How strong! What depths!”

The change came about through reviewing the good. Not some mental exercise I do with my eyes closed while I lay in bed, but by writing down the daily blessings in my journal the Anne Voskamp way. It’s like taking good brain vitamins every day. 

Here are a few I’ve written down lately.

1. Shelves of books at the library where I can check out whatever I want for free
2. Ripe purple figs on our 3 year old fig tree
3. Joanne Clark teaching the children to do the Cha-Cha
4. Money to pay off the credit card bills every month
5. Strength to stay calm during morning temper tantrums
6. A pre-school where the children are taught by Christians
7. Rose saying, “I am a mom because I have long hair and am so beautiful,” or something to that nature
8. The children so excited to get new toothbrushes 
9. Lee praying for his tummy ache to go away
10. A list of baby sitters so Phil and I can go on dates
11. Clean clothes for the children to wear every day
12. Dentists to fix cracked teeth
13. Ryan Javier joining us for dinner and later plunging the toilet
14. A clothesline to hang sheets and mattress pads
15. Kind and friendly neighbors
16. Heavy cream in my tea
17. Friends and relatives who encourage and support my writing
18. A generation of elderly women at Granada who know me and love me and pray for me
19. Bonnie Francis’ support of my eBay sales
20. Sipping chocolate from Trader Joe’s given to me by Grandma Taylor
21. A mom and dad who know how to get down on their hands and knees and play with my children
22. Free lunches with my mom on Tuesdays
23. A background of hard workers in my and Phil’s family
24. A jar of amber-colored honey from my parents’ hive
25. Singing in the choir next to my sister, Jessica
26. Bangs on Rose
27. That the children get to know some of their great-grandparents
28. Air conditioning and heaters each in their proper time
29. People to fix leaks in the ceiling and to kill termites
30. Calculators

These aren’t lists of things I’m thankful for or things I’m happy about. These are things that were blessings. Gifts from God. Things that I may or may not have appreciated at the time, but upon reflection I see them as good.

I could go on and on, but it’s time to stop reading mine and write some yourself.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

100 Year Old House

For the last several months, I've been selling old coins on eBay from Mike Hamilton's collection and learning a bit about numismatics. I've really only dabbled very lightly in the subject as there is so much to know about mint marks and engravers and metals. So far everything is fascinating.  

The oldest coin I've sold is an 1804 half cent. That was only 28 years after America declared its independence. William Wordsworth wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud that year. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor. Thomas Jefferson was president. Ladies' dresses had empire waist lines in England. And the land that was to one day become the city of Whittier was owned by Manual Nieto of Mexico.

Lewis & Emma Shreve with son Arnold
In 1910, Edmond Otis Dickinson and Annie Elizabeth (Hayes) Dickenson, my great-great-grandparents moved into a house on Whittier Boulevard to begin their citrus ranch. 

Not long after that, Lewis and Emma Shreve, Philip's great-great-grandparents, moved from Ohio to California and lived at 543 Comstock. They ranched citrus groves near what is now Greenleaf and Mulberry where a small street still bears the name Shreve. 

I'd like to imagine the two citrus ranchers spoke to one another about leaf miner and grafting and irrigation. 

Fast forward a few years to November 28, 1917 when the Reverend and Mrs. Ernest E. Day moved in to the little bungalow house they'd built for themselves at 519 Comstock Avenue, Whittier, California. 

At that time, Whittier was a city of about 8,000 people, and the move of the Reverend of Plymouth Congregational Church was news. The newspaper clipping detailed the house warming party. Piano solos were given into the evening. The Plymouth Chorus gave a large cluster of carnations. Someone wrote a poem. And so-and-so was the guest book attendant.

The house was likely built from a Sears-Roebuck kit that cost Rev. Ernest E. Day between $800-$1,000. The kit included about 20,000 thousand pieces and included a 75 page instruction manual on how any modern man could assemble the house in 90 days.

I don't know if Ernest finished his house in 90 days or not, but I do know that the walls were still awaiting lath and plaster in October, and in November he moved in. I also know from the old Whittier newspapers that while he and his wife lived there, they hosted various church prayer meetings and events in their home. In 1925, they held a small wedding within those walls.

After 20 years, the Days listed their house for sale in the newspaper, and by 1940, Mr. and Mrs. James E. Campbell were living there. The newspapers tell of the bridal shower held there for one of their daughters. Also that year, the Campbells prevented a robber from stealing items from their garage. 

From what I gather, the house had about 3-5 more owners before we purchased it. In the 60's its address changed to conform to the county's numbering system. Among the residents were Mrs. F. W. Forbes, a member of the Sew and So Club, and Peter and Pamela Von Rasson who added a bathroom to the house, expanded the master bedroom, and added a two-storied back house that included a wood shop. Their children Eben and Meredith pressed their handprint into the cement in the backyard in several places.

96 years after the house was built, Philip and I prepared to move in. But first, a complete kitchen remodel, which included tearing up years of linoleum and knocking a hole in the wall for a pass-through. During demolition, Phil and my dad discovered a wall stud with a name and date: Ernest E. Day October 3, 1917.

Ernest E. Day
"October 3, 1917"
We saved the beam, and four years later, Phil set it in the center of our kitchen table along with the old lath encased in a layer of resin.
Today we, the great-great-grandchildren of several Whittier residences, celebrate the 100 year birthday of our house. Much of the home is still the same as when Ernest E. Day first built it: the worn and creaky wooden floors, the foundation support pillars, some old nob and tube wiring, the wavy glass, the large front door, the craftsmen-style molding around the windows and doors. 

A whole heap of living has passed within these walls: births, deaths, prayer meetings, socials, peace and turmoil. 

We have made it our home with our paint and furniture and our children's heights marked on the wall, but we too are just passers through. And maybe one day a hundred years from now, a new owner will decide to move that re-built kitchen wall, and during his demolition, he will find written on a wooden stud: "Philip L. Stevens, June 18, 2013."

Home by Edgar A. Guest

It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fet 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it; 
Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born, and then 
Right there ye’ve got t’ bring ‘em up t’ women good, an’ men; 
And gradjerly, as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn’t part 
With anything they ever used—they’ve grown into yer heart: 
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore 
Ye hoard; an’ if ye could ye’d keep the thumbmarks on the door.

Ye’ve got t’ weep t’ make it home, ye’ve got t’ sit an’ sigh 
An’ watch beside a loved one’s bed, an’ know that Death is nigh; 
An’ in the stillness o’ the night t’ see Death’s angel come, 
An’ close the eyes o’ her that smiled, an’ leave her sweet voice dumb. 
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an’ when yer tears are dried, 
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an’ sanctified; 
An’ tuggin’ at ye always are the pleasant memories 
O’ her that was an’ is no more—ye can’t escape from these.

Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play, 
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day; 
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year 
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear 
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run 
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun; 
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome: 
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.