Friday, November 24, 2017

"One is the loneliest number." -- Three Dog Night

                  I know a lot about being alone.  I've done many things alone like mountain climbing, hiking, camping, sailing from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, and always enjoyed my alone time.  I drove from Los Angeles to Abilene, and from Fayetteville to Boston, alone.  But all those times, Karen was waiting for me at the end.  Sometimes I was alone even in the midst of a group.  I was a member of a bicycle club in Fayetteville and was always the slowest rider, so I rode many, many rides alone at the back.  The club even gave me a bike jersey to wear that said, "Caution:  Cyclists Ahead" on the back.  I wore it proudly because at the end of every race or ride we got together as a group.  I have always liked to be around people--that's called gregarious.  I have always also liked to talk a lot--that's called garrulous.  One of the professors of the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas, Jim Whitehead, combined those two and said that I was "gregarrolous" and that stuck for quite a while.  While we have not been surrounded by a lot of people here, Karen and I always had each other.  We talked about everything together and always have.  From early on in our marriage, we bought two wingback chairs and had them facing each other--our "talk" chairs.  The kids knew not to disturb us when we were in those chairs.  
                   Now, one of those chairs is empty.  Now I am not only alone, I am lonely.  For the very first time in my life, I am lonely.  If I was in the States I could work through my grief with clergy, friends, or even a therapist.  Not here.  Today, John was in Mwanza for the day working on a solar energy project.  Our Australian neighbors are in Kenya.  I was the only native English speaker in a fifty-mile radius.  And even though John and I talk a lot, it is hard to work through your grief for your wife while your son is working through his grief for his mother.  Which brings me to the reason for today's blog.  Karen always read the blog and let me know if it was excellent or just good.  Frequently, she would read it before I posted it, especially if it was slightly controversial.  I didn't feel good for the day until she let me know how well she liked the blog.  She doesn't tell me if the blog is good anymore.  I do apologise for using the blog to help me work through my grief, but if you've been paying attention, I really need to do that.  I am also letting you know how important it is now for a few of you (at least one) to let me know what you thought of the blog.  What it boils down to here is that Christ is counting on me, and I am counting on you--at least some of you.  Of course, you don't have to like or comment on any blogs, but it means a lot to me if you do.   Maybe this grieving will be like those long road trips I had to take alone that I knew that Karen was waiting for me at the end.  I think she will be waiting when I finish this journey--with a little help from my friends that is.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

“For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.” ― Thomas Merton

                  Grief has actually done at least one good thing for me.  It has caused me to reflect on my own life as I compare it to that of my beloved wife.  If I can sum up somewhat succinctly what I've learned, it is what follows:
                  Do what you can, where you are, with what you have to serve others, and your life will be blessed as well those you serve.  God does not call you to a life of sainthood, or to win Nobel prizes for peace, or to be honored with titles and acclamation in the news.  God calls you to do little things, every day, where you are, with what you already have in His service to help those in need.  He does not call you to head committees or to call attention to yourself with your church work.  He does not call you to go to meetings.  He calls you to purify your heart—He will clean it if you but ask.  He calls you to love your neighbors--and He defines neighbor.  He calls you to touch the dirty and unclean.  Karen touched a leper, as you can see in the picture at the right and gave him two goats to keep him alive.  Christ calls you to put food in the mouths of the hungry.  Karen started feeding orphans here and now hundreds of young orphans eat every day.  God calls you to calm and comfort the children who are in pain and who need the reassurance of a caring adult.  Have you seen the video of Karen singing with those little angels?  He calls you to live His truth, His love, and to be filled with His spirit.  And just how do you do this?  How do you respond to His call?  You bow your head, fall to your knees, and tell Him that you are His and will do His will.  You ask for His guidance and strength and you will receive it and feel it immediately.  I can do nothing on my own and neither can you.  We have to have the power of the Holy Spirit to make our engines run and our souls to soar.  There can be no greater reward in heaven than that waiting for the tiniest bit of service to one in need in the name of Christ.  The reward is there because your heart must be His before you can do one small thing.  Do one small thing every day, and, in just a few years, that one small thing a day will have become a lifetime legacy of service (sound like anyone you know who recently left us?) that will inspire others, but it begins with a simple act of Holy kindness springing from a heart overflowing with the desire to help, to heal, to feed, to clothe, to comfort, to bring peace and the love of Christ to those who need it. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” ― George Santayana

                  I’ve figured out that one of the really painful aspects of grief is that your loved one just disappears.  I had Karen to talk with every day and would save up things to tell her.  Her being gone has been really hard, so I decided that I knew a better way to do this death thing and asked God (like Job) to sit down with me and listen to my proposal.  God agreed and the interaction went something like this:
             “So, Lord, first I want to really thank you for giving me this opportunity to make my pitch.  See, I know you think you’re doing this the right way, but just listen to my idea.  Okay, the deaths still take place the same way, but everybody knows that one week later, the loved one will come back for twelve hours—like six to six in the daytime.  You can’t touch them ‘cause it’s like when Jesus came back after His crucifixion, but you can talk for hours and show them what you’ve been doing.  They can tell you good things about yourself  that makes you feel better.  Now, after that one day back, they disappear for two weeks.  After two more weeks have passed, they come back but this time just for four hours, eight to noon.  Same rules, no touching, but talking, smiling, and listening.  Now I’m not asking them to tell us what heaven is like or what they’ve been doing.  No, my idea is just to keep all the talking about what’s been happening here on earth.  After the second visit, a month will pass before you see them again.  Then, they come back for just two hours.  See, each visit gets shorter and shorter and farther and farther apart.  That way, the grieving ones have a better handle on what’s happening.  After those two hours, there will just be one more visit six months later and that for just thirty minutes.  That’ll be the last time you will ever see them or talk to them, but by then you’ll have over six months to get used to them being gone and will have been able to talk about the things you didn’t get to say before they died.  

               I presented this very eloquently to our Lord and was very respectful.  When I had done, I asked Him very nicely what He thought of my idea.  His reply, right before He disappeared was just two words, “Reread Job.”  I did.  Okay, God knows a lot more than I do, but I still think my idea has merit.  Ah well, back to my grieving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“Those we love never truly leave us, Charles. There are things that death cannot touch.” ― Jack Thorne

                    Karen and I both loved Neil Diamond from his very beginnings.  We went to see him in concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles when he recorded his famous "Hot August Night" program back in the '70's.  My favorite was "I Am . . . I Said" and Karen's was "Sweet Caroline."  We had vinyl, eight tracks, cassettes, and cd's of his singing and followed his career.  Not too long ago, he came out with a new song called "Little Bit of Something Blue" which really summed up my feelings for Karen and our life together.  I told her that he was singing my words.  She told me, he was instead singing hers.  Maybe he's also singing yours.  Click on the link below and you will see him as a much older man singing what I still claim are my words to my beloved (our matching wedding rings had the verse "I am my beloved's and she is mine" in Hebrew).

There are puppies in the video, Cami.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Live your life, do your work, then take your leave." -- Henry David Thoreau

        Usually, when someone dies, an obituary is published in the local paper and in the person's hometown paper.  This is usually done by the funeral home.  Well, there was no funeral home involved, there is no local paper, and so there has been no obituary of Karen published anywhere (to my knowledge).  I decided to write one so that anyone who wanted could cut and paste and send it to papers in Fayetteville, Springdale, Gravette, Los Angeles, and Boston.  However, as I tried to encapsulate Karen's life, the obituary became more of a multi-volume biography.  Here's just one example: between first grade and high school graduation--I went to ten schools in four cities in two states, but Karen was born and went from first grade through junior high school, senior high school, college, and marriage while living at one address: 1933 Belmont, Abilene, Texas.  She continued to live in Abilene for five more years through her first years teaching and the birth of her first son, Chris.  But then, her hippie husband took her to Los Angeles where for the next eleven years, she would teach in a ghetto school in Pomona, California, while taking courses from Madilyn Hunter ("Teach More, Faster) and from William Glasser (Schools Without Failure).  She was always learning and always innovating.  How do you put that in an obituary?  She taught in Fayetteville and Elkins, Arkansas, before we moved to Boston for me to go to seminary.  She taught in Boston, but she did so much more--having a metaphysical encounter with a humpback whale named Tiara off the coast of Gloucester.  She went to concerts, Shakespeare plays, walked across Walden Pond when it was frozen in winter and attended a Harvard/Yale football game.  That kind of stuff doesn't go in obituaries.  Where in an obituary do you put that she did a pen and ink portrait with a watercolour wash of every child she ever taught?  Many posted those pictures when they heard of her death.  How do you explain her desire and devotion to God that led her to East Africa?  She continued teaching after her forty years and full retirement from schools in the U.S.  Did I mention that she taught women here to sew on a treadle machine?  You see, she learned to sew on a treadle machine, and if she knew how to do something--she taught others because that's who she was.  There are seven preschools here serving hundreds of orphans with food, Montessori education and Tanzanian designed uniforms that she started, taught the teachers, and helped make the uniforms.  No room for that kind of detail in an obituary.  Without missing more than two weeks of teaching, she breastfed all three of her boys and was the best mother they could ever have asked for, making them alligator sleeping bags and sailboat beds and desks with never ending drawing paper in them.  That is not standard obituary information but to leave it out leaves an incomplete picture of who Karen was.  Maybe some of you can take some of this and mention her passing in the papers where so many knew her.  And maybe there is no way to tell others of who and what she was except for how she lives on inside of each of the thousands she touched.  That's a pretty good obituary right there, eh?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

“For truly we are all angels temporarily hiding as humans.” ― Brian L. Weiss

                       Someone posted on Facebook asking if any of us remembered a time when we didn’t know God was taking care of us, but looking back, could see it had to be.  This was certainly true of me because about twenty-five years before I became a Christian, at about nine o’clock in the morning on December 31, 1976, when we were living in Claremont, California, (L.A.) I went to our local Kaiser Clinic for an injection of antibiotics because I had a cold, and I didn’t want it to interfere with my New Year’s Eve partying.  The doctor, (Stephen Glass whom I had never seen before and would never see again—changed things).  He was giving me the injection when he noticed a spot on my arm and told me I needed to go the Kaiser Hospital in Fontana, California.  I said I would after the holidays, but he said, “No, right now,” and picked up the phone and made me an appointment.  I drove our only vehicle (a VW camper, what else) the 25 miles out to Fontana prepared to spend the day in the waiting room as the dermatologist was very, very popular.  Sure enough, there must have been a hundred people in the waiting room.  As soon as I sat down, they called my name and I was lucky to escape the others who had been waiting for much longer.  The doctor just looked at my arm, said, “Hmm.”  He picked up the phone and asked the chief of surgery to come in and look at it.  The chief of surgery came quickly, looked at my arm and said, “Hmm.”  Then he picked up the phone and told someone to get operating room three ready.  At this point, I said, “Excuse me!  Could someone tell me what’s going on?”  The surgeon (who was completely hairless—didn’t even have eyebrows) told me they just wanted to take the mole off my arm to be on the safe side.  I had the surgery and while I was in recovery (they took a big chunk out of my right arm) they called my wife and told her I was out of surgery but would need to be driven home.  Now, she thought I was getting a shot and the surgery thing threw her, but she got a neighbor to drive her out to pick me up.  I was told to come back on the third of January to talk to the surgeon again.  Needless to say, there was no New Year’s Eve partying that night.  On January 3, 1977, I went back out and heard that I had malignant melanoma, Clark Level 3, and only had a one in ten chance of living for two more years.  I had to have needle biopsies every day for the next two months, then once a week, and then once a month.  They took photographs, but I lived with no more surgeries and no chemotherapy.  
                       Was Dr. Glass an angel that day working with God to keep my date with a mission in Africa decades in the future?  Was he in league with my wife who didn't yet know she wanted to spend her last years in Africa?  I’ll never know.  If I get to heaven, I won’t ask.  I only have two questions if I get to heaven and that’s “Can I stay?”   If the answer is yes, then I will ask for my beloved.  That's how my heart works.