I get out of my car in Boston to attend the Hillsong Concert. I’m with my friend Lyn who is about 20 years my senior. I’ve told her about my friend Joelinda who is not quite 20 years my junior. Joelinda has also heard all about Lyn. Though they have never met they tightly hug each other before I can finish any sort of introduction. Lyn has never been to Chipotle so we venture out for dinner before the concert. Joelinda quickly jokes with Lyn and teases her about this first time Chipotle experience wondering what rock she’s been living under. I can’t help but smile all night as the difference in ages never seems to rise. There is talk about school, worship, family, guys, work, and most importantly Jesus is interwoven through it all. They find other people they know in common and search for connections via smartphones.
My life feels rich as I stand between them in the concert. Joelinda is worshiping with arms wide and heart abandoned. Lyn is learning the words and smiling with joy being in the midst of youth and the Spirit. She’s wearing her Toms, worships with enthusiasm, and fits right in. I smile feeling blessed that my life has become intertwined with these women I admire. Through them I have become a better person. My faith and heart have expanded never to return to the same size.
My thoughts recently have been simple – I don’t want to miss the deep friendship of people at different stages and ages than my own. My life is more complete, deeper, richer, and joyful because of them. If you don’t have a Lyn or a Joelinda in your life I encourage you to find one, two, three or more as your heart and faith will expand, never to return to “regular size.”
This blog post has been a long time in coming. It was months ago when the lilacs were in bloom that it began to bud in my heart. I don’t own a lilac bush. Someday when I own a home it’s on my list. I grew up in a home where there were 2 lilac bushes. I remember cutting some early in the morning, wrapping the stems in wet paper towels and bring bunches to my elementary school teachers. As a side note I can’t imagine I thought this up on my own and believe I must have been copying one of my fellow schoolmates.
What happens though when you’re an adult, don’t own a lilac tree and love fresh cut lilacs in your home? What happens when your dear neighbor in her 90’s who lives in her own lilac-less apartment loves lilacs as well? It’s clear you must find and acquire enough to spread the aroma through not one but two apartments. So each spring I set out to my usual locations to see if the lilacs are plentiful. There is a spot where I need to walk ½ a mile down a path and bend the upper branches down to retrieve the lilacs reaching for the sun. A town park down the road has planted a few bushes in the last few years. I assist the town in pruning. A few miles away there is a home with at least 50 feet worth of lilac bushes planted like a fence between their yard and the sidewalk. I believe the sidewalk is public property and therefore so are the lilacs. A new location was found this year on what I thought was a state park, since that time I’m still debating if it is private property. I feel a little strange about the next location, a cemetery. But I go and prune a bit there as well. Each time, especially at the cemetery, I step back to see if I have taken too much and each time there seems to be plenty and the bunches in my hand don’t make a difference to the bush but only to me. At the cemetery I wonder who loved lilacs so much to have a bush planted for them.
I talked with my dear neighbor Gini about the lilacs once. I admitted to her that it took me some scouting and possibly even some stealing. She didn’t want me to steal but the joy she received from the lilacs was worth it. It makes me wonder why anyone would plant flowers and not want to share them. This year I only had to steal lilacs for one. I thought of Gini the entire time. Though I have always wanted a lilac bush mine will be planted in her honor.
Yesterday I ate Raclette for the first time. If you, like me, had lived a life without knowing about this eating experience let me briefly enlighten you. It is a Swiss dish with potatoes, cheese, pickles and other side dishes. Raclette cheese is melted and then poured over the potatoes and repeated. I was informed that a perfect bite includes a bit of potatoes, cheese, pickle, and individual seasoning. They were correct, it is a tasty dish. How I found myself eating Raclette is another story and one founded in Christian community.
My dear friend Gini died two days before Christmas, just four days shy of her 96th birthday. The last days were a mix of sadness and joy as it was clear she was near the end and her body was shutting down. Thankfully she was not in pain. The important words had been said and I think that is the story of much of Gini’s life. She had a gift not only to listen but to give wise council through conversation, words of scripture, and writing. Gini was known to engage in the hard conversations. She would sometimes preface a hard conversation with knowing she might lose her friendship over saying what was on her heart but was willing to risk it. I personally believe it only made her relationships deeper. She also loved to have discussions about the arts and culture and always where faith intersects with them.
I found myself the past couple of days spending time with Gini’s friends from her years as a staff member at the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Reminiscing included snowy days, good conversations, years of correspondence, and where they and their friend’s journeys have taken them. These were glimpses of conversations that could go on for hours. There were discussions of social justice, health care, economics, science, art and aging all through a lens of faith. I was welcomed into this community over the past few days and for that I am profoundly grateful as it has helped the grieving and healing.
What I don’t want to miss is how not only this community brought me into their fold but also how I might do that for others. It can be so difficult at times feeling welcome and moving from outsider to feeling welcome and even an insider. Though I didn’t live through those “hippie” years with them (their words) they included me in the stories and provided me with the back stories. They shared with me the experiences that they had together on the hills in Switzerland telling me of more friends who would offer hospitality to me that also knew our dear Gini. They shared food, warmth, and hospitality.
There was a moment when I realized all of these individuals are single, some always and some more recently. This made the Raclette experience even more powerful. Raclette is a community eating experience the grills are designed for many to participate. I am thankful that they don’t seem to make Raclette grills for one and it seems a metaphor for how we are to live life, in community.
Today my dear friend Gini is exhausted and uncomfortable she is 2 weeks away from reaching 96 and is ready to be with Jesus. She is a Great Soul. Today there was little she could focus on or receive comfort from. I read/prayed with her from “Great Souls at Prayer” a compilation of prayer by Mary W. Tileston. Her copy is well worn with personal notes and meaningful phrases underlined.
December 12th: “Most Loving Lord, I offer my whole self unto Thee. Take, I pray Thee, into the hands of Thine unspeakable pity, both my soul and body, my senses words and actions; vouchsafe in all things so to direct and govern me, that I may ever flee every occasion of sin, and may so constantly cleave to Thee and to Thy commandments, that neither life nor death, nor anything which may befall me, may separate me from Thee – Amen” Treasury of Devotion, 1869
The work week came to a close and the to-do list for work and home over the weekend was long. Some was checked off but new items have appeared on the list. It is hard to take time to write and reflect on this stage in my life when I feel there is so much to do.
Downstairs is my dear neighbor who my mind wanders to continually. My focus is to help her finish well. She is receiving support from Hospice of the North Shore. The support and care is wonderful but when she is home the most they come is an hour a day. As I think of her it is clear that our friendship and the proximity of our apartments are not by accident.
Being single, and without kids at this time in my life, is not what I imagined, expected or planned. I don’t always handle this stage in my life with as much grace as I would like. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the work that God had in mind for me. Yet over and over again I think of the coming weeks and there is no other place I would rather be. If I was married I would not be living here (a hope for someday). If I had adopted (a hope to do someday) I would not living here. If I had foster kids (again a hope) I would not be living here. If I had bought a house again of course I would not be living here. Would I be friends with my dear neighbor? Yes I expect I would be in some way. However if many of my dreams, goals, and expectations for my life had been realized at this time I would not have the depth of friendship with my neighbor, nor the proximity. So my journey has taken a twist I never imagined and I would not have written the story another way. One of my closest friends time here is coming to an end.
I went downstairs last night and Gini was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart would essentially be her contemporary. Though some years it seems to run continually on TV she had never watched the movie in its entirety. This weekend she watched it and it made me ponder what would the world be like without her. Who has she touched and how? How has she touched me? Gini’s depth of care and willingness to have hard conversations is amazing. Many times heartfelt words have been shared verbally and in notes. I wouldn’t be the same nor would many of the women she has taught for decades in Bible Classes nor would the students she walked alongside of in the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. There would have been much less music in this world without Gini.
Don’t miss the story of It’s a Wonderful Life for yourself and for those you love this Advent season.
Gini, my 95 year old neighbor, mentor and friend, never learned to ride a bike. There was an attempt in 4th grade in Florida and a run into a planter. Bumps but no serious injuries she tells me. Time passed without learning to ride a bike and she’s opting not to learn now. I affirm this decision, despite my love for trying new activities and embracing new adventures. She laughed thinking about it, stating when she does learn to ride a bike it will be a golden bike, “on the other side.”
Yes… more talk of heaven tonight. What will be there? Mountains, oceans, animals, skiing, sky diving, music of all genres, kayaking, and biking? I love thinking about heaven as it can sometimes make decisions about what to choose easier. As I think about what “I don’t want to miss” there is also an eternal perspective to consider. Though I don’t want to miss out on an adventure there is a limited about of time in each day, week, month and year. I want to hike the next mountain, try a sport, and read another great book yet I also want to have the meaningful conversation, rebuild a destroyed home, and take time to be still.
My perspective on the “other side” of eternity is that everything good that we love here on this earth will be there. I also believe there will be more than we can imagine. When I wish I could spend weeks exploring New Zealand (my latest desire), spend time learning to hang glide (despite my fears), or somehow read my stack of unending books I try to remember what timeframe I’m working in. I believe on this side of eternity and also the other side there will continue to be unending lands to explore, new adventures to have and always more to learn. When I think of trying to fit it all in I realize I don’t need to and believe on the “other side” of eternity the adventure will be even better. The bike Gini may learn to ride could be a beautiful lightweight gold in a perfect design for her. It could be that no training wheels are needed as Jesus teaches her, or Queen Esther, or maybe Peter. Also God’s timing is mysterious, perfect and incomprehensible. It could be… possibly… that the bike riding lesson fits in eternity so that I am part of it and can cheer Gini on as she aces her lesson on her Golden Bike. We could mountain bike together or road bike if she prefers. The idea of eternity is beautifully overwhelming.
I don’t want to miss that I don’t need to fit all the adventures in on this side, rather the conversations and actions not to be missed out on can be weighed in regard to their eternal significance.
What can’t be done “one the other side”? Is that what we should be focusing on?
The first don’t miss list …. Some I’ve done and others are “in process”
1. Go to the Boston Marathon – at least once in your life time…. cheer well… clap, yell out names, and smile. Miles 15+ are my favorite… and the end crowded and crazy but tremendous. On the way to the marathon look down at your odometer… 26.2 miles is a long way.
2. Go to a Red Sox vs. Yankees Game… in Boston, in New York…. just go!
3. Hike a Fourtneer in Colorado…. word of advice start early and remember above the treeline there are no trees to hide behind if you are too well hydrated.
4. Travel with high school students… because they are amazing
5. Seek out great mentors.
6. Be a mentor
7. Read more
8. Learn a new sport – a team, lessons, etc.
9. Shut the TV off
10. Watch a Royal Wedding or two