Here I am. A little wet and a lot exhausted, and a lot humbled by my bad, bad attitude.
We didn’t have electricity for three days, and no water for four. You can bet our kitchen stank, stunk, and stinked to high heaven. After all the food in the fridge rotted, and rotted food-water leaked all over the floor, we finally decided to go ahead and clean out the fridge even though we still had no water. Boy, was that something. After it took both Grace and I together, using all the strength we could muster while trying not to breathe through our noses, to lug that awful garbage out to end of the driveway (sometimes I really regret not having sons), we still had all the dirty dishes that had held all that rotted food all over our counter that we couldn’t rinse out. We also had all the dishes from the previous three days that we had been unable to wash.
All that stinkiness sat there for what seemed like an eternity before our property owners were able to find the leak in our well, caused by trees falling and their roots wreaking havoc on the underground world. They repaired it and refilled the tank and I tell you I have never loved water so much. Nor have I ever loved more the people who know how to find and fix things in places like underground worlds. I might even go so far as to show my appreciation by actually drinking water again, even though I’m always trying to stick it to the man by not drinking it. I don’t like when they say I have to drink it even though I’m not thirsty. But that’s another post for another day…
I think I reached my lowest point on the evening of the second day, as I drove to Trader Joe’s after the sun had set, looking for food that didn’t need to be prepared (or refrigerated) that I could take to the potluck at church the next day. I was in such a deep funk. First of all, not only was our house freezing beyond belief and all our firewood wet, but our house was also very nearly inaccessible. All entrances and exits were blocked by either police cars with spinning lights or a simple sign in the road that said “Road Closed.” Every time we tried to drive anywhere was a gamble. We’d drive around the “Road Closed” signs and hope for the best, often getting all the way to the end of the road, only to be turned back around and have to try another way. Once I got out, all I could do was look at all the houses that I drove past in the night with all their beautiful lights and all I could feel was jealousy. “Those people in those houses…. they don’t even KNOW what they have right now!” I grumbled in my heart. I think I might have hated the people in those houses with those beautiful lights. It was a seriously ugly, low point for me. And then I got home and cried because of the beauty of simple fire light, while sharing a simple meal of pizza and wine and Sprite with lovely people. What a fickle heart I have.
But eventually, power WAS restored. And when our road finally opened up and we could actually drive down it, we couldn’t believe what we saw. 20-30 trees had fallen across our little road, some were still dangling from live power lines. Crews had been working around the clock, cutting through a mess of trunks, branches and leaves to try to make a way through and bring life back to the living. By the way, have you ever smelled fresh-cut eucalyptus trees, wet with rain? I will never forget that amazing smell in the midst of such a disaster zone. It was like all my senses were awakened and the view was made even more poignant. Sometimes I’m awakened in this same way on Sunday mornings when I’m tired and maybe grumpy and always hungry and the prayers start to stick in my throat… and then the incense comes swinging down the aisles. I couldn’t escape it if I wanted, but why would I want to? It swings my direction, it swings the other direction, it swings over all of us, with large puffs of smoke, rising to heaven along with our prayers. It opens our senses and we turn toward the reading of the gospel and we listen to the words chanted, and we cross our bodies, mind, mouth and heart, and it’s all made so very poignant as we prepare ourselves for Holy Eucharist, and prepare ourselves to be made whole. Bit by bit, week by week. It’s a process for such a fickle-hearted person like me.
But now the sun is out and chainsaws have been the soundtrack of my work day today. I’m sitting here looking out my back window, watching the sun set through a clearing that wasn’t there before. I’m looking at seven newly cut trunks, just in my line of view from my couch, which has let in light that wasn’t there before. It’s no small feat, cutting these tall trees, I tell you. See those teeny, tiny guys, way up there in those trees? They went almost to the top and cut down all the branches, working their way down. Then they cut the bare trunks. That view right there…imagine seven of the trees gone now. I don’t know why cutting trees always makes me so sad. I don’t think I could possibly be the granddaughter of a forester. I’m way too sentimental about these things.
But on the other hand, do you see that grass? I mean, yeah, I know it’s like two feet tall but do you see that green? I would never have thought that green was a real-life color, but it is. Oh, it is. It is everywhere right now. It’s like we live in a fairy tale. A very rainy, muddy fairy tale.
In the midst of my funk last Saturday, my mom sent me videos she was finally getting around to uploading from Christmas. I tell you, I couldn’t stop smiling. I know this post is long and I know I have a fickle heart, and I know it makes no sense to put this video here in this post. But something about this night at my mom and dad’s last December in Dallas, surrounded by people that I love, just brings my heart gladness and now I’d like to share that gladness here. It was one of those impromptu music nights that somehow always go better than if we had planned it. Sadie and Grace singing (I think I joined in some on the chorus), Sadie and Josh on guitar, Robbie jumped up and started plunking out a piano part, and then the best part of the night was when Uncle Billy suddenly pulled out a harmonica that nobody even knew he had in his pocket. Perfect. It was perfect. Maybe the lyrics about untying all the cables and ropes and just floating are exactly what I needed to hear right now.
We’ve been getting battered by wind and rain and trees, but especially trees. Elisha just walked in the door, soaking wet like a sponge, his body pouring water, oozing all the way from the top of his hair, running straight down his face, down to the bottom of his socks and out his shoes, creating a growing puddle as he stood in the entry-way to Callie and Jeremy’s apartment, telling us how bad it is out there. He was at his parents house, helping them with downed trees and on his way here, he passed at least 50 more trees across the roads and kept having to turn around.
I’ve been working at Callie and Jeremy’s all day since the power went off early this morning at our house, and you know, the work MUST go on. A few large eucalyptus trees fell smack dab on our neighbor’s house before I left, destroying completely her beautiful, glass paneled art studio. The five hundred or so remaining eucalyptuses on our property were dancing violently in the 40 mph winds, alternately waving their mighty branches to the storm-blackened skies, and bending down deep to the muddy, sodden grounds, as if in some kind of plea with Mother Nature Herself and All Of Eternity to let them live. Just let them live and they will do whatever you want, including dancing in all their nakedness in the most vulnerable of ways. Grace and I ran for our lives to our car and got the heck outta dodge.
Jeremy also worked from home since he couldn’t get to his work due to flooding. Callie, Sadie and Grace sat at the kitchen table all afternoon coloring, while Jeremy and I sat here in the warm, lighted, wifi-enabled living room, working. The girls had an iPhone sitting in the middle of table, playing music, while they all hummed different parts. Some of the parts were part of the actual song, some were not, all sounded good and brought a fullness to both the music and my heart as I considered the many ways that I have been blessed. It was lovely background music while I worked. Ezra slept upstairs while the storm raged on and on out there. Coldplay and my daughters all sang together about waiting for you until kingdom come while the trees continued to fall outside our windows, all over kingdom come.
Elisha just left with Sadie and the little bean, that’s turning into a cantaloupe that will soon be a basketball inside her. They are going to attempt to get home, despite all reports that the canyon they live in is completely inaccessible. Sadie didn’t want him to go alone, since there’s no cell signal out there and she’ll never hear from him if he gets stuck. So, off they went to get stuck together. Elisha’s last words were. “Goodbye. If you don’t hear from us again, you know where to look…. under the trees.” And with that, the soaking wet, dripping, grinning son-in-law was off with my daughter and unborn grandbaby.
Chris just walked in the door, looking slightly less wet than Elisha, but infinitely more beaten down. He’d been waiting at home to make sure the house was okay, and waiting for the power to come back on. It didn’t. And now we’re out of water. And a tree fell on our garage. We were supposed to have dinner with friends tonight, who also have no power and live on a road that’s blocked by fallen trees, so we have postponed it for a night that is a little less wet and windy.
This is the conversation that just happened:
Grace: “So what are you guys going to do tonight then?”
Chris: (I didn’t look up from my computer, but I heard complete silence)
Grace: “Dad, that makes no sense… you can’t up your butt and around the corner on a Friday night.”
So that’s a little bit of what the mood is like around here.
Oh yeah, and then Ezra woke up. And we all smiled and laughed and smiled and laughed some more. I’d definitely wait for these people until kingdom come.
I roll out of bed at the late, luxurious hour of 7:10am. I make coffee, I dunk Trader Joe’s chocolate chip dunkers in it and suck them down while waiting for my financial software to download all the past week’s transactions. I do a preliminary look at the depressing state of affairs, then shut the computer and take Grace to work.
After dropping her at the burrito making place, I leave her in the empty parking lot, knocking on the locked door and I turn west toward the beach.
I park and walk across the parking lot until it turns to soft sand, packed a little harder than usual due to recent rains, and I make my way to the edge of the water. I walk, with the other walkers. All of us bundled in our hoodies, protected from the wind while we watch the sun begin to burn off the fog. I walk, with the happiest dogs in the world, most of them let free from their leashes even though signs are posted clearly prohibiting such an egregious crime. I’m glad for the dogs and their freedom and their happiness.
I walk, with my ear buds in, which both blocks the cold wind from my sensitive ear canal that knew too many ear infections as a child, and also delivers beautiful sounds and thought-provoking words into my head and my heart while I walk.
I walk, I listen, I watch the other walkers, I watch the dogs roaming free, I watch the birds soaring even freer, I watch the fog slowly rolling back to where it came from, way out there in its lair in the deep Pacific, revealing the green hills and homes that cover them. I imagine the people living in those homes, filling their coffee cups, making their way to their balconies to watch the fog roll back while I walk beneath it. I sense a presence coming up behind me and am suddenly engulfed in teenage boys, in matching sweatshirts and bare feet, running together on the beach. They part and run on either side of me, passing me quietly and coming back together as a pack once they have safely passed me, running on. Where do they run to? What are they running from? Do their longings run as deep as mine? Does the running help to break up the longings and bring clarity to their mind? I half want to try it, but I more than half don’t. I walk on, listening, watching, feeling, always keeping an eye on the ever changing waves coming in and out, in and out, sometimes pushing me up farther into the softer sand, sometimes tempting me to come join them as they suck themselves back out, preparing for the next burst of power while they roll on and on and on and on. Ever changing, never changing, making all things new, keeping all things the same.
I climb the soft dune and I sit, letting my breath come back to normal. I sit until the moisture in the air has become so thick, that my hair has puffed to twice its normal size and I can’t run my fingers through it. I sit until the next song is gone and it takes most of the longing with it. I stand and turn toward the parking lot and the little green car that will take me home where my computer and an unfinished budget await.
The sun came out for a little bit today.
But before the sun came out, it rained for forty years. During those forty years, much was lost. At times it was difficult to remember if there had ever been a light upon this earth. All we knew was darkness, and in that darkness we experienced anxiety and fear, bitterness and death, cold and suffering, sleeplessness and extreme fatigue, and sorrow upon heartbreak upon sorrow. At times it was difficult to remember the reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
Do we continue to get up every morning because of the hope that today might be the day that the light returns? Or because even in the darkness, there is living yet to live?
Chris goes to Texas tomorrow for a funeral of one of the finest women I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Her death was unexpected and we grieve along with her husband and family and many friends. We grieve for her magnificent smile, snuffed out so soon. We grieve for the many people that she obviously loved in such a admirable, selfless and unconditional manner. We grieve because of the rain that envelops us and chills us through (even though we are in a drought and desperately need the rain). We grieve with others who are sick and dying and others who have lost loved ones. Death seems to have swallowed us whole this last month.
I have grown old this last month. In my old age, I have mourned the loss of beauty and of youth and of freedom. In my old age, I have searched for myself and my God anew. In my old age, I have contemplated the meaning of life, and of love, and of death.
It is supposed to continue raining for the next four days. I will get up each morning and I will live within the darkness and I will build my fire and I will work. I will schedule meetings and schedule phone calls and schedule other peoples’ lives and manage other peoples’ money. And when I’m done with that, I’ll do dishes and maybe some laundry and cook food and try to keep the fire going.
And next week, the sun will come out again.
I’ll put on makeup and go for long walks on the beach and spend time with lovely people and worship the God who took death to the grave and rose victorious and put his bow in the sky as a sign that the waters shall no more destroy all flesh. I’ll take the medicine he gives me each week in his body and blood. I’ll dance when the music plays and I’ll sing all the lyrics wrong and I’ll continue to type my name “Keskue” instead of “Leslie” when my right hand gets one row off on the keyboard.
And I’ll see this guy, who lights up even the darkest day and is a gentle reminder of life and all the goodness that it has to offer. I’ll talk all googly at him, and I’ll help him find his thumb when he needs it because that’s what grandmas do. We just love and cuddle.
And I’ll watch as my second grandchild grows inside this girl, while these two continue to grow in their love for one another in their new marriage.
We heard the new little one’s heartbeat last week. There is life yet to live. Old age may just be the best age yet.
Once upon a time, in 2016, I became a builder of fires. I have lived in homes that had fireplaces before, but never were those fireplaces relied upon to prevent the extinction of the Linebarger family. They were always an extra little pretty thing to burn that would add to the atmosphere of the soft lights and soft music while we sat around and enjoyed the prettiness as well as one another’s company. No more. Now I live on the central coast of California where “mild” weather is enjoyed year-round. This means that not many homes have central heat/air. This means that when the temperature varies slightly from the mild and the daily highs drop from the mid-70’s to the mid-50’s, the inside of our house feels exactly like the outside. And let me tell you, 55 degrees inside a house where I sit for nine-plus hours, working at a desk and not moving a whole lot, does not feel mild. Most times I can’t feel my fingers or toes. And so we make use of our fireplace, which takes a LOT of maintenance. There’s the cleaning it out every morning before starting a new fire, there’s the gentle coaxing of the wood to catch, there’s the constant maintenance of keeping it at a comfortable level once it does catch, there’s the monitoring of the height of the flames so that our neighbors don’t call the fire department when the roof catches fire. It’s hard to look at spreadsheets and financial information all day long, while being constantly distracted by the stoking of the fire. And yet, if I don’t, I freeze.
And then, in 2017, on the tenth day of Christmas, an unexpected thing happened. We recently attended a wedding where my true love unexpectedly let loose. In our almost 25 years of marriage, I can never remember him ever dancing to fast songs at any other wedding EVER. Even before marriage, back in high school, we would go to school dances and he would dance the slow dances with me and then mysteriously disappear during the fun music. But a few weeks ago, he decided it was time to let loose and let loose he did. The only thing is that ever since that wedding (which is now being referred to as THE wedding), we in our house now get to hear stories over and over and over again about the amazing dance moves he brought out at THE wedding. And tonight we sat on our couch, the three of us that are left in our little tiny family, and we watched a tv special that included Bruno Mars. Two of us were talking about what a good dancer Bruno Mars is and how we wish we could make our bodies move like that. The other of us (who shall remain unnamed, but he honestly is my true love) scoffed at us and told us he was every bit as good of a dancer as Bruno Mars and that he can totally move his body like that and he’s had it in him all along and didn’t we see him at THE wedding? Somehow or another (I can’t remember how, exactly), this led to me getting up and showing him what dancing really was while belting out “let your body move to the music,” which led to him telling Alexa (yes, we are now a home with an Alexa as of the first day of Christmas) to play Vogue by Madonna. Which led to all hope being lost for continuing to sit on the couch.
And here I found myself, right here in 2017, after one of the hardest and most exhausting Decembers I can ever remembering having, turning my cold, cold living room with it’s beautiful but inadequate fire, into the place where you can get away. It’s called a dance floor, and here’s what it’s for…
At some point I noticed Grace with her phone in my face and I wasn’t really sure how long she’d been there and I threatened her within an inch of her life if that video ever ended up on the internet. At some point I heard the laughter of my husband going on and on. I love when he laughs in that laugh that is usually reserved only for watching Archie Bunker. I love when I am the one that inspires that laugh. At some point I actually started getting hot in my cold living room, for the first time in over a month and so I took the dance party for one out to the deck. And when the song switched to Express Yourself, I did just that, checking back in every once in awhile to dance circles around my fireplace before dancing back out the door to cool off again. And then I collapsed. And I laid there on my deck in the darkness of January 3rd. And I looked at the lights strung up overhead that were leftover from Sadie’s wedding last year. Dark now, but how beautiful they are when lit. And I looked at my wood pile, so beautiful as the labor of love that it represents from those who gave it to us, covered with a tarp to protect it from the impending rain. And I looked at the sky, filled with rain clouds, which make it seem as if stars have never existed. But I know they exist. I’ve seen them. They’re up there, right here in this universe with me, right here in 2017. And that’s amazing.
Happy 2017 to you. May the remaining two days of Christmas be filled with all the dance parties your hearts desire.
Today is my 44th birthday. As is my way, each year on my birthday, I have spent the morning reflecting. As often happens with my reflections, this one has turned into a very long blog post. But as a wise person once said, it’s my birthday and I’ll post a long blog post if I want to. Since it’s a year with matching double digits, I’ve decided to look back on all the matching double-digit years that came before…
Age 11 was a year filled with many changes in my life, including three different schools in two different countries for my 6th grade year. I started the school year out in Los Gatos, CA (which was different from where I was in 5th grade, by the way). My parents were beginning to raise support to go as missionaries to Mexico. I have no idea how we ended up with a large church outside of San Jose as our sending church, but end up there we did. I was enrolled in the church’s school for the first few months of 6th grade. I remember a girl in my class talking about how it was impossible for our finite brains to understand an infinite God and I thought she was the smartest girl I had ever known and I determined to start using the word finite on a regular basis so that I could impress people with my smartness too. When support was fully raised, my parents had to go to (weeks? months? i just know it felt like forever at age 11) of candidate school in Dallas, TX, so my brothers and I went to live with my grandparents in Nashville, TN for a few (weeks? months?) and enrolled in the public schools there. I remember riding the bus with a bunch of scary middle schoolers who said “ah” instead of “I” and going to science class with kids who said “ole” instead of “oil”. I remember trying out for a solo for the school Christmas program and everyone talking to me after that when they hadn’t noticed me before. We ended up leaving Nashville before the Christmas program, so I never got to sing that solo that I got. I finished out the school year in a small, English-speaking school in Guadalajara, Mexico, run by American Catholic missionaries while my parents went to language school for American Protestant missionaries. I remember spending many hours in the way back seat of our station wagon that year (remember how they faced backwards?). In all of the thousands of miles that we put on that station wagon that year, I spent most of it facing backwards and pretending like the whole world was looking at me, while I was on stage, singing, dancing, acting. It was especially magical at night when all the headlights of the other cars were spotlights on me. I wrote many songs, stories and plays in the way back of that station wagon. I was all alone and I was a star and I knew it. I was on my way to save the world with my adventurous, passionate, big-hearted parents.
Age 22 saw me become a mommy for the first time. Chris was in Bible School in Dallas, TX during the day and working the graveyard shift as a courier at night. I spent my days with good friends who lived in the same apartment complex as me who also had baby girls within six weeks of mine. It was a magical time, there in the part of East Dallas where it was not safe to go out at night. I would often call 911 when I would hear gunshots outside my window while Chris was working. I remember never feeling scared since I was on the second floor. I just felt like someone needed to let the police know what was going on in case someone out there needed their help. We rarely had extra money, but I loved my simple days spent with my baby. I loved the routine that mommyhood brought. Feedings and meal-planning and laundry and turning our apartment into a home full of pictures and music and laughter was all I had ever wanted. Chris and I would spend the evenings after Callie went to bed getting down on the floor and imitating her moves and sounds and faces and we would die laughing at each other before he went to work each night. Babies really are the best kind of free entertainment for poor people.
Age 33 was very much a year of stability for me. I had hit my rhythm as a mommy and now had all three girls in school. After spending ten years as missionaries traveling back and forth to Mexico, constantly trying to raise more support and constantly never ever ever having enough, we decided it was time to step back and Chris got full-time work doing traffic counting and we settled into the “normal” American life. We finally had regular income, and I very much enjoyed the days of elementary school with my girls, watching them grow and encouraging them to be who they are. I started writing more and exploring my creative side with music and photography. I finally realized my dream of starting a gospel choir at church, while Chris and I together led worship on a regular basis with other wonderful musicians and friends at our little Bible Church. I started this blog when I was 33, as a matter of fact. That was huge for me, as I finally had a place to put my thoughts into writing and people that I loved were actually reading it. As an introvert, this changed everything for me, and I don’t think I fully realized how much this blog changed who I am and how I relate to people until today, as I started typing these words.
Today I am 44. This past year has been almost more, if not actually a whole lot more, full of change for me than the year when I turned 11. I moved a few times, including across the country, said goodbye to Callie and Jeremy with tears, then welcomed them to California with even more tears when it worked out for them to move here, watched Chris receive his ordination into the priesthood, made a few different new school choices for the other girls, watched Sadie fall in love and get married, watched my grandson be born and watched Callie become a mommy at the same age I was when she came into my life. This morning, Chris got up and made me french toast and bacon and coffee while playing his “mood music” playlist. We sat down to eat his amazing breakfast with our little family of three (still getting used to this!) as the song below came on. I looked out the window at our beautiful deck and the woods surrounding us and the grass that turns green here when it’s dying all over the rest of the country. Sometimes I let my eyes well up with tears and then I stop, but not today. Today is my birthday, so I let the tears spill out.
I hate it when they say
I’m aging gracefully
I fight it every day
I guess they never see
I don’t like this at all
What’s happening to me
My hope for this year is for stability. I’ve had it in the past, so I do believe I can get there again. There has been so much that is good in the many changes of the past year. Truly. So much. My heart is more grateful than I know how to express. But in every change, so much is lost. I missed my dad and mom and brothers more than I was ready for as I watched the Cubs win the World Series a few nights ago. I miss my many loved ones that have passed on and I’ll never see again in this life. I miss the comfort of relationships that took years to build. It’s hard to start over. It’s hard to be new and unknown, while at the same time trying to navigate all the new and unknown, while at the same time trying to love people deeply while not offending them in the process. It’s hard to have my kids grow up and go through hard times and not be able to help like I could when they were little. It’s hard to work so hard all day every day and not have time for the things I used to have time for. It’s hard to let the years go by.
But today is not the years. Today is today and today I am 44 years old and today is where I am. And tonight I will go out to dinner with all these amazing adult children and one little precious tiny human being that now surround me and then I will go to the beach to watch the sunset and then I will see who I can get to play a game with me. And if the tears want to fill up and spill over at any time, I am going to go ahead and let them.
Words escape me lately. Words escape me a lot, actually, but especially lately. They say it never rains in California but it’s raining tonight. I have a huge skylight in my kitchen that makes the rain sound especially beautiful. I have a crackling, orange fire going in my fireplace that makes the rain feel especially beautiful. I hear it hitting the deck in pitch blackness beyond the window behind me, where I sit on the couch wrapped in an afghan made by my mother-in-law, while looking through my pictures from the last few weeks. Where to begin? Words escape me.
In between the regular stress of life and work and heartache and pain, we’ve had a house blessing and a birthday and a birth and a baptism as well as many gatherings of family and friends over good food and drink. These things have a hard time working themselves out in my mind.
My shoulder hurts. Like bad, hurts. Like I’ve been going to physical therapy three times a week and acupuncture once a week. Like the pain wakes me up at night and I cry often when moving the wrong way, which is all the time because when my body does things, it tends to do them big and loud.
And then my grandson was born. I held the full weight of my daughter as she labored through contractions with determination and beauty in the stillness of her house on a rainy Sunday. As her arms wrapped around my neck and we rocked together, while she worked through the pain that countless women before her have worked through in order to bring forth life, I was transported back to when she was a baby and I would sing her to sleep with her head on my shoulder and her arms wrapped around my neck. And in spite of wanting her to be delivered from the pain, I also wanted the stillness and the beauty of the moment to last. And then the stillness was broken when we finally saw his little face after many, many hours, yelling and telling us all about it. And we cried and laughed and kissed and hugged because never in the history of the world has there been a more glorious sound than the yelling of a newborn baby, safe at last in his mother’s arms, after coming through one of the most perilous journeys that both of their bodies will ever know.
Are there even words out there that can be said? The worst of times and the best of times, all in one week. Bags under eyes and gray hairs and aching bodies and family and love and arms wrapped around necks and grandchildren. Rain and green grass after months of dryness. Isn’t that just how life goes sometimes.
The house blessing: