One Saturday Morning

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.

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Somewhere Inside the Rainbow

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.

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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.

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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.

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How to New Year like it’s a Verb

Christmas by the fireOnce 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.

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Double Digits

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…

leslie-age-11Age 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.

leslie-age-22Age 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.

leslie-age-33Age 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.

grandma-leslieToday 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.

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Become, Find, Listen, Own

img_2122Words 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:
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The birthday:
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The birth:
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The baptism:
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"Become what you already are, Find Him Who is already yours, Listen to Him Who never ceases speaking to you, Own Him Who already owns you." ~ St. Gregory of Sinai

“Become what you already are,
Find Him Who is already yours,
Listen to Him Who never ceases speaking to you,
Own Him Who already owns you.”
~ St. Gregory of Sinai

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Callie’s Baby Shower

Some people laughed really, really hard at the little guy Grace drew that was supposed to be Baby Ezra.
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Some people laughed just stirring up the salad dressing.
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There was actually quite a bit of laughter going on that day.
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Although little boys chewing blue bubble gum cigars definitely were not laughing because that blue gum was serious business.

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There were many beautiful hand-made gifts.
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And amazing food and drinks shared with lovely friends.
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Things got a little on the wild side with the song game. Probably because certain people are a little on the competitive side.

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And when it was time to open presents, I was overwhelmed once more by what is right here, in front of my eyes.
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And while the little boys went a little nuts by this part of the shower…
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Throwing all the wrapping paper and laughing and running around so fast, my camera couldn’t keep up with them…
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The little girls took that same wrapping paper and discarded boxes and colored beautiful things inside them, while I heard one of them say to the other, “We’re really calm, right?”
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But of course, they were also chewing the blue bubble gum cigars…those calm little girls.
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These three girls are what is right in front of my eyes, almost all of them fully grown, and for now, all living near me. Two of them married to amazing young men. One of them about to deliver my first grandbaby. I simply can’t get used to these facts. I am overwhelmed when I consider them.
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And as grandmas often do (because yes, I am almost a full-grown grandma now), I reminisce.

I see this picture…
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… and it’s the exact same as this picture…

I am overwhelmed.

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To Even Exist

This song has now randomly come on my Pandora shuffle twice over the last few weeks. The first time was right after I got finished walking on the beach after a hard day at work. I walked and I let the wind and the water heal my tired soul. I stood with my pants rolled up and let the waves wash over the bottoms of my legs and gazed out at the afternoon sun, sinking into the western sea and I remembered how beautiful life was. Then I got in my car to drive home and this song came on. It was the first time I had ever heard it. I turned it up while I drove and somehow made it home through the tears that threatened to blind me. That night I played it for Chris, loudly, with all the lights off, while we laid on the floor and watched the stars through the trees silhouetted against the night sky out our living room windows.

Today, while in the middle of a good day at work, it randomly came on again. And just like that, I was wasted at my desk. I thought of my Uncle David, possibly in his last moments of the fever of this life in ICU on the other side of the country. I thought of my parents, who have given me so much, all four of my grandparents who have now gone to their rests, and my great-grandparents before them, some of whom I never knew but I am here to carry on their legacy nonetheless. I thought of lovely faces much-loved and now gone: Jamie, Jay, Nathan, Christina… I thought of the many faces and names still here, living at the same time as me. I thought of all that we give to one another, all that we need from one another, and how amazing it truly is, this life.

I thought of my grandson, Ezra, yet to be born. I have not yet seen his face, but I can’t wait to kiss it. I can’t wait to know him and others that will come after him. I can’t wait to continue to pass on this legacy. I can’t wait to rock him in my living room with all the lights off, and show him the stars through the trees silhouetted against the night sky out our living room window.

When I was young, I used to invite my friends over for the latest “Mood Music” I had discovered. There were rules to listening to Mood Music. The entire house had to be pitch black and we had to have really good speakers turned up as loud as they could go. We had to lay on the floor in the darkness and just feel the music while it played. I’d like to invite you to do that now. Even though we’re not in the same house, please follow the rules as you listen to this song. I figure since it’s now killed me softly twice, I must share it.

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