Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father to the Fatherless

When I read in Psalm 68 that God is father to the fatherless, I think of children of single moms, or of friends whose fathers have passed away. Oh, I have thought of myself as a beneficiary of this wonderful fact, certainly, but more in the context of God’s being a perfect father, compared with my imperfect earthly father. Today is the first Father’s Day I’ve thought of myself as “fatherless,” and it feels odd, as though I’m wearing someone else’s name tag. 

Last June Dad understood the celebration. Today, although he was happy to receive gifts, he had no idea why we gave them to him. He made no comments about them. He recognized the cookies and candy; he didn’t recognize the jigsaw puzzles. He asked Mom to read our cards to him, but he didn’t assimilate the compliments. Mom had given him an ID bracelet so that he’d have something of his own in the nursing home. He liked the bracelet but didn’t recognize his name engraved on it.

Dad’s protection, provision, companionship, and guidance throughout my life are now all in a closed attic trunk of memories. This trunk is not yet locked or dusty; I still reach in and feel the warmth of those daddy memories that embraced and shaped me. An open trunk where current and future paternal experiences go will, however, contain none of these precious things. 

This morning when the radio played a song about holding our heavenly Father’s hand, I pictured myself a small child reaching for her father’s hand to cross the street. My daddy was not there, but God stepped in and took my hand. This little girl’s lips quivered and her eyes spilled over because she longed for her father’s familiar hand. But kindness and strength in this new hand collected her tears and calmed her lips. I can’t explain how, but I felt changed, as though God not only walked me across the street but also lifted me up onto a Segway and then hopped up behind me and off we zipped together. It seems at least one benefit of losing my dad to dementia is a deeper desire for and dependence on God’s fathering. Today I’m especially glad God is father to the fatherless.

Monday, June 6, 2011


In an impromptu tour of our hostess’ beach home, she shared her joy of honoring family and of creating new from old—she calls it repurposing. That charming weatherworn white bird house perched on a pillar in her living room? Repurposed from the garden of her former B&B; to use the bird house as indoor décor, she found a tall, slender, curvy pillar. The pink and green tile-top table on the porch? Repurposed from a living room end table that now has a rattan top repurposed from an earlier use. The trunk topped with glass showcasing her husband’s fishing lures, hole-in-one golf ball, and other mementos? Repurposed from a box her grandfather had made when one day her grandmother had casually said, “I need a box,” then repurposed into our hostess’ childhood toy box. In recent years, she looked at the trunk and thought if someone built up the top into a glass showcase …

Sepia photos of our hostess’ ancestors, an 1895 edition of the kittens who lost their mittens book, eclectic collection of mirrors, Roseville vases and Rosepoint glassware—we heard all their stories. For example, her sister secretly wanted their mother’s Rosepoint cake plate (which had a story all its own). When her sister learned her mother had sold her Rosepoint glass collection, she went to the antiques dealer and bought it back from him. Afraid her mother would find out, she always hid that cake plate whenever her mother visited—until one visit, she didn’t. When her mother heard the subsequent chapter in the Rosepoint cake plate’s life, she exclaimed, “Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted that plate?”

I was thinking how rare vision like our hostess’ is today in our throwaway society. A beat-up old bird house? Eh, just pitch it. Pink tiles no longer match your new décor? Out in the trash goes the table; you can always buy a new one. She values the old because of their stories. Though she has discarded items she saw no new use for, she sees new life in many more items than the average person does. I treasure a wooden trunk my dad crafted, but my only vision is to put blankets in it now and toys later. A trunk is a trunk is a trunk. I don’t look at a trunk and see a display case. And I could stare at two tables until my eyeballs turned into marshmallows and never imagine the table tops on each other’s bases, let alone on completely different bases. Our living room has furniture made new to look antique. I once saw a TV do-it-yourselfer flogging a pristine dresser with chains to dent and scuff the paint off its corners for an instant-antique look. This seemed both ridiculous and clever. We abandoned the clever, but kept the ridiculous—to achieve the cottage look, we didn’t find antiques and fix them up; we bought new “antiques”—pre-flogged furniture.

Our hostess explained that even the cottage we are renting this week has been repurposed. In the 1930s it was part of a resort. Back then, little bedroom cabins dotted this land. When families came to enjoy the lakefront, they ate in a central dining hall. Eventually, the land was parceled off and sold, the cabins demolished. But—our hostess and her husband purchased a lot with two of the cabins. Again, their repurposing vision came into play. Since the dining hall was gone, if they wanted to rent the cabins, they’d need to add kitchens, eating areas, and living space. So they did just that. A few years ago, they wanted to build a home for themselves, but instead of demolishing one of the little cottages to gain land, they sold it to someone who moved it down the road to preserve it and continue to rent it out. Her lovely beach home and our little cottage for the week share land and lake. When we arrived, she delighted to tell the story behind the picture hanging over our couch. Someone had donated an 80-year-old black-and-white picture postcard to the historical society, where she volunteers. She recognized the tiny white cabin tucked into trees and repurposed the postcard by enlarging the photo for a 16-by-20 frame and giving it a place of honor where it could speak to many more generations enjoying this cozy cottage.

I admire people’s talent for creating new while honoring old. Some people have a knack for accessorizing outdated clothing to create striking new outfits. Others have additional vision and skills to raise and lower hems and change collars and lapels to create new looks. Our hearts and minds have rusting junkyards full of treasures, too. In the process of maturing, we repurpose experiences to learn and do better next time. When we succeed—for example, we approach conflict differently and this time the other person responds positively—it’s a beautiful new relationship, a little scuffed but now more serviceable. And remember the ditty we sang around Girl Scout campfires? “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” Old friendships that bend, flex, and re-create themselves as our lives change are more precious than gold and certainly become more beautiful with burnishing over time.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

South Haven Simplicity

At the moment a cardinal sends whew-whit-whit-whit-whit-whit-whit-whit signals from treetops above my screened porch. Another bird a few houses away responds to every signal: cheer-chew-cheer. Their conversation has lasted most of the evening ~ too long for Twitter posts but probably okay for a nice thread on Beakbook.

Between the porch and Lake Michigan shadows of tall maples and elms approach, turning Kelly green carpet to forest green. The sun glistens in top branches, then rests between lower boughs. A motorboat streaks silently across the gray-blue band of water while a vapor trail in a cloudless sky plunges like a star. Occasional hotrods on the road behind the cottage and cigar boats on the lake in front rip ruthlessly through the calm as though tearing a rag. Little do they realize the peace they’re ripping is rare royal silk. But mostly all is quiet, save the birds social networking above. Simple.

Another South Haven simplicity I appreciate is the sunset tradition. People walk down the pier to watch the sun set over the lighthouse. Last night a crowd clustered at the base of South Haven’s red lighthouse saw an unspectacular sunset, then dispersed. We stayed though, knowing the sun below the horizon wasn’t yet finished painting the clouds above. In one of these photos, I purposely included someone’s abandoned ice cream cup, because that is another part of the tradition I enjoy ~ walking down the pier with a cup of Sherman’s ice cream. Make mine Chocomania please.