ABUNDANCE IN AN EMPTY JAR

 

 

The bottom of a peanut butter jar evokes a spiritual moment for me.  The scrape of the knife against the sides takes me back to summer days in Xenia, Ohio.  I was seven years old and staying next door with my grandparents while my mother finished the needed hours for her teaching degree at the University of Dayton.  My grandpa provided most of the “babysitting” while my grandmother wrote music or poetry or letters to friends.  I trailed him like a puppy dog exploring the world for the first time.  Looking back with adult perspective, I marvel at his level of patience.

My grandfather had ministered to the hurting during the Great War, navigated a family of four children through the Great Depression, and husbanded a brilliant wife who suffered emotionally in an era when being an ambitious woman was not viewed sympathetically.  My grandmother had recovered from a heart attack when I was four, but ever after – it seemed to me – felt short of breath or short of patience, or both.   Grandpa entertained me with endless games of checkers that he never let me win, yet I loved to play.  He set me down with a huge horseshoe magnet and a tin filled with metal washers, bolts, and screws to spill and regather by power of my magnetic magic wand.   And then he fed me when I was hungry.  He made me think sardines on crackers were ambrosia.  (Couldn’t eat them now to save my life!) But my favorite lunch was peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches, folded over, not cut.  And we always saved the middle for the last bite.

The mystical moment occurred when the peanut butter jar was empty.  Or, at least, I thought it was ready to throw away.  “Oh, no, Anna!” Grandpa would say.  “We can both still have sandwiches out of that jar.”  And he would scrape and scrape the knife against the thinly coated sides, then wipe the blade smoothly across the slice of Wonder Bread.  It took short, determined strokes to lift the remaining peanut butter from the bottom, but many trips in and out of the jar and soon a real sandwich took shape.  Sometimes he would speculate, “I think we may get one more yet!  See what you can do.” And I would try my luck at finding some where there seemed none.  The results were delicious and joyful.  Just like the joy we shared at opening the next new jar and making the first plunge in the amply filled glass container.  Whether we were challenged by scarcity or abundance, it didn’t matter.  We were sharing the moment whatever it brought.

Much is written about Stephen Covey’s concept of “abundance mentality” vs “scarcity mentality.”  I’ve blogged myself about one of my favorite words – enough, but I believe abundance is an even better descriptor of the best way to view life.  Of course it takes imagination to face difficult circumstances, times when our jars of life seem empty.  But the challenge is to see beyond what seems scarce to what yet remains.  Sure empty will happen.  But empty means we go in search of what comes next.  Awareness of the undergirding joy of life is all that really matters.

Cecropia

On this Mother’s Day weekend, it seems appropriate to breathe new life into this blog of mine that has languished for months.  Being a writer requires a discipline I often find challenging to maintain – especially when life undergoes such a transformation as mine has in the last year.  Joy does not prompt me to pour out words for others to share in the same way that pain does.  Isn’t that odd?  I believe that phenomenon is common one, however.  As Truvy says in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

So let me begin again to be a writer with some regularity.  After all, being “in it for the long run” means that you don’t give up even if you’ve fallen down.  Life cycles.  And it’s time once again for rebirth.

Let me share with you a story that I wrote after my mother died.  I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor her memory for Mother’s Day.  Thank you, Edna Bach, for being the primary influence on my life and for using every opportunity life gave you to teach me important lessons – like this most important one of all.

 

Cecropia:

A Story about Life for Children and their Grown-ups

By Anna Bach

 

What do you keep on the dining room table at your house?  Maybe a pretty vase with flowers . . .  or a bowl of fruit . . . or a candlestick?   I’ll bet you would never guess what we kept on the dining room table at my house when I was a little girl.  Caterpillars!   Not just any old caterpillars, either — these were giant silkworms, the caterpillars of the Cecropia Moth, the largest moth in North America.

Not many mothers would help their children raise caterpillars on the dining room table, but my mother wasn’t just any ordinary mother.  She had a gift for knowing what was important about life, and she knew that for the few summers of my childhood the lessons those caterpillars could teach were more important than an uncluttered table.

If I close my eyes, I can still picture the tiny white and brown-spotted eggs that dotted the backs of leaves.  As they began to hatch, tiny black worms wiggled out about the size of a large ant. Inching along the fresh leaves we provided for them every day, the little worms nibbled the green straight across, never wasting a mouthful.  Sometimes two worked together, chewing away, until only the veins of the leaf remained – like an old umbrella with the fabric removed.

Soon each little caterpillar would grow too big for its skin. One-by-one they would clamp their tiny caterpillar feet on a stem and split their black suits right open.  And guess what — with their next suit of clothes, they turned green.

They were lean, green eating machines, those caterpillars.  The more they ate, the bigger they grew.  The bigger they grew, the sooner they would split their skins and come out even larger and more colorful.  Soon they boasted bright orange, yellow, and blue tufts down their green backs.  No matter how colorful they became, however, I still thought they were rather ugly-looking worms.  Fascinated, I grew brave enough to let the caterpillars crawl on my finger and cross my palm from one hand to the next.  I wasn’t supposed to play with them.  Mother made it clear that we must behave gently.  Their well-being was our sacred trust.

The ever-growing caterpillars ate so fast we had to work hard to keep them in fresh leaves.  Sometimes taking care of them seemed tiresome to my six-year-old self, but I understood that their lives depended on my efforts. Every day we cut branches from their favorite wild cherry tree to place in that vase in the dining room.  So long as food was provided, they stayed right at their tasks — devouring greenery, growing more plump, and shedding their skin – four more times!  We had to put fresh newspaper under them every day, too.  Watching life’s lessons can be a pretty messy business.  But Mother seemed to care more about the unfolding story of the cecropia moth than any mess or inconvenience.  I told you she was no ordinary mother!

With the coming of fall, the caterpillars went to school with us.  Maybe I forgot to I mention that my mother was a teacher.  How her first grade students loved to watch as those cecropia caterpillars spun their cocoons!   And, of course, so did I.

Throughout the winter, the vase sat safely on a window ledge, holding bare branches that supported the brown crescent-shaped cocoons.  After a while the students — and even I — forgot the caterpillars.  We were busy with other things, like learning from books.  Then, in early May, something wonderful began to happen.

I remember the first time Mother called to me, “Anna, come here.  See what you feel when you put your hand around the cocoon.”  The dry, spun silk felt leathery as I gently, but firmly, closed my hand over its wrinkled outer walls.  Inside the warmth of my grasp, the cocoon that looked dead stirred with life.  Deep within the caterpillar’s tomb, the moth was struggling to be free.  The wiggling both tickled and frightened me at the same time.

“Let’s help it, Mother!”  I cried.  “We could use scissors and snip through the cocoon so that the moth doesn’t have to work so hard.”

“Oh, no,” said Mother, “if you want to be helpful, you must let the moth find its own way out.  If you try to hurry the process, the moth might not survive or it might be deformed.  The struggle is part of the process — part of nature’s way of making the miracle happen.”

Mother reminded me of a big word we had read about: Metamorphosis.  It meant “the process of being transformed.”   She said the ugly green worm with the colorful spots had somehow spent the winter learning how to be a moth — changing its form from an earth-bound, ugly green worm to a delicate flying machine with beautiful reddish-brown markings.  When the transformation process was complete, the new creature had to escape the once-safe cocoon in order to stretch its new wings.  That was why it was important to leave the cocoon on the branches — so the soft, downy legs of the cecropia could pull that lovely new form into the light of day.

I certainly had read in books about metamorphosis, but no words could describe my feelings as I watched one of those big, beautiful moths unfold its new wings and begin to fan them dry.   Now, Mother said, the new moths would find mates and lay eggs that would hatch into more little cecropia caterpillars, and the process would start all over.

Those summers we spent growing cecropia caterpillars were long ago.  I am now a grown up — a mother and grandmother myself — but I am still discovering the value of my little girl lessons.  In fact, I think I am just beginning to learn the most important lesson of all.  My mother taught me that one, too.

By the time I became a grandmother, my mother was old and frail.  Her spirit still enjoyed life just as much as when I was a little girl — or when she was a little girl — but her body couldn’t house that energy anymore.  Life for Grandma B, as the children called her, was beginning to be more and more of a struggle.  One night I was called to her bedside because she was very ill.  I held her close in my arms as she fought with pain.  Although I didn’t want life to change, the time to let go had come.  I cried and was so sad.

But my story doesn’t end here.

The next morning I woke early and went outside alone to think.  I knew the day would be difficult.  I had to tell our children and grandchildren the sad news.   I tried to think of words to use to explain losing someone we loved so much.  As I stood in the early dawn, listening to the birds sing, watching the raindrops drip from the leaves of the trees, I remembered how my mother always taught me to find strength and comfort in creation.   However, instead of finding the words to share with my family, my mind kept returning to the moment I held my mother as she struggled within her body.  I searched my mind for happier pictures, trying not to be so sad.

Then the childhood memory of holding the cecropia cocoon came back to me.  What was it Mother had said?  “The struggle is part of the miracle.”  A sudden, wonderful feeling washed over me.  “If an ugly green worm transforms to a magnificent moth, imagine how glorious life must be beyond this earthly cocoon for someone already so beautiful.”

At that moment, I experienced the understanding of another big word — Resurrection.  Just as there is no way to explain to a little green worm about wings and flight and being carried by wind currents, so there is no way for us to understand any life beyond this physical one.   But by faith we catch an occasional glimpse of what eternity must be.  We can sense that the transforming miracle we call death is really just a new beginning, a transformation, a metamorphosis.

I left the porch and the quiet morning rain with a deep sense of peace and assurance.  I knew when my grandchildren asked the question, “Why did Grandma have to die?” I would be ready to respond — “Let me tell you a story from my childhood about a giant silkworm moth called the cecropia.”

Better still — this fall we will find a cocoon and wait for the spring.

 

October Light

I love the golden hue of October light, the patina of an aging year.  The glow seems heavy as though the late morning sunlight is swimming against the  tide of time.  I understand. My life force feels the same resistance in my aging bones.  Still, many say that fall is their favorite time of year.  And many young ones say they can’t wait to be retirement age.  I wonder if they recognize that autumn’s allure eminnates in part from our awareness of its inevitable fading from glory. Its brevity underscores its value. We know it can not linger long, for it isn’t the last season of the year – it’s the penultimate one.  The same can be said of our retirement years.

I’ve never before comprehended the need for the word penultimate. Why would the next-to-last be something to identify with such specificity?  Shouldn’t the ultimate of anything dwarf what comes just before?

Perhaps nature gives us a hint as to the necessity for the word by sending us October light. Maybe you think it’s your imagination that the light seems golden, almost liquid in its hazy hovering, especially early on an autumn morning.  However, what you observe is real.  Earth has begun tilting away from the sun; now the rays of light we receive are longer, slanted beams that gleam and cast long shadows. We recognize that – while warmth is not quite over – the days of baking our bones in sunshine are done.  We wax nostalgic, looking back at summer and anticipating the long, dark, ultimately cold days of winter.  We savor the penultimate nature of autumn light.

In the Hindu religion, this is the season for Diwali – the festival of lights, a celebration that spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.  My understanding is that the festival lasts 4-5 days over the new moon of autumn, during the penultimate darkness before the “longest night of the year” in December.  The traditions of shopping and feasting, of gifts and lights seem not unlike the Christian celebrations attending the birth of Christ, the ultimate Light of the World. If we could learn to value the traditions of other religions, perhaps Christians could recognize that the Universe is always teaching the same lesson to slow-learning humans – light eliminates darkness, life triumphs over death, and ultimately, understanding illumines oblivion. We know the light will return with vivid spring strength.  Like a crayon-resist painting, darkness will be scratched away, and the light will be revealed once again.  If we let them, the seasons teach us to hold on to hope.  The Hindus use the “Festival of Lights” as a reminder before darkness descends of the power of light.  It’s like cramming right before the test.

I would argue that in this penultimate season, humans get a needed chance to value the changing nature of light and the changing nature of life. We slow down.  We savor the harvest. Our memories glow with the same golden hue of the grain we store.  The mellow shades of autumn remind us of the challenges on their way, but soften the dread.  Given this time of preparation, we can be ready for the ultimate season – winter,  or metaphorically, death.  We have the penultimate season as a reminder to get ready.

Ever since Ron’s stroke, I’ve been more aware of the ultimate season life brings to us all. More specifically, I have thought about the reality that my life, too, must end.  Theoretically, we know the shadows deepen as autumn approaches (“those golden years”); but if we are honest, until we really experience the chill in our bones, the physical shift from growth to wither, we don’t really believe death will happen to us or to those we love.  How important, then, that autumn brings us the chill reminder of changing realities.

Now, this could seem a morbid truth, and autumn could be a hated season.  But usually it is not.  Why?  Because we celebrate the harvest.  We hold parties, we dress up, we ring door bells and play pranks.  We layer clothing and discover there is no bad weather, only poor planning.  We rake leaves and jump in them.  We mull cider and roast marshmallows.  Life is good.  And if we are smart, we approach our latter days with the same abandon.  I want to be smart.  I want to make the most of this penultimate time we are privileged to enjoy.

And so I announce my choice to risk loving again.  I am selling my home, downsizing my closets and shelves, and taking a leap of faith that – like Job – my latter days can be better even than my beginning ones.  I am pledging my heart to the Rev. Dr. Page Foster of Melbourne, Florida, who also lost the love of his life – four years ago tomorrow.  We plan – like the Hindus – to make this penultimate season a “Festival of Light.” How sweet to have a chance to share the harvest years of life together.  So how fitting that I will say “goodbye” to family and friends here at Thanksgiving.

When I was in the middle of Ron’s winter season, I entitled this blog “In It for the Long Run.”  Of course, at the time, I was thinking of Ron’s admonition to me as a young mother to be patient with the raising of children – to take the long view.  They would not always be children.  Once my babes were adults themselves and successfully pursuing lives of their own, I saw the wisdom of his advice.  In the midst of our struggle, I discovered how taking the same long view applied to the marathon journey of stroke recovery.  Then after Ron made his ultimate crossing from this life to the next, I recognized the new “long view” applied to picking up the course of life again and finishing my own race.

This blog began as a place to explore the lessons of caregiving in the face of difficulty and struggle.  Then there were forays into the furnace of grief and loss.  I wish now that I had been more faithful to record the explorations of how I was rebuilding my life, once I determined to do so, but instead much of the searching for direction in last twenty months has been a time for silent meditation – like when it’s summer and it’s just too hot to cook.  But thanks be to God, I have emerged from that season and am enjoying October light.  This long run I’m on is taking me to new places and new scenery, and that’s okay.  Maybe it’s time for a new title – “Second Wind.”  Regardless, I am still underway, and I don’t intend to quit. Just letting you know.

 

 

October Light

The hope is life’s transience will produce such luminance in us

If we tilt toward the Source,

Avoid storms and linger in the calm,

Let the chill of change produce its magic,

And just BE.

Breathing in, Breathing out

I’ve not written much for months.  But I’ve been breathing in and out just the same.  Pretty forgettable behavior.  In fact, we breathe automatically, without even thinking.  Unless we can’t.  Or unless we become intentional about centering prayer, about listening to life happen within us.  I’d like to claim that’s what I have been doing instead of writing.  And I have.  Some.  However, we can’t stay focused on our breathing all the time.  We’d hyperventilate, or become neurotic, or both.  Sometimes we just need to breathe and not think about it.  That’s an important part of life’s balance, too.  Not obsessing.  Just being.

So that’s my excuse, my attempt at apology for not writing.  But, like holding my breath, withholding my words makes me comatose eventually.  And I must start writing again.   Like I must also pray.  Like I must also breathe.  Intent, prayer, breath are part of my autonomic nervous system, sometimes I regulate them, but mostly they regulate me.  Fascinating design plan.  Worth contemplating this morning as I write because I must.

So I wonder — what if we tried to live by only taking in air and not letting it go?  Maybe we’d be designed like puffer fish and bounce through life like a dirigible.  But our breathing teaches us we are designed for both taking in and letting go.  I believe the Designer made us this way on purpose.  Our very lives depend on a process that becomes a metaphor for everything we do.  We receive; we give.  We take in; we let go.  However, in much of our existence we seem to relish the taking and resist the releasing.  At least that’s my observation and my own experience.

In my present circumstances, I am preparing to fill my life with new vistas, new people, new experiences.  But to do so I must let go of familiar sights, friends, and good times in this place I’ve lived for thirty years.  Sometimes I literally hold my breath when I anticipate the struggle that change – even good change – brings.  Then I remind myself that the lesson I have learned in the struggle of the last three years is the necessity of trust.  I must accept change and trust the Universe with the outcome.  Even if I made no apparent changes in my life, change would come.  I age, I get new problems to solve, I meet new friends and lose track of old ones.  Finally, I die.  That’s the  ultimate breathing out humans most furiously resist.  Yet, the only way I know to find peace amidst change is to breathe in and breathe out.  On purpose.  Take over temporary control and choose each step in the process.  Live. Intentionally. Choose to trust the design and the Designer.

Perhaps it’s easier if we learn the art of release a little at a time. So I’m practicing. To do that I’ve decided I must first take time to relish the joy of taking in.  As I go through my closets, I remember the time I wore those shoes on a cruise.  Then I put them in the “to donate” box.  As I pack away vases for the auction, I remember the bouquet that came for my birthday.  I’ve found that if I take in a deep breath of life, then I can release joy into the universe.  Can I breathe like that all the time?  No!  I’m sure by the auction date, I will be operating from my sympathetic nervous system, feeling “flight or fight” adrenaline filling and emptying my lungs like a squeeze box.  But even that experience is a part of my life to accept, even to relish and remember when later I need a reminder that I survived that challenge and will yet survive more.

I am reminded of an anecdote from Madeleine L’Engle about preparing for a cross-country move to a smaller home.  A friend came to help her pack and to decide how to dispose of many favorite things.  For a time they pondered over a beautiful vase that had been a gift.  Madeleine’s heart was grieved to think of letting it go.  The friend held the vase lovingly for a moment, then dropped it and let the memory shatter on the floor.  Madeleine’s commentary on the moment:  “I told you she was practical.”  Sometimes change must be ruthless.  When I first read that account, I shuddered.  Now I’m wondering where one finds such a friend.  Or rather, finds the courage to ask her to help.

So I write today to report that I’ve spent this time of silence gaining on the habit of intentional breathing.  Taking in life and releasing joy is a gratitude exercise I’m finding easier and easier to practice.  But it’s a process.  My lungs can do it.  My spirit can do it, intermittently.  Now – if I can just get my mind to accept that meaning is not in things, meaning is in me – I’m sure, with practice, my mental breathing will grow deeper and more intentional as well.

 

 

So How Are You

At the beginning of a New Year, lots of organizations send appeals and retrospectives to encourage us to stay connected as we anticipate the coming days. My mailbox overflows it seems, and often the slicks go right to the recycle bin. But Center for Hospice holds a special place in my heart, so I didn’t just toss their missive when I winnowed it from the slippery stacks of incoming mail. The title caught my eye:  “As you approach the anniversary of your loss.”  Ah. True.  My birthday and Ron’s rebirth-day are just two months from this day. Deserves some reflection that marker.

The essay within, written by a young widower whose wife died of cancer, presented me with a new perspective on a wincing question that comes so often after a family death, “How are you doing?” I’ve asked it myself of other “bereaved” even though I know painfully well how impossible it is to give an accurate answer.  One part of you wants to scream, “How the hell do you THINK I’m doing having suffered the loss of someone I loved so deeply?” Another part longs to respond in laundry lists of misery: “I’m lonely! I walk around as though part of my own soul is missing! Everything in my life is disrupted!” Yet, most always the answer is, “I’m doing fine, thank you for asking.”   I think most of those experiencing grief would express a dislike for this all-too-frequent question.  However, the Hospice writer shares his own epiphany that this query is really for the asker.

He points out that those of us grieving a loss serve to remind others that mortality exists  When we walk into the room, we bring the specter of death in our train.  Most humans acknowledge that death is everyone’s fate, yet we continually are surprised by, even fearful of, any reminders that this reality applies personally.  And we avoid facing this truth as often as we can. One good sleight-of-emotion is to change fear and surprise into care and concern.  “How are YOU doing?”  Sympathy is a salve for our own souls  Not that this makes sympathy insincere,  just incomplete.

The suggestion I took to heart from the young man’s writing is that those of us most recently wounded by death serve as messengers to the rest of the world, walking reminders of the indefinite tenure of life. It is fine to ask me, “How  are you doing?” And fine for me to answer glibly or straightforwardly as I choose. However, the important question Death asks each of us to answer is “How am I doing?” This question is a gift, a chance to assess where I am  on my own temporary journey called “life.”  With an honest response, I can make needed adjustments, set better priorities, and better live my remaining days, however brief or long.

i like having a new way of facing this incessant question.  I can view “How are you doing?” in a more charitable light. I know Ron’s death has made me more keenly aware of the precious nature of life.  The uncertain treasure of tomorrow makes me value today even more.  And now,  when you ask after me, I can remember that one opportunity from Ron’s loss is to help you remember to ask this question of yourself so that you, too, may live life well..

This insight is an anniversary gift I shall treasure come my birthday, and Ron’s rebirth-day in March.  It’s a question I hope to keep asking – and answering positively – for  the rest of my life.  And , now, when I see you in the grocery store or at an event and your first thought is to ask me how I’m doing, I hope your second thought is to answer that question for yourself.  That will comfort me greatly,, and – I hope – you, too.

 

 

Day of Days

December 1st is a day of days in my life. Two years ago today our lives changed forever. By 6 am – the time I am writing this – we were already in the emergency room at our local hospital, assessing the extent of Ron’s stroke, contemplating where to go next. Two years later, the odyssey continues. Though Ron has moved on, I am still trying to figure out where to go next.

I know, when friends ask me how I am , I respond, “I am fine.” And I am. But I’m also not. “Fine” as I once knew it and “fine” as I am now are not equivalent – like the difference between walking on two legs, then walking with a brace. I have much to be thankful for and I am making life work, but I require extra support to keep going. And that’s okay. Fortunately for me, I have loving family and friends who brace me up. I have a faith and a prayer life that lift me when I falter. Still, today stings.

I had thought to spend this dreadful anniversary getting my left shoulder repaired. Since illness forced postponement of my surgery, I don’t have the luxury of anesthesia and pain killers to dull the ache of this day. Instead I am unpacking Christmas – for the first time in two years.

I had ordered a box of celebration helps – funny hats, crafts, etc., that I hadn’t yet opened by December 1st in 2013. Our planned theme was to celebrate the arts with our charitable giving that year, and to throw a “Karaoke Kristmas” party complete with singing and dancing. I couldn’t remember what party stuff I had ordered, so opening the box this year brought one surprise after another. For some reason I can’t now recall, I had ordered among the Santa hats and tambourine kits a pillow with a saying, “When you stumble, make it part of the dance.”

How unaware I was at the time of the extent to which I would be living those words. It feels to me that my life has been a stumbling effort to dance despite disaster for the past two years.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life never caused us to stumble? Or so we think. But today I must acknowledge the heartache, the loss, the longing for what once was, and the frustration with change that are a part of grief. I must own our story. And stumble under its weight. I can’t change the steps, but I can make them part of the dance.

Fishing for My Father

Recently, a friend challenged me to write about the times I have recognized the Spirit’s Presence in my life.  Now that my right shoulder is recovering well from my rotator cuff surgery, I will pick up my blog again to do some exploring of the long list I made of significant moments that have served to guide me on life’s journey. These “moments of clarity” are markers that keep us going through the foggy times of life.  I believe the Universe provides such moments to us all. Our job is to learn to recognize them. And sometimes we share what we have learned as a result.  Here is one such lesson from my life, entitled “Fishing for My Father.”

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

​I never really wanted to go fishing, but my father hadn’t sought my company before. Ever. And so I felt an unaccustomed eagerness to be in his presence. What should I wear?

I don’t remember why the thought even occurred to me at age seven, but somehow that concern came first. Not what will I need or how do I fish, but what should I wear? Oh, I had caught fish before – I captured by hand little bluegill in the shallow stream that flowed through the ravine across the street. And I knew how to grab the crawdads behind their pinchers and watch them wave at strangers on the banks. So maybe I thought I knew everything I needed to know about going fishing. I had seen my father bait hooks and swish his line out to the deep part of the river whenever he had fished during family picnics. I knew what fishing meant. No questions there. But what should I wear?

​I settled upon a pair of trousers that I had worn to play cowboys and Indians with the neighborhood boys that spring. I knew a dress or skirt was out of the question for a fishing trip with my father. The pants felt a little snug, but I didn’t mind. I searched through the drawer for just the right top to set off the outfit, finally settling on a long-sleeved, pull-over shirt with one stripe my favorite shade of blue. Socks and black buckle shoes completed the ensemble. I felt like a princess ready for the ball.

​Eagerly, I made my way to the mid-section of our side of the duplex house my grandparents owned, the main room that we used as a dining room. In the adjacent kitchen, my mother hummed, preparing our sack lunches to take along on our excursion.

I struck a pose, standing on the large floor register that toasted my feet mid-winter, but stood cold and silent that July morning.

“How do I look, Daddy?” He was standing at the buffet that served as a collection point for all loose mail, keys, and pocket change. My father turned and surveyed me with a curious smile.

“Hot,” was his one word summary of my efforts. My gut registered disappointment. I hadn’t thought about weather or temperature, just my appearance. I decided not to be hot and to prove him wrong.

Mother shooed us both out the door, me holding the sack lunches and Daddy, wearing his special hat with his favorite flies hooked here and there, carrying everything else – tackle box, poles, minnow bucket, fishing net, and a small cooler for pop. We were a pair off on an adventure. I left with such hope.

The other details in my memory are more fragmented and perhaps blurred with memories of other attempts at fishing together on Cowan Lake. I don’t know how many times he took me, but I recall the excitement I felt at this first time of being chosen as a companion. And I remember the many lessons I learned that have stayed with me over the years. I discovered I had a lot to learn about fishing, about pleasing the men in my life, and about life in the Spirit.

Daddy was right. I was hot. But I never let on. I suffered in silence. A lesson it took me nearly thirty years to unlearn.

Although he never said so, I know Daddy was frustrated with my squeamishness and impatient with my constant retrieving of my line to see if a fish were making my bobber live up to its name, impatient because he would be the one who had to recast the line. Inevitably, his hoped-for bass would hit his bait and run while he was helping me. His reel, pole propped on a Y’d tree branch he’d cut that morning with his pocket knife, would spin out of control, and he was not there to set the hook. Usually the fish got away. Once he lost pole and all. Always I was aware it was my fault. Another lesson – one I still have to unlearn on a regular basis.

And yet another lesson I have learned perfectly: Fishing was not an activity I wanted to share. It required long quiet spells of sitting and doing nothing, while absorbing damp, earthy odors. I found it distasteful to impale a wiggling creature, whether earthworm or minnow, and cast it to its watery doom. And who would want to wash her hands in the brown water of an Ohio lake? The tedium was broken only by occasional outbursts of temper over tangled lines, snagged hooks, lost bobbers, or missed catches. However, the taste of fresh bluegill, fried in my mother’s iron skillet, did help erase most frustrations over a day of fishing for my father.

One important lesson from those early life experiences I didn’t realize until I was an adult. By this time, I was married to a pastor. I found myself, again, a fishing companion, only this time “fishing for people.” I think Jesus chose several fishermen for disciples because they were accustomed to disappointment, yet lived in hope of favorable conditions and a good catch. Now seen as a “professional religious leader” myself, I was often approached by disappointed, yet hopeful, people looking for help in “catching” some glimpse of Truth. Once a seeker asked me, “But how do you know if it’s God speaking to you or if it is just your imagination?” Immediately, I remembered the image of fishing for my father. On that first trip together, after I had pulled my line from the water to check for a fish about the tenth time, Daddy said, “Anna, when you think you might have a fish, you don’t. When you have a fish, you know you have one.” It’s the same with a message from God.  Only the surety will be the strong tug of love and assurance that pulls at your heart strings.  And, like the bluegill that provides you with dinner, the message nourishes and gives you a joy that erases the ache of life’s longings.

Sixty years later, with my earthly father now trusted to eternity and my little girl longings in mature perspective, I am grateful for those imperfect efforts at communion by the lake. The disappointments are forgiven on both sides. I was never going to be the son he’d hoped for. He was never going to the father I expected. Yet the memories we made together continue to teach lessons the Father of us both desires we master. And.that’s a catch worth waiting for.