Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Road, kinda

If you’ve been ‘following’ me, you know I’ve been traveling. I have a reason and specific targets and so far, it’s been great. When I tell people what I’ve doing, they all smile and say, “Great!”

Or some sort of variation. The question that few ask but many want to:  are you traveling alone?

Yes, I am. And I think I understand not only the question but their concern. 62 year old woman, traveling to strange cities, all by herself? Especially a rather provincial mid-westerner?

I understand their concern. I also know that although I’m good with solo travel, it can pose some challenges. In the past, I traveled mostly with the hub so there were 4 sets of eyes along with 2 brains to keep everything in line.

Now here’s another ‘secret’ from my married life. Mike and I were very different in our travel attitude. I was more adventurous, more spontaneous than was he. I used to say that you could drop me in a strange place where they spoke English, with a solid credit card, and I would be just fine. I would find those things that I wanted to do, that I wanted to see, and get back to the plane or car on time.

Not so the hub. HE was uncomfortable going to a strange place the first time. This may be why we traveled so infrequently. He would stress if I planned a trip and then when we got there, it went better if I had an itinerary, addresses, etc. He would pack 3 times what he needed. He would check our time table compulsively.

On return trip, he was an old salt. A regular. Could talk to a cabbie like a pro. Knew just where we needed to go to do whatever. Gave directions to NEW people. SO, although we traveled to few places, we returned to those few places regularly.

And perhaps, as is true in many partnerships, because he was SO…what do you call it?...scheduled,  I moved to the extreme other side, glorying in a spontaneous “I think I’ll do this.”

I like spontaneity. I get juiced when I fly on a whim. But sometimes, a little forethought would have proven helpful as I reflect.

Once, I traveled to a writer’s conference in Palm Springs, California. I’ll mention the state for readers who are as provincial as I am. I flew into Los Angeles and decided that, for an adventure, I’d rent a car and drive the 100 or so miles to the conference. City driving is exciting, yes?

This was, by the way, in the days before everybody had cell phones. I certainly didn’t. Mike knew that I would be at a certain hotel for two days and that I would return to him a day later. Really, that’s all he concerned himself with and that was fine.

But I hadn’t told him about my driving plan. Nor had I told anyone that I decided (whim) to stay in Los Angeles a few hours before I headed east. Into the desert.

I passed Riverside on a really good, two-lane road. As I entered the desert, it became a 2 way, one-lane road. Hmmm. Might that have been a hint?

And then the sun set. The moon hid behind thick clouds. And THEN it got dark. Really dark. Fast. (For future travelers, there are no street lights in a desert.) Then, the wind began to blow. Sand started to dance across the road in swirls.

“Where is Palm Springs?"  I said out loud to no one as I was...have I mentioned?..alone.

Over to my right, I could see a glow that must be a city. There MUST be a turn off. Right? But not yet. I kept driving.

At this point, it hit me: no one on this planet knows where I am. No one. And I knew that Mike would not call to see if I arrived because we just didn’t do that. I would be missed if I did not arrive home on schedule.

THEN, momentarily, the moon peek through and I saw (SAW!) that I was very close to a sand dune on which there were many wind mills, looking like those monsters from The War of the Worlds.

I also saw something moving away from my headlights, quickly. Maybe a snake. Maybe a monster!

At that point, I assessed: ok, this was stupid. I probably shouldn’t have …..fill in with all the bad choices.

And then, there was a turn off. I turned off. I got to my hotel. I attended the conference. I drove back to LA in the bright sun light. Hey, those are just windmills.

And, I forgot, quite quickly, whatever lesson I should have learned.

I will say that traveling with my very careful husband put a crimp in my spontaneous ideas for adventure. It just didn’t happen.

So, here I am, traveling alone. No husband to curb my enthusiasm for adventure. Is THAT what friends mean when they question, with a concern, that I’m traveling alone?

So, let me assure you that God is watching over me.

My trip to Portland was planned and because my dinner guest had Sunday plans, I stayed over to meet him a Monday. This would give me lots of extra time to explore.

I googled a bit and saw that Timberline Lodge is 80 miles from Portland, on Mount Hood. If you've seen The Shining, you've seen the front of the lodge. Wouldn’t it be cool to drive out and get a picture? Also, as I don’t live around mountains, wouldn’t THAT be fun? So I reserved a rental car, recording the reservation with my other hard copy reservations.

I believe that God was trying to tell me something.

First, I forgot to pack Ms. Garman. I LOVE Ms. Garman. On my adventures, she has pointed me to the exact location I seek. Amazing. And isn’t it amazing that it’s easier to put one’s faith in a little electronic box than in the Creator of the Universe? (That’s a topic for another day.)

While in Las Vegas, I looked for the car reservation and could not find it. I’m still a hard copy girl so I had to flip through several of my little pocket notebooks. No dice.

 I knew I had reserved a Dodge so I checked to see which companies rent Dodges. Many. As I was arriving at the airport in the evening, the prospect of going desk to desk was bothersome. But not so off putting that I would not do it.

Then, God sat me next to a very nice man from Portland. He was returning from a business trip and was taking his daughter skiing the next day.

“Skiing?” asked I. “It’s 50 degrees in Portland.” (Such a travel planner!)

“Yes, but out on Mount Hood, they’ve got a foot of snow.”

“Way up on Mount Hood?” I asked.

“From the tree line. We always get an early snow around here.”

Quietly I drank my coffee. Then, “I am driving out to Timberland Lodge on the main road.”

“Really? What kind of car? An SUV?”

“No. Just some kind of Dodge,” I said.

“Let me show you something,” he said, poking at his phone.

He brought up a photo, just taken, of the Timberline. Covered in snow. (The Torrences would be going no where.)

“I don’t know. Maybe you should get someone to take you,” he suggested, not to dissuade me as I was a tourist and we are good for the economy and all.

Little tap on the head: no Garman. No reservation number. Lots of snow.  BAD IDEA, Lynne.

So, that adventure will have to wait.

God takes such good care of me.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Is THIS 4th grade??

Ok, I spend (t) my time with 17 year-olds. LOVE high school juniors. I've always said that this is the best year in high school so as their teacher, I get to see them at their best. They are invested in getting to graduation; they've begun to see the goal and what lies beyond; they join the clubs, excel in the sports, run the newspaper; and they've matured just enough to be really clever.

But elementary? I guess I forgot. I've spending a few weeks with two AMAZING grade schoolers. And it's about Drew, the 4th grader, that I want to chat.

He's a reader. He's been a reader. Mom mentions that she restricts their media time and sends them out to play. They ride bikes and run around after homework. And when bed time comes, both curl up with a book or two until they turn out the light.

Last week, with the 4th grader, it was something every day. "We learned about idioms today. Do you know what an idiom is?"

Tell me.

"It's sayings like "push your buttons,"and "getting up on the wrong side of the bed."

That's right. Then, later, we asked again. He came up with several more.

Then it was metaphors and similes. "We learned about these today."

Oh, really? Your gamma was STILL teaching this to kids 8 years older than he is.

"Yes." (Mom taught them to say YES, not yeah. Andy is teaching them to say, "Yes, ma'am."  Like proper Texans.

"Rain is like tears."

Again, later, we asked. He got another.

Then, I was reading and came across the word "metaphor." Always the teacher, I called Drew over and pointed out the word. "See, here it is."

This was not enough. "But why? What is your book about? What's the metaphor?"

So I read to him.... he read with me... about putting on the whole armor of God.  "OH, so the part of the armor are things like 'truth.'"

Yes, that's right.

It makes my head spin, he is learning so much so fast. And, I'm having a ball.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

HUGS: Recognizing the Gifts

I have a friend who faithfully practices “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Big things. Little things. Seemingly insignificant things.

 I, on the other hand, have struggled with this. I have found myself evaluating my needs and placing many in the ‘handle it, Big Girl’ column. I mean, God’s got the universe to run, right? And He has gifted us with brains and reasoning. We don’t need to bother Him with minutia. That used to be my mindset.

Once, my friend and I were working together, along with 10 other women, on a project, getting ready for a weekend retreat. Many trips back and forth to our cars, emergency runs to the store, and so forth. Each of us had our duties and many of us helped each other.

At one point, as I ran past my friend, she grabbed the arm of my sweater and pulled me back to her. Her eyes filled with panic. “I can’t find my keys,” she said. “I need to get into my car to get the posters and napkins and then I have to pick up my daughter and drive her to a friend’s house for the weekend. But I can’t find my keys!”

As I have many friends who multi-task and suffer from occasional brain hiccups, I own a practiced response. “Where were you last? When did you see them last? What were you doing just before you misplaced them?” This causes us to retrace our steps and focus the mind on a picture of the lost items where we last saw them.

Pulled from my own tasks, I wanted to calm her down and then get on with what I had to do. She did not give me a chance. “Pray with me, Lynne,” she said, as she slid her hand down my arm and clasped my hand.

My mouth gapped as she closed her eyes. “God,” she said, “I can’t find my keys. I need my keys. You know where they are. You can see them. Please help me find my keys.” She opened her eyes. The panic was gone.

Because I was already cocked with my memory platitudes, I drew a breath to begin. My eyes moved briefly to a podium nearby and there on the back shelf were some shiny keys. Her keys. So no quick memory jog.

Does God care when we misplace our keys? Well, sure. He cares about everything. Should we glut up the prayer network with trivialities? I used to think that we should not.

One lesson I have learned through Mike’s illness is that to my Father, nothing in my life is trivial. There are no big needs and little problems. Everything that makes up me is His concern. He wants me to trust Him to sort it out. He has not tasked me with cutting down His work load.

He longs for daily, hourly, moment-by-moment conversations with His child. He wants me to bring everything to Him in prayer. He has the biggest shoulders.

He also wants me to open my eyes to the blessings that He gives me, to the protection and love that flow from Him. If I don’t see it, it’s still there but it pleases Him when I ‘get it.’

Mike and I got knocked back on our heels with his diagnosis and prognosis. Whatever competencies we thought we possessed fell away as we faced a very different future than we had planned. And in that weakness, we fell into God’s loving arms, arms that wrapped us up tight and held us through our trial.

God demonstrated how much He cared for us, in so many ways. We came to recognize what we called HUGS from our Father. In our 4 plus years, as in any life, challenges came up, problems presented themselves. Perhaps it could go several ways. It always went the easiest way.

We came to hear God’s voice in this. Mike and I prepared, as much as we could, for Mike’s death. And God said to us, “You know what, Mike? I have one more thing for you to do before you come home. I’m going to pave the way by taking care of everything else. You concentrate on the task.”

And, as we walked through this hard thing, with God taking care of everything, we saw that He wants to handle everything.

So, we let Him. May I never forget this lesson. Life is sweeter when we cast it all on our Father.

What kind of HUGS? So Many.

Here’s just one.

When Mike was lying in the hospital, recuperating from the surgery that did not heal him, we talked a lot about how our lives had changed. We cried, we kissed, we cuddled, we talked.

I felt so helpless. I could do little to help my husband. At one point, he started listing all of the things he wished he had done in his life and this really cut into me. I had always tried to push him past those potential regrets….”Go ahead. DO IT,” was my chorus. So the motorcycles, boats, cars, guitars, etc. etc. And how foolish. Here, at what we thought was The End, he still had quite a list.

Many, but not all, were out of reach now. But one, for sure, was not.

“I wish I could get in a convertible and drive down Highway 1 to Key West.”

Wheels turning. THIS could happen, if we have the time. And as fall 2009 arrived, and he was still alive, I got busy with the plan. I secured airline tickets to Miami. I rented a convertible. I found a place for us to stay between Key West and Miami. We flew down, got the car, and started on our trek. Our first hint that this would not be ALL THAT was when we could not figure out how to lower the convertible top. It had been a while. We had to dig out the manual, locate the button AFTER we had raised the trunk….

Then, Miami was hot and crowded. We tooled through a lot of stop-and-go traffic. Once into the Keys, we remembered that the highway is single lane, two way. And, on this blistering day, road crews were busy so we sat some more in the heat.

I kept up a blithering chatter about how Mike was getting to do what he wanted. He tried to smile a lot but we were both falling out of love with this adventure.

Once we neared Key West, the sky opened up and rain poured down. Cold rain. Then, it slowed to a drizzle but by then, we were wet and shivering. So much for the convertible.

We realized that the idea of the drive was so much better than the reality. Thinking that I would be disappointed, Mike was slow to come to, “How about if we go back north?”

“Great idea. Where should we go?”

“We are flying out of Fort Lauderdale so let’s go there.”

It was a plan. But not much of one. We had no reservations and really no idea where we would land.

But God did. Who knew that with everything else on His agenda, our Father is in the concierge business?

We drove back north with a gorgeous full moon on the rise. It was getting late as we drove through Fort Lauderdale. A few miles north, the folks have incorporated the village of Lauderdale by the Sea. Small, quiet, and full up as it was.

EXCEPT, we saw a Vacancy sign flashing on a small two story building, surrounded by tall condos. As it was late, we pulled in.

The 6 space parking lot was deserted, the door was locked and there was a sign on the door:

Vacancy. Call ###-###-#### if you need a room.

We did. We did.

5 minutes later, a lady walked over with a key. She greeted us and said she was the manager. She let us in and, as we were the only guests, gave us her best room.

This little place, Courtyard Villa, used to be a private residence. It has 8 rooms and a large spa. The front door heads to the back door, locked now, which is 50 feet from the ocean. Our room….it became OUR room, has French doors that open to that ocean. We were so tired…we learned that we had keys for both doors and that the place would be open at 9 AM.

We entered the room, flung open the doors, and crashed into our bed, lulled by the swoosh of waves on sand.

It could not have been more perfect. We loved our time there and thanked God wistfully for giving us this gift of a final time at the beach.

Except it became 5 times. And we had a reservation for our anniversary.

Why did the Father direct us there? Why do we need an answer for that? It was a gift…no a hug….and one of many we received in the next four years.