It’s also hard to know where to begin writing because I’ve had two (or three or four or five) blogs before, and this one feels different, partly because it is different, and partly because so much about my life has changed.
Maybe, to jump-start this thing, I’ll give a brief timeline of the last two years to fill in the gap between then and now. . . (Photos of my place in Portland, appear randomly throughout this post, with no particular connection to the text, so don't spend too much time wondering what the dishes in my sink have to do with the writing around it!)
After leaving our high desert home, set in the eastern foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, I moved to downtown Portland and lived in a teeny-tiny, humble, but kinda cute, studio apartment in the same building as my daughter Aimee and her husband Josiah (they lived two floors up from me). I was in that apartment for four months, living in a busy neighborhood just around the corner from a popular bakery and coffee shop, where Aimee, Josiah, Melissa, and I all sat together on Saturday mornings to visit over really good coffee and delicious, flaky pastries.
I walked practically everywhere I went in Portland--to the beautiful Multnomah County Library two or three times a week; to the most peaceful, sweet services at a beautiful historic downtown church; to the amazing farmers’ market at Portland State University on Saturdays; to Powell’s Books; to a terrific little natural foods co-op; to just about the best thrift store I’ve ever visited; and to a number of other great Portland places. I walked to gorgeous Forest Park (America’s largest park within city limits) but ventured onto the trails only as far as I could go while remaining in visual range of other walkers and runners.
Living in the same building as Aimee and Josiah was fun. They’d stop by my apartment often to eat with me, hang out, or visit. Josiah might call and say, “I’m baking chocolate chip cookies, and we’re going to watch a movie. Come on up and join us!” And I’d run up the stairs to their apartment in my stocking feet and feel like I lived in a dorm again. Or Josiah might say, “Hey! We’re walking over to Powell’s. Want to come with us?” Or, “Want to go for sushi with us tonight?” (I have a pretty amazing son-in-law, don’t you think? And daughter, too.)
I went through some of the most difficult months of my life in Portland, but they were also restoring, healing months. I sometimes felt profoundly sad and was so overwhelmed by my situation and the number of things I needed to do that I finally gave myself permission to tackle just one thing on my long to-do list each morning, and then I would set all of the rest of it aside to enjoy my day. The weather was beautiful that summer, so I was often outside, walking somewhere, sitting in the park across the street from the apartment building, or hanging out with my kids.
I had no car when I left Klamath Falls, but someone gave me an old van to drive. It was incredibly kind of them, and I don’t know how I would have accomplished many of the things I needed to do without that transportation, but the van persistently developed little problems that would make it inoperable. Once I drove it up over the hill to my daughter, Melissa’s, apartment, and when I walked back out to the van to go home, there was a long stream of green liquid running from beneath it. Clearly all of the coolant had run out, which made my heart sink because I didn’t know how to get the car to a place where someone could look at it, and I certainly didn’t have the money for more repairs (by this time I was living on financial fumes). So I left the car sitting right there in that parking lot until I could figure out what to do about it.
A week or so later, some old friends I hadn’t seen for probably 15 years (because they’d moved to Kentucky) contacted me through my daughter who, unlike me, has a Facebook account. Mark and Denise were coming to Oregon and wanted to see me; I was eager to see them, too. When I last saw Mark and Denise they had a bunch of chickens but no children, and now they have a whole slew of them (children, not chickens, though they likely have those, too), so we met at the park across the street from my apartment. It was wonderful to visit with Mark and Denise again, and I was struck by the fun spirit and respectfulness of their children.
When they were getting ready to leave, Mark asked what I was driving. I said I had an old van but it was broken down. He asked to see the van, and I explained that it was up over the hill at Melissa’s apartment.
“Well then, let’s go!” he said.
“Yep! Let’s go see if we can at least figure out what’s wrong with your van. Hop into our car!”
Looking under the hood, it didn’t take long for Mark to assess what had gone awry. A clamp for a hose had broken off, and I was relieved when he said it wouldn’t cost much to buy a new one. “In fact,” Mark said, “I’m going to run out and buy one now so I can fix your car for you.” I was taken aback by this kindness because, first of all, this family was really going out of their way for me, and second, I knew they were meeting someone in Astoria at a certain time that afternoon and needed to be on the road. But Mark and Denise would have none of my resistance. They insisted.
Suddenly, Mark said, “Hey, wait a minute.” He remembered that he’d spontaneously stopped at a garage sale in another state on the way to Oregon and had randomly bought a hose clamp that might be exactly what we needed. Yes, indeed. He had the clamp in his van, and—voila!—it fit perfectly. There’s no way I consider this to be merely a happy coincidence. It was just one more simple instance of God saying, “See, I’ve got you in my hand.” He knew I needed that encouragement.
When we hugged goodbye, Denise pressed something into my pocket. A check. Again, resistance was futile, and grateful tears trickled down my cheeks. I was sad to see this family drive away, sad to think that they live across the country where I can’t see them often, and I prayed to God that He would make me like them because they are like Him.
Just before moving away from Portland, I got to meet a beautiful online friend. Tonia and her youngest son came to the city to pick me up, then we drove out to her hometown (not too far away). We watched her boys finish their soccer practice, then we all drove to Tonia’s peaceful and lovely home in the country where I briefly met her daughter (what a really nice family!). Then Tonia treated me to a special dinner at a restaurant on the river. Our table was on a dock by the water. It was a beautiful, warm, starlit evening, and I so enjoyed sitting there, getting to know Tonia in real life. After dinner, she drove me all the way back to Portland, and we talked and talked in her car before I reluctantly returned to my apartment. Tonia’s kindness and encouragement were sweet gifts to me.
I don’t mean to give the impression that life that summer was all struggle and weeping and people coming to my rescue because it really wasn’t. But there was definitely some weeping, and even some gnashing of teeth, that went on from time to time, usually in the morning when I had my quiet time. I’d park myself in the sunlight that streamed through the windows onto my apartment floor, and with coffee and Bible at hand, hash things out with the Lord in prayer. Then I’d get up and carry on. (Gee, that sounds a lot more resolute and faithful than I was. Mostly I wimpily begged God to help me because I had no idea what to do and no strength to do it.)
The amazing thing is that throughout everything, there was a deep, steady pulse of peace and joy. And I certainly had fun while I stayed in Portland. It sounds schizophrenic, doesn’t it? Weeping and joy, “gnashing of teeth” and fun, all commingling on those summer days! But sometimes I think God gets tickled by making the Christian life one gigantic, seemingly impossible, paradox that really works.
I could write on and on about the little gifts, encouragements, and very direct, surprising, and sometimes amazing answers to prayer that occurred in those first few months in Portland. I learned that humble, sensitive, kindhearted people emerge from the woodwork when crises—big and little—arise in the lives of those around them, and the actions of these good people prove their character, faith, and Love. The Lord is always the One who is the answer for whatever happens in our lives, but sometimes He shows His loving-kindness through the people around us. And, for that, I’m grateful to both Him and to them.
And I want to be like that, too.
Well. This post turned out far differently than I’d intended. So much for a quick timeline-overview! I suppose, now that I’m started, I’ll carry on from here (and perhaps I’ll backtrack to tell about a thing or two that happened in Klamath Falls just before I left there).