The House on Silver Spur Road

I was born with this odd sort of yearning that took me many years to figure out.  I would consider it part of my journey even starting when I was a young girl.   I think that what I’ve come up with in my sage wisdom is that what I’ve been yearning for was a home.  A place I could call home.  A place where I fit in and felt wanted.  I think everyone on this earth is born with that same yearning – to find purpose and meaning, safety and security.   My childhood home  on Silver Spur Road was that place for me in the early part of my search.  It was my refuge.

It was a beautiful yellow ranch house with white shutters that my father designed and helped build.   He was on the roof when my mother went into labor with me in 1956.  It sat on a hill overlooking the city of Los Angeles, and at night you could see the city lights…and the planes landing in the distance at LAX.  It was still removed enough to be in a rural setting where there were horse trails and tranquility.  I lost myself time and time again on those trails when it was just me and my horse, and alone in those moments I had great conversations with God which I found great comfort in.   There were lots of eucalyptus trees lining the streets, and my home was only minutes from the beach.  It was a beautiful place to me.  It didn’t always offer me relief but it was always a great place of comfort.  I could always come back to it with an understanding of the places that my heart had traveled….even as a young adult.  It represented Eden to me; my Eden, and it is etched in my memory always.

I would return to the yellow house often during college and still after I got married, and the yellow house on Silver Spur Road told me that history and the future were not going to engulf me anymore than the river or the valley.  If I allowed my heart to respond to the beauty I found there; and the steadiness of this familiar place then maybe something of the beauty I found there might be built into me too.  I was at home there.  This place meant hope to me…but as with almost everything that has a lifespan, one day the inevitable was lost.

My parents made the decision to sell the family home my father built when I was in my mid-thirties in order to be closer to my family in Northern California.  What?  No!  You can’t sell the family home.  Yep….they did, and a short time later complete strangers were going to move in and take what was once mine.  As quickly as I could I dragged my 6 month pregnant self out to the car and made the 8 hour trek home to say my goodbyes to the house that played a huge part in building me.

As I walked around the house that October weekend, I stopped to lay my hand on the fireplace mantle in living room – the same place where many a prom photo was taken.  I stood at the stove in the center of the kitchen where I had learned to cook (well, sort of) and where I watched my mom make goulash and bacon and eggs.  I giggled when I walked into the laundry room, as memories of the holidays flooded over me when my dad would convert the top of the washer and dryer it into a makeshift bar….where the liquor of adults meshed with the hopes of childish dreams.

I lingered in the family room – a focal spot of our family, and I could picture where our first black and white TV sat and where I watched Saturday morning cartoons.  Later we would be one of the first on our block to have a color TV.   It was also there in that room that my mom actually told me the truth about Santa Claus.  I can remember it as if it were yesterday.  It was the week before Christmas and my childhood doubts made me ask her if there really was a Santa Claus.  She asked me if I really wanted to know, and I was in too deep to say “No….I was just kidding.  I don’t want to know….at least not until next month.”   What was she thinking – telling me the truth right before Santa was suppose to come down the chimney?”   It was also in that same room during college when I came home late on a Friday night for a weekend and as I babbled on about something I thought was significant in my life I ran to the sliding glass door and flung it open, calling for our family dog to come in from the yard.  I realized, slowly, when he didn’t come running as he always did, and as I turned to my mom the tears in her eyes told me without a word that Loki had died while I was gone.

Then I walked down the hall where on rainy days we kids would close all the sliding doors so it was pitch black, turn out the lights, and play hide n seek down that long hallway.  I was a master at walking up the walls with my hands and feet on each side – all the way up to the ceiling so no one could ever figure out where I went.   My bedroom was the last one on the right, so I sat down on the bed to reflect on all that this room had meant to me.   Among the packed boxes, mirrors and pictures that leaned up against the wall – if  I closed my eyes I could see a crib against the wall where I slept as a baby and where I caught my fat, chubby leg in its rungs as a 1 year old.  And over there was where the corner desk painted with 4 layers of paint sat, where I did my homework  for so many years.  And where were all the psychedelic posters of the 70’s that said “make love – not war“?  My mother wisely told my Grandmother that her little girl of 10 really didn’t know what that meant.   I practiced guitar there in that room and curled my hair in the yellow framed mirror on the wall.  That’s exactly what I was doing when the mirror began to sway in the early morning of February 9, 1971 as I was preparing for early morning basketball practice and the big 6.4 earthquake hit the Los Angeles area.  And there next to my bed would have sat one of my favorite gifts that my parents gave me as a teenager; on my 16th birthday I got my very own push button yellow princess phone with my own phone number!  Can you imagine?  Independence!  It would have been the equivalent of getting my own cell phone today.   And finally, if I kept my eyes closed long enough I could see the bright colors; the yellows and greens and oranges and pinks of the patchwork guilt bedspread that my mom made me when I went away to college. Sigh.  So many memories.  It was hard to leave the house that weekend.

It’s been 26 years since that day, and I’ve driven past the house on Silver Spur Road a few times since when I journeyed back. Only once did I dare attempt to knock on the door and ask the new owners if I might come in and say hello to my old childhood house.  There’s a great song recorded by Miranda Lambert called “The House That Built Me” (hence, where I got that phrase from) that reminds me of that interaction, although it didn’t go quite as well nor were the circumstances in my life as dramatic, but it speaks to me nonetheless:

“The House That Built Me”

I know they say you can’t go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma’am I know you don’t know me from Adam.
But these hand prints on the front steps are mine.
And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom
is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar.
And I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
my favorite dog is buried in the yard.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave,
Won’t take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

Mama cut out pictures of houses for years.
From ‘Better Homes and Garden’ magazines.
Plans were drawn, concrete poured,
and nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave,
Won’t take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave,

Won’t take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

I wish I could tell you that the lady of the house flung the front door open and willingly invited me in, acknowledging that my history with the house was far more important than hers.  Not so much.  I mean, that’s what I would have done.  The reality of that interaction and the times we live in is that she was pretty suspicious when she opened the door.  I told her who I was and asked if I might just pop my head in and see the old house again….and you could tell that she really didn’t want to.  It was awkward but she reluctantly let me in.  I felt bad for her.  How many times had we opened those front doors to strangers who had broken down on the road below?  Or taken in someone who needed help?   So I quickly passed through the main living areas, not daring to even ask to see my old bedroom.  I felt as if I was imposing on their privacy, but wanted to take in just some little pieces of my past to fill any holes or cracks that I was feeling at that time of my life.  But the house wasn’t the same.  My Dad had taken great pride in keeping the place and the yard well groomed and manicured – now it looked as if it hadn’t been cared for as well.  The beautiful yellow color had been changed to a drab grey.  Nothing stays the same.   My Eden, once again, seemed lost.

My childhood home on Silver Spur Road - as it looks today
My childhood home on Silver Spur Road – as it looks today

So what do I do when I can’t find my Eden here on this earth?  I think that’s what propelled me to seek.  When hope is lost I found that I need to make a conscious choice to keep my heart focused on the only sure future God has promised me….the memory and hope of the real Eden.   The memory of it is what I mentioned before – I think we all have a hidden secret memory of Eden within each of us.  It’s what the Master Designer put in each and every one of our hearts, and that’s what became that yearning I spoke of.  What I’ve learned is that with that memory of Eden there’s no reason for me to feel uncomfortable in this place so marred and filled with stench of the fall.  It’s Eden’s memory, a place we’ve never been but know in our hearts and built into each of us that invites our hearts to faith.  That’s what the house on Silver Spur Road did for me….it started me on my journey of faith, and that’s why I loved it so.

This whole concept of yearning keeps coming back around for me.  I look back on my childhood and I remember that even at an early age I yearned for relationship in my attempt to find home.  I’m realizing that this yearning placed deep in my soul for a place was actually carefully placed there by God to point me to Him.  Those longings and feelings of incompleteness I’ve felt all my life were designed by God and ingrained in me to ache for a person and a home.  I confused the house on Silver Spur Road as that place for a time.  But now I’ve realized that the home I’m aching for isn’t here.  What I was made for….that fulfills both the relationship and home I’m looking for is Heaven.  HA!

Isn’t God gracious to allow me to figure that out?  It’s my hope that the Father would use this longing within my heart for home to help empower me to live in a way that brings Him joy and pleasure.  For me, He is the source of all the pleasure and delight in the world today.  I hope grace captures you as well, and you find the person and place that your heart was designed to yearn for.  And here’s to grace for the journey.

“It is what it is”

I find that I have the most trouble extending grace to those who I live with.  That troubles me.  It upsets me.  If I’m to be a blogger about grace and yet can’t show my husband grace on a consistent basis….what the heck am I doing blogging?

The kids have all moved out and Salsa guy and I are empty nesters and I’m thinking this is the time we’re going to cherish together – rediscovering one another.  I mean, I’ve got a pretty great reputation around these parts of being a kind and gracious woman of God, offering grace to those around me as if I were spreading bread crumbs to the ducks at the lake.  But the problem is….my husband doesn’t necessarily think I’m full of grace.  In fact, he thinks I’m critical and unyielding.  What?….me critical?  But everyone else thinks I’m great!  What’s wrong with that picture?  It baffles me, and I’ve tried to balance being honest and being full of grace at home.  But sometimes the wheels fall off and I wonder if its just one of those things.  “It is what it is”.

You hear that phrase a lot these days.  “It is what it is”.   I think it means that we’ve tried but nothing has changed and it seems that there’s just nothing we can do about whatever situation we’re in.  “It” is just how it is and “it’s” not going to change.   But is that always the way it has to be?  Here’s another way to put it….the truth of who we are (the ugliness) before the ugliness encounters  grace = “what it is”.

So here is what is bothering me…..I’m really good at showing grace to those around me that I don’t share a roof with.  The people who try my patience.  The people who try to manipulate me.  The people who aren’t genuine and feel entitled.  The people who need attention and do things to get it.  The people (Christians specifically) who talk about God and yet they don’t “get grace” yet.  I’m patting myself on the back as I write this.  I think I’m pretty darn amazing.  But the truth of the matter is that once I walk through the door of my own house things can quickly go downhill and the man I love the most can test my patience and tolerance and the threads of grace come unraveled at a frightening pace.  This drives me crazy and I feel a bit of a fraud.  It saddens me and tugs at my heart.  Why can I be so good at showing grace to those in my world that I bump into, and yet the one who knows me the most intimately doesn’t see the grace in me that I’m blogging about.  What is wrong with that?  I plan on getting to the bottom of this!

What I’m learning is that the hardest people to be gracious to are my family – especially Salsa guy.  The more I know about people the harder it is for me to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If you’re a perfect stranger, I can be kinder to you than I am to my husband.  You can be mean and ugly in a particular situation and I can say “bless their heart…they must have had a bad day”.  However, if you’re Salsa guy then I’m thinking you’re being selfish and self-centered.  If you’re in need, I’ll be the hands and feet of Jesus and spend all the time you need to mentor you, encourage you….but if you’re Salsa guy I’ll think you’re needy and childish and you need to grow up.  If you’re trying to manipulate me and I see through you, I’ll still put my arms around you and take it, knowing that you’re a work in progress and on a journey with God, but if you’re Salsa guy I’ll roll my eyes and call you on it.  When it’s my husband I don’t want to give him the benefit of the doubt because he doesn’t deserve it.  I know the truth about him!  The truth of the matter is that the more truth I have on you the less I’m able to offer you grace.

No one can send me into a tizzy faster than Salsa guy.   I see what you’re trying to do!  You’re trying to trick me and change the subject.  You’re trying to take the heat off of you and send it back on me.  How did you do that?  We were talking about flawed you and now we’re talking about perfect me.  It works every time.  How did he do that?  Then doubt and shame and confusion seep in and I have no idea what we were talking about in the first place before I wanted to drop kick you into the Pacific Ocean.

Have you ever had this happen to you?…..someone comes up to you and comments about how great your kids are, or how wonderful your wife is, or what a blessing your mother is to them….and you’re thinking “REALLY?”  Are you talking about MY kids?  You can’t be talking about my wife…the one who is nagging me to clean out the garage.  What?  My mom?….the one who is always making me feel like I’m not good enough with her criticism.  The dirty details and the behind the scenes stuff comes to the forefront of our mind because the more facts we know about the people we live / lived with, the more frustrated we can get with them.  The bottom line is that we’re really good at being full of grace when we don’t know the truth about you.

When I see my husband’s sin and I feel I need to be truthful with him, I’m much better at being truthful than I am at showing grace.  My tact and wisdom in timing my words might not always be perfect.  On the other hand, when I’m really plugged in to the Holy Spirit and I’m doing really well at showing him grace, then I’m not good at being truthful with him.  Ugh.  It’s a vicious cycle.  I tend toward being one or the other.  When I’m really on my A game and I’m really doing a great job at balancing 50% grace and 50% truth with Salsa guy…he thinks that I’m a pretty fabulous wife and we get along great.  But that’s not how it’s supposed to be.  I’d really like it if I weren’t balancing 50/50 between grace and truth.  I’m supposed  to be 100% grace and 100% truth – both at the same time.

The journey I’m on is learning to do both really well at the same time.  The only person I know who is really great at doing both at the same time is Jesus.  He knows the wretchedness of my heart.  He knows everything about me, yet he extends grace to me.   He knows what I’ve done, what I’m doing, what I’m gonna do, and has all the dirt on me and yet He still says “I like you!  Let’s hang out.  We’ll work on things together.”  Always extending His grace to me, and working with me to be a changed person despite the conniving, manipulating, selfish, peculiar self that I can be.  He sees the fraud that I am, but He functions FULL of both grace and truth as he walks alongside me, transforming me day-by-day.  AMAZING!  That’s grace.

Is there a way to live in community within our marriage, our churches, our schools, our neighborhoods more relationally – showing grace and truth at the same time?  At no time in Jesus’ life were grace and truth “balanced”…. they were just married and worked together perfectly at the same time at 100% all the time.  If He can see right through our distractions and our manipulation and still offers us grace, is it possible for me to discover that for myself?  Or is this just one of those “it is what it is” things that will never change?

Here’s what I’m learning about change:  It doesn’t have to be “what it is”.  I CAN be different.  It may take time and effort, but as I study grace and learn from it, it can change to “what it can be” .  HA!  That is AMAZING!   That’s the kind of person I want to be.  Transformed by Jesus.  Full of grace AND full of truth.  A “what he can be” wife.  I want to see past the truth about him and see who and what he can be (righteous and holy) and “take it” and love him and give him the benefit of the doubt and see him as God sees him….what he can be.  Every life is transformable.

That’s my goal for the coming months.  Salsa guy may not be who he should be….but I’m not either.  But he also isn’t who he used to be and he’s changing and this is part of his journey with Christ.  It’s a process for him and part of his journey.  Where Salsa guy is right now is not where he’s going to end up.  He’s growing.  So am I.

There you have it.  Truth and grace…married 100% together.   And grace to Salsa guy.   All the time.  It’s no longer “It is what it is”….but it’s now “It is what it can be”.


Story Telling is Exhausting

I’m just now recovered enough from my week in Washington Heights, NY working with Operation Exodus to form a cognitive thought and to sit down and put thought to paper.  Our theme while we were working with inner city kids in New York was “A Story Teller’s Adventure“.  We walked the kids through books that are mysteries and stories that need solving, all the while weaving the thread of how God is writing OUR story (which can be a mystery in of itself) as we journey through life.  It was crazy preparing for that week and somewhere in all the stress of planning and preparing I lost my mind, and I gotta tell ya….I’m exhausted.  Even before I stepped foot on the plane….I was exhausted.  Can you imagine how God feels?

I will say that my story and how it intertwines with the ministry there is so less taxing than the stories that God is writing in the lives of the tutors at Operation Exodus.  These young people – mostly Dominican or Puerto Rican in their early 20’s – live in the heart of an urban city where life isn’t always as easy as the suburbia that I live in and they have to live their faith actively on a daily basis.  I don’t know if I have to do that all that often.  I mean, I have a pretty cush life here in No. California….I drive a nice car, have my family around me, and other than perceived “hardships” I really don’t have to practice living moment by moment in my faith.  Sure, my faith touches everything I do ….but I don’t have to rely on it quite as much as some of the kids and tutors there in Washington Heights and Inwood.

It reminds me of believers that travel from Africa to serve as missionaries here in the United States.   Now that’s a shift!  For two hundred years and more, Western nations have sent Christian missionaries to the continent of Africa.  Now, in a remarkable turn of events, Africans are sending missionaries to us.  It’s a sign that the center of gravity in world Christianity is shifting away from Europe and the United States to places where its people HAVE to live their faith day by day in the reality of poverty and death, witchcraft and magic, and disease. We have become mission fields to them.  I would suggest it is because we are complacent and too comfortable in our Christian faith.

So what does that have to do with Operation Exodus and story telling?  Well, each and every one of the tutors that teach at Operation Exodus are SO committed to their faith – they’re SOLD OUT to God’s faithfulness – not because someone told them to believe that way but because they have had to live it and rely on it in their own lives in a personal way.  They’ve either lost parents, or have family members in gangs or who have been gunned down on the streets, or have siblings from different fathers, or have family who live on the streets, or have friends living a promiscuous lifestyle, or expectations are that they won’t graduate from High School.  You name it – they’ve had to deal with it a whole lot more than I have and they all have stories…great stories of God’s redemptive power.

So that means they’re all writers!  Writing stories that don’t match the norm of where they live.  Writing stories of a better way to live life.  Making a difference in the lives of young kids by mentoring them in a program that gets them off the streets and directs them to their Creator and gives them tangible tools to succeed in life.  And it’s hard and exhausting and yet they continue to walk alongside these children – day by day, and sometimes on Saturdays, and then they spend several nights a week at their churches worshipping God (mind you…not for just the 90 min. every Sunday that we here are accustomed to but more like 3 hours on a Sunday morning), growing in their own character and living a lifestyle that far outshines my feeble faith.  They are writing their own personal stories…and helping the kids at Operation Exodus to write theirs.  And it’s exhausting, but they live for storytelling…and they’re so good at it.

The grace part of this is that the heartbeat of Christianity is being awakened by God, whether you live in California or the Inner City of New York, sought out by His relentless love despite our tendency to wander, despite whether we worship for 90 minutes or 180 minutes, and then by God’s grace making a difference.  Its amazing and I am in awe and overwhelmed by being forgiven.  It makes me whole, which makes me more helpful in this world and helps me understand this grace thing, which better enables me to serve others.

Operation Exodus tutors!  You ROCK…..and I was honored to work alongside you all.