Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#21 - The Devil and Divine

Brenda Wilbee and her van, 1985
A FRIEND ASKED on Facebook if any of us had ever experienced God's intervention. I wrote back, sure, all the time. Here is just one of those times.

I used to live in San Jose, CA, and so was familiar with the demonic elements of Highway 9 that wound through the mountain to the town of Felton and Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference. In 1978, I moved away from CA--but in the mid-80s drove down from Seattle to the conference using the main drag, Highway 17. Mid-conference, I was asked to take an editor back to the San Jose airport and on my return decided to take Highway 9. I'd missed the beauty of this old road with its majestic dense woods.

I was driving a V-dub pop top camper van at the time and was coming up around a curve to the summit, cliff to my right, and needed to shift gears. My clutch gave out. Having no control over my car, I slid back, off the road toward the cliff. Before I could react, my van stopped. Gingerly I climbed down from the driver's seat and went around to look. All that stopped me from plunging backwards down a steep cliff was one small mossy log. The only log. We didn't have words back then like "shock and awe." But that was me. Shocked. Awed.

Highway 9 CA
I did know I couldn't stand on the roadside, or get back into the van, or walk the nine miles downhill in my pretty pink heels. All three were far too dangerous. I'd not yet started to panic or even had time to pray when a humongous red pickup truck came roaring up from behind, muffler rattling, passed by, and then pulled over to the side. A red-neck vehicle. Rusty, dinged bumpers, guns on a rack in the cab. A big burly man with red beard and bandana on his brow got out.  Dear God in heaven...

I stood numbly while he gave me a nod and took a long, hard look at my right back tire snugged up to the log and then down the cliff to probable death. He gave me a look of surprise. "Someone's watching out for you. And it seems God sent me and my wife to get you safely away. This is a dangerous stretch. Eight women disappeared off this road last week alone."

My knees started to wobble.

"We weren't going to come this way, but something made us change our mind. Get your stuff, climb into the cab with my wife. We'll take you down to Felton and I'll help you find a tow truck."

I hopped in and met another red-neck angel, sent to deliver me from evil. They were as good as their word, got me safely to Felton and arranged for a tow. We parted teary-eyed, all three of us grateful for divine mercies in the dark shadow of evil.

So, yes, I have known God's intervention. Not always, but enough.

Monday, September 17, 2018

#20 - Living Stone


Roy Wilbee standing beside his stone wall
 Let yourselves be built, as living stone, into a spiritual temple.

I WAS NINE when my parents moved to Meteor Ranch, a Christian Camp and Conference Center in Northern California. One of the things Dad did while we were there was to build a fifty-foot rock wall at the end of the swimming pool, and it was a lovely hot summer day when he made the stone plaque to be set into it. My two sisters and I watched as he first tried one thing and then another to create the letters. He finally used medical rubber tubing.

BRENDA WILBEE, 9 years old, Meteor Ranch 1962
“Let yourselves be built, as living stones, into a spiritual temple.”

The plaque was duly installed and remained for more than fifty years after our departure.

At Dad’s death forty-one years later, in 2003, I used photography of that wall for his funeral brochure; something about the wall and plaque has always comforted me, and challenged me. How does one become a spiritual temple?

I didn't realize at the time my mother was doing exactly this. The woman who ran the ranch took in welfare cases as cash flow and didn't trouble herself with their care. I learned for the first time the shadow of evil; how it hid in the light and presented a persona of oozing holiness. She abused and misused the vulnerable, she robbed the elderly, she manipulated those fleeing addiction. She cheated them all, toyed with them all, skewered them all to their weakest points. She was a force of her own. No one stood up to her. I developed a healthy fear.

I watched her deny twelve-year-old Richie needed shoes; my father had to cut the toes out of tennies to save him foot pain. She stole his birthday money. She made him grow petunias in the roots of a tree and punished him when they wilted and died. She kept him at endless chores, and Saturday nights he sometimes fell asleep buffing the dining room floor for Sunday church. I can still hear the hateful shrill of her screaming only a few nights after our arrival, startling me awake and up out of bed with thudding heart and goosebumps like gravel on my skin. She had him outdoors in the moonlight, bare chested and skinny, hanging up his bedsheets while taking swings at him and brow-beating him with a tongue so sharp it made me bleed in my soul. I hid under my covers. His crime? He'd wet the bed. These things I witnessed and didn't understand. Let yourselves be built, as living stone, into a spiritual temple. A month into our stay, she came after my sisters and me.

DIning Hall Meteor Ranch, 50 years later
Through those double doors she flew 50 years ago
and the tableware flew
Linda, Tresa, and I had just set the tables for the summer's first campers when in she stormed through the kitchen's swinging doors, sails unfurled and raging like a wind out of nowhere, sweeping the tables clean, first one arm and then another, tableware and cups flying. The metallic clattering, the skittering, the dull thud of plastic bouncing, the purple-faced screaming, the shock of it all put my sisters and I into paralysis. Let yourselves be built, as living stone, into a spiritual temple. Our crime? We hadn't dusted the tables. No one told us to. My mother charged in, double doors swinging. That day on the ranch the battle line between good and evil was drawn.

I spent the remaining seven months watching my mother build herself, like stone, into a spiritual temple of protection--though I didn't understand it at the time and not until now. But her love for the afflicted never withered in the face of cruelty. She was a fortress for each man, boy, and troubled woman on the ranch. She lent a listening ear, offered a kind word, gave out special favors. When we didn't feel like going out of our way, she made us embrace the sad and lonely. She sent us on evening walks with blind Uncle Earl, joined us in playing afternoon dominoes with him, using his set of olive wood dominoes from Jerusalem with their shiny brass dots and interlocking pieces. She played tricks on Jack to make him laugh. She made friends with the women. She gave Richie a nickel for every spelling word he got right.  Let yourselves be built, as living stone, into a spiritual temple. 

Roy Wilbee's stone wall and plaque
Dad's Wall 2012
A few years ago I went down to the ranch and, with my son's help, brought Dad’s plaque home. I asked Mum if she'd like to have it.

"Where did you get that?"

"Meteor Ranch."

"Meteor Ranch?” she asked, agitated. “I don’t remember this. Did we live there?”

"Yes, California."

Mum was fading into dementia.  She could hardly see or hear as it was. She shuffled around the house constantly looking for things. A far cry from the woman who’d loved the unloved: the young boys, the old men, the recovering alcoholics.

"Yes, do you remember Richie? You were going to adopt him." I thought this would jar her memory, but she shook her head in frustration. "Dad made this plaque for the stone wall."

“You hauled it all the way up here?”

I don’t know if she remembers dad’s work or not. From time to time, perhaps. And while I'd known it could be a gamble, I was still disappointed the plaque wasn't quite the gift I’d hoped. But reading the words again and remembering what Mum couldn't of the day Dad had created each letter--my sisters and I watching, wondering what they would spell--I finally understood. My mother was a spiritual temple, not only at the ranch but throughout her life, befriending the lost and loving those very few would. Love as solid as stone.

My gift to her suddenly became hers to me. An answer to metaphor I finally understand.

Prayer: Thank you for the living example of my mother’s love for those we tend to ignore. May we all be built, as living stone, into a spiritual temple.


Jack and Brenda riding bareback on Lucky, 1962
Jack Kimble and me with Lucky, 1962
Mum wrote to Jack, a recovering alcoholic, for years.
He called me Brinder. I loved it.

Roy Wilbee's stone wall, 1962

Sunday, January 1, 2017

#19 - Prolog for Possible New Book: Living With Ravens

Painting of Elijah at River Cherith
Once God sent Elijah into hiding at Creek Cherith, a barren and lonely place. "You will drink from the brook," He said. "And I have ordered the ravens to feed you." Sometimes life is lived in the hard places. And waiting on ravens is the last thing we want. Wait. Is it?
I received your biopsy results. I’ve scheduled an appointment for you to come in and talk with me on Monday.”

Most of us can recall a time in our lives when bad news hits like a knock-out punch to the gut, a stunning blow that floods our senses with all the force of an imploding dam, frigid backwater coming at us in a swift noisy din and leaving us unable to breathe, flailing for the surface—wherever the surface might be. I sputtered, “I have cancer.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes, you have DCIS.”

I want to point out right away this isn’t a book for the fearless and faithful—like my friend Billi Clem, who met her DCIS breast cancer with gratitude, wonder, and a delightful sense of humor. I’m not like her, more’s the pity, but there are a lot of women who are. They face devastating loss with fortitude. I envy them, but I am not one of them. This book isn’t for them.

It’s for people like me. People who are afraid, who find faith difficult. People who seem to endure one thing after another until it becomes difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel. You see, cancer isn’t my first crisis. Nor is dysautonomia my friend Valerie’s, or macular degeneration Barbara’s. With each new trauma or disappointment, people like us stumble about in familiar darkness of heartache and want, unable to navigate our way to safety while everyone else seems to lead normal lives.

Picture of Old Testament Job


Scott Peck had it right when he opened his book The Road Less Traveled with “Life is difficult.” Yet for some, life seems to be more difficult than for others. And here’s the bad news. There are no snappy answers. This is the whole point of Job in the Old Testament, is it not? He’s the most victimized man in the Bible, yet despite his anguished beseeching, his weeping and wailing and wearing of sackcloth and ashes, God did not answer his questions. His friends sure did—citing bumper sticker theology and Facebook simplicities, dishing up isolated scripture that had nothing to do with the whole. A torment unto itself, make no mistake. Until finally God did step in. Not to comfort Job or answer his questions—but to rail at his friends for their audacity and smugness. Which begs the question then, is there hope for the troubled?

Prophet ElijahRemember Elijah? He too was from the Old Testament. He’s the chap God assigned to take on Queen Jezebel and her wicked god Baal, a god who demanded the sacrifice of babies and whose rituals involved eating feces. In a maelstrom of fire, Elijah burned down Baal’s altar; and Jezebel, in a white-hot fury, came at him with all the resources of her arsenal and army. A scary time for Elijah—much like cancer for us, and financial ruin, kids on drugs, betrayal, chronic pain, debilitating disease, divorce.

Elijah ran pell-mell for the desert where God hid him amongst the stony outcroppings of Cherith Creek. There he was, on the “Most Wanted” list, his life in peril, and all he’s got is a crummy little creek in a beastly hot desert. Oh, yes, the ravens. Foul, glossy black things they are, eating nothing all day but road kill. Yet in Elijah’s extreme deprivation and isolation, fear pummeling his gut, the ravens became God’s saving grace. They brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening. Who would have thought that carrion-eating birds would be a man’s only hope of survival? It’s almost offensive. At times it feels offensive. But then, sometimes that’s what grace looks like.

This is the good news. In the tight spots, God sends us grace by way ravens. I know, I know, not exactly what we want. Filthy birds with decay in their beaks. We want “cured,” “livable wages,” “love.” We all have our list. We all want that window when the door slams shut, boxing us in with no way out. And so it’s easy to dismiss the ravens—not even see them—these creative gifts of grace in the chaos of our fear and anxiety and grief. And thus we cover ourselves in sackcloth and ashes as did Job, and we cry along with him, “Oh, that I was never born!”

My mother used to tell me I reminded her of a 1950’s baby toy, the plastic happy clowns with roly-poly bottoms that babies batted at. Easy to knock over—but, with beans in their bums, the clowns bounced right back up. Bat, bob, bounce. Up and down, bobbling around. Oh such fun! But not in real life. Such treatment for real can depress the most spirited of souls. “Life keeps taking a whack at you,” my mother would say, “but you always bounce back.” I used to ask, “But what happens if I can’t bounce anymore? It’s getting harder and harder.” I was in my fifties when I began asking, “What if I break?”

“You won’t break,” she’d say.

But I did break, and I have broken. Cancer broke me.

Living With Ravens: An Odyssey of Fear, Faith, and Grace is my story—the latest episode, at least, in a history of sometimes bitter disappointment. You see, my whole life can be viewed as a struggle between fear and faith—and grace. And so I write for people who can’t be made whole anymore by biblical talking points, bumper sticker theologies, or Facebook triteness. Because this I know, despite our pain, confusion, and grief, despite our illness and in His silence, He nonetheless sends us the ravens when life puts us again in isolation at the lonely, barren shoreline of Elijah’s Cherith.

One day in the parking lot of my son’s workplace, I was again in tears. Cancer’s complications were taking their toll and each visit to the plethora of doctors only served to deepen my despair. Like Job, I was on my knees, wailing, weeping, beating my chest, dressed in sackcloth and ashes. Like Elijah, I was back at Cherith and stuck there—isolated in the beastly heat and dribbling creek of the desert. It can be a nasty business for the beleaguered. How was I to go on? I looked up and saw love and a kind of anguish in my son’s eyes.

“All I want right now,” he said to me, “is to enjoy the day with my mother.”

There it was, a raven in the desolation; divine grace in the wilderness. Suddenly all I wanted was to spend a day with my son. We went out to Marymoore Park where we biked through the trees; we kayaked, too, along the riverbank where dragonflies zip-darted over the water’s surface.

You see, God will find a way to penetrate the evils of this world to give us hope. In my case, to whittle away at the false doctrines of health and wealth to a greater understanding of God’s infinite capacity to inspire awe. The riverbank, the dragonflies. A son who loved me. And in the end, is this not what God did for Job? Inspire awe? No answers to Job's brow-beating questions. No insight into the evils that befall. Just questions of His own. “Who set the stars?” he asked Job. “Who carved the mountains? Who put the leviathan in the sea? Who turns the earth in its seasons and sets the birds on their course?”

Brenda in a 4x6 Jeep
Last summer and in between reconstructive surgeries, suffering chronic pain and uncomfortable disfigurement, friends and I went on an exploring mission in the Canadian Yukon for our boss, taking his posh, brand new ATVs up to Paddy’s Peak. We bounced over waist-high boulders, crisscrossed glacial creeks, wound our way up an old stream bed, climbed steeply to the alpine and a carpet of wild flowers I’d never seen before. Everyone scrambled out, headed for the glacial lake our boss intended to make as a stopping point for new tours out of Skagway, AK. Able only to scrabble the glacial rock with difficulty, I carefully followed. When I finally caught up, Bill hollered over to me, “Well? What do you think?”

Paddy's Peak, YK
I stood fully and slowly turned, taking in the 360° view. I couldn’t speak for the tears in my eyes.

“Who made this place?” God asked in my silence. “Who sheered the cliff face, dropping it 6,000’ to Lake Bennett below? Who cradled the glacier, who empties its icy lagoon? Who guides the feet of the mountain goats and who feeds the artic squirrels? Who sets the breeze to rest the birds’ wings?”

In that moment, overcome by all that God was, all that He created, all that He gives us, all I wanted to do was to bow before God, as did Job. “I did not know my soul could still sing,” I simply told Bill—and turned a corner in my soul.

My premise is that we ignore ravens at our peril. But if we can learn to recognize them, appreciate them for what and who they are, we can then know we’re not forgotten or abandoned on the stony outcrop of our pain. The same God who sends us ravens in our darkest hours is the same God who sets the universe.

He loves us.

And nothing else matters.
Paddy's Peak, YK
Not far from the glacier lake, looking down from Paddy's Peak onto Lake Bennett below.
from brenda: if this would be a book you'd find helpful, please let me know.
Brenda@BrendaWilbee.com

Thursday, November 24, 2016

#18 - Thanksgiving 2016

This Thanksgiving Day of 2016, I woke to the wind and rain of the Pacific Northwest, thinking about what I am most thankful for this year. I came up with the retro date of August 17, 1969, the day I died and came back. The event came to mind, no doubt, because I'm thinking of writing my own story, and my life is anchored by this watershed moment. It hasn't mattered which way my life has spun out of control in the past, it's always come back round to this. You see, once you meet God--a divinity our limitation of language cannot articulate--you find that life looks and feels differently. If you're interested in reading my author's statement, here it is. I invite feedback.

“A watershed moment. Changed my life.” People say this when something alters their life trajectory and sets them on a new course altogether. Sometimes it’s a wonderful thing. Like for Anne (with an e), when she finds a home at Green Gables. Sometimes it’s a crucible. Like Pip in the Kent marshes, accosted by an escaped convict. Life ruptures with a jerk and a tear, launching us elsewhere. Sometimes watershed moments come more than once in a life time. Sometimes twice, sometimes three times. But for some of us, they come too often and life devolves into a tumultuous thing—wild and undefined, twisting and turning, nothing stable, nothing to count on, nothing to stem the dizziness as we’re tossed off metaphorical cliffs with a roar and a prayer, slammed into corners with no way out. My mother often told me, “You remind me of those fashioned baby clowns with fat round bottoms. Babies bat at them and they tip, but the ballast bounces them right back up. You have such bad luck. But no matter what life throws at you,” she’d say, “you always find your feet.”

I was in my mid-thirties when I started to ask, “But what if I break and my ballast scatters?”

“You won’t."

But I have broken and I did break.

This book is my story, for other broken women. Women who’ve known too many watershed moments and who find landing on their feet painfully problematic. It’s for women who can no longer be made whole by biblical talking points, bumper sticker theologies, or Facebook triteness.

My story is for women who stand in the food bank lines, who come trembling from behind their doctor’s door, who lie beaten at the feet of someone who claims to love them, who endure unspeakable horrors; women kicked in the teeth and around the block, clobbered by greed, oppressed by power, abused by the unrelenting self-interest of others. It’s for those who know life can become meaningless and disappointing and full of pain. My story is for these women because this I know: Despite our pain, confusion, and grief, God sends us the ravens when we find ourselves in isolation at the lonely, barren shoreline of Elijah’s creek, Cherith. He finds ways to penetrate the evils of this world to give us hope and, in my case, to whittle away at the false doctrines of health and wealth to a greater understanding of God’s infinite capacity to inspire awe.

I was once shared some elements of my story to a friend. She interrupted me. “And you still believe in God?”

I do. Because my story begins the day I died. I was seventeen years old. And once you meet God, it doesn't matter what assails. Life always comes back to Him.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

#17: Hard Times Can Teach the Joy of Giving


Taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves...to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  —Hebrews 13:8 (RSV)

When my children were younger, I often worried about the permanent effects our near-poverty might have on them. My daughter Heather remembers being forced to sit alone in a classroom because she didn't have enough money to buy pizza with her classmates. I remember her putting the labels off her friend's cast-off Keds and gluing them onto the heels of her cheap imitations. She also remembers missing social events because my illness or work prevented my driving her to them. All I could do was pray for God's blessing on my children, and that He would keep all of us from bitterness.

This past Mother's Day, I began to see how God was answering my prayer. The first evidence was a lovely bouquet from Heather, who was away at college. It spoke to me of her love and understanding. The other, oddly, was a bill that arrived the same day. It was Heather's monthly reminder from an international charity. How can she afford to do this, I wondered, when she needs every penny she earns for school?

It was then I realized that her painful memories had not been a burden but a blessing. Hard times had taught my daughter the joy of giving to someone less fortunate than herself. I forwarded her bill, grateful that my children were turning out fine. Exceptional, in fact. And I breathed a prayer of gratitude.

Dear God, thank You for all of the abundance You bring when we trust You to turn our very little into so very much.

Originally published May, Saturday 18, 1996, by Guidepost's Devotionals



#16: Hard Times Can Teach the Joy of Giving


Taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves...to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  —Hebrews 13:8 (RSV)

When my children were younger, I often worried about the permanent effects our near-poverty might have on them. My daughter Heather remembers being forced to sit alone in a classroom because she didn't have enough money to buy pizza with her classmates. I remember her putting the labels off her friend's cast-off Keds and gluing them onto the heels of her cheap imitations. She also remembers missing social events because my illness or work prevented my driving her to them. All I could do was pray for God's blessing on my children, and that He would keep all of us from bitterness.

This past Mother's Day, I began to see how God was answering my prayer. The first evidence was a lovely bouquet from Heather, who was away at college. It spoke to me of her love and understanding. The other, oddly, was a bill that arrived the same day. It was Heather's monthly reminder from an international charity. How can she afford to do this, I wondered, when she needs every penny she earns for school?

It was then I realized that her painful memories had not been a burden but a blessing. Hard times had taught my daughter the joy of giving to someone less fortunate than herself. I forwarded her bill, grateful that my children were turning out fine. Exceptional, in fact. And I breathed a prayer of gratitude.

Dear God, thank You for all of the abundance You bring when we trust You to turn our very little into so very much.

Originally published May, Saturday 18, 1996, by Guidepost's Devotionals



Thursday, November 17, 2016

#15: Rinse & Repeat--Pray Again

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.
--Hebrews 13:8 (RSV)

I've been doing a lot of worrying these days--about my career, about a possible move to Canada, about finances. Each morning I pray for a calm spirit and a trust in God that doesn't waver. I list my blessings like the old hymn tells us:

Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,
Count your many blessings,
See what God has done. . .

But the next thing you know, I'm fretting. I start to list my blessings one more time, but again the worry rises. Why can't I pray and trust God once and for all? I wonder. Why do I have to keep working at it?

"Repeat if necessary." There's the answer, I thought. Shampooing isn't a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And neither is prayer.

As I dried my hair, I thanked God for His message from a shampoo bottle, and I began to pray again: "Here are my worries... And here are the blessings I thank you for: my three teenagers, my work, my family and friends..."

Dear God, it's comforting to know that prayer is "repeat if necessary," and that I can come to you daily, hourly, whenever I need to.

Originally published by Guideposts Devotionals on Thursday, April 18, 1996

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#14: Learning To Give Appropriately: My Panda Bear

Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. --II Corinthians 9:7 (RSV)

1950's Vintage Panda
Could well have been mine.
Panda was my favorite toy when I was five. That Christmas, the fire department collected old toys for poor children. Even though Panda begged me not to give him up, the voice of my Sunday School teacher quietly argued, We never give God what we don't need. We give Him what we love the most.

My hurt worsened as I rode with my mother to City Hall, clutching dear Panda to my chest. “Go ahead,” said a fireman. “Lay your nice little bear right here.” Numb with grief, I laid Panda on top of a rusty truck. A lady with an orange hat dumped a stack of boys' toys on top of Panda, and I rode home heartbroken. But I didn't cry, then or for years; that would have meant I was selfish, and I didn't want to be selfish.

Ten years later I created a wonderful doll from my mother's scrap bag, with a wardrobe to rival Queen Elizabeth's. I took McCall (I'd created her from a McCall's magazine pattern) with me that summer to my grandfather's beach house. I'm not sure when I took it into my head to give her away, or why, but by the time we reached the cabin I knew I would. And when we found the Pattersons, missionaries home on furlough, also at the beach, I knew to whom I would give McCall--the youngest of the five Patterson girls.

“Are you sure you want to give away your doll?” my mother asked. This time I didn't hear my Sunday School teacher. I heard my own heart, saw the little girl and nodded yes. At fifteen, I'd learned what my Sunday School teacher didn't understand: God didn't require me to give away my heart, just to give from my heart. I had made up my mind for myself, and so I could give gladly and freely.

Sometimes I still grieve over Panda. But McCall? I remember her only with joy. She was given from a cheerful heart, freely and without guilt, so there's no room for regret.

Dear God, help me to know my own heart and mind so that I can give appropriate
gifts that bring everyone joy and none of us pain.

Originally published by Guidepost's Daily Devotionals June, Thursday 22, 1995