Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Leaving home, returning home

Once again we’re getting ready to change planets. Our son David will pick us up at 2:00 tomorrow morning and take us to the airport for our flight to Bolivia where we will spend the next five months.
Our friend Timoteo Choque will meet us at the La Paz airport Thursday morning at 6:00. It will be good to see him—and so many others—after an absence of a year and a half. We will spend the next months with the marvelous team of Bolivian Quakers, men and women, who have been working with us these past five years to research and write the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church.
We plan to compare our findings and try to fill in the gaps. I look forward to scores of interviews, long discussions and time to re-write and edit. We hope five months will be long enough.
But this time, apprehension mingles with excitement. We were in our 20s when we first flew to Bolivia in 1972. Obviously we’re no longer in that phase of life. Our bodies now struggle more to adapt to the high altitude. While every bit as motivated by a sense of God’s call, we’re more vulnerable and certainly not as energetic as we used to be. We depend on the prayers of our loved ones—which is not a bad place to be.
And we have a different sense of home. While in many ways we’re going home to Bolivia, our lives have shifted since those early days of following God to a far-off land. Last year we took the plunge into a new adventure and moved into Friendsview Retirement Community. It was a major change and it’s taken us a while to adapt.
But we have adapted. This upcoming trip has helped me realize this. When people here express alarm that we will be gone five months, I’ve sensed some grief myself. It is a long time to be separated from my new family, and that sensation has helped me see that this is now home, too.
(Concern over separation from kids and grandkids is, of course, a given.)
So tomorrow we both leave home (with a certain sense of sadness) and we return home (with a great deal of anticipation).
More than all that we know that we carry home with us. Thesese of Lisieux once gazed upon the face of Jesus and prayed, “Your Face becomes my home, the radiance of my days, my realm and sunlit land.”

Oh, Lord, may it be so.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

49 and counting

Who celebrates the 49th anniversary of anything?
49 is not special.
It’s “see if you can hold on for one more year”
or “almost perfect but not quite.”
It’s the California Gold Rush
which turned out well for a few
but disappointed thousands of treasure seekers.
We were looking for gold when we married.
I reckon we did better than California.
Who celebrates their 49th?
We do.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Saddle Shoes

Here is the prompt I followed in my writing time this morning: “That was the ugliest piece of clothing anyone ever had to wear in front of her friends.”

    They were called “saddle shoes.” The name evokes images of mules, dusty trails and rural klutziness , but my mom expected me to wear them. To school. In front of everyone.
I must have been in the fourth or fifth grade. My mom was the proverbial Good Mother, so sensible shoes were the order of the day. After all, they were “good for my feet.”
Sturdy, yes. Substantial. But also clunky and awkward. A white shoe with a large black band across the top—the “saddle”—that tied up and needed to be worn with ankle socks.
In those days little girls wore dresses to school. The saddle shoes definitely did not go with dresses. They were not feminine. They were not pretty.
I hated them. And I was angry at Mom for making me wear them.
Furthermore, I was skinny. One of my nicknames—what the other kids chose to call me—was Bird-Legs. Can you picture it? Top to bottom: a crop of unruly naturally curly blond hair, a frilly dress, two thin stick-like legs, stuck into a foundation of chunky sensible shoes.
No wonder I felt ugly and awkward.
It took me years to realize I was pretty.

Now, as an older person with strong, healthy feet, I get it. While I no longer have to wear saddle shoes, I choose sensible. Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Declaration of Independence, Interdependence and Total Dependence

Since the first shall be last and the last first, I’ll start with Total Dependence.

Declaration of Total Dependence
--I declare my total dependence on God. I want to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you, and on earth there is no one I desire who compares with you.”  “In God I live and move and have my being.” God alone is my source of glory (recognition, acknowledgment, and the fulfillment of my longings for beauty, love and belonging). God is my glory and the lifter of my head. Jesus is my companion on the road, my resting place, my home. The Spirit in me is the fulfillment of my dearest dreams. I live to love, praise, honor, rejoice in and glorify my Lord. “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.”

Declaration of Interdependence
--Thank you God for providing me with a human companion on the road. Thank you for Hal, my best friend, my lover, my colleague in work, my prayer partner, my peer mentor, someone to laugh at my jokes and understand my tears, the human being I love above all else in ways that are ever changing. What a life you’ve called us to and what a joy now to be able to grow old together. We do depend on one another. In our case, two definitely are better than one. We walk forward hand in hand to the dawn of a perfect day.

Declaration of Independence
--In terms of the beautiful children and grandchildren you’ve given us, we declare our ongoing love and, at the same time, our independence. I’ve raised my children to be independent mature persons, and now they are passing it on to their children. I release you, dear ones. More than that, I not only get to rejoice in your independence from me, I get to declare my own independence. I will always love you, but I do not need you to keep needing me. I am even becoming free of any need for your approval. While I am still parent and grandparent, the roles have changed. I am free to be who I am with you and to go beyond the role. I don’t have to be “Super Grandma” or “Ancient Wise One” or “Whatever.” I can let the roles mature and meet you face to face.

Independent, yet interdependent. All of us together dependent on our Lord and the creator of all this joy. So help me, God.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Young Quaker artist from Africa

I realize that I’m walking the dangerous edge of a proud grandmother. But I think I have good reason to be proud. Gwen Emily Amahora Thomas, currently a senior at Newberg High School with only a few weeks before graduation, is sharing her art with the world. The lobby of Friendsview Retirement Community is displaying her African portraits, fruit of assignments from her AP art classes.
She describes her art in an essay accompanying the portraits:
“Home. That word has both enchanted me and haunted me my whole life. I was born and raised in Rwanda, Africa as one of the few white kids in the country. However, my skin color didn’t prevent me from finding my home in Africa. In recent years, I have had to leave my beloved home and live in America. Saying goodbye to my life-long friends, taking a last glimpse of my childhood home, and finally boarding that plane was the hardest thing I have ever done. But boarding a plane and living somewhere else doesn’t mean that I leave it behind. Rwanda will always be in my heart and a part of who I am. It’s no wonder that most of my art work reflects my love of my country. The portraits are all created as a reflection of the transition I was and am going through.
“I am currently a senior a Newberg High School. I spent my freshman and sophomore years at a boarding school in Kenya where my art began to improve. After graduation this June, I will be going to George Fox University to study nursing.”


 Self portrait

Proud grandparents!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Devotional chocolate and Mother's Day

Yesterday my grandchildren prepared a Mother’s Day tea and invited their two grandmothers and, of course, their mother. We grandmothers received flowers but the kids presented their mother with a bar of Super Dark Matcha Chocolate. Very gourmet and very appropriate. My daughter-in-law, Debby, is currently drinking matcha tea every day and expounding its merits. The spirulina algae it contains helps make it super-healthy.
The packaging contained instructions on how to taste “an exotic chocolate bar,” and as a party activity, granddaughter Gwen read the instructions while we all attempted to have the ultimate chocolate experience. It was great fun, and the chocolate was quite good.
The kind of language used in the packaging of this product either angers or amuses me. In this case, the instructions, the information about the creator of this chocolate bar (a woman named Katrina) and her hopes for the effects it will produce are obviously meant to be taken seriously. It sounds like a new-age spirituality of chocolate.
I asked Debby to loan me the package, told her I was sure I could find a poem hidden in all the verbiage.
And so I did. A “found poem” (a real genre, by the way) lifts words and phrases from a text and rearranges them into a poem which, in many cases, plays around with the meaning of the original. I was definitely playing. But, at the same time, while this found poem may seem totally whimsical, it is actually serious literary/cultural criticism.
Please keep that in mind as you read.

Chocolate Devotions
Katrina, the medium of chocolate,
invites you to follow
as she travels the world
in search of a superior source.
Are you ready?
Take three deep breaths,
taste, and….
You will hear a crisp ringing pop
as your mind and spirit
open to new ideas.
Even though you have only
rubbed your thumb on the surface
of the chocolate experience,
a meticulous process has begun.
Your inner spices, nuts, roots,
herbs and liqueurs will be ground
by low friction, then fused
to bring you to the pinnacle
of your taste profile, thus
enabling you to harness
the power of storytelling.
Can you believe it?
At the end of the day,
if you have followed Katrina’s instructions,
you will have
an exotic chocolate movement,
thus releasing you
to enter the super dark
where spirulina algae
will swim through your dreams
spreading peace, love, and, as ever,

Celebrating Mother's Day with granddaughter Alandra

Friday, March 31, 2017

A living hope

A friend of mine in California is reading 1 and 2 Peter this year. Only 1 and 2 Peter. He is focusing his heart on what the Spirit might be saying to him through these two books.
He inspires me. So in my morning exercises on the elliptical machine, I’m reading 1 Peter. Over and over and over. It actually makes the exercise less painful, keeps me from ticking off the minutes. This morning I read the first chapter in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Aymara, all while running nine laps around the football field. (Pardon me, but I feel so virtuous!)
I’ve noticed some interesting things:
1)      ---The book clearly presents the Trinity: “…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ….”
2)      ---Like James, Peter talks about the Father who gives us new birth. I find that fascinating. A father who gives birth. It shows the inadequacy of our anthropomorphic images of God. Both Father and Mother, but neither the one nor the other. Mystery.
3)      ---I love the “living” references: a “living hope” (1:3), the “living word” (1:23), the “Living Stone” (2:4) and us as “living stones” (2:5) in a spiritual house.
Especially the living hope. Right now in the middle of the break-up of Northwest Yearly Meeting, hope is hard to grab ahold of. What is a living hope?
Spirit, sow that kind of hope in me.
Here’s an old poem, come back to help me now.

Meditation on 1 Peter 1:3-4
Rooted in red-rich dirt,
resurrection soil,
my hope is a green and living thing:
a wide willow
offering respite from summer’s heat;
a blossoming sorrel
left to surprise squirrels and deer mice;
a licorice fern.
It has texture and hue;
real edges define it;
its roots are credible.
Tiny fingers stroke moisture/life
from ground.
Each single cell drinks light and air,
releases an energy green and good.
My hope is a young sequoia.
Slender now,
its trunk will thicken
in a larger garden--
a sure inheritance.
My hope enriches Eden’s slopes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First Light

Response to the query: "How did you first become aware of the light?"

The reflection of flames pulsated off the walls of my bedroom, and the scent of smoke filled the air. Distant sirens did nothing to calm the panic I fought as I lay there. I was nine years old, and that summer the brush fires surrounding my Southern California community raged out of control. Although told we were in no immediate danger, I was terrified.
Our home was not Christian, although my parents were good, educated and loving people. We didn’t go to church as a family, said no grace at meals, and the Bible was up on the shelf alongside Dante, Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam. Good Literature, there for reference but not necessarily for reading.
But when we first moved to this small town, my parents decided we three children needed to go to church and learn Christian values. They were drawn to the Friends, mostly because of the underground railroad and how Quakers had treated the American Indians. So when I was seven, my mom started taking us kids to the local Friends church.
And it was there, in the second grade Sunday school class, that Mrs. Kunkel taught us about Jesus and about confessing our sins and asking him into our heart as our personal savior and friend. I already trusted grown-ups, so I was predisposed to believe her. And it sounded good, like something I might want to do someday. Mrs. Kunkel put no pressure on us, and as my sense of sin was totally undeveloped (remember, my parents actually liked me and told me so), I was in no rush. She did tell us that people who did not know Jesus went to hell.
So laying there that night, with the sirens and smoke feeding my fear, the thought of hell popped into my brain. I decided that I never ever wanted to go there, and that I’d better do something about it quick. I knew just what to do. I said that little formula Mrs. Kunkel had taught us. I was not motivated by any need to repent of sin or any deep sense of longing for God. I was simply afraid of fire. So I pulled the covers over my head, whispered the right words and waited to see what might happen next.
What happened was—he showed up. Without great emotion, without tears or repentence, I quietly became aware that I had a new friend. He really was there. I had no doubts. So I began talking with my new friend, having no idea that this was called “prayer.” After a while, I noticed that I was no longer afraid of the fire.

He’s been my friend ever since.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"The Leader" by Wendell Berry

Head like a big
frequently thumped
and still not ripe.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The right to be safe

I hear the word “safe” used a lot lately. Mostly it comes modified by the adverb “not.” People in our congregation, yearly meeting and certainly in our nation are sensing insecurity, anxiety and a general state of being “not safe.”
I totally agree with the movement to make our children safe from sexual predators. I work with young girls in our congregation and I recently completed the required abuse prevention training program. Unfortunately, this kind of training seems to be necessary. Our youth and children definitely have the right to be protected and safe in all programs of the yearly meeting.
Many of us are involved in other conversations in which the word “safety” frequently comes up. These conversations have to do with issues of ethnicity and gender, specifically same sex relationships. We are rightfully concerned that, with the level of diversity of perspective in our churches, marginalized people do not feel safe among us. Others do not feel safe to express their opinion, one way or the other.
The world is looking pretty scary right now. The church is looking pretty scary.
Is it our responsibility to make our churches as safe as possible for all ages and kinds of people? Probably. Caring for all people and doing the peaceable work of the kingdom seems to be our missional mandate.
But is safety our right as children of the Kingdom? Possibly not. It may be something we’re called to provide, but not something we can demand for ourselves.
When God called me as a young person into service, the words I heard were, “Come. Take up your cross. Follow me.” Then he beckoned me to another land, another culture, on a total adventure. Never did God promise me safety. “Come, follow me. It will be dangerous. You may even die. Come anyway.” So I did. It never felt safe, because it wasn’t safe. That was never part of the deal.
And now, back on my own home turf, I find the ground shaking. I find myself asked to take on tasks that don’t match my personality, that carry me down paths that twist in weird configurations. I don’t know the destination. Not safe. Not safe at all.
Even so, even here, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” That’s a promise. That is part of the deal. In the valley of the shadow of death, in the presence of my enemies, the Shepherd is with me. Always, I’m under the mercy.

It sort of makes “safe” irrelevant.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Discerning the voice in the dark

Today’s devotional reading from Fruit of the Vine comes from I Samuel 3, the story of the voice in the night. I find it an apt word for us in the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends.
This month we gather again for mid-year board and representatives’ meetings. And once again we are focusing on our response to questions of human sexuality, particularly same-sex committed relationships.
The voice came to Samuel during a historical period when “the word of the Lord was rare.” That may describe us as a community of faith. We simply have not yet discerned together the word of the Lord on this issue. Many, with widely differing perspectives, claim to know “way forward” (that great, but slightly overused, Quaker phrase), and the “knowings” bring together a maze of options.
I take courage from this simple story in I Samuel. Even in that winter season, the word of the Lord did, finally, come. And it came to a young person. Samuel was probably around 12 years old at the time. He was in training under Eli the priest and regularly “ministering before the Lord,” carrying out temple duties and serving Eli, as instructed. He had never before directly discerned God’s voice, but he was certainly accessible to God.
When the word finally came, an adult respected God’s choice and encouraged that young person. Eli finally understood the nature of the voice and instructed Samuel in his response. Eli’s role in the story was crucial, even though it thrust him into the background as young Samuel would gradually assume a leadership role. And even though the message that came that night was not what Eli would have hoped for.
Yes, I take courage. In this, our winter season, God can speak to us. We need to prepare ourselves, be accessible, continue active in “ministering before the Lord,” even when we don’t hear God’s voice. We need to be open to whatever messengers God chooses, including our young people. In fact, we need to actively encourage the younger generations to wait for, expect and respond to God’s word to them, for all of us. And we need to be ready to listen, even when the words are hard to take.
As I write this, it’s a cold but bright winter morning. Not dark at all. Snow covers the hills, and ice makes the roads dangerous. But hope is in the air. I choose to keep open. Waiting.
“Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.”

(Thanks to Chuck Orwiler for his week of devotionals. Insightful and encouraging.)