Sunday, December 30, 2012

Three poems about death.

These are three lovely poems with really contrasting attitudes about death.  Jane Kenyon is almost welcoming death (in the image of evening) as a gentle friend. I believe that she was fighting cancer when she wrote these poems.
Dylan Thomas was a fighter and he fights death in his poem.  I have a cd of him reading "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" and it is fierce.
Christina Rossetti has a very accepting attitude towards death.  She is very matter-of-fact and practical in her poem.
The differences in images and attitudes fascinate me.
Let Evening Come
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Christmas looked like this year.

No snow, no cold, no sweet little boy.
But he got some new pajamas in a Christmas box from us!

He looks pretty happy, doesn't he?  He is thriving as he waits for his forever family.

New traditions in a new place.

Sweet children in our new church singing their hearts out..especially this one little sweet girl.  The boys?  Not so much.  They had the total deer in the headlights look.

Some of the Evergreen Group sang "Jesus Loves Me" in Chinese."

The Four Chinese Tenors?

Body worship-those of our friends will recognize this kind of singing and dancing that is so Chinese!

The Sunday before Christmas, we had four baptisms.  They had sweet testimonies and were so joyful when they came out of the water.

Great food, of course!

A new tradition of driving to the coast on Christmas Eve.  We drove to through the snowy coastal range and had a beautiful day at Cannon Beach.

Old traditions-our tree.  It was so wonderful to have a fresh tree and to get out our ornaments that we have seen in four years.  Some of our ornaments are from when Paul and I lived in Germany in the late 80's.  

New tradition-getting our Christmas tree in the pouring rain.  Welcome to the Pacific Northwest!

Ancient tradition-the Advent wreath that we light each week of Advent as we anticipate the coming of Emmanuel.

Family tradition- a movie on Christmas afternoon.  This time it was Les Miserables.  I desperately tried to finish the 1200 page book before we saw the movie.  I got up to page 500!  The movie was simply wonderful-an amazing story of redemption.  Go and see it...and read the book.  I am still engrossed.  The story is compelling!


Grace and Peace to the few who still keep up with my random blogging!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some things change and some stay the same.

I am working pretty much full time now at a small language institute that is on the Concordia University campus in North East Portland.  It's a beautiful little campus with a lovely library to work in.  Statues of Martin Luther abound!  I am thrilled to be working but this job has quite a steep learning curve for me.  The teaching part is fine and good.  But this is a very different kind of program than I am used to. It's an accelerated program and students come in one month cycles. The one month cycles go very quickly and we are suddenly at the last week of my first month.  I am really sweating to be sure I have done everything right and given all the right tests and quizzes and graded them correctly with the right scale and weight.  Now I have to transfer my grades to an Excel web-sheet and then upload all my grades by Wednesday for my electives and Thursday for my speaking and structure class.  For those of you that are technically minded, this kind of thing may not seem like such a big deal.  But for me, it's a big deal. Technology is not my friend and I would like less of it in my life not more.  I love teaching and students and language.  Testing and technolgy?  Not so much.
I do walk back and forth between the main building of the language institute and the campus.  There are beautiful homes there and it's a lovely walk.  I caught this unusual flower on a tree.  I wish the picture was better because it was so lovely.

Some things never change.  Paul loves fun and will do anything for a laugh.  Our youth leader had to be out for some pregnancy complications ( we are so thankful for the early birth of her sweet little baby).  One night before teaching the Bible, they kids played throw the cheerio's at the shaving cream.  The guy to the left of Paul won but there may have been some minor cheating as they placed Cheerio's instead of throwing them.

I went to Seattle a few weeks ago to see some dear friends and to see Elisabeth.  We went by her dorm room afterwards and I got to see the $1.00 couch that they bought at a used furniture store.  It was so good to see her that weekend and then again over Thanksgiving.  She is flourishing at Seattle Pacific and we are thrilled.

For Thanksgiving, we had a really good time with my youngest brother and his family.  Among the odd things that are missing from our storage unit is our carving knife.  So Paul carved it with a cleaver.  It worked!

I knit our foster son a sweater a few months ago.  The minute I took it off the needles, I realized it was too small.  So I made him a the same sweater a few sizes larger.  The first sweater was knit in a few days.  This one (even though it was identical) too forever.  I just made mistake after mistake and had to rip it out over and over again.  Next time- circular needles so I don't have to seam it!  It wasn't perfect and one sleeve may be a little longer that the other but hey, it's my first sweater and it was knit with love.  It went off in a box to China a few days ago.

I also made him these socks which were a pleasure to knit and I love them.

I was walking on the Concordia campus the other day and looked up at this tree and saw this....

Doves!  So lovely.  In the afternoons, I teach on the third floor of the Luther building and I can see Mt. St. Helen's in the distance.  These little touches of beauty are God's grace to me as I am really struggling in our new life. We have had so many losses in the last six months. I feel loss and pain and joy all at once.  I've always been fairly optimistic and upbeat but I feel fairly broken and fragile.  I've lost my sense of competency and my sense that I have something to share with people.  It's all part of the re-entry process and the only way through it is through it.  I am glad for small glimpses of grace and beauty.

Last year, I taught 13 middle school students how to knit.  Their first project was to knit a square that I then whipped stitched into a blanket.  We had all levels of knitters with different gauges and each of the squares was really a different size.  With quite a bit of maneuvering, I was able to get in into a blanket shape and then gave it to the  same foster care program that we foster through.  Here is the little sweetie that it went to.  That picture just makes my heart full.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My job saga.

My life has gotten very quiet and I kind of like it.  Time with people, time with Paul, time to read and time to knit.  Several people have encouraged me to think of this time of not having a job as a gift and indeed it has been.  But that all changes on Monday when I go back to work!  Yes, I finally have a job teaching ESL (English as a Second Language).
I've been really surprised at how hard it has been to find a job here.  ESL is a very competitive field here and even with many years of experience, a Master's degree in TESOL and just having come back from living and doing some teaching in China, I am (as another teacher told me) just another cog in the wheel.
I started looking for a job last Spring when we were still in China. I contacted a local junior college and received a fairly curt reply saying that I should check with human resources.  I filled out several online applications to different places in the Portland/Vancouver area and had two interviews.  One was for a four hour position and they hired someone else.  The other was dependent upon student enrollment and I never heard back from them.  I sent a resume to another place and they e-mailed me back saying that they'd like to interview me but that I needed to do the on-line application.  I did it and never heard a word back, inspite of follow through e-mails on my part.  One lovely school told me I was the best interview they had had all year but that they had no positions.  Sigh.  I've heard from several different ESL teachers that this is very common-there are so many people looking for jobs and so many people willing to drive all over the place to work that normal professional courtesy isn't even necessary.
I heard about another college that had an MA TESOL program and was looking at their website out of curiosity.  I discovered that they had an ESL program and sent a resume last September.  I got a polite response back that they weren't hiring but they would keep my resume.  Then a few weeks ago, I got an e-mail asking if I was still available, did a phone interview, observations, real life interview and now I have a job!  I'll be working for ELS Portland which is housed at Concordia University.  All though I will be surrounded by statues of Martin Luther, the program is separate from the University.  The campus is beautiful and it's surrounded by a beautiful neighborhood with beautiful homes.
Each person that I have met has been pleasant and helpful. The program is an academic English program that runs in one month cycles.  Most students are Arab or East Asian- Japanese, Chinese and Korean. I start at the lowest ranking which means that my job depends upon enrollement.  This month, I will teach 20 hours a week or four classes.  Next month?  Who knows?  In order to get to a more permanent status, I need to work three consecutive months in a row at 20 hours.  So it's still a "maybe" job but one that I am thankful to have.
It's been a little over three months since we have moved here and we are still blown away by the beauty of the area.  We like the church where Paul is working and the people there have been warm and welcoming.  Elisabeth is happy at college and that makes us happy.  She has a work study job working with developmentally disabled teenagers- fruit of having a developmentally disable child in our home for two years. I will be seeing her next weekend when I go to Seattle to see some friends-yay!
I read these two quotes  about "sainthood" this morning and I am pondering them. The first is by Frederick Buechner.

 Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one's mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full.

The second is by Thomas Merton.

Sanctity is not a matter of being less human, but more human. This implies a greater capacity for concern, for suffering, for understanding, for sympathy, and also for humor, for appreciation of the good and beautiful things of life.

So here is to great joy, deep joy that also lives in the tension of a great capacity for concern and suffering.  I love that Merton mentions humor as I believe that a sense of humor is the unnamed fruit of the spirit and just necessary for survival in life. Here is to living a life that is full enough to give yourself away.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thank you, Pinterest!

Based on this image found on Pinterest..

Here is my picture taken from the other side...not exactly Pinterest worthy, is it?

We drove over to Portland to go to Cathedral Park today.  Cathedral Park is a small city park on the Willamette River.  To quote the Portland Parks and Recreation site. 

The site which now bears the name Cathedral Park is steeped in history. It is believed to be one of the 14 Lewis and Clark landing sites in the Vancouver-Portland area: William Clark and eight men camped there on April 2, 1806. This spot had been a fishing and camping site for many area Indian tribes. In 1847, the founder of St Johns, James John, settled on the site and operated a ferry to Linnton across the Willamette River. In 1931, the St Johns Bridge was built on the site with 400-ft towers and a main span of 1,207 feet. It is the only steel suspension bridge in Portland. 

It really was quite lovely. Today was a warm fall day with minimal rain and it was good to get out.
Here are some of my pictures from my i-phone.

This isn't the first time we have found something fun to do on Pinterest.  I guess it's not just crafts and baking!


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Beauty of Simplicity

A song for simplicity
by Luci Shaw
There are some things that should be as they are:
plain, unadorned, common and all-complete;
things not in a clutter, not in a clump,
unmuddled and unmeddled with;
the straight, the smooth, the salt, the sour, the sweet.
For all that’s timeless, untutored, untailored and untooled;
for innocence unschooled;
for unploughed prairies, primal snow and sod,
water unmuddied, wind unruled,
for these, thank God.

Singly and strongly, from each separate star,
a brightness pricks the retina from far
to near.  And for clear eyes to see
deep space and dark infinity
with an untroubled gaze,
give praise.

With both hands unjewelled and with unbound hair
beauty herself stands unselfconscious where
she is enough to have, and worth the always holding.
The mind perceiving her, the heart enfolding
echoes the unchanged pattern from above
that praises God for loveliness, and love.

Glory again to God for word and phrase
whose magic, matching the mind’s computed leap,
lands on the lip of truth,
(plain as a stone well’s mouth, and as deep)
and for the drum, the bell, the flute, the harp, the bird,
for music, Praise! that speaks without a word.

As for the rightness to be found
in the unembellished square and the plain round,
in geometric statement of a curve
respond! without reserve
but with astonishment that there’s for every man
one point in time, one plainly drafted plan,
and in your unique place,
give glory for God’s grace.

All this from him whose three-in-one
so simply brought to birth
from the red earth
a son.
All our complexity, diversity, decor,
facet the gem, encrust the clarity.
So pierce you now the opalescent glaze
till all your praise
rises to him in whom you find no flaw.

*Pictures taken this morning at the Columbia River Environmental Education Center.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Othering people.

Last night, one of our church small groups met in our home.  We are studying Paul Miller's Love Walked Among Us.  Part of the study is looking at the parables of Jesus.  Last week, we looked at the widow of Nain and Jesus restoring her son to life. We talked about the fact that Jesus really looked at her, really saw her, felt compassion,  met her need and restored her to her community by raising her son from the dead.
 This week, we did the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Good Samaritan is probably the most famous of all the parables...except maybe the Prodigal Son.  We get our "Good Samaritan" laws from the story-those protective laws that allow us to help a person in harms way without fear of retribution.  The importance of those laws were really brought home to us as China does not have "Good Samaritan" laws and if you help a person in crisis, you can be arrested and blamed for the accident.
The story of the Good Samaritan is  told in the gospel of Luke and it is simple and complex. The Samaritans are a  group despised by the Jews.  They are considered half breeds, they have intermarried with pagans, they worship wrongly and at the wrong mountain.  Earlier in Luke, a city of Samaritans reject Jesus and the some of the disciples ask Jesus if he would like them to pray for fire to be rained on them.  Jesus rejects this idea and tells them that he has come to save people, not destroy them.
Later, a young "expert in the Law" asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answers back from the Law with the answer that all Jews of the time know - "Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind."  and then He adds "Love your neighbor as yourself."
The expert "seeking to justify himself" (and don't we all do that) ask him who is neighbor is.
So Jesus (as He so often does) tells a story.
Basically- a man is walking in a deserted area of Israel. He is taken by bandits, robbed and beaten and left for dead.  Two prestigious people come by (a priest and a Levite-religious and authority figures in Jewish culture) and continue to walk/ride by.  They are possible too busy to help, to afraid to help, fearful of religious uncleanness, lacking in compassion or whatever.  For whatever reason, they refuse to help. Since they were important people, I wonder if they were traveling alone and if their whole group refused to help.  Scripture doesn't say this but it's something to ponder.
But a Samaritan walks by and helps. He takes him to an inn, cleans his wounds, pays for his stay and says he will be back to check on him. The Samaritan shows himself to be the good neighbor, not the esteemed people of the culture.  It's a powerful story.
But last night, a woman in our group said something that really struck me. She asked "I wonder what the man who was victimized felt like to be cared for by a Samaritan."  What was it like to wake up and realize that the person who was caring for was from a group that he had been taught to despise?
To apply it to today...what if you woke up and the person caring from you was from a group that you despise?  An injured person who believes in strict gun control is being cared for by a member of the NRA.  A gay person being cared for by a person who is working against gay marriage.  An ideological Democrat being cared for by a dogmatic Republican.  A soldier being cared for by a peace activist.  A progressive Christian being cared for by a fundamentalist.  You get my point.
It is easy to "other" people, to dismiss them as part of a group.  The poor, the gays, the liberals, the conservatives, the Calvinists, the.....whatever.  It's easy to dismiss a group.  It's harder to dismiss a person.
A while ago some friends were visiting.  We had a great time until towards they end, one of our friends made a comment about an issue. I strongly disagreed with her...very strongly.  It was tempting to simply "other" her.  But that would demean the friendship.  We had to agree to let it go and agree to disagree.
In our many years in ministry, one thing that we have learned is that people are not the sum of one experience.  If we have had a bad experience with someone, that does not dismiss all of who they are as people.  It is entirely possible for us to have a bad experience with someone....and for others to find that person delightful and warm.
This is not to negate those differences or to say that differences are  not serious.  Just some thoughts that people are people, not ideas and ideologies and that to group or "other" them is not the way of Jesus.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How He Changed Our Life.

This month is Down Syndrome awareness month and I'd like to write a little about our foster son. In the fall of 2010,  while living and working in China, we unexpectedly became foster parents to a little baby with Down Syndrome.  He was malnourished and needed one on one care. I don't write much about him anymore because he really isn't ours anymore.  He belongs to his future family and with the complicated adoption process going on, I don't want to write anything that would make it too complicated.   Leaving him behind in China was one of the hardest things we have ever done. We still hear about him and get pictures and sometimes even SKYPE.  We make sure his ayi gets paid and he has clothes. He is thriving with his ayi, being loved and cared for while he waits.
He is a part of our story and we are a part of his.  His being in our life changed us forever. Our being in his life changed his life and gave him a future.  The mutual impact is profound. We miss him everyday.
So what did we learn about Down Syndrome while we had him?
We learned that Down Syndrome is about an extra chromosome in his cells.  We learned that the extra chromosome give him more widely spaced eyes, lower ears, a sweet round tummy and rather poor posture. We learned that  Down Syndrome gave him low muscle tone and that made him slower to crawl, sit, stand and walk.  We learned all of those things so that we could strategize his care.  Not all of his issues came from having Down Syndrome but it was a good starting place.  We consulted with a speech pathologist friend about things to do to strengthen his swallow reflex.  I talked to my friend Gillian who has two children with Down Syndrome-she was a wealth of help and information for me.
We learned that while he has Down Syndrome, he isn't Down Syndrome.  He is very much himself-lively, funny, a book lover and cuddler.  After a while, we didn't really think that much about it except for when we were in public and people would ask.  There is a famous conductor in China who has a son with Down Syndrome and many people knew about him.  That was always a starting point.
Because of Down Syndrome and our little guy, we learned about love.  That's the biggest thing.  Our hearts were enlarged and our spirits enriched.  He gave us eyes to see. We are forever changed.
From the time we got him and he looked like this.

(Yes, we were trying to make up for lost time with all the black and white stuff! He is nine months in this picture and black and white stuff is usually for very young babies)

To when he started to chunk up and looked like this about a month after we got him.  This is one of my favorite pictures.

To when he went in the hospital with severe pneumonia and low oxygen...oh what a hard five days that was.

To our first family picture at Christmas.

To a second Christmas together.

To the playing with the phone, the cars, the trucks, the books, the computer.

To walking him at the river near our home.  People would stare at us as they couldn't quite figure out what our relationship to him was. Grandparents?  Adoptive parents?  If Elisabeth was with us, it lead to even more confusion.

To playing with his beloved big sister.

To his heroic ayi who has gone against her culture to love a special needs little guy.

From all of this!  He is no longer a baby-truly a little boy!  He walks and runs and turns in circles.  It's amazing.

This is a well loved little boy, both by people geographically close to him and many who know about him through my Walking to China blog.  Thank you for loving him and hoping for him. I am so thankful for the many who walked this part of his journey.
Last summer I was working for a few weeks at Portland State.  I would often see a young woman with Down Syndrome walking around. She was nicely dressed and clearly had a job there.  Every time I saw her, my heart welled up with tears.  This is a young woman with a hope and a future that is determined by what she can do, not just her limitations.
That is what we want for our foster son ...and the many who are like him.  We want them valued because of who they are-intrinsically valuable human beings.