Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Slow food, slow church, slow reading, slow knitting.

I read this article this morning and it really struck a chord with things that I have been thinking about.  I acknowledge that his choice (5  hours a day of writing and then leisure to see friends) is a choice of privilege and  not a choice many can make.  But his point about slowing down, being in relationship with people and just being fully present is really good.
This weekend, we went with our new church to a beautiful retreat center in the foothills of some mountains in Oregon.  It was a small group-mostly families with young children.  On our second day, we went to a park and hiked down to some waterfalls.  The trail was made so that you could actually walk behind the waterfalls.  After that hike, many people went back but we hiked around the loop to another waterfall that you could also walk behind.  I had no camera to even take pictures.  I just thought a lot about being fully in that moment-that moment of being in creation, of beauty, of nature.  Slow living allows you to do those things.
Our lives have always been very busy.  The three years in China, the year and a half of preparing to be in China, the six years of planting and watering the international church while raising a family and being a graduate student, seminary and back.  There has always been someone to see, something to do, an obligation to meet.
Now we find ourselves at a slower pace in a beautiful place. Psalm 16 says

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
(Psalm 16:6 ESV)

We have the privilege of getting to know people in our church at this pace. Our commitment is to people, not programs.  Paul spoke this weekend at our retreat about the marriage feast of the lamb.  He used the movie "Babette's Feast" as an example of people who were living good lives but without the richness and fullness that we are called to as followers of Jesus Christ.  When Babette makes the feast for them, they are determined not to enjoy it.  But slowly, their hearts and appetites succumb to the delight of the feast.  They become joyful, relaxing and forgiving those with whom they have small and petty grievances.  They truly participate in the feast.  
The Bible is full of images of feasting.  Early in our marriage, I set a priority of eating a meal together every night. Growing up, my family always ate together and I carried that into our marriage.  Before we had Elisabeth, it was often on the sofa but it was together.  We have always done that and I believe that it is important. Meals are where great conversations happen, jokes are told and family stories revealed.  Now that we are about to be empty nesters, I still believe it is important for the two of us to gather around the table for a meal.  We are family, even if only two.
Slowing down has given me time to really read.  Two great books that I have recently read are In this House of Brede by Rumer Godden and Leaving Church by Barbara Taylor Brown.  In this House of Brede is an older book of fiction, taking place in the 1950's/60's.  It is about a woman who joins a Benedictine order after suffering a great loss in her life.  The pictures of each sister are really wonderful and you really get a sense of the individuality of each one.  The story line is excellent with many quiet little twists and turns.  I may have read this when I was much younger and I'd like to read it again, as well as other Rumer Godden books.\
Leaving Church is about an Episcopalian priest who leaves her church and the priesthood.  Barbara Taylor Brown's theology is a little left of what I consider orthodoxy but she has many powerful things to say about the division of the sacred and the secular and the role of the priest/pastor.  I am also reading her book An Altar to the World and really liking it.
I am a very slow knitter. I've often thought that I should check Youtube for tips on how to knit more quickly.  But the truth is, I like the process of knitting and if it's slow, it's slow.
Feasting, relationships, reading, knitting...that is part of the picture of our life today.  Slowing down has also given me the time to grieve our losses-our sweet little foster son, our life in China.  It's important to walk through the pain of those things slowly, so that we really work them through.
Slowing down doesn't mean not being engaged or being lazy.  It means being fully present and fully aware.  It's a good place to be in right now as we weave our new life.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Yes, this is where we live now.

Well, across the river anyway.  I've started teaching a three week class at Portland State.  It's a group of students from Japan and really fun.  I take the commuter bus in because traffic in Portland plus the price of gas and thank you!
The bus cracks me up because it is super quiet, no one makes eye contact unless they have to and people do their best not to sit next to someone. People read or have head phones on.  The is no interaction whatever. In China, buses are loud and crowded and people might sit next to you even if there are other empty rows of seats.  I used to wonder why that was...but now I wonder why we as Americans are so quiet and space conscious.  Maybe tomorrow I'll sit next to someone even though there is an empty might freak them  out

Paul and I went out exploring in Washington.  We wanted to go up around Mt. St. Helen's and look for some camping places.  Again, we found amazing beauty.

Mt. St. Helen's- on the East (left) side, you an still see the massive mud slides.  It would have taken us over an hour to get closer so that is a trip for another day.

We checked out several places to camp-these are within a hour and a half of our home.  

We took some pictures of ourselves.  We tried the camera trick of holding our camera to take one of us together..clearly our skills need improvement.

We drove down to the Columbia Gorge where we saw para-sailers and windsurfers.  The wind was up and the river was choppy. Lewis and Clark found this part of the river really difficult and lost a canoe around here.

We stopped at a vista point for this breathtaking view.

I just can not get enough of this moss!  

We are starting to feel acclimated here.  We have had amazing and sunny weather but that should change soon.  We are trying to get to know people in the church and find out their hearts and minds.  This weekend we are heading up to the mountains for a church vision casting retreat.  Paul is speaking on the marriage feast of the lamb.  We are hoping for a time of growth, learning and relationship building.
I've had several interviews but am still waiting to hear about jobs.  Universities start later here so I won't know until September.  For now, my three week job is fun and it's great to be back doing ESL work again.
Elisabeth starts college in about a month.  She is excited to get started and we are excited for her...and sad!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five Weeks In

We have been in America for about five weeks now.  It's been good.  It's been hard.  It's been sad.  It's been wonderful.  It's been all of those things and more.
We are living in a place of exceptional beauty.  We drive down a street and see Mt. Hood reaching towards the sky with its snow covered peak. We look North East and see Mt. St. Helen's-also snow covered but a different shape because of the explosion around 30 years ago.  We drive around and across the Columbia River and see clear water flowing. and boats sailing.  It's extraordinary.
People have been kind and generous.  We are staying in the home of a church member who has moved away.  They left some furniture and supplies and other people left some of theirs. Some other Portland friends gave us their sofa and love seat and coffee table and now we have a lovely living room.  We even have a car!  That has helped us to not have to make quick decisions about where to live and what kind of car to buy.  We are thankful.
Paul has started work here.  It's good to hear him preach and teach again.  We'll be headed up to the mountains in a few weeks for a church retreat to form vision and work on community. I can't wait.

Elisabeth has been doing a lot of this.


She misses the easy access to transportation that she had in China-bikes, subways, taxis. She also misses her friends. She has made some friends in our church.  Three of the people from her Third Culture Kid re-entry seminar at Multnomah live in the Vancouver area so she has had plenty of social interaction.  She went to the county fair and had her most American experience ever- monster trucks!
  She is heading down to California later this week to help a friend from her international school in Shenyang settle down at UC Berkeley.  Then she will come back and leave a week later on the BOLT bus for Canada to see some other new friends.  A few weeks later, we will take her to Seattle Pacific to start college.  

We got about 100 pictures of our little guy last week.  This one is from the airport right before we left.

The tears started flowing soon after this as we got on the plane.

We are thrilled to see him doing the same things as he did with us...books are big with him!  He is doing very well but I miss him every minute of every day.

As for me, I've been taking these words pretty seriously.  

The start of the journey also coincided with my decision to curtail my use of the internet, which can have an insidious, corrosive effect.  Too much internet usage fragments the brain, and dissipates concentration so that after a while, ones ability to spend long, focused hours immersed in a single subject becomes blunted.  Information comes pre-digested in small pieces, one grazes on endless ready-meals and snack of the mind, and the result is mental malnutrition. Susan Hill Howard's End is on the Landing

I have a new "devotional" book called At the Still Point by Sarah Arthur.  I start each day with this unique book- a compilation of Bible reading, poetry and literature.  It's been refreshing and feeds my soul in a unique way.  
One of my goals for this new stage of my life is "more books, more knitting."  It's a joy to have access to a library again and to used bookstores.  The Goodwills here are really good and have stacks of really good used books.  Our branch library also has used books for sale every day.  It's wonderful.

In knitting, I am working on a pair of socks for me and a shawl for Elisabeth.  The socks are a broken seed stitch pattern and the shawl is this.

Woodland Shawlette by Classic Elite Yarns.

I've started and ripped it out three times...I hope I've got it now!

I started to job process before we left China and had my first interview the Monday after we got here.  I had another interview last week.   Both interviews went well and I'll have to make a hard decision at some point if I am offered both jobs.  Both are the kind of ESL that I like to teach but one is much farther away...but potentially more hours.  The other is a great atmosphere but only four hours a week...but it's in the morning so I might be able to teach at the other place in the afternoon....if they have classes it's a lot of commuting because both jobs are in Portland!  So many decisions.
In the meantime, I have been hired to teach in a three week program at Portland State for a group of Japanese students.  It's one class on American Culture and one class on spoken English.

So...that's about it in a nutshell!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Psalms and a Song


pray loudly against the noise of the human hand
which seeks to drown you out
and appear on quiet soles
so that we might understand your footsteps
exert yourself
in order to recognize our prayers
even when they appear in a different garment
because no prayer ever looses itself from the source of the one praying


take up the speech
by which i pray to you
grant me the gestures
which have grown within me in your absence
so that i might remain true to my uneducable nature
and take your weakness upon me


you should always wander and never let yourself
settle down
because there are no longer any dwelling places
only footsteps
be loud and penetrating
sympathize with me and my stirrings
lead me
all the way to your bread
so that my word might wake


stay by me
even if i nourish myself from ashes and salt
be still and listen to that name
which i lend to you
because i want to distinguish you from the idols
grant me patience to endure those who are vain
with their empty words
and the converts
who are zealous to confirm their opposite
and grant
that my waiting be full of revolt


when you arrive
we will be light
bread and water
the table is set and the door opened
come and take your place among us
free me of the belief
that you are only faithful from a distance
and speak with me
in the unharried language of animals
who from far off lie in wait for us
with their unadulterated hunger
Source: Poetry (March 2012).

The Book of Love by Peter Gabriel.  How have I never heard this song before?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Christina Rossetti

Portrait of Christina Rossetti by her brother, Dante Rossetti.

I've always loved the poetry of Christina Rosetti (In the Bleak Midwinter takes my breath away) and have used some of her poetry in both my kindergarten classroom and my ESL classroom.  One of my favorites is 

White sheep, white sheep,
On a blue hill,
When the wind stops,
You  all stand still.
When the wind blows,
You  walk  away slow.
White sheep, white sheep,
Where do you  go?

That is a fairly simple poem for kindergartners to memorize and for ESL learners, it's great to learn pronunciation (hill/still and blow/slow/).  Recently I have discovered some of her more complex and religious poetry.  A friend sent me this.

A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
         My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
         Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
         No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
         O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
         My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
         And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
         No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
         O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
         A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
         Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
         Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
         O Jesus, drink of me.

In this current season of transition and grief, that poem really spoke to my heart. The imagery of the broken bowl and the numb heart are powerful.
I found another Christina Rossetti poem in At the Still Point:  A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time.  It is Part V of  Later Life:  A Double Sonnet of Sonnets.

Lord, Thou Thyself art Love and only Thou;
Yet I who am not love would fain love Thee;
But Thou alone being Love canst furnish me
With that same love my heart is craving now.
Allow my plea! for if Thou disallow,
No second fountain can I find but Thee;
No second hope or help is left to me,
No second anything, but only Thou.
O Love accept, according my request;
O Love exhaust, fulfilling my desire:
Uphold me with the strength that cannot tire,
Nerve me to labor till Thou bid me rest,
Kindle my fire from Thine unkindled fire,
And charm the willing heart from out my breast.

God is love and we want to love him and yet can not without his help.

Makato Fujimura speaks of his art as a kind of visual language.  I think that poetry is a kind of heart language.  Poetry brings forth images and emotions in a way that is very unique." Poetry at its best calls forth our deep being. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind; it calls to us, like the wild geese, as Mary Oliver would say, from an open sky. It is a magical art, and always has been -- a making of language spells designed to open our eyes, open our doors and welcome us into a bigger world, one of possibilities we may never have dared to dream of."   Roger Housden Huffington Post 6/26/11

Take a minute and look up your favorite poet-  Take a minute and feed your soul today.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


In the novel Anna Karenina, there is a scene that just about did me in.  Anna has left her husband and her beloved son to be with her lover Vronsky.  She has a baby with him but she continues to miss her son.  Vronsky and Anna go back to Moscow and she is determined to see her son.  She write a letter to a woman who is involved with his care and gets a letter back refusing to let her see him.  She finds a way to get into the house and finds him sleeping in his bed.
  "Serezha, my dear little boy," she uttered, catching her breath and embracing his plump little body.
  " Mama!" he muttered, wriggling about in her arms so as to touch them with different parts his body.
Sleepily smiling with closed eyes, he moved his plump hands from the back of his bed to her shoulders, leaning against her in that sweet scent of sleepiness and warmth which only children possess, and began rubbing himself against her neck and shoulder.
  "I knew!" he said, opening his eyes.  Today is my birthday.  I knew you would come!  I'll get up directly."

Serezha has been told that she is dead but never believed it.  After he wakes up, they have a sweet reunion where he reassures her that he didn't believe he was dead.  They spend time together until her husband comes and she has to leave quickly.

There is something in that scene that triggered my grief over leaving our foster son in China.  The scene of the sleepy boy in bed and calling "Mama" and cuddling just reminds me of early mornings with our little guy. The grief that I have is so, so deep.  It's an ache in my heart every minute of every day.  It's a hole that will never be completely filled.

I also recently read Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell is a story of her deep friendship with the writer Caroline Knapp and Caroline's death by lung cancer.  The story didn't move me all that much and I read about her death fairly dry eyed.  But when she writes about having to put down her aging dog...that scene brought me to sobbing for quite a long time.

There are no real triggers for my grief.  I just miss our little boy.  It's something to work through and to work through well and deeply.  I am so thankful that we are not in a situation where we have had to put him back in  an unsafe situation.  He is in a wonderful situation waiting to go to his forever family.  But we miss him-his Mama, his Baba and his Jie Jie.  It's a painful road for us right now.