Opening My Eyes

A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, breaking my focus on my journal writing. I looked across the open expanse of the downtown park where I was enjoying the late afternoon sun, bearable thanks to a light breeze. I watched the scene unfold, it only lasted maybe two minutes, but it stopped everything in me as I was drawn into this powerful moment.

“I told you I’d be back” the man said as he approached the older man – who was sitting in a wheelchair, head bobbing with excitement. He was carrying a tray loaded with Subway sandwiches and a drink, he bent down to help situate the meal on the older man’s lap. They exchanged a few words, and I noticed the faster head bobbing – possibly tied to emotion, I wondered. I took in the eyes that maintained contact with kindness, the slight smile and easy words that communicated respect and affirmed dignity. He straightened up, held out his hand and bumped fists before walking to his car and driving away.

Soon after the feelings of gratitude for having been present enough to take in this scene passed, a niggling sense of uneasy self-awareness began to take over, particularly as I pondered the difference between my response and this man’s. I had passed the same wheelchair-bound older man as I exited the parking garage, intent on securing a quiet place to journal after my counseling session. I made a point of walking around him on the crosswalk – I’d seen him downtown before in the same area, witnessed him asking people walking by for spare change. I didn’t want to deal with that today – I wanted to get my iced coffee, find a spot to sit, and savor some time for reflection.

Here’s the thing that brought me up short: I betrayed my own impulse to do good because I was only focused on my own needs and desires. Such self-betrayal requires justification, which came easily as I thought about how annoying panhandlers were as they pressured you for money, increasing their pitch if you engaged with them at all…better to just walk on by, avoiding even eye contact. And yet, every time I walk by, something in me whispers a reminder of our shared human dignity – at the very least, I could offer my eyes and a smile. Even if it costs me in the discomfort of a longer exchange, I walk away reminded of the importance of love for every one of us, not just me or those I am comfortable with.

Intent on my own comfort, attuned only to my own pain, I shut down an essential part of who I am, and in so doing, limited my capacity for love. Here’s the other thing I noticed: even witnessing the simple act of kindness in providing a meal for someone in need resulted in my heart expanding. How much more would have been possible if I had paid attention sooner, with eyes to see and meet my own need, as well as those of another?

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Let it Not Happen Again

Nidoto Nai Yoni – Let it Not Happen Again

“Let it not happen again that a group of people are singled out, that their loyalty and patriotism be questioned because of their race or ancestry.” – Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial


When our family visited Seattle last year, our daughter Katie was with me in wanting to see the newly completed Japanese Exclusion Memorial on Bainbridge Island – both of us being avid readers and lovers of history. I remember the stillness of the park surrounding the memorial that day, the wall bearing the names of those evacuated a sobering testimony of the powerful impact of fear and hatred.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order in March of 1942, authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, (as well as some German and Italian Americans) all under the guise of a threat to national security. 120,000 Japanese Americans, the majority of them American citizens, were forcibly relocated to internment camps, where they lived behind barbed wire, under the watchful eyes of armed guards for several years. For all the paranoia about what a threat they were, not a single one was found guilty of espionage.

Later we walked through the nearby historical museum, with a permanent exhibit documenting the stories of several of those who were imprisoned. Families who lost everything – their land, their businesses, their reputations – all without the protection guaranteed them by the Constitution of the United States as citizens of this country. It wasn’t until 1988 that President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, granting reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned; and apologized for the wrongs committed against them by our nation’s government.

I remember the sinking feeling in my gut as I read the stories, wondering at how often history repeats itself as I recalled the hateful rhetoric that seemed to be ramping up in the current presidential race. Racial tensions, particularly between African Americans and law enforcement were building, political candidates began calling for a return to America’s “greatness”, and once again the “threat to national security” became a hotly debated topic. I left Bainbridge Island that day with a heaviness that felt rooted in a very real fear: the fear that we have forgotten, the fear that it could very well happen again.

That heaviness has not gone away, and hope feels increasingly elusive, and at the same time, increasingly essential. If you had told me 9 months ago, standing at the Memorial, that our President would turn out to be the candidate whose fear-mongering speeches consistently attacked people’s dignity – attacking their gender, race, religion, socio-economic status, immigration status and sexual orientation – I would not have believed it possible. If you had told me that some Evangelical Christian leaders would be among this President’s greatest supporters, turning a blind eye while he hypocritically quoted the Bible out of one side of his mouth, and out of the other side spewed demeaning words about women, immigrants, and minorities; that these same leaders would dismiss his sexually abusive behavior as “locker room banter”, I would not have believed it possible.

And yet, here we are, one week into Donald Trump’s administration, reeling from an onslaught of executive orders that seem intent on fulfilling his promise to “make America great” by setting up a divisive “us vs. them” dichotomy, and turning our backs on the most vulnerable.

For those Christians who still believe President Trump is one of their own, how do you reconcile his actions and words with Jesus’ command to care for “the least of these”, or Jesus’ teaching that it is the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers who are blessed in God’s upside-down kingdom?

I am struggling to reconcile them, and I am struggling with my own heart’s tendency to begin separating issues and actions and people into good and bad, black and white categories in an effort to make sense of the chaos of the past few months. And yet I also have come to believe that the important work of peacemaking, unifying, and restoring cannot happen while holding a black and white, either/or way of being. Love holds both/and; it is inclusive, not exclusive; it is humble and strong. And so, the question that I am asking in my struggle is what would love do? Not fear, not hatred, not patriotism, not pride, but love. As a follower of Jesus, and, I would argue, as a human being, I am called to bring love to my world -so what does that look like for me?

Last week it looked like joining with others on the streets of Chicago for the Women’s March. I didn’t have to agree with every sign held by every protester in order to still be there for love. In fact, one of the things I was most struck by was the respect, kindness and peacefulness that characterized the gathering of more than 150,000 people.

img_6268My favorite moment was watching a pair of black women, standing on the end of a bridge leading into the park where the rally was in full swing; their faces lit up with big smiles as they spoke words of welcome, accompanied by a warm hug. As I watched, I thought at first that they were greeting people who were part of a group they belonged to – surely they wouldn’t be that friendly to everyone! But soon it became apparent that they were there for exactly that purpose – to bring love to as many as they could on a historic Saturday morning in the middle of one of the most diverse crowds of people I have ever seen. And their simple, yet profound actions spoke the truth that we really do all belong.

Those are the moments of hope that I am holding onto, tucking away as a buoy I know I will need to return to when the words and images of fear and violence and despair threaten to pull me under. The heaviness that I felt that day on Bainbridge Island as I pored over pictures displaying the frightened, confused faces of Americans whose only crime was to be of a different race – that heaviness is still here. I have needed time to sit with it, to listen and pay attention to what it is speaking, to wonder what my place is in all of this mess. The unfathomable events of the past week have at least forced me to see that it is time to risk, time for me to gather the courage and love that have been growing in me and join with others in seeking justice and mercy and peace. May we remember that love is always greater than fear, that love is the only force strong enough to drive out hate. May we let it not happen again.

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Experiencing Grace

We went to Grace Cathedral this morning. I was excited when I learned that our hotel was right across the street from it, as I had already read about it in my research on places to see in San Francisco. The fact that it had not one, but two labyrinths moved it to the top of my priority list. Yesterday while touring the North Beach area, we walked through Saints Peter and Paul…also beautiful. I am always grateful for the sacred quietness of churches like these. We walked in silence, taking in the beautiful surroundings along with others who were doing the same. Several people simply sat in the pews, heads bowed. I recalled the cathedrals of Italy and England that we have visited, each unique and yet similar in the sense of the Sacred Divine they imparted. 

So, I approached Grace Cathedral this morning with anticipation, ready to soak in the beauty and reflectively walk the labyrinth. Instead, I was taken aback at the disruption unfolding around me. A small group of tourists stood in the main aisle, talking loudly about their plans. Another young family ignored the signs telling of the labyrinth’s purpose, letting their kids run in circles around it while they focused on their cell phones. Another woman started down the aisle while drinking her Starbucks, only to turn around with a roll of the eyes when a cathedral employee pointed out no food or drinks were allowed. 

Internally, I was having quite a conversation. “Are you kidding me?! Have they no reverence? Or even common courtesy? Don’t they know there are some of us who would like to experience this space for what it was intended to provide?” Even as my mind spun, I knew I needed to bring some calm to my soul that was so longing for some sense of the Divine. As I worked to quiet my frustration and judgement, the irony was not lost on me that Chris stood reading a big notice welcoming everyone to Grace Cathedral. 

The rule of Grace is the stranger making himself/herself at home.

Perhaps you quietly dropped by wanting to reconnect in your relationship to God.

Or to confess shame.

Or to surrender a burden.

Or to pray for a loved one.

Or to bask in the beauty of holiness.

Or to find a moment of peace.

In the midst of what appears to be an ever-increasing fragmentation of life,

Grace offers a House of Prayer for All People,

An abiding hope that there is a Oneness at the center of life.

Grace holds an outrageous hope that, in God alone, all aspects of life are in unity.

As I paused to let the words sink in, I was able to hold both sadness that many have no context for the sacred, and thus no reason for reverence, alongside the words that welcomed ALL people, no matter their beliefs, or even behavior. After all, that is what Jesus was all about. I don’t think I will ever have a day where I am not aware again of the tension of life, the importance of holding both/and, the lack of predictable, clear absolutes. 

After walking the interior of the cathedral with a slightly more grateful heart, I headed outside in hopes that the outdoor labyrinth would be less crowded. And it was. As I began the familiar weaving back and forth along the path, I felt more of the thoughts and judgements crowding my head let go. There is something mystical about the path to the center, a letting go of everything that hinders connection. And then the risk to trust receiving in the center, once the heart and head are quiet enough to hear. Finally, the path back out was a time for remembering, and gratitude for all that had transpired in my heart in the few moments I had chosen to quiet myself, slow down, and walk with intentionality. 

The words “outrageous hope” caught my attention the first time I read them, and are still lingering in my heart. As I struggle to hold onto a hope that feels foolish; hope for my children, hope for my relationships, hope for my own journey, I have a new standing stone, a marker of a moment when Wild Jesus met my heart with Grace. 

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Happy Birthday Matthew!Calvin!Stark!

Twenty years ago today, our family of three became a family of four with the arrival of Matthew Calvin. I will never forget several things about that day:

  • We had no way to get to the hospital, as our only car had broken down on the way back from Chicago the night before. We had to call a friend to get a ride!
  • We were in the middle of an intense heat wave, in fact one of the worst in Chicago’s history. Our starter home with no basement also had no AC. We bought several fans on the way home from the hospital, fans and a kiddie pool our only strategies for hoping to stay cool while blanketed with a newborn baby.
  • Timothy, who still seemed little at 20 months old, was suddenly HUGE when Chris brought him in the hospital room to meet his baby brother.

It’s interesting to me that Matthew was a very quiet, content baby who slept a lot. He smiled a lot, he ate a lot. I have several awesome pictures of him asleep in his highchair, face covered in whatever he’d been enjoying only moments before. He didn’t speak much, instead pointed at things and yet somehow communicated things his brother faithfully verbalized for him. Then, at the age of 3 he took off running with his words and hasn’t stopped since.

I like to think that those early quiet years were one of observation, taking things in, letting what is in him grow until he was ready to speak it. When he did, it was so uniquely him. I loved listening to his sweet prayers at bedtime, there was nothing he didn’t talk to Jesus about in great detail or with great passion. And watching him run around our family room singing the “Tarzan” songs at the top of his lungs is a picture that is engraved in my mind. Along with the picture of him snuggling into his dad’s arms while watching the same movie whenever Kerchak was on the screen in all his scary gorilla-ness.

Matt's snapshots_0010                    IMG_2506

Fast forward several years, and the same mix of wildness and passion alongside tenderness and sensitivity are still evident. There is the Matthew who is living in the wilds of Alaska for the summer, seizing every opportunity to explore and test his limits, and then there is the Matthew who stops to ponder the beauty of numerous wild plants and flowers and creatures all around him, who cradles his newborn niece while she sleeps, who sends his sister silly snapchats because he loves and misses her.

So happy birthday, Matthew. I love you and am so incredibly grateful for all of who you are, and the goodness it brings to our family.

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Red Cardinal

This morning as I walked past the window, my eyes caught a flash of red in the otherwise grayish-white midwinter landscape. My first thought dismissed it as a piece of trash, blown into the tree by the wind, but something caused me to look again. It was a cardinal, its brilliant red coat the only reason something so small caught my attention.
IMG_3177As I stopped to admire the beauty sitting just a few feet out my window, I could feel my heart engaging, where just a minute before it was quietly beating the rhythm of a rather tedious, unfocused morning. Now my heart and mind were making rapid-fire connections:

red cardinal

my grandma loved those, I remember pictures of them at her house

a flood of memories – favorite moments sitting with my grandma in her home, her condo, the nursing home, hospice

I want to capture the beauty in a picture, I just read a study about how our memory holds an image we see and hold with our eyes better than from the viewfinder of a camera

is there a message for me? I need to write about this, writing has always helped me to make sense of what my heart is pondering

And so, here I am. I have some ideas about what the cardinal was meant to speak to my heart on this bleak morning. I am grateful for the reminder that I am not alone, that I live in a world that vividly speaks the beauty and love of God, and that random moments are sometimes even more powerful than my planned efforts to “connect.”

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A Tale of Three Pianos

Yesterday our grand piano was delivered, the piece around which we designed our newly remodeled living room. The journey to get here has been a long one, with many years of dreaming followed by several months of research, listening, playing, comparing and finally landing on what seemed like the perfect fit for us. IMG_2397 Our new piano is actually 40 years old; it provided a whole life of enjoyment for someone in Japan before being shipped here to be lovingly restored and then brought into our home. It holds stories, it has history, and that feels perfect.

I grew up playing the piano, taking lessons from the time I was eight into high school. Our piano was a rather plain old upright that my mom had “antiqued” in the 70’s when it was popular. I never loved the look of it, but the inner workings had also been redone, so it actually played fairly well. I think most of my siblings took lessons at some point, but I continued the longest.

For me, music was an escape from the rest of my world where I felt unseen, awkward, and insecure. Something in the melodic combination of notes and rhythms engaged my heart in ways I didn’t experience anywhere else; it was one of the few realms where I felt like I could be associated with beauty. While my young heart longed to create that beautiful music, over time it became acquainted with shame and performance, and it became more and more difficult to enjoy my practice. When it became one more place to judge myself as not measuring up or being good enough, I quit.

While I stopped my practice of piano, my love for it didn’t go away, it just hid out for quite a few years. As a newly married bride, I convinced Chris that $100 was a really good deal for an antique upright piano we found in the classified ads of our local newspaper. The circa 1896 piano had beautiful lines with ornately carved legs and inset panels. That piano moved with us around the country for 10 years, before the strings began to break and we were told it couldn’t be tuned. I remember the day the rather unfeeling piano technician told me the only thing it was good for was to be chopped up as firewood. I could accept the “failed technology”, but not the discarding of something that held so much history for me; a tenuous re-connection to that young girl’s heart. We broke up the insides, but carefully saved all the wood from the case, hoping to see it re-purposed someday.

With no piano, and three kids rapidly approaching the piano lesson age, my mom graciously offered to give me the old upright I learned on. I wasn’t excited, still stinging from the loss of my beautiful instrument, but I reluctantly agreed because an ugly piano was better than no piano. That was 15 years ago. There were moments over those years that I allowed my heart to dream, where I accessed that desire I’d hidden away as a young girl and again as a young woman. In my dreams, it was worth holding out for the beauty of a gleaming black grand piano if I were going to allow myself to hope for what I really wanted.

Dreams and hopes are difficult for me to hold onto, they feel self-indulgent, ridiculous. So I kept burying that dream again, dismissing it as impractical, too expensive…besides, I wasn’t even playing, so why did I care? Funny how the things we dismiss keep coming back around until we finally get the message. Katie has been studying piano for the past five years with a wonderful music teacher who has cultivated in her a passion and commitment to playing that echoed my early experiences. Here’s the kicker: she has all her students play a solo piece and a duet for their recitals, and she encourages parents who play to do the duets with their children. Katie was so excited about the prospect of me playing with her that I had to set aside my old fears of messing up and not being good enough. And the thing is, I actually began to love playing again. I loved that it was a way to connect with Katie, and I loved that it re-connected me to those traces of long-buried beauty and desire in my heart. And all that was happening on our old ugly piano. Somewhere along the way, I’d let go of my judgements and just allowed myself to enjoy the music.

I think I needed to rest in what was and allow those old shame-inducing experiences be replaced with the simple love for creating melody again. From that place, dreaming was entirely different, the word “ridiculous” was no longer clanging in my head. And so I am back where I began: the six month process of creating space in our newly remodeled home for a grand piano. I asked my sister Ruth, who has young kids, if she’d like to be the next recipient of the “family piano.” She has more energy than I do, and no lingering attachments to previous pianos; she is planning on giving it a new paint job and two new kids eager to begin discovering its magic. IMG_2403As Katie played it for a final time, Ben and Sadie listened with growing anticipation, eager for their own turn at the keyboard. As I ran a dust cloth one final time over the wood, I stopped to study the scratches more carefully. Carved in the script of a young hand were two sets of initials: JSM and REM, Janet and Ruth, how fitting. I don’t remember carving my initials there, I can’t imagine daring to do that! But that wasn’t the point. The point I didn’t miss was to honor the history and relationships and goodness contained in that instrument, the continuation of a family story begun decades before.

Our new piano hold those stories, I am sure of it, and I look forward to adding those of my family to its history. And right next to our new piano are pieces of the old one I saved all these years: our builder is a master craftsman who saw possibilities when I showed him the dusty old pieces. The mantel on our fireplace is now supported by decorative corbels from the legs, the front with its inset panels is being crafted into a bench for the front entry, a built-in desk in the kitchen is framed with small scrolls salvaged from its frame. The “redemption” of those pieces of wood I couldn’t bear to part with is probably one of my favorite things about our whole remodel, along with our new (old) grand piano. I love how the old is there to welcome the new.

In the barely 24 hours it’s been here, there has been much delight. Today I pulled my worn, blue Psalter Hymnal down from the shelf, looking to play some familiar hymns. I opened the cover and was greeted with the familiar, spidery script of my grandmother’s hand. She’d written a note to me, reminding me of my past and her hope for my future. I sat down and played her favorite hymn, and I’m pretty sure she heard it and smiled. So did I.IMG_2405


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Father’s Day

I’ve read quite a few blogs in the past weeks leading up to Father’s Day about how dads deserve to be celebrated, but often the focus is on chastising them for not being better fathers. It seems we don’t give them the same grace and feelings of goodwill extended to moms on Mother’s Day. I found myself wondering if this was really true, and I decided on some level to “watch and see”, look at the evidence around me (in a decidedly unscientific data-gathering way.)

Some observations:

1. There were still plenty of Father’s Day cards remaining at several stores I visited, even as late as Saturday night.

2. No barrage of ads from restaurants offering “Father’s Day Brunch” like there always seem to be for the moms.

3. Since it always falls on a Sunday, there is some mention of the day in church, right? Well, this morning it was only briefly mentioned, and only in connection with its convergence with the World Cup.

4. Reading my Facebook news feed revealed everything from “things that seemed like a good idea at the time…” to heartfelt declarations of love accompanying pictures of dear dad, to expressions of gratitude for husbands for the way they fathered (with an unspoken comparison to their own father that there were no words for.)

5. Apparently some places DO celebrate dads and their love for all things manly: Cabela’s was quite crowded with men and their families today, they even had tractors in the parking lot for dads to test drive. I could hear Tim Allen in my head, grunting his approval.

6. Sadly, Father’s Day presents for some an opportunity to demonstrate their self-righteous judgements against “those people”; the current target for discrimination – gays. I drove away from Cabela’s and church feeling pretty good about the day, until my eyes were drawn to a huge yellow banner being held up by two people standing in front of a church on the busiest street corner. The sign read : Thank your DAD today for not being GAY. What?!
I sadly had my own self-righteous moment as I judged the people who believed it was a good idea to stand there, and while Katie joined me in my outcry, she also pointed out that we were upset but not doing anything about it…if her brothers Matt and Tim had been with us, they would have gone to engage them in conversation. Wow…truth.

So, what does all of this “data” say about Father’s Day? I don’t know, certainly nothing that feels definitive and solid. To me it feels more like a lot of tension, the reality that things are and are not as they should be, that there are good dads and not so good, that we love well and we do not. Tension is a hard thing, because it forces us to feel the pull between opposing forces, we can’t simply pick one side or the other, make things black and white. And I would like to do that on Father’s Day. I would like to hold only the harm that I received at the hands of my father, because then I don’t have to feel the heartbreaking ache of why those moments had to exist alongside moments of goodness and delight.

It took me only an hour after hearing a message where I was reminded to listen to my judgements and criticisms and consider what they were saying about me, to begin judging and criticizing the people who were judging and criticizing with their big yellow banner.

The truth is, I know what really bothered me on a personal level about that sign, and it was something much bigger than the word GAY. “Thank your DAD.” Everything in me wants to scream, “Hell no!” Until I allow myself to settle, to behold…behold defined as the emergence of the meditative mind, holding, seeing, paying attention. Thank your dad. That requires the tension of holding ALL of my experiences of my father.

Thank you, dad for being an essential part of my life and birth, for providing food and clothing and shelter and my own car to drive (even if it was a hideous shade of green.) Thank you for delighting in my efforts as I practiced playing the piano and singing for countless hours – your smiles were powerful motivation. Thank you for paying to provide me an excellent education – something my son is teaching me is not available to many more than I would have thought. Thank you for giving me opportunities to do hard things growing up, things I wouldn’t have dared try on my own. I can still remember the thrill of learning to clutch and engage the gears on the tractor, feel the cold wind stinging my face as I pressed the gas on the snowmobile. Thank you for giving your blessing on my marriage to Chris. I know many worried because we were young, because he was Baptist…and you still said, “Yes…I know you will take good care of her.” Thank you for all the yards you have helped landscape as we moved around the country, for the house projects that are still standing, a reminder that you have always seemed most comfortable communicating your love for others through helpful projects. Finally, thank you for your honesty – I’ve invited you to a different conversation, a different relationship, one that would require something different from you, and you haven’t pretended to be something you’re not right now.

Right now my heart is full – full of gratitude for the fact that my children are loved well by an imperfect AND really great dad, of empathy for many of my sisters and brothers whose stories of harm from their own fathers I also have held, of longing for what is broken in my relationship with my own father to be redeemed, and finally, rest, knowing I am beloved by my Father.

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