Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Advent and Battle, Mourning and Celebration

Most of us don’t know what it is like to live in a walled city in the mountains in a time of chaos, before guns and bombs, when all sorts of manual weapons and war machinery were in use. Imagine we live in a weak city, and our army is not very strong. Our walls are not thick. And we begin to hear rumors of a horde. A cruel, merciless horde, building an empire for a monstrous tyrant. Everywhere they go, they conquer. They commit unspeakable atrocities, raping, looting, ripping open pregnant women and throwing their infants over the city walls to smash on the rocks below. Then they burn the conquered city, and whoever is left alive is led away in chains, to be slaves to these cruel masters, seemingly utterly devoid of any humanity.


We cower in fear. We know there is no salvation. We are doomed, and the end will be horrible. The rumors grow until a bloody, ragged survivor staggers over the mountain path and in his last breaths, tells us that the horde is three days march away, and they are coming.


We weep and mourn as we send out our small army of terrified warriors against this horde of ten thousands, knowing we shall never see them again, and we wait, in fear, praying. For days, there is nothing but silence, terror, fasting, and mourning. 


Finally, on the third day, a figure appears on the mountain ridge, running swiftly. The horns blow and the gates are opened, and in he comes. And he is not bloody, or ragged. His face is all shining and smiles and he is laughing and panting so hard he can barely get the words out: “We are saved!” In the whole city bells begin to ring and there are joyful shouts and people flooding the streets and giddy astonishment. People are hugging each other and showering gold coins and confetti off of balconies. That evening, our armies return. Every man. Exultant, victorious, singing, breaking ranks as their mothers and fathers and wives and children run to them, sobbing for joy and relief. 


People flock to the city temple with sacrifices of thanksgiving. The air is full of merriment, laughing, affection, spontaneous hugs and kisses and dancing.The king opens his storehouses of food and wine and the entire city is invited to a feast of celebration. Everyone gathers in the great hall, rich and poor, lowly and important. The warriors are all given seats of honor with the king, wearing garlands on their heads.  Platter after platter of every kind of royal food appears and everyone eats their fill and the wine flows freely. 



After every stomach is completely satisfied, it is time for the music. The king’s bard stands up with his harp and walks to the front of the room, tunes up his instrument, and announces that he has composed a new song worthy of the occasion.Silences falls and the bard begins to sing:


How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings glad tidings

Announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation!

Saying to Zion, “Your God is KING!”


Hark! Your watchmen raise a cry,

Together they shout for joy

For they see, directly before their eyes, 

The Lord restoring Zion.


Break out together in song,

O ruins of Jerusalem!

For the LORD comforts his people,

He redeems Jerusalem.


The LORD has bared his holy arm

In the sight of all the nations;

All the ends of the earth will behold

The salvation of our God.


The bard tells the story of the battle, the doomed battle, in which all hope was lost, and our warriors stood up bravely to meet their death as the horde of cruelty advanced upon them. And suddenly in the east, as the sun rose, the blast of a war horn was heard, and all across the horizon a shimmering army appeared, hundreds of thousands strong, galloping closer and closer. The mighty horde turns to fight, and as they see what is approaching, begin to break ranks and run west, north, south, any direction they can. Our warriors yell in triumph and begin pursuit, as the great shining army joins them and together they wipe out the entire horde. Not one is left. The horde is vanquished, forever and ever, they will not rise again.


This is our story. This is the story that the oppressed Israelites waited for, longed for, to see fulfilled with their own eyes. This is the story that began as a poor, virgin teenage mother gave birth among animals, with her faithful husband next to her, cheering her on, catching the baby, cutting the cord, cleaning him and wrapping him and and putting him to his mother’s breast, laying him on straw in a manger and watching him in awe while his mother, exhausted, slept. The baby that would grow up and come to the rescue, vanquish the horde, and rule his people with justice, restoring all things, and conquer death itself, forever. Shepherds knocking and crowding in, bowing down, telling stories of skies tearing open and angels singing and sending them to find this baby, and pay him homage as king.


This is the story that is not yet finished, and as Christmas approaches we live over and over again all the aspects of this story: hopeless, depressed, fearful, trapped in darkness, we wait for the light: the prison door opening, the news of our rescue at hand. The hand pulling us out into glorious day and freedom and restoration. The waiting and watching and hoping for the return of the King to complete what He has begun, to put all things right, forever.


Already, and not yet. Already we are saved, and the work of restoration has begun, but not finished. Our souls journey toward wholeness and healing right in the midst of the darkness of the present age, hand in hand with our Shepherd, who is invisible to our physical senses, but visible to our inner self, always there, always comforting, always leading and guiding and restoring. This season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas are the living images of this story of waiting and hoping, of being rescued and healed, made whole, right in mind and body, and all the earth and peoples of the earth along with us.


May this story penetrate to the very depths of your soul this Advent and Christmas, and sustain you ever after.


Art Credits:

Soldiers who don't know themselves
Gerelkhuu Ganbold 2013


The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Brueghel the Younger 1566








Saturday, December 5, 2020

Wind

Wind blowing loudly against the window of a cold bright morning

Straight from the sea, over white sand and through the laundry line

Sheets billowing, secured by pins placed by scoured red hands


Wind crashing through wild treetops on a dark February night

Hideous moanings and cracking wood

Falling trees and covers pulled over the head to silence the sounds


Wind pushing and rolling over a flock of pecking birds in a field of stubble

Rising and landing, rising and landing

they find their food where the wind takes them


Wind herding clouds of sheep against the blue

Scuttling leaves and squirrels hunched in the crook of a branch

A tight ball of fur and tail waiting and dozing while the blow passes by


Wind breaking, tearing down the tall and mighty, 

Cleaning and disturbing stale, settled things, 

Unstoppable, having its way wherever it goes


Sinking dreams and treasures 

Clearing away the sands of time, exposing, revealing

Ancient ways and means forgotten, old, becoming new.



Saturday, November 21, 2020

My handpicked resources about OCD!

 I love sharing about OCD and anxiety and helping others who are just beginning their journey realizing they have it. Recently I've gotten so many inquiries about it that I thought it would be helpful to share some of the best resources I've come across that have helped me.

Books

Jeffrey Schwarts, MD, is the MAN. He has years of research and clinical experience under his belt at the UCLA clinic. Book #1 is so helpful for OCD, and Book #2 uses the research from OCD to help people with anxious/hard/repetitive thoughts that might not be OCD, but also respond very well to the treatment he developed for OCD.

1. Brain Lock: Free Yourself from OCD, by Jeffrey Schwartz.  

2. You Are Not Your Brain, by Jeffrey Schwartz.

Instagram

Yes, Instagram. Here's why I love using Insta as part of my OCD therapy. There are some amazing therapists that specialize in OCD, anxiety, and body-repetitive disorders, all of which I have. And they have Insta accounts! They share information and tips in bite-size, easy-to-digest bites. They have live discussions. They have online workshops, and classes! Online counseling sessions! Doing a run through my feed every day actually really helps me stay on track, learn new things, and keep me focused on remembering to do my therapy and talk truth to my thinking patterns. I also have ADHD/Scatterbrain, so these constant reminders help a lot. Here's some of my favorite accounts:

laurenmcmeikan

atparentingsurvival

theocdstories

ourocdjourney

mindonfire_ocd

life_without_anxiety

kimberleyquinlan

Oh, and then there's ME of course: kirstiemacleod Sometimes I post about OCD and anxiety, but I have a million other interests and love for photography, so my posts could be about anything totally random on any given day. Okay, maybe my dogs steal the show 98% of the time, cuz gosh, I love those beasts. I'll throw in a plug for pets as OCD therapy. Burying my head in a dog tummy when I feel totally overwhelmed starts calming down instantly. They just love me, unconditionally, period. They don't care what crazy thoughts are zooming around in my brain, they are much more interested in whether I have a hot dog to share.

Oh! I also have a YouTube Channel. I did a bunch of videos this summer on OCD to answer questions I get a lot. Also, if you look at the tags at the bottom of this post, you can easily find the other posts I've done on this topic.

For Christians with OCD

OCD and Christianity has been incredibly helpful for dealing with OCD in my personal faith journey with OCD. OCD latches on to your deepest moral values and things you passionately care about, so of course it's going to have a heyday with your religion! This site has encouraged me so very much and enabled me to make some serious breakthroughs in the areas where OCD likes to pretend it's God. It really does. OCD sets itself up on the throne of your thinking and until you know better, it's going to act like God and try to convince you that it IS God. It's going to tell you all sorts of false things about what God is like and how He feels about you. OCD can be a guilt-inducing taskmaster like none other. But once you begin to realize that God and OCD are NOT the same, wowsa! My faith has deepened and strengthened and I've become so much surer and more joyful in Jesus' unconditional love for me. He knows all about my OCD and the frankly awful, horrific thoughts that plague my brain sometimes, and He doesn't judge me for them, He has compassion on me. He has led me to such beautiful wide, open, free places where OCD can't come, and I can lie down by quiet waters and feed in green pastures. 

OCD manifests itself in very interesting ways across ALL religions. If you are a practicing Jew with OCD reading this, I bet you really struggle with all things kosher, and what you can and can't do on the Sabbath (restful? ha!). Muslim? Probably wishing halal didn't exist because you just can't get it right. Wherever there are rules, OCD takes them to the extreme and makes you think you have to obey them exactly, perfectly, or some doom will result. And your vision of who God is tends to get twisted into a harsh taskmaster who really, really cares that you follow His rules to a T, OR ELSE. Sometimes I wonder if the worst manifestations of religion come from people with OCD who never realized it. 

If I think of more things, I will continue to add them on this page in the future. Good luck on your journey, my friends. Have compassion on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Laugh, yes, laugh at your OCD and learn to recognize how very silly it is if you can step outside of it for a moment. Love to you all!

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Your posts and my vote: loving words to Christian friends

I don't like conflict. If there's some going on in one of my relationships, I wanted it done, resolved, ASAP. It can feel pretty scary to bring it up. But, I press in, and try my best to convey that I do it because I care for the other person and I want no iggly-niggly resentments happening between us. It also hurts my heart when conflict is happening between people I love and they are not exhibiting desire to work through it.  Both these sadnesses are disturbing my inner self right now. I'm sad. I'm frustrated. I'm angry.

It's about this darned mess of an election. But, not about the candidates or election themselves. It's the painful declarations being made by people I know and love. I have no problems with differences of opinion. But it's deeply painful to read posts that essentially declare it's my way or the highway.

"If you supported the candidate I oppose, I don't want to know why. I know what you are. Just unfriend me now." 

 "If you supported the candidate I oppose, you are responsible for the coming destruction." 

"If you supported the candidate I oppose, you aren't following God's will/clearly your faith is lacking/I doubt whether you are truly a Christian" or "You hate gay people/you're a white supremacist/you hate immigrants/you don't care if we all die of covid." 

 I had a really, really hard time making my decision in this election. I prayed. I researched. I discussed. I contemplated. That said, I never felt even once a draw to vote for Trump. My convictions about him since long before 2016 have been, let us say, very negative, and my conscience does not allow me to even consider it. My journey was about whether I could in good conscience vote for candidates that support certain things I feel are immoral. Whether I should vote for Biden/Harris or a third party. In the end, with sadness, I voted for Biden, wishing that there was some other path I could take. My point in telling you all this is that my decision was not made lightly, and it was made with deep thought and research and examination of my beliefs about what leaders should and shouldn't be. I prayed for wisdom. And I continue to pray for our sitting president in the midst of all his follies.

I also know many other Christians who voted for Trump, and I am not condemning them for it. I believe they also made deep, soul-searching attempts at figuring out how they should vote. I am talking about specific people that I know, here, not making generalities. At times I feel they are living in a completely different universe, receiving totally different inputs and information, so vast is the gap in how we see and interpret the president's words and actions. But I know *them* and they are not racists or bigots. They, as far as I can tell, have an entirely different way of viewing the government and its involvement in people's lives, and it is more out of these convictions that they make their choices than about the specific person running for president (I think the same can be said for many Biden supporters). As I said, I am only speaking regarding people I know personally. I am not speaking for all of Trump's supporters. Both candidates appear to have passionate cult-like followers who love and unwavering support them, no matter what. This scares me, especially when I see it among Christians.

I voted for Bush and I voted for Biden and I voted third party other years, with deep consideration and sadness about the lack of candidates that I could really vote with hope about... but I still love Jesus, and I long for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He's the greatest passion of my heart. I try to listen to and obey him, not the clamoring voices and opinions of our culture. I love to be with other people who have this same passion about being with Him, whose heart's desire is for Him to infiltrate and renew every ounce of their being, and make them His hands and feet on earth to bless and serve everyone they encounter. 

I speak now to fellow Christians. Brothers and sisters who I have known in the many different places we have lived and traveled. People I have eaten with, prayed with, studied the Bible with, who have brought me meals and cleaned my house when I was incapacitated. People I've served with, sung with, laughed with, and rejoiced in Jesus together with.

It hurts enough when friends who are not Christians post things that apparently condemn me. But when you, who share in common with me our greatest Joy and Heart's Desire, post statements that apparently cut me out of your life or harshly judge me if you knew how I thought or how I voted, it is like a punch in the gut as I scroll through my newsfeed. I take it personally. Did you ever think about that? Would you say such things to my face in person over a meal? 

I love to have discussions with people who think differently. We have the opportunity to sharpen each other, grow in understanding and patience, and learn... maybe even an opportunity to discover faulty thinking in ourselves and embrace something better. But these conversations never happen when one person makes blanket assumptions about the other and puts out statements that say "my way is so right there's no point in even talking about it... if you disagree, well, I've already made my mind up about what sort of person you are." 

I'm seeing a lot of posts that, if said to my face, would make me clam up and tears stream down my face. If I were visiting churches and I walked into one full of people saying things like this, I would turn around and keep looking. If we were having dinner together, I wouldn't be able to eat another bite until we had come to an understanding that that sort of talk is painful and wounding.

My kids argue a lot. They feel the compelling need to point out, loudly, whatever their siblings are doing or saying that they don't like. They feel extremely sure of themselves and that their opinion on the matter needs to be heard. Sometimes shouting leads to pushing, slapping, bigger sibs using their strength to grab and turn the disagreer upside down, or the smaller sib using sneaky underhanded tactics to exert power. I have told them every way possible to try to restrain themselves from making EVERYTHING a battle. To ignore remarks. To remove themselves from the room and take deep breaths. It can be deeply painful for me, because what I really want to see is self-control, consideration, kindness, and my children serving each other out of love.

This metaphor explains my yearning for how I long to see my friends, and especially my Christian family members, treating each other. To stop finding hills to die on and instead engaging with love and thoughtfully leading with tastefully salted words toward what is good and beautiful and right. Some of you are absolutely brilliant at doing this, and you are a blessing to me and countless others. Others of you: I know from my past interactions with you that you are capable of doing this too. Grow, my friends, please. Imagine you are sitting having a nice meal and conversation with me... would you say out loud, directly to me, what you are posting online? Or would you try to find some other way to disagree or express your frustrations about what you see happening out there in the world?


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Submitting to God and Reality- the Anxiety I'm in.

Woods path on grey day.
It's been an Anxious week. A "Hi, it's me, your OCD, I'm still here!" kind of week. It's likely that my laziness in not picking up a prescription for a few days and thus missing a few doses of the chemicals my brain needs for functioning properly has something to do with it. It's been fascinating to me to read about neurological research into OCD verifying that brains like mine are literally low in serotonin. The brain needs serotonin to communicate between different parts of itself. It's a neurotransmitter. When levels are too low, the inter-brain messaging system gets whacked out. This explains quite nicely, I think, why taking sertraline not only helps with the crazy-messages of OCD, but overall improves my ability to think clearly. 

Therapy for OCD and anxiety, I've learned, is not just about meds, though. They can help, a lot, but it's essential to come to terms with and accept the fact that anxiety is a part of life, and we don't have much control over its sudden appearances. Some of us have over-the-top far too much anxiety, but everyone experiences it at some point. Most self-induced messes- bad habits, addictions, OCD compulsions, unhealthy thinking etc, develop out of a desire to escape from the suffering that anxiety causes us mentally. We're searching for relief, anything to get away from those nasty feelings. Yet research tells us that while those things may provide temporary (very fleeting) relief, they actually only feed the anxiety cycle. There's only one real way out: submission and acceptance. Learning to accept that fact that anxiety is there, and not trying to do anything about it (unless, of course, it is actually doing its real job, protecting you from harm, so by all means, grab your toddler out of the street, ha ha). For example, this might be my internal conversation when I am trying to handle anxiety in a more effective way:

"Oh, hey, Anxiety. Here you are. Is there a fire? A lava pit I'm about to walk into? No? Ohhhhh, you wanted to talk about that stressful conversation I had yesterday with the neighbor. Go over it at least 150 times? Well, I'm not going to do that. First, lets take a deep breath and see how my body is feeling. Hmm. An unpleasant feeling across my chest, in my gut, down my legs, and in my feet, even. Tired, droopy eyes. Shallow breathing. Okay. Relax, and just feel. Just accept these feelings. They are there. But it's okay. I'm still loved. My God cares about me and He's got this. He knows that I'm experiencing this. This is something He's allowing me to experience right now. Just feel. Don't act. Allow the feeling to exist. Don't try to push it away or so anything to get rid of it." 

Let's talk about Jesus for a minute, since my ultimate underlying desire every day is to become more like Him. His whole life, every day, was giving up His ability to control anything and submit completely to the experiences and tasks that His Father, God, brought Him to. He didn't fight them, or push them away. He moved forward and submitted to His Father's will. And that mean accepting an incredible amount of suffering and hardship. But He had His eye on a more ultimate truth and reality... that His submission would bring about really, really good things, orchestrated by God. He rested in that trust. And that's where I need to rest, too. This is a day that I woke up anxious. So be it. I won't try to run away from it, I will instead ask God to handle it, to work in it, and I will allow it to exist. I accept the reality that I find myself in today, which is very uncomfortable. But I accept it and move on with my day and the things I need to do, and trust God to lead me to what I need... which may be a conversation with someone, a book, truths in Scripture, or spontaneous revelation while I am weeding the garden. Lots of times what I need is simply a nugget of wisdom from my Instagram feed, which I don't use much for social purposes, but more for following wise counselors and psychologists who specialize in anxiety and OCD.  And every time the thought pops in again, about that stressful conversation with the neighbor, it's time to stop, assess my body, my feelings, just be, and move on again.

It's a journey that I have a long way to go on. But I can also look back and see how far I've come. And I can most definitely see God's loving hand working in all these hard places has changed me and molded me for the better. To trust Him more, and more quickly, than I used to. To choose resting in the assurance that He's got this no matter how awful I feel and how horrendous my OCD thoughts are being. Blessings on you, dear reader, keep on!



Saturday, September 5, 2020

Turning the Volume Down on Anxiety and OCD- About taking meds!


 In 2014 I spent some time in the local psychiatric hospital, and then several weeks doing outpatient group therapy. There was a time when I NEVER would have thought I would be sharing that kind of information. For all the years before that life-changing time, I had so much shame about the things happening in my head, and I had fully absorbed our society's stigma surrounding mental health problems and treatment. Not anymore, baby. You're looking at a woman set free, talking to you from the other side, with no shame, and a passion to share my story so that others who are trapped might find freedom too. 

Pre-2014 I never wanted to even consider meds. I had very, very reluctantly agreed to try Prozac when I was in college and going through a very hard time. Turns out I was allergic to Prozac, and that whole experience was enough for me to say "see ya!" to meds. Plus, having health anxiety, I was terrified that taking anything long term would eventually lead to cancer. You know how it is, you can type "hang nail" into google and it will come back saying hang nails are a symptom of cancer, and that using nail clippers long-term could lead to cancer.  However, Kirstie in 2014 had reached the very end of her rope and needed help badly that counseling, essential oils, and reading books on conquering anxiety couldn't deliver.  Something was going so wrong in my brain and body, so much worse than anything I had experienced before, that I finally agreed to try meds. 

Zoloft did not work for me right away. In fact, it has a nasty side-effect (for a small percentage of people, me being one of them) that made me *more* depressed and anxious. It can even make some people suicidal, the exact extreme opposite of helping, right? This is why I really, really advocate seeing a psychiatrist instead of a family doctor. They know how to monitor this stuff. But these side-effects are one of the things that brought me to my knees and landed me in the hospital. It was incredibly scary. But fortunately, I am also one of those people that does adjust to Zoloft eventually... and, as I learned in the hospital, Ativan (a fast-acting anti-anxiety drug that should not be taken long-term) can help those side-effects tremendously while your body adjusts. So, getting ON meds was pretty much a horror show for me. But I am SO GLAD I DID! 

Fast forward to about a month after my hospital release. I was starting to feel calmer. I was sleeping again. One day, I was out with my toddler in the neighborhood cul-de-sac and his bigger siblings were riding bikes and playing with other kids. Suddenly I noticed that things were quieter. Where were my other kids? No where to be seen. I walked around to the back of the house. Not there. The thought began to creep in, slithering into my brain, that maybe something bad had happened to them. The kind of thought that turns into a million scenarios involving kidnapping, pedophiles, accidental strangling, playing with loaded guns, marauding bears, you name it. The thoughts that send me into full-blown panic. Is that what happened? No. For the first time ever in my life, I said to myself, "It's pretty unlikely anything bad has happened to them. Let's hold off on worst-case scenarios and think of the more likely ones first." I went over and knocked on the next-door neighbors house, and sure enough, my kids had gone in to play with their kids and forgotten to tell me. Case closed. No panic attack. It started to dawn on me, "This.is.different. I like this! Wow! This is a MIRACLE!" 

That's what meds do for me. They gave my rational mind a say in things. No longer does King Anxiety rule supreme on the throne of my brain. He still sits at the round table, say, but his voice is much softer, and sometimes he actually alerts me to real danger. Most of the time, though, he is more like the court jester, and I can laugh at him, saying "Wow, that is REALLY creative, Mr. A. And nuts. Moving on now!" 

There are still areas I struggle. Meds don't solve all my problems. But they do give me a leg up:

-I can think logically about anxious thoughts

-Once I've made a logical decision about an anxious thought, and that it's not worth paying attention to, I can move on. It might come around again to remind me, but not every ten seconds, full volume.

-Since I can actually dismiss ridiculous anxious thoughts, I have brain space for other things.

-A quieter brain makes a more relaxed body.

-A more relaxed body means my severe digestive problems began to clear up.

-I can ENJOY life without constantly feeling that the next phone call is going to bring horrible news.

-Every new pain in my body is NOT a symptom of terminal cancer. I can act the way apparently normal people usually do- wait a few days or a week to see if it goes away before calling the doctor.

-Increased self-confidence about what I will and won't do. So even if a thought pops into my brain, a violent picture of me hurting myself or another person, I know what that is. It's OCD. It's NOT ME, and I know that who I am just wouldn't do that. OCD tends to present you with all kinds of mental fears and pictures that are diametrically opposite from your values- which is why they generate so much anxiety. The person whose worst fear is that their children are molested by a babysitter might be tortured by extremely vivid pictures of their self molesting children (and then compulsions, which are essentially strategies to atone for such thoughts or convince yourself that you'd never do them, kick in, but that's a whole nother post). Blasphemous thoughts and images used to torture me... and I love Jesus with all my heart and soul. Makes total sense now why I would have that variety of OCD thought!

Best of all, having a quieter, less terrified brain, means I can enjoy a new level of confidence in my relationship with God. I can hear His voice so much better without all that fear bouncing around, making so much noise. I can pray without every prayer being a plea for preservation from the latest possible destiny OCD has concocted for me. I can sit and bask in His love. I can read Scripture more thoughtfully and logically instead of through a lens of fearfulness (which leads to all kinds of mis-reading of Scripture, let me tell you). I could write a book on the ways that my whole crisis and healing through meds has impacted my spiritual life positively. 

If you'd like to comment, or ask questions that are too personal for public commenting, message me via my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TheHoppingWren/



Monday, June 15, 2020

On the Importance of Grandpas, and how to be the BEST

I love my grandmas, just so you know. Amazing, awesome women that I adore, and I could write and write about. But this morning I feel a welling up in my soul to write about the other 50% of my genetic inheritance, the grandpas.

I was richly blessed to have grandfathers that I knew personally and loved deeply. And Grandpa and Opa love me back. I can say "love" in the present tense for both of them even though they died in 1991 and 2000, because

...love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.


Even though this passage from the Bible, Song of Solomon 8, is referring to love between a man and a woman, it captures all the eternal qualities of love that go deeper and deeper, right down into the very heart of God. Love that remains, long after death has decayed the mortal body. Love that lasts forever and ever.
I am safe, secure, loved, and cherished by my God. And that I know this deeply, through and through, has so much to do with my parents and grandparents, and in this essay specifically, my grandfathers.

I was  loved and cherished by them from the moment I was born.

Opa looking into my newborn face with delight.

Grandpa holding my newborn self, Grandma
 looking over his shoulder smiling.
Even though my family moved to the east coast and left them in California when I was three, that did not hinder my closeness to my grandparents. They came and visited us, we visited them, and there were endless letters and phone calls. We did just fine without the age of the internet. Maybe better- because I still have, filed away in a box, precious letters, handwritten or typed. Opa's writing was very neat and clear printing. Grandpa's was squiggly and nearly impossible to read so he usually typed, with frequent handwritten inserts and notes that he added after he was done with the typing. These letters have a character all their own that don't come through via email.

Some grandpas are remote and distant and don't interact with their grandkids much. Not mine. They loved their grandkids and interacted and played and discovered with us and entertained and snuggled and carried us.
My sister and I helping Opa pick tomatoes


My grandpa and I on the beach, looking at a treasure the waves have left.
I often think about the traits I have that were inherited from their personalities and developed by them. Both of them loved nature and hiking. Opa had a very sharp eye for noticing things. I used to love to show him off to my friends on hikes when he came for visits. He could always see the little frog or lizard or bird in plain sight that we missed, and he knew how to engage us so that it was the most fascinating thing in the world. I remember a friend saying "Wow, I just love your Opa, he is so fun!" He made us want to look carefully so we could spot things and proudly point them out to him. Oma and Opa lived on the California coast, so he regularly took beach walks and collected all kinds of beautiful shells and rocks, and fossils from up in the mountains, that he saved to show the grandchildren when we came to visit. I find myself thinking about him constantly when I am out in the woods, walking up a stream looking for rocks and fossils and arrowheads. He also looked for dropped coins out on his walks and saved them in a cloth bag for us to split when we visited. I believe on one of these visits the bag contained over $40 in pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters. We'd lay them out and sort them by dates and kinds. And from Opa I believe I get my deep spiritual connection to God as He is revealed in nature. One of the first hymns I knew and loved was "How Great Thou Art," which was one of Opa's favorite hymns.

O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all
The works Thy Hand hath made,
I see the stars,
I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow'r throughout
The universe displayed,
When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze,
Then sings my soul,
My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!

It was my Oma and Opa that wanted to have my sister and I baptized in their Lutheran church when my young parents were not church-goers. This was important to them, and now, years later, I understand that that was their way of dedicating their beloved granddaughters to the Lord. I see my Opa as one of the very important and first founders of my faith in Jesus. He wanted to give to us the most important thing he had, the knowledge of God's unconditional, vast and unfathomable love and care for us. Even today, when God speaks to me in dreams, he very often uses my Opa to communicate spiritual truths. Losing my Opa at age twelve was the most heart-breaking thing ever to happen to me. But even in the last days, in the hospital, hovering on the edge of consciousness, his love for me was steady and sure. I would hold his hand and whisper "I love you, Opa," and he would squeeze my hand back tightly. We held hands around his bed and sang How Great Thou Art. And he reached toward the light, and angels we could not see. None of this was lost on my twelve-year-old self, and it wedged itself deep into my heart.

Richard taking pictures of flowers
Years and years later, visiting Nepali friends in Chitwan province, a white-haired grandpa named Richard from Arizona arrived. Right off I noticed how he looked like my Opa. He connected with the kids there as instantly as my Opa would have, no shared language needed. He was so kind, and his faith was also deep and strong and somehow so similarly expressed as my Opa's. One morning I saw him out taking pictures of flowers in our hostess's garden (my Opa was a photographer) and I lost it. I told Richard why I was crying my eyes out and he hugged me and let me cry. From then on, he became my "adopted Opa," and somehow, a big hole in my heart that I hadn't realized was there, closed up and healed. Thank you, Richard. 

My dad's dad, Grandpa, was completely different than Opa. A totally different type of personality. And I have so much of it! I am pretty sure my particular brand of humor passed directly from him to my dad and then to me. It's the silly streak and the propensity of a bit vaudeville to suddenly emerge. All of my sisters have it too. The singing and the dancing of a totally ridiculous nature. I don't know if my sisters do, but I often talk to myself in just the same way Grandpa did. Addressing a bowl of apples with the same tone of voice, for example. Grandpa was an actor and radio man and writer by career, and though I haven't made a career out of those things (well, I do occasionally get paid to write), I see them in myself too. I tend to be an introvert, but when called upon to stand up and speak in front of hundreds of people, this comical and confident self springs up out of somewhere and off I go, ready to entertain. The old showbiz streak. I've got the same hunger for information and am also a voracious reader. Grandpa was the head librarian for the San Francisco Examiner and had a vast realm of information about all sorts of things going on in his head. I could easily have been a librarian.

Me and Grandpa on the kitchen floor, playing with jars
and bottles.

Grandpa was full of fun and play and knew just how to engage and entertain children until they were laughing their heads off and rolling on the ground. I learned much later that he was the immensely popular "Uncle Harry" on the radio in the thirties and forties, reading the Sunday comics aloud (in twenty different voices) for children across the western states. Uncle Harry also started radio kids clubs and kids amateur radio hours... well, I didn't know any of that as a little kid, I only knew that Grandpa was so, so much fun. He even made weeding fun! I remember arriving at his San Mateo home after a long plane flight at probably age six or seven, and begging to go out and pull weeds with him. The weed was a kind of invasive grass that had long, long runners. I would try to carefully pull them up without breaking the runners to see how long it would be. "Great Smoke!" he'd say. "That one's a MONSTER!" He was so impressed that I had to find one that was even longer to impress him some more. Then we'd be off to the playground around the corner. I always felt like he had an endless amount of time for me and that I was deeply, deeply loved. Telling your grandchildren you love them is one thing, but immediately dropping everything to play with them as soon as they arrive is another. This kind of engaged, quality time told me I was valuable, worthwhile, important, and fun to be with, and both my grandpas were experts at it in their own ways. 

I was so fortunate that Grandpa lived until I was in college, so I had a long, rich relationship with him. In his final years he developed dementia which sometimes made him unreasonable, obstinate, cranky, and occasionally try to hit someone with his cane. But not most of the time. Most of the time he could still tell his fantastic stories from long ago (sometimes adding in rather adult details that he wouldn't have done before dementia that were quite educational to my young ears) flirt with the pretty waitresses, and show his deep love for his family. I had the privilege of spending several weeks one summer as his caregiver after my freshman year of college. He so appreciated everything I did for him. I'd slice up a plate of peaches and leave them on the kitchen counter and he'd wander in, spy them on the plate, throw his arms in the air and exclaim with delight "Holy Smokes! Just look at THESE fine fellows!" It was this kind of thing that made me want to make him happy and do all sorts of special things for him. Getting a "Holy Smokes!" out of him was the best. Even driving with him through the winding Santa Cruz mountains to visit my uncle was highly entertaining. He'd narrate the drive... "We're going up! Up! Arouuuuuund the curve! And down, down, dooooown into the deep, dark, ravine!" (his voice getting lower and lower till it was deep and booming) (I know that everyone reading this who knew him can hear him saying it right now). 

The quality time, the fun, the teaching, the engaging, the letters, the frequent phone calls... these are things that put you down in the books as a top-notch grandpa, if you're here looking for pointers. I know both my grandpas had many flaws and at times were not the most stellar fathers. But perhaps they learned from their mistakes and their parenting regrets, because they were the very most stellar grandfathers. The best grandpas ever. 

Opa and my sister as a baby.

Grandpa dancing down the street with my sister.

Grandpa and the women of the family, holding me as a baby,
happily grabbing his chin.

Oma and Opa taking their granddaughters out for ice cream sundaes.

Opa hugging my sister and I.