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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

What I think about right and wrong in 2020

Photo description: Kirstie in hiking gear in the woods
staring at the ground in deep thought.
I am much better at writing than expressing myself verbally. Sometimes it feels literally painful in my brain to have to talk to people about something complicated or important... like my words aren't coming out right, and I am doing a horrible and inadequate job explaining myself. I understand that for many people it is the exact opposite. You'd far rather talk than write about something.

Part of this comes from a deep insecurity and fear of displeasing others. I want to craft my words precisely so you don't misunderstand me and think I've said something awful. Being able to look back over my words gives me a greater opportunity to "not offend anyone." I HATE offending people. I just do. I have a thin skin, and an extremely empathetic personality that wants everyone to feel loved and comfortable and accepted, and feels pain when they don't. Okay, I've grown up enough to have a bit thicker skin than I used to, thank goodness. And I have a much greater ability to sit with the discomfort of other people being uncomfortable, upset, offended, and angry. But if we dive down deep into my inner honest core, I want to be accepted by you, whoever you are, and I want you to imagine that I think like you so that you'll like me and be comfortable with me. I don't want you to know about the parts of me that disagree with you. I want to hide them handily so all can be well. But I know in my inner core that that isn't right either. I want to be a woman of honesty and integrity. And hiding what I really think so you'll like me is definitely not what honesty looks like. Ah, my great struggle.

Here's another problem. So much of what "I really think" is in a state of flux. I have on one hand, a solid foundation that won't be shaken about many things that are right and wrong. I have extremely firm, unshakable beliefs about God's character. I have Jesus walking beside me sharing His great love with me at all times, thank God! But you know what? Beyond a very few black and whites, the world is a million shades of grey. New information, points of view, and ideas are breaking like a tidal wave over us all day. And they are all calling vehemently for you and I to take a stand. Join us! Think like us! It's obvious what is right and wrong here! This is what should be done! Show your loyalty to our ideas and opinions or be thrown out into the dark, canceled, castigated, exiled! Don't be on the wrong side of history! If you don't agree with me, unfriend me right now because you are a --- (insert appropriate expletive). You can't be silent! If you are, than you are clearly on the other side! If this situation isn't a nasty hell-hole for someone who struggles with anxiety and people-pleasing, I don't know what is.

I can't pledge my loyalty to any of the "sides" that are out there. I have already pledged my loyalty to Jesus alone. And I have found that walking this narrow path of following Him through the storm of competing ideas doesn't allow for agreeing with anyone about everything. He just doesn't seem to go for "group-think." I get to thinking one way about something, and then another article comes along that totally upends that idea. A good example is this opinion printed in The Guardian yesterday. If you have any "sides" about the major issues happening in 2020, this may leave you uncomfortable, angry, frustrated, and banging your head on the table. That's what happened to me, anyway.

So what to do? Obviously, there are going to be times when taking a stand is necessary and right, and an essential act of obeying God. But even then, the waters are murky. Every single stand starts with a clear idea of right and wrong, but then things get complicated. I can say with great conviction: racism is wrong. Police brutality is wrong. Enslaving and abusing others is wrong. Not caring whether you infect others with coronavirus is wrong. Destroying the environment is wrong. The death of a pre-born baby, delivered baby, child, adult, or any other kind of human for any reason is always a tragedy and there are very few cases in which killing another human can be called "the right thing to do," and these cases are still, even more so, tragic and horrific. Turning people away from healthcare that can't afford to pay for it it is wrong. I could go on and on. I have a lot of firm right and wrong beliefs, but when it comes down to solutions and action... that's where it gets sticky and I start feeling like I am being turned upside down, shaken, and, hardest of all for Kirstie-people-pleaser, judged for not planting my flag and staying there come hell or high water.

I want to participate in making our nation and world a better place for everyone. I want to take action and see right win the day and evil trampled into the dust of history. Maybe the only way I can do it, with honesty and integrity, is to always wear a t-shirt that says "Disclaimer: I don't agree with you about everything, but I'm trying to do what is right, and my thoughts, ideas and actions will always be liable to review upon acquisition of new information and discussion on the matter with Jesus."

Thanks for listening. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I suspect a lot of people find themselves in the same mental boat. I feel better already having written this, that you may know me and what I think more clearly, and I, through writing, know myself better too.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Time of COVID-19 Post 1

Church in the garden goblin village constructed by our 7yo.
I'd like to start writing regularly here again, during this strange and stirring and difficult time. But I've been in a strange kind of trance in the last two weeks, and busy too- busier in some ways than "normal" life, with the children and husband at home and trying to plant a garden in the woods. I've learned to use the chainsaw (and almost cut my son's leg off, seriously- God's grace in that is enough to make me fall on my face again and again and cry when I think about it).  I've commandeered protesting children into dragging logs and branches, and planted 12 berry plants, and containers of beans and cucumbers on our deck where hopefully deer won't eat the tender sprouts. I have all sorts of plans and ideas outside  that could keep me occupied from dawn to dusk, but I have other things to tend to besides planting food... like cooking and preparing it for the hungry little horde in my home, and roping that horde into new routines, like cleaning up after themselves and doing more chores than they normally would since they are making all kinds of messes and tracking in dirt and leaves all day and leaving drinking glasses coated with peanut butter smoothies to dry into peanut butter clay on the coffee table.

I feel tired reading the news, and beyond tired after venturing out in my raincoat, headscarf and mask to a store and coming home and wiping everything down to disinfect it. We've switched to grocery delivery now. And I sit on our front steps and still wipe everything down and tip the shopper as much as I can for doing this now-dangerous job in our place. Do it. Tip those people like crazy if you can.

When I'm not gardening, cooking, and cleaning, I zone out on Facebook too much. And read The Brothers Karamazov, do crossword puzzles, read to the children, play games with them. Drink endless cups of tea. Tell kids to stop squabbling and use kinder voices and not grab and please, please load/unload the dishwasher.  When it was cold we had some wonderful fires in the fireplace but now it is suddenly summer and the AC and the fans are on. I try hard not to be cross and engage in silly arguments with certain lawyers-in-the-making that live here.

I want to see my parents who live so close and yet so far. We've had some distanced conversations outside in the garden. I want to hug them. But I don't want to kill them. I want to hug my dearest Kate who just moved here from overseas to shelter in place near us- but at least I can sit ten feet away and talk to her while her boys leap around in the woods and catch toads in the twilight.

How long? We are all asking that question. I fear it will be much longer than anyone is willing to say. We are all standing on the edge of a strange canyon that has opened in front of the global human race so unexpectedly.

We gathered as a family in the living room this morning with cups of tea and bowls of cereal to watch church, hear the beloved voices of our pastor and worship team. The dogs barked and competed for backscratches and were generally distracting. The gospel passage was about that time when Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was deathly ill and L's sisters were begging him to come and heal him- and he didn't go, not until after Lazarus had been dead and buried in the tomb for four days. L's sister Martha meets him when he gets there and shows a fierce and tenacious trust in Jesus even though she is heartbroken and grief-stricken. Her sister Mary stays in the house- but when she hears that Jesus wants to talk to her she flies out and collapses at his feet, wailing the truth- "If you had been here, my brother would not have died!" And he weeps, shudders in agony, fully experiences the grief these people that he loves are experiencing. Then- he calls Lazarus out of the grave, restores him to full life, doing the miracle above all miracles, turning a stinking, decomposing body into a live, healthy one.

My heart heard: He is with us. He's not standing back from afar, laughing, saying "be happy, this is all going to work out for God's glory in the end." He is weeping with us, feeling with us, full of compassion. He is listening to our anger, our accusations, our wailing, and not turning away. He already knows the beautiful endings that will come out of this, things that we will see soon and things we won't see until the end of time, but that doesn't stop Him from being present in the agony and fear of His children sheltering in our homes, risking our lives to save the deathly ill, dying alone with no family saying goodbye or holding our hands.

Our pastor felt led to share with us a dream he had last night just before waking. He said he never remembers his dreams, much less ever has any idea what they are about. But this was different. He dreamed we, our church, went to our usual space at the botanical gardens to worship, but it was like a bomb had hit it. All the glass floor to ceiling windows were shattered, and the roof was gone. We left and went searching for another place to meet- a gymnasium, a school, another church, a cathedral- but all the places were the same. Like a bomb had dropped. So we went back to the gardens and began to worship, and heaven opened up in praise and worship over our heads.

May the Lord, the giver of life, the King of the Universe, be with us in our grief, and raise our decomposing bodies and souls and planet to full, living goodness, bursting with praise and joy. May it be soon. Come, Lord Jesus.

I love you all,
Kirstie


Saturday, December 21, 2019

White girl thinking about racism on a Saturday afternoon

Yesterday I was wandering around the quiet echoing rooms of the UNC Wilson Library and reading displays about the writing of enslaved black people of North Carolina, and the experience of being black in this state in the post-slavery period. My eyes were opened to a whole new reading list I'd like to tackle. I was profoundly moved by excerpts written by men and women describing their circumstances, emotions, and reflections with the great skill of gifted writers. I was especially drawn to the only known autobiography of an American enslaved person written in Arabic- a devout Muslim scholar kidnapped in Senegal and sold into slavery in here.

I grew up in a 99% white small northern town, and I only knew a handful of actual black people. In that environment, I was able to firmly believe that racism in my country was a thing of the past and we Americans were past that sort of unenlightened evil. Of course, that didn't last long after growing up and joining the real world. It's odd, remembering how I used to ponder how Germans coped with the history of the genocide that happened in their country and it never occurred to me that I should be figuring out how to cope with the fact that my race brutally kidnapped, murdered and enslaved other humans for hundreds of years and until recently legally discriminated against them.

While I did have the privilege of gaining real, close black friends in college and beyond, it really wasn't until we moved to Baltimore for several years and lived as a minority for the first time in a majority black city that I really jumped into the rabbit hole of learning what brutal effects slavery and racism's oppression have wrought, evils that have not been laid to rest but still beat upon the everyday lives of black brothers and sisters. Every Sunday we went to a church that met in a school that schooled me by its posters and displays of student projects on black history, a history I knew precious little of outside of Martin Luther King Jr and a smattering of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. And in this community I became part of the lives of beloved people who are the most meticulous drivers you'll ever meet because getting stopped by the police might mean getting killed, who have said premature goodbyes to friend after friend caught in the crossfire of violence, and kids that treasure bananas and oranges because the inner city food desert is very real, friends.

I enjoy doing family history research and I am great fan of newspapers.com for finding out interesting details about the daily life of my ancestors, when the society column was the equivalent of today's social media. But it's also an incredible resource for seeing history via first-hand sources. And for every 1903 local mention of Mr Raymond Smith visiting his mother this week, the eye strays to the next column in which a mob of two hundred men "are searching the surrounding country for a negro that attacked Ed Strickland's sixteen year-old daughter in a field last night, who fortunately escaped and hurried to tell her father." Just try searching on the words "lynch" and "negro" and history will slap you in the face with the nasty reality of an entire society that doomed thousands of black men to execution without trial based on the shaky testimony of a teenage girl. And there is no mercy, none, in the way these accounts are written. Any outer space alien picking up a newspaper from the turn of the century would conclude, by the writing, that having black pigmentation was reliable signal of being the very spawn of the devil. Accounts of lynching are written with a satisfactory smugness that justice was served.

Last night I was at urgent care with my mom, and two black nurses were attending her with concern and deep compassion on their eyes and faces. I had a weird moment of thinking "after all that we people of white heritage have done, how can any black person be so kind and loving to us?" But there it is- while we humans have such a capacity to commit evil atrocities on others, we have such capacity to love and forgive and heal and not let the past rule the future.

I have a lot of questions that still aren't answered about the best ways to move forward as a healthy society. There's so much thinking and reading and talking with others I want to do but have little time for, no matter how important it might be to do it. But these intrusions into normal life- a museum display, an old newspaper article, an excerpt of literature written by a black sharecropper in 1930... they call out to me and things rise up in me, anger, sadness, and a desire to smash stupid racist walls down. To be part of the unmaking of the legacy of slavery and racism.

Thanks for reading the ramblings of my the thoughts circling my mind the last few days. It's good to put them down on paper (hah, paper).


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Carolinian Thanksgiving -- Beauty and Remembrance of Darkness

I'm sitting on the porch steps as I write, and our black and white boxer mutt, barricaded onto the porch, with her cone on (she's stitched up from a violent encounter with an angry deer) has her head over the barricade and is looking down at me imploringly to let her come out and chase squirrels. She whimpers and squeaks and looks at me with huge brown eyes. Her soft, silky, short-fur black and white face almost melts me. But I don't want to go running after her into the woods for squirrels. I want to sit here and write about this day.

In the Piedmont of North Carolina, autumn color lasts through Thanksgiving. The great forests of loblolly pine are mixed reddish brown oaks of all sorts, and the yellow starry leaves of sweet gum. Glorious golden American beech leaves stay on the tree into winter and even often into spring, only falling off when the new leaves push them off. The wooded hillside rising up from the seasonal stream that runs in a dip between the hills on the other side of our gravel road is a profusion of golden beeches, their white gray silvery trunks gleaming in morning sunlight. The sky is blue and the air is crisp and gusts of wind in the treetops send leaves coming down, pattering around me with their soft, crinkly landings. 

Craig (dear reader, remember we all have aliases around here) has stacked up logs and kindling next to the ring of stones where there will be a bonfire so there will be an outside place for our many Thanksgiving guests to gather. Our home in the woods is small but we have decided to have lots of people here to celebrate this year. The children all helped with the cleaning and  baking yesterday, the extra tables are set up, the turkey is in the oven smelling of the copious amounts of fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, butter and garlic rubbed all over it and under its skin. I'm grateful for the thousands of meals I have cooked in my life that make days like this easy rather than panicky and unsure. 

When all these people we love are here, we will say a liturgy for Thanksgiving day together and I will feel deep gratitude for the rich fellowship God has given us in this place. The dogs will get their special bones to eat out on the porch while we are feasting inside so they won't be underfoot and begging at every elbow.

I'm grateful to feel rich with hope and life and joy in this season after many seasons of darkness and anxiety in past years. I'm grateful for eyes and ears and nose and a brain able to process and take delight in the thousands of divine gifts of beauty given to me everyday. I'm grateful for the sort of mind that notices them, so that beauty and joy and delight come easily to me. Anxiety and depression rob the mind's ability to take delight in such small things as the fresh cut end of a stick of beechwood in a woodpile.

To all of you who are trapped in that darkness where beauty is so hard to come by take hope. Such darkness does not last forever and its greatest power is in the lie that it does. Your heart will sing again. You are not lost till the end of the ages in this haze. Love and freedom are seeking you. They will come. 

Blessings on you, friends. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A new season in the Carolinian life


It's been over a year. Much has changed since I last wrote, but I'm still here living under towering pines and rushing streams and steamy summers and now sweet gum and black gum and oak and maple and hickory are turning to reds and yellows while a cold autumn rain calls for tea and a fire in the fire place and I feel inspired to bake cookies when the children get home from school.

Last winter I stopped using facebook. I didn't delete my profile, but just... stopped. I'm not being legalistic. I might stop in to check on someone. But gone are my days of letting far too much time get sucked away scrolling, or my head in the clouds of some intense online discussion instead of here and now with the people in my local physical presence. There's so many people I love from so many places I've lived, but I don't think we were made to keep up continuous friendships for so many people. We are limited, not all-present everywhere. One day I will be with all the people I love with unlimited time for each friendship, I believe. But not now.


One of the first things I noticed after leaving facebook was my ability to read, instead of scan, came back. I could focus on long, complex texts. I stopped getting waylaid thinking about how interesting it would be to post about this or that. I finished books. I started feeling like my mind was calmer, more my own again, somehow. While my children still get frustrated with the fact that mommy can only focus on one thing at one time (if I am reading or thinking or writing you have to come up and practically throw water in my face to get my attention), generally I feel more focused, mindful and intentional about my thought-life.

It was over a year ago that we also started attending a local Anglican church. It was hard to leave the beloved church we'd been a part of since our move to Carolinia, but it was half an hour away, making it hard to sustain regular community outside of Sunday morning. We were blessed that after one visit to this new church we decided to stay. I knew really nothing before about Anglicanism outside of English novels in which the rector is either a love interest or a frightful bore or perhaps a scoundrel. Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice sums up my former opinion of Anglicanism nicely. In the past few years I'd heard a few things about the Anglican church today that perked my ears, and of course, as a friend pointed out, C.S. Lewis was Anglican, so it couldn't be too bad, could it?

There is a connection here, leaving facebook and becoming Anglican... a more contemplative life. There are many old things here among Anglicans that are very new to me. It's a church far closer to the Catholics, I think, than any we have been a part of before. It feels much more connected to the traditions and people of the past two millennia since Christ walked the earth. I have a new appreciation for the stories and wisdom of the great saints that lived long before the Reformation, the ancient sacred traditions and prayers that speak deeply to my soul. I have learned that just because someone else wrote a prayer doesn't mean it can't be true and authentic in my own mouth- in fact I am finding that often the prayers we speak together as a group bring me to tears and new things wake up in my soul. Using the Book of Common Prayer daily Scripture readings has developed my appetite for the Psalms, and I am reading them far more than I ever did in my life before. I'm deeply thankful for the way God has guided our path from place to place and church family to church family, shaping us in new and different ways at each one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Trump & Kavanaugh and Prayer

It's happening again.
Those dreams.

The ones in which I am speaking the word of the Lord, ministering to, encouraging, and praying for... Donald Trump. I might be his trusty sidekick that goes with him everywhere and gives him my thoughts and observations. Or I am writing him letters that are expedited to a special address where he gets the mail he is actually going to read.

Before he was elected, I had a dream that he was the president, and he was sitting in a crowded room wearing a prayer shawl with Israeli symbols on it, praying. His aids were moving about him giving sound advice. They were wise, polite, of quiet manner.

I have to tell you, everything about these dreams makes me SQUIRM!

I am not a Trump supporter. Once he got past the first few primaries (when I still thought this was a ludicrous joke), I looked on in horror. It seemed to me like Biff from Back to the Future was getting his alternative future dream.

I think the man is cruel, unjust, arrogant, mean, self-absorbed, and foolish. A bully. Known for his ill-treatment of people who worked for him, refusal to pay what he owes. Holds himself up by seeking praise and adoration at cheering rallies, rips apart those who disagree. I could go on and on... but suffice it to say, I do not like the man. The same goes for most of the people I've observed surrounding him.

But here we are. He's the president. What do these dreams mean?

I think they are about prayer.

We have this fixation in our culture that praying for someone involves asking God to bless them, heal them, etc. We think the idea of, for example, a "presidential prayer team," is going to be a group of the president's most ardent and passionate supporters, thanking God for that president, talking together excitedly about how happy they are that God has put a person like that in power, a person that embodies all the platforms they stand on.

I'd have a reeeeeeeaaaalllly hard time going to a prayer meeting like that.

But Jesus says "pray for your enemies, and bless those who persecute you."

I'm going through a little phase of prayer renewal right now. The kids are all at school and I'm at home by myself so I can indulge in the kind of prayer I like best- pulling a chair up next to mine, inviting Jesus to sit in it, and talking to Him. Conversation. Listening. Talking out loud through what I think He is telling me, asking Him questions, crying, yelling, whatever happens to be on my agenda for the day.

This morning, another one of those pesky dreams prodded me with the need to pray for President Trump and this whole sordid affair with the Kavanaugh nomination. I don't have good feelings toward Kavanaugh either, as you probably guessed.

I am so glad the Holy Spirit jumped in to lead me how to pray, because I had nothing. Yesterday I read John 9, the story of Jesus healing a man who had been physically blind from birth, and when he could see, wow, could he see. Not just physically, but spiritually. Recognizing who Jesus was being from God was a no-brainer to him. The story ends with Jesus telling the angry, critical, self-righteous Pharisees that actually *they* are the ones who are blind.

Then the conversion story of St. Paul recorded in the Book of Acts came to mind. That man was as cruel, arrogant, boastful, and self-righteous as they come. Jesus appears to him in the middle of his plans to go arrest and throw Christians in jail, and strikes him blind. Three days later he is directed to the house of a Christian man, who prays for him and his physical sight is healed- and his spiritual eyes are opened for the first time. He had been spiritually blind from birth.

As these things came into my mind, I started to pray for Trump and Kavanaugh. That Jesus would meet them in the same powerful way. That He would reveal their blindness to them, and shock them with sight. For a spirit of humility to overcome them and shake them to their core. For us all to see this happen, as a nation, and give glory to God for his mighty deeds in the hearts of humans. For public confession, wailing, and grief over their sins, and true repentance. That if, in fact, the accusations against Kavanaugh are not true, that it would be made obvious and his accusers would be overcome with humility and repentance (I personally don't think the accusations are false, but I'm not God, either, so...).  For "justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

Do you know what it says right before that well-known Amos verse? "Take away from me the noise of your songs: to the melody of your harps I will not listen." I feel like to attend a presidential prayer breakfast of donuts and coffee and lauding the president for his "pro-life stance" would be that kind of noise. No, there are different prayers to be praying for our leaders in our time. Prayers that can only be answered by the one who can change human hearts and minds. Jesus is the only one that can make our president put on sackcloth and ashes and wail over his sins, his treatment of women, his arrogance, his blindness, his lies and cheating others. Jesus is the only one that can make Kavanaugh (if it's true) confess what he has done publicly and beg forgiveness from the women he has wronged. Jesus is the only one who can open the eyes of those who go on about "boys will be boys" and let rapists off the hook.

God, shock and awe us with the work only You can do in the hearts of our leaders. Make them into men and women of humility and wisdom, ready to confess their sins, passionate about truth and justice, risking their lives and political careers to be truthful in all things and to expose lies and corruption. Do the cleansing work in our hearts as a nation that only you can do, to pursue truth and goodness and put away devotion to idols of political parties or ideas. Without You doing this work in all of us, we are lost, doomed, and none of the ideals we seek for our country will ever come to pass.

Take away from me
the noise of your songs:
to the melody of your harps
I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5:23-24

Amen.

Author's Note: I'm adding this note one day later- I have something I want to add for clarity in case it wasn't clear what those dreams have to do with prayer, I believe they were generally pointing me in the direction of the ideal to pray to for. My attitude towards our current political situation has been rather hopeless and complainy, wishing somehow it would all just go away. These dreams convict me and urge me to pray for something much greater.