Monday, November 23, 2015

I am a person, not an animal

“I am now confident and strong. I know I am a person, not an animal. My wound, my deep wound, is also my strength, because it makes me help others … those who bear scars must help the wounded.”

Would you guess this is a quote from an Iraqi woman, a rape victim, a former prostitute who has spent the past nine years rescuing women trapped in the horror of sexual violence that exists in Baghdad? I wouldn’t have. 

I left out part of the quote from an article that appeared in The New Yorker, October 5, 2015 “Out of Sight” by Rania Abouzeid, the part where she says, “Sometimes I don’t think it can be stopped.” When she sees victims, “I feel like my insides are ripped open. I am hurt witnessing this” (During the interview she was called to the scene where a woman had been dragged from her home and shot in the street because she worked in a brothel.)  
Illustration by Aude Van Ryn

And yet, in the face of what seems completely hopeless she continues her work because “my wound, my deep wound, is also my strength, because it makes me help others.”

We’ve lately heard and read much about women who are beaten, starved, murdered, forced into slavery, marriage, or who are sold to brothels or must choose prostitution and its terrifying risks in a Muslim culture just to support their children..

I can’t imagine. And can only pray and pray for them and the world – that God would soon come to them with all the power and might he holds against evil – and his great and mysterious ability to be both just and merciful at the same time. Unlike myself who would like to simply kill where I saw fit and be done with it.

I can’t imagine being Layla whose suffering has become her motivation, even her conduit for helping others. She’s not the pitiful, self-focused loser I might become. No.

I can’t imagine. And yet I can. In my small way. I am drawn to this woman and her wise words because somehow she speaks across oceans of divide to touch our own lives. To whatever degree we bear wounds, if we can remember who we are – humans bearing God’s image, persons, not animals, that in Christ we can be strong and confident –  “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him.” (II Pet. 1:3) This will enable us to live lives that are meaningful.

So here’s the thing: If what I do, however small and seemingly insignificant to others springs out of my own suffering (again, even if comparatively small to Layla’s) isn’t that the gift or at least part of the gift I am to give to others? “Those who bear scars must help the wounded.” We all bear scars. So, if I walk out of this office and plan our Thanksgiving meal with love and thought for this small group of people who will gather with us, including our granddaughter who has her own past wounds from holidays gone awry, won’t that be doing what I can to lift a corner of darkness here, where I live?

Layla is my hero. I pray God will guard her steps and protect her heart and all the women she rescues.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Where the wild ducks are

  Whether we look far away or close at hand – from France to the people of our hearts, we long for peace. We long for hope.

For a few days of solitude, I’ve come away to a quiet place. Perhaps I will find headspace to write again.

I’ve watched the wild ducks gather at the bottom of the lawn. In a puddle spread before the shore a family of mallards nibble and nibble on something under the water. Roots? Chickweed? They ruffle their tails and preen their breasts, comfortably relaxing into the soggy grass as if into a hot spa. A female scolds a male and he sprints from her clacking beak. After the ducks depart a pair of crows splash into the puddle and then sip their bathwater. A black squirrel runs up and down the oak with mouthfuls of leaves. I see she is building a winter nest as she shapes them into a ragged clump. There is healing in these observations. I waken to more than despair and “forethought of grief.” I do. I am almost happy.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. – Wendell Berry

Mallard Family eating in the rain.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

What matters in the end

I watched Gran Torino again the other day.  For two reasons. One was to see if there was a scene I could rip for a lecture I’m giving on the way hospitality can bridge cultural differences. The other was to observe the changes in the main character, Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, – to watch him finally in the end choose to give away his prize possession, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino to a Hmong boy and to give his life in revenge for crimes against an innocent family he had grown to love.

Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino 
This story is complex enough to make you laugh, appall you and wrench your heart all at the same time. But that’s how life always is. Complex.

That’s how Ed Hague's living and dying has been to me. Complex. He made me laugh all the time.  He  could be appallingly irreverent, piercingly honest, and then point you to Christ in the most unexpected ways. I loved him as one of my best friends.

The last time I talked to him was about ten days before he died. Our coming to his funeral was on his mind. How would we pay for it, he wanted to know. Since we live in Minnesota and he is, I mean was, in Tallahassee, he was trying to figure out a way to alleviate some of our expense. I told him we did not care one whit about that so he could stop obsessing about it. We would come out of love and respect for his family and nothing else mattered. It was typical of him to care about all sorts of matters big and small, personal and public.

I just finished reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawandi. Aunt Ruth died last month. Ed passed away two weeks ago. Denis’ parents are in their 90s and living precariously on their own day after day, refusing any kind of help or care. The list could go on. I know some of you have friends or family members who are facing either age-related issues or terminal illness. So both the movie and this book felt timely.

Gawandi writes about some of the studies and their findings on what fulfills and grows people even as their life narrows.

 If we shift as we age toward appreciating everyday pleasures and relationships rather than toward achieving, having, and getting, and if we find this more fulfilling, then why do we take so long to do it? Why do we wait until we are old [or terminally ill]? The common view was that these lessons are hard to learn. Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old age are achieved over time. Cartenson (a Stanford psychologist) was attracted to a different explanation. What if the change in needs and desires has nothing to do with age per se? Suppose it merely has to do with perspective – your personal sense of how finite your time in this world is…

I think that in that last three years of Ed’s life following his diagnosis of Stage IV prostate cancer, he grew more than ever before in his understanding of what it means to have this one life to live. 

Ed housebreaking our internet
 He eventually had to let things go that he had been very good at like untangling computer problems, trimming large trees, running his business. He shifted more toward enjoying ordinary pleasures – his wife Betsy could speak more specifically to this. Ice cream. Sitting on the porch. Walking to the mailbox. But in particular, his relationships in pursuit of love and healing became the most important to him to the very end.

So, I think he would agree with Cartenson, that the deeper changes he experienced had to do with facing his finiteness, yes, but he would add an element that was a complete game-changer for him: he was overcome by love. He learned how to receive love in a way he never had before –  the love of his wife and family, the love of friends, the love of all the medical people who cared for him, but most especially God’s love for him. As he wrote in his obituary (I mean, WHO writes their own obituary?):

 "Here’s the most important thing to know about Ed, though. God loved him and made sure that Ed knew it. Hiding from love all of his life, after his cancer diagnosis, God turned the love firehoses on him."

And then Ed turned it back on us.

He loved us in life and mentored us in death. That sounds so cheesy I almost have to delete the sentence except that it's true. And honestly? He could be a beast sometimes. Like when, oh, never mind.        

He faced the breakdown of his body with courage and humor. I would like to learn this love well before I die. I would like to stand in the way of that firehose and get drowned by love. Yes.  And we do have this ....

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vacation Envy

Sunday. Today after church, a friend, a mother of five kids, a five-month-old in her arms, the rest racing around the lawn, told us she has vacation envy. They didn’t get one this summer and it seems like everyone else we know is texting, Face Booking, and talking about where they’ve been. It was a great rant one I understood too well. I stood there thinking – from Nantucket to Provence everyone in the world is hiking sensational mountain ranges, biking through fields of leaping lambs, eating Gruyere, and sleeping within the sound of whippoorwills. Except for us.
She went on to say she’d just finished reading Ecclesiastes “and that’s where I am, ‘everything is vanity.’” She roller her eyes and grimaced. Then she concluded God must be at work because her attitude shifted when she thought of a “stupid old 70s song* – ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with’ I’m trying to do that she said, if I can’t take a vacation then I’m trying to be where we are and somehow love it.

I wrote something similar to a friend. “I’m doing okay. A bit tired. Okay, maybe a lot tired. Am looking for some sweet spots in the Lord in the midst of these weeks. I know they are there. Hoping not to miss them because I’m feeling sorry for myself.”

One sweet spot had to be our youngest granddaughter sitting next to me reading her favorite book: Max & Ruby. We’ve read it so many times she has it memorized or “rememberized” as she puts it. Her ways delight my soul. After hearing it so many times she understands “Grocer” – a word not commonly used anymore, but the context has taught her without me explaining. The ways of children both delight and instruct. Her honesty. Can I have this book, she asks? No. I want it to be here so when you come back we can look forward to reading it together. When I die you can have it. I will leave it to you in my will. What’s a will?… and on we go.

Another sweet spot. I made two jars of naturally fermented pickles. It’s the way they used to make them long ago. You don’t need vinegar. You just put the cucumbers in a jar water and salt, garlic and dill, leave it on the counter and in three to five days a wonderful, crisp tart pickle. It worked! Love them.
Garlic Dills naturally fermented.
Please don’t stop telling me what wonderful times you’ve had. You need times away from the crush of stress. You need times of pure refreshment and joy. God will get us (me) to where we need to be. Eventually.

Our next week will bring its stresses. Some of them we know. Some we anticipate. Others are still unknown. When Denis and I talk about our days, we have a tendency to stew about the future. The words of Jesus echo in my head. Words I heard growing up about not worrying about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry about itself. The Message translation gives it a different punch:  “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Mt. 6:34) 

*Stephen Stills “Love the One You’re With” 1970.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"We're gonna do this death thing, friends"

Early this last Sunday The Great Aunt passed. It was a long battle she fought against age and death and Alzheimer’s. We will miss her lovely smile, her acerbic humor and her generous acceptance of those she loved. She was the dearest aunt and a surrogate mother to my husband. We are sorrowful, but we are also relieved that she finally rests from this battle.

Those of you who know us also know we have another friend who has fought a different set of mortal enemies – stage IV prostate cancer. Ed Hague was diagnosed a little more than three years ago, so to have lived this long probably, no it does, qualify as a miracle. 

Today he posted what may be his final blog. I don’t know. Read it and then read backwards. You may find what you need for living right where you are now. He would love that. 

If I stumble around, a bit blue and puffy-eyed, well, I just wanted you to know …  they say sadness goes, but grief stays somewhere tucked down in your heart. I wonder. Is this true? At my age, you’d think I’d have acquired some wisdom about this. And I’m thinking that perhaps for the moment, I have lost some heart. Perhaps it’s okay to not be all perky and bless-you kind of happy. For the moment. I posted the following comment on

Ed. Just staring into space. Hard to believe the time has come. Death sucks. We never get over it, no matter how hard we try to “celebrate” life – it’s just not how it was meant to be, is it? In one sense, I’m glad your journey is nearly over. It’s been an amazing ride. I already miss you.

I often repeat to myself, in many of life’s situations, the words of St. Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I take heart from this because I know she speaks of Jesus’ power to resurrect all kinds of things. Including the earth. Our relationships. Our bodies, our hearts. And now I say to myself, to God, “And Ed shall be well and all parts of Ed shall soon be well.”

For that I can say Thanks be to God.