Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Looking toward resurrection

The view from our dining room window is my favorite in our house. We look out through our front porch and the trees in our yard to the road that curves before our home and cuts down a hill through tall pines. Across the road, catty-corner, our neighbor's neat brick ranch sits on a rise with more pines towering high above it. Our window faces east, and the early morning sun is likely to hit one smack in the eyes as it lances through the trees.

There is always something to watch. The birds love the trees and sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, bluebirds, and the occasional woodpecker visit regularly bringing their songs with them. Last fall a hummingbird frequented the feeder hanging outside our window. Between sips of sugar water he'd perch up in the branches of the deciduous magnolia just where we could see him. While I'm sure part of his reason to hang out there was to be near his sugar supply, he also kept a sharp eye out for a rival hummingbird who liked to sneak some sugar before getting chased off.

The magnolia is lovely throughout the year, but January is the month we watch it with anticipation. Its bare gray branches are limned with fuzzy greenish buds that wax fatter as the month warms. It's at that point now where the buds are likely to burst within a week depending on the weather. The buds are so tantalizingly full, and in the morning the early sun catches the fuzz on fire, casting a glimmering halo around each one. When they burst we will have a tree of large pink fragile blooms that will eventually fall and cover the ground like a silk carpet.

Christmas a year ago my folks carted a special stone marker to us from the oak in front of their Michigan home. The oak was planted on Keren's first birthday and the stone is engraved with the following:

Keren's Tree 
Birth 9-27-02   1-28-09 Heaven

We placed it under the magnolia and last January we actually had snow, enough to line the stone and to give us a couple days of the snag of real cold in the back of the nose. It was a reminder of winters in Michigan, and the snow upon snow ten years ago when Keren slipped out of this world.

But this is Texas, and winter does not linger. The buds on the magnolia bloomed and within a month Keren's stone was littered with a plethora of pink petals.

It's still just a stone marker. It's not her. But Spring and blossoms never fail to remind me of our future hope, and that I will see her again.

Last fall turned out to be one of more farewells. In September my great-aunt Marge, my oldest relative on my mom's side, passed away only a couple months before her 104th birthday. The kids and I were able to see her just weeks before. We knew she neared her end, but our meeting was one of joy, and her voice and strong hand grip brought floods of good memories. Her parting was not one etched in sorrow.

Then on November 30, dear Grandma Givens, my last living grandparent, stepped into eternity six weeks after her 100th birthday. We saw her last July, and as it was with Aunt Marge, it was a visit of joy and memories. She slipped out of life in the sweetest way I've ever known, looking forward to actually seeing the Jesus she loved most of her life, and at the same time delighting in her sons who were able to be with her, and in the ice cream served for lunch.

Both Aunt Marge's and Grandma's deaths were what one might call "good." There was a long life concluded with minds still sharp. Pain and suffering had played a significant roll in both of their lives, but Christ had as well, and in the end he was who mattered. It's sad to know that I won't see them again on this earth, but the promise of the resurrection gladdens me.

But death is death. It is not known for its sweetness. January this year could not sidestep it any more than that January ten years ago. We got news the first weekend of the year that the grown son of family friends was ripped from earth when a blood clot hit his heart. he left behind his wife and eight young kids. Soon after, the 4 1/2 year old son of one of Kraig's colleagues drowned--tragically, with no clear answers as to how. Friends, family, and acquaintances are left reeling. Death is rude and brutal, no question.

God, though, is neither rude nor brutal. He is, many times, incomprehensible, but I will take that alongside the other things that I know of Him. He is Love. He is Sovereign. He is able to take what is broken and brutalized and make it into something new and incomparably beautiful. He kicks in the teeth the suffering caused by death and says, "Look at what I can do with the agony you caused." He knows this agony intimately. He watched as we tore ourselves from Him in the Garden. He's seen us make a mess of things since and has stepped in again and again to keep us from completely destroying ourselves. All the while he has offered an alternative and a way back to Him through Christ. He did this even when He gave us His son to murder, and Christ suffered more than anyone has...for us.

But, but, but--that's not the end. The end is resurrection, a remaking, a recreation. The magnolia tree will bloom. Spring will come. Resurrection is in the wings, and it will be glorious like the first resurrection.

In "His Heart Beats," Andrew Peterson sings about the first resurrection, and the future one:
His heart beats, He will never die again,
I know that death no longer has dominion over Him.
So my heart beats with the rhythm of the saints,
As I look for the seeds the King has sown
To burst up from their graves. 
I know, I know
He took one breath
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know
He took one breath
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
How great, how great is His victory
I know, I know His heart beats.
1 Corinthians 15:12-22
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; your are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Chris are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Chris, we are to be pitied more than all men.  
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

A lament for home and humanity

When we put our house in Michigan up for sale last week the one thing I didn't anticipate was the bitter sting of rejection. We would never say that our home was perfect, but there is no denying that it is lovely, even after three years of a rental occupancy. Apparently, though, the majority of prospective buyers have no "scope for the imagination," as Anne of Green Gables would say, and can only see what is before them. They see the scuffs and marks in paint (which may not be a color they like), the kitchen floor that needs repair because of a dishwasher leak we've just discovered, the few loose outlets and missing towel racks, the massive furniture of the tenant that dwarfs each room, the scum left in a sink that hasn't been scrubbed down, and the carpets that need to be cleaned. To the uninspired buyer, it doesn't make any difference that as soon as the tenant moves out, all of these defects will be fixed. Prospective buyers also see the cracks in the walls of our unfinished basement and unfortunately they don't have a civil engineer with them (reason #152 why I married Kraig) to let them know this is typical for Michigan basements, and that there are no structural issues, nor are there leaks or mold. Little consideration is given to the solid roof, the energy-saving windows, three-year-old sink faucet and dishwasher, or the two-year-old microwave and stove. New water heater? Who cares? The furniture takes up too much space and the tenant's packing boxes are beside the front door. This house "does not show well."

I feel like crying a bit--or fuming.

I think of the home we bought in Texas last year, and all of its idiosyncrasies. It has a lot more work that needs to be done than our Michigan home will ever need, but I love it. We are friends with the woman who grew up in that house, and I learned about her parents building it, and a little about their lives there. Neighbors speak of the previous owners with fondness, and we reap the pecans from the trees planted by them. There are so many stories we will never know, but it is a home that was consecrated by love. It is also full to the brim with potential, and in our first year there we have already stocked it with new stories. Rooms are slowly given a fresh coat of paint, windows will be replaced, kitchens and bathrooms updated. It will take time, but in the process we will live and love and work, and sometimes pull our hair out with frustration. This is life. Homes require work.

When I look at our home in Michigan, I see its lovely qualities and all of the layers of memories.

I see the way the light pours through the many windows even on gray January days.

I admire the sunset through the kitchen window, and the view of my neighbor Barb's gorgeous perennial garden through the bay window in the dining area.

I remember Keren and Ev playing on the floor in the kitchen while we worked to get the house move-in ready in the winter of 2008. The only room in the house that didn't need paint and carpet was the kitchen, so that became the safe zone while we worked. Clare, at two, helped paint...a little! I remember writing Philippians 4:6-8 on our plywood floors before the new carpet was laid and believing every word of it even in the struggles. I still hold those words close.

I remember family parties.

I remember our final Christmas there with Keren, when Jon was just beginning to be a new family dream.

I remember the cold, snowy January day when my sister Carrie watched Clare and Ev and I rushed Keren to the hospital, not knowing she would never come back to that home. I remember the house full of family and friends surrounding us with so much love in those months that followed, and the dance between pain and joy as we grieved Keren, but laughed over Clare and Ev's antics, and looked forward to Jon's arrival.

Keren's dogwood
I remember bringing Jon home and the joy of watching him grow and seeing the new shape that our family took with all of its complexity.

I remember the pleasure we had in forming our vegetable garden, and how each spring our neighbor, Barb, would hand me some perennials and say, "I'm splitting these, so feel free to plant them. They bloom at such-and-such point in the summer."

I remember the first days of school for each kid, the playdates with friends, and the neighborhood tribe of kids that played around our court and through our backyards.

I remember the slow process God took Kraig and I through toward a new life, a life that would take our family from this dear home to a sunny apartment and new friends in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then two years later, to a shady, rambling ranch house in Longview, Texas. I know now the hope and prayer that we will be in Texas for a long time.

Our new home in Texas
Life is an adventure, and our houses are a part of that. They are integral to our lives, whether we live alone or have big, crazy families that fill spaces to the limit. But houses are what we make of them; they are not simply what they appear on the surface. They are so much more than a limited first impression. They are homes.

We're praying that a family will walk into our home and realize that, not just because we want to sell the house, but because we want others to have the chance to build beauty there.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Truth of the Matter

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie...
~Romans 1:25a

"What is truth?" Pilate asked Jesus. It's a question that has echoed down through the ages, and still confounds people today. My high school English teacher often challenged us to ask ourselves, "Is it truth with a capital 'T' or lowercase?" Is it absolute truth, or is it relative? That's an even more difficult question in our culture now where absolutes are shouted down absolutely. We are encouraged to be tolerant toward all...unless someone's conviction doesn't permit acceptance of all views. It's an impossible weight to carry, and at times it seems like the world is fracturing under the stress of it. This past year has been the worst I've seen, and I've found myself shaken when I've discovered many of my truths are at odds with friends and family whose beliefs and values I've trusted. I do believe there is Truth with a capital 'T', God's Truth, but I have to be careful to define it on His terms and not my own. 

Recently Kraig and I started watching the series The Man in the High Castle. Its premise is an alternate history 1962 in a world where Germany under Hitler won World War II. The eastern United States is now part of the Reich, and the Pacific States have been ceded to Japan; an uneasy alliance exists between Japan and the Reich, and a stranger relationship has developed between the former Americans and their captors. The story is intriguing and unnerving, obviously because the thought of the United States under an ideology like the Reich is horrible to imagine, but also because there are so many plot points that reflect realities that are in our own world today.

One of the most disturbing characters is Obergruppenführer John Smith, an American-born high-ranking official of the Reich in New York. Though he was born before the war he is, at least as far as we've gotten, completely loyal to the aging Hitler and the ideology of the Reich with its fierce anti-semitism and annihilation of anyone who doesn't fit the Aryan model. He is ruthless, and would be impossible to sympathize with in any way if he did not have a family which he obviously loves, particularly his teenage son, Thomas. 

(For those who haven't seen the show and hope to, the following bit is something of a spoiler, though I have no idea how it's going to play out as the seasons continue. I'll leave the decision to go on up to you.)

In an episode 8 of the first season, Smith takes his son to the doctor to check out a strained wrist. After the appointment, the doctor privately pulls Smith into his office and reveals that Thomas is in the early stages of a terminal congenital disorder. In the scene, Smith is visibly shaken, and I remember thinking, Whoa, this will make him more human! Smith asks the doctor if they can get a second opinion.

"You have that option" the doctor replies. "But you should be aware that if he is submitted to others for examination this would become an institutional issue."

"Oh, I see. Yes, of course," Smith responds, flustered out of his typical reserve. 

What? I thought. That's not an option! And it hit me that under a totalitarian system, there wouldn't be the freedom to privately seek other opinions, particularly in a system where illness was seen as imperfection to be eradicated.

But the scene didn't end there. The doctor counsels Smith that he and his wife can treat their son at home (quietly and behind the scenes, I thought, to get around regulations). Then the doctor pushes a syringe and ampule across his desk to the dazed father. 

"As for medical assistance..." he says, describing the ingredients: morphine, scopolamine, and prussic acid. 

And finally the full truth of what was going on in the scene sank in. The "medical assistance" was death. In the Reich, there was no room for disabilities or long-term care for anyone terminally ill. They had to be terminated. They were a drag on society, or worse, a blight. Later that evening in the same episode, Smith flips through an old photo album of he and his brother. His wife looks over his shoulder reminiscing and speaks of how she wished she had had siblings and the great relationship like what he had had with his brother. "Seeing your brother like that, it must of broken your father's heart," she says, revealing to the audience that Smith's brother must have died of the same disease Thomas has. Then, in complete contradiction to her own logic regarding the joy of siblings, and in oblivion to the truth she says, "Well at least now, when someone is terribly ill, they're not allowed to suffer. That's a blessing."

I was still mentally reeling over the sight of that bottle and ampule. This was not an alternate history. Oregon already has its doctor-prescribed death-in-a-bottle for terminal patients. Colorado and California passed similar laws in their November votes. It's not our policy-makers who voted in these laws, it is "we the people." We don't have the excuse of a dictator with a hit-list against anyone who doesn't fit his ideal of humanity. In our country, the arguments seem to run along the lines that these prescribed suicides are for overall "health" in a  way--family health, society's health, the removal of an individual's suffering. We should not allow suffering. We should not create an economic drag on society. All the while we move blindly into a new Reich where prescribed death is acceptable and cheap, while actively researching potential cures and caring for those who are weak and suffering, and learning from them in the process, is seen as an impediment to cultural advancement.

Eight years ago today, our daughter Keren died. During the course of her life, from before she was born to the day she died, and since, she had purpose and significance. This wasn't just because we loved her, but because we saw that every piece of her Trisomy 18, genetically-flawed, body had been given to us by a God we loved and trusted. She was not a curse; she was not an object of suffering; we were not heart-broken by her brokenness. We were transformed by her existence. We grieve her death, but it is not grief without hope.

In addition to our own walk, throughout her life we were surrounded by family, friends, doctors, and teachers who were there for us and for her. They sought ways for her to reach her full potential. No doctor or teacher could really state her full potential with "facts" because in this world where we can help the sick, people are continually seeking to discover things about our bodies and about diseases. There is always the possibility of a cure. It is only in a world where suffering is considered unacceptable, life expendable, and death preferable that nothing will be done to improve it. 

We have a choice. We can go with the current flow and accept the "truth" that suffering is unacceptable and that there are certain people who disrupt things by their flawed existence, or we can stand against it by holding those who are suffering and learning together what true love really is. Yes, the world is broken, but it is God's Truth that it will be made new, and in a small, faithful way, we can be a part of that restoration.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Finding the Light Side

Written Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here we are back in the States and once again on the verge of Halloween. Buckets of candy are looming, costumes, and today--carving pumpkins. Two years ago, our first fall in Guadalajara, we had to think through their Día de los Muertos and while we heard that trick-or-treating happened, we had no where to go for it. We ended up skipping costumes (which was fine by me) and per a friend's suggestion we gave each kid some money to choose their own candy from the store.

Last Halloween, our second year in Guadalajara, our friends the Smiths lived in a gated community where trick-or-treating happened. The kids cobbled together costumes and we went out with the Smith's son, Luke. It was Luke's first time ever trick-or-treating and it took us a house or two before we realized there was a song we were supposed to sing in order to get candy. Mexico is happy to take on other countries' traditions, but they're going to put their own twist on them. Whatever the case, great enjoyment was had by all.

This year's crew: Sapphire Girl, Obiwan Kenobi, & Owl Girl
Some folks are able to track down pumpkins to carve, but we never got that far. Because of this the kids were thrilled to get pumpkins this year, and this afternoon we had a carving party. The kids are definitely growing up because I didn't have to do much beyond cutting off the top of the pumpkins and digging out the final bits of the innards. I did end up helping Jon, but mostly because the concept of negative space was new to him and he almost cut his pumpkin's giant mouth in reverse.

Once the kids found their groove, I wandered the yard picking up pecans. They planned and worked and eventually songs broke out, and ballads were sung to the "brains" of the pumpkins, the stringy orange strands lined with seeds. Ev eventually lapsed into Spanish and sang, "Me gusta tus naranjas, con mi amor"* in convincing tones. It certainly moved me to tears of laughter.

Three jack o' lanterns now grace our porch waiting for their darkness to be turned to light tomorrow night. As Clare aptly put it, "The only way to make the pumpkins truly bright is to take out their brains." We have succeeded.

* "I like your oranges, with my love."

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Pulling It All Together

Written Saturday, October 29, 2016

We've done certain things to make this house homey. The kitchen is in order and functioning, the dining table accessible. The family room and library are inviting. All of the books are at hand--this is extremely important.

Decorations are, on the other hand, a little random. Of course, I suppose they always have been. My mom likes to say she decorates in "Early Eclectic" and I've taken after her in that. Our couch is a hand-me-down originally from my mom's mom. The dining table was a wedding gift from my grandmother and actually new (when we got married, twenty-one years ago), but the chairs were from my dad's side and are probably going on 100 years old. We have paintings painted by Kraig's grandmother, kids' art projects, garage sale finds, and lots and lots of trinkets from around the world.

Right now the trinkets are a complete hodgepodge. They are primarily the items I came across first when unpacking and actually had a place for. Since a lot of the house isn't organized yet, and even the core isn't completely put together. Many things are still packed away. So right now our fireplace mantle has a set of shi shi dogs from China, an angel figurine which was a gift from our neighbors in Michigan, a candle holder from Guadalajara, a pot Ev made from clay at Guachimontones in Mexico, a china plate from Kraig's grandparents (I think), a mini pumpkin Clare got at a fall festival last week, and a carved turtle--probably from Kenya. Don't even get me started on what's in our China cabinet.

Sometimes I look at the hodge lodge and wonder if it will ever come together in a harmonious whole. I see those home design programs and wish I could have a room or two with that kind of unity. But then I look at the things we have and all the history, places, and memories attached to them and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Now...if we could just get a few pictures up. There's always room for improvement.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Zoo Trip

Animals found!
Today we visited Caldwell Zoo which is in Tyler, Texas, a little less than an hour from us. We met up there with my new friend Jenn and her two kids and spent a productive few hours socializing and discovering certain animals from different parts of the world. Jenn's kids have just finished a biology unit on animals and she'd made up a animal scavenger hunt which my kids were able to join in on. Great excitement on all sides.

The Caldwell Zoo isn't a big city zoo, but it's pretty and well-kept and the right size for a few hours. I that a good selection of animals, especially birds. Their macaws are magnificent as well as chatty.

Sadly, the elephant exhibit was under construction so we didn't get to enjoy those pachyderms, but their two black bears and white tiger were impressive. I loved the Texas Longhorns, but the kids' favorite place was an enclosure filled with small birds, primarily parakeets and cockatoos, where you're given a little stick coated in bird seed and the birds flock to you to get some.

There's something so refreshing about a nice zoo. Animals are always interesting and great for conversation. Even alligators lounging in the shallows and a rat snake muscling its way up a wall are worth taking the time to watch. And, I don't know, but maybe a parakeet is the pet we should get...or maybe a squirrel monkey :) . Think Kraig might go for it?

Friday, October 28, 2016

International Flavor

I think I'd go a little stir crazy if I lived in a completely monocultural community. Having grown up in a missionary family, and being married to a fellow missionary kid has certainly formed my viewpoint, but there it is. Throughout our lives our homes have had people in and out who come from different countries, or have worked in other parts of the world, or who are from other parts of the country. In our home the world is never small...and yet you never know when you'll run into someone who knows someone you know.

Of course, sometimes one needs to search a little for the multicultural. Canton, Michigan, is incredibly diverse culturally, but even there there are pockets of folks who were born and raised in Southeast Michigan, and so were their parents and grandparents. In Guadalajara we were the unusual ones. Naturally we met a lot of others not from Guadalajara, but the overall culture is not diverse. Here in Longview there are generations of folks who have lived here, like one of the librarians who told me she thought Longview was one of the beautiful places in the world though she's never actually lived anywhere else.

For us, though, Longview is multicultural. For one thing there's the large Hispanic contingent which often make me feel I haven't really left Mexico. And then at LeTourneau there are staff and students from all over the globe. The prof wives I met hail from all over, which makes for a great mix. And then one of the moms I've connected with through the homeschool group is Russian. She and her son who's Jon's age were over this afternoon and it was so fun to talk food and culture and world with her.   And of course, Longview itself is a new culture for our family, so we can be the strange newbies for a while...or forever!