Thursday, January 28, 2021

Dates



This morning the kids and I watched a feature about the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Today was the thirty-fifth anniversary of its explosion.  The feature showed old grainy footage of the explosion and the kids watched wide-eyed…and I remembered.  I didn’t see the explosion live, but I remember where I was the day it happened.  I remember hearing about it in Mrs. Balconi’s eighth grade U. S. History class and our hubbub of discussion and shock after we’d heard about it. 

Thirty-five years ago today!  It’s strange to look back and realize that when it happened it seemed a momentous date in my personal history, but in reality I’d completely forgotten the date.  Days and years erased the exact point on the calendar, and when our daughter Keren died twelve years ago today I didn’t once connect it to the Challenger explosion.  I wonder if next year I’ll remember. 


My dad loves to connect people and events with dates.  It’s not unusual for him to say on the occasion of someone’s birthday, “Did you know that on this date in —year, so-and-so died?” Or, “This was the same day that we headed to the Philippines in 1977.” (Actually, I don’t know what date that was, and what other events might have happened on that date.  Dad?  Want to fill me in? 😀 ).  The older I get, the more I see these overlaps and connections, and yet I forget the specific dates.


January has a fair share of depressing dates.  Back in the ‘80s, before the shuttle explosion, January was marked by my grandfather’s death.  I think it was a year after we lost Keren that the daughter of family friends was killed in a car accident.  Two years after she died, on the same date, one of my friends from church lost her husband to cancer.  Two years ago the young son of a colleague of Kraig’s died suddenly and unexpectedly.  That same January or the one after the grown son of family friends died leaving behind a wife and young kids.  And then on January 14 of this year another friend back in Michigan tragically lost her sixteen-year-old son.  My friend will never forget the significance of January 14.


Yet I probably will forget that particular date.  I can’t tell you what the date was when most of those other January tragedies occurred.  I just know they happened in January.  I probably wouldn’t even remember the month if Keren hadn’t died in January.  It makes me a little sad that my brain can be so traitorous to forget exact moments that were life-changing to friends and loved ones.  I want to remember with them, and comfort them.


But dates on the calendar are about as concrete as minutes on a clock.  We see them on paper and on a clock face, but they aren’t really things.  The memories themselves, though, are real, and they stick.


And I remember that there are beautiful things that happened in cold January as well as the sorrowful losses.  I remember a bitter winter morning early in the month when Keren was only three months old and had just gotten through her first cold.  The house was packed with family over the holidays because none of us knew how long Keren would live, and all wanted to be with us and her.  Kraig and I were exhausted from sleepless nights of trying to feed Keren and making sure she was breathing okay.  That morning, though, the house was silent.  Everyone had gone to church and I stayed home with Keren.  She was resting in her bassinet, and I leaned over to look at her, and she looked up and smiled at me—her first, true smile.  I will never forget the way the room filled with light.


I remember the day Keren died, the snow falling on snow, driving after the ambulance that carried her to the hospital when I didn’t know if she was still alive.  I remember glancing out at a field and seeing the sun pierce through the clouds and send a ray down, illuminating the white with radiance.  


I remember the following year when we welcomed family and friends, Keren’s teachers, and some of her classmates and their parents, and we celebrated the memory of Keren and how she had touched all of our lives.  It was another frigid January day in Michigan and the sun filled the house with light.  Children dashed among the adults, and laughter rang through the rooms.


I remember January in Guadalajara when we remembered Keren’s heaven-day for the first time in a home far from Michigan, and how it didn’t seem so hard because everything was new, and the weather was like spring.


I remember January here in Texas and watching the blooms burst open on the magnolia tree outside our dining room window.  This year they’re growing more slowly, but I’m watching the buds increase each day, and I’m looking forward to the exuberant pink that will soon explode from the fuzzy green-gray pods.  


I probably will never be as skillful as my dad at remembering the dates.  Thankfully, though, God continues to give the memories.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Light in the dark


A few Sundays ago we sang Christina Rossetti’s classic carol:

In the bleak mid-winter

Frosty wind made moan;

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.

This year those words fell more solidly than usual.  Even though we live in Texas where snow doesn’t fall on snow, water isn’t like stone, and the earth isn’t as hard as iron, I know what that kind of winter is like.  Rossetti’s words capture the bitterness of it.  


Of course, even as we sang the niggle of Real History nipped at me.


“You do realize Jesus probably wasn’t born in the midst of winter,” said Real History.  “And even if he was, the weather of a Judean countryside isn’t exactly like England in December where Rossetti penned these words.”


This year, though, Real History didn’t hang around long.  The words and the images of the song were too strong, especially as I looked toward the front of the sanctuary where the Advent candles flickered, beating back the dark of 2020.  


After all, there’s a reason why early believers decided to place Christ’s birth at the darkest point of the year.  There are times when metaphor is necessary to convey truth.


This year Kraig, the kids, and I created our own advent wreath.  It’s nothing fancy, and we didn’t go by a traditional color scheme.  We lit each of the candles at the right points in the Advent season, but we didn’t do traditional readings.  Instead, we simply lit them with the word reminders for each week:  Hope.  Peace.  Joy.  Love.  Christ.


It turned out those words were what I needed this year.  I could focus on those single words without the paraphernalia and busyness of the Christmas season.  I’ve returned to them as more and more of the world seems to unravel in this dark year of 2020.  They have been lights in the dark.


I keep hearing talk about how 2020 is almost over.  It’s as if something magical is expected to happen on the stroke of midnight January 1, 2021.  As a result, I’ve found I’m mentally preparing for what I know to be true:  There won’t be a big change.  We’ll still be dealing with the fallout of 2020 and working to move forward.  I’m not trying to be cynical, just realistic.  


The problem is, despite my realistic take I have to fight my tendency to live in anticipation of the next thing to come crashing down, because bad things keep happening.  On the Sunday before Christmas another unexpected piece broke when our church leadership announced that a beloved pastor in the church had resigned due to moral failing.  In the midst of the shock and grief, the quiet disillusioned voice whispered, “Of course.  You didn’t expect everything to keep going well in your church, did you?”


But it’s already not been “well.”  The thing is, I thought the “not well” was only the upheaval of 2020 with diverse responses to Covid.  That has been upsetting enough.  It’s hard to come week after week and not know if acquaintances have disappeared because they’re attending online, or if they’ve pulled up and moved somewhere else.  When I know someone is gone I wonder why, and I wonder how I will talk to them when I see them, or if I should ask them about their decision.  I thought that was the extent of the navigating.  


With this latest blow, I’ve realized we’ll be entering 2021 with even more to work through.  There will be much deeper wounds that need care and more healing needed than dealing with losing friends.  Kraig and I have been through turbulence before in other churches, and we aren’t going anywhere now.  Our default response to upheaval is to latch on as tightly as we can and navigate through it.  We’re praying that we can do that alongside our church and our pastor who’s resigned and his family.  


So yeah, no magic solution to the darkness of 2020 will occur as we slip into 2021.  Rather, the way seems to get murkier and crazier.  The earth is as hard as iron, the frosty wind moans.  The snow is pretty at first, but as it piles, and the skies turn to lead, and the paths grow crusted and icy, it’s hard to keep trekking.  


This is the point when I look at the candle flame:


“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~John 1:5 ESV


Christ is the light.  He has come.  He is here.  He will come again.  


The darkness will not overcome him.  


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Peacemaking and Another Post

 Happy Thanksgiving!

I know this is a crazy year, but I can't help but say there is reason for thanks even when my camellias bloom a vibrant pink just as everything else is turning brown, red, and gold.  I wrote a post contemplating this and other thoughts that my friend Alicia posted today on her blog, Stories of Yearning, as part of another collaborative project she put together.  

Good thing she creates these projects or apparently I'd never post!  Back in August she published an excerpt from a book I've written.  That story was a part of her Summer of Faerie project, and I managed to get two posts done for that 😁.  Here's the link to that story: The Decision

May you be encouraged!



Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Case in Point

July 1, 1995
Twenty-five years ago today, July 1, 1995, Kraig and I got married. We looked at each other this morning and said, “A quarter of a century? Really?”

When we sat down to breakfast this morning, I thought I’d get nostalgic. 

“Someday,” I said to Kraig and the kids, “we should pull out the DVD of our wedding and watch it.” 

“You have a recording?” the kids asked, jaws dropped.

“Of course!” Then I paused. “Well, yes, there’s a video recording, and I’m pretty sure we’ve got it on DVD….”

“Yep, that was before digital recording,” Kraig said. “It was analog.”

“What’s the difference between digital and analog?” Clare asked.

That was all it took to desert nostalgia. For the rest of breakfast we had an in-depth discussion and analysis of how digital recording works vs. analog. Kraig, of course, did most of the technical breakdown. I added a few examples (“This is why vinyl recordings are becoming more popular again—seamless sound.”), but for the most part I listened and mentally sat back and pondered how I could translate this breakfast discussion into a blogpost celebrating Kraig and my twenty-five years of marriage. It was a perfect example of one of the things I love about being married to Kraig, but in a way it’s a picture of our married life—lots of unexpected twists.

When Kraig and I married, we had plans—naturally! We were missionary kids who had loved that experience, and we wanted to go overseas ourselves. Kraig wanted to teach overseas and was in the process of getting his degree in civil engineering. I had a degree in secondary education and planned to get a master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages. For the first years of our marriage we worked on those degrees, with Kraig moving into a master’s and then a doctorate. I taught secondary education for a few years, and then tutored international professionals in the Detroit area.

About five years into married life we thought it’d be great to start having kids. Despite experiencing plenty of shifts in our lives growing up, I think this was the first time we came face-to-face with the truth that life doesn’t always go the way you plan.  We had two miscarriages in 2001, and suddenly parenthood took on a greater significance. We realized we didn’t just want to have kids, we wanted to be parents and to raise kids and create a family. When we got pregnant with Keren in 2002, we were thrilled…only to have our world shaken again when we learned prenatally that she might not survive birth. But God had prepared us. Her life had significance and worth it might not have had if we hadn’t miscarried before. Keren was born with Trisomy 18, but she was ours, and God had given her to us for as long as he planned, and that was all that mattered. 

Summer 2008
With Keren in our life and all of the doctors, therapists, and special education needs her life required, our life-plan changed. We no longer planned to head overseas. My life shifted into being a mom, even more-so when Clare and Evie joined our family in the following years. Kraig completed his doctorate, and did some teaching locally, but moved into a consulting firm. He saw the need to get practical experience in his field; the health insurance package didn’t hurt, either. We grew together, learned together. We watched how our family, church, and school friends came alongside us and loved all of us. As we lived with Keren and saw her love us, we discovered new depths to what God means by unconditional love. 

And then January 28, 2009 dawned, and Keren left us, and our world shifted again. In the midst of our grief, God gave us joy. I was about thirteen weeks along with Jon when Keren died, and my doctor, looking at that early ultrasound, predicted he was a boy. It was as if God said, “I’m not replacing Keren—she will always be unique in your lives. I am giving you something new.” Again family and friends surrounded us and loved us. We moved with the shifting, grieved, and laughed, and changed.

With Keren’s death, Kraig and I were faced with another question: Did this mean we should look at the possibility of going overseas again? It was a hard question, because in some ways it was as if we were setting aside our life that we’d had with Keren. It’s extremely strange to be a parent of a special needs child for six-and-a-half years and then suddenly have a “regular” family with no outside indication that we’d ever been different. By leaving our home and roots in Michigan, we left everyone who had known Keren and us when we had her. That was a tough choice.

Yet God opened the doors, and in July of 2014 we stepped off the plane with our family in Guadalajara, Mexico, into a new life and a whole new career for Kraig. The initial one-year visiting professor contract was extended to two, with hope of more years. Our first year was difficult, to say the least. I’ve written about some of that before—Kraig was exhausted with new work, the kids struggled with culture shock and change, and I struggled with, well, wanting to love what we were experiencing, but actually hating much of it. By the second year, though, we found our stride and as friendships grew and work life and home life settled, we looked forward to a longer time…only for the university to upend its hiring plan and structure, which meant it was impossible for us to continue there….

What we knew clearly by the end of those two years was that Kraig wanted to continue teaching. What we didn’t know was where. Would we move to another country? Would we be back in the United States? It was fascinating to watch as God opened the doors for Kraig to teach at LeTourneau, and in the fall of 2016 we settled into life in Longview, Texas. 

I remember our second year here we got some estimates for new windows in our home. One of the assessors asked, “So, you’re planning on living here for a long time?” I cocked my head, puzzling how to answer. We needed new windows. How was this a decision that meant we’d be here longterm? I liked being here. All of us settled into life in East Texas extremely smoothly. I knew I didn’t want to leave. 

But in the years Kraig and I have been married, and in my life in general, being settled in one place has never been the key to our happiness and security. We haven’t even celebrated life events like anniversaries in particularly special ways—anniversaries typically fit around other momentous events. 
On our tenth anniversary we stayed close to home—we had Keren and expected Clare any day.  
On our fifteenth we chose shingles for our new roof. 
On our twentieth anniversary we left Mexico and headed to Michigan for the summer.  
This year, our 25th, we were supposed to go on a cruise to the Baltic with my parents and sisters to celebrate my parents’ 50th, and our 25th and my sister and her husband’s 20th by default. Instead, thanks to the coronavirus, we headed to a quiet family cabin in Pennsylvania to be together. 
To say the least, life hasn’t gone as planned. Everything from children, to career changes, to breakfast conversations has taken detours we haven’t expected. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ll never be fond of change or dramatic, life-changing events, yet I can look forward to the years God has in store for Kraig and me and our family. I will trust God with his plan because every time I look back I can see he has been with us and has helped us grow in him, which is what we want most. 

And I will say, as I said to the window assessor in answer to his question about our living here longterm: “As the Lord wills!”

March 2020








Saturday, June 20, 2020

Another guest post: A fairy tale retold

My friend Alicia is at it again with another fascinating collaboration on her blog, Stories of Yearning. For the past few weeks, a few of us have contributed posts to what she's called "Summer of Faerie." If you have the chance, check out the variety from the past few weeks! Today she posted a fairy tale retelling I wrote. I took the Grimm's Fairy Tale of  'King Thrushbeard," turned it on its head, and set it in East Texas. It was so much fun to pull on things we've experienced in that part of the world--I hope you hop on over and enjoy "Carla and the Prez."

Golden Bitterweed, by David Givens

Monday, June 08, 2020

Precarious or Secure?

Back in February, before the world turned upside down, my daughter Clare painted a picture for our local art museum’s student exhibition. Using watercolors, she painted a pair of hands holding the world. The globe is almost like a soap bubble—slightly transparent, and Clare worked hard to make the hands realistic.

When she first showed it to me she had titled the piece “Earth’s precarious state.” Knowing Clare, and knowing the family culture that surrounds her, I pushed back on her title. 

“Do you mean this seriously or facetiously?” I asked.

“Facetiously, of course!” she said.

In her mind, the earth is not precarious. In her mind, the world is firmly held in a pair of strong hands—God’s hands. The world is secure. 

Clare has been washed with this concept from birth. Both Kraig and I come from Christian families. We believe the Bible is true, that God is Sovereign, that our sins and failures are forgiven because of Christ’s death and resurrection, and we try to live our lives in grateful response to this truth. We also come from missionary families for whom the world has always been a place of wonder, and people from other cultures can teach us a great deal about who we are and how God works in various parts of the world. In addition to these influences, Kraig is a civil engineer who lives and breathes structures and soils, yet he looks at these from a biblical worldview. 

Kraig often sets up this analogy: 

Many people see the world as something balanced on the tip of a finger. It’s spinning away like a basketball, but the slightest shake, shift, or touch will knock it off balance and it will—most likely—fall. This is a predominantly evolutionary view. If everything has been created by chance, one misstep will mean failure rather than success. In this scenario, the environment is a tragedy waiting to happen, and humans are the primary cause of its destruction. 
But there is another paradigm (When Kraig describes this he cups his hands like the ones holding the globe in Clare’s painting). God created the world; he is the first engineer and he knows what he’s doing. He created a system that works together, and though we have horrendous ramifications because of the Fall, the world is still secure in his hands. After all, God knows how to design things so they don’t fall apart. The world wobbles and shifts and changes, but it is held secure in the bowl of God’s hands. It’s not going to fall out. 
Lake Erie, 2018


That’s not to say we just sit back and watch this world turn (and wobble). Our God-given job is to be responsible stewards, both in our care for the environment and our care for each other. I remember my mom talking about Lake Erie in the seventies when it was heavily polluted due to industrial waste. It seemed irrecoverable—it was evidence of humanity’s horrific treatment of the earth. Yet humans took measure, stepped in and made changes, and the lake was restored. I’ve camped by it and have swum in it. Irresponsibility was replaced by good stewardship, and something people thought destroyed was restored. 


The past few months have thrown the world into chaos. The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t an environmental fiasco; if anything it’s a perfect example of natural tragedy that occurs in our fallen world. We have human responses to it, for good or ill. It’s not as clear a fix as Lake Erie, at least from this perspective. Lord willing an effective, safe vaccine will be discovered. But that won’t be the answer to everything. Hundreds of thousands will still have died, our economies will struggle, mayhem will thrive, and life as we have known it will shift. In the past couple weeks, we’ve seen more upheaval as our nation grapples with how we can be just and loving to each other no matter our ethnic roots. The world seems pretty precarious. These days I constantly wonder if I’m doing or saying the right thing. Should I wear a mask? Am I unknowingly spreading contagion? Is it right or wrong to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself? 

I didn’t think I was very stressed, but I realized the other week that my shoulders had knotted and my neck tightened causing a splitting headache. It was a wake-up call that stress was busy working beneath my skin. I have had to step back and mark it for what it is and figure out how to work with it and give it up to God. I have my small sphere of influence, but I am not in control.


Because the world is cupped in God’s hands. We are secure.

"Secure" by Clare Warnemuende

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Life, Writing, and a Guest Post

While it's not clear from my sporadic blog posts, I actually love to write. I can make all kinds of excuses as to why I don't write here more often, but none of them are terribly good, or at all new, so I'll spare you.

However, I did take a step last year which has gotten me writing more. One year ago today I joined a fledgling online writing community called The Habit. It was created by writer and teacher, Jonathan Rogers, who I first met through The Rabbit Room. Over the years I have appreciated his skill at teaching good writing, and his encouragement to those who want to write. I admit I didn't think I could justify joining as a member. I'm a mom, I'm busy teaching the kids and keeping the house in some sort of order--I have not been a consistent writer. Therefore, I figured, I didn't qualify. But one of the items that came with the membership was a "Grammar for Writers" course that I knew would be marvelous for the kids. And obviously, if it's for the kids' educational benefit, it's worth the price, right? 

Well, here I am a year later, and while the kids and I started the "Grammar for Writers" course (which is pretty great, by the way) we haven't finished it. However, I have definitely gotten back into the habit of writing, and have met a slew of lovely people who have been an encouragement and help for me in my writing. They have also challenged me, and given me chances to encourage and challenge them. One of these friends is Alicia Pollard. She has used her blog, Stories of Yearning, as a place for collaboration projects. Last month she asked us to submit posts that had to do with the magic of late winter (yes, there really is beauty there!). My post, "Snow and Flower," just went up yesterday, and I thought you might enjoy reading it along with other posts that have gone up. 

I'd love to say I will start writing here more frequently, but I won't promise that yet. That way you can be pleasantly surprised when I post something.