90 years young

This last weekend we celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. She has commented several times over this past year that she never believed she would live this long.

So how’s she doing? Well, in many ways she’s doing quite well. Yes, she has some aches and pains–especially in her left knee. She’s using a walker to get around–but she’s still getting around. She’s living in her own apartment in a care facility and is still able to get where she needs to go and visits with many of her friends who also live there.

Mentally she’s losing some of her sharpness. It’s not obvious if you just have a brief conversation with her, but if you talk very long, you’ll discover you’re having the same conversation several times–and each time is the first for her. She doesn’t keep all her stories straight, and sometimes she’s not sure who we’re talking about, even if it’s someone she’s known for 50+ years. And we have to call to to remind her of upcoming events–and when we’re picking her up.

But she still is quite a game player–we play Rook regularly on Monday nights with her and her 92-year-old sister-in-law.

I get frustrated sometimes with the issues we have to deal with, and yet I think that she’s doing incredibly well at 90 years old.

We had a lot of family and friends present for the celebrations. Yes, there were two celebrations! One was a family lunch at one of Mom’s past-favorite restaurants–a Chinese restaurant. We had a private room, and we partially closed the door because we got to laughing so hard at stories and memories we were sharing with each other. The waiters also enjoyed our enjoyment–and honored Mom as well.

Then later in the afternoon we had an open house at the Groves (where she lives) so that her friends could come by and share in cake and memories. So many people came by that we had to send someone on an emergency run for additional cake!

90 years…can you imagine the changes she’s seen? It almost boggles my mind!

And so…happy birthday to someone who’s 90 years young and…as my dad would have said…is beginning her 91st year. May you enjoy it as much as you’ve enjoyed the past 90!

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Truth…the whole truth…

I’ve been disappointed the last couple of days because of the allegations that surfaced on 60 Minutes related to Greg Mortenson and his books (Three Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools) and his foundation’s use of the money he’s raised.

Any time someone has as high a profile as he does–and captures the public’s imagination–there is the possibility (probability?) that someone will start digging to make sure things are exactly as they say they are. I also know that memory is not always as accurate as we would like to pretend it is…and sometimes when we revisit events that happened a number of years ago, stories can get jumbled.

I heard Greg Mortenson speak about a year ago–and I was impressed. I appreciated the way he interacted with children; his passion for education–especially for girls–and his encouragement for it as a way of changing societies was exciting; the stories of his experiences in Pakistan were challenging.

These allegations are troubling, and I am not sure where the truth lies. Perhaps somewhere inbetween…I don’t know. I hope that the situation becomes clarified…but I also hope that we do not throw his challenges aside. The challenge to provide education to those who would otherwise have little or no chance of being able to change their lives and their societies is still valid–still important.

Perhaps another challenge for each of us is to judge wisely–not in the context of condemnation, but in determining the wisest and best use of our resources. And…to be honest in our telling of our stories.

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?

I’ve been thinking the last few days about what used to be called the “art” of listening.

There’s a lot of talking going on today, but I’m not sure there’s much listening…real listening.

There’s a song in the musical 1776 that for various reasons over the last few years really resonated with me. It’s titled “Is Anybody There?”

Sometimes I wonder if anybody is there…if anybody cares. “Discussions” on so many topics–so many levels–seem to be nothing more than hot air being spewed out with nobody listening, because everyone has their minds already made up. I know, that’s an exaggeration…but just think about it for a minute.

In the United States we narrowly avered a recent government shutdown over budget discussions. Neither side would give, because both “knew” they were right. We still don’t have the budget situation settled–and “discussions” sound more like politicking statements.

Abortion is another hot-button issue that doesn’t seem to get beyond harsh name-calling. I don’t know any woman who finds making a decision about an abortion an easy choice–nor is the reality of what that decision means easy to accept, but I don’t hear an acknowledgement of any of that from some of the rhetoric. There are occasional blessings when people on both sides of the issue come together to work out ways of reducing abortions. It hasn’t happened very often, but when it does, past prejudices have been put aside to find ways of meeting a common goal.

Currently there is a lack of discussion on issues of sexuality. Individuals–and organizations–seem to have their positions staked out as to morality or immorality, and individual faces and stories are lost in the heated words.

How can we get beyond this impasse? How can we learn to truly listen to each other and hear what each other is saying, rather than what we think they are saying?

We have to see each other as real people…people struggling with difficult issues, who are doing the best they know how. None of us have the complete answers; it is only when we are willing to hear each other’s stories that we can put faces with issues…that we can begin to understand each other’s concerns and perspectives…and it is only then that we can begin to reclaim the art of listening in ways that will allow us to work together toward solutions.

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?

Silence…my friend

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…. We need silence to be able to touch souls.
~Mother Teresa

You can hear the footsteps of God when silence reigns in the mind.
~Sri Sathya Sai Baba

I just returned from our annual silent retreat…a weekend of silence.

Some of my friends panic at the thought of spending that much time in silence. “What do you do?” “You mean, you don’t talk at all??”

While there are opportunities for doing several things during the weekend, more important for me is the opportunity to be and be with…to spend intentional quiet time with God…to turn off my internal “have to do” list and let my prayers move from monologues to conversations.

I am a Type A personality, so sometimes this is hard for me. It takes me several hours before my mind quits running through everything I’ve left behind (and that will be waiting for me when I get back)…to let go of my agenda, and let the weekend with God be what God wants it to be.

Sometimes I feel God in the breeze that blows… Sometimes I see God in a small violet flower…in the stillness of the lake…in the beauty of a flying goose…in the faces of my fellow retreat companions. Sometimes I hear God in the calls of the birds…in the sound of the thunder…

And sometimes I sense God sharing with me in words that I can understand—words that I might not hear under “normal” circumstances because there is too much noise, both external and internal.

When I come back home, I promise both God and myself that I will take more intentional quiet time to spend together. And for a while I do. But then the call of work, family…and the thousand other “to-do’s” sound their siren call, and I let the noise build up again.

Some year—this year—I will change! I will take that time so that when next year’s retreat comes around, it won’t be a “Whew! It’s time to slow down again!” kind of moment….but it will be an opportunity to extend what I am already doing.

Silence is like a river of grace inviting us to leap unafraid into its beckoning depths. It is dark and mysterious in the waters of grace. Yet in the silent darkness we are given new eyes. In the heart of the divine we can see more clearly who we are. We are renewed and cleansed in this river of silence. There are those among you who fear the Great Silence. It is a foreign land to you. Sometimes it is good to leap into the unknown. Practice leaping.
~Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses

I hate moving!

Actually, maybe it’s not the actual moving that I hate as much as it is the organizing, packing, moving “stuff” from the old place to the new one, unpacking, figuring out where to put everything, getting rid of the packing materials…

And maybe…just maybe…the problem is that I have too much “stuff.”

While moving is a great opportunity of going through the “stuff” and getting rid of what no longer fits…or is wanted…or needed, why did I collect so much in the first place??

I know that some of it is things I used to use. But if I don’t do a lot of entertaining any more, do I really need all the dishes and cookware that made that possible?

While we’re still between houses, we’re doing much of our cooking and living at the new one–and I’m discovering that we could actually get along quite nicely with probably about half the kitchen stuff I’ve had. I already know that there are some dishes I’m going to let go of…wondering just how much more I can release.

Clothing is another matter. I keep thinking about–and think I’m actually going to put into practice this year!–a way of finding out just what clothes I actually do wear. If I put a safety pin in every item and then take it out when I wear it, that should let me know which of my clothes are needed…and which are just taking up space.

Books…don’t even get me started on them! I love books…even ones I haven’t read in a long time. But when we moved, it was time to figure out which ones I really want to keep. There’s a big pile I’m letting go of–mostly because I can access them easily from the library. But oh, it was hard! Kind of like letting go of old friends.

I just read a blog about clearing out clutter. Sounds good–I’d like to really do it. It’s just so much easier not to even let the stuff come in the door, because once it’s in my house, it’s like it takes up residence and clings to me for dear life when I’m trying to tell it “Good-bye.”

So maybe what I hate really isn’t moving…but the fact that the move tells me where my treasure and heart are–and it’s not where I really want them to be. Wake-up call!

Being in the forefront?

I had a letter from my brother yesterday that made me sad.

He came out several years ago. It was a difficult process in many ways, and in the course of it, a number of relationships were either severed completely or broken to the point that reconciliation–while possible–may take many more years.

But as we shared in his wedding–during those few months that was possible in California–and as I’ve watched him and his husband, I’ve seen him happier than he’s been in years…more comfortable in his own skin and with acknowledging who he is.

One thing is missing, though…a church community that welcomes him.

We grew up intimately involved with the leadership of our faith community. They were our extended family–a couple of them literally so, but the rest of them simply by relationship. They were people we would have trusted with anything.

In 1974, our church was given guidance that said “You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons and are committed to bringing the ministry of my Son to bear on their lives.” Quite a challenge!

I was excited about it, especially since it came at a time when we had been dealing with a significant issue in the church about baptism. We had made a decision, one that did not please everyone, but one that did just what that statement challenged us to do–to recognize the worth of persons and to share the ministry of Jesus Christ. In the long run, the rightness of that decision bore fruit.

Challenges continued to come…and we eventually began to ordain women, a practice that was opened through divine guidance. Again, it wasn’t a decision that pleased everyone, but it was the right one–and in the long run has proven to be right and of value. But we weren’t particularly in the forefront in that decision. Other faith traditions had begun ordaining women several years before we did.

And now we’re dealing with another challenge–issues of sexuality. Can we…should we….ordain LGBT folks who are either celibate or in committed relationships? Can God…does God…really call them to ministry?

Unfortunately (at least in my view), for several years, we’ve said that they can be called to ministry if celibate (though often that doesn’t happen)–but not if they are in a committed relationship, even if it is a legal marriage. Nor are our ministers allowed to perform those marriages, even in places where it is legal.

We have talked a lot about the worth of all persons…that God does the calling to ministry…of our challenge to be in the forefront of living that out. But in many ways it’s just words.

I think that eventually we will stop treating LGBT folk as second-class citizens in the church…but when? And my brother’s final sentence speaks to that question–and is what pained me. He said, “I hope for a change in the church acceptance of homosexuality.   But for many of us it will have come too late….and will speak more of inevitability than of the leadership we had hoped for.”

Being in the forefront isn’t easy…and as we struggle with what it means, there will be legitimate disagreements between individuals who have different experiences and understandings of God. But oh….what ministries and blessings we have missed because of our unwillingness to journey in faith! God calls to ministry–that I believe with all my heart. But what roadblocks we can put in the way of some of those who are called…roadblocks instead of bridges.