Sunday, March 26, 2017

Growing in the Valley

A paraglider jumps off Blanchard Mountain into the Skagit Valley in Washington State
"It's in the valley where growth happens." This was part of today's message at church. It's interesting how accurate an illustration it really is when you think about the natural world. The point of saying this was to say that even though pinnacle, mountain top spiritual experiences are awesome, we really grow and can help others grow too in the hard and challenging times.
Atop Oyster Dome on Blanchard Mountain 
When you think about an actual mountain top and a valley ecologically, there isn't a lot of growth that happens high on the mountain. The winds and rains and snows wash away the topsoil and leach the nutrients. As a result, the things that grow there are slow-growing and stunted, resulting in a really beautiful view for anyone who visits up there. It's inspiring and even necessary in life to be able to go somewhere to be energized and to be able to look at things from afar, but after a while, there's not much you can do there. If you were a cedar tree, you couldn't grow tall and strong. If you were a garden, you wouldn't be able to grow.
In Makaha Valley, the place I grew up in Hawaii 
But back down in the valley is where the rains washed all the nutrients and where the silt has collected all the good fertility of the mountain. It's there that you can grow fields of corn or wheat and they will thrive. It might be harder work in the valley because not only will the crops grow, so will all the weeds, but you can remember when you stood on the mountaintop imagining what those fields could look like, and all they could produce, and you are able to carry on.
Makaha Valley Stream 

Makaha Valley 
In the same way, humpback whales give birth to their babies in the safe and clear water of the pacific ocean near Hawaii. It is warm and the weather is good. Mothers can easily nurture their babies, but if they remain there long enough, the mothers will starve to death because they need food and their babies are nursing and taking much from them. There are not rich amounts of plankton and krill to feed them in those clear waters.

Mother and baby make the long, hard journey north to the waters off of Alaska where baby and mom can eat. It's colder and maybe not as beautiful as the clear blue ocean and skies of Hawaii, but it is where they can grow. The mother can teach her baby how to handle storms and avoid predators and they can look out for the other animals that live around them. And then the cycle can begin again with the next generation.

I know I have had lovely times where I seem to visibly recognize the hand of God directing the symphony of my life, but most of the time, stuff seems really normal and hard.

It is comforting to know that the ways God cares for us is directly reflected in the systems he has set in place in nature and that the more I learn about His creation, the more I will understand how he is working in my life. Let us all be reminded to draw on the inspiration gained on the mountaintop and keep up the hard mud-slogging work of living out life in the valley, because that can be really beautiful too.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

On being haole

I think each and every human being on earth has had a joke made at our expense, especially during childhood.  Maybe some kid pulled out the chair from under you in second grade, and you fell flat on your tailbone in embarrassment.  Maybe that kid you had a crush on in the fifth grade took a look at your teeth and declared you to be buck toothed. (yes, these examples are loosely based on my own experiences.) Maybe your kids have experienced the same.  That's the meanness of kids, and we work hard as parents to teach our kids to take the high road and never want to be the parent of the bully.

Have you ever had someone take a look at you, and not see just you, but an entire group of people.... not just that group, but a caricature of that group, or a generalization based on their personal idea of that group?  Again, I'm sure most of us have.  As a Christian, I have had many people deride conservative Christians, and look point blank at me and say, "but not you."  But that's not the generalization that struck deepest.

I was born in American Samoa, the tow-headed daughter of Indiana born and raised caucasian parents.  We moved to Hawaii when I was still a baby, so it has always been my other home, even though I've now lived in the mainland just as long as I lived there.  I was so blonde that tourists from Japan asked to take my picture and my parents saved a copy of National Geographic with a nordic girl on the cover who looked just like me. I'm as white as it gets.

I was raised in a nurturing family on the West Side of O'ahu.  My dad was an elementary school teacher on the Waianae coast and my mom worked in Honolulu as a legal secretary.  I was also very dorky.  I had bunny rabbit teeth and most of the kids at school called me teacher's pet because I liked to get my work done, and sometimes the teacher used it as an example.  I was also very shy.  Kids regularly called me buck tooth, and haole, and many wanted to know when I was going back to the mainland.  I ended up gravitating toward mainland kids, because they were nice to me, but they always moved away.  And there I was.

I had the honor of having a part in the annual May day pageant showing the prince and princesses of each the Hawaiian Islands.  I was cast as a missionary.  I only began to wonder recently if people looked at me in a negative light as walked up beaming with one of the few other white kids in the school.  Hawaii was united in 1795 under a Hawaiian king--Kamehameha, shortly after the first Europeans happened upon the islands.  In the meanwhile, the Hawaiian population was decimated by foreign diseases they had no immunity to.   American missionaries came to share the Christian faith with the people of Hawaii.  Tragically, their children turned from their mission of service and became involved in an overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.  Native Hawaiians were relegated to areas that were less profitable and foreigners took the other land for plantations and business areas.  In 1959, after much fear of invasion by various countries, Hawaii became the 50th state of the Union.

So when one looks back objectively, one can see that of course there would be mistrust of white people.  Even today, the wealthiest areas of the islands tend to be dominated by non-native people.  But you cannot explain this to a shy young child, that a tumultuous and tragic 200 year history with people of European descent may be the reason she feels ostracized.  In fact, the very kids who made the flippant remarks to me based upon my skin most likely did not think much about why they had a disdain for people who looked like me.  It was likely something they overheard that may have been based in very real and painful experiences endured by their family members and friends.  "Haole" is a Hawaiian word that merely refers to the fact that someone is different than you and may come from another land.  Over time, it became a negative, a way to bottle up the anger at injustices endured, and was perpetuated.  I don't think it was ok that people use the word in this way, but I do completely understand it.

The difference between the word "haole" and the kinds of language tossed around by people in the mainland in reference to African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, people who are gay, etc, is that it refers to a person in the position of power.  Although our country was founded on premises of freedom, the undercurrent of imperialism and domination over other cultures and peoples has in recent years again risen to the surface and must be acknowledged, whether we personally perpetuate it or not.  Indeed, if we do not acknowledge it, we take part in its continuing.

I'm reminded of a 1997 song by the Indigo Girls:

"Let's go road block trippin in the
middle of the night up in Gainesville town
There'll be blue lights flashing down the long dirt road when they ask me to step out
They say we be looking for illegal immigrants can we check your car
I say you know it's funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694
I said oo la la
shame on you"

The original european settlers who came to the americas were looking for freedom and a fresh start.  Many came as indentured servants who worked their way to freedom.  Eventually, the human penchant for greed overtook many people in power and the millions of Native Americans who were already here were treated as less than human in order that the kind of treatment they endured could be justified.  The same occurred when slaves were brought from Africa.  The same happened as manifest destiny was carried out and the USA pushed its way across the continent and into surrounding oceans.  The USA was populated with immigrants, some of whom in turn proceeded to suppress for others the very freedoms they were seeking.  Even though the USA no longer continues to expand, we can see in our trade policy, that corporations do not have qualms about taking advantage of impoverished peoples in order to make products for the least cost possible to consumers.  In the same way, undocumented workers and other migrants do the labor jobs that we do not want to do in the farm and service industries, and they are often treated as an annoyance.

How did this happen?  How can you look at a young mother and tell her that she must give up her son for sale?  How do you tell another young mother that she must leave her home walk with her children 1,200 miles on foot to territory you have allocated for her?  How can we ask people to work 18 hours in a factory to build something that is made to break the first day we use it?  How can we be so concerned about healthy living and then ask farm workers to be subject to toxic levels of pesticides?

It happens when we remove ourselves from the consequences of our actions by allowing politicians and corporations to do the dirty work.  It happens when in passing, a comment is made about "those immigrants who just want to live on welfare" and no one taking a moment to check that argument.  It happens when people say they are offended by the gay agenda or black lives matter movement.  It happens when we look at a mass exodus of human beings from repressive government and do not take them into the safety of our land.  It happens when we look at a woman seeking a position of leadership and see her as weak or out of place, and instead choose a man, and it likewise happens when in popular culture we portray men as bumbling and hormone driven.

So if that's how it happens, how does it end?  It ends when we become involved in local politics, from the school district, to the city, the state and beyond.  It happens when we do not understand a group of people and take the time to research the history of that group, and why they may feel so angry, fearful or misunderstood.  It happens when we choose to end the cycle of history by remembering things that happened in times before our great grandparents and vow to fight against them happening again.  It happens when we vote with our dollars, by being aware of what kind of working conditions they support.  It happens when we remember that our children go to school with immigrants and we have family members and friends who are part of the LGBTQ community and when we demand kind and understanding treatment of those people around us.   It happens when women and men partner in leadership, honoring one another in their strengths, and complementing one another in their weaknesses.

It happens when we really see our African American friends, who are likely descended from people who only 150 years ago were traded as property, and fight our hardest so that not one of their grandchildren is ordered to "go back to Africa." It happens when we set aside fears and allow refugees to live among us, and when we smile into the eyes of a person wearing middle eastern dress. It happens when we stand with the first peoples of the lands our country represents and say that we see them, that we hear them and we support them when they say they want to look after the land we live in. It happens when we live what Genesis 2:15 says: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

 For those who are Christians, the command is clear, but the ideas extends to people of all religious or non-religious persuasions:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 And Jesus replied to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ 40 The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Every year, our local schools do an anonymous "healthy youth survey."  It attempts to understand how our youth make the the choice between healthy and unhealthy living.  One of the most profound things I learned by looking through the statistics was that children are more likely to engage in destructive behaviors if they believe society condones them, and most especially if they believe their parents approve of them.  So this is how we change society:  by how we ourselves live and interact with one another.  Our children are watching.  There's a reason for that Bible verse that says "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  Our kids aren't going to be little clones of us, but their lives will in many ways reflect the many every day interactions they witness.

On the eve of the election, I was talking with a friend, and she was wrestling with how we live in the fallout of this toxic election cycle.  She mentioned that simple little reminder that many of us churchy types learned as kids:  What would Jesus do?  Jesus related to people in stories and questions.  He was stern and clear in His words, and rarely became physically angry, except in the case of the money changers in the temple.  He helped everyone he could and lived by example.  He ate with those others considered deplorable.  He touched those others considered to be dirty.  He pointed out hypocrisy but lived in humility.

As I have been wrestling over the past week with how I personally as a mom, a wife and a citizen should respond to the current political situation, I am reminded, as many others are too, that I must begin in my own home.  In my home, my children should be above reproach in the way they speak of others. They should treat their family and extended family with honor.  I should treat them in turn with respect and take time to listen to their fears, frustrations and concerns, and I should also take the time to explain why certain levels of respect and honor are due to others.  In the ways I speak of my neighbors and even those I am frustrated with, I should be careful to avoid assumption and generalization, and instead I should extend grace, forgiveness and love.  I should live by example in my community and circle of friends, and I should step out of those areas to understand others better.

Mostly, I want to, as a haole, use my position of power I did not earn as a force for good.  I want to work toward a world in which white is not synonymous with all kinds of pejoratives but instead with love and kindness.  I want to work toward a world where no child is asked to go home or called a racial slur.  I am thankful for the painful experiences I had in the early elementary school years, because they helped me to see the pain that exists when people are treated as less than equal.
I am thankful for all the love and Aloha I felt in Hawaii as I headed into my upper elementary and middle school years.  As I grew older, it was very rare to encounter racial generalization and mainly all I experienced was love.  It is this kind of love that I want to extend in my life, and it is this kind of love that I hopes spreads contagiously through my home, our town, our country and the world.  Let's live in love.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

What if we don't all need to be elite?

I'm entering the frustrating and exhilarating world of youth sports rather reluctantly and a bit late in the game it seems.  I've got two boys; middle school and early high school aged.  We live in a small town where sports are big.  Kids start playing tackle football in their early elementary years and are doing all the other sports from kindergarten on.  If sports is not what you do from the cradle, it seems, whenever you decide to jump in, you already feel behind, especially if your parents are like me.  My entire experience in the athletics world consists of 2 seasons of middle school volleyball on the C team and being mildly obsessed with running 6 years ago.

My boys are hard wired for athletics.  Their grandpa and dad and cousins were all avid athletes in school, and it turns out that when they hit their middle school years, sports became all they could talk about too.   No longer could I play the "I don't want to be cold" mama card.  I had to let them play some sports: yes, even if they were out of doors and I had to plan appropriate clothing,  I had to dive in right alongside them and learn what a girdle was, and whether a jock strap was actually necessary.

Thankfully, a dear friend of mine has some kids who are equally sport obsessed, and she has been my sports doula of sorts.  A doula is a person who helps a woman in childbirth.  It's a bit like that entering the sports and teen parenting world, and she and a few other core moms in my life have helped me to retain my sanity while allowing me to grill them on what's normal and what's expected.  I even have texted directly with her son, a senior in high school, and then bragged to some acquaintances that I was "texting all the senior athletes" for advice.  I neglected to say that I was actually texting all the senior athletes I actually knew, which was one, and my daughter, who's a junior, called my bluff on that one.

I remember my eldest boy decided to play basketball for a boys and girls club team back in 4th or 5th grade,  and I thought that was pretty awesome, having come from a Hoosier family and all, and him being tall, that it would be a fun and exciting experience all around.  I was in for a shock: somehow all the children were supposed to be NBA level, and if they were not, well, they just wouldn't ever get the ball.  It was an odd experience, especially since only a small minority of the children had even hit puberty, and last I remembered, you needed to be an adult to be a professional basketball player.  There were parents filming and yelling at kids and the meanest kid on the team was the star player and therefore was the one who carried the ball.  We didn't do basketball again for a while.

We had a brief stint with baseball, but found the games too boring and cold (well, I did), and then we left the sports scene all together and did some Taekwondo.  Positive attitude, respect for self and others, hard work and athleticism were core to it, and though the kids didn't ever go knock down some bad guys attacking them in the alley, I did see their stature rise a bit.  They looked people in the eye and made new friends, listened with respect to their instructor and had fun. So what was the difference?

As I emerge from my first season of tackle football for my boys, I am beginning to understand.  If instead of worrying about being the best, we notice what we have learned, how much we have improved, and how much fun we had, we will find so much more joy in athletics, and really any other aspect of life.

Being highly skilled in athletics, academics, music, or any other vocation is worthy of high esteem.  When I mastered the manual settings on my camera, I was proud, and it took hard work to get there.  Likewise, if my boy makes a good tackle after practicing hard for hours on end, he should be well satisfied in his good work.

There's a word for the select sports teams called "elite" and it's not my favorite, because it tacitly implies that there is another class to the sports world, and that you may never be able to break through that glass ceiling.  Kids start to believe that somehow it is an embarrassment to play sports if you do not play on an elite team or a high school JV or Varsity team, or if you have not played a sport your entire life.  Thankfully, my kids have debunked this myth and have experienced some of the same joys in conventional sports (especially this football season) that they enjoyed in their Taekwondo class, but they have not done it without some reservations.

This is where we need to encourage change in the culture of childhood:  instead of pushing our children to be elite, let us encourage them to enjoy what they do, to work hard at it, and to take great satisfaction in that work.  I think we'll have fewer sports "dropouts," higher caliber sports teams, and much happier kids.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Freshly Mopped Floor

Here's a poem I wrote a while ago about the joys of a freshly mopped floor. 

A freshly mopped floor

Pearl finish
new sheets;
a warm eggshell.

Infinite nerve ends

New beginnings;
peace and clarity.

Optimism and plans;

Cool refreshment;
a gentle embrace.


The kindness of a
removed from a shoe.

The relief of
in the rush
of a cool stream.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Advocate for your bereaved loved ones: #Verizonfail

For all of you with recently bereaved family members, please be aware that they may need a really stubborn advocate when cancelling their loved one's cell phone bill, or even any other recurring bills they may have.

My husband's grandpa passed away and his uncle went into the Verizon store to change grandma's plan into his name. Uncle pays grandma's bills and because she is encountering memory loss, it's very important that he have full access to all of her accounts in order to better advocate for her. Verizon said they could add him to the plan, but told him that their plan was outdated and could not be continued.

The monthly bill PER PHONE skyrocketed from $16 to $60 per month. They then told him that they could not remove grandpa's phone because it wasn't due to expire until next year, and that there would be a cancellation fee, should he wish to remove the phone earlier. He didn't do anything further. After all, he was in the midst of grieving his own father's passing.

I happened to be at grandma's house so my little girls could enjoy her "how to draw" books, and saw Uncle poring over the Verizon bill, trying to figure out a way out. We decided that all three of us would call Verizon on speaker phone.

After 40 minutes, and much questioning as to whether people really do pay the cell phone bill for a deceased person, Verizon finally waived the cancellation fee. They took grandpa's phone off and gave Uncle and grandma back their old plan rate. Of course not before asking if there was any way they could get them to keep grandpa's phone active. Uncle didn't miss a beat and said: "Not unless you have a direct line to heaven!"

Bad form Verizon Wireless. Bad form.

So please be sure, especially if you're a little on the outskirts of the grieving, to check in with family members and see if they need help with any of their bills and loose ends. You just might help them avoid a first hand experience as to why some businesses just shouldn't get so big. The customer should ALWAYS be regarded as a human: a real human with pain and grief and family members who pass away and therefore cannot pay their bills.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ay, a scratch

"Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch, marry 'tis enough."  --Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet

Friday afternoon the weekend loomed glorious in my mind.  I had finished my day's work and was outside doing a little weeding before heading inside to make dinner and launch into the sunny days ahead.  Distracted by the billions of forget-me-nots that had sprung up like weeds, I didn't see a very sharp twig of my lilac bush, which proceeded to jab me in the eye, as if to poke fun at all the plans I had ahead.  I had actually done this to myself before, and thought I could breathe through it, sort of like going through childbirth or something.

An hour later there was still the same excrutiating pain and I realized maybe I should try to fix it, because, after all, I'm a photographer, and I had a maternity session scheduled for the next day, and a newborn session to finish editing and to deliver.  I was shocked by the gravity with which the doctors took my statement that I had a scratched cornea (the cornea is that clear, jelly like part in front of the iris of your eye), and realized that it probably wasn't an easy fix with a little ibuprofen and ointment.

When the ophthamologist saw me, he gave me some numbing drops as he examined the two scratches to my cornea.  They made me feel completely normal, but he told me that when they wore off in fifteen minutes, I'd have to tough out the pain.

Numbing the pain, he said, hinders the healing.

How accurate, and how painfully true I found this to be over the next 24 hours.  I agreed with a friend who had experienced the same that going through labor a million times would be infinitely more pleasant than a scratched cornea.  I began to realize how weak and needy I really am when my vision and connection to light was warped and became physically painful.

As I tossed and turned for the rest of the afternoon, all night, and into the next day, miserably trying to conjur up ways to relieve the pain, I began to consider all of my friends and family who live in chronic pain, whether physically or mentally.  I thought of the friend who rode to school with me each day as a teen, the most cheerful and positive person I knew, who later told me that every single day she lived with migraines.  I thought of my husband's good friend, who after unsuccessful surgery to his sinuses, lives in daily pain, and yet is probably one of the most peaceful and easy going people you will ever meet.  I thought of my friends, two sisters, who live daily with gastrointestinal issues that would defeat me.  I thought of my dad and a friend, both of whom wake each morning, not knowing whether their emotional state is secure enough to stand the rigors of the day ahead.

I thought of the panic I felt, unable to fix the pain I was in, and knowing I had to endure.  I thought of the fear of losing the sharpness to my vision and thereby losing my photography.  And I realized that these friends of mine experience these same feelings each day.  I can understand now more deeply how so many in our culture are driven to the drink or to other means of numbing pain.  There is the feeling that one would do anything to escape the frantic scrambling and clawing around in the darkness of pain or loneliness and the shocking exposure to light and truth.

I can understand this, but what mystifies me and drives me to the throne of God is the way my friends in all their anguish, have rejected that tempation.  Even as they accept the necessary medications for their conditions, there is the day to day struggle they must fight.

They could choose to numb all of their pain, but they know inside that it will not help them heal.
Instead, in their desperation, even weary as they must be, they carry a faith and a hope that gives them strength to survive, to endure and to press on.

Because my eye was allowed to run its natural course of healing, the nerve endings of my eye are once again cushioned by new cells, and by the time 24 hours had passed,  I could blink without wincing.  The pain is now greatly eased, though the shock of contrast between brightness and dark hurts.   As I leave this small trial behind, I do not want to forget this small glimpse into the wonder of the strength of humanity bolstered by the unwavering strength of God.  I want to be reminded that all around me are people enduring the kind of frantic anguish I felt, and that there is hope to be shared, and I want to help others to notice those around them enduring daily trials just like my friends.

As you go about your life this week, take extra time with me to think about and consider the quiet strength or even desperation that lies just below the surface of what may seem to be just a scratch.  Will you remember with me to embrace those people with compassion and love?  By caring for someone in the midst of their struggles and walking beside them as they endure, we might get to be a part of the beautiful process of growing and healing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

For Oso

Osoberry is one of the very first wild plants to leaf out and bloom here in the Maritime Northwest. It's in full bloom right now. The flowers are an important early nectar source for hummingbirds and native bees when nothing else is in bloom. It produces a bitter fruit that feeds wild mammals, including the bear, (thus the name Osoberry) Seeing and smelling the blossoms of this plant everywhere right now is a constant reminder to me to pray for Oso, to pray for hope and new life where there seems only to be devastation.

I'm not even one of the people directly affected by the tragic landslide in Oso, but still there is nothing that can prepare you for the sight of FEMA and emergency shelters at local schools, crossing paths with a red cross truck on the morning drop off, seeing a truck with "department of homeland security" emblazoned upon it in your City Hall, knowing people who are searching out there, seeing six news trucks with satellite dishes like vultures along the river, seeing another news truck at a horse barn nearby, seeing flags at half mast and knowing it's for your community, hearing ages of children who died and being slammed with the reality that you have children the same age, seeing the detour sign for Darrington, watching your town fire chief get into his car in town and realize you know him from the news briefings, realizing that the place you go to buy jojos for your son is a main shopping store for the people of Oso, remembering living out that way and how beautiful it is out there, hearing heartbreaking stories from dear friends and realizing that everyone you know is affected in one way or another by the tragedy of it all.

There is no reason or sense to be made of any of it, but there is this hope we hold inside that won't leave us. There can never be a good reason that babies and grandmas and daddies die suddenly, but we can be sure that God is walking with each person in our community and we can have the hope that there will be small bits of beauty to emerge from the ashes of this devastation.

We already see it in the community and the way teens stand in the rain selling stickers that say "4 Oso, " the way a child wants to contribute what little they have to provide comfort for others, the way every where you turn someone is helping and the way when someone is crying for what feels like no reason, that someone, no matter whether you've never hugged before, you are hugging them now.