Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In the Shadow of Death Valley

   Does my soul reflect a desert, or does the desert reflect my soul? Am I parched and thirsty, or does life spring from crags and crevices within? If we are made of dust and ash, is not the desert our kin? The place my soul, thus knows how to roam?

   The desert is a margin place, a thin place. It tests patience. The desert tests perseverance. It is forever saying, "give me more." It will take all you have and then some. Yet, in the tiniest of crags and crevices life springs upward. In a parched and barren place, life springs eternal.

   Tempted, Jesus faced down his enemy in a barren desert. Indeed, both the enemy and the desert, were created of His accord and will. Deserts force us to bloom and blossom, yield and spread, or whither and die. Surely, the desert fathers and mothers knew there was life to be found on dry parched plains. We are not nearly so astute, nor monastic, but we do wander and wonder: What are we? What's out there? What might we encounter out of our comfort zone? When and where am I most rightly related to self, others, and God? 

   As is so often the case, I don't find the questions, or seek the answers, until I'm home and the adventure is asking questions of me. Surely, we ask questions while preparing for adventures, but it's not until adventures ask questions of us, that we often engage fully with a time, place, or space. 

   Oregon spring break, found us wandering to Death Valley. Indeed, we'd prepared and the goal was a good time with friends, amazing geology, and getting home safe. Of course, a Land Rover trip, by nature, no matter where you go, is always a chance to ask, "What are we made of?" Survival kits are always packed. However we, or at least me, hope to never really need them. Besides, you can't use a Life Straw, if there's no water to be found!

   While we were looking forward to Death Valley National Park, the week previous to our departure, I kept hearing Him say, “I go with you into the valley of the shadow of death.” Ah hem? Excuse me? Could you repeat that? He did, several times. It's hard to feel peace when those words are what you hear in your ear. Words like those, one simply embraces, holds close, and prays about. A lot. I might add that the examen was an important soul process to begin in March. 
   Thus, after a week of preparations, the morning of departure arrived. We awoke to a child with a 99.5 fever – not through the roof, but nothing to ignore either. I sent her back to bed, and we muddled about what to do. We cancelled our tickets to Scotty's Castle for the next day, a 16 hour drive away. Did I mention our time line was tight? To stay or go? To  commit or quit? A question, a dilemma, we all face every day. Yet, she awoke 3 hours later with no temperature. We loaded the cooler and pulled out of town because sometimes it's now or never.

   And really, there's never a good time to drive 16 hours (one way) and take an 8 day Land Rover trip. I've given up thinking that day will arrive - the day when it feels that all of life has meshed to make the slated rover trip possible. It is, and always will be, hard work to get out of dodge. We'll always be dodging something else in order to go, but relationships and riveting views also await and call. Thus we embrace life, get in the Rover, and go. 
   We headed east through Bend and Burns, before cutting south through the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, into Frenchglen, and then on to Fields, Oregon. We kept rolling, right into the dark, that first day. Miles and miles of empty dark pavement rolled past and under us while the sky overhead darkened, and then relit with stars. We pulled into Winnemucca, Nevada about 9:30 p.m. and laid down weary heads at a local motel. Clean, safe, local, drive to your door service. My kind of motel.

   Thankful: no more fevers.

   In the morning, we re-embarked upon open Nevada road, pulling through Lovelock where I roamed during the summer and winter breaks of my youth. So much mischief, many years ago. Then it was on to Fallon and Tonopah, and into vast stretches of open parched plain. We drove through lands of drought and often doubt. Miles of weapons depot and storage = heavy hearts and much discussion. Where do we invest as a nation, as a people? In Hawthorne, Nevada, the world's largest storage depot for weapons, bombs become flowers, because even there, we desire to turn what is broken into beautiful.
   We made it home in one piece, each of us - no small miracle.

   Near the north entrance to Death Valley, we prepare to turn left onto Scotty's Castle Road. There is a near miss with a semi-truck. I don't even like to think about it, much less write it. It still terrifies me, but for the grace of God. Did the trucker not see my turn signal? I gave him ample warning. (We would later find out, that it was possible the turn signal ground was no longer functioning.) 
   There but for the grace of God, 80,000 pounds of metal would have borne down upon us. 

    There but for the grace of God, when that semi-truck came barrelling down upon us, there might have been a car in the opposing lane of traffic, leaving him no where to go as he sought to avoid us, leaving no room for nothing good, a mess of metal and ashes on a hot highway.

   The grace of God, meant I saw him bearing down on us in the rear view mirror and decided not to make my left turn, but just try and keep going straight and hope he did not take us out from the rear. 

   The grace of God, enabled him to pass us at nearly 70 mph in the opposing lane of traffic, while I was probably going 20mph. He managed to avoid hitting us from behind, and I'm sure he was terrified when he realized we intended to make a left turn and were nearly stopped on the highway.

   The grace of God: We made it to Scotty's Castle and Mesquite Springs Campground. God must have more adventures for us, ones that don't include streets of gold right now, but rather dust lined byways.
Each of us, miracles.
   Then grace blushed the hills around us, and flushed them with life. There were mountain goats with graceful curved horns, coyotes romping on golf course lawns, endangered pup fish, magpies, bucked antelope, and doves. Grace kept the rattlers and scorpions away, either that, or the very noisy kids. They come in handy, they do.
   The pale blush of light also fell on the faces of gracious women who paved our path south with their prayers. They craft and carve meaningful moments into our lives, in my life, giving me lovely thoughts and words to chew upon, and even goodies for our sweet tooth. Indeed, notes, prayers, care packages, and goods arrived for the road, and followed us south.

   In Death Valley, I stumbled into a girl from childhood, now woman, sunning with her kids. She was kind then; she's still kind today.

   At a Death Valley dish washing sink, I ran into a home school mom from the past. Thick with suds, we shared God's provisions, and miracles of health and healing in 2014. We talked about how God met us in so many desert places. Their family had a diagnosis of blind for a teenage child. It came out of the blue, and threatened to turn all life black. We had a diagnosis of severe, chronic, and acute colitis, for life, for one child. Today, neither child is facing the diagnosis spoken over them, and both walk a path towards healing. Both kids were led by grace to doctors, in the midst of trial, to healing trials and trails of healing. We rejoiced, and watered the desert with a few tears of grace, all while washing dirty camp dishes.

   There is life in our deserts. There is life when it's blistering hot, and the air seems sucked out of your lungs, and all seems lost. When the very joy of life is sucked out of you, and your soul is parched beyond measure, and you are so thirsty you want the heat consume you, there is life. Yes, even there.
   And then there's our rover trail mates. Both are amazing. She's ever encouraging, listening, engaging, funny, and reliable. She's a gem. So very grateful for them and their friendship, mechanical wisdom, hilarity, and thoughtfulness.
   Death Valley is copper colored canyons, and canyons of pastel. Death Valley is the driest, lowest, and hottest. There were twists and turns and the threat of an engine that wouldn't ignite, but did, every time. Potential engine “mines” met mines made by men, and God got us back to camp and a cool swimming pool each night. 

   There was a resort staffer who turned Furnace Creek Resort upside down to find a pair of goggles for my kid to borrow. Because kids today must have goggles to swim - they know no other way. God bless that woman's soul. He leads me beside quiet waters. 

   And if I cough all night in the dry windy dusty desert, and listen to her cough all night, and we keep our motorhome neighbors awake, with their windows wide open, yes, even then, He restores my soul.

   We leave Death Valley, and on our way out, we collect national park patches in the shape of thermometers and Jr. Ranger badges, and are grateful to be on the road. Our last stop at Mosaic Canyon, the engine sputters, but comes to life.  

   Please let there be no broken in this beautiful canyon.
   We drive up and out on windy dry roads through the Pantamints, and then they are to our east and the Sierra Nevada range graces our west. Yet, the dry follows us all the way to Oregon.

   I can't get over the drought. Spring, eighty degrees in CA, fields barely green with grass, and yet no bud break, no leaves, on so many trees. California is dry like a bone. I saw one farm sprinkler running in agricultural valleys covering over 600 miles. Reservoirs, lakes, and irrigation channels dry. Driving by the Sierra Nevada's, we ponder the Donner party, and hope that one day there will be no "dry" Donner party.
   In Independence, CA, we arrive at no independence: Manzanar. I knew the Land Rover might not start again, but I also knew we had to see Manzanar. It was now or never. It would never again be easier to come to this place. It was completely necessary we see, discuss, and attempt to learn the lessons of such desolation, isolation, and deluded thinking.
   I will think about Manzanar for a long time, as well as Tule Lake, which we also passed on our drive home. Let us learn from our deserts.
   Pushing towards home, we made it to Carson City and still coughed our way through the night. Disappointed, we cancelled time with family in Reno due to continued sickness and Land Rover mechanical worries. 

   We shared America's Best Hotel with a former lawyer and law professor, now a permanent resident of the hotel. He smiled a toothless smile, and warmly told us his story. He also told us of the Siberian Husky who'd died at the hotel during the night in his owner's arms. We sympathized awkwardly, faced with this story of loss, and in the valley of the shadow of death, we bid adieu. Like travellers in the night, we slipped past, wanting to leave the sadness behind, find our way home, and choose life, not death. The valley of the shadow of death is everywhere; but I fear no evil, for thou art with me.
    The drizzle began around Eugene. The fields were thick with calf high grass, as new calves lolled about. The clouds layered themselves, and a single vertical shaft of brilliant rainbow placed itself upon the grassy slopes of a far off hill. Welcome home. Have hope. And we did, those of us who saw the rainbow anyway. One child was busy having a reading marathon, while the other, had finally fallen asleep holding onto the dish washing bucket, fearful of being road sick.

   Home, he diagnoses a sick Land Rover, and with 272,000 miles on her, she's allowed a few hiccups. I might even trust her to a road trip again. We book hair cuts and eye appointments. We plan Easter and birthday moments. We deal with swimmers ear, and begin taking Bragg's vinegar, some of us, in attempt to finally kick the cough. We bake cookies. We unpack, and unpack more. The laundry consumes, but oh the loads of wet moisture, and hot showers. We are thankful for the woman who left food for our return home, and emailed of hilltop adventures while we were away.

   The maples have burst and the cherries too. The bees hum and hive. We lay our heads down to sleep and pull out the examen. We sleep with bread and ask, “what was the most desolate moment of your day and the moment of most consolation?” We ask, “What are we embracing, and what are we learning?” We don't have the answers yet, but we seek to listen and learn what parched valleys may teach us, in order to find the hidden springs, all in the valley of the shadow of life. 
   And I know that I owe the hummingbird food. He zings by me on the porch. He's telling me something, and I need to listen. He, like me, needs sweet nectar to live upon.

Psalm 23 (MSG)
 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

   On what is the eve of the opening of the Owens Valley Reception Center, i.e., Manzanar, my heart is heavy thinking about our nation's internment of Japanese Americans and the impact upon them, and us, as a result of their internment.
Photo from Wikipedia by Dorothea Lange
   Indeed, a lot has been weighing on me this month. In addition to our own messy moments, there's been our study of Sudan in our middle school book group. We read and discussed A Long Walk to Water trying to understand the crisis that has taken place in Sudan, even as it continues to put millions in a state of conflict. And I dare say, it's humbling to talk to eleven and twelve year old girls about a crisis that began when you were an eleven year old girl and you are just now really checking in about it. No words for that.

   And realizing that your boy child could just as easily have been a Lost Boy should he have been born on another continent is saddening and sickening. No child should have to endure war, the loss of their families, villages, and communities.

   On the eve of Japanese internment camp round ups, and the orders that created such places as Manzanar, there are still white lies that surround and control us.

    Touring the Pearl District of Portland recently was both enthralling and a bit unsettling. I couldn't put my finger on what seemed to be rattling my soul. But there's been a lot of noise lately about the gentrification of Portland, and signs are pointing to the fact that there's more than one way to push diversity out of your city, and push people out: Be a gentleman, and simply raise the rent.

    The Pearl now, is an area we never would have ventured into then. When I was a child, the area east of Burnside was a land you didn't wander into. The Pearl now is home to million dollar airy apartments, gentlemen, and persons who kid themselves that they know and understand the concept of diversity. To know, foster, and understand diversity you must first be diverse. The Pearl is many things, but it's not diverse, Eloise. Ironically, the Pearl has gone from being not accessible to accessible to not accessible once more, and it's just one area of Portland.

   I cannot, and will not, attempt to write deeply about issues I'm still coming to understand. I'm not trying to preach here, but sit up, learn, and hear what my soul is saying. We seek to know and understand these stains on the history of our world and the peoples of our world for the sake of all children. Their future is at stake.

These issues rattle me. They make noise in my life.

In 1859, Oregon did not want African Americans.

We can change that, and we must.

     We cannot and we must not seek to make America an exclusively white nation.  Make no other gods before me. An exclusively white America is a dangerous America.  It's an America where violence makes right because fear calls everyone who doesn't look like us wrong. Remember. Manzanar.

   How about we talk immigration for a second?  Do we know what it's like anymore to welcome the foreigner? Let go of our preconceived notions? McFarland. See it. Even Paddington is trying to tell us something about welcoming the foreigner. See it.

Immigrants. People. Families. Workers.

We are they. 
They are us. 
We are them.


Manzanar, Gila River, Granada, Heart Mountain, Jerome, Minidoka, Poston, Rohwer, Topaz, and Tule Lake!
These camps are the legacy of our shame and little white lies.

    Before 1942, Japanese farmers owned 1/5th the arable land in the three west coast states. It was taken. It was confiscated. If they owned it today, the farming practices of the Pacific Coast might be, could be, and would be vastly different. Vastly more sustainable. Diverse.

If America is exclusively white,
when we look at the enemy,
we are looking at us.

   If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. ~ Jeremiah 7:5-7

   Let us recognize we reside here by grace. We were born here by grace not to be great, but to be gracious. We are commanded, instructed, and told. It's made crystal clear: Don't oppress a sojourner. Don't oppress the foreigner. Welcome the immigrant, for you too, were once a stranger. Let us embrace diversity when all the world is aflame. One day a new king and kingdom will be ushered in. God's kingdom is diverse. Remember, "red, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight?"  We also know the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. This is not easy for me, for us, to swallow, but who am I to begrudge God's generosity?  I need it every day. Indeed, I hope for God's generosity every day.

   Therefore, I'd best get to work fostering His kind of community now, that I might join it then.

 Even those I will bring to My holy mountain 
And make them joyful in My house of prayer. 
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
 For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. 
~ Isaiah 56:7

Monday, March 16, 2015

Gifts from Wild Seas

   We are exhausted. Exhausted from what feels like weeks of sickness, but in reality has only been about 10 days. We battle sickness, school, and each other. Oh, the battles. I've not seen the likes of these kinds of truly messy moments for about seven years, but we are in the middle of our messes, the ones we so easily make.

   I feel like whining. I am whining, but since we have embarked upon our Safe Families journey the mess has met us. Why didn't I expect this? "Get real," I tell myself. "You stepped across some invisible kind of line. Did you not expect some blow back from the dark side of the universe? You are so not equipped for this." But God. 

   And so, all our messes are meeting us in our moments: middle school moments, marriage moments, every messy moment possible. Eighteen years into our marriage, we are needing new tools. Yes, again. We aren't going to crash, nor will we burn, "but we been having us some bumpy landings folks," and we are realizing that we are once again in a transition time with the kids and each other, and we need to listen better. More. Intently. 

   I've been reading through Gift of the Sea, Long Life, The Connected Child, and Too Small to Ignore, and simply planting myself in Hebrews 1: He is the word that sustains life, sustains me. He the Word comes, and the words come. I've written 20,000 words this month and the words just keep coming. I love it, and my amazing critique group is so encouraging, but oh the battles in between those words, and all the words surrounding them.

   We even battled the river this month. J managed to pass his impromptu Willamette River swim test upon turning over a single crew shell last week in the river. Needless to say, God got his back, and his back stroke. He got home that night. Grateful. 

   And now it's 8 p.m. and we have begun this book in our home for bedtime discussions and prayers. We are praying round the candlelight for the Light.
   A few words that have been blessing my mama me this month in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

   I walked far down the beach, soothed by the rhythm of the waves, the sun on my bare back and legs, the wind and mist from the spray on my hair. Into the waves and out like a sandpiper. And then home, drenched, drugged, reeling, full to the brim with my day alone; full like the moon before the night has taken a single nibble of it; full as a cup poured up to the lip. There is a quality to the fullness that the Psalmist expressed: "My cup runneth over." Let no one come - I pray in sudden panic - I might spill myself away!

   Is this then what happens to woman? She wants to perpetually spill herself away. All her instinct as a woman  - the eternal nourisher of children, of men, of society - demands that she give. Her time, her energy, her creativeness drain out into these channels if there is any chance, any leak. Traditionally we are taught, and instinctively we long, to give where it is needed - and immediately. Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim. 

   Where are you finding time, creating time, to be filled within? When do you seek renewal, in a world that does not reward spiritual or inner renewal? 
   But why not, one may ask? What is wrong with a woman's spilling herself away, since it her function to give? Why am I, coming back to my perfect day at the beach, so afraid of losing my treasure?

   Here is a strange paradox. Woman instinctively wants to give, yet resents giving herself in small pieces. I believe that what woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposely. What we fear is not so much that our energy may be leaking away through small outlets as that it may be "going down the drain."  We do not see the results of our giving as concretely as man does in his work. In the job of home keeping, there is no raise from the boss, and seldom praise from others to show us we have hit the mark. Except for the child, woman's creation is often invisible. How can one point to the constant tangle of household chores, errands, and fragments of human relationships, as a creation? It is hard to even think of it as purposeful activity, so much as it is automatic. 

   Yet, that which feels automatic, often contributes to peace and creativity. Doesn't mankind hunger and thirst, seeking to create from the chaos around us? The automatic activities of woman, the chores and errands, do not create, so much as make space for creation. And within the walls of the home, we desire to be creators; we were fashioned creators, designers, and inventors. In creating, we desire to become, to live, breathe, and find a place where we belong. Thus, an orderly place becomes a creative space. Randomness can indeed lead to creation, for some, but for many, clear spaces make way for creative spaces.  
   ...We are hungry and not knowing what we are hungry for, we fill up the void with endless distractions always at hand - unnecessary errands, compulsive duties, and social niceties. And for the most part, to little purpose. Suddenly the spring is dry; the well is empty. 

   We want our spring to flow instantaneously, automatically, but when a spring bursts forth, its reservoir has taken time to fill. Never does a spring burst forth that has not been filled slowly day in and day out, over many a rainy season, and this is how the spring remains abundant and life giving, in even the most dry of seasons.

   Even purposeful giving must have some source that refills it. The milk in the breast must be replenished by food in the body.

    May you find solitude and stillness this week. May you be replenished in order to share with the thirsty who cross your path. May you be a deep spring. May you nurture this week, and also in turn, be nurtured. 

~ Kim

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Mostly Wordless Wednesday

 Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise. ~ Horace
   We are working to recover from sickness, 
and yes, sometimes ourselves, 
but there's hope, always hope. 

   I always entertain great hopes. ~ Robert Frost

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Stream of Consciousness from the Seas of Schooling

    It's been a few weeks since I've strolled by the sea, but I'm facing down a tempest. I'm clinging to the side of a rock. Hopefully, the Rock. I intend to hold on, ride out the storm, and yes, win. I don't need to win at most things, though I'm a tad competitive, but there are some things a mother must win. Must win. This week is school, and I'm claiming the high ground.

   The tempest? A middle school student and her moments. She may be fraught with spring fever, but we will not spend all day in the wilds reading. 

   And while it's all fine and dandy that you'd like to spend your hours reading When the Rivers Run Dry, and Shooting Kabul, and European comics, it's not. Because we are not unschoolers. We have a family, and we have a schedule. There are others in the house with lives, who want their school day to be over by 8 p.m.. Indeed, 3 p.m. would be better. 
   Then there's the issue of latin, history, and writing, and if you don't write something about those pyramids, I might just ship you off to live in one. They often induce claustrophobia you know. And while this house may feel claustrophobic, the pyramids are worse! Yes, dear middle school child, there must be, there will be, some rhythm and routine to our days. 

   Just as I cannot eat fruit gushers all day, you cannot stay in your pajamas all day. On another planet, they may,  but not on the tiny patch of land you call home. And so while the waves may roar, and the sea storm, we are going to ride it out. We are going to jump in and embrace life.

   And when the day is over, we'll get off the rock and be on our way. We'll journey, and the storm will pass, and we'll be in the same boat. Trust me, we will. But since I'm your mother, it will be my boat.
   There'll be more wild days, but one day we'll laugh, and remember when the wind blew our hair,  when the waves roared, and when I won - at least at school.