Friday, August 28, 2015

The Questions Book Awards Ask

Oregon Christian Writers

    I arrived an emotional wreck. I left the memorial service early, an emotional jumble, and arrived in Portland soul scattered. The memorial for Wayne wasn't possible to push out of my mind. Wayne left his mark on the world. Saved by the gift of a new kidney, Wayne literally fed people with heart, soul, and hands. Food and soaking up the words of others were his imprint; his way of saying thank you to God for a new lease on life. Then the unexpected hit him and us: heart attack.

    I'm mad at you God for taking Wayne. His story wasn't over yet. It was just beginning.

    My heart ached as I drove north. “What exactly am I celebrating?” I asked myself as I battled Portland traffic. Stuck in my mind. Stuck in the slow lane. Stuck.

    A 2014 finalist in the Cascade Awards, I was again à table; a 2015 finalist for unpublished children's picture books. Would anything come of the awards banquet, or the presence of my story? Would my stories find their way into a larger world, one bigger than my mind?

    I've certainly asked Him more than a time or two. This God, who plops me in His lap and reads stories to me; He seems to be my only audience. Yet like an eager 4 year old, I try to repeat back my favorite parts, learn them well and remember, and then make them come alive for anyone who will listen. But what will become of these stories? Will they be told by future generations, or simply stay on my hard drive?

    Stilling my soul on the hotel porch, the mighty Columbia River rolled by. While Ipad pings interjected, I sought an inner calm amid the roaring of PDX jets overhead. A Safe Families situation vied for my attention. A message about a family needing to place children in temporary care, and a foster to adoption story, riveted my beating heart. I wanted to be with them in their stories right then, and forgo mine.

    Be still my soul.

    I finally got up and changed, putting on cool but dark summer clothing, i.e., putting on what I hoped would be a class act. I'm pretty sure it failed, and that's fine. I'm definitely not a girl who is driven by her outward appearance. Much of my life is lived in the interior, and I've finally begun to accept and embrace this inner dimension of mine. Sitting in the banquet room, surrounded by linen and china, I put on a smile and tried small talk, but really, I wanted to be headed for a starry hill draped black.

    I wanted to be with Wayne in the community kitchen chopping vegetables. I wanted to be on the phone helping make sure that family found resources for their crisis, and I wanted to meet the young girl who was meeting her adoptive parents for the first time. A young girl who's been in 19 foster homes in 12 young years of life. I wanted to be in the middle of their stories, not mine. I wanted this awards banquet to be dinner at Sylvia Beach Hotel, a haven for readers and writers. Yet here I was with God's story surrounded by a sea of people, and He wasn't parting the sea for me.

    Both the tiny Sylvia Beach Hotel and the massive hotel I was enclosed within perch above mighty waters. Both have dining rooms that birth stories, but are they stories of consequence? Surrounded by glass, tinkling china, and extroverts I wanted to know.

    Surrounded by readers and writers, I wanted to know.“What do you carry in your pockets?” I wanted to ask, “Do you carry precious stones a boy child has given you? Do you carry the ordinary turned extraordinary? What about feathers? Do you?” I wanted to ask, “What are you doing with your one wild and precious life?” If we sat around the table at Sylvia Beach Hotel playing Two Truths and a Lie, what would your truths be and what of your lie? I wanted to ask you how you keep the burning at bay, or if wild words burn a hole in your pocket. Spilling into the world. I wanted to ask if like George Eliot you bear the burden of words with joy or grim determination, or a bit of both. I wanted to say: “Remember you've been given a womb to spiritually carry children, birth, and incarnate stories.”

    I wanted to ask you what makes you afraid. Are you afraid of all the awards represent, or afraid to ask yourself and others if they don't represent anything at all?

    Oh mighty agent and editor, instead of the raging river out the window, I dipped my toes in lukewarm waters and asked, “Do you have hope in the industry?” You said you still loved story, but your eyes seemed doubtful. 

   For what is the recognition of men and mankind when our inner burning is to know and be known? To see and be seen is not what we seek. Is it?

    Receiving my award, I rose awkwardly early. He was still reading the text of Callie's story, and poorly at that. I arrived on the platform a nervous mess, but trying to trust. I left that night a nervous mess, trying to trust. I came for dinner and left after worship. I didn't stay for the key noter. I'm sure it was lovely, but another story called me. 

   That story had me unloading sweet alfalfa from the back of my rig for still sweeter lambs and sitting under twinkling stars. That story had me sitting under the Perseid meteor shower, pondering what's a life well lived, and worshipping the Creator of my stories in the black of night, and doubt. Maybe I should have stayed.

    Maybe I should have attended all week. Would my story have found its break and opening if I'd been more present? Yet conference fees are extremely high, and I wasn't sure my tribe was in Portland. One pays those high conference and hotel fees for two reasons: If your tribe is found by the river, and if you know your story will find its path by your presence à table. I was sure of neither. I write children's stories, and the Christian market is not risking upon children right now, or unknown children's authors. But children are my whole life. Right now. Safe Families, my own family, and my stories are all about and for children.

    Oh mighty agent and editor, at linen cloth and crystal cup, you made it known you only want authors with an existing platform, memoirs appealing. Yet if authors are called to risk writing the words God has given them, should you not risk supporting them? Is the book industry, secular or religious, for author's and stories and souls these days, or just a machine? The world is watching. Us. I show up and write, but I cannot sell my soul to tell a story, or sell story that is not sacred. Are we selling souls or blessing souls? The exclusivity of God1 must sit ever on the page. It must be first.

    Will my award propel Callie forward? I don't know. I believe God propels words forward in the world, in their write time. Book awards are not trophies, but maybe they're a recognition of beginnings. I'm thankful for the award. I'm thankful for the lovely editors and agents who judged my work worthy of winning. I'm thankful for the recognition of new beginnings, and I have hope the ending is being written by the Great Storyteller and the pliant hand that picks up the pen.

    Out the window of the large Red Lion, a bridge spans the Columbia River and I ask, "Are we are bridges?" I wonder if anything I write, or we write, will stand the test of time. Will our words, my words, withstand a shaking? Will the bridges we build in this world hold up for crossings into another world? The other world. I hope the collective community of writers upon the shores of the river, in a man made palace of glass, breathe in and out streams of refreshing words. And may those words wash over mankind. May they stand. May they prevail.

    And so today, I get up and write. Crumbs lay all around me in the coffee shop. I'm a messy writer. I want more. I want food and story to mean something. Like at Sylvia Beach, the Red Lion, or Fishtrap, I want conversation and deep connections long after dinner is over.

   And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. 

1Walter Brueggman, Sabbath as Resistance

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How'd That Work for You?

    This is an age and time of supreme confidence. Do you know it at your house, or maybe you remember it?  

    "How'd that work for you?"

    As the mom of a 10 and 12 year old, I don't say those words very often, if ever. But if the moment is right, and if hearts and minds are receptive, and there's a blue moon in the sky, I can say, "How'd that work for you?" 

    The prefrontal cortex necessary for critical thinking and impulse control in young developing minds is one of the last myelinated or connected areas of the brain. Right now, they need a little help connecting the dots or neurons to the right pathways. Critical thinking and impulse control is developed somewhere around 18-20. Parents hope sooner, rather than later.

   Many times their decisions make no sense to me, and their thinking is like a foreign language, but I can't run around saying, "How'd that work for you?" What I can and do say is, "How do you feel about that?" Then, I try to listen.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the time, I'm not really interested in hearing about how they feel, particularly if it involves complaining about the other sibling, and if they are not willing to consider what part they played in the current situation. In the heat of it, I rarely remember to look for the horizon in the unhappy. Yet my long term goal is to steer them towards a larger picture of life, towards a larger Love, and towards a larger world, but sometimes you just want to throw your hands up and say, "Enough already."

    But there's you. You can say, "How'd that work for you?" Aunts, uncles, friends, grandparents, coaches, teachers, and fellow moms can and should say, "How did that work for you? How did your actions work out for others?"

   I'd love for you to ask them how they feel, but first and foremost, I'd like you to be a prompt in their lives to deeper thinking about deeper issues. Ask those deep questions that on some days I cannot.

    Surely, if they have a sense of who they are by the time they get to college, it will be because they have a sense of who others are before they get to college. We are all connected, but I can only do so much connecting.

    As a mother, my voice will be heard and validated about the time they have their own babies.  I need them to think about how their actions impact themselves and others sooner than college. You are pivotal to my children in that process.

    "How'd that work for you?" opens up a wide range of conversation. Please open that door and go through. Help them think about what it is they think about. Help them think about what it is they do not think about.

    We live in a world of instant gratification. Very little thought goes into snap decisions. Whether it's hitting send or texting something not well thought out, words make their way into the world, and words precede our actions. Our actions create our character, which in turn, creates our lives.

    School clothes shopping, the t-shirt hung in the young men's section of the store confronting all those who passed by. On the front of the t-shirt was the picture of a girl in a bikini bottom, long hair flowing down. She was facing the ocean. You couldn't tell if she had a bikini top on, as the words on the t-shirt and her hair blocked her upper body. Never mind that the whole shirt demeans women and girls, let's just talk about the words. What were the words on the t-shirt? Bad decisions make for great stories. I pointed the shirt out to my daughter, and we discussed it for a few minutes.

    "Bad decisions do not make good stories," I said. "They make consequences, they hurt people and they harm, but you live in a culture that celebrates doing what works for you, the impulse buy, and the impulse decision - all at the expense of others." She heard me, and I think she got it. One of those rare mom/kid moments.

    In the car that morning, we'd actually discussed the violence in Virginia. Isn't it all related? The t-shirt and Old Dominion, and wrong thoughts about people we don't know. Which lead to actions against people we don't know? This people, is who we are becoming because we don't want to think to deeply about who we are becoming, or what guns are doing to us. But our first weapon was a word and a blaming, but healing too, begins with words.

    As the school year starts, and their world becomes a bit larger with the opening of school doors, could you ask my student, "How'd that work for you?" Help me not just show them a larger world, but show them what a larger more open mindset looks like. When they do something that lacks thoughtfulness or impulse control call them on it. It's natural at this age, but it doesn't have to be natural for them at 18.

    If my children think deeply about what they think about, and deeply about what they do, it will be because caring relatives, teachers, friends, coaches, and mentors stepped into their lives and simply said, when the stakes were lower and before they got much higher, "How'd that work for you, and how do you feel about that?" 

~ Kim

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Some of us graze, while others pull the world up, roots and all. 
Bottle feed me, and I'll trust you for life.

Warning: I'm very shy, but can be highly reactive,
and the phone freaks me out.

Yet, I'm bold enough to boss chickens around.
I'm Cream, and my partner is Sugar,
 but when we eat your roses
we are Accomplice 1 and Accomplice 2.

Then there's the bees...
 If you wear yoga pants to harvest honey expect to be stung.
The mutual sharing of honey is not on the to-do list of bees.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Safe Families: Where Christians, Christ, and Our Culture Intersect

God sets the lonely in families.
Psalm 68

    I am a Safe Families Host Mom. I am one of many moms in the Willamette Valley standing with Safe Families. Our families, stand with and for the orphan and the widow; we stand with the fatherless. Indeed, Safe Families and our families desire to push back fatherlessness, but we can only continue this work if the Church is standing behind us, and so I ask: Is the Church standing behind Safe Families?

    Our family joined Safe Families because Safe Families is Christ's power at work to prevent homelessness, divorce, drug addiction, abuse, and many other wounds that trouble our communities today. Let's face it, these wounds trouble our families.

    And we ask: Will today's children see the Church as relevant in their future? It's a very real fact that while generous, participating in backpack give aways, Sunday School, and coat collections will likely not be enough to keep my children focused on Jesus. The very lives Christ breathes into, so often are blown away by the winds of our cultures' brokenness. For many, current church programs are band aids on the wounds of the world, not radical acts of healing offering relational depth.

    Safe Families offers hope through Christ for families by families. Safe Families is Jesus' saving grace at work through Jesus' hands and feet: you and I.

   I'd like to invite you to look through the looking glass of some Safe Family Children we have hosted.

    I am Jose. My mother left me, and my father's in jail. Adults think my mom did drugs when she was pregnant with me. I'm seven, and I've been sexually abused by someone close to me. I'm too young to understand what happened, but I'm working on it. My doctor says I have ADD, and I take medicines to sleep at night and concentrate during the day. A Safe Family took me in for the weekend, so my aunt and uncle could go on their first date in three years. I played outdoors all weekend. We went for a hike at the Basket Slough, and I ate some new foods. I overcame fears, like the whirring of the bathroom fan, and I went to bed on my own. I didn't even cry myself to sleep; I was so tired. The boy I stayed with, we share the same birthday. They said it was one of those “God-things.” What's that?

    H.E.N.R.Y. I'm Henry, and I'm three. I talk a lot. I like words. I'm working on saying M.i.s.s.i.s.s.i.p.p.i. I can spell it, and one day I'll be able to say it too. I can count to 50, and I know all my letters and sounds. You said I was super bright. Did you mean like a light? I heard you talking about something called preschool at a nearby church. I'd love to go. I like to read! Could you tell mommy how to take me there? Here's my new book from Sunday School. It says, P.S.A.L.M. 9.1 on it. I like my name on my book! It's mine, but I'll share!

    I'm Gunnar. I'm the oldest brother in a bunch of boys; They are really my half brothers, but I love them a lot.

    I didn't see this coming. I didn't know about foster care and DHS. I'm glad a Safe Family offered to keep us.

    I was pretty anxious, but I did my best to hide it. I worked hard to use manners. I wanted to impress you. You treated me like one of your kids. I liked going to soccer with your son, and doing all the stuff you do. Thanks for listening and not laughing, when I cried about my mom. Thanks for telling me about all the problems your family has overcome. It made me feel okay.

    I am still wondering about a few things. Like, do I really need meds? My mom didn't mean to forget them when she packed us up and took us to the hospital with that note, but I learned I was okay without them, at least for awhile. Maybe some day I could go off them. I thought it was weird you don't have tv, but I did fall asleep without it. Listening to P.G. Wodehouse can make anyone fall asleep! I learned to pray, and I think God might actually listen to me.

    Thanks for taking Henry and I to church. I'd like to talk about that sometime. I hear Christians talk about getting saved. I don't really get it. You say it's when Jesus moves into your heart, but didn't Jesus save people with His hands and feet?

    Isaiah 58 calls us to repair broken down walls, and to be a restorer of streets to dwell in. Safe Families invites you, needs you and your Church to vote for Jesus with your hands and feet, not just your hearts, and to participate in the building and rebuilding of our streets and neighborhoods. This is Kingdom work, peace making work. If our children one day call the Lord blessed, if they dwell in peace, it will be because we put our hands and feet to the same tasks our Lord lived. 

*Shared at a Safe Families Faith Forum in Salem, Oregon July 2015 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Observations from Island Time

Children collect all. 
Everything is a treasure...still.
What flashes silver and light? 
Moon beams hidden deep, 
come up from the belly of the sea, 
shining back at me. 

Parents are many things, 
but they are first and foremost gate keepers.
   The turbulent sea is often our reality. Gentle lapping waves belie the real and ever present battle for life beneath the lapping.
   Humans have the great privilege and choice of not choosing war, but rather peace. Do we?

On an island, bobbing is the main verb.
   Gray white hair and crisp linen shirt, someone grew you up, but you're still a little boy with your air planes and toys.  
   Even when it seems the hand of fate seeks and wills its way, you get to choose. You get to choose.
Big jet, loud and noisy, state your presence, your reason for being. 
Everyone who comes here is quiet. 
Are you an inflated ego? 
Dried seaweed has a deeply satisfying crunch.

The fantastic things are tiny.

Children are echoes of our childhood. 
They call us home. 
   Thomas Wharton had me soaking up the sun and light in Every Blade of Grass

   I have decided coffee and books do not mix, ever. Three book stacks later the budget says, "ouch."

   Tiny little island, most homes are quiet and shuttered, but by nightfall laughter will ring loud. It's a Friday in summer, on a tiny little island. 
 The spirit is both fragile and resilient, at once.

    Every life distills down to something, maybe even one thing, what is that one thing?

   Everything on an island creaks and groans with age, and the strain of an isolated, but not alone, life.

   On an island, children and fog horns are the noisiest atoms around. 

   On an island one is tempted to say bad words when a 7 year old driving a Suburban passes you by, with a 12 year old in the passenger seat and no adults present. You didn't know you were so risk averse, nor life so fleeting, then you knew, and now you have been reminded.
What flashes all silver and light, 
breaking the surface of the water? 
A gleaming fish escaping...something bigger. 

 Reflections from time with lovely grandparents on the island,
  and a momento grandchildren make and leave behind.
 Goodbye little blue,
a bon voyage to you,
and on gleaming wings he flew.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Beautiful Shafts of Broken Light

    In our purest form we are light; in our purest, we are soul.
     Some ascribe a soul to everything. Maybe it is so, but if the rock, dog, or shell harbors a soul, I do not think they know it, at least not yet. Their potential waits.

    The shell, rock, and dog are for here and now, for us. Their presence reminds: Life is tender. Souls are tender. Handle with care. Look deeper. 

    They are hiding stories. Their beauty beckons us to seek and find, to look for the soul behind, beneath, and within. Each, like the books on the shelf, say, “Choose me, and I'll give you a glimpse of my story, and your soul.”

    The shell escaping the sea dazzles you and me. She has seen both the depths of the sea and tasted the lashing storm. She's been a home, for something – someone.“Be a home,” she says. Cradle her in your hand and she talks. She's been larger, now is smaller. Carved away by time, salt, sea, and abrasion. “Small is okay,” she whispers. “Small sparkles.”
    The dog snapping ferociously terrifies you and I. He's seen the back of a large hand, and cracked at the force. Fear once streamed from him, and he once quailed at ugly rebukes, but no more. His heart broke, cracked open, and roars his story. It echoes off the walls of the world. “I will terrify you first,” he roars. “I will be beaten no longer, but do the beating.” His soul groans not for release, but renewal. Once opalescent puppy eyes for someone, ovals of love, now he makes my soul constrict. My soul fills with anger; I pray for renewal.

    The rock, lying at feet, keeps her precious gems hidden, only in splitting her open will she release beauty. She cares not whether you seek her secrets, or let her lie quietly among the grasses. She is content to be the boy's treasure, or the chipmunk's resting place. She is happy to be pocketed, traveling far, or lying still. She knows what's within her. She waits for the one who comes with keen eye. “Look for the beauty within the mundane,” she says.

    Shells, dogs, and rocks speak. Even if they do not yet have a soul, one day they may, but they remind me of my soul, and of the other's soul. Surely the world is full of gleaming, broken, and hidden souls.

    We are soul. We are one. We come from the One True Soul, the Great Light. We arrive gleaming, become broken, and go into hiding. Treasures, us all. We are beautiful shafts of broken light. In embracing brokenness, we embrace each other. 
    Fusing broken shafts of soul light, fusing our light, bit by broken bit, we shine. Together.