A Life in Gray

Storm clouds piled upon my mountain.

Familiar walls surrounding me, asleep.

Bold and threatening…

Calm and soothing…

One?

The other?

Or both?

Memories of play in a childhood barn,

An aunt’s wedding,

A first car.

Gray is supposed to be gloomy

And boring.

But gray with shininess added

Becomes silver

And beautiful and valuable

Shiny gray

Is happy gray.

Alone

Photo credit: Sharon Vendley

Lost girl

Wandering the desert of this life.

Your throat parched.

You eyes caked with tears and dust.

You must have water

Or you will die.

There is no water ahead

It is only a mirage

Your tired, swollen feet will only find miles and miles of sand.

You must go back.

Back to the place where you started

The place you left because you found the water bitter.

That place.

You must go back, hew down the tree and trust that God will use you to sweeten the water.

You must follow your own footsteps back across the desert.

But the wind has flattened the sand.

There are no footsteps now.

Only miles and miles of sand

You are lost.

It will take a miracle for you now

And you could have a miracle

If only you would ask.

But you do not ask.

Instead your footsteps cross the desert

On and on

And on…

Photo credit: Sonya Miller

Permanent Record: Book Review

I didn’t even have a phone when it happened, nor was I exactly interested in news stories generally but I remember when the news broke that a whistleblower had released secret government documents. I followed the story as well as I could through newspapers and magazines and for some reason I was fascinated.

I’ve always sort of enjoyed discussing conspiracy theories. I have relatives who believe everything from the flat earth theory to 9/11 conspiracies to the Sandy Hook school shooting being fake and they have all the “facts” to back up their claim. I don’t really take a strong stance on most conspiracies but I do enjoy hearing the theories.

But government surveillance is not a theory. It’s a fact. And Edward Snowden has given us the proof.

Permanent Record is his memoir.

I was most fascinated by being able to peek into the extraordinary mind of someone who spent their entire life in a world of computers, programming, and software.

It is, in many ways, the story of an accidental life. A life that turned out completely unexpected.

No one plans to be stuck in an airport for forty days or spend a lifetime exiled in Russia. No one wants to leave behind loved ones who have no idea where you are for weeks.

And it it was a chosen life because he could have stayed silent. He could have walked away. He could have kept his comfortable life.

Instead he did what believed was right for the world.

He put others quality of life above his own.

It is the story of a hero.

It should be read.

When Love turns to Hate.

It bothers me most when Christians say it. I think I know what they mean and I don’t want to be the judgy person who always picks other Christians apart.

But.

I think we should stop saying it.

I don’t think it’s helping.

I think we, as christians, should have known better all along.

And yet everywhere around me I see it. In books, in movies, on posters, from podcasts. The message is everywhere.

Love yourself.

It directly contradicts Jesus who said “If any one would follow me, let him deny himself”.

I understand why. Suicide is now the second highest cause of death for teenagers in the USA.

It’s well meant. Just wrong.

Because we were created to serve. Humanity finds fulfillment in sacrifice, in giving, in service.

Giving in a way that costs something.

We have forgotten how to serve. That is our crisis. We have forgotten that the hero is always the one who sacrifices something.

This is why we are now all victims. It is why our divorce statistics are so high, why all of our teenagers are committing suicide, why abortion rates are climbing…

Because we thought that loving ourselves meant being selfish.

And instead we have hatred for our selfish little selves.

And that, I think, is the crisis of America.

Oh The Words I Would Write

Most of the time I write exactly what I feel like writing but every now and then I come across a topic that I badly want to write about but for some reason or other I don’t. We all tend to have opinions about things that we don’t have experience with and I try to not write about those things because I know that reading and knowing is not the same as doing however here are 10 of the topics that clog my brain and why I haven’t written about them.

1. Vaccines: Spoiler alert. I haven’t been vaccinated against anything ever. Two of my 8 siblings got their baby shots and reacted badly to them. They have struggled all their lives with allergies and asthma. None of the rest of us has ever had a single health problem or been admitted to a hospital. I am not necessarily anti-vaccine but I am anti the current vaccine schedule and I feel like science and quite a few doctors are on my side. However this is such a hugely controversial subject and I’m just not sure I want to fight about it.

2. Salaried Pastors: I feel like this is such an obvious thing that mennonites like to ignore. I don’t think Pastors should have a salary neccesarily but I do think that if you use a but of common sense it would be obvious that if you think your pastor should be doing more than he is, the obvious solution would be to help him out financially so that he doesn’t have to worry about that and can spend more time and use more headspace concentrating on the church. I haven’t written about it because I’m a preacher’s kid and it just seems like it would be wiser to let someone else discuss this.

3. Things teachers would like to tell parents. I am sometimes amazed by how parents blatantly disregard things that seem to me to be obvious. Do you want your child to do well in school? Teach them to be respectful to other adults. Send them to bed on time. Minimize screen time and maximize creative play. Read to your child and read to your child and read to them some more. These are things every teacher will tell you and honestly are all things that are fairly easy to do and yet many parents ignore them. There’s more but I don’t want to be the teacher who complains about the parents because honestly I have some awesome, supportive parents to work with. And I’m not a parent. I don’t have any business telling parents how to raise their kids.

4. Things I would like to say to moms who have small babies. Again, I haven’t written about this because I’ve never been a mom and I don’t like when people who have never been teachers tell me how to be a teacher or people who aren’t preacher’s kids tell me what it’s like to be a preacher’s kid so I will refrain from telling moms how to be a mom. There are moms out there who are doing it right. Please find a mom who raised happy well-adjusted kids and learn from them.

5. Meditation. I simply haven’t researched this enough and I’m not sure how I feel about the spiritual aspect of it. I read The Untethered Soul and was absolutely fascinated by the idea of shutting off the voice in your head but I haven’t achieved that and until I do, I’ll wait ti write about it.

6. Dating. I’ve never dated so I am completely inexperienced. I do think, however, that there has got to be a better way than the current trend of 8 months of infatuation followed by a stressful wedding.

7. Money. I have rather strong ideas about money and how it should be used. I realize that everyone wastes money in some way or another and we all have our justifications of why we do. I’m still rather young to be to opinionated on this and I’d rather not put my foot in my mouth.

8. Things I think are stupid. It’s pretty obvious why I don’t write about this. I love people who do the stupid things and I want to stay their friends.

9. Homeschooling. I am not anti-homeschooling but I’m also not pro homeschooling. I would like to write about why but it’s a very delicate subject and I don’t know if I could do a good job of it. I will say, if your options are homeschooling or public school, please choose homeschooling.

10. The place of creative people in the Kingdom of God. I feel like the church often wastes its valuable resources when it comes to using people effectively. Especially people who are intelligent and creative because they tend to do things that are controversial and try things just for the sake of trying them without much thought about the consequences. I also think that intellectual mennonites tend to not educate themselves to the level of their intelligence (Jordan Peterson Alert) and thus end up as bitter people. This is a huge subject. One that would take a book to explore properly and I am a blogger not an author.

Just curious, which of these are things you have strong opinions about as well? Which ones have you never thought about? Please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

A Space in Time

I wrote recently about my grandpa and the things that don’t change but thinking about the things that are constant also has me thinking about the things that do change.

What would it be like, I wonder to be him in 2020?

I catch a glimpse of it when I help my grandma sometimes.

“What do you do with that phone anyhow?” She asks one time.

And then the next time, “I have some sweet potatoes that I’d like to make into chips. Your mom thought you could maybe pull up some instructions for me.”

And so I find the YouTube video and while the nice young man explains to grandma that making sweet potato chips is really quite easy, I mop the floor and clean the bathroom and think about what it would be like to be her.

To live in a world that you don’t really understand and know that you never really will.

“You don’t have to move the chair to vacuum,” she says a minute later. “You can just sweep around it.”

I am puzzled for a moment. It’s a small chair -easier to move than to sweep around.

And then I realize. It’s not easy for her to move. Her bones creak and ache. A weight that is easy for me to carry is difficult for her.

She asks me about her daughters who live in Haiti. She doesn’t email, or text, or use social media.

We talk about my little trouble maker at school and I tell her about the wobble cushion and the sensory balls that help him to be calmer and she looks sad.

“There’s so much we didn’t know when I was young,” she says. “So many children who suffered because we didn’t know better.

And that is I think, the hard part of being 90 years old in 2020.

Knowing the things now that you needed to know so long ago, but didn’t.

And at the same time not being able to keep up with the things from the world today.

Living in between.

I think that’s why they feel alone.

84 Years

My Grandpa was born in 1935. The same year Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Pacific and the Hoover Dam was built. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the great depression was in full swing and World War 2 was brewing.

My grandpa is an old man now. He spends his nights and most of his days on his recliner.

An old man, full of stories, many of which no one will ever hear, much less remember.

And I wonder what it would be like, to be him.

He chose a slow-paced life. Driving a horse and buggy. Farming. Milking cows.

His grandchildren come to see him. Driving cars, carrying smartphones, wearing smartwatches. They are truckers, builders, business managers.

They travel to foreign places and send postcards of their smiling faces.

He worries about us.

He jokes about technology. About Alien invasions and robots.

And then he stops to tell a story about his time as a conscientious objector during the war.

Or about his father who left the North Dakota plains to move to Indiana for the girl he loved.

Or about the time he packed his seven children into a bus and traveled through Central America.

It’s then I realize that while lifestyles change and the technology moves forward with breathtaking speed.

Nothing important really changes at all.

Our values are constant.

Our family comes first.

And our love of adventure is inherited.

Grandpa never needed Facebook, but then neither do I. He may have spent his life with a horse and buggy and yet, during his time as a CO he got his license and drove a truck.

He did what needed to be done.

And that, I think, is the legacy he left us.

The Things I Remember

My friend/sister-in-law and I are doing a 5 week writing challenge, writing twice a week. I chose 5 topics and she chose the other 5. I’m not going to tell you who picked which ones:). You can find her perspective over on Music of the Starlight

It’s funny how the things that mean the most are often things that are so easy to do but are so often left undone.

It’s not hard to simply notice. To ask “how are you doing?” Or to give a small thing. It’s not hard to stop for 5 minutes to talk to someone.

But often I’m in a hurry.

And I simply forget.

But then I remember the things tha have meant the most to me over the years. Things I remember years later.

Little things.

I doubt they remember.

I think of one instance in particular.

I was fourteen. It’s easy to get lost when you’re fourteen. Not literally, maybe, but emotionally. I hadn’t been a Christian for very long and being fourteen and part of a church feels a little strange. You don’t really feel like you contribute anything and at some point you start to wonder if any one even noticed that you are there.

But there was one lady who did. She stopped me after church one day to ask how I was doing. She looked me in the eye and asked about my relationship with God.

And I loved her for it. Loved that she noticed. Loved that she stopped for 5 minutes to talk to me.

That’s all it was. 5 minutes.

But here I am almost 10 years later and I remember.

There are other things too.

A school parent who brought me a hot coffee

Another person from church who simply stopped me to say “I appreciate everything you do”

A friend who stopped in after school for no reason. Just to chat.

Our words have power. Our actions have consequences.

I remember that best when I think about the things I remember.

Soul Scarred

I look across the room and wonder

What pain lies hidden in each heart

And what would be the weight of collected pain…

If all the pain could be collected.

I resist the awareness of your pain

Wondering would I be able to stand under the weight

Of yours,

plus mine…

I feel as if

You knowing my pain

Would make it come alive

And I could no longer be

In Denial.

And I wonder if we did share the pain

Would we simply collapse under its weight

Or would our own pain instead be more bearable

Knowing that another carries it too.

And could I carry part of your weight while you carry part of mine

Like a yoke of oxen plodding.

Bright Spots

It’s the little things that make up the big ones and it’s the little pieces of happy strung together that make the good life and sometimes it’s not so much having the moments of happy as it is noticing and holding on to the moments.

Here are my happy moments.

I’m finding happy moments in the winter.

Please congratulate me.

1. That spot of sunshine that comes in my window perfectly onto my desk. In the afternoons when I’m tired and have a headache and I still have to grade aalllll those papers, just at that moment the sun angles perfectly in through the window and I remember that the world holds sunshine after all.2. Seeing a new podcast on The Rubin Report featuring Ravi Zacharias. I literally smiled for like 15 minutes and the phrase “inordinately happy” came to mind. I don’t know why it made me so happy really. It just did. I love things that feed my mind.

3. When my students sing with all their heart. I am sad to admit that this happens far too rarely and there are many mornings when it sounds more like croaking and they are all half asleep. But sometimes… Sometimes everything synchronizes and comes together and they all SING. I love it.

4. Sunrises from the mountain top. Over Christmas break a crew of cousins and one brave uncle climbed the three miles to the top in the predawn darkness. Gold spilled across the mountain and melted into pink, and orange and gradually turned into soft light and we could see the Powell Mountains in front of us and far in the distance the hazy Smokies. It couldn’t have been more worth it.5. Handel’s Messiah. I mean I’d listened to it before but I’d never been to a live performance and being there with the music dancing and swirling around you and watching while each musician plays his own part perfectly to produce one overwhelming whole. I am not the same.6. Coffee. Any hot drink really. I love to hold a cup of warmth in my hands and know that it is will become part of me and I will be warm inside because of this simple cup I hold carefully in my hands.

7. John Green. I just finished reading Turtle’s all the way Down and before that it was Looking for Alaska. I may not agree with John Green on a lot of things but sometimes I just need to think about something that is far removed from life right here and John Green is perfect for that.

Seven is the number of completion and that’s the end of my happy list. I’m more happy than that but you don’t really want to hear about my awesome friends, my amazing family or my favorite food.

But be happy.

Courageously happy.

In the moments.