Hope shared

Sometimes I complain about technology. I still think that I am perfectly capable of turning a crank to lower a car window and there is no reason to have a motor and actuator in every car door. I’m unconvinced of the need for huge video displays in car dashboards and I still enjoy looking at an actual paper map to orient myself when navigating. I’ve never been a fan of television and watch very little of that media.

On the other hand I am a kind of gadget guy. I travel with a laptop computer nearly everywhere that I go. I have a smart phone and I’m not afraid to use it. I didn’t think I wanted a tablet computer but as soon as I got one I started using it every Sunday as I lead worship.

When our daughter was living in England I began using Skype for video conversations every week. Now with a new grandson in Japan I FaceTime a lot, sometimes multiple times in the same day. I love having instant photographs of my daughter and her husband and son. I love showing those photographs to friends and family.

It has been interesting to share the photos of our new grandson with our youngest granddaughter. She is just two years old, but she feels a deep connection with the baby who lives half a world away. Whenever I show her a picture, she tries to grab the phone out of my hand and pull it close to her face. She talks to the screen of the phone as if he were right in the room. Of course she has grown up with technology. She doesn’t find anything new or strange about pictures on a phone and she has been encouraged to talk to the faces on the devices for all of her life. The device is, however, enabling a genuine relationship and a connection that otherwise would be impossible.

We live in a rapidly changing world and each of us make choices about which changes to embrace and which to resist. Even when we don’t actively resist changes, there are things that change with which we are challenged to keep up the pace. I no longer have much of a need to be completely up to date with computer equipment. I use computers every day, but it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have the latest and most powerful machines. As long as I can write and publish my journal, I’m happy with the equipment that I have. I don’t feel the need to keep up with the latest in gaming or graphic design or a host of other uses for technological devices. I use apps on my phone, but there are a lot that I don’t bother to learn. I have a twitter account and occasionally post news about the church, but most of the time I ignore the medium. I don’t follow any twitter users and I don’t use the app to read about anyone. I’ve never gotten into snapchat. I have a facebook account, but can go for days without checking my feed. I am friends only with those who I know from face to face relationships and I rarely post anything on Facebook. You won’t find pictures of my grandchildren on my Facebook page, though I have tens of thousands of digital photos of them.

All the same, the world will be very different for our grandchildren. They assume that various technologies have always been around and they use them with ease and often without being aware that the technologies they use weren’t available to their parents when they were children. Our eight year old grandson knows how to use all of the remotes for the television and he knows which Netflix programs he is allowed to watch. Our five year old granddaughter knows which buttons to push on the remote fob to open the doors on their car.

Our grandchildren are not growing up in a home that allows much time in front of screens, however. They play outdoors every day. They entertain themselves with games and toys. They spend part of each day in the garden with their parents. They have a strawberry patch and plenty of tomato plants and know how to choose ripe fruit to eat fresh from the garden. Their games often involve the world they know. Yesterday an elaborate garden was drawn with sidewalk chalk, including berry plants and apple and cherry trees and corn and other garden plants. They can walk to a nearby park and enjoy playing on the slides and swings. They live near a lake that is just right for wading and swimming and water play. They are entertained by mud pies and running through the sprinkler and making their own toys out of items they can readily find around their home.

Most importantly, from my point of view, our grandchildren are learning to play with each other. The eight year old helps the two year old and the five year old pitches right in. I am in settings where people are so divided by into groups by age that I meet children who don’t know how to play with others of different ages. I know quite a few adults who don’t spend much time at all playing with children. Life is so much richer when we spend time and get to know those who are different than ourselves. I am delighted by every opportunity to spend time with children.

Of course I’m delighted with and amazed by and proud of my grandchildren. But I know others who are equally amazing. Not every child in our country is being raised in front of television screens. There are lots of kids who run and play and enjoy the outdoors. There are lots of kids who have chores and who learn to pitch in when help is needed. There are lots of kids who are creative and learning. And those kids give me great delight in the present and hope for the future.

One of the responsibilities of elders in every society is to instill hope in young people. We get our inspiration and our hope from those young people themselves. It is a great system.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

In over our heads

We have two children. It was a good number for our family. I sometimes say that we were in over our heads and outnumbered with one child, so two just intensified that sense of being a bit out of control. We used to call our style “tag team parenting.” One would be caring for the children while the other was working professionally. Then we’d switch roles. We both worked professionally during the time we had our children, but the distribution of work was different at different phases of our lives. From time to time I would wonder how my parents managed with seven children. We are speed out so there were never more than five at home at the same time, but still, five is a definite hand full and having them spread over the years makes the job of being a parent an endurance event. Even my wife’s parents, with three children, must have had their hands full.

Two was a good number for us. We had time to be attentive to the needs of each child, while at the same time maintaining our professional lives.

From time to time we would have activities or events that demanded that we both be working at the same time. We had a few babysitters that were trusted who helped us when we needed to be otherwise engaged. I can remember a few short trips or events we attended when we left the children in the care of church members or their grandparents. It always seemed to work out and our children seemed to enjoy the special attention of being with other adults.

My memories of going to such events is so positive that it is something that we have longed to be able to do for our children as they raise their families. Living far away from them, however, affords us few opportunities. But we have the chance yesterday and today.

Our son is attending a state librarian’s meeting and his wife is able to go with him because we are visiting and can take care of the children for a day and a half. So far, we’ve done well. They left in the morning yesterday. We got lunch and dinner into the children, went for walks, flew kites, played in the yard, had naps, read stories, sang songs and got the children into bed for the night. Today we will be the primary caregivers until after dinner when the parents will return in time for bedtime routines with the kids.

Here’s where that number two comes into play. We are caring for three grandchildren. Three is definitely a step up in terms of workload from two. We’re still using the tag team method, however. One of us will say to the other, “I’m going to go do this and that, you’ve got the kids.” Then for a little while the other has to keep track of all three children. It works for us at the park or in their home for short periods of time. Yesterday, after having the two oldest grandchildren staying over night at our camper and feeding them breakfast, we managed to both get showered and dressed for the day without leaving the children unattended.

Adding the third kept us busy. Here is the deal. We aren’t working professionally at the moment. We’re on vacation, so we have full time to have both of us engaged in caring for our grandchildren. Our son and daughter-in-law are both professionals and they don’t have that luxury. Their tag team means that when one of them is “it,” that person has full responsibility for three kids. It is a handful. It is enough to give me a deep appreciation for their everyday lifestyle.

I fell asleep almost as soon as the oldest of the children was asleep. I was tired. We commented to each other that perhaps we would have the three sleep in their own home tonight after their parents return just so that we could have a little break after having responsibility for children two nights in a row. That’s not very much compared with the everyday lives of our son and his wife.

For millennia human societies have raised children in communal settings. Multiple generations engage in the tasks of caring for children. Relatives help to provide care. People work together. Our society, with its increased levels of isolation, means that there are fewer additional adults to provide assistance with the tasks of caring for children. When we get a taste of it, however, we like the process of participating in family life.

There is really nothing like having a two-year-old cuddle up next to you and pat your back and tell you that you’re a good grandpa. There is no joy greater than getting down on the floor and playing with one’s grandchildren. Our eight year old grandson is a great one for silly jokes and puns. He keeps us laughing and thinking. Being with them is a delight that is good for us. And having meaningful work such as caring for children gives our lives a deep sense of purpose. It reminds us of the simple fact that we are not attracted by the possibilities of living in senior citizen housing - at least not unless they have plenty of children around. We’ve noticed that there are a few neighborhoods out here that advertise a community of people over 50. Those neighborhoods don’t appeal to us. I’d much rather spend the day with my grandchildren than check out the activities at the senior citizens center. I’ve never picked up the games of golf, pool or pickle ball.

Even though I am a bit tired, it is a good feeling. I remember the long days and short nights when our children were tiny and we felt tired all of the time. There are many things in life worse than being tired.

All of this is simply to say that yes, we were in over our heads and outnumbered with a single child, and we were in over our heads and outnumbered with two children, and we’re in over our heads and outnumbered with three grandchildren. Still, we have another grandchild. May be we could find an event for both sets of parents to go off on an adventure together so we could try our hands with four.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

So lucky

Yesterday our daughter sent a text message with a picture of her son. The words she wrote were, “How did we get so lucky?” Her mother and her sister in law reminded her that there was more than luck involved in them becoming parents. They have worked hard for a long time towards this goal. It wasn’t easy for them to become pregnant and she endured a lot to get to the point where she became a mother. My initial reaction was slightly different. I simply said that the feeling she was having is exactly the way I feel about her: “How did we get so lucky?”

Like all parents, we have experienced ups and downs along the way. Our son, who was born first, had to have surgery when he was just a baby. Our daughter had to have tubes placed in her ears after repeated ear infections as a tiny child. There were nights with little sleep and times when I didn’t know if it would be possible to be more tired. There were a few boyfriends in whom I couldn’t see the reason for any attraction and a few broken hearts when trust had been misplaced. There were times when we worried because of decisions that our children made. But all in all, being a parent is one of the greatest blessings of my life.

As a pastor, I have seen tragedies that have come into the lives of others. I have been with parents who have lost children through a number of different tragic events. I am aware of the dangers that are a part of this life. There are illnesses that rob families of their children. There are addictions that defy intervention and treatment. There are choices that have tragic consequences. Families experience trauma in many different ways. Our family has been very fortunate in avoiding these experiences.

These blessings in our life are not the product of our having earned them. Tragedies and traumas enter the lives of people without a sense of justice or fairness. They just happen.

I used to joke, when our son was a tiny baby, that the fact that he was so good at going to bed and sleeping through the night was a product of “superior parenting.” I knew, at least at some level, that this was not true. We were lucky to have a son who was so content in his sleep. But at another level, I sort of believed myself. We had been careful about establishing bedtime routines. We were consistent in our expectations and our treatment of our son. Then his sister came into our family. She woke in the night every night. This went on for years. I became very, very tired. And, when I once complained to my mother about the interruptions of sleep, she had no sympathy at all. She said that perhaps I deserved to have such happen to me. I don’t know about the “deserved” part, but I do know that the waking in the night and the fatigue in the daytime is just part of the process of being parents. And the time went by quickly and soon she was sleeping through the night. She continued to provide me with sleepless in the night well into her twenties. There were times when i worried about her and wondered where she was when she became old enough to have her driver’s license and go out with her friends. My worst fears were never realized. And those times also passed quickly.

And now I am blessed with joys that multiply - literally. We have four grandchildren. Yesterday when we arrived at our son and daughter in law’s home we were greeted by a grandson who ran out to the yard to meet us. Just inside the back door, we were hugged warmly by two granddaughters who had been scrambling to get on their shoes and coats so they could also run out. Throughout the day and into the evening there were hugs and kind words from young people. Our two year old kept saying, “It’s perfect!” It is.

Part of the deep joy of being a grandparent is getting to witness the delight of our children in being parents. I watch our son playing with his children and it sparks memories of my own past. I can see that he really enjoys being a father. I can see that he loves his children and that he is delighted to have time to be with them. Knowing that our children have happy and meaningful lives is a blessing beyond words.

I know that there are challenges ahead. No life is without mistakes. No journey is without misdirection. I also have confidence that our family will be able to meet the challenges that will come our way.

I am envious of grandparents who are able to live so close to their grandchildren that they can attend every school program and recital and concert and game. I get deep pleasure and meaning from being with our grandchildren. That is one important factor in our decision to move from Rapid City next year when we complete our calls as pastors to the church we now serve. But I also know that it is unlikely that our two children will soon live near each other. For now they don’t even live on the same continent. One of the priorities for our move is accessibility to public transportation so that we will be able to travel to visit our grandchildren wherever they are located.

Compared to families of previous centuries, we are blessed to have access to travel. That little grandson who is making our daughter feel so lucky was born in Japan. In a few days we’ll be traveling to meet him face-to-face for the first time. We have already seen videos and pictures of him. We have seen him over video chat on the phone and computer. These are luxuries unknown to the parents of previous generations.

How did we get so lucky?

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

North Cascades National Park

north cascades np 2019-07
I grew up with Yellowstone National Park in my back yard. Well, that is not literally true. If we were driving, it was 80 miles to the Northwest entrance to the park at Gardiner, Montana or 120 miles to the Northeast entrance at Cooke City. The nation’s first National Park is mostly in Wyoming, but three of the park’s five entrances are in Montana. What made us feel like the park was in our back yard, however, was that our family business provided aviation services to the park, including fire patrols, which meant that our father made regular flights over the park and I was fortunate to go with him on a lot of those flights. Our routine was to fly up the Boulder Valley over the Slough Creek Divide and over the center of the park’s northern boundary. From there we would fly a loop, following the grand canyon of the Yellowstone to Yellowstone Lake, turning towards Old Faithful, flying over Norris and Mammoth, returning home up the Paradise Valley of the Yellowstone as we looked for any signs of smoke. I learned to tell the difference between smoke and steam from the airplane and I learned the locations and relationships between the park’s iconic features.

One of the treats in our family was a winter visit to the park. We would make Chico Hot Springs in the Yellowstone Valley our base for the exploration and drive in through the northwest entrance. The steam from the Mammoth Terrace was always more intense in the winter and a walk around the area gave great views of the Elk who make that place their home. We’d usually see bighorn sheep and sometimes got to witness the males crashing head long into each other with the resounding crack of impact. There were always deer and antelope to see. In the winter the bears were hibernating, but the buffalo were truly impressive as they showed their power plowing through the snow. We liked to drive across the north of the park, which was kept plowed, because the Cooke City highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City was not plowed, meaning that the only winter access to Cooke City was through the park. At tower junction, we could often make the hike to the falls, which was spectacular when covered in snow and ice. In those days there was a large rock that had not yet fallen right in the middle of the top of tower falls. We used to say, “Someday that rock is going to fall over the falls.” It did.

Since Glacier National Park is also in my home state, I also had many opportunities to visit that park both by car and by air. The drive up the Going to the Sun Highway always afforded close views of mountain goats as well as lots of other critters. We visited Glacier in the summer, which like Yellowstone was a good place to spot bears.

With my Montana bias, I believed that the most beautiful national parks were Montana’s two. They were, after all, where the concept of National Parks was first begun with Yellowstone being the first national park in the world.

n cascades np 2019-07
Since then, we’ve had the blessing of visiting many other national parks and marveling at the beauty and grandeur of nature. I no longer think it is fair to compare the parks. There is no one that is the best. The most famous, like Yellowstone suffer a bit from so many people and there is great joy in visiting some of the less famous ones. You can really get away from people in all of the national parks by walking and that is the best way to really get to know the parks. We learned early on how to find places in Yellowstone that most tourists never see. A short walk or canoe trip will take you away from the crowds and into the wild country.

Living next to Badlands National Park these days is a real blessing. It is a place where it is very easy to get away from the crowds and see some incredible vistas.

This morning we are camped in North Cascades National Park, an incredible piece of alpine heights, waterfalls and temperate rainforest. It doesn’t make the list of the most famous of our national parks, but, like the others, it is a real gem and well worth the visit. The main driving route through the park is Washington State Highway 20, and there is a lot that you can see by driving the switchbacks and steep road through the park. Like other parks, however, there are real treasures for those who take the time to park the car and get out to walk. Last night we took a short hike on a trail that led through a fire scar, down alongside the Skagit River, and through a forest of ancient old growth cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock. The forest floor was filled with ferns and lush vegetation and the huge trees were simply incredible to see. I’ve lived most of my life in relatively dry places, where a tall tree is perhaps 60 feet high with a trunk whose diameter may reach a couple of feet. These forest giants are so much bigger and more grand. When a giant tree falls, it become a nursery for new trees and the younger trees wrap their roots around the fallen giant as they grow. The forest dampens the sounds of the outside world and you hear mostly the wind and the drops of moisture falling from leaf to leaf.

skagit view in n cascades np
North Cascades has towering snow covered granite peaks that rival those of Glacier, where we have also visited on this trip. Two national parks in as many days have inspired us and reminded us that the greatest cathedrals are not buildings crafted by human hands, but rather the woks of the Creator.

It is a real gift to be in this place and to walk among the giants of the forest, who have been here for thousands of years. I am still learning lessons in humility and this place is an excellent teacher. How fortunate we are to be in this place.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

In the high country

kootenai river at troy mt
I genuinely love the Black Hills and the area we call home, but I have to admit that there are times when a bit of the biases from my growing up appear. When I was growing up, we were careful to refer to the Black Hills as “hills.” They aren’t mountains in our way of thinking because they do not reach up above the tree line. As wonderful as the Black Hills are, there is a big difference between our home and the place where we are this morning.

We are in Troy, Montana, after having driven around the southern end of Glacier National Park yesterday. Troy has the slogan, “Where Montana begins,” but for us it is where Montana ends. We entered Montana at Alzada, in the southeastern corner and are almost to the Idaho line and not far from the Canada line. We’ve driven diagonally across the fourth biggest state in the nation. So for this trip, Troy is where Montana ends for us. Today we’ll head across the top of Idaho panhandle and will be in Washington before long. We’re driving near the Canadian border this trip because wee want to stay in the mountains as much as we are able.

We are camped in a cedar and Douglas fir forest. The trees are 100’ or more tall and a little rain shower has made the cedars smell so wonderful. We took a little walk down to the Kootenai River and watched the mighty stream on its journey through the mountains. We are surrounded by granite peaks that truly are the spine of the continent. One can feel small among all of the grandeur of our surroundings, but it is also a bit nostalgic for us as we journey.

Susan lived in Libby, about 15 miles from where we are camped for three years when she was a child. She can remember the forests and some of the streets and houses. And she can remember living in the mountains. I had and aunt, uncle and cousins in Libby and we visited them several times and there are many sights and sounds of the mountains that make me feel at home. It is one of the places that I would love to take our grandchildren one day.

As often as we remind ourselves that we are a people of the story and the keepers of history and not of place, we are reminded that place is important.

This trip is one of complex emotions for us. We are aware that we are coming to the end of an important phase of our lives. Our life in Rapid City has been rich and meaningful and filled with important relationships. There is a wonderful community of carling and loving people there and the thought of leaving gives us pause.

At the same time, we have been longing to be closer to our grandchildren for as long as we have had grandchildren. We look with envy at those who are able to attend their grandchildren’s school events and games. We long for more time with our children and the opportunity to witness the growth of our grandchildren. Family really is more important than geography to us. But even as we consider moving to another place, we are reminded of the role of geography in our lives. Even though we’ve lived in South Dakota longer than either of us ever lived any other place, we have a sense that Montana is home. Whenever we visit, we feel like we are coming home. Yet there is not much for us in Montana. I have one sister and one brother who live in the state, but our folks are gone, our home places have been sold and many of our relatives have passed on as well. The places of our childhood and youth are now the places of other people and whenever we visit we are deeply aware of the gentrification of the rural places and the large number of new people who have moved to the state in the years that we have been living elsewhere. It is not the way it was when we were growing up. It is not the way it was when we left.

The high country has become a place for us to visit, not a place to call home. As we age, we will travel less and our opportunities to visit the high country will be limited. This makes each trip even more precious to us.

We don’t have time on this trip to linger in the high country. We are passing through. We are lucky that this trip afforded us the opportunity to take the “long cut” and go to some of the places where we have experiences such great beauty and majesty. We need to keep moving on this trip. We are eager to get to the grandchildren who are at the end of the road.

For this morning, however, there are a few minutes to smell the fresh aroma of cedar, to walk among the giant trees and sense the darkness and intimacy of the forest floor, to sit by the river and watch its ceaseless motion and to remember. This is the land of those who went before us. The indigenous tribes of this area were here for generations before settlers arrived. Then there were generations of people, some of whom are our family members. In the course of time we appeared and were touched by the mountains and nourished by the rivers. We come back to the high country whenever we are able for the renewal and refreshment that they have to offer.

Yesterday the mountains didn’t have the purple hue that is described in America the Beautiful. Instead they were nearly blue as we looked at them from the distance. We could see the line where the trees no longer grow and the patches of snow that have not yet melted. We could hear the river rushing by. Our spirits are being nourished and it is good to be in this place.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!