October 2019

Halloween 2019

We were talking with three of our grandchildren over Skype a few days ago. They were decorating pumpkins with sharpie pens. They have a large garden and they produced a lot of pumpkins, so there were plenty of options in terms of size, shape and color when they selected one for decoration. I told them that we had decorated our pumpkin with snow this year. They laughed at the idea and wondered what a snow-pumpkin-man might look like.

There have been plenty of years during our marriage when we didn’t have a pumpkin at all for halloween, We observed the tradition of carving pumpkins when our children were little, but when they got older, the tradition wasn’t practiced as something that we had to do every year. We also tried to teach our children that pumpkins are food and that, if treated properly, could produce a tasty side dish. This year, however, we have a large pumpkin which I placed in our wheelbarrow. Our daughter bought it for a few photo opportunities with our grandson when they were visiting earlier this month.

According to Wikipedia, the ancient Celts were among the first to carve faces into gourds and place lights inside to make a strange lantern. The tradition apparently grew out of the practice of making lanterns to light the way to huge bonfires that were lit to drive out evil spirits on autumn nights during the season of harvest.

There are many things about the observance of Halloween that I don’t fully understand. We’ve never been much for large public displays. We don’t make a big deal of decorating our house. When our children were living at home, we allowed them to do a bit of trick or treat, but we tried to avoid too much excess. When the candy came home, we set limits about how much could be consumed at a time.

Others make different decisions. I go a lot of places where adults are really into costumes and decorations. There is a fake skeleton in the waiting room of our doctor’s office, dressed in hunter camouflage, complete with an orange vest and cap. The decoration seems most inappropriate to me given the fact that every year at this time our Search and Rescue squad is called out to look for missing hunters. Hunters get lost. They have accidents. And some of the searches don’t end happily. I’d rather have my doctor’s office display a higher level of professionalism and sensitivity to the feelings of those who might have experienced loss or tragedy.

We have neighbors who have decorated their houses with all kinds of fancy lights and decorations. Despite the fact that we live in a place where there is a lot of wind, inflatable decorations seem to be popular. I wonder how much those decorations add meaning to the lives of those who put them up.

It seems to me that there is plenty of room in the holiday’s observance for a wide variety of customs and traditions. Even when others do things I don’t fully understand, I am happy to be a part of a community where there is great diversity in observances and traditions.

Recently I read a short article by a friend and colleague warning about excessive cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes. The author was cautioning against dressing up children in costumes that reflect traditions that are not their own. I understand the concern, but I also know that many holidays, especially Halloween, are huge mixtures of cultures and traditions. I guess I have a bit of Celtic heritage, so maybe it is appropriate for me to carve a pumpkin, but what about those who come from other traditions? Are we unwilling to share ours with them?d

My friend mentioned specifically Day of the Dead costumes. She asserted that those who have no Hispanic heritage have no right to appropriate the traditions and costumes of a culture that is not their own. As I read the article, I wondered where the point of cultural appropriation takes place. I suspect that the children who are wearing those costumes have gotten the idea from the popular animated movie about the Mexican tradition. “Coco” tells the story of a little boy and his quest to learn his own culture and tradition. If a child who has no Mexican heritage dresses up as a character from Coco, is that child stealing another’s traditions, or acting out a fantasy from a movie? Is that inherently different from choosing a character from another movie, such as “Beauty and the Beast?” Is is cultural appropriation for those who are not from France to dress up as a character from a movie based on a French novel? Perhaps making the movies and telling the stories is an act of cultural appropriation.

Last Saturday there was an event for children at Storybook Island, a popular park in our town. The parking lot was full and some of the parents bringing their children to the event had to park across the street. I happened to be driving by as some of them were crossing the street. It was a cold and blustery day. I sat in my warm car and waited and watched as a miniature parade of characters in costume crossed in front of me. There were many characters from stories and movies. I saw little storm troopers from Star Wars and tiny ballerinas and a host of different costumes from a wide variety of sources. I was impressed by the creativity of the parents and others who had collaborated with the children to make the costumes. The children seemed to be having a great time and genuinely enjoying the activities. It seemed like good fun and watching the children made me happy.

I’m reluctant to offer too much criticism of those children, even those whose costumes reflect cultures and traditions that are different from their own. Maybe dressing up and play acting is a way to become more culturally sensitive. Certainly we have a responsibility to be sensitive to the cultures of others and to teach our children respect for others, but sometimes just allowing them to have fun can be a good way to learn those lessons.

However you celebrate, Happy Halloween. May your celebration be safe and fun.

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!

Praying for a clam day

One of the things about discovering that you have a medical diagnosis is that you learn that there are a lot of other people who have the same diagnosis. Since Susan discovered that she has A-Fib, we have hear story after story of people who have had the same diagnosis, and of the family members and friends of other folks who have some familiarity with the condition. We were told by the doctors that the condition is relatively common and that they have a lot of experience treating it, but we have been a bit surprised to discover how many people have been living with the condition.

The sharing of all of the stories is done with the best of intentions. People tell us about their experiences with the condition as a way of saying that things are going to work out all right for us. They want to reassure us that we have a good chance of returning to our normal life and schedule. I am grateful for their support and for their stories.

However, as we rise on the morning of Susan’s return to the hospital for the ablation procedure, I don’t need others’ stories today. I am aware that our situation is unique to us. We’ve never had this experience before. We’ve prepared in our own way for this day and we’ve checked with the doctors to be confident that we are ready. We’ve consulted and researched and feel that we have made the right treatment decisions in consultation with doctors whom we trust. And we’ve made our own plans on how to face this day and the period of recovery that is to follow. We are surrounded by a great network of family and friends and church who are providing us with very support that we need.

Part of our situation is that, despite being an avid journalist, who publishes my journal every day, I am really quite a private person. I deal with a lot of life’s challenges by facing them in my own way. I’m not much for crowds. I don’t mind telling my story, but I”m not much for telling it over and over again. So I have intentionally taken today and tomorrow off from work. I’ve thought through how I intend to share the information with those who need to know. I should do better with communications than was the case when we first discovered Susan’s condition. By staying away from the office and giving us time to be with each other, I’m allowing myself to experience the process and to deal with my own anxieties and worries in my own way.

Many years ago I was burned in an accident at my mother’s place in Montana. I received prompt care and have no lasting scars from the incident, but at the time it was fairly serious. It took a couple of hours in the emergency room to have the burns treated and I required a repeat trip to the emergency room the next day due to dehydration. During the whole procedure, I didn’t say much to anyone outside of my family. I had plenty of support. I even had the prayers of a friend who is a minister. When I got back to our church, I realized that I had neglected to communicate my situation to the members of my congregation and found that I had to tell the story several times to bring folks up to speed. A few folks, including the secretary I was working with at the time, expressed a bit of resentment of my lack of communication. I learned that just doing what I want and responding to my desires is not the best way to be a responsible member of a community. My getting burned affected more people than I realized.

This time around, I’ve tried to be more open and more communicative of our situation. But I don’t want to share my deepest feelings with everyone. I have a wonderful circle of support and that is enough. I don’t mind sharing the broad outlines of the general story, but I’d rather not give a play-by-play of my emotional reactions. When asked, I report that I’m doing OK. I think that is accurate.

I am aware that we are being studied by the members of our congregation. How we deal with a family crisis is a model for the congregation of how crises are faced. People look to us to see how we face adversity and challenges to our way of thinking. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t mind being seen as an example for others. But I’m reluctant to share too many details.

For the most part the congregation has been very respectful of our privacy and we are grateful for their understanding.

I expect that today will be one of those days that seems like a really big deal in anticipation and, when it is over, I’ll think, “That wasn’t all that much - just a routine medical procedure.” Generally, the things that make me anxious in anticipation don’t turn out to be all that big in retrospect. And there are plenty of big events in my life that I don’t anticipate at all. I didn’t see the events of a month ago coming. I expected a short, smooth hospitalization with a few adjustments to medications and it was anything but that.

Jesus advised his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” It was sage advice. He went on to say that worrying doesn’t add anything to a life. Worry doesn’t make you live longer, or eat better or be better clothed. Saying “Do not worry,” however, doesn’t keep us from having a few anxieties. Knowing that we should not worry doesn’t calm every fear. I love the way that bit of advice from Jesus ends. He says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” I think Jesus showed a bit of his sense of humor in those words.

I prayer for today is for calm. A quiet calm day in which there is not too much news to share will suit me just fine. We’ll deal with whatever comes as it comes.

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!

Routines

One of the tasks that has shifted as a result of my wife’s recent hospitalization is that it is now my “job” to pick up the mail. For most of the time that we have lived in this house, Susan has been the one to stop by the mailbox and bring the mail to the house. It is a simple chore. It just takes a minute or two to stop on the way to the house. Our mailbox is also close enough for a short walk if one is in the mood. It is at the bottom of a hill, so the return walk is a bit more challenging, coming up the steep hill. My problem is that I keep forgetting that this is a daily task. I just don’t think about it as I drive towards the house. Sometimes I make a special trip to pick up the mail. Most of the time I let it go to the next day.

I remember when picking up the mail was something toward which I looked with anticipation. I used to love the possibility of a letter from my mother or another family member. I enjoyed the arrival of certain magazines. Even the bills we received by mail were a reminder that I was a member of a community. We’ve had several different ways of receiving our mail over the years. When we lived in Chicago there was a bank of mailboxes in the entryway of our apartment building. In North Dakota, we walked the blocks to the post office where we met our friends and neighbors on a similar errand. In Idaho the mail was delivered to our house and deposited through a slot in our front door.

These days, there is little excitement involved in getting the mail. Most social communication is done via email or telephone. Most of our bills are delivered electronically as well. What we do receive in the mail is a host of paper catalogues from businesses with whom we shop online. I don’t know why they think we need those paper catalogues. They usually go straight into the recycling bin. But since Susan was in the hospital, there has been a stead stream of cards and well wishes from friends around the world. Since we’ve been reluctant to receive too many visitors during this time of recovery, people have expressed their support by sending cards.

There is a good reason for me to pick up the mail every day, but I just can’t seem to remember that the task is mine. I’ve tried a variety of reminders, but I seem to have a mental block on that particular task. I’ve thought about making up a card with there word “Mail” and affixing it to the dashboard of my car, but I’m not all that practiced at looking at the dash. After all, I’ve driven more than 100,000 miles in that car with the “check engine” light on. I’m pretty good at ignoring obvious warnings.

I guess that one advantage of forgetting the mail is that I allow two days worth of mail to build up. that way there are more cards to look at on the days I do remember. Considering my track record, I should get into a routine about picking up the mail just at the time when Susan is feeling good enough to resume that chore. Then she’ll go to pick up the mail only to discover an empty box because I picked it up by force of habit.

One small lesson from this particular season of our lives is that it is a good thing to have our routines shaken up. It is easy to fall into ruts and keep doing things the same way and in the same order as we’ve been doing them for years and years. There are all kinds of things in my life that i do without giving it much thought. Sometimes taking time to think about it gives a new meaning to a task. And, it seems, there is always a better way to do any task.

One of the new routines at our house about which I have been disciplined and have not been forgetting is that we have quite a medication routine. I’ve been taking medications for several years now, but the routine is quite simple. I take one pill at bedtime and the others upon rising. Susan’s routine, however, is much more complex. She has some medicines that she takes only once a day, and some need to be taken in the morning while others need to be taken in the evening. Then there are pills that need to be taken at 12-hour intervals and, in addition there are ones that need to be taken at 8-hour intervals. Some of her medications require that we check her blood pressure before administering the medicine. That means that we are taking her blood pressure four times a day at present. Often her blood pressure is a bit low, so she will do a few exercises to raise it, meaning that we add another check of her pressure. In order to keep track of all of this and to keep the blood pressure recordings, I’ve drawn up sheets with charts that we fill out with pressures and checks each day. One page per day. Susan can take her own blood pressure and administer her own medicines, but there are enough of them that two sets of eyes and two people checking to make sure we’re giving the right pill at the right time is a good practice. So we’ve made a routine of it. 5 am, 9 am, 1 pm and 9 pm are medicine times. It also means that most days I make an extra trip home in the middle of the day to check and make sure medicines are given properly. That gives me an additional trip by the mailbox to remember to pick up the mail, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. I guess I’m glad that medicine is more important to me than mail. Were it the other way around, it might be disastrous.

No worries. Susan has a medical procedure tomorrow that is sure to result in a change of medications. At a minimum there will be new forms and a new routine. That should keep me on my toes for now.

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!

Thoughts of history and literature

German thinkers and German educational institutions were sources of inspiration and influence in academic thinking for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. There was a time when those who sought to be the best educated pursued the German language and learning in German universities. This was especially true in the fields of medicine, psychology, philosophy and theology. Along with the rise of Nazism in the first half of the 20th century, there was a rise in critical academic scholarship. Some of the books that grew out of German universities at the time have become pivotal texts for scholarship well into the 21st Century. Germany was the birthplace of modern psychiatry. Although Sigmund Freud was an Austrian, his education and research were heavily influenced by the German academic system. The Swiss psychiatrist who followed Freud, Carl Jung also was deeply influenced by that same system. Both contributed heavily not only to the field of psychiatry, but also to anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy and religious studies.

By the time I entered my undergraduate studies in 1970 a new generation of European scholars were making their mark on the academic scene. The rise of nazism in Germany and the spread of fascism across Europe produced serious reflections about the meaning of life and the essential nature of humans. With such fundamental evil embodied in the political system of Germany, producing millions and millions of victims, scholars began to question previous assumptions about the meaning of life and the limits of human striving for the good of others. Two texts were considered to be essential to a liberal arts education when I was a student. One was Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” also published under the title “From Death Camp to Existentialism” and originally published under the title “Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp.” The other, published somewhat later, was Eric Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom.”

Many evenings were spent in deep discussion of the concepts and ideas of these two books and some related essays and texts that were assigned by our professors. Is the essential nature of humans good or evil, neither or both? Is there a flow to history that moves towards greater justice, freedom and enlightenment or are the events of history essentially random and humans caught up in systems and events that are beyond our control? Do we make history or are we victims of it? Are humans destined for freedom? Does God intervene on behalf of human freedom? The questions remain weighty in the thought of many inside and outside of academic institutions.

Such discussions, however, are often considered to be frivolous or unnecessary in contemporary academic studies. The emphasis on scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics has led many academic institutions to decrease funding and support for the study of philosophy, religion, and social studies. Although psychology and psychiatry are still deemed to be worthy academic pursuits, their study has taken a definite move away from philosophical concerns and theological questions towards the gathering of quantifiable evidence and results-based studies. For those of us who received our education in a different era, there is a sense of loss with this intense focus. It seems to us that too many students are receiving their degrees without having spent any time at all considering bigger questions of context and meaning. They have become superb technicians and specialists without wrestling with the ethical implications of their craft. They have become experts in minutia without debating the big questions of life.

It remains to be seen what literature will grow out of the current political morass. It could be argued that American Democracy is facing one of this worst crises in the brief history of the rise of modern democracies. The intense gerrymandering, intentional voter suppression, divisional politics with no compromise and other factors currently influencing American politics are reminiscent of the conditions that led to the rapid rise of totalitarian governments in the first half of the 20th century. The study of history and academic comparisons between the two centuries, however, means that few are really studying the relationship between that time and our own.

Despite the flood of self-published and nearly self-published books and the volume of writing that is coming from our current situation, I cannot help but wonder where the critical writers are. I am not sure that these books are given serious academic scrutiny in our current situation. I know that contemporary students are not reading the books of the 20th century with the same intensity that we read them in our time.

With the rise of the Internet and other technological advances, the role of literature in academic studies is shifting. Libraries no longer resemble the vast repositories of books, articles and journals that was the case a few decades ago. Students cover vastly wider fields in their research projects. There is much more surveying the vast field of literature and much less deep contemplation of a single volume than once was the case. With the ability to cut and past text within documents, students are far less familiar even with their own writing than was the case when students typed multiple drafts of academic papers by hand.

There is no use in bemoaning the changes. The changes are real. New questions arise as to the efficacy of traditional university education in such a rapidly changing world. Degree programs are being replaced with certificate programs. On campus residential study is being replaced with online asymmetric education. The effects of these fundamental shifts in the educational system remain to be revealed. It will take a century or more to fully understand how much we have changed.

In the meantime, I keep reading books, looking for the deep reflective thinking that difficult times require. There are plenty of books that seek to explain what is going on. There are fewer ones that ask the question “Why?”

Despite their obviously dated titles and some clearly dated thinking, the questions raised by Frankl and Fromm remain. Those who seek wisdom could do worse than reading the books and contemplating their questions.

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!

Thinking of firefighters

A recent conversation with a friend has gotten met to thinking about the firefighters who are battling the flames in California. The past few seasons have been filled with what seems almost like nonstop fires. The first in California have made the headlines so many times that we hardly consider it news when we read that another subdivision has been evacuated and the flames are threatening more and more homes. The power company cuts off electricity in an attempt to avoid sparks that could ignite new fires and even their actions are a bit of “too little too late” with lawsuits from previous fires mounting and the company struggle with bankruptcy. Those who have dedicated their lives to fighting fires have been working long days with insufficient time off for what seems to be years.

Despite all of the destruction, there must be some small victories for firefighters - a home saved, flames diverted from their most destructive path, a backfire that works and slows the advance of the fire. It seems as if they never get one fire fully extinguished before another breaks out and it must be demoralizing to have to drive through entire communities that have gone up in smoke.

I will occasionally sit down with a firefighter or emergency responder after a major event and there is a kind of conversation that involves a lot of reporting on what happened. After the crisis has past, firefighters usually want to talk at least a little bit about what they have witnessed. Our firefighters sign up for the profession because they want to save lives and property. They are motivated by the vision of being there to help their community at a time of need. For many of them the job consists of a few dramatic moments and a lot of boring ones. They have to be on call, so they are at work, in the station, handling light maintenance and cleaning chores, cooking for each other, doing what needs to be done, while they wait for the interruption. It is the interruption - the call that comes telling of a crisis - that motivates the rest of their job.

But for the firefighters battling the California blazes, it must be different. They have been going from crisis to crisis without time to handle the routine chores. The trucks don’t get washed. Supplies don’t get refreshed. Hoses don’t get checked. There isn’t time for all of that. They need to get out and on the fire. When a piece of equipment is broken, it is discarded. Move on to the next crisis is the motto of each day. What do we need to handle the immediate?

I fear that we are wearing out the firefighters.

There is plenty of research into the effects of trauma. Despite what we might think, we humans are remarkably resilient in the face of trauma. We witness terrible things and retain the capacity to continue to be engaged in life. But trauma is cumulative. You can think you are handling things well for situation after situation and then, out of the blue, your emotions are overwhelmed without warning.

Not everyone is in agreement about how to handle the fires. Pacific Gas and Electric has initiated the largest voluntary blackout in the history of California. More than 90,000 people have been ordered to evacuate towns. A state of emergency has been ordered in Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. While the electricity company calls the blackouts a “public safety power shutoff,” the governor has called the outages “unacceptable.” It is has not been officially determined, but there is evidence that the Kincade Fire began as a direct result of a damaged power line.

People want to live in places of extreme beauty and sometimes those places are also the places of extreme weather events. In California, there are some very beautiful places that experience some very high winds. Things break. Services fail. And fires rage through the landscape dried by the winds.

We used to think of wildfires as seasonal events, occurring most frequently during the hottest days of the summer. The California fires tend to occur in the fall and last into the winter these days. Firefighting resources move from one area to another. There are arial tankers being used to fight the California fires that were fighting fires in British Columbia and the Yukon earlier in the summer. The crews of these planes follow the fires and have to work in a continuously “on” mode with little down time for rest and relaxation.

It is hard to determine the complete toll that these fires are having on those who fight them. We get plenty of news stories of the victims of the fires. Those who have lost their homes and pets and other things to the fire often make for dramatic television coverage. We can understand their loss and grief. But we often don’t focus our attention on those who are fighting the fires. They too are members of the communities they serve. In some cases they have lost their own homes as they continue to battle the fires that threaten the homes of others. They don’t get time to dwell with their own losses as they move on to the next point of crisis.

So I have been thinking of the firefighters. I’m wondering if, when they get a break from the fires, a few of them might enjoy a ski vacation in the rockies or a scuba diving trip to some exotic place. I hope that they can find ways to get away from the trauma and allow their minds to process what they have witnessed before they have to go back to the next attack on the wall of wildfire. They are heroes, every one of them, and their work is vital to the communities we enjoy. And sometimes we forget to thank them for their service to our community. We assume that they will be there each time we call without fail. But they are human, just like us and they experience the same emotions we do.

Thanks, firefighters! We need you.

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!

A Wider Perspective

The Institute for Peace Studies at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana is now in its third decade of seeking “to promote peace and intercultural understanding in our community through education and community involvement.” The seeds of the Institute were planted several years prior to its formal launching. More than a decade before it was started, when I was a recent graduate of Rocky Mountain College I wrote a proposal for a center for peace studies with my father, who was a trustee of the college. Our proposal was too ambitious for the time, including proposals for hiring faculty and offering complete degrees in conflict resolution and peace studies. Our vision was to form a peace college that might parallel the war colleges funded by the government of the United States. Sometimes, however, visions need to be shared and adapted before they can begin a journey towards reality. Our proposal wasn’t the right proposal for the time, but the idea continued to form and today there is an institution that is part of the college that provides community leadership in the study of intercultural understanding, conflict resolution and peace studies.

Back in the time we were working on the project, I ran across Elise and Kenneth Boulding, a couple who were working and writing about the academic discipline of peace and conflict studies. Elsie was born in Norway and moved with her family to the United States when she was three years old. Here family’s story was greatly affected by the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Norway by Germany. Among the concepts that Elsie explored in her writing was to encourage a vision of an expanded sense of the present. Instead of thinking of the present as the current moment or even your own lifetime, she encouraged people to think of the oldest person who ever held them when they were a baby. In my case, I am not sure who might have held me as a baby, but I am certain that I was held by my maternal grandfather, who was born in the 1880s. Then you think of the youngest person that you will ever hold in your arms and project a reasonable span of life for that person. I’m sure that I will hold babies that are not yet born, but if you take the present moment, I have just had a wonderful visit from my grandson, Patrick, who was born in 2019 and if he lives 91 years will see the year 2110. that is a span of around 225 years. Boulding encourages people to think of this line of direct touch as an area of influence and impact. I find the concept to be intriguing when I think of my own life and some of the decisions we make.

We live in a time when many institutions are in a mode of thinking about extremely short spans of time. There are entire industries focused on profits that can be made in five or ten years. Huge infrastructure projects such as pipelines are built with expected service lives of less than a century. We tend not to think in terms of very large spans of time. Our short sightedness leads to a certain kind of recklessness when it comes to the care of our planet and the use of its resources. If we just thought in terms of those who will remember us by name, our impact on this planet continues far beyond the span of our lives. This different perspective is very helpful to me as I consider how I approach the decisions of the present.

Often I live my life in a kind of survival mode. I rise in the morning thinking of the tasks that absolutely must be accomplished this day. Today I need to do this and this and this or I’ll never get through tomorrow. I prioritize my tasks and set to work. Inevitably there is an interruption or a task that takes more time than anticipated and I come to the end of the day with an even longer list of tasks for the next day. I get through my days feeling a bit behind and a bit overwhelmed. This kind of survival mode does not engender long term thinking or planning. I know better. I know that there are things coming up in the next year that will go more smoothly if I do some planning and preparation right now. I know that there are life events that I will face in the next decade that will go easier if I make some wise decisions right now.

Sometimes, however, I do recall my grandfather. He was a very thoughtful man who served on the boards of many institutions, served as a state legislator, and had a clear vision of a future that was better than the present. He raised his daughters to be positive contributors to society and encouraged them to pursue higher education. He served as a trustee of a church-related college and guided it through a major transition. He was a respected leader in his church. He had high standards for personal behavior and community participation. When I think of him I know that there are some aspects of my life of which he would be proud. He would have celebrated my earning of a doctorate and my ordination to the ministry. He would have delighted in our children and grandchildren. He would have support my participation in community ministries.

Then I hold my tiny grandson, who is one of the inheritors of the legacy of my grandfather. He has not yet learned to talk, but he understands the nature of love and the connections that can be built between people. We do not yet know what great adventures he will pursue or how his life will impact and contribute to the lives of others. These two people, who never met face to face are deeply connected and I am part of that connection - a bridge between two generations.

Sometimes it is valuable to back up and take a wider perspective on life. Amidst the chaos of the current world situation a wider view is essential. May we all consider our connections with those who have gone before and those who will come after us.

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!

No more climbing

Officially, the process of climbing Uluru in Australia is over. Today was the last day. Since it is evening in Australia as I write, the final group of tourists allowed to climb has gone up and down, the gates have been closed and the chain and poles used to assist climbers have been removed.

The giant monolith in the center of Australia is incredibly impressive. We visited in 2006. We spent several hours at sunset and a few more at sunrise looking at and photographing the red rock. We walked part of the way around the base of it. But we did not climb. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy climbing. I’ve climbed a lot of rocks. I like the view from high places. In a sense Uluru beckons those of us who love to scramble to the top of such places. But we were asked, very politely, not to climb. The brochure we received as we entered Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park explained that the rock is a very sacred place, akin to a church, and that the Anangu people who have lived in the area for millennia, believe that it it needs to be respected, which means that people ought not to climb.

Anangu culture, one of the oldest continual cultures on the planet, however, teaches people not to give direct orders to others. They tried for years to dissuade climbers with a simple request. They made interpretive sings that encouraged respect. They printed brochures. They organized tours with Anangu leaders who told some of the stories of their people. We took one of those tours and listened to the speaker, who told us that some of the stories of the place are too sacred to tell.

Visitors, however, continued to climb the rock. Sometimes they climbed at their own peril. Dozens of people have died on the climb. A few have died as the result of injuries sustained from falling. Most have died as a result of extreme conditions. The temperature on the rock can rise to 115 degrees. The winds can be fierce. The central desert of Australia is a harsh environment and the people who are indigenous to the place have learned ways to survive. Survival doesn’t involve climbing to the top of the rock.

Reluctantly the board of the National Park decided in 2017 to make a final and complete ban on climbing effective this spring. The seasons in Australia are the opposite of the northern hemisphere. They chose October 25 as the day. According to the BBC, there have been especially large crowds of climbers in the final days leading up to the ban. Photographs show lines of tourists waiting for their opportunity to climb.

Maybe I think differently from those who chose to climb. I have no regrets that we chose not to climb. We visited during the winter when temperatures were a bit more moderate, but approached 100 degrees in the center of the day. However, the requests of the people who lived there seemed sufficient reason for me to stay off of the climbing area. Instead we took a walk about the base and read the well-placed and informative signs that told about the culture of the people and the many different ways in which the rock has inspired sacred stories and ceremonies over the millennia.

You can see why the rock has become such a gathering place. It is clearly identifiable from a long distance away. It is the kind of landmark that would make a great meeting place for those who travel around the area in search of food. There is at least one permanent spring near the base of the rock, so the precious commodity of water is available to travelers. These days there is a National Park with a campground and cottages which can be rented for the night. There is a restaurant and most nights there is live entertainment. You can hear the sounds of the didgeridoo and hear stories of the ancient people. People have been playing the didgeridoo in that part of the world for 1500 years.

My memories of our visit, however, are mostly of the visual impact of the rock itself. I have a large framed photograph that I took during our visit. It is on the west wall of a room in our daylight basement where the sunrise provides an ever-changing view. It isn’t quite as dramatic as rising in the predawn to watch the sunrise creep up the actual rock, but it is enough to remind me of our visit. It is not hard to imagine why the place has sacred significance.

Of course all of creation is sacred. Every rock and every feature of the landscape is sacred. But there are some places that have risen to spiritual significance for more people over more years than other places. We are deeply aware of that because we have had the privilege of living in the Black Hills for the past quarter century. The place where we live has been deemed sacred by generations of people from many different tribes. Like Uluru, the hills were a gathering place for ceremonies and reunions. They were a place for prayer and contemplation and discernment. If you know where to look it is easy to find the tobacco ties and other reminders that sacred ceremonies are still a part of the place we call home.

Visitors are quick to understand the beauty of the place. It is obvious when you drive into the hills from the plains. But it takes more than a quick drive through the hills with stops at the big tourist sites such as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Wind Cave and Custer State Park to fully understand the sacred nature of the place. For that you have to slow down, get out of your car and walk quietly under the stars or through the trees. You have to breathe deeply the fresh clean air and listen to the sounds of the hills.

So now there will be no more climbers. The rules will be strictly enforced. And perhaps if instead of climbing a few tourists just sit and watch or walk and listen they will learn more about the sacredness of the place than they would have learned by climbing.

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!

My heart sings

Four Grands
When I was 14 years old I spent the summer at my cousin’s ranch. I worked summer fallow with a tractor and field cultivator. I worked on machinery, preparing for harvest, and I drove a grain truck during harvest. I left home barely able to handle a small jeep in an open field and came home a couple of months later confident enough to back a grain truck precisely enough to dump grain into the auger and return to the field for another load. I also developed a deep respect for my cousin, who wasn’t a man of very many words, but who had strong opinions about farming and living a quality life on the land. The next summer I returned with a brand-new driver’s license in my pocket and a determination to learn even more about how the ranch was run.

I grew up with a slew of cousins on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family. Some were closer than others. But it is clear to me that my journey from childhood to adulthood was deeply influenced by the cousin who welcomed me onto his ranch and gave me meaningful work to do while he mentored me in the process of becoming a responsible adult.

Yesterday, I was a bit emotional as I watched our daughter make her way through the airport security area with our grandson. We had enjoyed a wonderful visit and it had been so good to see them. But we live a long ways apart. She has a husband and a home in Japan and they had generously given us weeks of their time to support us as her mother recovered from a major health event. It was time for them to go. But they were heading to one more adventure before they board the plane for Japan on Sunday.

They took a short flight to Denver and from Denver flew to Seattle. From there it was a nearly two-hour bus ride to Mount Vernon, where our son lives. There, yesterday afternoon, our four grandchildren were together as cousins for the first time. Our three-month-old won’t have a conscious memory of the meeting, but it is likely that the other three will long remember the day the baby came to visit.

As I looked at the pictures that our daughter and daughter-in-law sent of the four together, I thought of a concept that hasn’t been at the top of my consciousness for several years. In 2005, we prepared an application for a clergy renewal grant from the Lily Foundation. One of the questions on the application form was “What would make your heart sing?” At the time it was a challenge for me to come up with an answer. I knew that there were things I had wanted to do for a long time that I hadn’t figured out how to accomplish. We have dear friends in Australia. Though they have made several trips to the USA over the years, I wanted to spend some quality time with them in their own country. I wanted time to explore the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia. I’d been there as a child and youth and we had visited British Columbia for a writer’s conference, but there was so much more that I wanted to see. A list of things I wanted to do was fairly easy to produce. But the question of what would make my heart sing persisted. What I finally realized was that what my heart wanted was to travel with our adult children. Our son was married and our adult daughter was single. I wanted them to remain close to each other. I wanted our new daughter-in-law to be known and loved by our daughter.

We got lucky. The grant was approved and in the summer of 2006 we traveled in Canada and were able to take a marvelous trip with our adult children to Australia where we met up with our friends and toured Tasmania, Central Australia, Melbourne and Sydney. My heart sang as I witnessed the close relationships between friends we had made before we had children and our adult children. Another generation of deep connections was forming.

Yesterday, as I looked at the pictures of our four grandchildren together, even though their meeting occurred over a thousand miles away, I know my heart was singing.

It sounds simple and obvious when I sit down to write, but the thing that makes my heart sing is love.

I’ve been very fortunate in love. I grew up in a loving and caring family. I met my wife early in my life. We dated as teens and grew up together. We had a wonderful adventure of being students together, living in a big city and meeting new friends from around the world. We learned to work together and have shared our careers for more than four decades. We have been blessed with two amazing and wonderful children who have brought incredible joy to us. They, in turn, have become parents of four equally amazing children.

Although love lost and found and deep tragedy may make for good romance novels, in real life, living surrounded by love is a deep and meaningful treasure and I’ve been blessed with a wealth of that kind of love.

I go to bed thoroughly tired this days. I never am quite caught up with my work. I am disappointed in a few things that I do. I don’t practice enough to keep up my end of the brass ensemble in which I play. I don’t make enough calls to those who are sick and shut in. I haven’t sorted out some critical business of a nonprofit board on which I serve. My job performance is not up to my own standards. And yet, I have been surrounded by love. Even when I’m not at my best, I have been blessed with such unconditional love.

I know what makes my heart sing. And it is singing!

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!

It is well with my soul

I know that I have been under a bit of stress lately with the recent crisis in my wife’s health, the stream of family who have come to support, the increase in work load due to her absence, and a few tasks that are just part of a generally busy lifestyle. I keep thinking that I am handling my stress well, but there are a few signs that things may be a bit different from I think. Perhaps I am not as aware of how I am handling the stress are those who work with me and others who have the opportunity to view my situation from the outside.

One sign that I may not be handling everything quite right came yesterday. I was visiting with a member of our church family, a relative of one of our staff members and I couldn’t remember her last name. I had her first name in mind. I could say the first name of her husband, but I couldn’t get their last name to come to me. And I needed to know it because she was asking for a simple letter of reference, which I was more than glad to give, but which would require me to type her last name into the letter. I know that my memory is not perfect, but I work hard at remembering names and being able to greet people by name. It was a bit embarrassing for me to not be able to bring her last name to my consciousness at the moment when I needed it.

Another sign that I have noticed is that when I have been asleep I wake with a start. I have always been one to jump out of bed as soon as I am awake, but normally I can allow myself a few moments to become fully awake. Right now, when I wake, I seem to become all the way awake in an instant, starting and feeling my heart beat quicken while I experience something akin to being short of breath unless I consciously make myself breathe deeply and slowly.

I’ve been good about keeping track of my schedule, but I haven’t yet gotten strategic about long range planning. I have been looking at one or two days in advance and just getting through my days one by one. This creates a certain kind of inefficiency, as I have not been grouping appointments and engagements into the most practical order. I get up early, work hard, and return to bed a bit tired.

Still, I think that I have been handling things quite well. I’ve been keeping up with the major obligations at work and haven’t been missing meetings or forgetting important obligations.

There have, however, been a couple of other clues that I’m not exactly at my best. One is that both one of my sisters-in-law and our family doctor both suggested that I see a counselor. I know better than to ignore sage advice from either of them. And I have referred countless people to counselors over the years. So I have complied and have set up an appointment to see a psychologist this week. If nothing else, it will be good to have someone else check me out and give me honest feedback on how I am doing.

The main clue is that I have been talking, talking, talking. I chatter on and on in every meeting I attend. I follow church members to the door of the building and out into the parking lot talking about my experiences and situation. I know that I am a talker, but I don’t think this is normal fo me. My job is not about me. It is about the people that I serve. My job is far more about listening than talking. When I get carried away with my talking, I need to pay attention to what is going on with me.

Obviously, we’ve encountered a major, life-changing event, something that we had not previously experienced. We have been blessed with exceptionally good health up to this point in our lives. We aren’t use to managing multiple medications. We aren’t used to having frequent doctor’s appointments. And learning about heart rhythm and the physiology of the heart is a fairly steep learning curve for us.

For so long I have responded to the frequent question of “How are you today?” with the simple words, “I am well.” That is still my habit and the response that I’ve been making this week as I meet with friends and colleagues and church members. But I need to check myself just a bit. I don’t want to be inaccurate in my response. It is worth asking myself whether or not I am really well. Maybe it is a good idea to consult with a psychologist just to make sure.

Sometime about a year ago, I started using a different question when I inquired about the wellness of a church member. I would say, “How is it with your soul?” I started making the inquiry in relationship to visits with a friend who was suffering from a terrible cancer and who was in the process of facing a long, slow death. It didn’t make sense to ask him “How are you?” when we both knew that he wasn’t doing too well. Asking about his soul or spirit gave us a much more meaningful line of conversation than asking about the state of his physical body.

It is a good question for me today. And I think I can say that it is well with my soul. I seem to have a song on my mind most of the time, and it isn’t just the song with “It is well with my soul,” in the lyrics that comes to my mind. I also carry around songs from a variety of other sources.

So, for the record, I’m doing pretty well. I’ve had a big scare and I’m not fully recovered, but for the shape I’m in, I’m in pretty good shape.

How is it with your soul today?

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!

Shaking up routines

Hosting guests in our home always shakes up our routines a bit. For us, this is a good thing. We get set in our ways when it is just the two of us living in a home that has room for many more. We can be lazy about organization because we have the luxury of room. When guests come, we need to pick up our projects and put things away. When our guests are family, they always pitch in with chores, but sometimes they have no idea about our routines. Items may be put away in different cupboards. New foods may appear in the refrigerator. Every once in a while a family member will organize a cupboard or sort out items. Once, a few years ago, my sister was visiting and decided to organize our spice cupboard. She carefully sorted savory from sweet and assigned new places to the spices. At first, I was confused. It seemed that I was unsure of where to look for anything. After all, some spices can be considered both savory and sweet. Cinnamon is used in lots of sweet treats, but it is also used as a savory spice in Indian dishes and in Cincinnati Chili. After several months, the new organization system sort of shifted back to the old one. In the meantime, we discovered spices that we had forgotten we had. For some reason we have ended up with two sets of silverware. When there are just two of us, we rarely use items from one set, but when we have guests, all of the silverware is used and the two sets become mixed. Another example of the impact of guests on our cupboards is coffee mugs. When all of our coffee mugs are put away, they are in several different places. We only use a few until we have guests. When we get them all out, they congregate in a single cupboard that doesn’t have room for all of them. The coffee mugs start to displace glasses on the shelf below. As problems go, this is so small that we simply don’t bother to do much about it until we go back to our usual.

Another thing that can disrupt routines is having children visit. We are an empty nest household these days but our home still has plenty of room and plenty of resources for children. We have a wonderful collection of toys and books for children. When our three oldest grandchildren visited this summer we transformed our basement family room into a play area for them. We got out toys that hadn’t been played with since our children were little. There was a corner with dolls and doll houses, another with Lego bricks, and another with dress up clothes. We had a lot of fun, but it took quite a while to get things sorted out after they headed home. For the past couple of wonderful weeks, we have had our 3-month old grandson with us. Yesterday we got to witness his first roll from front to back. He accomplished the feat twice to great celebration. But babies require a lot of gear. His mother traveled from Japan with a stroller, a car seat, a pack for carrying him, a backpack full of diapers and clothes, and a host of other equipment. We borrowed other items in preparation for the visit. One very kind friend loaded up my car with bins of blankets and toys and books and other things for babies. The amount of stuff was impressive. We’ve got most of that spread out in a couple of rooms of our house.

Babies have their own schedules as well. Sometimes when I have something planned, I will pick up our grandson and the rest of my schedule is laid aside as I rock him. The time with him seems so precious that other things are easy to lay aside. I’ve done more just sitting and thinking since he has been visiting and that process is a healthy one for me. A bit of contemplation with a warm baby sleeping in your arms is a good way to sort out your priorities.

Then there is the way that illness disrupts your routines. Doctor’s appointments take precedence. When we are healthy, we go to the doctor by ourselves. When there is a change in health, we go together, so that there is an extra set of ears to understand what is going on. Recovery takes more time for sleep and allows less time for work. After so many years with neither of us taking any medications, adjusting to the routine of medicines takes some effort. Some medicines are taken once a day. Some are take in the evening and others in the morning. Some medicines tat are taken at 12 hour intervals. Other medicines that are taken at 8 hour intervals. We have a written schedule and have learned to set alarms to remind us of the new routines.

We’ve got all of the above disruptions to our routines going on at the same time. Nothing is quite normal at our house. Our pantry is full of food, but not the same things as we might have. Our house is full of people and an extra dog to add to the sense of having a full house. Our grandson delights us every day and we know we are really going to miss him when he has to go back home, which is soon. And we’re up to our eyeballs in medicines and schedules. We have a blood pressure cuff that has a digital memory. It was used nine times yesterday. As long as we’re checking the blood pressure of one person before administering medicine, we might as well check other folks’ pressures as well.

We’ve decided that there is no need to go back to normal, or at least to strive for a new normal. So much of what has happened since this latest health challenge has been so positive and so joyful. We’ve cried a lot of tears, and most of them have been tears of joy. Filling our house with family and friends and pets has reminded us why we wanted to move to this house in the first place.

And it is always good to shake up the routines. I might even start using some new spices when I get back to cooking. In the meantime, there are plenty of cooks providing good meals around here.

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!

Art, sport and life

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend. Like all legends, there are many different versions of Faust. In all of them, there are some basic elements to the story which are consistent. At the beginning of the story Faust is a scholar, sometimes he is a student of theology. He becomes bored with his studies, or at least becomes interested in other things. In several tellings he is contemplating suicide. At any rate he calls upon the devil to assist him with his plans. The devil contacts him through a messenger who succeeds in making a deal with Faust. He will receive magical powers for a period of time in this life in exchange for his eternal soul. At the end of his life he will be condemned to eternal punishment because of the deal he has struck. In some versos there are other victims. An innocent girl is seduced and the child is a monster whom she finally drowns to protect the world. She is convicted of murder and executed, but her soul is received into heaven because of her innocence. There are many other variations on the tale. In at least one version, Faust himself is reprieved from eternal punishment because of his constant striving for good following the bad deal that he has made. In most versions, the deal sticks once struck and Faust is condemned.

In the mid 1950s a musical play, based on the Faust legend made it to Broadway. In the musical, the deal struck with the devil involved the Washington Senators baseball team. The team, turning in lackluster performances year after year in a time when the New York Yankees were dominating the league, is propelled into the playoffs by a deal struck. A real estate agent who is a huge fan of the Senators is given the opportunity to become the much-needed long ball hitter for the team. In his new persona he brings success to the team and misery to his long-suffering wife. Many songs and much confusion follows. At the end of the musical, the deal is struck and the real estate agent reverts to himself, only to hit the winning ball out of the park not as the magical figure, but as his real self.

Being a bit of a fan of musical theatre, the musical came to my mind this year when the Washington Nationals became the National League campions and advance to the World Series. For a while it looked possible that their opponents in the World Series might be the New York Yankees, offering a real-world replay of the classic musical. In the end, the Houston Astros defeated the Yankees in the American League series and the World Series this year will be between the Nationals and the Astros.

As far as I know no deal with the devil has been for the team’s success.

We are entertained by thoughts of the world’s evil being personified in particular individuals and their actions. We like a clear delineation between good and evil. Thinking about the world as a simple place where there is a constant battle between good and evil gives us a structure and some explanations for the way that things work out. A story about someone “switching sides” and going to work for evil entertains us.

But in this world, and in my experience, life is not that simple. We can see the pain and suffering that certain diseases bring to families. We can see the power of grief and loss that mark the lives of those we know and love. But bad things are not the result of punishment for bad behavior. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t choose certain people because of the lives they have lived. Real world suffering comes to those who have made no deals with evil forces. Very good people suffer without any apparent cause.

We have family friends who have been in our prayers a lot over the past couple of years because of a tragic accident that nearly claimed the life of their daughter. As she has struggled to achieve recovery and learned to live with permanent disability, the hope and love and courage demonstrated by the family has been an inspiration to us. Yesterday we received news of a devastating diagnosis of another family member and a new medical crisis for family members who already are far too familiar with hospital corridors and medical treatments.

It is enough to make one question the justice of this life. It seems to incredibly unfair. We want to cry out in anguish. Unlike the drama of baseball or the fiction of musical theatre, however, this is a story with no dramatic victory or magical conclusion. It will play out in the real world. And each of the actors will live a life as best as they are able. In the end we all die. Life is a gift, but it is only ours for a little while. And when you reach the age that I am, you become intensely aware of how short that “little while” is.

What I do know is that the family facing yet another tragic set of circumstances is a family who have constantly and consistently contributed to the lives of others. They have lived lives of great generosity and sharing. They have made a mark on this community that will not soon be forgotten. For many of us who have had the privilege of knowing them, they are heroes and inspiration for us to serve others and to work for the good of our community.

Perhaps it is the case that some people, rather than making a deal with the devil for personal gain, give their lives away freely in service to others. It is that latter story - the one about giving up one’s life for others - to which I aspire. We each have only one life to live and as far as I know giving that life to others seems like the best way to live it.

Life is not a musical drama. It is a real, lived experience. The song on the stage doesn’t hold a candle to the song in our hearts.

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!

Children's Sabbath 2019

Today is the 29th annual observance of Children’s Sabbath. Each year our congregation participates in a 40-day prayer vigil leading up to the observance. The prayer vigil and the observance have two main goals. The first is to listen to the voices of children. From ancient days, our people have recognized both the importance and wisdom of children. The 11th chapter of the book of Isaiah expounds a beautiful vision of peace and in that vision a little child is leading the way. Jesus invited the children to come to him even when his disciples tried to turn them away. Children are central to the observance of our faith.

Listening to the voices of children can be a difficult challenge. According to a recent report from the Children’s Defense Fund, over 12.8 million children in the United States live in families where the income is below the poverty line. This means that nearly 13 million children face times of inadequate nutrition and the interruption of their education and live under the threat of homelessness and violence. No child should have to suffer such poverty and yet we have made children among the most vulnerable victims of poverty while we continue to offer tax cuts to the most wealthy of our citizens. It can be painful to realize how much children are asked to bear the burdens of inequalities in our society.

While the overall child poverty rate in our State is slightly below the nation’s average, we are home to the county with the highest child poverty rate in the nation: Ziebach County, on the Cheyenne River Reservation is home to the highest percentage of impoverished children. Across our state the poverty rate among single mothers is 38.2%.

Listening to the voices of children is listening to a cry for help, which brings us to the second part of the observance of Children’s Sabbath. Our second goal is to respond to the needs of children. And the needs are indeed great. Those needs, however, are also basic. It doesn’t take extraordinary means to address a lack of nutrition among children.

Sometimes, however, our well-meaning attempts at solving problems can create dependencies and a form of paternalism that extends the problem into future generations instead of solving it. An excellent example is some of the response we make to hungry children in our community. People, primarily teachers, were observing that children were coming to school hungry. The basic instinct of every caring person when encountering a hungry child is to feed the child. Our community has responded with a variety of feeding programs including school breakfasts and lunches and a unique backpack program where children are provided easy to prepare and eat meals to take home on weekends when school feeding programs are not in operation.

The problem is that in our rush to help we have stepped into the midst of a very basic relationship between parents and children. We have taken away from parents and grandparents the responsibility of feeding the children. By feeding their children, we have taken away their ability to choose what food their children eat. And by feeding hungry children we have shifted family finances. When less money is needed for food in an impoverished family, more money is directed to the costs of housing, making the families vulnerable to predatory lending schemes and housing contracts.

Sometimes the best intentioned attempts at helping can make a problem larger instead of smaller.

While we have two main goals for the observance of Children’s Sabbath, like every other sabbath observance, we are brought back to the reality that we are incapable of solving the world’s largest problems on our own. While there are clearly responses to child poverty that we can make and there is more that we can do, it is true that we need the help of God to address the deepest needs of the children in our community. We are dependent upon God’s participation in human history to bring about real change.

The Apostle Paul wrote about how faith, hope and love are at the center of life. He also wrote of their endurance in the face of the temporal nature of much of this life.

On this Children’s Sabbath we pray for faith. May we once again learn to believe in the worth of each child and the potential of each child to bring light and life to this world. May our faith overcome the cynicism to which we are too often prone and move us to action where inaction has been our response.

On this Children’s Sabbath we pray for hope. Renew once again within us the hope of a world where no child wakes hungry and faces the harshness of homelessness and violence. Remind us that hope is born in the process of walking with those who are in need and working alongside them for solutions to the problems of this world.

On this Children’s Sabbath we pray for love. May the love of God so infuse our hearts and minds that we are empowered to reach out in love to the children of this world. May we so love them that they learn to love one another and to give themselves in love to the world.

The truth is that the very children we seek to help are themselves sources of faith, hope and love in our world. Some of the solutions to childhood hunger and poverty in our state, nation and world will come from the very children who are struggling to grow up in the midst of those problems. Our allies in discovering solutions are the very ones we seek to help.

Our reflection returns us to the initial goal of Children’s Sabbath - to listen to the children. When we really listen to the voices of children, when we really listen to their needs and wants and hopes and dreams we discover that we are linked and bonded with them. Our future lies in the very children we seek to help.

God grant us the grace to never forget the children.

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!

Family

I’ve never studied anthropology and I am not any kind of an expert in tribal cultures, but somewhere I read about a society in which the adult women gather around whenever a new baby is born. The grandmother and her sisters form a kind of team of mentors to assist the new mother as she adapts to the routines of caring for an infant. I suspect that what I read was part of a historical novel, so it might be an idealized version of tribal society and I’m sure that it was incomplete in its descriptions. Whenever groups of people gather there are quirks of personality and challenges of relationships that are a part of the equation. Even the most loving and supporting families have challenges and struggles. Adaptations need to be made. Accommodations are part of the process. Nonetheless I have this rather idealized vision of a group of supportive women surrounding a new mother and strengthening her capacity to care for her baby.

I am witnessing a modified version of that process in my own home these days. From the time she was a tiny baby, our daughter’s aunts have adored her. My sister and my wife’s sisters have surrounded our children with all kinds of love and support throughout their lives. They have close and independent relationships. Our daughter and son send text messages and communicate directly with their aunts. This was especially helpful recently when Susan was in the hospital and I was overwhelmed with the task of keeping people informed. Knowing that our children were in direct contact with their aunts relieved my of the role of carrying messages between them.

Almost immediately, as the word got out of Susan’s condition, family started to arrive. Our son was first, making it to the hospital just before midnight. My sister and Susan’s youngest sister weren’t far behind, getting to Rapid City in the wee hours of the morning and arriving at the hospital the next day. Our daughter, who lives in Japan, had to allow more time for travel. Although she wanted to come immediately and stay for a significant amount of time, it was most practical for her to wait a week before departing Japan. She and our three-month-old grandson arrived the next week. Meanwhile the sisters, as I affectionately call them, worked out a rotating pattern of visits, so that there would always be one of them in our home to help with care and other household chores. They have been a constant and very helpful presence in our home since before Susan was released from the hospital.

For the past week, I’ve taken great delight in witnessing the relationships between the adult women in our family. Susan spends quite a bit of time in a recliner in our living room and the others gather around. I’ll come into the house to find them all sitting and talking with the baby on a blanket in the center of the floor. Since this is our daughter’s first child, she has plenty of questions about how he is doing or what he needs or what is happening. The gathering of grandma and great aunts is providing a wonderful, natural support system for her. She came to our home to help, and she certainly is helping, doing laundry and caring for her mother, but we get the added bonus of this natural community of support for her as she moves into the role of mother with incredible grace.

Our daughter was especially well equipped for the role of mother. She had wanted to become a mother for many years before it happened, so she had dreamed and planned and prepared for the role. And she had more than a decade of experience working in childcare, with many years of caring for infants in private and military centers for child development. I once joked, when she was in her early twenties that any woman who could care for a room of 10 infants and keep them all in clean diapers and fed wouldn’t have any problem with a single child. I doubt that any other new mother came to the role with more experience in infant care than our daughter. She is remarkably calm and natural in her care of our grandson.

Still, she had questions. Is he getting enough to eat? Does he spit up more than other babies? Is he healthy? Her baby is doing very well and he is calm and at home in his world. Still any parent worries just a bit. I know I did when we had babies in our home. I still do now that they are in their thirties.

Our family isn’t much for television, so we sit around in the evening and talk. Often our primary entertainment is the baby. He is so much fun to hold and rock that there is a gentle competition for who gets to hold him. When he is awake, there will often be two or three of us down on the floor next to his blanket.

Another entertainment in our house is reading. When our children were small, we read aloud every evening and since Susan came home from the hospital we have returned to the practice of read-aloud, this time from a novel written for an adult audience. We read a chapter or two in the evening as we wind down.

I wish I could remember which book had the stories about the tribal culture and the gathering of women. I think it would be a perfect book for read aloud when we finish the current one.

It is our own version of a tribe. We’re rather loosely knitted, gathered together in response to a family crisis. Normally we live thousands of miles apart from one another. We don’t share the same village. But when there is a real need, we know we can count on one another. And when we are together, we are a tightly bonded group.

There are many blessings in my life. Family is one of the greatest.

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!

Proofreading

If you are a regular reader of my journal, you already know that I’m not completely accurate in typing and that I sometimes employ run-on sentences. You know that my journal entries are far from mistake-free. It is an excellent example of me when the document I’m writing has not been edited. None of my journal entries are read by another or edited before I post them. You’re getting the raw, unfiltered Ted. And it is sometimes awkward and sometimes a bit challenging to read.

It would be better if it was edited before it is published.

Unedited documents, however, are becoming the rule and not the exception. Increasingly we read documents that have not been read and proofed by a human editor. I use a spell checker when I am writing and it does catch some mistakes. It also makes a few. For example, when I want to use the word “too” it will auto correct to “to.” Then it will highlight the auto corrected “to” because it should be “too.” If auto correct worked a bit more slowly, the problem wouldn’t happen as often. I really know when to use “too” and when to use “to.”

So far I have resisted using a grammar corrector. The software called “Grammarly” is probably the most popular among the circle of writers with whom I have the most contact. The problem is that I spent a lot of time and energy learning grammar and teaching myself to write cogent sentences and I pride myself on my ability to write and speak clearly. I also have worked most of my career developing a particular storytelling style for both writing and speaking. i am well aware that written language and spoken language are different. I have invested many hours honing my skills and I think my human evaluations are superior to what even the best of algorithms can produce.

Having said that, I am not the world’s strongest proofreader. Proofreading requires a disciplined skill of reading exactly what is written without allowing your brain to correct for meaning. My wife is a very skilled proofreader. She is the one in our office who is continually being asked to proof documents before we send them out. She is good at catching errors and correcting mistakes.

But she has been out of the office for nearly a month now. I’m sure that more mistakes have crept into our printed documents because of her absence, but I’m trying very hard to get better at proofing documents. This morning I will have to proofread the weekly worship bulletin before it is posted to the web and printed for worship.

I have tried several different approaches. I’ve tried reading out loud and slowly, thinking that the discipline forces me to read more accurately and to focus on each word. I’ve tried reading the entire document backwards, which is good for catching spelling errors, but worthless when proofing for grammar or meaning. I’ve tried reading page by page, then going back through the document page by page in backwards page order. That seems to be the most successful technique for me, but it is very time consuming.

When I began my service in this congregation, I inherited a secretary who was very accurate in her work. She was good at catching mistakes in grammar and spelling, but we would occasionally have a discussion about meaning. Sometimes I bend grammar rules to convey a particular meaning or mood. She wanted to correct such. We learned to work together very well. I also inherited a former English teacher who sat in the back row of the sanctuary and checked every week’s bulletin for mistakes. She even brought a red pen to mark the bulletin and gave it to me as she left the sanctuary if there were any mistakes. Most weeks she could find at least one. It got to be a kind of silent competition between us. I’d try to produce a perfect document and she’d try to find mistakes. Once I made it for an entire month without a single correction from her. Then I learned that she had been sick and not on top of her game. I always wondered if there were mistakes that got by her because she wasn’t feeling her best.

Of course the church isn’t about perfection. We know that we are not capable of perfection. We’re in the business of forgiveness. Being humble enough to admit mistakes is a skill that every pastor needs to develop very carefully. It can be critical to being able to move forward. The days of the old “Herr Pastor” who was always in charge and definitely above the congregation served are past. Our people want and expect human leadership. When we use our mistakes to point towards God and the differences between God and ourselves we can lead people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our faith. But it can be hard to admit mistakes, especially when we are passionate about our subject, which is often the case for a pastor.

From time to time I will get out notes form a sermon that I delivered a while ago. Because our readings go in a three-year cycle, I’m often reading sermons from 3, 6, or 9 years ago. Once in a while I’ll even bring up one that is older than that. The process is very humbling. I discover all kinds of things that I said back then that i wouldn’t say now. I sometimes even wonder how the congregation put up with my immature rantings. Then again, it isn’t just the pastor who is in the business of forgiveness. The church is pretty skilled at that task, too.

One task that I may undertake in retirement is choosing a few of the essays from my journal and drawing them together into an edited volume. I’m pretty sure that the task will be another lesson in humility. Things that I thought were pretty good at the time, probably seem less so after a few years.

Then again, I might never get around to doing it. After all, I’ve got a bulletin to proofread this morning and more documents to edit soon.

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!

Predictions

More than a quarter of a century ago, I had a conversation with a former weather forecaster. He was a professionally-trained meteorologist who used to work for the Federal Aviation Administration before making a major mid-life career change and becoming a minister. I used to joke with him that the ministry was a lot like weather forecasting - you have to make a lot of guesses and you never really know what is coming next. He once told me a story about an agency policy that was weighted toward the computers when it came to analyzing data. The FAA at that time had new computers that were used to analyze wind speed and direction, upper atmosphere moisture, cloud cover and other factors. It would make preliminary predictions that were processed by human meteorologists. The rule at the FAA at the time was that the humans had the power to override the computers. However, if they chose to override the computer and the computer proved to be more accurate than the human predictions, the forecaster was reprimanded. If the computer was wrong and the human agreed with it there were no negative repercussions for the human. Therefore there was no incentive to take a risk when the computer appeared to be wrong.

What I learned from this friend is that the science and art of predicting the future is at best a very challenging exercise. Making a five-day forecast is not a simple exercise at all. Even with all of the new technologies that have emerged in recent years, forecasters still are most accurate when predicting events very close. They can often be pretty good about predicting what will happen tomorrow, but when it comes to predicting a week out, the accuracy goes down quite a bit.

Predicting a month or more into the future is still more guesswork than hard science.

Knowing that, of course, doesn’t keep us from looking at the Farmer’s Almanac, which predicts weather an entire season in advance. I try to do so with a grain of skepticism, but over the years I have discovered that the combination of using a bit of vague language and general terms that is part of the writing of the Almanac provides one kind of a window on the future. If you go with the Almanac, the prediction is that this winter is going to be long and cold in our part of the country. Frigid and Snowy are the terms that the 2020 edition of the Farmer’s Almanac uses to describe the upper midwest. The map in the almanac shows the entire midsection of the country, about a third of the landmass of the country, to be facing colder than normal temperatures this winter. The coldest weather is predicted to come at the end of January and to linger well into a chilly spring. I guess that is their way of saying that we can get snow into May again next year like we did this year.

It is possible that I’m a bit more focused on the weather this winter than usual. When we lived in North Dakota, I didn’t pay much attention to the weather. I knew that winter would bring some snow and some days of below zero temperatures. I also knew that we had good winter clothing, a reliable car, and a home with a good furnace. You develop a kind of attitude that simply accepts the weather and learns to live with what comes. Then we moved to Boise, Idaho, which doesn’t have anywhere near as much variation in the weather. Most days in Boise are sunny and there isn’t much rain or snow. The mountains seem to get all of the precipitation. I paid attention to the weather forecasts because I enjoyed skiing and when we got good snow in the mountains, the winter recreation was incredible. Then we moved back to the Dakotas, this time to the hills where it is a bit warmer and the weather a bit less severe than out on the open plains.

Of course everywhere we have lived, the weather has been a topic of conversation. Go to anyplace that has a table of senior men sitting around drinking coffee and you can overhear plenty of conversation about the weather. A quick read through the Farmer’s Almanac provides a sufficient background for diving right in and joining those conversations. Most of the participants have gotten their weather news from the television, which is notorious for not making long term predictions.

The bottom line is that we can’t predict the future. We often think we would like to know what is coming. We sometimes look for obscure signs that might tell us what to expect. But life itself will always come up with surprises. The unexpected occurs. A previously-undetected factor will prove to be important.

There are still people who look to the Bible for predictions about the future. The Bible, however, isn’t about predictions of the future. It has many words of prophets who called the people back to faithfulness to the covenant with God. It ends with a vision that is filled with symbolic language and challenges attempts at interpretation. There are plenty of folks who look to that vision as if it were a prediction. In order to do so you have to assume a certain level of specialized language and words that have unusual meanings. Reading the Revelation of John without first studying the context and history of the book might give the illusion of understanding, but the more one really studies the book, the more mysteries remain.

So I’m preparing for another winter of unpredictable events. We’ll get some snow, but I don’t know how much. It will be cold some days, but I don’t know how many. There will be some nice sunny days, but I don’t know when.

There is a lot of joy in allowing oneself to be surprised by that comes. I’m thinking that I don’t need an inside track on the future. I’m willing to take it as it comes.

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!

Gifts of food

One of the fun things about traveling in Japan is the process of purchasing a meal to go. Railway stations have restaurants where you can dine in, but they also have places that serve bento boxes - meals that are prepared to take with you. The bento boxes are a delightful alternative to American fast food, which is also available in Japan. Bento boxes are special compartmentalized boxes with nutritious food, usually in appropriate portions and most of the time presented in a very visually pleasing way. The tradition of bento extends far beyond what you can purchase in a train station. The tradition of expressing love through attractive lunches packed at home is the true origin of bento boxes. Mothers pack lunches for their children that are both nutritious and attractive. Rice balls formed to make tiny pandas with a scarf made of a thin strip of salmon and a few small tomatoes and broccoli for garnish. Many bento boxes have fish or chicken as the primary meat with bits of salad and rice. Some have sushi rolls, other have salads and other foods.

Bento boxes are seen as expressions of a mother’s love for her child. chars-ben are bento boxes made to look like characters such as teddy bears or people. A lot of effort is put into making the meals look attractive. Mothers believe that if they make the boxes look pretty, the children will be more likely to eat the food that they have prepared. Some mothers now take pictures of their creations and post them on social media.

The word “bento” is thought to have its origins in the Edo Period which lasted from around 1600 to 1867. Elaborately decorated lacquer food containers were made to take to the theater and other leisure outings. Bento was a symbol of wealth and status. These days simple and attractive bento boxes are available in markets at a low cost. The food, however, is generally prepared by hand, with a lot of attention going into the choice of colors.

We don’t have such a tradition in our country, though there are plenty of parents who use great care in packing lunches for their children. Most parents have experienced phases when their children are picky eaters and finding ways to encourage healthy eating is a challenge. Paying attention to the appearance of food is one way to encourage healthy eating habits.

I have been thinking of bento boxes lately as a rather steady stream of delicious food has been brought to our house. Members of the church have provided tasty meals and snacks for us since Susan’s hospitalization. Some have brought complete meals. One friend brought over a dozen or more cupcakes, elaborately decorated in autumn themes. Another brought a roast chicken that smelled so good it was hard to wait to eat it. We’ve received home-made chicken pot pies, a host of molasses cookies (my favorite kind of cookie) and salads and hot dishes and all kinds of other gifts of food. They may not be bento boxes, but significant care was put into making a beautiful presentation.

Gifts of food are part of our culture of caring in our community. I’ve commented that here in South Dakota we grieve by eating. A funeral lunch can be an excellent opportunity to share stories and remember the one who has died. Telling stories is one way of experiencing resurrection as the person lives on in the tales told. Our grief can be poured out in ways that enable us to remain connected to the living community that surrounds us.

In our church, cookies and bars are the staple of funeral refreshments. Those things and coffee - lots of coffee. For those of us who have given up caffeine, decaf coffee can be found if you know where to look, but in this part of the country, coffee is assumed as the beverage of adults. Years ago, when we first moved to North Dakota, Susan didn’t drink coffee. However she soon started because people didn’t ask her whether or not she wanted coffee. They simply served it to her and she learned to drink it to be polite and accept the generosity of her hosts. We’ve since learned to politely refuse some gifts of food when our diets require a bit of discretion, but we continue to feel gratitude for the gifts of food that come our way. It is part of the culture of the place where we live that we really appreciate.

Although the pressure to make the perfect presentation isn’t as intense in the United States as with bento boxes in Japan, there is a little bit of competition surrounding gifts of food in our culture, too. Various contributors of bars for a funeral snack work hard to offer their best. One of the beloved stories of our church is of a woman who always made bars for every funeral and other occasion, but who refused to share her recipe. Her family, in compliance with her wishes, put cards with the recipe on them out at the luncheon following her funeral. The cards put a smile on our faces at the time and have become treasured recipes in many households in our congregation. Once in a while a member will make those particular bars for another occasion and we all enjoy a special memory of a very special person.

This morning I am hosting a breakfast for colleagues. We are getting together to plan a community Thanksgiving service to be held in November. I could have gone to the store and purchased prepared food. Coffee and pastries are common offerings for such events in our community. However, I decided that a home-made egg bake would be easy to produce and would provide a better option both in terms of appearance and nutrition. So I’m off to the church a bit early today to make sure that I have breakfast for my friends. the Gospel of John reports that Jesus prepared breakfast for his disciples in one of his resurrection appearances.

We believe that when we share a meal in remembrance, Jesus is present. However you express your faith, food is a gift of the heart.

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!

The rule is . . .

The rule is this: “Never shoot a rat with a shotgun in the kitchen.”

A rule like that probably deserves a bit of explantation. First of all, it must be understood that I was not present for the incident that resulted in the rule. I’ve only heard stories about it. I knew the person to whom the action was attributed. Secondly, the offending rodent wasn’t what most people think of when they hear the word rat. This wasn’t an urban rat, but its rather smaller cousin, a bushy-tailed woodrat, that we called pack rats. They’re nesters and they love to have shiny objects in their nests. They’ll collect items like nuts and bolts and even a piece of silverware to put into their nests. Actually I never saw a pack rat in the place where the incident was alleged to take place. I think it is possible that a chipmunk or squirrel was mistaken for the other rodent, but I have no evidence to prove or disprove my opinion. Thirdly the kitchen wasn’t in a home, but rather the food preparation area of a camp dining hall that itself was a temporary structure and not up to modern health codes. There were rough floorboards with enough space between them to sweep the dust between the boards and the tops of tin cans nailed around the knot holes to limit the intrusion of unwanted rodents. Flour and other items were stored in metal garbage cans to keep the rodents from getting at them.The story of using a shotgun to control the population of rodents was part of the folk lore of the place, handed down by storytellers prone to exaggeration.

Nonetheless, it seems like a good rule and it is one that I personally have never violated. I would probably stretch the rule a bit to say that it is never a good idea to discharge a shotgun indoors. I once heard a 30-06 fired in the cab of a pickup truck, a noise that was louder than one ought to endure. No persons were injured in the creation of the story, but it was a frightening moment nonetheless. Damage to the vehicle was limited to a single small bullet hole through the floorboard.

I was thinking of that rule last night as I was speaking with my brother on the telephone. He was calling to check up on my wife’s health and to see how things are going for us. The conversation somehow shifted to pets. He owns a poodle, whom he has dubbed the rockstar of the dog park. The animal is quite proud of its beautiful coat and quite aware that it is a good looking dog. It does, however, have the unsettling habit of picking up and trying to bring home all sorts of carrion that it can find. They live in a city where the creatures who meet their fate on the streets tend to be pigeons and rats. My brother’s wife is opposed to the bringing of dead rats into their home. It is behavior that she believes is definitely beneath the character of such a handsome dog.

It seems in general that bringing rats into the house is not an approved behavior in the circles in which I run. Almost everyone I talk to is opposed to the idea, whether the creature be a rather diminutive wood rat or a larger urban rat.

But every rule has its exception and the execution in our family has to do with the passion of my sister-in-law who rehabilitates injured birds. She works in conjunction with the Rowena Wildlife Center in here home state of Oregon and takes injured birds into her home while they recover with the goal of releasing them back into the wilds as soon as they are able to care for themselves. While living with her some of the raptors, including owls, are fed diets as close to what they might find in the wild as possible. In order to support her work, she keeps a few lab mice in her freezer. When needed, she takes a creature from the freezer, uses a knife to chop off its head and feeds the remains to the hungry bird. It is a rather bold move for this gentle woman who would not be suspected of keeping dead rodents in her freezer. Her father used to speculate about what his mother would have to say about the practice, but fortunately there was never a confrontation between grandmother and granddaughter over the subject of frozen mice.

Not being an expert in the field, I’m not sure that I know the difference between a mouse and a lab rat. I know that rats come in a variety of sizes and the creatures that are fed to the owls are much smaller than the rats my brother’s poodle tries to bring home. I suspect, however, that in the mind of the poodle there is little difference between the two practices.

The home in which we live seems to be very tight, with no places for rodents to enter. The closest we’ve had to one in the house of which we are aware is that once, years ago, an unwary mouse slipped into our garage, probably through an open door. It was quickly dispatched by the family cat. Our previous home, however, did have an occasional mouse that caused me to bring out a trip to deal with the problem. Once, however, a squirrel managed to fall down the chimney in that house into the fireplace. Our daughter noticed the animal and alerted us. The door on the fireplace was opened, the squirrel bolted into the room, where it was immediately treed in the Christmas tree by the cat. Fragile decorations were removed from the tree. Heavy gloves were donned, and eventually I managed to grab the squirrel and carry it to the door and release it outdoors, but not before breaking off a portion of the animal’s tail. For weeks afterward a rather short-tailed squirrel would scold me each time I stepped out of the house. It never tried to repeat the exploration of the chimney.

So I’m sticking by the rule. Shotguns and rodents in the kitchen aren’t a good idea.

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!

Unsaid prayers

I usually write the pastoral prayer for our Sunday worship on Friday. I don’t like to “wing it” in worship. I prefer go go into worship prepared. Obviously there are many times when the prayer has to be adapted because of events that happen between the time I write the prayer and the time it is used in worship. As a result of this practice, my pastoral prayers tend to be a bit generic, praying for the kind of general concerns that exist every week such as hunger, poverty, injustice and the like. I have found, over the years, that those general prayers can be very meaningful to worshipers precisely because they are not specific. A person can come to worship with a specific challenge, concern or need and something in the prayer, often unintended, will connect with them. When I try to list too many references to specific concerns in the pastoral prayer I run the risk of having someone feel like their concern was left out.

So there are always prayers that go unsaid. I try to make reference to this reality each week as I invite the congregation to share a time of quiet prayer. I avoid using the term silent prayer, because a congregation the size of ours is never truly silent. There are all kinds of sounds that are in the room. We do, however, hold quietness together and during that time each person can pray in her or his own way the prayers that are on their hearts and minds. I then try to draw the congregation together into a single community with the pastoral prayer before we together pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes, when I look back on a particular worship service, I am deeply aware of the unsaid prayers.The concerns of our community are far wider than the general topics addressed in a pastoral prayer written two days before our worship.

Yesterday, I could have prayed for the people of Japan:

God of all compassion, our hearts are with the people of Japan where more than 100,000 search and rescue personnel are combing the debris and destruction following the worst storm to hit that country in decades. Our hearts ache for the grieving with more than 40 dead and 16 missing. Give strength to those who are searching. Give hope to those who are waiting. Give comfort to those who are grieving. Give shelter to the homeless and peace to the victims. Inspire our generosity to share with those in need. For we know that you are with the people of Japan in this season of recovery and restoration.

I could have prayed for the people of Syria:

Almighty God we watch with horror as Turkish forces roll into Syria trapping innocent civilians between Kurdish and Turkish fighters after the sudden and unexpected withdrawal of US troops. Already more than 50 civilians have been killed in Syria and more than a dozen in Turkey. The people have nowhere to go. They are trapped with bombs and gunfire surrounding them. As you know, God, many of the people are already refugees, forced from their homes, seeking shelter from combat and peace for their families. Protect the innocent, gracious God. Heal their wounds. Grant clarity to world leaders that they might turn aside form their struggles over power and position and focus on the needs of the people. Open our eyes to see the sufferings of the innocent that we might influence our government to compassionate action. Gracious God, in this war-torn world, we pray for peace. Our own efforts at establishing peace seem to be fraught with mistakes and danger for your people. We seek the peace that only you can give - the peace that passes all understanding.

I could have prayed for the leaders of our government:

God of all wisdom, we have been taught to pray daily for our leaders, that they might find clarity of mind and the wisdom to put the needs of the people ahead of their own, that they might wield power for the good of all. Yet we daily witness confusion and partisan power plays at every level of government. We confess that our human governments are filled with sin and failure. Help us to restore the power of forgiveness to the process of government. Give those in power the ability to choose for the good of the people instead of personal gain. Guide our decisions that we might choose leaders capable of acting for the peace and freedom of all of your people. Over and over again, you have shown us that the road of freedom lies not in our human governments and leaders, but in a genuine faith in your providence. Be with those who govern, O God, and help us to place our trust in you.

There are a hundred prayers that I could have prayed. Each might have reached some need within our community. But the bottom line is that the relationship between the people I serve and God is not dependent upon the words that I choose. That does not mean that I should choose words lightly. If anything it means that I have to be even more careful as I craft the prayers that we use in communal worship. Words are important. But they are not magic. We do not manipulate God. God does not need us to provide information about where the needs of the world are located. God does not need us to tell God what to do.

Our prayers are for us - a discipline to remind us that God is always present and always listening. God knows our concerns before we put them into words. God is present with those who suffer and those who grieve. God walks with the soldiers and cries with the victims. When we open ourselves to this reality. When we remember that all living is praying and God is always our witness, we find even more ways to pray.

And I, for one, become more aware of the prayers that have been left unsaid.

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!

Gratitude

I often joke that the South Dakota state motto ought to be “All Four Seasons Every Day.” We didn’t quite manage it this week, but we got all four seasons into the week. On Tuesday we had warm summer weather. On Wednesday it was blustery and windy like fall. Thursday dawned with the snow and cold of winter. And by Saturday it was warm and sunny and the snow was melting like spring. The official pledge to the South Dakota flag is: “I pledge loyalty and support to the flag and state of South Dakota, land of sunshine, land of infinite variety.” I think that the reference is only partially to the weather. It also speaks of the many different landscapes of the state that stretches from the black hills through the badlands to the prairies. We also have a huge amount of variety in wildlife in our state.

But when it comes to variety, whether we are talking about weather or landscapes or animals or people, we have to admit that there are other places where there is a lot of variety. I’m thinking of Tokyo this week. A super typhoon, an earthquake, floods, landslides, a tornado and a volcanic eruption all on the same day is quite a bit of natural upheaval for one place.

Give what we’ve been reading on the Internet it seems like South Dakota might be a better place to be than Tokyo this week. Of course we wouldn’t know what to do with all of the people if everyone thought that. Part of what makes South Dakota so wonderful is that it doesn’t have the crowds that normally are a part of everyday life in the streets of Tokyo.

Yesterday was a day of delights for us. Our grandson reached the three month mark and the day seemed worthy of celebration. It also was the 36th anniversary of the day we brought his mother home. We celebrated by going out for coffee and a pastry - a kind of father-daughter date. When she was younger we used to hop on our bicycles and go out for breakfast. She and I were early risers while her brother and mother often liked to sleep in a bit. It was fun to just sit and enjoy my daughter and grandson. Their visit has been a special treasure. I jokingly asked her if I could take my grandson to church for show and tell during the children’s moments. I actually am the one who is presenting the forming our faith portion of the service this morning and the main focus will be on expressing our gratitude to God and living lives of thanksgiving, but it will be fun to have our daughter and grandson come to church and visit the church family.

I am deeply aware of how much for which I have to be grateful these days. I am a very fortunate person. Life’s journey is never over smooth roads all of he time and we have faced a few challenges along the way, but we have been extremely fortunate. I grew up in a loving and supportive family that provided nurture and freedom to grow and explore my own path in life. I was granted the independence to pursue my own interests and education and received the support necessary to complete my college and graduate school years without interruption. I met the love of my life early in my life and we have been granted a long and loving marriage. We have been blessed with children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews. We have served caring and supportive congregations and have always enjoyed the community of the church surrounding us wherever we have journeyed. Our lives have been enriched by the experiences of travel and the joys of hosting guests from around the world. Despite one major health scare, we have enjoyed excellent health. The list of things for which I am grateful goes on and on and on.

Being fortunate and feeling blessed, however, caries with it responsibility. We have been given joy that we might share joy. We have been given voice that we might speak for those whose concerns are not heard. We have been given community that we might welcome those who have been cast aside by society. I try to carefully insert a brief comment about the joys of growing old together into each wedding service I lead. I know that the young couple who were married in our church yesterday don’t really know what I mean, but I hope that they will look back on their wedding day and remember that I told them they have much to look forward to as the years pass. I hope that I have helped them see that a marriage is so much more than the day of the celebration of the wedding. I hope that they remember that the community of the church is a place where they can turn for support when the going gets rough. At the wedding I read part of John 15 to them including Jesus’ words to his disciples: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Joy really is that way. We don’t own it. We don’t control it. It comes from outside of ourselves and flows through us in ways that make it easy to share with others. It is a gift of God that dwells in us. The passage I read also speaks of the kind of love that empowers self sacrifice and true generosity. I have no way of knowing what the couple will remember from their wedding. Certainly there were lots of trappings that were memorable. Beautiful dresses, glorious music, a large number of family and friends gathered for celebration. In the midst of all of that a few words from me are a pretty small part of the day. But I hope that the words I chose were meaningful to them and that they will remember the tone, if not the content of what I said.

Just as I reminded them to never to forget to be grateful for what God has done for them, I hope I never forget to express my gratitude. For there is much for which to be grateful.

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!

A shelter in the storm

Hagibis is a word in the Philippine language Tagalog. It means “speed.” It turns out to be a good name for a typhoon packing winds of over 110 mph that is being called the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 60 years. The last storm of this size was the Kanogawa Typhoon in 1958, which left more than 1,200 people dead or missing. Already, before the center of the storm reaches landfall, tornado-like winds are causing destruction and the rain has been falling in the mountains. Rivers are running at or above flood stage and more rain and high winds are yet to come.

Distances in Japan are short. The islands are mostly mountains and coastlines. Rain in the mountains causes landslides and quickly flows down to the sea, swelling the rivers. When those swollen rivers reach the coast you’d think the worst was over, but in the event of the typhoon, the swollen rivers will be meeting huge storm surges. In the area around Tokyo, the surge is expected to be 50 feet high. That forces the water back up the rivers and causes even more extensive flooding. Evacuations have been ordered for people living in coastal areas.

It was only a month ago that Typhoon Faxai damaged over 30,000 homes in Japan.

All of those people seeking shelter are having trouble getting around with so many trains and flights being cancelled. Japan is a country that uses trains for most of its travel. The high speed bullet trains can move a lot of people around the country very quickly and efficiently, but they depend on precision scheduling and nearly perfect track systems. Any disruption can cause the entire system to have to slow or even shut down.

Grocery stores are reporting shortages of stock because people have been purchasing food in preparation for storm disruptions. Tens of thousands of homes are already without power.

The people of Japan have always lived at nature’s mercy. The islands are often the beneficiaries of beautiful weather with abundant rainfall to grow lush forests and bountiful crops. But they are also a part of the world that experiences frequent earthquakes and the islands are exposed to massive Pacific storms.

It is a week to hunker down in Japan.

Our Japanese family and friends don’t live on the coast, in the areas most vulnerable to the impacts of the storm. However, their lives will be affected even if they aren’t in immediate danger. And, as is often the case, there is not much that we can do but watch and worry from the other side of the world.

We’re not fans of rugby, so we don’t focus on the matches that have been cancelled due to the storm. We don’t follow formula one racing, so haven’t paid attention to the race cancellations. What we do know is that Japan is home to some wonderful people and we pray for their safety in the midst of the storm.

Even when there is no physical storm, the phrase “weathering the storm” has become a way of speaking about the resilience of people. We speak of other life events as storms. I’ve heard the phrase applied to illnesses, to divorces, to job losses and to a host of other events that can disrupt the lives of people. Human beings are remarkably resilient in the face of all kinds of threats and disasters. Often storm disasters, while wreaking havoc and resulting in death and loss and grief, can bring communities together. In the aftermath of a storm, people help one another in ways that are not demonstrated in daily living. While we wouldn’t wish a devastating storm on anyone, sometimes the storms of life bring out our better qualities.

Human life is fragile. There are all kinds of threats to our existence. Yet we figure out how to live and even thrive in the face of any number of potential dangers.

As I think of friends in Japan and the storm that is bearing down on the Islands, I have been going over the lyrics to an anthem that our choir is preparing to sing in worship in the next few weeks, “There’s a shelter in the storm.” There are literally shelters established in Japan. They are safe places in sturdy buildings where people can go to get out of the rain and to be safe when their homes are not considered to be safe. The son, however, speaks of emotional and spiritual shelter in the midst of storms of life that are often as difficult as the weather.

Each of us seeks safe places in our lives where we can escape the dangers and fears that surround us. For all of my life, one of those shelters has been the community of the church. I know that churches are imperfect communities. I know that harsh words can be said, that politics can infuse and that people’s feelings can be hurt. But I also have witnessed some of the best in human behavior within the church. People reach out in genuine care and concern. People serve selflessly. They are genuinely generous. They really care about others. The community of the church has come through in so many ways for so many people who are going through the storms of life. When we are at our best, we can be wonderfully strong shelters for those who have needs.

In the midst of the shelter of the community of the church I have found shelter in the circles of prayer. Sometimes our prayers are just collections of words that we say out loud at the beginning of a meeting or in the midst of worship. But more often they are the expressions of our genuine concerns and wants and needs, expressed in quiet moments with no other witnesses than God. When we pour out our hearts to God we can experience another shelter that is powerful and real. And there have been many times when I have experienced the prayers of others. Knowing that they care and that they are investing time to focus on the crises in my life has made all the difference in the world.

Life throws us all kinds of storms. It makes sense to seek out shelter in advance of the next storm.

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!

Memory and sleep

There is a line of conversation that is common between my wife and me that has to do with ideas about things we would like to study, if we were young and had more time. It is pure speculation, but we are continually struck with how interesting this world is and how many lines of inquiry are open. We might have become linguists or sociologists or psychologists but we did not. We pursued the study of philosophy and theology and our lives have been rich and interesting. One of those fields of inquiry that we’ll probably never fully explore is the relationship between sleep and memory. We’ve read enough to know that there is a connection. Dreaming is one of the ways that our brains make the transition from short term to long term memory. Students who are deprived of sufficient sleep don’t learn as well as those who get enough.

I was thinking of that topic because I am back at a point in my life where I am sleeping a bit less. Our household is busy and full of people. I am trying to work extra hours in order to catch up after taking most of two weeks to be at the hospital with my wife. I’ve always tried to do a bit more than is possible. I frequently think I am capable of accomplishing more than I can and my response to most things is to simply put in more time and work more hours. I know better, but when I am tired I am less efficient and less thoughtful in my approach to work.

The thoughts of memory and sleep, however, come from having our daughter and her son visit. They are adjusting to the change in time zones that comes from traveling by jet airplane from Japan to South Dakota. There is a 16-hour difference in time, which means that days and nights are reversed and then a bit more. The three-month-old child, furthermore has a life that is a pattern of eat, sleep, have a diaper change, repeat. He is having longer periods of wakefulness when he looks around, moves his arms and legs, and explores his world and he is starting to sleep for longer blocks of time than when he was first born, but he still wakes in the night. From my point of view, he is a very calm baby. When he fusses it is easy to tell what he needs.

So I was trying to remember that phase of our lives. Our two children are 2 1/2 years apart in age. I remember the days of not sleeping all night long and having to get up with a child. I used to complain about it a bit. I used to feel tired most days as I struggled to do my work and be responsible as a parent. But I really don’t remember too many details. When did our children start to stretch out their sleep patterns? How old were they when they first started sleeping through the night? It is all a bit unclear in my memory. I think that I was working so hard to just survive and care for the immediate needs of our family that my memory of details is a bit foggy.

then again, I am aware that my memory isn’t as clear as once was the case. Part of the reality its that as we age, we accumulate more memories. There are more things that need to be sifted and sorted when we try to recall a specific experience.

I do remember how much I enjoyed holding our children when they were infants. Last night I held our grandson as he slept in my arms and it brought back memories of our children. We have the same rocking chair that we had when our children were tiny, but it has a less prominent place in our home. Right now it is in our basement while other furniture occupies our living room. I still like to sit in that chair, however.

I’m sure that there are brilliant scholars studying the relationship between sleep and memory somewhere and I’m sure that there are interesting articles that I could find and read, but right now my life is busy enough that I’m not inclined to take the time to find the articles and read them. It is another line of inquiry that is interesting, but which I do not pursue. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of possible fields of inquiry that have been left unfollowed. Memory being what it is, I can’t remember all of them.

When our children were little we lived in a small town where we went to the post office to pick up our mail. One of the regular outings was the daily trip to the post office, a walk of a few blocks each way. It was good for the children to get out and it was good for us to meet friends and neighbors and make connections. We would look forward to stopping to pick up our mail and sometimes there were interesting letters and items in the mail. These days the first thing I do when I’m tired is forget to pick up the mail. I will let it accumulate for several days before remembering to stop to pick it up. Our mailbox is close to our home. I drive by it several times a day. It wouldn’t be much work to pick it up. But somehow, I just skip that chore. Maybe the mail isn’t as interesting as it used to be. Maybe my priorities have shifted. The reasons escape me. Picking up the mail means one more chore to accomplish. It needs to be sorted and dealing with paper isn’t my strongest skill.

I do, however, want to remember the events of these days. Much is happening in our lives. The visit of our daughter and grandson is a precious event. I really want to remember how wonderful it all is.

Maybe if I could just get a bit more sleep . . .

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!

Winter begins

We woke to snow this morning. It was predicted. Our weather forecasts have been fairly accurate in recent years. The one thing that does not seem to have happened is the high winds that were to accompany the snow. It was windy yesterday before the snow arrived, but overnight the winds settled down a bit. Still, it is going to take a while to dig out and get ready for the day’s work. In the meantime, things will be going slowly. The schools in our town will be opening two hours late, and I suspect a lot of other things will take a while to get going. We’re in pretty good shape to handle a bit of snow, but the first significant snowfall of the year always is a bit more awkward than subsequent events because of little things like the simple fact that my lawn mower is in the way of my snow blower and I have to get things in the shed moved around before I can settle in to work. Lots of other folks are in similar situations.

We were remembering my father in law yesterday as we were talking about the approaching storm. He used to say that if you are going to live where there is harsh weather, blizzards are much preferable to tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and other big storms because blizzards stay outside, for the most part. There are weather events that destroy human shelters, but with the exception of an occasional tree falling on a roof, blizzards generally don’t cause structural damage to homes. He had a point. We are warm and secure in our home, which is filled with groceries and supplies, and we won’t be suffering. Furthermore this storm isn’t big enough to keep us cooped up inside for any amount of time. We’ll be operating in our normal routine today.

Our weather is nothing compared to what is happening in Japan, where they are bracing for the impact of a major typhoon. Typhoon Hagibis is heading right for Tokyo and is expected to cause major damage in Tokyo and surrounding areas. It is the largest hurricane of the year and its timing brings the storm right into the middle of the rugby World Cup tournament. The match between England and France scheduled for Saturday has already been called off. The competition between Scotland and Japan on Sunday is still planned, but organizers are keeping an eye on the storm’s track and impact.

The rugby World Cup is a big deal in Japan. When we visited in August, there were plenty of signs of the excitement about the event being hosted in Japan. Up at the northern end of the island in Aomori, where we attended the Nubuta festival, there was a float in the parade advertising the coming of the Rugby world cup. The trains were advertising travel packages for fans to go to Tokyo to attend matches. So having the typhoon come in the middle of the competition is a major disruption.

The Japanese islands are in a position to be hammered by many different natural forces. They are exposed to typhoons and other major storms rising from the open ocean. The islands are in the ring of fire where intense volcanic activity and earthquakes are common. Earthquakes can cause tsunami waves that wreak havoc as was demonstrated in the 2011 Took earthquake and tsunami when more than 15,000 people died across the pacific rim and the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant complex suffered explosions and a failure of the cooling system that resulted in meltdowns of reactors. The event has been called the costliest natural disaster in history.

Compared to that event, Typhoon Hagibis will be a minor event. But if you are a rugby fan, it can be a big deal. In the Rugby world cup a cancelled match results in both teams being awarded two points as part of a 0-0 draw. That can result in a team whose match was cancelled advancing ahead of one who competed but lost. The hurricane is literally a player in the matches that affects how points are awarded.

I, however, am not a rugby fan. I haven’t been following the teams. I don’t know if the advantage falls to England or to France because of the cancelled match. I don’t know what will be the result if they have to cancel the match between Scotland and Japan. My interest in the storm is focused on the people who might suffer as the result of the high winds and torrential rain. Japan is prone to mudslides and big storms usually result in the disruption of transportation around the island. People can be injured and killed in major storms. A few upset rugby fans is not a very big deal in the life and death decisions that are being made as the island braces for the impact.

I think that there is some potential pun or other humor in the possibility of Scotland having a match cancelled due to a typhoon named Hagibis and its impact on those who eat haggis, but that kind of humor may not work in Japanese or even with a Scottish brogue.

At any rate, a little snow, even if it is a bit of a disruption, isn’t much of a problem when compared to the weather endured by people living in more vulnerable parts of the world. We are used to snow. We have the tools to deal with it, even if they are a bit rusty after a summer of not having to worry about such things. After all is is October and we do live in South Dakota. This storm is nothing compared to the 2013 storm called Altas, that resulted in feet of snow falling during the first week of October and the loss of hundreds of cattle, thousands of trees and drifts of snow that were six feet deep in parts of the hills.

After all, this storm has been polite enough to stay outdoors.

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!

Joy

In just five days it will be the 36th anniversary of a big event in our family’s life. Actually, the events began the day before. I was working part time to supplement our family’s income from the two rural congregations we were serving. My job was as the morning DJ on the local small market radio station. I would go into the station at about 5:30 in the morning, fire up the transmitter and get the station on the air at 6 am. I’d read the news and market reports and play a few records. My shift ended when the owner came in to host a call-in program at 9 am. I’d usually listen to the program before we all went out for coffee at a local cafe and be home to start my work as a pastor by 10 am. On October 13, 1983, when I came home I discovered big news for our family. The story had begun years before, and there are a lot more details, but what happened that day was that the adoption agency with whom we had been working called to ask us if we would consider adopting an infant girl. We had been on a special needs adoption list and were expecting to be considering children who were a bit older. The next question after the one about considering an infant adoption was, “Could you pick her up in Grand Forks before noon tomorrow?” Grand Forks was a 425 mile one-way trip from our home.

The answer, of course, was, “Yes!” I called my boss at the Radio Station, who also was a leader in one of the churches we were serving. Susan called a friend who was expecting to borrow a few baby supplies, we got our two-year-old son ready for a car trip, filled up the fuel tank and hit the road. 425 miles took longer in the days of the 55 mph speed limit, but we made it to a motel in Grand Forks that night.

The next day we picked up our daughter, made a quick trip to a store to buy some more supplies and drove 275 miles to Bismarck, where my boss at the radio station had arranged a motel room for the night.

What is not conveyed when I tell that story in writing is the emotional intensity of the experience. I’m a fairly practical person, but when I think of the moment when the social worker handed the baby to me, I am absolutely convinced that love at first sight is a powerful reality. I was so excited by the events of that day that I didn’t sleep much at all in the motel. Whenever I recall that time, a few tears sneak into the corners of my eyes.

Yesterday, we celebrated that anniversary a few days early when I went to the airport and picked up that same daughter, this time arriving with her almost three-month-old son from Japan where they live. All day long as I was working I kept looking at my watch and wanting the day to speed up until 6:30 which was the time the plane landed. Her flights were on time and the baby traveled well and there they were, walking down the hallway in the airport. A few minutes later we had retrieved their suitcase and loaded all into the car for the trip home.

I kept waking up during the night with my excitement.

Sometimes, when I was awake, I was aware that our grandson was also awake. He is not a fussy child, but there are little baby noises that I could hear as his mother changed and fed him. He, of course, has no knowledge of time zones and feels no distress at being awake in the middle of the night. His mom will be pretty tired for the next few days as they adjust to the effects of long-distance travel. That seems OK with me, she has been responsible for me being awake in the middle of the night quite a bit over the 36 years that she has been in our lives. Maybe being awake in the middle of the night strengthens the bond between parent and child.

There is a great deal of emotional intensity in this season of our lives as well. We are still processing the emotions of the sudden onset of a life-threatening heard condition for my wife. Then, on top of that, has been the amazing display of support from our family. Our son took a week off from work and came to us on the first day of the crisis. My sister and Susan’s sisters have all come and given us time and support. And our daughter has come at considerable expense and disruption of their family’s routine. Her husband’s support of the trip is amazingly generous and we are overwhelmed with gratitude for all that people have done to support us.

Our teacher and mentor Ross Snyder once wrote that one of the blessings of marriage is that of building a home “where friends from around the world gather for the interplay of mind upon mind, living toward world humanity.” That phrase has been deeply meaningful to us from the beginning of our marriage. We have always wanted to build a home where people gather. Our home has served us well in that capacity in the past two weeks. We’ve hosted six different family members. The bedrooms in our house have been nearly filled with guests. Our table has been full with folks sitting at each place. Like the psalmist’s declaration our cup overflows.

I’m getting good at snaking my car out from between all of the other cars in the driveway. We had been thinking seriously about our family home that is too large for an empty-nest couple. This week the nest isn’t empty. And there is that baby to cuddle and our daughter to enjoy.

And, once again, I have a job and employers who understand how important family is to us. Like the hymn says, “Joy’s a flowing like a river!”

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!

Reflections on marriage

There is a wedding at our church this weekend. After what seems to me like a long season of funerals, I am looking forward to officiating at a celebration of love and commitment. The couple has gone through the planning and preparations that are typical for such and event. In some of our planning sessions, the bride seemed to be more excited about the details of decorations, music and the like than the groom. The groom, however, has participated fully in all of the planning and I think he is excited about the ceremony and the special plans for the day.

At my age, it seems like the couple is very young, but I’m sure that they see themselves as mature adults who are ready to make this commitment. Looking back, I realize how young I was when I stood in the church and made sacred promises before God and the congregation gathered to celebrate our wedding. There is nothing wrong with being young. It is a time of clear thinking and the choices made by young people can have an impact not only on the rest of their lives, but on the shape of the world.

I do, however, know a few things that this young couple does not. I know a few things that they cannot yet understand. There are lessons that only life and experience can teach.

Before going further, however, it is important for me to remind myself that the world is very different from the way it was when I was young and preparing to take my wedding vows. We lived in a fairly small arena. I met my wife at church camp. I had a few friends who attended different churches, but most of us were very similar. I lived in a small community and the fact that my then girlfriend was from the big city 80 miles away was a bit exotic. Most of my peers were dating the other members of our high school class or those a year or two older or younger. These days, young people meet others from many different walks of life, cultural backgrounds and traditions.

When we married we knew virtually nothing about living together. I had grown up with brothers and sisters and I had had a couple of uncomfortable college roommates, but I had no real experience living with another person. I didn’t know what it would be like to share an apartment with another. These days, the couples who come to be married have lived together, in come cases for several years. They know each other’s quirks and details of their lives that we simply had not yet explored.

So making comparisons between our marriage and that of the couple who will marry this weekend is unfair. Each relationship has its own history and conditions.

What I know is that when they stand and promise their faithfulness in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, they really don’t know exactly what that means. They can’t know. We were married 46 years before a real life-threatening illness struck our relationship. I know so much more about what that commitment means this week than I did just a week ago. There are some things that remain only theoretical possibilities for a long time as you go through life. That whole “in sickness and in health” scenario was that way for us. We have been fortunate. Most of our relationship has taken place in health. It was a shock and a surprise to find myself at the bedside of my mate as she struggled to remain alive.

My emotions over the experience are still pretty raw and unprocessed. It will take some time for confidence to return and for me to speak clearly and coherently about the experience. I do know, however, that those promises are key to the life I have lived and the life I enjoy to this day. I have been shaped by the promises we made on that June day back in 1973.

The promises that this couple will make this weekend hold the same power and potential for life. Even if they do not fully understand what they are promising, the promises give structure to their relationship.

I can tell this couple in words how the promises have made all the difference in my life. I can even speak to them about the joys of growing old together. But at their age, when they are young and beautiful and have their entire lives stretched out before them, they aren’t really going to connect with what it means to age. They can’t really know what it is like to have years and decades of shared experiences upon which to draw. They might think it is silly sentimentalism that brought tears to our eyes as we sat in the hospital, holding hands and listening to a song that was sung at our wedding. Perhaps they are right.

Nonetheless, one of life’s greatest pleasures is the joy of growing old together. It is a gift that is afforded to just a few people. There are all sorts of things that can take it away. Illness and death and loss and grief can sweep into our lives and relationships and end a chapter as quickly as it began. We are aware of how fragile life is. And that is another thing that can add to the joys of marriage. When we were young and felt invincible, we were much less aware of how quickly life can end. Now we know and find ourselves just a little bit more appreciative of each day that we are given.

So it is with joy that I participate in this weekend’s wedding. I wish the young couple the best. I know that they have many challenges and opportunities ahead of them. I pray that the promises they make will shape their lives as profoundly as promises have shaped mine. I will ask God to bless them, knowing what a blessing it is. May they know love that has no end.

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!

The power of stories

When our children were little we always read stories in the evening just before they went to bed. It was a delightful routine that we shared and I learned to love. We started when we only had one child and he was tiny. Often we read separately to each of our children, sometimes we read together as a family. That tradition has been passed down to our grandchildren. One of my favorite things about visiting our grandchildren is reading to them. We read during the day and we read at bedtime. They have learned that they can bring a book to us and we are glad to read out loud.

As our children grew up and moved out of our house, we went back to the practice of reading in the evening, but we read to ourselves, with occasional conversations about the different books we are reading. I sometimes turn to fiction in the evening, when I am a bit tired and I don’t want to wrestle with complex thought. I always have several books going at the same time.

At the moment, our household has all adults. Our daughter is coming soon, with her infant son, but the suddenness of our health crisis brought sisters and our son quickly and now that she is home from the hospital, we have my sister and one of hers to provide support. Before she left, however, Susan’s other sister read a few chapters of a novel out loud to Susan. We all got hooked on the story and our new routine is to read a chapter of the book as we prepare for bedtime. We have had to make a few new routines around medicines and allow a bit of extra time for preparations as Susan recovers and regains her strength. The story is engaging and I’m sure has a broad appeal, but we are all enjoying it.

I have been reminded once again, of how much joy I get out of reading out loud. I should know this because it has always been part of my job. I read liturgy and scripture in worship every week. I read scripture to individuals and families when I make pastoral calls. One of the functions of scripture is to remind us that our own stories are part of a much bigger story. Our people have experienced many different emotions and experiences over the generations and they have chosen to record our stories in a book that is sacred to us. Reading the book reminds us of our connections to others throughout all time. It reminds us of our connection to God.

The story we are reading these evenings isn’t scripture. It is a well-crafted novel, worthy of our time and appreciation because of the skill of the author and the art of storytelling which is on display. But reading someone else’s story is a gift after a couple of weeks of being so intensely wrapped up in our own. The novel lets our imaginations travel to a different time and a different place and engage different characters. the frustrations of recovery and the challenges of the days slip into the background as we become engaged in the adventures of the story.

I am struck once again with the power of story. There are, of course, all kinds of stories. Many are never written down. Reading last night I was reminded of another story we know.

Our friend and mentor, Ross Snyder suffered a serious stroke when he was in his eighties. For a long time he was hospitalized with no ability to do his normal activities. He was, for the most part, bed-ridden, not able to walk or even sit up on his own. He had been a professor and scholar and was a voracious reader. Each day as his wife faithfully visited him, she would sit in his hospital room and read the newspaper to him. She read the local newspaper, parts of the New York Times and the news section of the Wall Street Journal. From time to time she would add a bit of commentary, but for the most part she just read the daily articles and commentary.

As he slowly recovered he finally was able to come home. The reading continued. He regained the ability to read himself, but sometimes tired. She kept reading to him. His recovery was remarkable. We were able to visit them in their home when our son was a two-year-old. They had prepared a warm reception that included good conversation and lots of remembrances. Among the things they had prepared in advance of our visit was the gift of a book for our son. The book was a collection of stories and poems of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. We read those stories over and over until the book was nearly worn out. We left with two important stories: the oral report of reading newspapers and their remarkable power to promote healing and return to normal life and the book of read aloud stories for our son.

Stories connect us with others in powerful ways. I think of our friends every time I read stories of Christopher Robin and Winnie-The-Pooh. I rememberer the story of reading newspapers each time a member of my family is ill or recovering. When my mother was near the end of her life, she was hospitalized and one of the things I did was to read stories to her as she lay in here bed. I don’t know how much she understood, but I know she recognized my voice and my presence.

I think we may have discovered a new routine for our lives that will continue beyond this time of recovery. It won’t be long at all before Susan will be eager to read her own books and return to the normal events of our lives. But I think we may just continue to read a chapter or so from a book as part of our evening routine.

We’ve forged more than 46 years of shared stories out of this life. It seems right to add a few more.

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!

Every day is a bonus

We were talking last night about how frightening it was for all of us to have my wife go through a near-death experience. The events of last Monday are still so upsetting to us that we speak of it briefly and then it is painful and frightening enough that we back off. Susan has no memory of the events of the day and I have given her enough information for her to have a rough outline of the events that happened, but the emotional intensity still makes me cry when I try to tell the whole story and that is just too much for us right now.

What we can recognize is that we have been given a tremendous gift of these days after the experience. I said to her, “One thing about it. Every day is a bonus now.”

The truth, however, is that every day we have had already and every day we have going forward has been and will be a gift of God. There are many people who have not been given access to such treasure. Each day has been a bonus all along. If Monday had been our last, I would still have been given the incredible gift of 46 1/4 years of a wonderful marriage. Not many people have been given that gift. I would still be among the most fortunate people in the world.

But our story is not over. The miracles of modern medical intervention and treatment have given us what is likely to be many years of life together.

One of the doctors said, “This is just a bump in the road.” Maybe he is right, but to me, writing this morning, it seems like we completely ran out of road, kept going, and somehow got back on the road. Whatever analogies one uses, it has been a significant event.

The bottom line is that each day is a gift of incredible value. We frequently say, “God is good - all the time. All the time - God is good.” It is true. Every day is a gift of God. Life is a gift of God. What we sometimes forget is that life is also incredibly fragile. At any moment it can be taken from us by accidents, illnesses, mistakes, and countless other threats. We are not, as we felt in our youth, invincible.

In 2 Corinthians the apostle writes of our having this incredible treasure in clay jars. That image has really fresh meaning for me these days.

But having said all of this about how fragile we are and how breakable these jars are, I have to say that what I have witnessed in the past week is that in some ways we are incredibly strong. The human body can absorb an incredible amount of stress and recover. Despite what we might imagine, and despite what they show on television and in movies, CPR is a very violent procedure. Chest compressions are delivered with the force of an assault. Ribs are cracked. Tendons and muscles are inflamed. Skin is bruised. Then a powerful electrical shock is delivered that is strong enough in itself to frighten any observer. Needles are poked through the skin, Plastic tubes are crammed down the throat with such force that the tender tissues in the inside of a body are torn. And I’m only describing a bit of what it looks like from the outside.

But each of those actions is necessary. Each of those actions is a life-saving event. For a while, on Monday the full focus and strength of a large team of highly trained people was right there with Susan as the center. They had practiced and prepared for that moment. They knew their roles and they knew what they were doing. And there were all kinds of backups. What I didn’t know at the time, was that right outside the door of that room there was a second crash cart and more people ready to step in if a substitution had to be made. The same was true down in the ICU when she arrived. Everything had been made ready. More help was available. There were backups to backups when it came to essential supplies.

What I witnessed, though I couldn’t take it in at the time, was a modern hospital at its very best. These people live for the rush of the moment when life and death hang in the balance and their intervention can make all of the difference in the world. After a few intense minutes that soon turn into hours they can pause, look back, and say, “We did it.” And they did. So much human effort, training, expertise, conditioning, strength and energy was focused on just getting to survival.

Having survived, every day is a bonus.

Monday might have been my last journal entry. It wasn’t. Monday could have been the end of so much, but we have been given a new beginning.

In the Gospel of John it is reported that Jesus said, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see God’s realm.” At the time, Jesus was talking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying. He kept asking questions and Jesus kept explaining. It is an interesting exchange and one that has caused Christians to ponder for generations. I think I understand this exchange much better than ever now.

I was just a witness to Monday’s events. I wasn’t involved in the action. And yet what happened was more important to me than anything I can imagine. It was as if my life was also hanging in the balance - as if I were experiencing a brush with death - as if I was given the experience of new birth. In a way it may be even more dramatic for me right now because I can remember what Susan cannot.

I know I’ll be struggling to understand what happened for a long time, probably for the rest of my life. For now what I can say is that I understand the meaning of being born again. It can happen.

Every day is a bonus.

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!

Grandpa

grandpa Vernon
I grew up with three younger brothers. Each of us has had a very distinct path in life and it comes as no surprise to any of us that we are different from one another. The brother who is closest to me in age was always a bit of a fighter. He wasn’t the one to initiate a fight most of the time, but he had a strong sense of justice and wright and wrong. The result is that he never shied away from a chance to stand up for what he believed in. Once, when he was not yet ten, there was a schoolyard fight. I don’t know the details of what was going on, but by the time I was aware of it, it looked like there were at least three other boys all fighting against him. My guess is that someone was bullying and he stood up to the bully. At any rate, the seventh grade teacher, known as a very strong disciplinarian, waded into the fight to break it up. He was a coach and a fairly athletic man and all of the kids in the school were a bit afraid of him. He had a reputation of being very tough. My brother at the time, however, wasn’t paying attention to who was coming at him. He spun around and landed a good sold punch on the teacher. The funny thing is that I don’t remember whether or not he got in trouble for that punch. It did earn him a reputation on the playground and for the rest of his time at school. It might have been his last schoolyard fight.

He was tough. When he was a toddler, my parents had a gat at the top of the basement stairs. He climbed to the top and tumbled down the stairs. My mother rushed down, picked him up and ran to the hospital, which was right behind our home. The doctor came and examined the boy, but no injuries were discovered.

He went through more windows than the rest of us combined. He would chase one of the other of us, the one being chased would slam the storm door on the way out and he’d run into it breaking the glass, and often cutting himself. After this happened several times, our father replaced the glass with a piece of masonite and painted it silver to match the door. I bet you can see this coming - he managed to go through the masonite and break it. No injuries resulted.

He is a lifelong bicycle rider and he’s been in more bicycle wrecks than anyone I know. When he was about 12 he saved up his money and bought a really nice bicycle. It had a banana seat and high rise handlebars and 5 speeds with a t-handle shifter mounted on the crossbar that vaguely resembled the shifter in a car. It also had a speedometer that went to 45 miles per hour. He bragged that he could get the bike going faster than the speedometer would go. We took him up with a dare. The ride started at the top of airport hill, which, in those days, was a gravel road. At the bottom of the hill he’d have to make a left-hand turn onto boulder road which was normally paved, but at the time was being resurfaced, so had a gravel windrow in the middle of it. I was positioned at the bottom of the hill, near the turn as a witness to the feat. By the time he was halfway down the hill he was struggling to maintain control, but pedaling as fast as he could. The turn at the bottom of the hill wasn’t much of a turn at all. He went nearly straight into the gravel windrow, went airborne and he and the bicycle began traveling in different directions. He hit the gravel and slid to a stop. I had visions of him not getting up, but after a few minutes, he got up, and, a bit worse for the wear declared that he’d accomplished the feat. We had no evidence to disprove his claim. When he was an adult, one of his bicycle accidents involved hitting a tree hard enough to split open a bike helmet and earn him a ride in a medivac helicopter, a ride he didn’t even get to remember.

He was a drummer and he got good at it. He played in bands and had visions of becoming a rock star. He practiced and practiced and the sound of the practice drove the rest of us up the wall. Once I gave him a ride in my first car and he pounded on the dashboard with a pair of drumsticks all the way. When we reached the destination, I noticed dents in the top of the dash. They remained for the rest of the time I had the car.

Depending on your perspective he either wasn’t very good at marriage or was really good at it. He’s been married four times that involved official ceremonies and thrown in a few other significant relationships along the way. Then again the last two marriages have been to the same woman and that one seems to be working out for both of them, so perhaps practice makes perfect.

This summer our fourth grandchild was born in Japan. In anticipation of the event, we dipped into savings and bought plane and train tickets so that we could visit the baby and mother and father. It was a wonderful trip. Also this summer, his first grandchild was born. He has only one daughter and she had her first baby. The pictures of the little girl are stunningly beautiful. He lives in western Washington. His daughter and her baby live in New York. I thought sure he would make a trip across the country and I thought it would be the best. He, however, didn’t go. It was a bit of a heartbreaker for me.

I knew, however, that mother and baby were going to make a trip this fall to the west coast. Yesterday, I received a picture of my brother holding the baby that made me cry for joy.

We may be very different, but when it comes to being grandpas, we are very much alike.

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!

Life goes on

I am vaguely aware of the news. There is a whole world of people and events and politics and sports and local events and much more that is occurring outside of the walls of the hospital. Even inside the hospital there are many dramas playing out from which I have isolated and insulated myself. Babies are being born, other patients are facing critical events in their illnesses and recoveries. People have died while our life has been going on and our own drama has been playing out.

Before I go farther, our news is mostly good. Susan is out of the intensive care unit and I slept at home for the first time since last Sunday night. Her sister spent the night with her in the hospital and things have been calm and stable, which is just the way we want them to be.

A major health crisis is something about which we have known for all of our professional lives. I’ve been summoned to the hospital at all hours of the day and night to comfort family members and pray with those who are ill. I’ve been the one to carry medical news to family members and try to answer their questions. I’ve witnessed emergency room and operating theater procedures. For a few years, early in my career, I drove ambulance as part of our community’s volunteer services. I know how suddenly things can change. I know how much lives can be upended. The first funeral that I performed as a pastor was for a woman whose husband was himself ill. He never imagined that she would be the first to die. His shock over her death was compounded by his belief that this was something that he would never have to face.

I know how suddenly a life story can change.

Still, this is the first major health crisis that we have faced in our immediate family. We have been blessed with very good health. But no one is exempt. The truth is that life is extremely precious and extremely fragile. We have the gift of life for only a little while.

So this week, I dropped everything - and I do mean everything - to simply sit at the hospital with my wife as the drama played out. So far our results have been good and we’ve traveled a long way since Monday morning. We are beginning to see a path to return to our usual levels of activity.

While we were immersed in our own private drama the baseball playoffs began. These games are incredibly important to fans. I’m not sure I can even name the teams involved. (OK I do know that the Washington Nationals are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’m pretty close to some pretty big fans.) I usually pay attention to sports if for no other reason that I want to be able to engage in intelligent conversation with the people I serve in the church and others I encounter in the community.

While our story was playing out, protests in Hong Kong have risen to the level of anger. A protestor was shot. New rules have been imposed. No end is in sight. People are crying out for democracy and leaders of the territory are resisting the demands of the protestors.

Canada is in the midst of an election campaign.

The US House of Representatives is focused on an impeachment inquiry and the President is defending him self with tweets and advertisements in major media outlets.

The British Brexit debate is bringing down leaders and altering political careers.

Climate change has been at the top of the agenda of the United Nations and worldwide demonstrations have ben organized to educate more people and encourage more serious changes in consumption of fossil fuels and other lifestyle modifications.

A man with a history of psychotic illness killed four colleagues with a knife in Paris.

A major search was organized for a missing hunter in the Black Hills.

A police and fire chaplain at Fort Doge, Iowa died as the result of injuries sustained in an apparent attack outside of his church.

There are thousands of life-altering drams playing out all around the world. I, however, have just not been paying attention. I scan the headlines from time to time. I have, for the most part, kept up with my emails, balancing a laptop computer on my lap - a position that I rarely assume, being a person who prefers to work at a desk. I am not unaware that there is a whole world outside of my area of focus.

But these stories, important as they are, are not the arenas where I normally focus my attention. Most of the time I live my life focused on the small dramas of my congregation and community. In a normal week, I would have spent a lot of time comforting grieving people, planning worship services, taking coffee to officers and communion to the nursing home. In a normal week, I would have helped produce a church newsletter and plan a retreat. In a normal week I would have heard the stories of the people I serve and responded with prayers.

Much of this week I’ve been surrounded by people who are praying for Susan and for me. There have been times when I couldn’t have formulated coherent words to say a public prayer. At one point I was reduced to a sobbing mess on the floor while a saint of a nurse’s aid ministered to me in ways she may never know.

I’m pretty good at being a caregiver. I haven’t a clue how to be the recipient of care. A couple of my colleagues have had to gently lecture me a bit about allowing myself to receive care. I know they are right. I’ve said the lecture to others over and over.

So returning to normal for me involves reading at least the headlines and reminding myself of the world outside of my circle. I am not the center of the universe. Other stories are as important as my own. Life goes on.

As I start this new day I am grateful for a million acts of kindness and caring that have been directed towards us this week. We have been blessed. Blessings will continue. We are a community. We are family. We take care of one another.

And sometimes, I need to receive care. It is a new lesson for a new day. I’m still on a steep learning curve, but I think I am learning.

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!

My inspiration

I have never been an athlete, but once, when I was a young adult, I ran in a 10k race. 6.2 miles is a long way to go, even if I was only traveling at a jog. I finished the race and didn’t have any ill effects from the experience. I got a t-shirt out of the deal. I have a lot of t shirts and I had no need for one that advertised the sponsors of an obscure fund raising event. I can’t even remember who we were raising funds to support.

Although I’m not disciplined about competitive athletics, I live a pretty good imagination, so i can imagine that it feels pretty good to achieve victory in an athletic competition. I, however, channeled some of my competitive spirit into academics. I started my college career on academic probation. It turned out to be a meaningless thing, but because I had not graduated from high school when I was admitted to college, my first semester grades were used as a judge of my ability to participate in a college educational program. Had my grades dipped too low, I would have been required to go back and finish high school before being allowed to continue with my college career. I was determined not to let that happen. I outlined each reading assignment. I kept copious lecture notes. I over-prepared for every test. I over-researched and over-wrote every assigned paper. I managed to get a 4.0 grade point average for my first semester. My achievement was noted by the dean who included me on the list for the semester. I manage to stay on the dean's list every semester of my college career.

I don’t mean to brag, but my grades were only part of the story.

You see, I began my college career with something else. I had a new girlfriend. I had taken her to prom the spring before I left high school and by the fall when I entered college, I was interested in many more dates and opportunities to be with her. She was tall and beautiful and very smart. She achieved a 4.0 gpa for her first semester’s work in college.

The competition was on. We dated. We studied. We honed study techniques and we fell in love. During our sophomore year our commitment to each other was pretty clear. We married during the summer following our junior year. We worked hard at keeping our grades up.

Good college grades is partly having good study skills and partly simply working very hard. You can learn to discern a professor’s expectations for a course and discipline yourself to exceed them.

While we were both trying to impress the other with our scholarly ways and ability to earn grades, our competition was always friendly. She proofread my papers and taught me to spell. I typed papers for her.

I admired her academic skills and performance. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be liked by her.

We both made the Dean’s list every semester of our undergraduate studies. We ended up in the #1 and #2 places in our class: valedictorian and salutatorian. At our senior awards presentation the Dean presented academic achievement awards and said that he couldn’t wait to meet our children. It turned out to be a good prediction. They both are brilliant, but that is another story or two.

What I knew is that my wife was a hard worker, willing to do more than was asked, more than was expected. She has continued to impress me with her work ethic ever since. She continues to be a model for me of the kind of person I aspire to become. She not only is the best student, she is the best wife, the best mother, the best pastor and teacher. We continued to share our work life after graduation. We went to graduate school and, for the past 4 decades have always served the same congregation together. We are currently the longest serving clergy couple in our denomination and the only one who has served continuously in the same congregation for all of our careers.

The day that our son was born, I was impressed in a new way with my wife’s ability to work. The labor was long and it was intense. She put in an incredible 14-hour day, much of it involving intense, full energy work. The results speak for themselves. I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a single human being putting forth such a sustained effort for such a long period of time. Trust me, it made the 10k run seem like a diddling performance by comparison.

This week she did it again. She has impressed me with her ability to work harder and show more strength than I’ve ever previously witnessed. I am awed by her dedication to following instructions from doctors and nurses and therapists and strive for recovery after a terrible near death experience.

She has always been capable of impressing me. She has always been capable of inspiring me.

She is not only strong, but she is gracious. Every one who has worked to serve her healing has been impressed with her charm and personality. She says “thank you” a thousand times each day, greeting each nurse, therapist, doctor, aid, lab technician and janitor by name. I can see their reactions. We've been told over and over again, "You are my favorite patient." They are falling in love just like I did so long ago and continue to do each day.

She has never won an award for athletics. In college she took the simplest PE courses available to meet the liberal arts college requirement. While I took trampoline and diving courses, she took “recreational activities.” They even played pool as part of the class. She is, however, the strongest person I have ever met.

This week I am grateful for her strength. We all are given only one body and one brain. There are lots of choices as to how we use them. She has chosen to take care of herself. None of us, however, will escape the realities of health and human mortality. She has explored the edge where life and death meet and continued to live. I will forever be impressed with the strength she has demonstrated this week. I will forever be grateful for the hard work she has invested.

She is my inspiration. I still want to be like her when I grow up.

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!

Hands to hold

When I was 16 years old, I got up my courage and asked her to the prom. She said yes. We might have visions of staying out all night, but what really happened is that we left the dance and went to a breakfast at a friend’s house and were home by 2 am. I held he hand most of the evening, rather awkwardly, truth be told. We held hands as we walked and when we were sitting at the table, she put her hand on the table and I grasped it.

When we were both in graduate school in Chicago, we actually did say up all night a few times. We had a manual typewriter that had to be used for all of our papers. We went through reams of typewriter paper and bottles of correction fluid. She s a good typist, but a bit irregular in her rhythm. There was no way for me to sleep if she was typing in the room where our bed was located. Sometimes I would get up and type for her. Sometimes, I would hold her hand and remind her how smart she is and how good a student she is and what good work she was doing.

When I was almost 28 I held her had most of the night as she labored for hours to give birth to our son. I was so impressed with her that night. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. Her strength and endurance are truly impressive. And, just after noon the next day we had a baby boy and we were parents and there were lots of times of being awake in the night that followed. Then we adopted his sister. The night we picked her up I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. I kept getting out of bed to check on her. I think I made it hard for others to sleep. That turned out to be really good practice for that tiny little girl didn’t often sleep through the night. She woke us up a lot.

I don’t know how it happened, but I’m 66 and still holding her had in the middle of the night. It is no longer awkward. It is as natural as breathing. Our hands fit together and we are both happy to have the connection. I don’t stay awake all of the night. I doze at times and drift off, but that, too is natural. I’ve been sleeping next to her for 46 years. I’ve been holding her hand for 50.

Yesterday was a good day. The respirator was removed in the morning and pain medicine decreased throughout the day, with no pain meds needed at the end of the day. She was awake and alert all day and enjoyed visiting with her sister and son while I got a nap and a shower. She remains in icu, but doctors are pleased and saying rest is the most important next step. No long term plans right now, just step by step.

As I sit with her, I have been reflecting about trauma and its effects. I think that from a psychological point of view, the day before yesterday may have been the most traumatic of my life. I have witnessed greater trauma, but I was immersed in my own fears as the team administered CPR and executed life-saving treatment. My initial reflections, just a day and a bit later, is that there is something about the experience that makes me less fearful than I think I was before. While it was happening, I kept thinking, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know if I can do this.” There is a deep sense of helplessness as events that are beyond my control take over my life and emotions. But now that it is over, there is a sense that maybe I can take anything. If I can have that experience and survive without being totally overwhelmed, maybe I can face whatever the future holds. I was tested and survived. That is, I think, a good thing.

Then again, so far our story has a happy ending. We’ve weathered a big storm, but it isn’t the final chapter in our adventure. I have been with many families whose trauma means that the next day they have to reinvent their lives and figure out which new direction to take the next step. We are among the lucky ones. We still have each other. We know that the next steps are together. We’ll still be a couple. We’ll still be the parents of the same wonderful children and their wonderful spouses. We’ll still be grandparents to four of the most amazing people we have ever met.

So maybe that is another side effect of a traumatic experience: a sense of gratitude. Looking back, i certainly wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I have a feeling that I can take whatever lies in my future. And for the moment, I am so deeply grateful for all of the blessings we enjoy.

My attitude towards hearing the code announcement in the hospital is forever changed. The night before last, I sat next to Susan as I heard them call two codes. A few hours ago there was a code called in the same room where Susan had been when she was when they called her code. These, however, were for other patients. They were being called for people whom we had ever met. All the same, I could feel my heart rate speed up and a shortness of breath and my chest tighten up as they called out “Attention, attention, code blue, room ___, attention, attention, code blue, room ___. I experienced a bit of the fear that I had experienced when it was happening to Susan.

From now on that sound will stir a fear response in me. But fear does not have to paralyze the fearful one. It can empower. So I will teach myself to respond to that sound with a prayer for the victim and for the family who are freshly experiencing the trauma.

And I’ll squeeze her hand a bit and be grateful that we have been blessed with hands to hold.

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!

Who needs Twitter?

Because I am at the hospital and the computer I use to punish my journal is at home, this post may be late. That may be true of the next couple of days as well. Thank you for your patience.

I usually don’t include too much identifying information in my public journal, but my wife, Susan has been hospitalized for atrial fibrillation over the past week. Yesterday her heart stopped briefly and she had to receive CPR twice before everything stabilized. I’m camping out in the ICU as I write. The prognosis is good. She has been stable for quite a few hours and the doctor will be withdrawing the ventilator this morning. It was very frightening yesterday, but she was in the right place at the time, and everything went well for her treatment. The doctors assure me that the underlying problem of atrial fibrillation is common and can be fully treated, but that she reacts to some of the medicines that they have tried. The long-term solution is electrical, not chemical, and plans are being made for a procedure that will provide a permanent fix.

If you have read a bit more about hospitals in my journal week, that is the reason. I’ve been hanging out at the hospital a lot. And yesterday was genuinely frightening for me. I don’t remember ever being quite so scared. We are, however in a better place today. Susan has been stable for more than 20 hours and they will be able to withdraw the ventilator soon. The long term prognosis is very good. Because A Fib is essentially an electrical problem, it can be treated with an ablation procedure that often gives a permanent fix to the problem. This is just one of the bumps in the road that we will be able to tell stories about and laugh at when we get over it.

With the tube in her throat, she cannot talk. This does not affect her hearing. Although she is on sedatives that make her sleepy, she wakes from time to time and smiles and looks at pictures and we converse by her writing notes on a pad.

This morning, I’m looking over the notes she wrote last night and they bring a smile to my face. Here are a couple of examples:

Her first note was “What happened?” It is a really good question, given that within a very few minutes, two crash carts and about 10 people rushed into the room. They were putting a board under her, giving her chest compressions, injecting medicines, listening for a pulse, watching her breathing, and giving her a shock with a defibrillator all at the same time. As soon as they had a good rhythm, they moved her (bed and all) to the Coronary Care unit, two flights down. Much happened quickly, including another code. I was ushered into a waiting room for the second code, I’m sure it was as exciting as the first That whole story, however, is far too much for a short answer, so I told her part of the story, which seemed to explain things enough for her to understand where she is and why she had the tube in her throat, etc.

Another note said, “They took my clock. What time is it?” In the room where she spent the last week, there is a large clock on the wall at the foot of the bed. This room has a clock as well, but it is on the wall to her left side and she is positioned so she cannot see it. It was easy to tell her the time. Then she wrote “On Monday?” which was a good question, and the correct one. All of that happened in the same day and yes, it was Monday. She was, however surprised that it was evening. The last 12 hours had seemed like a short time to her, which was good news to me. Perhaps she won’t remember the people pounding on her chest and some of the pain of the life-saving procedures.

Here is a note that gave me confidence that everything that has happened hasn’t changed her personality. “Please move blanket down 11 inches.” She is nothing, if not precise. Not having a ruler, I had to estimate, but it seemed to satisfy her to have it moved.

Twice she asked me to show her pictures of our children and grandchildren. That is a good sign, as they are very important parts of her life. Moreover they are important parts of our life together, so a topic about which we are capable of endless conversation. We love to talk to each other about them and the notes asking to see the pictures are precious to me.

I told her that her sister and my sister and our son were coming to visit and she wrote: “Sheets on all beds are clean. Move papers to bin. Move pillows as needed.”

She wrote “thank you” a lot. When the shift change came and the new nurse was introduced, she wrote, “Tell her I write notes,” so the nurse would know how she communicates.

She wrote me notes asking about the day. I had a substitute officiate at a funeral today and she wanted to know who had done the service. She knows i had another service planned for Wednesday and she wanted to know who was going to lead that service. She wrote me a note about the cellist for a wedding in October, just wanting me to know that she had arranged that detail.

I spoke to our daughter on the phone. She needs to come to see her mother to know that she is all right. Susan wrote a note: “Wait a few days until we have a plan.”

I guess we’ve been writing notes to each other for nearly 50 years. We’ve been married 46 and we’ve always written little notes back and forth. So getting notes from her yesterday has been a real treat.

Who needs twitter when we have a notebook and a pen?

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!