From Chaos to Order

“You have a desk!” For weeks, we have been surrounded by boxes. We still are surrounded by boxes. The garage is a staging area for items in motion. We probably have brought too many things for the amount of space we have. But in the midst of all of that chaos, a bit of life is beginning to emerge. We have the bedrooms set up. They have beds with mattresses and places for people to sit. We have our dining room table set up. Last night we and our son’s family sat down for a family dinner - seven of us around the oak table that once was in Susan’s parents’ house. It has moved from Montana to South Dakota and now is a focal point of our home in Washington. And last night we cleared enough boxes to leave the top of the library table, which has also made several Interstate moves, clear. The only thing on the table is my laptop computer and a copy of the lease for this home. There are still plenty of boxes to unpack and there will be plenty for weeks to come as we sort out the complexities of this move, but there are patches of order in our lives that begin to help us feel that disorder isn’t the only way of life.

Yesterday we helped our son move his household goods. Just as we were sorting out where we were going to live, they had an opportunity to sell their home and make the move to a place with a bit of acreage to extend their gardening and have additional fruit trees. Their new place is going to be a wonderful place for the children and will enable them to become more self sufficient in the years to come. It also has a barn for shared shop space. This winter I should be able to work on my boats in their shop. A lot of wonderful things are coming together for our family.

To get to where we plan to go, however, has involved a fair amount of chaos. Stacks of boxes surround us and it will take time to unpack and arrange our possessions. New decisions need to be made about what to keep and what to release. I already know where the Habitat for Humanity Restore in our new home is located. Good news for us, they have a furniture department, so we have a good place to donate excess furniture. We’ll find Good Will and other places to donate things as time passes.

Within the next couple of days, we will turn our attention back to South Dakota. The snowfall in the hills is a reminder that winter is coming. We still have to finish cleaning our home there to get it ready for its new owner and there is one more trip to be made with our pickup and car over the passes to the northwest. But we can see the end of this phase of our lives. We can imagine Thanksgiving dinner around our family table. We can think of Advent and Christmas with a new church family.

Among the oldest stories of our people are the stories of Creation that speak of order emerging from chaos. “The earth was without form and darkness was on the face of the deep,” our people begin one of those stories. It goes on to report that God started creation with light and a separation of light from darkness. In our case, the electricity for lights required a call to Puget Sound Energy. Gas to heat the house and water comes from Cascade Natural Gas. Garbage and Sewer is the City of Mount Vernon. There is a separate water utility. And, of course, we need to have the Internet connected to our new home. There are a lot of “to do” items on our list. Our people have long told story after story about creation emerging from chaos.Those stories are related to the many stories we have about our people moving from one place to another. Many journeys of our people have had less that specific destinations at the beginning of the trip. Abraham and Sara had never seen the place to which they were heading. They probably didn’t realize that it would take many generations to reach the promised land. By the time of Moses, our people still didn’t know the exact destination. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years before Joshua, armed with information from 12 spies who went ahead to scout out the territory, was able to lead the people of Israel into the promised land.

Our stories remind us that God is always calling us to the future. Often we do not have the ability to imagine how the future will look. Learning to trust and to take risks is part of the process of living a life of faith in a world of chaos.

None of us can quite see how our world will emerge from the current pandemic. We suspect that face masks have now become a way of life and will be so for quite a while to come. We are learning to have meetings over Zoom and worship on FaceBook. But we also can remember the days of building community face to face and gathering for worship in beloved places. We long for our return to those sacred spaces. In the meantime, we are learning to live with a bit of chaos as we reorganize our ways of building community and staying in touch with each other.

In the midst of all of the change, we find peace in sitting on solid chairs around a table that has served our family for generations and will continue to be the center of our life together. It gives me a sense of stability to sit at the same desk in a new place as I write in my journal. Some things remain the same even in the midst of all of the change. Surrounded by the love of family and friends, grateful for all of their gifts of time and support, life is good. We can endure the chaos as we long for order.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!

Settling into retirement

“You must be excited about your new adventure.” Is is a phrase that I have heard from several friends and acquaintances as we are beginning our retirement. It is interesting that I haven’t seemed to be too excited about certain parts of the process, while other things have made me quite excited. It is certainly the truth that I have mixed emotions about it all. I can’t tell how much the coronavirus pandemic has affected it all, because retiring in the midst of the pandemic is my only experience. The process, however, does involve grief.

I remember my uncle who had a good job as an electrician in a paper mill. Many years before he retired, he started to talk about retirement. He was really looking forward to being able to stop going to work each day and pursue some of his interests outside of work. It seemed like every time we were together for many years all he ever talked about what how much he didn’t like his job and how wonderful his life would be when he retired. When he retired he did do some good things. He build a new cabin at the lake where they owned property. He traveled around the country in his motorhome. He sailed his boat. He enjoyed his grandchildren. His life didn’t seem bad at all in retirement. He also changed his style of conversation. Instead of complaining about his job, he complained about politics or the government. He didn’t seem like an unhappy guy, but he always needed to have something about which to complain it seemed. Since I have a different perspective on politics than he, we would sometimes argue, but it was always good natured and with respect and love for each other. I thought he had some poorly-informed ideas and convictions, but I was glad to have him for an uncle and a part of our family.

It is different for me, however. I didn’t have a job that I hated. I didn’t even dislike my job. I loved the work that I was doing. I looked forward to the challenges and opportunities of serving a congregation that I had grown to love. For much of my career and especially since turning 60 years old, I thought that I would work full time to the age of 70. I have good health. I’ve kept up with continuing education and still have relevant job skills. I was serving a congregation where my ministry was accepted and my leadership was appreciated. But we are not always in control of the timing of our lives. We reached a point in the life of the church where learning to accept new leadership was important to the congregation. It is important that churches not become personality cults where people join the minister instead of the congregation. Each minister has a particular skill set that matches particular needs in the life of the congregation. My 67th birthday turned out to be the right time to make a move from the congregation to open up the church to new leadership and a new examination of how it chooses to shape its future.

So there is grief for me in leaving a congregation I love and a job I enjoy. But the truth is that there aren’t many congregations who want to hire a 67-year old for a short-term ministry. I have not received official Interim Minister training. My skills lie in long term relationships, not short term ministries. Retirement makes sense for my situation.

Then if there was any doubt in my mind, we had a health scare. A year ago my wife had a heart rhythm issue and she didn’t respond well to the medications that are normally used for that disorder. She ended up on a ventilator in the ICU. However, her recovery has gone remarkably well. The condition could be addressed with a surgery and we are now both in excellent health and don’t have to take many medications. We are very lucky on that score, but we have been reminded in terms we cannot ignore that we are not immortal. We do not go on forever. We live our lives in a particular time frame. Retirement makes sense for us because there are a lot of things we want to do and we know that the timing is fast and short.

We are leaving jobs that we loved and a home that we loved in a place that we loved living. There is nothing wrong with the things we have chosen to leave behind. We are moving not because of the place we are leaving, but because of the place we are going. We are delighted that we will be moving to a place that is closer to our grandchildren. We are excited about being able to be part of their lives on a more regular basis. We are intrigued by the adventures of our son and his family and we are excited to be able to travel to be with our daughter and her family more often than was the case in the past.

It has been hard for us to feel connected to a new church family because many congregations are not meeting face to face due to the pandemic. We have participated in online church, but it isn’t the same as getting to know the people and finding our place in a congregation. Connecting with a congregation will be another challenge of retirement for us.

The answer is, “Yes, I am excited.” But it isn’t quite the same as the excitement I felt when we left Montana to go to grad school in Chicago. It isn’t quite the same as the excitement I felt when we accepted the call to our first congregations in rural North Dakota. It isn’t quite the same as the excitement I felt when our son was born or when we adopted our daughter. It isn’t quite the same as the excitement I felt at the births of our grandchildren. I’m not jumping for joy or dancing in the street. I am happy. I do feel fortunate. I am grateful for all that God continues to do in our lives.

And today, surrounded by boxes with a “to do” list that is longer than the hours in the next day, I feel equal to the challenge. It is good to feel a new sense of purpose and direction.

Onward!

Copyright (c) 2020 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 2020

Our retirement officially began four months ago. We have been working for those months to execute our plan of moving to be closer to our children and grandchildren. The first phase occurred before we formally retired. We both moved out of offices that we had occupied for a quarter of a century. The offices were filled to the brim with books, resources, memorabilia and other items. We had a closet filled with robes and stoles. I had a collection of drums and gifts from years of ministry. We both had walls of bookshelves filled with books that were a part of our ministry. Those offices were emptied and the resources that we saved were brought to our home. Our home was a large family home that was filled with the things we had collected in a lifetime. There were furniture pieces that had been in our families for many generations, clocks that had been in the homes of our grandparents. We only had wall and mantle clocks, but they definitely were our grandfathers’ clocks. A rental storage unit housed the boats I have made over the past 30 years and boxes of things we had packed when our parents’ houses were sold. Our retirement began with a huge sorting process.

We have hauled truckloads of items to the mission and Love, Inc., and Habitat for Humanity. Items have been donated to the American Association of University Women and Good Will. We have found friends who could use some of the furniture and a few of the tools and items from our garage. We hauled boxes to the used record store and a vintage clothing dealer.

Then, on Wednesday, we loaded a U-Haul truck and trailer with our household and the next morning we headed west with the load. Yesterday at about 1 in the afternoon we arrived at the home that we rented sight unseen - though thoroughly toured by our son and viewed with lots of pictures on the Internet. Bit by bit a few items were moved into the house. Our tools were unloaded into the garage. Our living room furniture brought into the new house. A mattress was unloaded and a bed made.

But the image of the day that will remain in my mind for the rest of my life has nothing to do with trucks and trailers and furniture and possessions. Shortly after we arrived, our son’s van pulled into the driveway and the doors opened and three grandchildren ran from the car to greet us as we stood in the empty garage trying to figure out a plan to get moved into our new home. I kneeled on the floor as our three-year-old granddaughter ran at me full bore and gave me the biggest hug that she could. Soon I was embraced by the other two as well. I remembered why we have been working so hard for this time to go off on this grand adventure. Instead of being more than a thousand miles away and carrying on our relationship with our grandchildren over Skype and FaceTime, we are in the same town as they. We can have family meals together. We can go for walks together. We can hear reports of their learning adventures and keep up with how school is going for them. We can have their support as we move into the next phase of our lives.

After a supper of carry out from a sandwich shop in a kitchen without any furniture, our son and grandchildren helped us move a few of our items into the house. Our six-year-old granddaughter was arranging the closet in our bedroom, insisting that my jacket be hung on one side and Susan’s on the other. She arranged our suitcases as they were carried into the room and unpacked the hangers from the clothes hamper. She arranged shoes in the rack. Our nine-year-old grandson made trip after trip from the back of the truck, carrying what he was able. Our son and I carried the couch into the living room and set up the two chairs from our home in Rapid City. The three-year-old helped Susan make the bed and cuddled in the comforter.

Looking back form this point in our lives, it seems like the time that our children were young was so brief. We had lots of adventures and we really enjoyed having children. Every stage of their growth and development brought joy to our lives. I was laughing with our son last night as we recalled moving him into a third-story college dorm room without using the elevator and the long trip when we helped him move to North Carolina for graduate school. I drove 6,000 miles with a pickup truck and hauled their things and towed their car from Portland Oregon to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Started in Rapid City, stopped in Rapid City on our way and returned to Rapid City with an empty truck. It was a grand adventure! We have some experience with moving together.

One of the most precious gifts of our lives has been the gift of children. We have been fortunate to have been called to a vocation where we are in contact with other people’s children as well. We have so many friends from the church whose children and grandchildren we know and love. We get to watch them grow up and mature and discover their own callings in life. How wonderful it is that we are surrounded by children.

Gracious God, today is Children’s Sabbath. It is a day we have set aside to give you thanks for the gift of children, to appreciate the children in our lives and to dedicate ourselves to their love, care and nurture. Throughout the forty days of preparation for this day, we have prayed for the children of the world. Many face problems and challenges. We have raised their situations before you and in our own minds as we have prayed. We know that there is a lot of work that remains. Today, however, we pause to simply say “Thank you!” What a gift it is to have these precious ones in our lives! How grateful we are! May they be blessed abundantly as you have blessed us. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 the victims

We are traveling with my sister and so we have been talking about old times and old friends. One of our mutual friends, with whom we don’t have a lot of contact, stopped by to visit my sister recently and so I was interested to learn what I could about how things are going for hime at this stage of his life. One of the things that we found out about him that we did not know when we were children or teenagers, is that his father was terribly abusive to him and his brother. They were routinely beaten in ways that were cruel and terrible. Even more challenging for them as they grew up was that other adults in their lives - people who were important to them such as their mother and grandparents - knew about the abuse but did nothing to protect them. They might have been able to understand that their father had severe problems and didn’t know how to be a father, but the fact that the other adults didn’t come to their assistance and prevent further abuse gave them the impression that no adults could be trusted to protect them.

Now, so many years later, the effects of the trauma are still haunting their lives. Fortunately for them and for the rest of us, they did not turn out to be abusive themselves. They have suffered some broken relationships and have gone through some readjustments in their lives, but in the end their children have grown up without the trauma and terror that they experienced.

We know other stories of people our age who suffered abuse as children. We can’t think of any of them whose abuse was known to us when we were children. In the days of our growing up, things like child abuse were covered up. People didn’t speak of such things. And we now know that it was far more common than we ever knew.

Child abuse affects 7.8 million children in the United States each year. In over 90% of the cases the abuse is one of their parents, more frequently a father than a mother. In most of the other cases the abuser is in a relationship with a parent. A lot of children grow up with homes that aren’t safe for them. It is estimated that less than 75% of cases of abuse are ever investigated by officials. Researchers know that abusers were often themselves abused. A victim of abuse is far more likely to become an abusive parent. The cycle of violence is generational and passed down in a terrible chain of pain and anguish.

Researchers also have discovered that the effects of victimization last for an entire life. Post traumatic stress syndrome can show up years and even decades after the trauma is experienced. Victims of abuse struggle with anxiety, addiction and substance abuse, depression and other major illnesses that are a result of their victimization early in their lives. The pain does not stop when the beating comes to an end.

Boys are more likely to suffer physical abuse such as beatings and shaking. Girls are more likely to become the victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Statistics on the death of children are incomplete, but about 5 children die as the result of abuse in the United States every day. Nearly half of the victims are under the age of 1 year.

When I was a grad school intern at a Family Service Center in Chicago, I was assigned to assist with the investigation of a case of child abuse for Child Protective Services of the City. The case for which I was assigned to interview the parents involved a child who was 11 months old and had suffered 11 broken bones and was currently in foster care while the investigation continued. The infant was nearly silent. I never heard it cry. It had learned that crying often brought intense pain and suffering. My involvement in the case was extremely brief and I do not know the story of what happened. It was still technically possible that the child could be returned to the home. The mother was certainly advocating for that when I was involved. Assuming that the child survived, it would be nearing 45 years old now. I have no information, so it is not meaningful to speculate, but if the child is still living it is clear that the child will still be dealing with the pain and trauma of the first few months of its life. Forty five years is a lot of suffering for an innocent victim. It is a lot of pain caused by parents who were not capable of the basic responsibility to keep their child safe from harm.

As Children’s Sabbath nears, it is appropriate the we offer our prayers for the innocent whose suffering is caused btyhose who should be sources of love and trust.

God who welcomes all of the children, you know of the deep suffering of the victims of abuse. It must bring tears of pain to you to witness the pain and suffering of innocent children. And you, O God, know how that suffering is experienced through the generations as victims themselves become abusers in a cycle of violence and pain. Open our eyes, gracious God, to the suffering of others. Help us to recognize the victims and become a part of the solution by reporting abuse and acting to end abuse and to provide safe homes for the victims and ongoing counseling and support throughout all of their lives. Teach us to see the ongoing suffering in the adults around us that is the result of their being abused as children. Give us the capacity to understand and support them as they deal with the anxiety, addiction and depression that they suffer. Help us to advocate for more services to assist them on their life journeys and early intervention to reduce the pain they experience. Make of our communities safe places for all of the victims. May they experience love and support and encounter people whom they can trust. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 for a short time

As is the usual with me, the days are speeding on. Children’s Sabbath is just two days away. And, as is usual, I haven’t really prayed for all of the children of the world. I think of places where I know specific children such as Costa Rica, South Africa, and Australia. I haven’t told their stories or written specific prayers for those children. It is another thing about our faith that is important to remember. My prayers - the prayers of any individual - are always incomplete. We make a whole prayer by praying together. When my prayers are combined with the prayers of others it becomes a real prayer. God, of course, isn’t confused by many prayers. God hears the prayers of individuals and of groups. And, in the mystery workings of God’s creation, the prayers of this year’s vigil combine with all of the other prayers we have prayed and with the prayers of our future to become prayers for all of the children of the world.

In addition, my life continues to move into new adventures. Yesterday we covered 400 of the approximately 1200 miles of our move. The journey so far has gone very well. We have completed the only portion of our trip that involves traveling on 2 lane highways. From here on we will be in Interstate roads this trip. I was a bit worried that we might become an obstruction to travelers who wanted to go faster than us, but as it turned out, traffic was light and this was not the case. Instead, we found ourselves behind another U-Haul truck, this one towing a car, that was going about 5 mph slower than we wanted to go and who seemed to be a bit afraid of the curves, uphills and downhills of the trip. We reached the Interstate before we had been delayed much and all worked out well. From here on, we’ll have additional lanes for passing and will be able to travel at our own pace.

400 miles from Rapid City in the direction we are traveling means that I am back in my home town - the place where I grew up in the cabin by the river where my mother lived after our father’s death. It is a place that easily brings to mind stories of when I was a child growing up. My sister lives here now and being with her also prompts its share of stories of our past. One of our common lines of conversation sounds something like this: “Remember so and so? Whatever happened to her or him?” As we have grown older, our perspective has changed. We aren’t the oldest people in our hometown. There are a few folks of our parents generation, or a bit younger who are still older than we. But we are definitely among the elders of the community these days. Our peers are retired and settling into new roles. We found ourselves talking about a high school friend who stopped by, his health, his retirement plans and a bit about his family. We are all so much older than when we were children in this town together. A lot has happened in our lives. Some have seen trauma. Some have experienced great loss. A few have remained in the home town. Many have lived in distant places.

When you are a child, it seems like there is a huge difference between you and the adults in your life. They are so much older. They have so much more experience. Our teenage years were a time when the words “generation gap” were a part of newspaper articles and television commentaries. We were told by the media that we would never understand the ways of our seniors and they would never understand us. That, of course, was an exaggeration. We have our differences, but we are all in this together and we have far more in common than the things that separate us.

Children grow into adults. We all did. Some of us make huge mistakes. Some of us have had lives that have followed meaningful directions. It didn’t take us as long to grow up as it had seemed when we were children. As we pray for children these days, I am acutely aware that we are praying for a short amount of time. Being a child is a small slice of the human experience.

Our conversations got me to thinking about a few of the teachers in my life. When I was an elementary school student, it seemed that my teachers were all so very old. Looking back, I realize that I had a few teachers who were less than 20 years older than I. Others were a bit older than that, but not what I would today call “old.” As I grew and aged, my perspective changed.

The grade school I attended is still operating in the same building, with a few additions and changes. The playground is in the same place. Where we attended high school is now a pubic square, a place of gathering for the community. The “new” high school down by the football field has been there for so many years that you have to be an old timer not to think of it as where the high school has always been. There are plenty of folks in town who are seen as lone-time residents who don’t remember back to the years when we were kids. And I have not lived in this place for more than half a century. I can walk into any store in the town and I would be recognized as a stranger - a person from some other place. Yet this still feels like home to me.

Gracious God, how quickly the years pass! How short is the time of childhood for all of your children. Help us to see how precious are the prayers of this year - how quickly the children for whom we pray become adults and new children enter your world. May we appreciate the moments that we have been given and the precious children who will soon become adults. May all of the children of the world know your blessings and love these days. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!