Unconventional All Saints

Years ago we noticed some changes at the home of one of our neighbors. We noticed that there were many days when the wife was not at home. Her car did not return at the end of the work day and we could see, when the garage door was open, that her car was not at home. We speculated about what might be happening. Divorce is common and it seemed possible that the couple had broken up. A few months later we noticed that there was almost no coming and going from the home. The pickup truck sat in the driveway for days at a time without being moved. The grass started to grow long without being cut. There were small chores that were left undone. No one picked up the pine cones in the yard.

After another neighbor mowed the lawn, I spoke with that neighbor who said that he had finally gotten an answer when he went to the door. The man who lived in the home had been suffering from depression and was needing the support of his neighbors. I tried to provide support, making a point of going over to talk with the neighbor whenever I saw him outdoors. One day, when he was working on his pickup, I strolled over and we began to talk. He had, in fact, been divorced from his wife. He had also lost his job. And now his house was in foreclosure. He was trying to work out a way to move to Oregon, where he had relatives and the possibility of a job. The chores of moving out of his house, however, were overwhelming him. He had no money to move, so he had tried to sell some of his possessions. He found a very used camping trailer and removed as much of the interior as he could, leaving only a bunk, so he would have a place to sleep. The rest of the trailer would be loaded with his possessions. Other possessions would be loaded in the back of his pickup. I helped him find some tires for the trailer and got a local shop to pack the wheel bearings for the trip.

Some days it looked like nothing was being accomplished. Other days he would find energy to work. The trailer got packed. There were still a lot of things in the house. I helped him by delivering items to a local thrift store. When the deadline loomed closer, I gave him permission to place some of his things on my lawn so that they would be off of the property on the day he lost possession. I agreed to take items to the dump for him. The pile on my lawn grew.

I gave him a set of sides for his pickup box that fit in the stake holes and would allow him to pile more things in the pickup. He picked out some items to give me in exchange. I didn’t want to accept his possessions, but he insisted. He was running out of room. Finally I made him an offer for two step ladders that he had. He had been in the midst of a do it yourself remodeling project in his basement and had a couple of fairly new stepladders. I traded the sides for the pickup and a tank of gas for the ladders.

I ended up with quite a mess to clean up when he finally pulled out of town. I made two trips with my pickup to get the things dealt with. There was a case of various lawn chemicals that I had to hold until the next toxic waste collection.

That was the end of the story as far as I knew. Various people came and went from the home and it was finally sold and a new couple moved in. I didn’t hear from the old neighbor. I don’t know if he made it to Oregon without major break downs. He had planned to head out across Wyoming, Utah and Nevada before heading north to Oregon. His hope was to avoid the high passes and winter weather that would be a part of the trip had he taken a more direct route through Montana and Idaho.

I’ve never heard from him and I don’t know how things worked out for him. Yesterday, however, I was arranging ladders on the ladder rack on my pickup in preparation for our departure from South Dakota. I thought of our former neighbor as I loaded his ladders and tied them securely to the strong rack. There are many people who move not because they choose to, but because they have no other choice. He had been forced to head out on the highway with all of his possessions because he no longer had a home. He had lost so much that year: a marriage, a job, a home. The grief must have weighed heavily on him.

Since our trip west with our furniture in October, I have been very aware of how many U-Haul trucks and trailers I see. Each one has a story about some individual or family who is moving. Some, like us, are moving to start a new phase of their lives. Some have new jobs and new homes ahead of them. Others, however, are on the road because they have been forced by circumstances to make a major life change. Moving yourself instead of hiring professional movers is a way to save money, but it takes time and energy. It is a luxury we have now that we are retired. Others may not have the same gift of time.

Today as we celebrate All Saints Day, my mind goes to some of the people whose paths have crossed mine who weren’t famous or successful in the eyes of society. I’ve known people who have been caught up in circumstances and overwhelmed with their lives. They weren’t bad people, but some bad things happened to them. Among the saints I have known are people who tried their best to make it in a sometimes hostile world.

I don’t know if my former neighbor was a saint. I don’t know anything of his faith. I do know he was generous with me. I wish him the best. I hope he has been able to rebuild his life. And I have a couple of ladders to remind me of the time when we were neighbors. After he told a parable, Jesus once asked those who were listening, “Which of these do you think was a neighbor?”

I hope I can be a neighbor.

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!

Halloween 2020

In the journey of grief there are many hard days: The first Christmas without a loved one. The first birthday. The first anniversary. When you walk the journey of grief with another person, you learn that there are some days that you can predict will be hard. One of those days is the anniversary of the loss. I know many people who always remember the day that their loved one died. They remember the date. They remember what day of the week it was. They remember details of that day and replay them in their minds over and over again. Even when time has passed and the initial pain of the loss has turned into a collection of memories that are familiar and beloved, the anniversary of a death is a challenging day for many people.

It is not a mystery why the early church began the process of remembering those who had died on the day of their death. In the Christian tradition, a saint’s day is the day that the person died. Valentine’s Day is the commemoration of the day when St. Valentine died. October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and a traditional day for the blessing of the animals. Over the years, of course, the losses have added up. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes over 10,000 saints. With only 365 days in the year it means that every day is a day of remembrance for someone of faith. In the Protestant tradition, many congregations recognize all people of faith who have gone before as saints. Protestant churches do not require special review and do not make a distinction between those recognized by church leaders and those mourned by families and friends.

It is the process of grief that gave rise to the recognition of all saints day. Many Christian denominations set aside November 1 as All Soul’s Day or All Saint’s Day to commemorate all of the faithful departed. It is known in some traditions as the day of the dead. One day each year is set aside to remembrance and prayer for all of those who have touched our lives and faith and whose presence is missed.

Historians are not completely sure of the practice of observing the day before All Saints Day as a somewhat separate holiday. Some believe that the practice of observing the eve before the day is a purely Christian tradition. Others believe that it is a holiday borrowed and adapted from pre-Christian traditions of observing the passing of loved ones. Some scholars cite pre-Christian Celtic traditions, fall harvest festivals, and other celebrations and traditions that have been adapted and rolled into the day before the observance of All Saints. Certainly Christianity has a long tradition of adapting pre-existing traditions and holidays and giving them additional meaning in the light of Christian observances.

Halloween symbols include harvest items, such as bonfires, apple bobbing, and pumpkins. Other Halloween traditions, such as dressing up in costumes and playing pranks on others have sources that are not as clearly identified with a particular day or season. We humans enjoy exercising our imaginations and putting on costumes and pretending to be someone other than our normal everyday selves is an ancient form of entertainment.

Some of the traditions of All Saints Eve and All Saints Day have to do with the mystery of death. We do not fully understand death. We know that when a person dies they cease breathing and their body begins to decay. We know that they no longer are available for conversation and we feel the pain of loss and go through grief. We also know that our memories continue to come to our minds. When a person dies, there is a lasting presence that is felt and experienced. Our faith teaches us that eternal life is what awaits those who have died, but it is less than specific when it comes to the actual nature of eternal life. We do not know exactly what happens to the unique identity and character of a person. We use words like “soul” and “spirit” to speak of ongoing life, but we do so with an element of speculation and wonder.

Setting aside a day to recognize the depth of the mystery and to give thanks for the gift of life allows us to embrace that mystery and grow our faith. The combination of serious thoughts of life and death with playful creativity and costumes gives us the gift of coming face to face with our fears without having them overwhelm us. We get the adrenalin rush of a fright without descending into terror.

Halloween celebrations, like much of the rest of our lives, are being modified by the pandemic. Children going door to door for trick or treat has already been modified by parents worried about the dangers of strangers and the excesses of sweets on a single night. Alternatives were already being explored by many parents. Adding to that the fear of contracting a virus through contact with others and lots of families are seeking alternatives to the practice. In previous years the alternatives included parties and other gatherings, but the risk of exposure goes up dramatically when people are gathered in groups, so activities that allow for social distancing, outdoor activities, and other events are being planned that balance the need for a holiday and fun experiences for children with the fear of illness. It is, as we have all observed, a strange year.

We’ve never been too big on the outward displays of holidays. We don’t go in for elaborate decorations. Having moved our household and camping out in the house we are about to sell means that we wouldn’t have had any decorations anyway. Still, we know a few of the children in our neighborhood and we have a small supply of treats to share if any of them come by to show off costumes. We will figure out some way to toss the treats from our porch or allow children to obtain treats from a basket without getting too close. And we will miss part of the fun and joy of the holiday in this time of transition.

The presence of the pandemic reminds us of the fragility of life and of our own vulnerability. None of us will live forever. As we give thanks for those who have gone before and as we remember the power of grief in our lives, may Halloween be a sacred time, but also a time when we don’t take our selves too seriously. Happy Halloween!

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!

Too many deaths

In Rapid City, we are aware of many ways that our history has defined our community. Even for those of us who moved to this area after 1972, the devastating flash flood that occurred overnight on June 9 -10, 1972 continues to shape our community. It is considered to be one of the worst flash floods in U.S. history. 238 people died. 118 were hospitalized. Every time we take a walk in one of the city’s parks alongside the creek, we see how a path has been cleared in the middle of the city in hopes of preventing future tragedy. There are interpretive signs along the greenway that show the results of the flood that has, in many ways, become one of the defining moments in the history of our town.

Perhaps we don’t appreciate history when we are living it. Maybe we have to allow for time to pass so that we can gain a bit of perspective. But from where I live, it seems to me that we are now living in the midst of another one of those defining moments of history. 403 South Dakotans have now died of COVID-19. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, grandparents, friends, relatives, coworkers, students, and teachers. They are people of all ages. They have left behind grieving friends and relatives. We are so deeply into the midst of this tragedy that it is difficult to know how long we will talk of the pandemic of 2020, or even if the rate of infection and death will drop by the end of the year. The number of South Dakotans who have died doubled in the month of October and October isn’t even over yet.

Over 400 South Dakotans are currently hospitalized with the disease caused by the virus.

Our governor is so busy campaigning out of state that she hasn’t been making many statements about the crisis here at home, but she has made it clear that she will not issue any mandates on masks or other tools that might be used to slow the spread of the virus. She cites her hands off approach as leadership that keeps the economic activity humming.

Back in 1972, when the flood occurred in Rapid City, Richard Kneip was running for re-election as governor. It was the last election of a governor for a two year term. The constitution of South Dakota was amended that year to increase the term of office for the governor to four years. Kneip was re-elected. It seems unlikely that he would have been had he spent the time following the flood out of state raising money and campaigning. Times change. Back in 1972, South Dakota was a two party state with Democrats and Republicans selected in statewide elections.

In 1997, when we observed the 25th anniversary of the flood, I read the names of the members of our congregation who died in the flood. I spoke of the funerals that were held. I told stories that had been shared with me about heroism and tragedy. I watched the faces of members of the congregation who had survived the flood as they remembered the grief and loss of that event.

I don’t know who will be leading the congregation in the future. The search for a new minister is expected to take a full two years. None of us can predict how that search will be shaped by the pandemic that is raging. None of us can predict which members of the congregation will next fall victim to the disease. What I do know is that I am moving on from this place. Its people, however, will always be a part of my life and will remain in my heart forever. I will never forget the grief that is sweeping our community and our state.

A decade before the Rapid City Flood, Bob Dylan released the first single of his second album. “Blowin’ in the Wind” quickly became an anthem of the times as our nation struggled with the Civil Rights Movement and sank deeper in the quagmire of the War in Vietnam. It is a series of hypothetical questions - questions that maybe cannot be answered. The tune is an adaptation of an old Spiritual, “No More Auction Block,” that addresses the tragedy, pain and grief that was caused by the enslavement of Africans in America. That song and its tune have been in my head as I bear witness to the events of this moment in the history of our state and of our nation: “How many deaths will it take till [they] know that too many people have died?”

Too many people have already died. And it looks like many more will die. Even though state officials are saying that they are ready to distribute a vaccine as soon as it is available, we don’t know how soon that will be. We don’t know how effective the vaccine will be. We don’t know how much will be available. What we do know is that the rate of death is rising exponentially. Even if the vaccine were to become immediately available the death toll could easily be three or four times as many as have already died. How many deaths will it take?

Of course it isn’t just South Dakota. This pandemic is worldwide. 229,000 deaths in the US. 1.18 million worldwide. And the death toll continues to rise. Historians remind us that the 1918 - 1920 Spanish flu pandemic was far more deadly. What they can’t tell us is how many deaths this pandemic will eventually cause.

Part of the life of a pastor is learning to face death and grief and loss head on. We don’t avoid the pain. We go to the places where grieving people are. The isolation of pandemic response and the isolation of being retired weighs heavily on me as I adjust to this new way of being. My instinct is to reach out to those who are grieving and to share their pain. My reality is that I must do that from a distance for now.

We are all in this together. And we don’t have the answers. “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

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!

A thousand details

The process of getting our home ready for sale has involved a lot of interruptions. I’ll be working on a project and then I have to switch gears and work on another one. After having moved the furniture out of the house, I am able to see a project or two all the way to completion each day, but others remain unfinished. Yesterday just before lunch, the interruption was that the vacuum cleaner wasn’t working. I took a quick look at it and the beater wasn’t turning. The most likely reason was that the belt needed to be replaced. I took the machine apart and that was the case. As I prepared to head to town to purchase a new belt, there was a brief discussion.

“The vacuum cleaner is more than 10 years old. Maybe it is time to get rid of it. It would be one less thing to move and we could get a new one when we get there. Because we are having the carpets professionally cleaned, we don’t really need it here.” “On the other hand, it is just a belt. It seems wasteful to throw away a vacuum for the want of a $5 part. I think this is the first belt that has gone on this vacuum, which means that they last 10 years. That’s only 50 cents per year if the belt costs what I think it does. Even if it is double the cost, it seems like a small investment.” “But you have to consider the time it takes to go to town and get a belt and the issue of moving one more thing.” “I’ve already taken it apart. It doesn’t make sense to put it back together without a new belt.”

That isn’t really an accurate report of the conversation and there were three of us involved in the discussion, but I ended up making a trip to town to get the belt and we thought of a couple of other things to do on that trip. When I got to the hardware store, the $5 price was accurate, but the package contained two belts, not one. Two belts for a total of $5.29 with tax. I had a $5 coupon for the store, so it was 29 cents out of pocket. I pulled out a quarter and took four pennies from the penny cup on the counter.

The new belt was quickly replaced and the vacuum put together. It is working very well - just like it did when it was new. Now I had the problem of what to do with the extra belt. I know form the process of packing up our household and having much of it still in boxes that it would be easy to get the belt someplace where I would never find it when I need it. I know it is only worth $2.50 and I was willing to pay $10 earlier in the day. Still, I hate to waste such an item. The solution was to leave the belt in its plastic bag and tape the bag to the back of the vacuum for the rest of our time in this house and for the move to our house in Washington.

On to the next adventure! The only things left at the storage unit are books which will be delivered today to a friend’s garden shed where they will be stored until the AAUW book sale next spring. That gets us out of the rental storage before the end of the month. A quick sweep out and we can inform the rental agent that the space is available for the next renter. As long as we are delivering the books, we can load up a few other items that are being donated. We’ll have a pickup load by the time we get everything ready to deliver. Then, when we’ve delivered those items it should be time to load up for another trip to the dump. We’ve got a utility bill from the city, so we can dump a pickup load for free. I just need to make sure that the utility bill is in the pickup. What else am I forgetting.

We’ve got a couple of boxes of items that need to be shredded - old receipts that we had saved and no longer need to keep, cancelled checks (remember when you used to get your checks back from the bank with the statement, when the statement came in the mail as pieces of paper?). There are a few other things that need attention. There are a couple of papers that I need to have copied. Our printer is now in Washington, so that means a stop at the office supply store to make a couple of copies.

It is beginning to feel like the chores on the “to do” list will expand to fill any amount of time that we allow. The truck needs an oil change. The carpet cleaners haven’t been scheduled yet. The chimney sweep hasn’t returned my call. We need to put a forwarding order on the mail. The USPS doesn’t forward magazines, so we need to make sure that we’ve changed the appropriate addresses. I can get a free tire rotation for the car before we leave. I’ll have to pay to have that job done in Washington. Utility companies need to be called to inform them of the change in ownership. Hmm . . . what am I forgetting?

I still have a 21 year-old-car with 293,000 miles on it. At the most it is worth $500, but probably less. We plan to donate it - it is the least amount of hassle. But that means that I need to get it cleaned out and remove any things I’ve stashed in it. And I need to get out the title and have it ready. And I need to fill out the online donation form and arrange for it to be picked up.

I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of other things that I’m forgetting.

It is a good thing I’m retired. I don’t seem to have time to go to work.

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!

Four yeses

My journal has been mostly a bit of personal meandering recently. The process of selling our home and getting resettled in a new one has consumed much of our time and energy. We are nearing the end of that process and the beginning of a new adventure, but there are still some details that need to be finalized. Getting back to Rapid City was a bit of an adventure in itself.

Our original plan was to make the drive in three days with my sister, who came out to Washington after we drove the U-Haul truck and trailer there. The first two days drive brought us to her home in the town where we grew up. As we slept that night winter hit hard with more than a foot of snow. The roads became snow packed and slippery and we decided to wait a day before proceeding. After delaying one day, it became evident that the roads were sill bad as the storm had moved off to the east right in the direction of our travel. We delayed another day. On the third day, yesterday, things looked better. A chinook wind brought rising temperatures and the wind chills climbed above zero. We waited for sunlight and for the snow plows to make their first pass and set off.

The wind was blowing snow across the road and the roads were slippery for the first 20 miles of our journey. We saw a semi with two trailers overturned in the ditch and a RV trailer totaled and torn about off the side of the road. Several other cars and trucks were stuck in the ditch. We continued to travel at a slower speed. After about 20 miles the roads and visibility improved. Another 50 miles and we were on dry pavement with occasional slippery spots. Shortly after that the wind decreased and the roads were dry for the rest of the trip home. When we stopped for lunch we found out that the stretch of highway from 15 miles west of the place we had left to 20 miles east of that place had been closed due to the winds, reduced visibility, slippery roads and the number of accidents. We came very close to having our trip delayed one more day. As it turned out, we had no problems and we stayed in our home last night. My sister will make a decision today about when she will return, but the roads look pretty good for her to head back to her home.

Meanwhile, we have some details to conclude here.

Our son and his wife will close on a new home today. The people who are selling the home they are purchasing will sign the final agreement followed by a formal signing by our son and his wife. They will be able to take possession of their new home today and begin moving their things into the home. Moving from one home to another is a big process for anyone and it is an especially big deal for a family with three children. It has been fun for us, as parents, to watch our son steer his family through the process. He has explained the process to his nine-year-old son as a process of “4 yeses:” The first yes is when a buyer and seller come to agreement on the price of the house. This yes involves an offer and sometimes a counter offer. There can be negotiation until they come to a place where everyone says, “yes.” The second is a set of negotiations that come following a home inspection. The buyer lists some contingencies, or items that need to be addressed before the sale can be completed. The seller responds to those contingencies and they come to an agreement where they again can say, “yes.” The third “yes” comes from the bank or mortgage broker who is providing financing for the home. They have a professional appraiser look at the home to make sure that it provides sufficient collateral for the loan. If everything is in order they say, “yes.” Then there is the final closing, where a formal agreement is sealed, all of the paperwork is put in order, and all of the signatures are gathered to make sure that everyone has come to agreement on all of the details. This fourth “yes” is called the closing. After four yeses, then the home changes ownership and the new owners can move in.

So our son and his family have reached four yeses on the sale of their previous home and today they come to four yeses on the purchase of their new property. The family has already moved out of the old home and this weekend they’ll move into their new home.

We are nearing the third yes on the sale of our home here in Rapid City. After our adventures getting back to Rapid City, we are in our house here taking care of some final details in relationship to its sale. Today the appraiser comes to look at the home. The appraiser will prepare a formal written report for the bank and the buyer. The buyer has been pre approved for a loan and the appraisal is a formal process of making sure that the buyer’s loan is in order. Because we had a market estimate done before setting the price of our home, we are confident about the appraisal and this is mostly a formal process, but we still need to go through that process. We should have a date for that fourth yes within a day or so.

Our process is a bit easier on the other end as we have decided to rent for a year while we scope out the market and make a decision on what home to purchase. We have signed a lease and have moved our furniture to a home in Washington and are eager to get back to that home to unpack and get going on the next chapter of our adventure. We’ve just got a couple more “yeses” to achieve here.

Along the way we are reminded by the weather that there are things in this world with greater power than ourselves. Patience is a virtue we have already needed and will continue to need as we move forward.

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!

With a little help from our friends

There were times in my life when I would have tackled the drive to Rapid City yesterday. The snow had stopped and it was bright and sunny. A chinook wind was blowing and the temperature was rising. According to the road reports, there was about 20 miles of very slippery snow-packed road followed by another 60 or so miles of intermittent snow and ice. The other 320 miles would be mostly scattered slippery roads. We could have made it. On the other hand, we would have had to brave sub zero wind chills and blowing and drifting snow in addition to the already slippery roads. We decided that we would wait one more day to make sure that we remained safe. We are, after all, retired and have more flexibility to our schedule than used to be the case.

In the afternoon a friend went to check on our house for us and turn up the heat in a couple of rooms. They discovered that another friend had blown the snow out of our driveway. All is well at our house and it will be ready for us when we return to finish emptying it and cleaning up. We should be able to make the trip today with increased safety as the temperatures are already much warmer than they were yesterday. By the time the sun is up and the plows have gotten to the roads, travel should be much safer.

As we waited yesterday there was time to cut and stack a bit more firewood for my sister, and help with a few other winterization projects at her house. We were snug and warm in her cabin with a warm fire in the stove. She baked cookies and made soup while we caught up on a little correspondence and did a few chores. Three snow days in a row was a kind of rest break in the midst of the busy activities of the past few months.

It has once again become clear how wonderful our friends are and how much we have been dependent upon them in this process of making a major move in our lives. We would not have been able to get our furniture loaded on time without the help of friends who put in a very long hard day. We would have returned to a home with snow to shovel and cold rooms if friends hadn’t come to our assistance. There have been a lot of times in our retirement when we have leaned on our friends and they have come through with just the help we have needed. They are such good people and we have depended upon them in so many ways. We are so fortunate to have such dear friends who are so generous, giving their time and energy.

I’ve had the Joe Cocker song in my head for the last couple of days: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Indeed we do get by and I hope that I am able to be that kind of friend to others as well - generous and caring.

Human beings are by our nature communal creatures. We like to think of ourselves as having some degree of independence, but the reality is that we thrive the best when we are surrounded by others. The isolation that has resulted from the pandemic isn’t our natural state. We long for contact and opportunities to express community. In the midst of the pandemic, people have worked hard to support one another. We have seen so many examples of human generosity and caring.

The simple fact that we are all in this together has meant that we have felt more than a small amount of distress over the deep divisions that have been brought to the surface and exaggerated by the hyper politicization of the past few years. We have seen some of the worst of human behavior - prejudice and bigotry, racism and division, threats and violence. It isn’t just protestors and counter protestors in the streets of our cities. We have also seen intense arguments in families and people turning away from one another. Congregations have been ripped apart by political divisions and communities have witnessed a break down of basic human decency. It hasn’t been pretty.

We need one another. We need the people with whom we disagree. We need to find ways to reach out across the divisions that have been exaggerated by the politicians and exploited by the power brokers.

San Juan Island, between Washington State and Vancouver Island British Columbia, nearly became a place of war. Canadian citizens, loyal to Great Britain occupied the north part of the island. To the south were United States citizens. Both groups believed that they had settled in their own country. Both nations sent troops to the island and established garrisons and prepared for armed conflict. Warships were stationed in the waters right off of the coast. Artillery was aimed at the ships from the shore. There was no war. The boundary between the United States and Canada was established. The city of Victoria and Vancouver Island went to Canada even though it is south of the 49th parallel, which is the boundary from the Rocky Mountains to the Straight of Georgia. San Juan Island is now all within the United States. The solution came about as a result of arbitration. German Emperor Wilhelm I was chosen as the arbitrator and he referred the dispute to a three-person arbitration council in Geneva. Eventually the arbitrators ruled in favor of the United States and both nations withdrew their troops. The conflict was resolved without a shot being fired, except for the execution of a pig that wandered into a farmer’s potato patch. The real victor in the dispute was peace itself. Nations discovered that peaceful resolutions could be found to disputes.

It doesn’t always work out that way. Peace requires dedication and hard work. It takes time. We are, however, capable of living peacefully with one another. The support and care of our friends remind us of the power of community and of people who work together. This is our calling as we move forward from these troubled times.

In the words of another song, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

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!

Facing our differences

I’ve been known to joke about the differences between me and the brother who is closest to me in age. On occasion, I’ve said, “Either we didn’t grow up in the same house or he is the worst liar I’ve ever met.” Of course he isn’t a liar and we did grow up in the same house. We do have different memories about our growing up. Now that I have had time to study memories and how they function as well as how our memories can drift away from the actual facts, I understand that we both have embellished the stories that we tell the most often. We have had different life experiences and those experiences have shaped how we have interpreted the experiences of our past.

I also know that even though our parents sought to be fair in raising their children, there were differences. The simple fact that I was the oldest son in our family gave me a certain privilege when it came to opportunities to spend time with our father. Being in the middle of the family with three older siblings and three younger siblings gave me a unique perspective on the relationships of my sisters and brothers. My educational experiences were unique.

When we were much younger, there were some significant arguments between us. I remember one evening when we were talking about marriage and commitment when we locked horns as it were and argued into the wee hours, neither of us willing to concede the argument or even to just walk away from our differences. There have been other arguments over the years.

I also remember making a conscious decision that has been important in our relationship. That decision was that I did not need to convert my brother. I didn’t need to make him see things from my point of view. I didn’t need to change him. I could accept him without compromising my own values.

It is certainly true that our lives have taken different paths. From the beginning of my college years I took to the academy. I enjoyed college and thrived in the college environment. My brother struggled and his academic career had a few bumps, a few starts and stops and a few changes in direction. I have been blessed to have found a wonderful lifelong partner in my wife. We were married at a relatively young age and we have been blessed with a strong and joyful marriage. He’s had four weddings and some painful breakups along the way. I have had the joy of being close to our adult children and get to have my grandchildren in my life. He has only one daughter and she and her family live on the opposite coast of the country from him and they are able to see each other only infrequently. He has been very critical of religion and has said a few things about my career choice that lead me to believe that he doesn’t really understand my vocation.

I don’t need him to be like me. There are lots of ways in which we are alike, but there are also lots of differences.

There have been times when we have not spoken for months at a time, but I know that is about to change as I am now moving to a home that is only about a half hour’s drive from his home. We’ll be getting together more often and having more contact than we’ve had for much of our adult lives.

I think, however, that our lives have taught us some very important skills that will be important in the years to come because our nation is a bit like a couple of brothers who are very good at arguing. The divisions and arguments of the past four years have been at times bitter. There are pundits on both sides of the political divide that speak of the other side as being catastrophic for American Democracy. There have already been tempers that have flared and weapons that have been drawn.

After the election in November, regardless of the outcome, we will need the best of our skills at reconciliation. We will need to reach out to those with whom we disagree and work together for the future of our country and for the good of our democracy. The divisions have been bitter. The pain has been real. Now it is time for us all to get about the business of healing.

I find deep wisdom in the words of some of the past leaders of our nation. President Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address sought to bring together a sadly divided nation. His words are carved into his monument.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Eloquent as his words are, they did not bring about instant agreement. They did not end prejudice and injustice. They did not bring to an end pain and suffering. It was not long after he delivered this address that Lincoln was assassinated. Recent experiences have taught us that some of the divisions of the Civil War are not yet fully healed and the legacy of institutional racism continues to result in injustice for some of America’s citizens.

Still his words speak of the challenge that lies before us as a nation as we learn to work together with those we have judged to be on the other side. Seeking unity in a time when division is used as a political tool is not an easy task. Too many harsh words have been spoken for us to proceed without some degree of pain and regret.

We are, however, one family - one nation under God. It is worth the effort to begin now to learn to live “with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.”

Plenty of work remains.

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!


As we prepared for this move, I gave away our Olympia portable typewriter. The ribbon was all dried out, but the machine was clean and in good working order. It turned out that a friend was seeking a mechanical typewriter as a birthday gift for a friend of his and the connection was just right. The typewriter has a long history. It was a high school graduation gift from my parents to my sister. When I was accepted to college my parents bought me a typewriter as well. After a year of using the Elite typewriter, with 12 characters per inch, my sister decided she wanted a Pica typewriter, which spaced larger characters 10 per inch. I happily accepted the Elite typewriter and gave the Pica machine to my sister. At college, I typed everything. In my freshman year, I typed up most of my class notes as a way of reviewing the material. I typed my own papers. Later I typed some papers for Susan. When we were married, we shared the same typewriter.

The typewriter moved with us to Chicago where it saw us both through graduate school. When we moved to our first parish, the typewriter was one of the first things we unpacked. It sat on my desk in the study and was used to type sermons and bulletins and letters and more. When we cleaned out our files in preparation for this move, I found pages and pages of documents that had been typed with that typewriter.

During our second parish we began using a computer more and more. We obtained a used dot matrix printer for our computer and started to use the typewriter less and less. By the time we moved to South Dakota we owned a desktop computer and an inkjet printer. The typewriter went onto a shelf in the garage and was only taken out to show friends of our children the way we used to do things before we had a computer.

I don’t think I’m going to miss that typewriter. I won’t miss getting ink on my fingers threading ribbons through the guides. I won’t miss cleaning ink from the keys. I won’t miss correction fluid and having to start over on a page when too many mistakes were made. I won’t miss having to push so hard on the keys. I’ve become a user of computers and I find the keyboards fit my hands and enable me to write what I want to write.

Good bye faithful typewriter. You were a fantastic tool that did your job well. I hope the new owner gets a lot of pleasure out of using you.

Packed in a box in Washington is the telephone from the headboard of our bed. It is a blue princess phone. My grandchildren don’t know about telephones that are connected to the wall by a cord. Their household only has cell phones. Back in the day, however, we thought we were quite modern to have a telephone in our kitchen, a second one in our study and a third in our bedroom. The bedroom phone was installed because pastors get more calls in the middle of the night than some other professions. Being able to answer the phone while still in bed was a luxury. We had the bell in the phone turned off so it didn’t ring. We could hear the phones ringing in other rooms of our house.

The phone, like the others in our house at the time, was rented from Northwestern Bell Telephone Company. We were excited to have a full time job and to be able to rent more than one phone. The blue slimline phone was modern and sleek, just wide enough to accommodate the dial. When the courts ordered the breakup of the Bell phone companies, one of the outcomes was that users were able to purchase phones from the company. We purchased that blue phone. It has remained on the headboard of our bed ever since.

I’m sure that our grandchildren don’t know how to dial a phone. They don’t even remember phones with actual buttons. What they think of when they think of a phone is a touchscreen that you swipe and tap to “dial” a number. They don’t even know why we use the language of dialing a phone.

I don’t know if we will ever use that phone again. Somehow it still works if you have a land line, but land lines are becoming scarce and we probably don’t need to have one in our new home. In the home we are moving away from we had wiring in every room for telephones, but the system was connected to a voice over internet modem. In place of the original copper telephone wire to the phone, messages are carried over the same cable that brings high speed internet to the home.

We have a few antiques that we have moved. There are pieces of furniture that have been in our family for generations. There are clocks that need to be wound - two that need weekly windings, one that needs to be wound every night. The clocks lack the precision of modern digital devices. They aren’t needed in a home that has clocks on the stove and microwave and lots of other devices that will tell you what time it is. There is a constant readout in the upper right hand corner of the screen of my laptop that is reporting the time as I write this journal entry.

We have packed up and moved a kerosene lantern. We don’t even use it when there is a power outage. I’m sure it was never lit in the last 25 years that we lived in Rapid City and probably wasn’t lit for more than a decade before that. I doubt that there are hardware stores that stock replacement glass chimneys for lanterns any more. I guess we’d look on the Internet for one if we needed one.

The world is changing and the items of the past have little value as we move into the future. However, we are hanging onto a few things out of nostalgia or memory or sentiment or respect for those who have gone before us. Many of those items will have no meaning to the next generations of our family. Still, we like having some of those things around as we move into a new phase of life. At least they will entertain our grandchildren for a little while as we explain what they are and how we used them.

I guess we too are kind of antiques. I hope they keep us around for a little while if only for our historic value.

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!

Snow Days

The good news is that we are safe and snug in a warm cabin by the river in my home town. We have a fire in the stove and plenty of firewood. We have groceries in the refrigerator and pantry. We have a reliable all wheel drive vehicle parked outside. We are safe and have all of the things we need.

The rest of the story can be summed up in the weather alert from the national weather service:


* WHAT...Heavy snow. Total snow accumulations of 8 to 12 inches.

* WHERE...Portions of Central and South Central Montana.

* WHEN...Until noon MDT Sunday.

* IMPACTS...Blowing snow and poor visibility could make travel
very difficult. Expect wind chills to fall below zero by
Saturday night.

Our plans have gone remarkably well throughout the time since we retired in June. We made a trip right away out to Washington with our camping trailer. 1,200 miles with no troubles at all. We parked our camper in our son’s yard and enjoyed a visit with his family before heading back to work on our house. We made a second trip a month later. This time we pulled another trailer, loaded with canoes and kayaks. Four boat inspection stations later we were back in Washington where we arranged storage for the boats and tools we had taken out. We had a safe and successful return trip to South Dakota. We got our home on the market and received and accepted an offer. Then we rented a U-Haul truck and trailer and friends helped us load them. Once again we made a trip with no problems, signed a lease on a rental home and moved in. We even arranged to keep the truck for an extra day and used it to move our son and his family from a home they have sold. They close on a new home next week. My sister came out and picked us up to give us a ride back to South Dakota. Two days’ travel later we are at her home in our old home town, 400 miles from our Rapid City house, which needs a bit more work before we turn it over to its new owner. That’s 6,800 miles of travel with no flat tires, no slippery roads, no mechanical break downs. We are extremely fortunate.

Of all of the trips we have made so far, this is the one with the least pressure in terms of time. It wasn’t a difficult decision to decide not to press on to get home ahead of the storm. We had enough work here at my sister’s place, getting ready for winter to fill yesterday and make us plenty tired by bedtime. Today and tomorrow we will catch up on some things we can do on the Internet. The roads should be good for a trip to Rapid City on Monday.

We’ve been working hard since we retired. We have had a lot of things to accomplish around our home and we’ve found a little time for a few volunteer activities as well. But we have had a few days of recreation as well. I’ve taken my grandchildren for rides in the row boat this summer. I’ve gotten my grandson out in a kayak. I’ve read a few books. We haven’t take a block of time, such as a vacation like we did during our working years, because we have had a lot of things that needed to be accomplished. So taking the weekend off is a bit of a treat - a kind of gift from Mother Nature.

We would not be being fully honest, however, if we didn’t admit that we are a bit concerned about the weather. After a beautiful autumn, it appears that winter is settling in early across the northwest and that is territory that we need to cover again before we are settled in our new home. We’ve still got 1,600 miles left to travel this fall over major mountain passes. Though the roads were clear there was snow in the high country when we traveled by this trip. There will be a lot more when we go back. The tamaracks are bright yellow and will have dropped their needles when we return. The animals know that winter is upon us. Wind chills below zero mean that we need to have winter clothing and emergency supplies when we travel.

We aren’t afraid to travel in the winter. We have the supplies to assure that we can keep safe. A few years ago we spent the night in our pickup when the starter broke as we were out hunting for a Christmas Tree about eight miles from the nearest telephone. No harm was done and we walked out in the morning. Since then we have made sure that we always have plenty of food and water when we head out in the winter. We will have all the gear we need for the rest of our travels. Even though I was traveling light this trip and didn’t have boots with me, this is Montana, so when we stopped at my sister’s place, she has a pair of warm muck boots that fit me and I was able to work outside in the snow yesterday.

There have been times in my life when such a travel delay would have caused considerable problems. I have spent travel delay days on the telephone making arrangements for the work I would have done had my travel gone as planned. Today we’ll probably tell a few stories about other times in our lives when we got hung up in our travel because of cancelled airline flights and closed roads and other issues. We’ll also tell stories about driving on slippery roads. After all, the roads are not closed. There have been plenty of times when I would have pressed on, given the road reports. We could probably make it to Rapid City by adding an extra hour or so to the travel today. But we are retired and have no need to drive on snow packed and slippery roads.

So I’ll put another chunk of wood on the fire and sit back and relax. Perhaps I’ll read a bit more in my book. I’ve been reading the journals of Richard Proenneke, who spend 30 years in a tiny cabin on twin lakes in remote Alaska. He endured -40 winters with deep snow and no indoor plumbing. We don’t need to shovel a path to the lake or cut a hole in the ice to obtain drinking water. Compared to him, we’ve got it really easy.

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!

Running the weather

We are back in Montana, having crossed Stephens Pass, 4th of July Pass and Lookout Pass yesterday. So far we have made this month’s journeys on dry roads, but we know that the weather is changing. Significant amounts of snow are forecast for Montana this afternoon and evening. Chances are that our plan of stopping to do some work at my sister’s place today and heading out to Rapid City tomorrow will need some adjustment. We’ll get up early and get to Big Timber before noon to stay ahead of the weather, but by the time we get our chores done, which include some winterizing at my sister’s place, it will be too late to go any farther today and the weather will catch up with us late this afternoon or early in the evening. Chances are we’ll stay in Big Timber on Saturday and perhaps Sunday as well in order to avoid having to drive on slippery roads as the weather system heads off to the east.

Chasing storms is a way of life in the mountains in the fall and winter and we knew that we ran the risk of running into weather by delaying our move the way we have. However, we are retired and have more flexibility of time than was the case when we were actively engaged in our careers. Part of retirement is learning the art of patience.

It seems to us that we have a significant amount of work ahead of us once we get back to South Dakota. Although we have moved our household, there are things we left behind that need to be sorted and delivered. There is probably another trip to the dump, a couple of trips to various recycling agencies in town and a reasonable load of items that we will pack into our pickup and car when we finally leave. There is cleaning to be done at our house before it is ready for the next owner. We have a car to sell, as we own one too many. The old Subaru has served us well. It is 21 years old and has 292,000 miles on it. I had hoped to drive it all the way to 300,000 miles, but those last few miles will need to be driven by someone else. The joke at our house is that we now can put ethanol in that car as at the age of 21 it is legal for it to consume alcohol in South Dakota.

A week more in South Dakota and we should be coming close to wrapping up our work there. Then it is a matter of watching the weather and timing our trip to fit between storms. The highway departments in Montana, Idaho and Washington are used to the snow and prepared with good plows and plenty of equipment, but icy roads are a part of winter travel and winter has arrived in the high country. Over the years we have made plenty of trips across the mountains in November and December and we know the routine. These days we have the advantage of more accurate weather forecasts and a more flexible schedule to assure safety for our travels.

Running between storms brings to mind stories of trips we made in the past. During the first winter we lived in Chicago, we drove back to Montana for Christmas. Our little car didn’t have the best heater and we had blankets on our laps and were scraping the ice off of the inside of the windshield part of the way as we endured sub-zero temperatures. The next winter we rode the rain home for Christmas and the weather was even more intensely cold. The train had problems with freezing water systems in Fargo, North Dakota and it was a chilly trip across that state to the edge of Montana where the sunshine returned and we made a somewhat more comfortable trip home. I don’t remember much of the return trip, so I suppose that the weather cooperated.

The weather can change a lot during the winter in this country. There are plenty of wonderful warm days with bright sunshine. After the heavy snows have fallen in the high country, the road crews get out and make the surface ready for traffic and life goes on all year around. Folks in this country continue to travel all year around and, with the exception of during the actual storms, the roads remain passable. We used to be willing to travel any time the state highway department had not shut down the roads, driving as far as we could and then waiting for a few hours while the plows worked. These days we are in less of a rush and more likely to plan our waiting to more comfortable locations.

Having just drive a U-Haul truck and trailer 1200 miles across the mountains, I am more aware of how many people are on the move. We see U-Haul trucks and trailers everywhere we go. I noticed one in the small town where we are staying stopping for gas late last night. I don’t know if it was west- or east-bound. If it was heading west, chances are they would be running into snow at the top of Lookout Pass. Each of the moving trucks and trailers that we see makes me wonder how many of those movers are, like us, making happy moves and heading out to wonderful new adventures. Some of them, to be sure, are moving because they have been forced to move. Young people have become unemployed and are forced to move in with their families until they can find new jobs. Others have been forced from their homes by hard times and the effects of the pandemic. Unemployment is reaching record levels as congress seems to be hung up on passing significant legislation to help those whose lives are most affected by the spread of Covid. These are hard times for a lot of people. We are very fortunate to be in the position of having many choices and being able to move to a wonderful new home in a new place, surrounded by a supportive family.

So we will continue to chase the weather and discover new adventures, remembering how truly fortunate we are. Be careful out there. The weather can be harsh this time of year.

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!

Family, friends and changing times

It is a bit difficult for me to accurately describe the family home of my upbringing. My parents raised seven children, but there were never more than 5 at home at the same time. Still, a family of seven fills up the table at mealtime. We had assigned places at the table that helped to avoid arguments over who would sit in which chair. I don’t remember our kitchen table ever having the leaves removed. We always had eight chairs at the table and guests were frequent. If we had only one guest, my position at the table was shifted the the empty seat that was usually between me and the other end of the table. We always had a lively discussion at the table and sometimes we argued. A raised voice was not uncommon. The food was always plentiful. We had assigned chores and knew what our responsibilities were.

The household of our children’s growing up was quite different. We have only two children, though we also hosted exchange students, so sometimes we had extras at our dinner table. Still the number was usually low. A five-passenger car was sufficient for family outings and vacations. Our dining table was more quiet than that of my growing up years. Still, the food has always been plentiful and the conversation lively. For most of our married life and unabridged dictionary was close by the table when we ate dinner to be used in resolving disagreements about words and how they are used. In recent years the Internet has mostly replaced the big physical books, but there is still an unabridged dictionary at our house in Rapid City because we couldn’t decide whether to move it or let it go to a used book sale.

Here in our new home in Washington we have had a full dining table once again. For a few days while they are between the sale of one home and the purchase of another, our son and his family are living with us. And my sister has come to give us a ride back to South Dakota so there were eight at the dinner table the last two nights. The food has been plentiful and the discussion has been lively. Although my sister now lives alone and Susan and I are usually just a couple at meals, the full dining table seems just right to me. I find myself looking forward to mealtimes with the family. My thanksgiving prayers are genuine expressions of how I am feeling these days.

For regular readers of this journal, today we start a journey back to South Dakota to finish some details of getting our home ready for its new owner. The weather has turned and much of the country we will cover has experienced snow, though it looks like the roads will be good for our travel. Traveling with my sister we’ll be back to three of us at meals and not long after we arrive in South Dakota, we’ll be down to just the two of us again. Meals might become a little more quiet for a while.

Yesterday we had a conversation about ordering a turkey for our Thanksgiving Dinner. The holiday is just five weeks from today. A lot has to happen between now and then, and I know that the time will pass quickly for us, but it gives us a sense of order to our lives to start thinking about how we will mark holidays in our new retirement lives. For many years we have gathered with dear friends on Thanksgiving. We’ve not been the ones to choose the size of the turkey, but we have had wonderful meals around full tables with plenty of people and plentiful food. The holiday celebrations have been times of abundance of lively conversation and deep friendship with people who value their family as we do ours.

Now we are embarking on life changes that means we will be discovering new ways to celebrate the holidays and occasions of our lives. We know that we are not alone. The coronavirus has changed the way people gather for meals. It has introduced fear of coming into close contact with others. It has pretty much eliminated inviting casual guests into our homes.

I’ve noticed the difference as we walk around our new neighborhood. In previous moves, we have reached out our hands when meeting new neighbors. Now we stand many feet apart, usually much more than the recommended six feet and speak to each other over the distance. Other neighbors rush into their homes and we don’t have the opportunity for any conversation with them. It might take us quite a while to get to know our neighbors in this new home. Still, we know it is a pleasant neighborhood and we are eager to get to know the people among whom we will be living.

When we met with our landlords to sign the lease on our home, they said, “In normal times, we would go out for coffee and get to know each other better.” It is true. We really hit it off as soon as we met. We were exchanging pictures of our grandchildren within minutes, even in the setting of the bank where we were having documents notarized. Hopefully we will be able to invite them for a meal or meat them for coffee during the time we are renting their home.

These are strange times for many folks. As we drove across the northwest in our rental truck, we were especially aware of how many other rental trucks we saw. There are a lot of families on the move. Some folks are moving because their jobs no longer exist. Some folks are moving because they are now working remotely and the distance between home and work can be greater than before. Some folks are moving in search of a better life.

Our world is constantly changing but in the midst of it all, it is good to sit down for dinner with friends and family. I’m glad we have the leaves in our dining room table. We’ll keep it that way for a while.

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!

Two states

For a little while, we have two home states. We still own a home in South Dakota, which is now under contract and will no longer be ours in early November. We plan to return to South Dakota this week to finish some cleaning and other work on our home there. We have leased a home in Washington, where we plan to move and start shopping for a new home to buy. We’ve lived in South Dakota for 25 years and it very much feels like home to us. Washington is a new experience for us, though we have visited frequently in the past decade and are beginning to be familiar with our new surroundings.

South Dakota has averaged 85 new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. Washington has averaged less than 15 new cases per 100,000 residents. Yesterday we received news of two more friends who have contracted the disease. One of them is in the hospital.

The obvious difference for us as travelers between the two states is the use of face masks. We haven’t witnessed anyone in Washington defying the state’s mask mandate. People wear masks in all public settings. The movers who helped us unload our truck wore masks, as did we. The man who came to turn on the natural gas wore a mask. Use of masks and limits on the number of people in the bank was obvious to us. In South Dakota I haven’t been to the grocery store on any occasion where there weren’t people who weren’t wearing masks.

More importantly, we have noticed the difference in the attitude of the Governors of the two states. Governor Jay Inslee, of Washington has issued a statewide mask mandate. He has issued and extended a moratorium on evictions and utility cut offs during the pandemic. He appears regularly in the media with information on prevention and state statistics. He has shown his compassion for victims and their families and expressed his sorrow over the loss of life.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has spent more time in the past month campaigning and raising funds out of state. She isn’t even up for re-election this year. She is campaigning for the President from whom she has received a lot of support. She keeps talking about “flattening the curve” of covid in a state where the curve is anything but flat. Comparing the infection rate charts of both states is very revealing. And, most importantly, I haven’t heard Governor Noem express any compassion for those who have been ill or for the families of the victims of the disease.

Governor Noem is selling t-shirts that say, “Less Covid, More Hunting.” Proceeds from the sales are going to her huge campaign account, added to contributions from 41 states in the most recent report.

I wish her t-shirts expressed a hope for the future. In the future it would be good to have less covid. And there is room for more hunting in South Dakota, when pursued carefully. However, it seems that it may be an expression of a fantasy. Is it possible that the Governor actually thinks there is less covid in South Dakota? If so the only state she could use for comparison is North Dakota, where there is plenty of hunting.

The issue isn’t t-shirts anyway. I know this because after a lifetime of collecting t-shirts, I have been giving them away. A box went to a friend. Another box went to a vintage clothing store. Another box went a raptor rehabilitation organization. Many ended up in the rag department. I had t-shirts from 40 years of camp and youth ministry. I had t-shirts from dozens of charities. I had t-shirts from decades of suicide prevention walks and events. When you have a low budget for new clothing, new t-shirts seem to come to you without much effort. I don’t have and don’t want a Noem t-shirt. I have discovered that t-shirts are a dime a dozen, so even if I were a big fan of the Governor, I wouldn’t shell out $35 for a shirt.

Frankly, I don’t care about the shirts. I’ve got plenty even after giving away boxes of them.

I do care about the victims of this dangerous disease. I do care about out of control spread. I do care about hospitals that are woefully understaffed dealing with ever-increasing numbers of ill people. I do care about people who are unemployed and facing eviction during what may be a very harsh winter. I do care about the worry of families when their loved ones are sick. I do care about those in nursing homes who cannot receive visitors due the pandemic and the policies of care centers. I do care about the grief that comes with the death of a loved one.

And I notice the difference between the two states that I call home. I notice that increasingly even something as major as a worldwide pandemic that has killed 221,000 in the US and 1.12 million people worldwide has become politicized. In South Dakota there is a direct relationship between which political party you back and your approach to prevention of the spread of the disease. President Trump has famously called Covid “China virus,” but increasingly it is becoming Republican virus, which is a tragedy. The Republican party used to stand for smaller government, smaller deficits and responsible spending. Those values seem to have been forgotten.

To those who complain about my politics I will simply say that I have already voted. You can’t change that. And you are free to vote for whomever you choose. That is the way democracy works. But I am sad that something we should be facing together has become something that divides us. And I am sad that the number of cases of Covid in South Dakota continues to go up and up. And I am sad that there is illness and death that could be prevented.

Canada has a territory, Nunavut, where there have been no cases of Covid-19. I have no relatives there. I won’t be moving there. But I do see the appeal to its residents.

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!

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.


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!

Communities of Care

Being pastors has meant that every time we have moved from one place to another, we have moved into a community of loving and supportive people. This was true even before we became pastors. Our college was a small, church-related liberal arts college where we formed life-long friendships. We met classmates and upperclass members early in our college careers. They helped with moving into dorms, finding our way around campus and learning the routines of college life. When we went to seminary, community was designed into the learning process. Our first graduate school classes were “intensives” where we shared full time learning with our classmates. The friendships we formed in those classes have lasted us throughout our lives, and have endured around the world. One of our dearest friends is a recently retired pastor of the Uniting Church of Australia. We have served on different continents, but have a deep sense of our connections in the church.

Yesterday, as we loaded the truck for a new phase of our lives, we were deeply aware of the power of community. In the midst of a pandemic, it isn’t easy to hire strangers to come and help. There are greater risks involved when meeting new people. The hard work of loading furniture and boxes is simply too much for an individual. You need help. And we had exactly the help we needed. Strong hands and safe friendships came from the church. The same people with whom we work side by side to deliver firewood to our partners were available to help us load our truck. In fact, we had more offers than we were able to accept of people who were willing to give us their time and labor. Our friends who helped us load the truck are life long friends. Lunch was provided by a member of the search committee who called us to serve this church 25 years ago. We are absolutely sure that we will remain friends with these people for the rest of our lives.

We are surrounded by many networks of care and concern. On this trip my sister will travel 800 miles from her home to spend a few days with her children, then drive 230 miles to our new home, give us a ride 1,200 miles back to Rapid City, where we have our cars and a few chores remaining before completing the sale of our house here. Then she will drive 400 miles back to her home in Montana. When we are in Washington, other family members will help us unload our truck and move into our rental home. All of this is occurring in the midst of a pandemic where people are risking exposure by simply leaving home, let alone making long-distance trips across many state lines.

All children are dependent upon networks of support. Children are born into families who are necessary for their care and nurture. Unlike some creatures where a newborn is soon able to fend for themself, a human baby requires many years of support and care. Families are the center of that support, but nurturing parents need community and child care is necessary to give parents the opportunity for work and other activities. When children are separated from their families, there are others who need to step in and provide care. Foster families are generous people who open their homes to provide love and care for children who started life in other families, but they are only part of the many circles of support that are required to provide for children.

Another circle of care and support is provided by the pubic school system. Teachers are called to a vocation of caring and nurturing and educating children, but they don not act alone. They are supported by circles of administrators and school boards. They work in concert with volunteers and paraprofessionals. Our schools are dependent upon community support not only through taxes, but through generous support of school programs in other ways as well.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national association that support and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers are specially trained to assist children as they move through the court system. They gather information and make recommendations in regards to the care of children. They advocate for the needs of a child in a system that is often focused on adults. These volunteers are just one of the communities of support who give freely of their time on behalf of children in our community.

The circles of support for children are often staffed by volunteers. Volunteer church school teachers, volunteer sports coaches, volunteers who staff child nutrition programs, and countless other volunteers give freely of their time to help support children.

Despite the politics of our day and the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary Rodham Clinton provided a phrase and a vision for the children of our country. “It Takes a Village” is a book in which she outlined her vision when she was serving as First Lady of the United States. The concept did not begin with her, however. People have long known that it takes more than just a set of parents to provide for the needs of children. Since the publication of her book countless examples of communities coming together to support children have illustrated the concept that is much larger than just a single book. Indeed it takes many communities for children to grow up in our world.

Great God, we give thanks for so many communities of love and support that provide for the children of our world. We are deeply grateful for the calling of professionals and volunteers who dedicate their lives to the care of children. May they find meaning in their calling and support for their work. May the children of our community know of a wider sense of nurture, care, love and support as they meet the challenges of their lives. May we all be a village for the children of our communities. Through Jesus 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 on the move

The first time I moved was when I went away to college. My family lived in the same house for all of my growing up years. We did have a summer cabin, but the move to the riverside for the summer didn’t involve packing up a household or moving furniture. My move to college also didn’t involve moving furniture. My college dorm room was furnished. I moved clothing, a few books and a typewriter. One of the jokes that I used to say was that when I went to college three of us moved in my father’s Chevy Caryall. When I graduated from college it took three trips with the same vehicle. That isn’t quite accurate as I got married during my college years so there were two of us moving, but it is also true that I acquired a few things during my college years. My parents kept the same house for the rest of my father’s life and my mother sold that house and moved on only in the last decade or so of her life.

Because I had not moved as a child, there was a certain apprehension in my mind a bit over 35 years ago when we loaded up a U-Haul truck and headed out from Hettinger, North Dakota with our children who were 2 and 4 at the time. Everything we owned was in that truck, which was towing our car on a dolly and our suburban, which was towing a small trailer. I drove the truck, Susan drove the suburban for the first 300 miles. After an overnight with her parents, we continued with her father driving our suburban for the remaining 620 miles. There are many stories about that move. One of the images in my mind comes not from the trip with our belongings, but from the interview with the church that preceded that trip. As I stepped into the pulpit to deliver our candidate sermon in the church that called us, I looked up. At the rear of the sanctuary in a second story window was my daughter who was in a special room for parents of young children. They could look and listen to the service in the room below. I looked up at that 2 year old, who was waving to me, and I felt the weight of the decisions we were making. This little one would grow up with Boise, Idaho as her home town, not Hettinger, North Dakota. She would be a city girl, not a small town girl.

Those thoughts quickly faded as we embraced the decision we had made. As it turned out we lived in Boise for a decade and then accepted the call to move to Rapid City. So, at the ages of 12 and 14, we moved our children again. This time we hired the move and a large Allied Van Lines truck carried our family goods as we made the trip in our family cars. Years later or son said that the second move, when he was 14 had been hard. Being a freshman in high school is difficult. Being a freshman in a new school in a new town is a different challenge. However, he also said that it had been good because he learned to move from the experience. After graduating from high school, he went off to college in Forest Grove, Oregon. He moved from there to Los Angeles and then back to Rapid City briefly before going to graduate school in North Carolina. He was married in North Carolina and they moved diagonally across the continent to Olympia, Washington. In Washington they had two apartments before buying their first house. Then they moved to Mount Vernon, Washington where they rented briefly before buying a home. And now they are moving again. This will be the second move for all three of their children, who are aged 9, 6 and 3.

Our daughter is similarly mobile, having lived in Rock Springs, Wyoming; Billings, Montana; Rapid City; Lakenheath, England; Warrensburg, Missouri; and Misawa, Japan since graduating from high school. She and her family are planning to move in February. Her one year old son probably won’t remember the details of that move.

Children are remarkably adaptable and resilient. As long as they have the basics of love, food, a bed and a few toys they do well with moving from one place to another. Of course, when we moved with our children there were a lot of things that went along, including pets. We may be able to travel lightly on vacation, but when we pick up our household, it involves a lot of heavy lifting.

Today we load up the truck for yet another move. This time we are not moving with our children, but rather moving to be closer to our children and grandchildren. Still, it makes me think of the many children around the world who are making the move from one home to another. Some of those children don’t know where their home will be. They are fleeing violence and oppression and striking out, often for a whole new country, in search of a better life. Some of those children are following the careers of their parents, who are moving for better jobs and a higher standard of living. Some of those children are in families forced to move because of unemployment. There are many conditions of children on the move.

Great God, the beginnings of the stories of our people are stories of moving. For generations we told the story of our identity by telling of Abraham and Sarah setting out from the land of their forebears to a promised land. It took generations of moving - and sometimes decades of wandering - before our people entered that promised land and established their home there. Then they were carried off into exile. When we tell the stories of our people, we are always telling of how you inspired and sustained us in the midst of moving. Be with the children who are moving these days. May they find stability in the love of their families. May they discover what our people discovered so long ago, that you are wherever we go. There is no place where we can go that you are not also there. Remind us of the constant of your love in an ever-changing world. We pray in your holy name, 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 of the Boarding Schools

Yesterday was Native American Day in South Dakota. Without intending any disrespect to Italian-Americans, the journeys of discovery of Christopher Columbus or the traditions of Columbus Day, South Dakota recognizes Native American Day as part of an understanding that there is history that is deeper and longer than that of European settlement of the United States. In 1990, Governor George Mickelson, along with the leaders of the nine indigenous nations in South Dakota, declared a year of reconciliation. South Dakota observed its first Native American Day on October 12, 1990. Native American Day has been observed each year since with special ceremonies, powwows, arts fairs, and other events. Celebrations were limited this year due to the pandemic, but there was an important gathering in Rapid City yesterday. More than 100 people gathered at the foot of a hill near the Sioux San Hospital campus between Canyon Lake United Methodist Church and West Middle School to remember and to dedicate the land as a memorial to the children who attended and died at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.

The dedication ceremony was part of our community’s third annual walk to remember the children.

Between the 1880s and the 1960s, the federal government created a series of boarding schools throughout the United States in an attempt to assimilate Native American children. There were several boarding schools in South Dakota, including the Rapid City Indian Boarding School, which operated from 1898 through 1933. The campus of the school became a segregated Indian tuberculosis clinic in the 1930s and operated as the Sioux Sanatorium tunic the 1960s. Part of the campus is now the campus of Sioux San Hospital. Part of the original 1,200 acre campus was sold to churches, the Rapid City School District and the National Guard. None of the land sold went to Native American ownership. The site of the memorial is a 25 acre plot that is now held in trust by the Oglala, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux Tribes.

Most of the children were brought to Rapid City Indian Boarding school from Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud reservations. Some children, however came from out of states including Northern Cheyenne, Gros Ventre, Flathead and Chippewa children. The mortality rate was high, but the government did not keep records of the deaths of the children or where they were buried. Children attended school for half days and worked at a variety of jobs during the rest of the day. Children died at the Boarding School from illnesses and accidents. Others died traveling to or from the school. Still others died in attempts to run away from the school and return to their homes and families.

Now we will have a solemn place to remember those children and honor their families. The park will have memorial stones and a sculpture, interpretive plaques, benches, a shelter for cooking and sharing meals, an area with indigenous plants that people can use for food and medicine, inipis (sweat lodges) for prayer, and a memorial wall.

The area promises to be a shared space for ongoing reconciliation between the Indigenous and settler populations of our community. It also will be an ongoing place of prayer. The recognition of Native American Day coincides with the 40 Days of Prayer for Children each year and in the future as the memorial is developed, it will provide an important place to gather for prayers not just in the autumn, but year round.

It is important, as we remember the history of our place, that we also remember the people whose lives were shaped by that history. Many contemporary residents of Rapid City are descendants of the children who survived their time at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School. Their stories and the stories of others are being collected and preserved by tribal historic preservation officers (THPOs). Some of this oral history will be translated into permanent written record and displayed within the memorial park. Visitors to the park will be able to read the stories of more than 50 individual children and pause to reflect and pray in memory and honor of them. The park will play a critical role in the ongoing process of reconciliation in South Dakota and across the United States. A total of 12 states and the District of Columbia now recognize Native American or Indigenous American Day. Because South Dakota is home to nine separate areas designated as reservations, the most of any state, our leadership in the process of reconciliation provides important lessons for the rest of the nation.

Great Creator God, we sing, “Wakantanka Taku Nitawa” (Many and Great, O God, Are Your Works). The hymn celebrates your power of creation and the healing nature of earth and sea and sky. Today we pray that the land of our community, especially the 25 acres dedicated as a memorial park, may become a source of healing for all of the people of our community. We remember especially the children of the Indian boarding schools, many of whom were forcibly removed from their families. We recall their suffering as the schools sought to separate them from their native culture and language, their forced labor, their suffering and dying. We know that each life is received by you as complete and acceptable and that you have welcomed them into your eternal love and care, but their loss has left behind pain, grief and trauma. May we never forget those children. May we honor the survivors of their families. May we pause in prayer with our sisters and brothers of all languages and cultures to dedicate our lives to the health, safety and security of all children.

Bring reconciliation to our city, our state and our nation as together we forge a new future that is complete and honest in the telling of our history. May we never forget the traumas of our past that we might dedicate ourselves to a future where all are honored and each child is treasured and respected.

Bless the children. Bless their memory. In your great and holy name 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!

Playing outdoors

Near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic we started to see playgrounds in the park covered with yellow tape. Fear of the spread of the virus among children forced many cities to close public playgrounds. Like a lot of other public venues, playgrounds were seen as places where the virus might spread. I’m not sure exactly when, but the yellow tape began to disappear and we began to see the playgrounds being available for children once again. However, children have been slow to return to the climbing structures. There is one park through which we walk fairly frequently that has a nice playground area and lots of open space for running where we have begun to see small groups of two or three children, usually one family at a time, playing on the structures.

In general, outdoor activities have been seen to be safer than indoor activities. Despite the information we received early in the pandemic, surface transmission is “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Stefan Baral, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “there have been more than 60,000 papers published related to covid-19, and playgrounds have not been identified as a significant source of transmission.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the public parks of our community have been important to our mental health. Our daily walks, often in city parks, help us maintain balance and stability. On days when we feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and the stresses of life, we find that simply going outside and taking a walk makes a big difference in the quality of our lives.

Going outside, however, is not the way some people and some families are dealing with the pandemic. Staying at home is one way to isolate from others and from some of the dangers of infection. People can control their own homes. They have control over who visits. They can clean to their own standards. People are going out a lot less than they did before the pandemic. And that stay at home attitude is affecting children as well. Studies have shown that children are spending more time in front of televisions and computers and less time simply going outside to play.

I can still hear my mother saying to us when we were growing up, “Why don’t you go outside and play.” We were sent outside whenever the noise level in our house got too high, which with four boys, was fairly frequently. We were sent outside when our mother was preparing to host the women’s fellowship and the house needed to remain especially clean. We were sent outside when our mother had work to do and just needed a little space. Looking back, I realize how important sending the kids outside to play was to our mother’s mental health.

There are a lot of thing that have changed since I was a kid, but running, jumping, and climbing are still important parts of being a child.

I remember another thing from being a child that is important in this new world of living with a pandemic. As soon as we got into the house we were sent to wash our hands. It was assumed, and rightly so, that our hands would be dirty when we came in from outside. We would dig in the dirt, play in the sandbox, and otherwise get plenty of visible dirt on our hands. Of course the virus that causes covid-19 is too small to be seen. We all need to practice frequent hand cleaning regardless of whether or not our hands look dirty. Teaching children to wash their hands properly and to wash them frequently is one thing about the pandemic that should be continued even after the immediate danger has eased. Hand sanitizer seems to be an important part of every outing for our grandchildren. When there is access to a sink, soap and water is still the best way to clean hands.

We haven’t noticed face masks on the children in the city parks, but teaching children about the use of face masks is also important. Our grandchildren have their own face masks and they are encouraged to wear them whenever they are around groups of other people.

For all of us, learning to avoid crowds is important. That is one thing we have noticed about the parks in our town. They aren’t crowded. Even at busy times when there are a lot of people waling their dogs and getting exercise on the paths through the parks, it is easy for us to keep our distance from others. We watch the children on the playground from a safe distance. We pull up our face masks when passing others on the paths, but pull them down for most of our walks. Children can be taught to keep their distance as well. You don’t have to be right next to others to enjoy playing.

There are lots of other outdoor activities. As wonderful as play structures are for children, there are plenty of other ways to play. We’ve noticed children exploring the hiking trails, throwing rocks in the creek, and simply running in the open spaces. We’ve been delighted with some of the wonderful chalk art that has been drawn on the sidewalks. One place where we walk several times a week has a big “finish line” marked in chalk near where we park our car. As we get back to the car after a couple of miles of walking we often comment on having reached the finish line. These are contributions of healthy children to our community.

Creator God, grant children the space and time to play outdoors. Remind all of us of the importance of public parks for the health of our communities. Grant us vision and dedication to make these places space for children. You know how we want to keep our children safe. Bless all who work to make places for children to play. 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 of Pine Ridge

For several years now, there has been a connection for our church’s recognition of 40 days of prayer for children and deliveries of firewood from our woodlot to partners on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Reservations. South Dakota has nine reservations and designated tribal land areas. That is more than any other state. The Pine Ridge Reservation at nearly 3,500 square miles is one of the largest reservations in the United States. Home of the Oglala Lakota tribe the reservation spans all of Oglala Lakota and Bennett Counties as well as the southern half of Jackson County and part of Sheridan County. It is difficult to have accurate statistics about the number of residents as the official census generally leaves many people uncounted. In 2000, the official census population of the reservation was 15,521. However a study conducted by Colorado State University and accepted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated the population to be 28,878.

We also deliver firewood to the Cheyenne River Reservation, which is even larger than Pine Ridge and the fourth-largest reservation in the United States. The original Cheyenne River Reservation covered over 5,000 square miles reaching all the way to the Grand River. Both reservations were part of the original Great Sioux Reservation, a single reservation covering parts of six states created by the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1856. Subsequent treaties broke the reservation up into smaller reservations. Both reservations are predominantly rural with a few communities dotting each.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that folks in South Dakota, like folks around the world, are not moving about as much as was the case before. However limited access to retail shopping and health care on the reservations means that people must travel from and to the reservations on a regular basis. The history of indigenous Americans and disease is not a pretty one. With European settlers came a variety of serious illnesses for which the indigenous people had little or no natural immunity. Epidemics of measles and smallpox devastated populations in many parts of the US. As a result, there is a collective memory of the dangers of illness on the reservations. This combines with historic trauma from multiple massacres and direct military action against the Lakota people to create a climate of distrust and fear.

The tribes, in response to the pandemic have set up checkpoints to restrict the flow of outsiders onto the reservations. The checkpoints have been the topic of quite a bit of press and at one point the Attorney General of South Dakota threatened a lawsuit to force the end of the checkpoints. There have been plenty of rumors about the checkpoints, mostly based in old fears and prejudices.

Our trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation yesterday went smoothly. We had a letter of authorization for our seven vehicles to deliver firewood to our partner in Wanblee. The license plate numbers of our vehicles were recorded, but we were welcomed onto the reservation at the checkpoint. We were not required to stop as we left the reservation after making our delivery.

Like other communities in South Dakota, there weren’t many people moving around. Usually Wanblee is filled with children outdoors playing and running and asking curious questions of visitors. The town seemed nearly deserted as we made our rounds yesterday with the firewood. We didn’t see many children.

Around the world children are spending more time indoors since the pandemic. Fears of the spread of the illness has reduced social gatherings. Our church partners in Wanblee have been unable to host the dinners and festivals and give aways that have marked their ministries. Boxes of donated items fill the sanctuary of the church as they are working on new strategies to distribute the goods. Health officials are cautioning people to avoid close contact. Wearing face masks, our team quickly unloaded the firewood and prepared for our return trip to Rapid City.

The reservations suffer from a lack of employment and from generational poverty. The forced transition from the lifestyle of semi-nomadic tribes that followed the movement of the buffalo to settled communities was difficult. The vision that indigenous tribes would simply settle on the land and become farmers wasn’t realistic in terms of the particular land on which the reservations were located. Unemployment on South Dakota reservations is as high as 80% in some areas. Life is hard for all of the people who live on the reservations. It is especially hard for children who grow up in poverty and often lack sufficient nutrition and support.

Today, on the last Sunday before Children’s Sabbath, my prayers are with our neighbor children on South Dakota’s reservations.

Great Spirit, you are known in different ways by different people, but we know that there is only one God and that you are the God of all of the people of this earth. Today we ask you to look upon the people of the reservation. You know the effects of poverty and unemployment. You witness the challenges faced by parents and children. You know the struggle to simply survive. This pandemic has brought additional pressures and problems for our neighbors as illness and fear spread across the land.

Pour out your healing spirit upon the people of the reservations. Soften the hearts of policy makers so that thy can become a part of the struggle for justice for all of your people. Inspire us to creative ways to engage in partnerships with our neighbors. May the firewood we deliver warm homes and hearts and become a symbol of shared mission and ministry. May the friendships we have formed through the process of sharing firewood form a new foundation of trust and shared work.

We give you thanks for the people of the reservations. Today we offer our prayers for the children who are growing up in reservation communities. Protect and guide them. Grant them a strong sense of their roots and history and a deep sense of hope for their future. Together we pray in your name. 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!

Stranger danger

Our neighborhood has sidewalks in our common areas and I frequently take short walks around the neighborhood. There are some steep hills in our neighborhood, steep enough that I have wondered how steep of an angle you can pour concrete without having it come out uneven due to the slope. I was taking a walk yesterday and starting down one of the steepest slopes inn our area when I met a young boy, 5 or 6 years old, who had a hula hoop. He said, “Hello,” and I responded with a “Hello.” I was careful to slow my pace and keep my distance because I did not know the boy and so was a stranger and I didn’t want to appear threatening to him and I wanted to practice social distancing. I pulled up my face mask as well. He was excited and very talkative. “Watch this!” he said as he rolled the hula hoop down the hill and took off chasing it.” “Wow! That’s cool,” I responded. As he chased the hoop, I descended the sidewalk until I came within about 10 feet of where he was standing having caught the toy. “Today is my dad’s birthday!” he told me. “We got him a truck. Well, it’s a picture of a truck on a cake, but it isn’t a cake. It is a giant cookie. It is as big as a pizza, but it isn’t a pizza. It’s a cookie and it has a truck on it!” I said, “Your dad is a lucky guy.” “Yeah!” was the response. Then h said “Goodbye!” and ran to the top of the steep hill while I continued on my walk.

I was delighted with the conversation and happy to have met a child in our neighborhood whom I hadn’t previously known. He seemed very at home in his world and most likely lived in the house right next to the hill, where I had noticed that the garage door was open when I walked by.

As I continued my walk, I thought of our conversation and how much it delighted me. I also was aware that we live in a world where not every conversation between an adult and a child is a safe conversation. I know that parents need to teach their children about “stranger danger,” and that they shouldn’t talk to strangers. While our neighborhood is a very safe place, it just makes sense for parents to keep a close watch on their children and to teach their children a few rules of safety. Still, it makes me a bit sad that we often miss simple and wonderful conversations like the report of the giant birthday cookie.

A few years ago we were at a playground with our grandson and his mother. I had my camera and was taking pictures of my grandson as he played on a climbing structure with several slides. After a few minutes, a young woman approached me and asked me who I was and what I was doing. I introduced myself and told her I was photographing my grandson. I also pointed out that I was with his mother and grandmother, who were sitting on a nearby bench. She said, “You just looked suspicious, an older man taking pictures of children at a playground.” Later, as I reported the exchange to my wife and daughter, I found myself feeling very sad that I had somehow come off as threatening to a young mother. I worked with children for much of my life. I have taken hundreds of pictures of preschool children, including a few that are published in a book and others that are treasured by the children’s parents. I care deeply about the safety of children. But somehow we live in a world where I look suspicious to a mother and she sees me as a possible threat to children. It made me sad.

I know that I have become very careful when I am around children who don’t know me. I might say, “Hello” but never pursue much more conversation unless it is initiated by the child. I am careful to keep my distance and not to make any gestures that might frighten the child. I am very careful not to get between a child and his or her mother. I try, to the best of my ability to not pose any kind of a threat, though wearing face masks makes this a bit of a challenge these days.

The truth is that we live in a society where children aren’t always safe. There are adults who harm children. We all have heard stories of child abductions and of unspeakable violence against children. Although child abduction by a stranger is fairly rare, it does occur and it makes sense for parents to teach children some basic rules for their safety. Still, I don’t like the idea that I appear as a threat to others. Whenever I speak with a child, I am very careful of what I say and do to make sure that I pose no threat to the child. I hope that the parents are nearby to hear what is said and witness what occurs. Our prayer vigil includes our prayers for the safety of children.

God of all history, we long for a world where all children are safe from threat and violence. We work to make our neighborhoods safe for children. Help us to face our fears and teach us to be realistic about the dangers to children in our world. Bless children with safe places to learn and grow and explore that they might develop trust in the people around them. Inspire their parents to seek out experiences for them that expand their world and help them to know how to get help when they need it. May they find room to explore and expand their relationships and may they find joy in meeting new people and having new experiences. Bless them with safety and security. Give peace to their parents as they learn and grow. 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!

Wilson Elementary

Wilson Elementary School is the elementary school of the Rapid City School District that is closest to the church we served. The school is housed in one of the older buildings of the District and officials had planned to close the school as part of a district-wide school improvement plan that was presented to voters last year. However, the bond failed to pass and the district is once again evaluating and creating a plan for a new school bond proposal. The COVID-19 crisis has temporarily diverted attention from the school district’s plans, but a new vote on a school bond is in the future for Rapid City residents. The fierce loyalty of Wilson students, parents and alumni may be part of the reason the bond failed to pass. There were many who loudly protested the closing of the school. The plan of the district was to replace older neighborhood schools with much larger schools.

Wilson is one of the most economically diverse schools in the district. Located between 8th and 9th streets in a neighborhood where one block to the west stands a neighborhood of very expensive historic top end homes and one block to the east contains apartment houses and subsidized housing for low income families, the school had a delightful mix of rich and poor and wonderful racial and ethnic diversity to enhance the learning environment.

I had the opportunity to volunteer at the school a few times during my tenure as a pastor in the neighborhood and I always found the morale among the teachers to be high and the spirit of the school to be evident as I visited.

Wilson Elementary is the first school of the Rapid City School District to move to Level 3 in terms of pandemic response. School District officials announced yesterday that the school would be temporarily closed because of “substantial spread” of COVID-19. There was confirmed coronavirus spread in the school. The school will remain closed through next week. School officials aren’t sharing specific numbers of how many students and staff are in quarantine after direct exposure to the disease. What they did say was that absences due to active COVID-19 cases and quarantines made it “difficult to staff our classrooms.” The plan at this point is to reassess the situation sometime next week as to whether the school will be reopened for in-person learning or will continue to be closed after the end of next week.

This has already been an unusual year for students around the world. Here in Rapid City, the schools closed in March for a shortened school year last year. Then there was a delay in the opening of schools ad the district put plans in place, prepared buildings and allowed teacher to gain additional training and preparation for hybrid education models. And now, for the 368 students of Wilson Elementary, there will be no in-person schooling through next week, making for a minimum of seven days of Level-3 distance learning. The shift in the style of teaching and learning will be a special challenge for students who do not have access to high speed internet in their homes. It also presents a special challenge to families who are caught without child care on short notice. The circumstances in which the staff of Wilson Elementary find themselves are such that they know that the gap between rich and poor students will widen as a result of the closure. Some students will receive extraordinary support and will continue to thrive during the closure. Other students will struggle to engage any form of learning at all.

Elementary schools in our district and throughout the United States are also important centers of nutrition for children. Without the public schools, many children go without meals during the day. The lack of nutrition further exacerbates the gap between rich and poor students. For some the school closure is a frightening crisis.

Last winter our daily walks often took us by the school yard at Wilson Elementary. In the time before the pandemic closed the school, we were inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of the children playing during their lunch break. We enjoyed the cheerful chatter that rose from the playground as we walked by on the other side of the fence. When the pandemic forced the schools to close, we really noticed the difference in our daily routine. Although we are walking in different neighborhoods this fall, we appreciate how the mood of the neighborhood will shift today as the school closes.

Every fall I include prayers for public schools, teachers, students and administrators in my prayer vigil. Sometimes I have focused on specific schools in my prayers. Sometimes I have prayed more general prayers. Today it seems appropriate to pray for the people affected by the closure of Wilson School. We don’t know if or when other schools will be forced to close, but it seems likely that schools shifting from one level to another will be a constant part of this school year as South Dakota continues to see rises in cases of illness and to lead the nation in new cases per 100,000 residents.

God of grace and glory, you know the stories of all of the schools and each of the students in the world. Today we place before you Wilson Elementary School. We pray for the dedicated teachers and educational staff of the school. The district’s announcement that it is difficult to staff classrooms means that there are many teachers who have been exposed to the illness. We pray for recovery of those who are ill and for protection for others who have been exposed but don’t yet know whether or not they have contracted the illness.

We pray for students and their families whose learning and growing is disrupted and challenged by the sudden move to off campus learning. Help families discover ways to deal with the changes they face. Provide for the safety of children while parents work and family schedules are rearranged.

We pray for school officials. May their decisions be guided by a commitment to the children and their education. May they find creative solutions to the problems they face. May we all renew our commitment to the education and care of all of the children of our community. 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!

Thanks for grandchildren

Yesterday, our daughter sent us a short video of her 15-month-old son carrying a bag of cheese crackers. When she asks him where he got the crackers, he grins. The video follows her as she goes into the kitchen where the pantry door is open and the box for the crackers and another box are on the floor. She says, “I guess you know how to open the pantry now!” It is the kine of communication that brings a smile to my face.

There are times when I feel so fortunate to have some of the technology that surrounds us. Our children send us pictures of our grandchildren every day. We use FaceTime and Skype to video chat with our families on a regular basis.

Last night we spoke with our 9-year-old grandson and Susan showed him a few hats that used to belong to her father. He chose one that he’d like to have. The others will go to one of our helping agencies here in Rapid City to warm someone else’s head this winter.

There are thousands of stories about how we use modern technology to remain connected to our children and grandchildren. It is very different from the way things were a few years ago.

My maternal grandmother passed away before I was born. I can remember my maternal grandfather a little bit, but he died when I was very young. My father’s parents lived 85 miles away and we saw them fairly frequently. I can’t remember ever speaking to my grandparents over the phone, however. I know my parents called on occasion, but long distance (even just 85 miles) was considered to be expensive and wasn’t used for everyday conversations.

Our children grew up a bit farther from their grandparents in physical distance. For much of their growing up years we lived 600 miles from their nearest grandparents. They did get to talk on the telephone to grandparents from time to time, but we didn’t call every week. We made a point of visiting often and our children have good memories of going to their grandparents’ homes. Like my experience, and that of my wife, our children had one grandparent that they didn’t get to know, except in family stories. My father died before we had children.

Our grandchildren have regular contact with all of their grandparents, even though they live at even greater distance. Three of our grandchildren live 1300 miles from us. Their maternal grandparents also live in west coast states, so are a bit closer than us. Our youngest grandson lives in Japan and his paternal grandparents live 6,500 miles away in Washington DC. We have had access to free long distance phone and video chat technology for all of their lives. We have been able to observe how the images on a computer screen begin to interest a tiny child and slowly we develop a relationship that spans the distance by being able to see and hear each other on a regular basis. We’ve even been able to read bedtime stories to our grandchildren over the computer.

The connection is wonderful and we consider ourselves to be fortunate to her able to watch them grow and to have significant relationships with them. We know many stories of families in the past who were separated by distance. Many immigrant families left behind previous generations and never again saw them. It wasn’t uncommon, just a few generations ago, for children to grow up without knowing grandparents.

Having grandchildren is one of life’s great blessings. Our relationship with our grandchildren is unique and quite different from the relationship of a parent and a child. We love being parents and have enjoyed every phase of our children’s lives. And part of what makes being a grandparent so special is that we get to see our children as parents. Grandparents get in on some of the tasks of parents. We’ve changed diapers and we’ve helped to put children to bed at night. We’ve cooked meals for our grandchildren and we’ve watched over them as they play. But we also have a unique perspective. We know that their parents are their primary caregivers. We get to take breaks from the intensity of day to day care. We have a bit more time at this phase of our lives to simply play with our grandchildren and enter into their world and simply enjoy what is going on in their lives.

Since the birth of our first grandson, I have said many prayers for our grandchildren. During the 40 Days of Prayer for Children I have taken time to pray for them as individuals and to give thanks to God for the blessings that they are in our lives. Today, as our prayer vigil continues, I am especially grateful for our opportunities to live as multi-generational families.

How wonderful it is, gracious God, that we are given opportunities to watch children grow. You have blessed us with children and they have become blessings in our lives. Your creation continues forever and so in the course of time our children have become adults and have become parents of children of their own. What a treasure our grandchildren are for our lives. Through them we begin to understand the linking of generations.

We remember that that stories of our people are filled with examples of how your promise to your people isn’t about a single generation, but rather a commitment to all of the generations of our people. In you we are linked with those who have gone before and with those who will come after our time of life on this earth has ended. You continue to demonstrate your love for every generation. You continue to shower blessings on your people.

Thank you, God, for the gift of children and grandchildren. Thank you for the many ways in which we can share in their lives. They refresh our spirits. They renew our hope. May we continue to find new ways to express our love and care for them. In your holy name 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!

Migrant children in detention

Yesterday the New York Times published an article detailing the draft report of the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz into the policy that resulted in the separation of thousands of families, many of them fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the United States. The separation of migrant children from their parents, sometimes for months, was at the heart of the administration’s assault on immigration. The policies that caused global outrage were promoted by the highest officials in the administration, several of whom have since left their positions. The belief of those promoting the policies was that separating migrant families would deter future illegal immigration.

The draft report cites more than 45 interviews with key officials, emails and other documents and provides the most complete look to date at the discussions within the Justice Department as the family separation policy was developed, pushed and carried out.

Draft reports must be taken carefully as they can be significantly revised before their final release, but the report points to an alarming push to prosecute as many people crossing the border as possible without regard to the consequences in the lives of children. The justice department sought to separate itself from the care of the children, deeming that to be the duty of other departments, primarily the US Marshals Service. Arresting and charging a defendant with a crime often results in the separation of that individual from their family and when children are involved, they are transferred to other agencies for care while the prosecutions play out. In the case of the family separation policies, arrests were made to be the highest priority of border officials, prosecutions were frequently delayed for months and people were detained without due process. Duty logs of US Customs and Border Patrol offices document the separation of children of all ages, including “taking breastfeeding mothers way from their infants.”

Children ended up in detention centers, often without adequate care. At times as many as 2,000 migrant children were being held without their parents. At least six children, five from Guatemala and one from El Salvador have died in federal custody. Conditions in the camps included unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and cruelty. The detention facilities were referred to as “concentration camps” by child advocates and by lawmakers. It was widely reported that children lacked access to adequate food, space to sleep, or basic supplies such as soap and toothpaste.

The child separation policies proved to be so unpopular that administration officials have backed off of the most severe policies, but the detention of migrant children continues. It is all a part of an attempt to stop all immigration into the country. Top administration officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have sought to separate themselves from the policy, but the draft report makes it clear that these policies were embraced by top administration officials. The report states that Mr. Sessions told prosecutors, “We need to take away children.” Deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein instructed prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He urged government lawyers to prosecute cases that involved infants.

It is hard to read the reports. It is not the image of our country that we have treasured. Increasingly, however, it reflects how the rest of the world is viewing our nation as a place that does not care about refugees, will not accept asylum seekers and does not provide for the basic needs of families with children.

The argument presented by the administration is that immigrants are a threat to the employment of citizens. Those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, who are struggling with unemployment or employment that does not pay enough to provide for the basics of housing and food, are suffering because of people of even worse circumstances who are fleeing violence and intolerable conditions in their home countries. Instead of seeing income inequality as being produced by the concentration of wealth among a very small segment of the population, people are encouraged to blame those of less fortunate circumstances. “The immigrants are coming to take your jobs away!” is the chant of the fear mongers despite little evidence that this is the case.

Whatever you think about immigration policy, it is impossible to escape that children are innocent victims of decisions made by others. Separating children from their families except in cases of abuse or neglect is never in the best interests of the children.

Inspector generals reports often are lost in the crush of other information that is part of our daily lives. Most citizens never get around to reading the reports and they are often filed with other piles of bureaucratic papers. Administrations change and policies are altered. Hopefully the child detention policies can be replaced with more enlightened ways of responding to the worldwide migration crisis. The damage already done to children, however, is severe and, in many cases permanent. They have lost the basic trust that is required for them to mature.

Hear our prayers for children in detention, gracious God. The stories of our people tell of how you have been with us when we were refugees, fleeing the persecution of Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, seeking a home while living in tents. We know that you desire freedom for all of your people. We know that you have heard the cries of our people when they suffered slavery and persecution. Enable us to see the lives of others who are fleeing and homeless in the stories of our scriptures. Inspire us to become more aware of what we are doing as a nation and to speak up for those who have no voice in the politics and policies of our country.

Almighty God, make your presence known to children in detention camps. May they find moments of care and concern. May their fears be calmed and their resilience sustained. May they be reunited with their parents as soon as possible. May our eyes be opened and our action inspired to seek justice for these little ones. 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!

Many different families

Forty Days of Prayer for children usually focuses on contemporary children, but our Biblical faith reminds us that each generation of our people has celebrated and struggled with children. Going through the genealogies of Jesus that appear in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, one is reminded of many stories of our people that center on the challenges of becoming parents. There are differences in the genealogies presented by Matthew and Luke and that is a subject too lengthy for this journal entry, but both lists bring to mind many stories that appear elsewhere in the bible. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have descendants, but they go through decades without having offspring. Abraham has a child by Hagar, but it isn’t until they reach advanced ages that their son Isaac is born. Their grandson, Jacob, falls in love with Rachel, but is tricked into marrying Leah first. He has children with three different women before he and Rachel become parents. Naomi is widowed and all of her sons die without becoming fathers. It spears that the genealogy was reaching a dead end, but the widow of one of her sons, Ruth, becomes the mother of Obed through her relationship with Boaz. Obed is the grandfather of David who became the father of Solomon after the death of the first infant of his relationship with Bathsheba.

The stories of our people are filled with anguish over the process of becoming parents. They also demonstrate that there are many different sizes and shapes of families. Couples struggle with infertility. Single mothers seek the best for their children. Families are reconfigured when new relationships develop. The Biblical genealogies reflect instances where legal relationships are different from biological relationships. In the tradition of Levirate marriage, our people had a custom that if a man died without becoming the father of any sons, his brother could then marry his widow, and their sons would carry on the dead man’s name. This distinction is one possible explanation that the tow genealogies in the gospels name different paternal grandfathers for Jesus. While some scholars argue that Jacob and Heli are the same person, others argue that Jacob is Joseph’s biological father while Heli is his legal father, brothers who were both married to the same woman, one after the other.

It is confusing for scholars in part because of the passage of time and the different perspectives of different Gospel writers. But it is also confusing simply because human families are confusing. Our churches are filled with many different kinds of families. We have single parents raising children and families that have been reconfigured by divorce or separation or the death of a parent. Remarriage is common in our culture and new marriages make for reconfigured families. At one point we used to refer to some families as “yours, mine and ours” families indicating that children in the family were sometimes biological siblings, but at other times they were siblings even though there was no biological relationship. I am particularly aware of the power of the bond between parent and child that reaches beyond biology and genetics because I grew up in a family with adopted children and I became the father of an adopted daughter. Children are loved and treasured and nurtured by adults who become their parents even when there is no genetic relationship.

We have known many children who have multiple families. Custody arrangements and divorce and remarriage of parents sometimes result in children living in one household part of the time and another the rest of the time. They often have different siblings depending on which family they are with.

Children are, however, amazingly resilient. They learn to live and thrive in the midst of complex relationships and decisions that their parents make that are beyond their control. They often become bridges to ongoing relationships that might fade were it not for the children to provide connections.

Rather than focus on a particular type of family as the “ideal” or “normal” family, we, like our biblical ancestors are led to accept and treasure the many different kinds of families that are a part of our communities. As we pray for children, we pray for their families and understand that children participate in many different kinds of families.

Gracious God what a rich and varied history our people have known. How many stories we have heard about the generations of our faith and the parents and children who have gone before us. From Hagar struggling to survive and protect her son Ishmael after being cast out into the wilderness to Jospeh trying to keep the peace between 12 sones by four wives, From the widows Naomi and Ruth struggling to survive in a patriarchal society to Joseph trying to decide whether or not to call of his engagement to Mary after finding that she is pregnant even though he was not involved, there are so many different sizes and shapes of family. Each family, however, is a place of caring for and bringing forth a new generation. Babies and children are an eternal part of our story. Infants become children who become teens who become adults. Children become parents and parents become grandparents in a wonderful cycle of life and birth and growth.

Thank you, God, for the many different families of our traditions. Thank you for the power of adoption to bind people together. We have come to your spiritual family by a process of being accepted and loved by others. We have adopted the grandmothers and grandfathers of our faith as our own and we tell their stories as the stories of our people.

Now bless all of the families of this world, Great God, regardless of their size or shape. May our human families be the dwelling place of your great love for all of your people and places where children are treasured and taught the stories that have sustained our people through the generations. In your gracious name 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!

Intense emotions

It is especially difficult to get accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t know how it is in other parts of the world, but here in the United States, almost everything about the pandemic, from the condition of the President to the dangers to children has been politicized. Whether or not you wear a face mask when venturing out is being interpreted by some as a sign of your political affiliation. Instead of a clearcut national policy, we have a hodge lodge of state and local rules and regulations. In this atmosphere, I hesitate to write too much about the virus because I don’t want to participate in spreading misinformation. On the other hand, it is at the center of our national conversation and it is hard to write about anything without addressing the subject of the virus.

The information about the effects of the pandemic on children and teens is constantly changing, but according to the New York Times recent studies show that younger children are about half as likely as older teenagers and adults to become infected. It remains unclear what role those who do not contact the illness play in the transmission of the virus, but it does appear that we are fortunate in a lower transmission rate among children. However, teenagers aren’t so lucky. Teens, especially older teens appear to have infection rates that are as high as those among adults. Many teens have fewer preexisting conditions that older adults and may experience less severe symptoms, but they are definitely not immune.

After a career that has always involved ministry with teens, I have been especially concerned about the impacts of the virus on youth. In addition to the physical risks of the illness, teens face a really complex set of emotional challenges. Today, as I continue to participate in the forty days of prayer for children, I offer my prayers for the emotional well being of teenagers.

Teenagers experience feelings more intensely than adults. This is true of both positive and negative feelings. That means that teens experience more pleasures and delights than adults, but it also means that they psychological effects and trauma of negative feelings is more severe for teens. Teens are at a higher risk for wide emotional swings. The symptoms of severe mental illness may begin to emerge in the lives of some teens who have not exhibited any of those symptoms earlier in their lives. Initial onset of mental illness can be much more intense than later stages of the illness. It is important that adults who work with teens take their feelings and psychological symptoms seriously and understand the increased risks to their well being. It is equally important that teens be understood as intelligent people who play an important role in their own support and the support of their peers.

Teens experience worries, stresses, sadness and frustration as more intense experiences than adults. Navigating the complexities of normal emotional ups and downs is made more difficult because our culture is fearful of unpleasant emotions. Teens receive all kinds of messages to not be so emotional, to get control of themselves and the like. This results in many teens believing that emotional distress is a sign of fragile emotional health. It is difficult for teens and for the adults who care about them to distinguish normal mood swings from signs of a more serious illness that requires advanced care.

Teens are not, however, more fragile than adults. Emotional intensity is part of the normal process of growth and maturation. Teens and adults who care for them do not ned to be afraid of emotions. They do, however, need to be aware of those emotions and honest about their impact.

The disruption of school days and the move to more remote learning provides unique challenges for teens. As they grow into adulthood, adolescents begin to rely more on peers and less on parents for feedback and support. The precautions taken to limit the spread of the pandemic have left many teens feeling an increased sense of isolation. This can be offset in part by an increase in their feelings of self-sufficiency and independence. Growth in independence often gains a lot of attention and focus for teens. It feels good to be able to accomplish tasks and take responsibilities that have previously fallen to the adults in their lives.

Boredom can be a special challenge for teens. Their lives are normally filled with a lot of activities and action. They seem to those of us who observe them to have only two modes: intense action and sleep. The balance between these modes is difficult to achieve and teens often fail to get adequate sleep to keep themselves at peak performance. This means that when the action is less intense they often nod off. The boredom and frustration of sitting through online classes and having their educations delivered in less interactive means can add to the normal stresses of adolescence. Teachers know that teens learn best when they are actively participating in their education, but delivering that sense of full participation and action over computers through video chats is a special challenge and one with which we have little collective experience. Increased dependence on technology will result in more learning about how to appropriately use that technology, but educators have had to make a huge shift in teaching technique in less than a year and there is much that remains to be learned.

Today, great God, we hold up before you the teens and adolescents of our community and our world. May they discover strength to navigate the intensity of their emotions. May they discover peers and adults with whom they can honestly discuss their feelings and safely find the support they need. Help us to be aware of and sensitive to the needs of the teens in our community as we all face unsettled and unsettling times. Help the teens of this world to discover appropriate ways of supporting their emotional and mental health in the face of the crisis. Enable them to make good choices in times of increased risk.

We pray for all of your children today and every day. In your Holy Name, 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!

The children of Japan

Shortly after moving to Rapid City we became active in our town’s sister cities program, especially the Rapid City - Nikko City relationship, which at the time was known as Rapid City - Imaichi relationship, At the time Imaichi, a city of a little over 60,000 residents, operated as an independent city. In 2006, Imaichi, Ashio, Fujihara, Kuriyama and Nikko became a single urban unit and the Imaichi City Hall became Nikko City Hall. The relationship between the two cities remains strong, but the name has changed to reflect the new urban government arrangement.

We became active by hosting students from Imaichi who were visiting Rapid City for ten days as part of the sister cities exchange. Each summer, students from Imaichi would come to Rapid City for ten days and then they would return home with students from Rapid City who would visit Imaichi for ten days. Our children were just the right age for the program and both were able to travel to Japan as part of the exchange. We hosted Japanese students for several years when we had teens in our home. Then we had the opportunity to host a Japanese student who was in Rapid City for a full one year exchange. Misami fit well into our family and was able to participate in our family life, including a wonderful summer vacation that included travel across Montana, through Yellowstone National Park, on to Boise ID, Portland OR, and Seattle WA. before returning home. The experience turned into a lifelong friendship that has expanded to a friendship between our families. We were fortunate to travel to Japan in 2018 and visit Misami, her husband, her parents and extended family on that visit. We were luck to be able to return to Japan in 2019 for a shorter visit and to see Masami on that trip as well.

Our visits to Japan included travel by train, which is very efficient and easy to use. Arriving in Tokyo, we learned to navigate the crush of large urban train stations, but we also traveled to rural areas on both trips and rode smaller connector trains and visited tiny isolated stations. Traveling around Japan by train one becomes quickly aware of children. Many children travel to and from school on trains. Schools run year-round in Japan with terms beginning in April and running through March. There is a six-week vacation in the summer. Education is mandatory and free for all children and schools are very competitive. There are even special “cram schools” for preschoolers to prepare them for their exams.

Japan is a very safe country, with low levels of violent crime. Children can safely travel unaccompanied and often travel in small groups of friends. Most schools require uniforms which identify the children as they are traveling to and from school.

We often observed school groups visiting various temples and other historic sites around Japan. Most of the time when we visited tourist destinations we would see several different groups of school children visiting the same sights.

Demographically, Japan is a country of elders. Long life expectancies combine with low birth rates, low infant mortality rates and small family size to make children a smaller segment of the population than many other countries. It is obvious to a visitor that children are treasured and that their safety and care is a high priority for the country. This is not to say that there are no problems facing children in Japan. Child poverty is on the increase in Japan. An increase in single-parent families puts pressure on children and single mothers often find themselves working multiple jobs with long hours. School scholarship programs assure that their children can attend schools, but there are a lot of pressures on families who often try to hide their poverty in a society filled with negative social stigma for those who lack sufficient income.

Immigrant children often face discrimination in Japan and sometimes slip between the cracks of social service and even educational institutions.

The problems faced by the children in Japan are not as evident as they are in the United States, which has much higher rates of infant mortality, childhood hunger and children who don’t have access to education.

Every year, during our 40 days of prayer for children, I try to set aside a day to pray for the children of Japan. Prior to our visits to that country, I commonly pictured teens, because I knew teens from Japan. These days my mental images of children in Japan include many younger children. I can easily remember the children traveling on the trains in their school uniforms. One image that remains with me is the group of preschool children, many in strollers, who were outside with a group in the center of Ueno, near Tokyo. The children were all dressed in pink uniforms and were laughing and enjoying being outside in the midst of the crowded sidewalks.

God of the entire universe, as we sing the song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” we think of children living in different countries with different languages and different cultures. Today our prayers turn to the children of Japan, growing up in a densely populated part of the world. We are aware of the pressures that they face as they engage in a highly competitive school environment and a regimented learning environment. May they find opportunities to express their individuality and creativity in the midst of their busy lives. Bless them with a strong sense of their value and of the many possibilities for their future. Keep them safe in the midst of crowded cities and busy lives. Bless not only the children, but their parents as well. May they find time and energy to enjoy their children despite long days at work and weeks with little time off from work. Thank you for the blessings of children of many different cultures and languages and the richness they bring to our world. May we continue to open our lives to all of the children of your world. 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!

Parents in prison

Earlier this year, when a cluster of cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre, officials took a number of measures to respond to the crisis. Among those measures was to halt in-person visits to inmates. The 78,000 square foot facility, authorized in 1995, is sometimes referred to as the “new” prison. Medical, dental, and optometric services for inmates are provided by the state Department of Health. Mental health services are provided by the Department of Social Services. The pandemic has altered the patterns of visitation for inmates. Family members with access to computers can arrange video conferences with inmates, but in-person visits are being severely limited to try to stem the spread of the disease.

Of course limits to visits are happening in all of the correctional institutions in our state and across the nation, but the Women’s Prison has a unique dynamic because among the visitors at the Women’s Prison are children.

Since 1980, the number of incarcerated women has grown by more than 750 percent in the United States, more than twice the rate of men. The increase has been driven by a rise in the imprisonment of women for property and drug-related crimes. The result is that at least 5 million children - about 7 percent of American youth - have had an incarcerated parent. More than 60 percent of women in state prisons have minor children. Most of those women were the primary caretakers of their children up to the point of imprisonment. The rate is even higher in county jails, where 80 percent of female inmates have minor children.

Many of the women in prison have themselves been victims of crime including domestic violence. When the mom goes to prison the family is devastated. The majority of children with imprisoned mothers in South Dakota are cared for by family members. Many are living with grandparents.

When women complete their sentences, they often are not able to care for their children. The ramifications of a prison sentence last a long time after release. Housing is a major problem, as many landlords will not rent to anyone with a criminal record.

Our communities often do not see the suffering of children whose parents are incarcerated. Often those children do not feel that they can talk about their problems because of the stigma attached to those who are incarcerated. Having a mother in prison often results in challenges for children in school and with social relationships in part because they fear telling their stories.

Parental rights can be terminated for incarcerated mothers because they are unable to care for their children. They can also be terminated because of addiction. A failed drug test can be evidence enough for a judge to suspend parental rights. Children whose mothers are in prison often end up in the state’s foster care system, often moving from home to home and suffering lifelong consequences a a result. I couldn’t find the statistics for South Dakota, but in Texas where the largest number of women are imprisoned, nearly 20,000 children enter the state’s foster care system. Parental incarceration is a leading cause of children entering the system.

There is evidence that children who have had a parent who is incarcerated are far more likely to end up in jail or prison themselves. Trauma during childhood is often a factor in the lives of those who are convicted of crimes.

In this season of praying for children, I am thinking of children whose lives have been upended by facts over which they have no control. I don’t know the solutions for our society which has laws to protect the security of its citizens and punishment for those who break those laws. I don’t know how we can prevent incarceration by preventing crime. I do know that there all too often children are the victims of those crimes and are not immediately seen by the judicial system as such. I do know that foster families who open their homes to children in need deserve our support as they seek to provide for the needs of some of those children.

There is much that needs to be done to care for the children of those who are incarcerated. Raising awareness is part of the solution. Working to reduce stigma so that children are able to talk about their situation is necessary. Providing additional counseling and school support will require increased funding for schools who are often in the position to provide social services, but lack the funds to implement necessary programs.

We bring before you, Gracious God, the children whose mothers and fathers are in jail or prison. They are victims. In Jesus, you taught us that visiting in prison is visiting to you. Whatever we do to one of the least of these, we do to you. Caring for the children of those who are in jail is a way of demonstrating our faith. Help us to work with others to create a better network of care for those whose parents are incarcerated. May they receive the love and nurture that is necessary for their growth. May they find secure homes and enough food to sustain their lives.

Be with the parents who are separated from their children as a result of poor choices and behavior that caused harm to others. Be with the corrections officers to seek to provide safety and security to our communities. Be with the judges who have to weigh difficult circumstances. Remind all of them of the children who are affected by the system. Remind all of us of our calling to care for those children.

We often address you as our father, but we know that there are children who do not know the security of a positive parent-child relationship and who cannot think of you as a parent because of the ways they have been hurt by the behavior of their parents. Help them to know positive relationships and to come close to you despite the choices of their parents.

Bless all of the children. Give a special blessing to those whose parents are in jail or prison. 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!

What to wear?

The forecast says it is going to be much warmer today than yesterday. I’m not one to get cold very much. and I’ve never minded cold weather, but I was wearing a sweatshirt when we went walking yesterday. It is typical weather for a South Dakota autumn. We have some glorious and wonderfully warm days and we have a few cold days. We get an occasional snowfall, but it melts quickly and we carry on with life. Back in 2013, when Winter Storm Atlas dropped a couple of few of snow and more in some areas during a real blast October 3 - 5. Later that same fall we took a trip west with no road problems at all. We’re used to changing weather and usually have taken the right precautions.

I’ve been keeping my eyes on the weather this year, because we are planning to be loading up a truck with our household goods and heading to the west coast in a couple of weeks. It is later than we had planned, but sometimes that is just the way things work out.

Running errands and walking around town over the past few days, I have been noticing how children are dressed. The current fashion definitely favors short pants for boys. It interests me in part because when I was an elementary school student and well into my high school years, I never had to make a decision about what pants to wear during the school year. We wore long pants and they were jeans. Our summer pants were usually jeans that had been cut off just above the holes in the knees. We got a new pair of jeans for rodeo in the middle of the summer and a new pair for back to school in the fall. Those two pairs of pants were rotated based on our mother’s observation of how clean they were. On Sundays we wore our dress clothes, which always were long pants, usually black.

Kids today, however, have more choices to make when it comes to what to wear to school. The Roman Catholic school system and a couple of the schools associated with other churches have uniforms, but for the majority of children who go to public school, there is a lot of choice when it comes to what to wear. This has resulted in a bit of a change from the days when I was an elementary school student. When I was a child, on chilly days, the girls were all huddles around the door of the school because their legs were cold because they were wearing skirts. The boys spread out across the school yard because we got to wear pants that kept our legs warm. I don’t remember even thinking about whether or not this was fair, I simply accepted it as the way things were. That distinction has long since fallen by the wayside. I frequently notice boys with short pants who are a bit chilly on cool mornings.

It is one thing when it is a matter of choice. It is another thing entirely when a child lacks warm clothes in the winter. It can be life-threatening to go outside without proper clothing when it really gets cold. Every year there are opportunities to donate warm clothes for children in our community. There are drives for coats and hats and mittens that can be given to children who do not have warm clothes. People in our community are generous and we are glad to see that the donation boxes fill up quickly. One of the dynamics is that children in families who move a lot are forced to leave behind some of their possessions. Furthermore, children grow quickly so the jacket that fit last winter is likely to be too small this winter. The cost of new clothes, especially winter outerwear is significant and not all families can come up with the cash at the point where there is need.

Things will be especially tight as we move towards winter this year. Unemployment is increasing and a wave of evictions is starting to sweep across the country. Some families are responding by doubling up, welcoming additional family members and friends into their homes. Others are forced to travel in search of work or in search of a warmer place to spend the winter. Often they are relying on cars with mechanical problems that can deplete the family’s cash and leave people stranded in places other than where they intended. As we travel, it is not uncommon to see people seeking support to get enough fuel to go on to the next stop in their journey. It is one thing to ask for charity for a warm coat for a child. It is much more difficult to get a tank of gas for a traveling family.

There are also plenty of families with children who will be traveling this autumn because they have been displaced by wildfires across the west. A lot of homes have gone up in smoke. While some of those homes belong to families with considerable means and a lot of options, other families have lost early everything they have. Many are in the process of traveling to be with distant relatives or just to find another place where they can settle.

Add to the picture the number of children who need to be learning remotely because of the pandemic, and what to wear to school is not the highest priority for a whole lot of children and their families.

Gracious God, help us to see and care for the children of families that are marginalized in our society. Children are often the victims of the choices and circumstances of their parents and get caught up in cycles of poverty and need. Many lack proper nutrition and adequate clothing for everyday living. Open our hearts and inspire our generosity that we might respond to their need. May we be moved to share the bounty of our lives with them. Bless the children who are wondering what they will wear and what they will eat and where they will sleep. May we never forget them. 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!

Holidays and children

Today I will begin and end my journal with prayers. The ending prayer will be for children, as is my pattern during 40 Days of Prayer for Children. The opening prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving. One year ago yesterday, my wife was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit of our local hospital, having suffered two heart arrests in one day. I had witnessed her receiving CPR and could hardly find a way to hold her hand through all of the IVs and monitors hooked up to her. On that day, I would have quickly traded everything I had for just one more year with her. I got my year and so much more. She is is great health now, exercises every day and her heart problems have been addressed. I have been witness to a miracle.

Gracious God, thank you for your power of healing and for your answer to my prayers and the prayers of so many others who support us in those terrifying days. Thank you for the skills of doctors and the care of nurses and the learning of generations of doctors. Thank you for the love and support of family, church and community. Thank you for the love and commitment of marriage. Thank you for the strength of my life’s partner. For these and all of your blessings I am deeply grateful. May I sing your praise all of my days. Amen.

I walked into a big box hardware and lumber store a few days ago and was greeted by a huge display of Christmas lights and objects right at the front door. The display didn’t have any thing that I could recognize as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. There was a huge Santa and a sleigh and several trees with bright lights. It seemed to be a display of outdoor lights that could be put up to show the Christmas spirit. I wasn’t in the store for any kind of holiday decorations, but I was struck by the Christmas display in September.

I remember the autumn parade of holidays from my childhood: September begins with Labor Day and back to school. October ends with Halloween. November has Thanksgiving and December is the month of Christmas, follow shortly by New Year’s. At a bare minimum, the store display should be confusing to young children. It was confusing to me. Who puts up their Christmas decorations in September? And who has the space to store such giant Christmas decorations until they are used? Of course I’m particularly aware of storage space as I try to sort out what we will move and what we will give away and what we will sell before we move. Acquiring giant decorations for any holiday isn’t high on my list of priorities at the moment.

The display got me to thinking about holidays and celebrations in general. I can see a lot of changes in celebrations in the span of my lifetime.

I’m pretty sure that the pandemic will mean some changes in how people celebrate holidays this year. In the first place, there will be less travel. People are taking precautions to try to avoid the spread of the disease. And for those who are at the lower end of the economic scale, there are no jobs and hard times means less money for holidays. College students won’t be returning to classes after Thanksgiving, with a long break between semesters this year. And I’m thinking that Trick or Treat will be curtailed by pandemic fears as well.

Today is the first of October. It seems like a good time to begin teaching our children about Halloween. All Saint’s Eve is the day before All Saint’s Day, when we remember those who have gone before. For those of us in the Protestant tradition, it is a time when we acknowledge the faith of so many mentors and models who have taught us the way of faith. “We Sing a Song of the Saints of God, faithful and brave and true.” Halloween also has roots in ancient harvest festivals in the northern hemisphere. The symbol of Halloween is a pumpkin. We carve and decorate pumpkins, but we must never forget that they are food, grown in gardens to provide sustenance to our bodies. The traditions of wearing costumes and sharing treats with others have other roots in the stories of our people. They teach us the joy of surprise and the power of generosity. There is much to teach children about Halloween.

I’m not finding the big Christmas display at the big box store to be very helpful in teaching children about holidays.

God of all of the seasons of our lives, as summer turns to fall in our part of the world, our hearts turn to many prayers of thanksgiving. As we pray for the children of the world, we pray that they might be taught the spirit of thanksgiving. May they know enough about the sources of their food to participate in prayers of gratitude for the bounty of harvests. May they learn enough about those who have gone before to know the stories of the saints of our faith. May they be inspired to sing, “And I want to be one, too!”

Help us, gracious God, to place the needs of children at the center of our celebrations in this and every season. May we learn to see the world with the eyes of children and recover the wonder and awe of each new season. May we plan our celebrations in ways that invite the full participation and protect the safety of each child.

Bless the seasons of our lives. May each new season become an opportunity to show love and support and nurture to all of your children whatever their circumstances or situations. We pray for all of your children in the name of the child who was born in the manger and who invited the children to come to him and took them in his arms and blessed them. 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!

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