Monday, December 9, 2013

Did you notice?

Take a look at this photo...

Really, really look at it. Look at her eyes for more than just a few seconds. I cannot get this image from a few days ago out of my head. She is standing on Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, hoping that the government of her nation will turn towards Europe and will not step back towards Russia. She is hoping.

Look at her eyes and think about what it would be like to be her age in a country that has been oppressed again and again. Look at her eyes and think about the fact that her parents or grandparents or someone she loved was shipped off to the gulag or was starved to death in a famine that killed 33,000,000 people and was orchestrated by the government.

I know that we all have different things that have come into our lives and grab our hearts and make us uncomfortable and cause us to feel like we need to do something. I also know that something that grabs my heart may not grab your heart. I know that.

Ukraine grabs my heart. When I first ventured outside of U.S. borders in October of 1992, and ended up in Ukraine, I was a rookie traveler. I was a rookie traveler who grew up in a comfortable family, and who always had pretty much what I needed. I left the country 21 days later, crumpled up on the seat of my bus, unable to stem the flow of tears from my American eyes. My heart was forever changed that day.

The late October afternoon I left Kiev, just steps away from where the babushka in the picture is standing, Alexander, my interpreter, from across the room, mouthed three words that have haunted me to this day..."Never forget Ukraine."

I never have.

I can't.

I've been back twelve or fifteen or eighteen times. I don't know. I've lost count. It doesn't even matter. What matters is that I never forget Ukraine.

I can't forget the Roma children who experience intense racism that robs them of education and opportunity for a better life.

I can't forget the babushkas like the one in the picture above, who, in the last two weeks, have again dared to hope that things might change for the good in the land that they love.

I can't forget the sadness that has overshadowed this land...sadness borne of evil men who have caused grief after grief after grief that has slapped and beaten and knocked these people down.

I can't forget the depth of the warm hospitality of people who would give you their last loaf of brown bread or that one precious vase that belonged to their great grandmother once they realize you are for real and your care for them is simply for them.

I can't forget the children in the state-run orphanage system that don't get the care and the education that they so desperately need. The problem usually isn't the workers. The workers often love these children and are dedicated enough to stick around for years for a few dollars a month. They simply don't have the resources to provide what is needed in a country that is an economic wreck as a result of years of oppression and plundering by those same evil men I mentioned earlier.

I can't forget that my burden is not your burden. I will keep going to Ukraine. On that fateful day in early October of 1992, my wife was standing at the window of the Eugene Airport with our three boys at her feet and their noses smashed up against the window, waving as the plane taxied down the runway, our six month old daughter in her arms.

At that moment, I felt the Father nudge my heart and whisper that what was happening was far bigger than I realized. Now, twenty years later, that six month old is in Ukraine working with those Roma children and those orphans. She returns in a few days.

Now, twenty years later, my niece and her husband and children have moved to Ukraine to work with more of those orphaned children, the lost of the lost, who have been hidden away due to disability. Yes, the continuing story is far bigger than I realized.

As important as all of this is to me, the point of this missive is not that you feel bad or take up my burden, though of course I want Ukraine to be important to you, too. If you've read this far, I want you to refer back to the title...Did you notice?

Did you notice? Now, look at the photograph below.

This is a photo I took at the beginning of the Christmas pageant at 7:30 p.m., last Wednesday night, at First Presbyterian Church. It's a long-standing tradition, put on by loving volunteers, who facilitate and coordinate and hold the hands and guide the feet of the disabled adults who present this gift to the community every year. If you've never experienced this event, don't miss it next year.

Now...what does the presence of several hundred thousand people in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, have to do with a small group of disabled adults in Corvallis, Oregon? Actually, the clue is in my question...Did you notice?

Did you notice these events? Did you notice these people? Did you take a minute to see, to really see what is happening around you? Some events are earth-shaking and are significant. Some events seem insignificant, but are not. Notice them.

That's my challenge to you. I'm not challenging you to take up my burden for Ukraine, though I do think you should be concerned about what is happening there. (Here's why:

I'm challenging you to notice. I'll leave it at that.

Just notice. 

And then do something.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Simple Sundays...

Simple Sundays. I love Simple Sundays. Today is a Simple Sunday.

I think that a satisfied, well-lived life might be built on Simple Sundays. My definition of a Simple Sunday is a Sunday composed of relaxation, spiritual reflection and challenge, some good food, and the good people in my life.

Today is a Simple Sunday. It started with waking peacefully beside the lady who married me nearly 34 years ago on a sunny December afternoon. There's a lot of comfort in waking up and knowing that your wife and the mother of your children has been faithful and trustworthy over the years, and that you have never wandered into the arms of another woman. That is a great start to a Simple Sunday.

I pulled on my floppy black sweatshirt and my ugly black shorts and went and got the leash. It had fallen from the hook and was on the floor. Our quirky, fat, dog, Winnie, was restless and not so happy that I slept a little later than normal, as she really wanted to get outside and get going. We are living in a small apartment, temporarily, while we await a new place to visit, and eat, and sleep and create memories with family and friends.

A short walk away is McDonald Forest, one of my favorite places in all of the world.  Just outside of our front door is a pleasant trail that meanders through some Willamette Valley meadow land. Today, I decided to take the trail close by to watch the morning open up and listen to the late Fall song birds. I love that trail and I love Simple Sunday mornings.

After Winnie and I finished our morning exercise routine, I came back to the apartment, showered, made my breakfast smoothy with some shake mix, flax seed, a banana, some spinach, and soy milk. It sounds kind of gross, but it is really quite tasty, and is a part of my morning ritual, fueling a 55 year old man with what he needs to keep on keepin' on.

Jeannie and I went out the door, hopped into our faithful Honda Pilot, and went to pick up a friend who has been in our lives now for about 30 years. We drove the familiar route to downtown Corvallis, and walked into the landmark Whiteside Theatre, with its newly renovated marquee, where we used to watch movies and where we now gather with friends and yet-to-be friends to be challenged and encouraged and reminded to be grateful for all our Heavenly Father has done for us.

I waved to some co-workers across the theatre, hugged some people we love very much, and experienced a wonderful worship time led by a former student of mine. The speaker was the wife of the man who was our pastor when we started attending this gathering in the late 1990's. It was good to reconnect with her. She said some nice things about how Jeannie and I have impacted their family and their children. I teared up a little, thankful for the opportunity to impact the hearts of young people and then to live long enough to see where they end up in life.

After the service, we decided to go have a Sunday lunch on the town. We went over to Second Street to one of our new favorite hangouts. (Shout out to Laughing Planet and Spanky's Bowl with delicata squash!) Walking down the sidewalk, coming our direction, were some other dear friends of nearly 30 years, one of whom has just emerged from a battle with cancer. We invited them to share our table, and we talked about our adult kids, life struggles and joys, and where, on life's path, we are going next. I loved that time so much. I love those people so much.

Jeannie and Frankie had another ride home, and I wanted to go to one of our local produce stands to pick up some fall produce at rock-bottom prices. You can't beat low priced, fresh, Oregon goodness!

I drove down the road, with farmer's fields on both sides, and the late autumn sun peeking out from behind the clouds. For a few moments, it was warm enough that I could have the window down, Bruce Springsteen was on the radio, and my heart nearly burst with gratitude.

I love those moments when all is right with the world, even though it really isn't. It's important to lay hold of those moments of Simple Sunday peace in a hectic and chaotic world where things really don't make sense. It was one of those moments. Always grab those moments when they pass by and hold them and squeeze every bit of the juice out of them!

I pulled into the muddy parking lot and went into the produce stand, which, of course, was unstaffed, with the money box on the table. Does that happen in other countries? I've traveled abroad a fair amount, but in other countries I've never really seen a business that leaves the cash register full and on the table with no one around. We can do that here. We can leave the money on the table, and believe that people will take what they want, and leave the proper amount of cash. I love that. Yes, there are things wrong in Washington, but, along with that, there is a whole lot of good that gets smothered by the foolishness spewed all over us by the media. Just turn it off sometimes and enjoy the good.
I looked around for a bit and then gathered my Simple Sunday bounty, bagged it up, and weighed it on the scales provided. With a dull #2 pencil on the table, I listed the amounts on the nearby worn pad, totaled it up with old adding machine, and took a $20.00 bill out of my wallet. The total was $13.20, so I pried open the cracked, plastic money box, took out all the bills, made my change, put the other bills back in the box along with my $20.00 bill...a Simple Sunday moment for sure.

Actually, at that moment, as corny as it sounds, when I loaded my peppers, apples, squash, walnuts, popcorn, and red onions into the car, I was full of gratitude for where I live and for the simple opportunity to go to a farmer's produce stand, and buy some good food, knowing that he trusted me, and everyone else who stops by, to honestly trade our money for the work of his hands...a simple pleasure.

 Now, I am home. I unloaded a portion of the bounty of Oregon, and decided to share with you my thoughts about this Simple Sunday. I decided to share with you, not because I am anything special, or because I am so presumptuous to think that you would want to read my words; but, because if you do choose to read my words, you, too, might then take the time to appreciate today.

We all get too busy. Turn off your phone. turn off the television. Go outside. (Yes, even in this late Fall weather.) Look at the clouds. Watch the weather change. Wrap up in a quilt with a good book. Make time for family and friends. Get quiet and reflect on the goodness in your life.

If your Sunday isn't a Simple Sunday, do whatever it takes to make it so. It's worth it. There is a reason for the fourth commandment. Make time to "unstring your bow." A bow that is always strung and taut and ready for action eventually gets loose and is not longer useful. Unstring  your bow, leave the work alone, and have a Simple Sunday. You won't be sorry.

Oh yeah, in case you're interested, below is a picture of the Simple Sunday $13.20 bounty. It would have been only $8.20, but I threw in a $5.00 bag of walnuts for my walnut loving spouse.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of this day.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Leaves are Falling...

Wow...the last time I posted was a brief two years ago while in Vancouver, en route  to Asia. On that Amazing Race-like trip, with 14 crowded flights over 14 hectic days, after traveling through Korea and all over China, I ended up in the humidity of Vietnam, twitching and heaving in my Army Hotel bed, sicker than I have ever been in my life, and wondering if I would ever again leave the familiar surroundings of the United States of America...or even make it back there! (I think it was the jack fruit I ate on the street.)

The previous post was two years before that, after returning from an adventure-filled missions trip with Santiam students to Ukraine, with a little added side vacation to the Basque Country. What a wonderful experience that was! (You can read about that in a previous post!)

Two posts in almost 3.5 years! Impressive, huh? I have to do better than that. I enjoy writing. I recently made a goal to post regularly. Something needs to change, so here we go!

Look carefully at the photo above and to the left. That's "my forest." (Actually, it belongs to Oregon State University, but I like to pretend it's mine, since it is one of my most favorite places in the whole wide world.) Notice the lack of leaves and the misty fog hanging in the trees.

If you were up there today, which I was, you would see something quite different, something that looks like the photo below and to the right. You might not see Winnie, my quirky black and white dog, but you would notice a distinct difference in your surroundings. It's the same trail. The photo above is a little further up the trail, but it's the same forest. The same trail. The same amazingly beautiful surroundings.

 It's a different season. The top photo was taken last winter. The one to the right was taken today...early autumn.

I think back to the fact that I've only posted twice in 3.5 years. Seasons. Oh my, how rapidly the seasons have changed in the last 3.5 years! There are so many fantastic experiences that have enriched my life and the life of my family as the seasons of the last 3.5 years have evaporated! Of course, there have been some rough spots; those times when you wonder why something had to happen.

It sounds so cliche' to encourage you to seize the day. You know, the old "Carpe Diem" thing? It sounds cliche'; but, that is exactly what I want to encourage you to do. Grab the day! Go for the gusto! Be where you are!

Your children are going to grow up. Loved ones will pass and leave us. We'll move to new homes, and leave old neighborhoods. New jobs will come. Old jobs will end. Friends will move. Relationships will change.

Do today. I mean really do today. Look into your children's eyes. Really, really look. See your wife. Don't let the people around you become invisible to you and get all blurry because of today's urgent tasks.

I've started telling my students that I see them. I don't mean that I am watching to see if they do something wrong. I mean I SEE them. They are not invisible to me. I notice them.

You can never miss the changing of the seasons in our amazing Oregon; don't miss the seasons of your life. It's really easy to miss our let it slide on by. Notice today. Notice those around you.

The leaves are falling.