Monday, October 6, 2014

An Abundant Life: Celebrating Grandpa Bruce Meeker

On Tuesday, Sept 30, 2014 my Grandpa Bruce Meeker died.  On Sunday, October 5th, family and friends gathered at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mason City, Iowa to celebrate his life.  During his funeral I had the opportunity to reflect on Grandpa's life and the lessons he taught us.  This is what I said.  

A reading from John 10:

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice...I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Tuesday morning, shortly after receiving the phone call from Mom telling me Grandpa was not doing well and I should probably plan to come home soon for a funeral, I was driving through rural Nebraska on my way to a meeting.  Now admittedly, I should have been paying a little more attention to the road but my thoughts were some what distracted as I noticed the world around me in new ways.   As I noticed the way the fall leaves were beginning to change colors and fall to the ground, I kept thinking about the movement from life into death, and the promise of eventual new life, that so often I am reminded of in fall. As I listened to the rain pouring down and washing the world, I thought about the promises made in baptism and the way that God has claimed and marked the world as Gods. 

As I noticed these things, these words from John about abundant life were the words that came echoing into the back of my head.  As a infant, Grandpa was baptized into the abundant life and love of Jesus.  Now, he may not have spent an abundant amount of time sitting in church pews, but Grandpa knew God’s abundant life and love and he shared that with each of us in a variety of ways. 

Grandpa gifted us with an abundance of healthy skepticism as we learned to never, ever under any circumstances pull a finger, or to check under our seat cushions for the whoppe cushion that could be hiding or that sometimes 10 pennies hiding in the yard actually meant 9 so we should have a 10th ready to confuse him.  Grandpa was generous enough to gift the wildlife of his backyard with this skepticism too as they learned not to always trust that bird feeder. 

Grandpa gifted us with an abundance of family.  6 kids, 14 grandkids and 18 great grandchildren and abundant love for each one us.

Grandpa taught us about the importance of an abundance of determination and curiosity as he was always taking things apart to put them back together, to find a solution for any problem and there was nothing that either an abundance of WD-40 or an abundance of Duct Tape could not fix

Grandpa taught us about the abundance of time as there was always time for coffee or maid-rites with friends or a moped ride, or eventually a wheelchair ride, for the grandkids.

Grandpa taught us about the abundance of treasures to be found in this world, some of them with the help of a metal detector, some of them through the beating of a piƱata and some of them simply by paying attention to the world around you.

But most important of all, Grandpa taught us about and gifted us with an abundance of life love and laughter.
Today, as we gather to grieve Grandpa’s death and to celebrate Grandpa’s life,  we also gather in the trust that this abundance does not end with death.  We trust that the abundance of Grandpa’s life that has shaped each one of us, will continue to change and impact the world.  We trust that even death will not separate us from the abundant love and life of God.  And we trust that, in the abundance of all the family and friends gathered here to remember Grandpa, we are wrapped in that abundant love and life of God.

Still, just to be safe, better not pull any fingers and check your seats for whoopee cushions. 

Grandpa Bruce Meeker
Feb 22, 1920- Sept 30, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lake Swimming

It is still mostly dark out.

The moon is hangs in the sky, continuing its night watch

A few star linger.  Some of those “lingering stars” turn out to be planes bringing people home from adventures and carrying others to new ones.

An orange line paints the bottom of the horizon, promising to bring an end to the darkness, promising that a new day is almost here. 

I sit and take it all in.  As I observe, my companions begin to join me.  As we gather, the energy builds.  We note the colors of the sky, talk about how far we will go this morning, how cold the water might be. 

Soon, the layers of outer clothing comes off, under armor shirts, caps and goggles go on.  One by one we climb down the ladders and into the water.  When it is my turn, I climb down and stand for a second before immersing myself in the water.  As I do, I feel my lungs tighten and constrict a bit and the goose-bumps cover my body.  It is cold.  Keeping my head above water, working to take a few deep breathes, I start doing a half doggy paddle, half breast stroke and the thought crosses my mind

 “What am I doing out here?  This is crazy!” 

I pause a few strokes from shore to find my companions in their bright pink swimming caps and we take off. 


I can feel my body relax and ease into the familiar pattern and I start to warm up.  As I make my way across the lake, with each breath I watch the colors begin to expand from the thin orange strip and they paint the sky with purples, pinks, oranges, reds. 

Eventually, I reach the pier, our meeting point.  We stand on submerged rocks and wait for everybody to gather, continuing to observe the colors that are painting the sky

“Look at the way the tips of the clouds are painted pink”
“Oh…see that oranges”
“Isn’t this wonderful”

Then it is time to head back and I find that familiar pattern again, continuing to watch the color show in the sky.


As I reach the point, I climb up the ladder I rush to grab my towel to bundle up in the hopes that I can warm up a bit, joining the swimmers who have already finished in waiting for the few still making their way back. 

“It was definitely warmer in the middle of the lake”
“Wasn’t that a great swim?”
“Doesn’t it feel good?”

As we all gather, we dry off, put on warmer, drier clothes and get ready for the day, continuing to watch the colors paint the sky.  Soon the moment we have been waiting for comes.  The pink smudge appears on the horizon where lake and sky meet.   That smudge grows larger and larger until the sun is fully up.   Having successfully supervised the sun’s rising, we all pack up our bags and say our goodbyes, promising to be back again soon for the next swim.  

“Wasn’t that just great!”
“Those colors were beautiful”
“What a great way to start the day”
“See you tomorrow”

The past ten months I have had the joy and honor of swimming with these Point Swimmers.  The group is made of a variety of swimmers from a variety of places in life.  We are mostly women, but there are a few men.  We are fabric artists, painters, lawyers, teachers, architects, chaplains, retirees, bereavement counselors. We are triathletes, serious competitive swimmers and recreational just for fun swimmers.  We range in age from 26 to 85 and everywhere in between.  We are not a group of people you would expect to gather except that we all hear the call of the lake inviting us to come and greet the new day by swimming in its waters. 

As I swam my last swim in the Lake on Saturday I thought about all that has happened since my first swim.  From that first swim in August when getting in the water and making it only a couple buoys out seemed like a great and daring feat to my last swim on Saturday morning making it all the way to the pier and back and every swim in between, these swimmers have challenged and supported me into being a braver, stronger and more confident swimmer and by extension a braver, stronger and more confident woman.  We have swam in choppy dark waters and calm clear waters, reminding me that with a supportive community swimming with me, a willingness to be aware but not trying to control everything and good breathing habits, I can take on whatever kind of waters life brings. I don't know what this past year would have looked like without that support system that, in the midst of stress and chaos, continued to ground me in the waters that give me life but I am beyond grateful that they were there.  

 Because for me this time in the lake was not just about the workout, it was sacred time.  As I moved against and through the waves, I am reminded of that in the beginning “The spirit of God hovered over the waters” and that God called creation good.  As I find the familiar breathing pattern, I am reminded that God breathed the breath of life into the first man.  As I pause in the middle of the lake, removed from the crowdedness of the city and the noise of Lakeshore, I am reminded of the God who came to Elijah not in the wind, earthquake or fire but in silence.  As I watch the sunrise and the colors paint the sky, I am reminded that our God is continually creating, promising to make all things new.   As I submerge myself in the living water of Lake Michigan, I am reminded of the living water I was blessed with as infant in my baptism.  In the all as I stood on the rocks surrounded by trees with leaves that are starting to change colors and in the spring as I watched new leaves bud, I am reminded that we, along with all of creation, are in a constant cycle of death and resurrection. 

This is holy time.  This is where God revels Godself.  God has artist, creator, renewer, life force.  And when school and life seem overwhelming, even though it may start as only a small orange strip on where choppy waters meet dark, night skies, God promises that a new day will dawn with brilliant colors and the light will paint our skies again.   1…2…3…breathe

Monday, July 16, 2012

To Love

Well after almost 24 hours of travel, 18 of which were on a plane, I have safely arrived in Chautauqua, New York where I will spend the next week hanging out and attempting to slowly adjust to being back here. 
Over the past several days as I have packed my bags, said my goodbyes, boarded planes and said hello to one of the places I call home, I have often been asked how my year was.  My generic response tends to be “I loved it” or something about loving the people, the culture or the place.
As I have constantly offered this response, I have begun to wonder a bit about what it actually means when I say that I “loved it.”  While reflecting on this, I recalled a devotion that a dear friend had offered during my time at Luther.  It was a passage from a book called Pine Island Paradox,   In the passage that was read, author Kathleen Dean Moore contemplates this same thing: what does it mean to love? 
I think that the answer she comes up with is poignant, accurate and much more articulate than I can be at this point.   Rather than try to summarize or paraphrase, I will just share Moore’s words directly with you and tell you that this is what I mean when I say I loved the people, the culture and the place.

I stretched my back and started two lists.  What does it mean to love a person?  What does it mean to love a place?  Before long, I discovered I had made two copies of the same list.   To love---a person and a place---means at least this:

One.  To want to be near it, physically
Number two.  To want to know everything about it--- its story, its mood, what it looks like by moonlight
Number three.  To rejoice in the fact of it.
Number four. To fear its loss, and grieve for its injuries. 
Five.  To protect it---fiercely, mindlessly, futilely and maybe tragically; but to be helpless to do otherwise.
Six.  To be transformed in its presence---lifted, lighter, on your feet, transparent, open to everything beautiful and new. 
Number seven.  To want to be joined with it, taken it by it, lost in it.
Number eight.  To want the best for it.
Number nine.  Desperately.

Love is an anchor line, a rope on a pulley, a taut fly line, a spruce root, a route on a map, a father teaching his daughter to tie a bowline know, eelgrass bent to the tide, and all of these---a complicated, changing web of relationships, taken together.  It’s not a choice, or a dream, or a romantic novel.  It’s a fact: an empirical fact about our biological existence.  We are born into relationships with people and places.  We are born with the ability to create new relationships and tend to them.  And we are born with a powerful longing for these relations.  That complex connectedness----nourishes and shapes us and gives us joy and purpose. 

I knew there was something important missing from my list but I was struggling to put it into words.  Loving isn’t just a state of being, it’s a way of acting in the world.  Love isn’t a sort of bliss, it’s a kind of work, sometimes hard, spirit-testing works.  To love a person is to accept the responsibility to act lovingly toward him, to make his needs my own needs.  To  love a place is to care for it, to keep it healthy, to attend to its needs as if they were my own, because they are my own.  Responsibility grows from love.  It is the natural shape of caring. 

Number ten, I wrote in my notebook.  To love a person or a place is to accept moral responsibility for its well-being.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Story Struggle

While yesterday was incredibly frustrating, I will continue to listen to stories, read stories, collect stories and share stories. For now, I will continue to struggle with these stories, and figure out how they work together.  I will continue to use the stories that I hear as tools for good and tools for change.  Because at the end of the day, it is our stories, combined with the stories around us, that make us who we are and give us our human-ness.”

In January, I shared the above paragraph as the conclusion of a blog that I wrote reflecting on a particularly challenging encounter we had with Jewish settlers.  In this blog, I shared how this experience had shattered my faith in the healing power of stories  and my attempts to pick up those pieces and restore something that had once been beautiful. 
However, the reality is that what I am calling my “story struggle” has been a defining part of my time as a YAGM.   I have always been a huge believer in the power of stories, and despite that faith being shattered, I still am.  This year I have seen the healing that comes from sharing a story, the comfort from sharing pain and the delight from sharing joy.  I have seen the desperation to share a story, the relief that comes when that story is hurt and the hope when there is a promise to continue sharing the story.   Yet, at the same time, I have also witnessed the incredible pain that can be caused when a story is distorted, hijacked or ignored.  I have seen the distress that comes when somebody is told that their story is wrong or invalid. 

I have been struggling to make sense of the stories I have heard and things I have seen all year, but now as I look to return to the States I am also struggling with how to best share these things with you all. 
I know that this is a land of multiple narratives and that what you see and hear when you come here depends your reasons for being here or the news you follow back home.  I also know that the stories and experiences, I will bring home to share will be different from much of the popular narrative, and maybe even your own experiences if you have visited Israel/Palestine. While we can agree to disagree, I ask that you don’t tell that my stories and experiences are wrong. 

I am still struggling to make sense of a lot of this, and I don’t expect you to understand it all, but I ask that you please respect my stories.  I am willing to answer any questions you may have and engage in a conversation with you.  I encourage you to push me to explain things that don’t make sense or that you want to know more about. 

However, please know that I am still struggling to figure out what I believe that I do not have all the answers.  As I continue to make sense of this year, I will be fragile and it may be challenging for me to articulate all that I need to say.  So as we discuss, I ask for your patience if I end up getting overwhelmed, emotional or simply needing to walk away. 

As I come home to share these stories, I look forward to engaging in a deeper conversation with you.  I look forward to answering any questions you may have and also to hearing your thoughts and stories. I hope that you will be willing to listen to my stories with an open mind, and I promise to do the same because I do still believe in the power of stories to change the world.   

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Things to know

In 20 short days, I will be boarding a plane that will be taking me toward Buffalo, NY so I can spend a week at Chautauqua Institution before heading back to the Midwest.   As this realization has started to sink in I have had to come to terms with the fact that this part of my YAGM journey is coming to an end faster than I would like to admit. Over the past several days I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the fact that returning to the states means being semi-prepared to talk about this experience, share my stories and answer questions. 
As I have been thinking about what I will share with you when I return, I have also spent a lot of time thinking about the things that I need people to know as I return home to provide a basic starting point for sharing the stories of the past 11 months.  At this point I have identified the top 10 things that you should know:

1.     Please don’t ask me how my trip was.  This year was more than a “trip” and I was not just “visiting” the Holy Land.   I have spent the past 11 months working here, building a community, becoming a part of a family, developing routines and creating a sense of normal.  This was my life for a year and this place will forever be a place I will call home, so please do not minimize this experience by referring to it as “trip”, “vacation” or “holiday.”
2.     I spent a majority of my time living and working with Palestinians and in Palestine.  I know that there is a fair amount of debate about what to call this area.  Is it the West Bank?  Occupied Palestinian Territories?  The Holy Land?   I will refer to it as Palestine, and the people I lived and worked with are Palestinians. 
3.     Just because I am an advocate for Palestine, doesn’t mean I deny Israel or am anti-Israel.   One of the downfalls in our language is the assumption that when we are “pro” something we must “anti” something else.  In this case, if I say I am pro-Palestine, there is often an assumption that I must be anti-Israeli.  I may not always agree with all of the Israeli’s governments policies, I am not denying their right to exist and live in peace, so long as it is just peace for all in this area.  So I guess if we need to put it in “pro” and “anti” terms- I am pro-Human rights and anti-oppression; I am pro-love and anti-hate; I am pro-dignity and anti-humiliation. 
4.     There are Christians here. They may be in the minority, but they are present and they are present in a HUGE way.   In fact, this is the land where Christianity was born, it was not brought here by Western missionaries.   Nor was this part of my mission here. I was here to walk with the people here-Jewish, Christian and Muslim-to hear the stories and learn from them.  For more information about Christians in the Holy Land, check out this recent 60 Minutessegment. 
5.     I have spent the past year attempting to function in Arabic and English.  As I attempted to learn Arabic and teach English, I have developed my own language somewhere in the middle, Arablish if you will, so some Arabic words have worked there way into my daily vocabulary.  If they happen to come up in a conversation I am having with you please stop me and ask me what they mean.  For a brief pre-lesson, you can check out this blog by my fellow YAGM Courtney.  The other thing that this means, is I am not used to being surrounded by English conversations, so I am easily distracted when I surrounded by people who are speaking English if they are not talking to me-I can only imagine how overwhelming this will be when I return to a place where everybody speaks English.
6.     There are things that have become normal this year, that weren’t before.  Aside from it becoming normal for me to try to bounce between Arabic and English, there are parts of daily life that have become normal here and as I return home, I am going to have to adjust to a different sense of normal.  These things are some everyday things like the fact that toilet paper does not get flushed but goes in a small wastebasket, double cheek kisses are the proper greeting and the currency is shekel (or I measure things in how many falafel sandwiches I could buy…).  Along with these things, things like having to cross checkpoints, encountering soldiers with guns and witnessing segregation having become a normal part of my life and my stories from here.  While these things have become normal for me, they weren’t at the beginning of the year, so I don’t expect it to always make sense to everybody.  If I make a comment or some part of a story doesn’t make sense, please ask questions and I will do my best to answer them.
7.     I have a lot of stories to share.  As I mentioned before, this place was home for a year and I have fallen in love with the location, the people and the culture and I want to share that love with you.  However, if you just ask me “How was your year?”  I will most likely be so overwhelmed with trying to figure out where to start, that I will give you a mono-syllabic answer or a blank stare. Ask me about the people, the food, the culture, my students, my work and I will be able to talk for hours. So ask me about it, but specific questions are going to be more conducive to talking about it and if you do that, I promise to do my best to not talk too much. 
8.     There will be questions I can’t answer.  In many ways, this year has been a year with more questions than answers.  I promise to do my best to answer any questions you have, but if I can’t answer a question, I ask that you respect that I am probably still struggling to find the answers to those questions.
9.     I am looking forward to returning “home” but I am not excited to be leaving this “home”. So the answer to the question “Are you excited to be going back to the States?” is more complicated than a “yes” or “no” answer.  These next few weeks are going to be a giant emotional roller-coaster ride as I come to terms with saying “see you later” to my family here and return to my family back home.  As I navigate this, I ask for some patience and understanding.  I will have highs and lows, but eventually I will balance out. 
10.  This year has changed me.  I have been pushed and challenged and grown a lot over the past year. I been witness to great pain and suffering, but in the midst of that I have experienced amazing hospitality, love and welcome. However, at the end of the day I am still a girl from small town Iowa but I have just spent a year of my life living here, having my eyes opened and changed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Eyes

As I look back on 10 months of joys and challenges, laughter and tears, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be returning to my homes in the states, both for me and for the people I am returning home to.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting a few blogs that reflect on the ways I have changed, what I need you to know about my experience and what will be helpful to me as I go through some reverse culture shock and the grieving process for the end of the part of my YAGM experience.

It is no secret that I love the Decorah based artists StoryPeople.  They are my Facebook status updates, one of the calendars hanging in my room.  As mentioned in a previous blog, I love receiving my daily StoryPeople and even used StoryPeople as the basis for my senior chapel at Luther.   I also love being able to share StoryPeople and converting them to StoryPeople lovers.   This year I have managed to convert my fellow Beit Sahour Lutheran School YAGM Courtney to the way of StoryPeople so much that she decided to write her own which reads: 
Top of Form

"I want to take one of your eyes & give you one of mine,
 she said, because then when I look at the world
I can see what you see
 & when I look in the mirror
 I can see you."

This “CourtneyPeople” was a result of several conversations we have had, with each other and with other people, about the fact that we will soon be leaving this place that over the past year we have learned to call home.   As the school year came to an end last week, we had to start the hard process of saying good-bye and reflecting on the ways we have changed over the past year.

As I think about returning to the states, I know I am returning with new eyes.   This year has taught me to look with new eyes and has challenged me to see what others see when they look at the world.  I have spent the year living in a place with a variety of narratives, some which get told more often than other, and as hard has this has been, it has taught me to always wonder if there is a side of the story that I am not hearing and to look for this story.

These new eyes impact not only the way I see the external world but also the way that I see myself.  YAGM will always be one of the experiences that when I look in the mirror I will see as a part of who I am and the person I am becoming.  When I look in the mirror I will see not only my face but all the faces that have become a part of my story and I will wonder how my life and my story is honoring the hospitality and grace they have shown me this year. 

Just like when coming inside from a sunny day or turning on a light in the middle of the night, it takes some time for your eyes to adjust to the new light, I know that these eyes will take some time to re-adjust to being in a new place.  I ask for your patience as my eyes adjust and as my eyes continue to adapt to this new way of being.  At the same time I ask for your patience, I also hope that you will ask me questions, push me to explain, challenge me to continue to see more and I will do the same in an attempt to share some of what these new eyes have seen this year.    

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pulling weeds, Planting Flowers

The Shack by WM. Paul Young

Many of you have read it.  Most of you have probably heard me talk about it.  It is the story of a man, Mack, whose young daughter is abducted and murdered.   Several years later, Mack finds himself at an abandoned shack where he meets with God, in each of the three persons - Papa, Jesus and the embodiment of the Holy Spirit Sarayu.  Throughout the book, Mack get the opportunity to ask God all of the hard questions that most of us dream of being able to ask.  God, in one of the three personas, is patient with Mack, answering all of his questions in a variety of ways, helping Mack to understand and learn.

I read it for the first time while I was working at Camp EWALU during the summer of 2008.  Since that time, I have read it twice more.  Every time I read it, I find something I hadn’t before.  The way I understand it, respond to it and learn from it changes every time depending on what I need to understand, hear and learn. 

While my copy of the book didn’t make it to Palestine with me, I have recently been thinking about it a lot. In particular I have been thinking about one chapter in the book, in which Mack is working in a garden with Sarayu.  When they enter the garden, Mack notes that the garden is a mess but together, over the next several hours, they work to clear out a part of the garden.  They do the hard work of pulling weeds, cutting branches digging up roots and turning soil, all in preparation for something new to be planted. While they worked Mack questions Sarayu about good/evil, independence and God’s role in the world.

...and After
I have been thinking a lot about this passage over the past few weeks as I have been spending a fair amount of time working with my secondary placement, Paidia International Development as they work to get their leadership center ready for the ESL Adventure Camp that will start in a few short days.  To get it ready, we have been pulling weeds, putting a rock wall together, painting new offices, and doing general maintenance work.  It has meant a fair amount of hot hours in the sun, and some days of slow progress but with each day we are moving forward, getting closer to being ready for the summer program.

As Mack and Sarayu finish their time together in the garden the following conversation takes place:

“Mackenzie, you are such a delight”
“I didn’t do that much, really,” he apologized.  “I mean, look at this mess.” His gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them. “But it really is beautiful, and fully of you, Sarayu.  Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.”
The two looked at each other.
Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space.  “And well you should, Mackenzie, because this garden is your soul.  This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart.  To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive—a living fractal.”
The impact of her words almost crumbled all of Mack’s reserve.  He looked again at their garden---his garden---and it really was a mess, but incredible and wonderful at the same time.  
 (pg 138)

Pulling weeds that tend to bite back when you try to pull them
As I have been pulling weeds at Paidia’s leadership center, I have been thinking a lot about Mack’s time in the garden with Sarayu.  Together, they were working on clearing the weeds out of his soul, so that new things could be planted.

In many ways, my year here in Palestine has been much like Mack’s time in the garden with Sarayu.  I have spent the year pulling weeds and planting new flowers all while asking a lot of questions about life, justice and faith.  It has meant a lot of hours of wrestling and hard work and some days of slow progress, but each day I am moving forward.   As I look at the garden of my soul, I notice the mess that it is, but throughout this year I have been constantly reminded that even if I can’t see it, Papa, Jesus and Sarayu are “working with a purpose” to create beauty and growth.