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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Retirement: Growing Old or Growing Young

by Paul Hettinga

This picture of my parents has always inspired me. At nearly 70 years old they were on a trip to Colorado to see first hand what Young Life did with kids. One of the day trip options was this incredible raft trip. They jumped at the opportunity. Wow! What a great picture of a couple who expanded their lives as they grew older, who experienced more as they grew older and who felt that each day was a gift from God. Their lives hadn’t always been so. Maybe I’ll write about that another time.

Late in life they got involved in a number of mission trips, ministry projects, embraced a steadily broadening group of people they came to love and in general ‘grew their lives’ in ways that we’re counterintuitive to retirement. Instead of doing less, they did more. Instead of shrinking their circle of friends, they broadened it. Instead of narrowing their view of politics, religion, social and cultural issues, they broadened their perspective. They became more embraced by God’s spirit of love, of growth, of generosity and of open-mindedness and embraced others in these same ways.

My dad died 10 years ago and my mom is now in Assisted Living in Grand Haven. It is such a joy to watch her being loved now in these same ways by all the people who she and my dad loved so generously all those years. In fact there is one young man who spends nearly every Tuesday morning with mom, reading to her since she has lost her sight to macular degeneration. Earlier in her life, my mom had done the same for his grandmother for many years before she died and he is now returning the favor by reading to her each week. As Proverbs teaches us, life is circular. Throughout their lives, mom and dad sowed a life of love and gracious hospitality, and now my mom is reaping all the same love and generous care from so many family and friends.

I’ve been retired from my career now for 6 months and have tried to focus on who God wants me to be and who I want to be for the rest of my life. I’ve taken the advice of many friends who have retired before me and have not made any long-term commitments yet. I’m trying to give myself and God time enough to discern these most important questions before I start getting busy again.

The example of my mom and dad’s expanding version of growing old reaches deep into me and inspires me to do no less. I’m inspired by both of them to broaden my own viewpoints, to be more accepting of those who disagree with me or with whom I disagree, to be generously loving and to live generously – not ‘holding too tightly’ to the resources God has given me, investing them in the lives God brings to me.

Finally, I’m inspired to simply be more available to the day, to being where I am, to accepting myself as being good enough just as I am. I want to live towards others in the same way. God’s gracious and forgiving love makes it possible to live this way. And here’s another even greater point; once you start living this way, it’s both infectious and expansive to the point that it becomes hard not to live this way.

So for now – it’s enough to not do too much, to take time and to let God’s quiet voice and spirit embrace me. I hope that God will plant deeply within me many of the same qualities that I saw in my mom and dad. From that place, who knows what I might end up being and doing?

Let the adventure continue!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

A dog bit me on Memorial Day.  That led to stitches which led to an infection which led to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was on for the infection.  And so it went for about three weeks.

None of this was life changing.  It was more than inconvenient, but definitely less than a crisis. In a world where 842 million people go hungry, this barely registers. Still, an infected dog bite was not what I needed in the midst of a very busy season of work and family events.  In a small way, this episode is an example of what Scott Peck famously wrote on the first page of his book A Road Less Traveled:  “Life is difficult.”  Yep.

Which leads me to a word and movement that I find intriguing these days.  The word is “resilience” and I find it everywhere.  There are resiliency trainings for educators, fire fighters, physicians and parents. There are events to help your children become more resilient. There are academic programs and papers, workshops and retreats.  Seems everyone is in to resilience these days.  Google it and see what you get.

The dictionary defines resilience as “the ability to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.” I suspect this is why resiliency programs are so popular these days—so many of us feel that we are bent, stretched or compressed in one way or another.  If it isn’t a dog bite, it is the lack of time, or financial worries, or relationship strife. Life is difficult—it stretches all of us.  To be spiritually well doesn’t mean these challenges pass us by.  Spiritual wellness is about resilience, being able to come back from difficulties.

Many of the world’s religions have offered early versions of resiliency training.  Christianity is the one I know best, and it has at its core the idea of springing back after being bent, stretched and compressed. The Apostle Paul gives one of the all-time great resiliency quotes when he says  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  (2 Corinthians4:8) I am pretty sure he is referring to more than a dog bite there.

There are a lot of reasons I am an imperfect practitioner of a faith tradition (with emphasis on the “practice” part of that word.) I treasure community and I like to sing, to name just a few.  But I also participate because life is difficult, and I need all the resiliency I can find. I find it in faith community.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Acting & Hoping to Make a Difference

by Tom Pappas

On many occasions, something I read or hear conjures an obscure connection; then comes a different one, which leads me to an unexpected final destination. Is that something you do?

Here’s what happened: I saw a post on Facebook that indicated the Oklahoma Ponca are going to plant their sacred corn seeds on property in Nebraska that is in the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.* [*For the record, my position on the pipeline controversy is that the tar sands source is ill advised; the route over the Ogallala aquifer is short sighted; the company is not to be trusted to clean up spills – which there will be; and the product will end up at a Texas port to be sent away.] But that’s not today’s topic.  

For some reason the Ponca reference triggered in my brain Chief Standing Bear and his 1879 trial where he told Judge Dundy, “I am a man”. (Or was it, “Am I not a man?”)* He was on trial because had promised his dying son, during their forced march from their ancestral lands, to a reservation in Oklahoma; he would take him home to be buried. He kept his promise, got arrested, went to trial, and was granted habeas corpus by Judge Dundy and essentially became the first Native American to be granted human being status by law.

 I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that both versions of the quote were attributed to the occasion of the Dred Scott decision, and Chief Standing bear was not mentioned. Wow.  No disrespect for Dred Scott, but I can remember in 2011 when I was reading Joe Starita’s account (“I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice) of Standing Bear and the Ponca’s ordeal, saying more than once, “Every Nebraskan needs to know this story, (self-correcting) no, every American should.” Essentially African Americans were granted the same status 22 years earlier.

I did a first. I amended the Wikipedia entry for the ‘I Am a Man’ entry. You can look it up. It seemed the right thing to do and it wasn’t hard at all.

I have known that the Wiki policy is to encourage participation but have not felt qualified or passionate enough to amend an entry. Or maybe I have not noticed an error. At any rate, this is something I oddly felt I needed to do.

Now I’m interested in this amazing God of ours and how we’re made and how we develop into people who on one occasion will sit on our hands and observe, but the elements of a different event incite us to action.

I am tempted to say that I’m all about God, but when I’m completely honest, I must confess I’m all about God after I’m finished being all about me.

God bless people who lovingly and peacefully act out their passion. I know feel blessed when I do. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Prayer for the Meadowlarks

by Angier Brock

With several other people, I spent yesterday morning walking through a National Park Service meadow near my Virginia home. It was a glorious day, sunny with low humidity, and as we walked, we swished the grasses—knee high in most places, waist high in some—with bamboo poles, hoping to flush out the Eastern Meadowlarks nesting there.

Mottled brown on its back, the Meadowlark blends easily into its surroundings when it is on the ground. Its throat and breast, however, are a bright yellow with a jaunty black chevron below the neck. To see that part of a Meadowlark, as when it is perching high on a green tree top against the blue of a clear June sky, is to see a piece of feathered sun.

But what we were really looking for yesterday was the ground nests Meadowlarks weave into the grasses. Our hope was to count the nests, to pinpoint their locations, and to learn how many eggs have been laid and whether any have hatched—information to inform the mowing schedules for those fields. While the Eastern Meadowlark is not yet listed as endangered, its numbers have been decreasing. We hope to ensure that the Meadowlarks nesting here will not be disturbed until the eggs have hatched and the chicks have gotten strong and agile enough to move out of the way of an oncoming tractor.

We did see Meadowlarks fly up and away from us several times. We watched them go to the top of an oak on one edge of the field and to the top of a pine on another edge, from which points they watched us. We heard their song, described variously as “sweet, lazy whistles” (allaboutbirds.org) or “simple, clear, slurred whistles” (Sibley) or a “clear mellow whistle, see-you see-yeeeer” (Audubon). But we never found their nests, which are hidden even better than we expected.  
Because I live near the park, I promised to follow up today’s outing by going back every few days over the next several weeks to observe and record whatever I can about the Meadowlarks and their behavior. From that, perhaps we can discern how their breeding is progressing.

Some might ask, Why spend time in one field in one park watching one particular kind of bird when the world has so many problems? Will helping a few Meadowlarks stop wars? Create jobs? Solve climate change problems? If not, why bother?

An early Emily Dickinson poem begins, “For every Bird a Nest — ”. That same poem ends with these two stanzas.   
The Lark is not ashamed
to build upon the ground
Her modest home –

Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice?

Like Dickinson, I cannot help but admire this rejoicing bird and its “modest” (and well hidden) home. Doing the little I can do to try to ensure its well-being is also a “modest” thing—small, completely unremarkable really. So too is my answer to the “Why bother?” question:  Because small things matter. Tending to small things is something I feel called to do. Doing so often gives me occasion to rejoice.

What about you? Is there something in your life that, in the great scheme of things, might seem modest or inconsequential? Something that you however recognize as worthwhile and, like the Meadowlark, in need of watchfulness in order for it to have space and time to grow? If so, may you be faithful to that call—and find yourself, like the Dickinson’s Meadowlark, rejoicing.