Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To Walk Bravely

In 2002, I began a journey. When it became apparent Mutant and I would have to move from the glorious mountaintop into this wilderness valley, we were overwhelmed. Life hadn’t worked out the way we planned; Ase 7, Zany 6, and Girly a bubbly 2 years old. After 11 years of transitions and seven moves, we were exhausted.

We all needed to slow down and heal our wounds. Mutant and I decided to school the kids at home to give them that chance.

To let them breathe.

To figure out who they were.

To let them learn the way their brains were wired.

It was a year by year decision. Some years we thought about sending them back to public school for my sanity. Other years, we were excited to keep them home. Through it all the boys had the freedom to play sports and fall in love with dance. They were able to fall in love with it and deal with the bullying and judgment that came their way.

Because they had the space to heal. The freedom to walk away permanently from people who ridiculed them. 

When Girly began to explore science and fall in love with math. As Fluffy-the dead cat- was brought home, skulls, owl pellets, Mutant’s hunting prizes and Aunt’s dead dolphin treasures and more collected on her bookshelf. She could do math to relax herself. Her love of reading developed organically, instead of forced.  Brothers taught her about discretion;  how to resist pressure of sacrificing self to fit in.

What started out as a season of healing, homeschooling became a place for discovery and finding their personal integrity. This wild adventure of non-sequiturs, faith, emotional meltdowns over assignments, testing limits and falling in love with learning was nothing we expected.

When the boys graduated 8th grade, they attended public high school. We chose the one best suited for them. To experience people from different walks of life. Learn through different methods. Greatest of all, to become who they were meant to be. They graduated in 2013 and 2014.

So here we are.


Girly begins her journey in the school of her choice. Walking in compassion with people from different places. To be academically challenged. Taking all of her discoveries and curiosities along for the adventure. Taking pieces of her brothers with her, she bravely faced the day.

And me. Saying goodbye to a 12 year career, feeling satisfied with a job well done.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Field and Seeds

The Parable of the Sower seems to be that default Bible Story.
Each time I read it or hear it my heart breaks for the Hard, Rocky or Stony Soil. That Good Soil just seems so lucky.
Good Soil, the carefree, open to anything God has field of dirt. No doubts or impediments.
Of course when the inevitable question is asked,
“Are you the Good Soil? Do you accept Jesus’ Good News? Do you know your eternal destination?”
I feel like a fraud saying yes. Of course I agree. I want the seed of Good News to grow within me. Freely and unencumbered. But… sometimes I have doubts, distractions, and discouragements.
Girly and I began working through the Gospels this year using Concordia Press. In the study of Matthew last week we covered the Infamous parable. The second question in the study asked us to first consider the “earthy picture.”
We are surrounded by farmland in the Central Valley. I imagined the labyrinth of warn paths farm workers use to get round, not to disturb the freshly tilled areas. Just off the path are areas of roughly tilled ground, places the plow broke open but not softened. Then the corners of the field where irrigation quenches and weeds grow. Spots often missed by weeding.
And it occurred to me…
What if the Parable of the Sower isn't a destination parable? Did Jesus really tell this story as a onetime opportunity? We've all known of people who “Come to Faith,” then walk away. Instead of asking why, it is chalked up to:
They must have been Rocky Soil. Their heart was too hard to accept the Good News. Poor them.
They must have been the Thorny Soil. Serving two masters got in their way of growing in Christ.
Or, my favorite:
Their heart was hard like the seed thrown on the path. You know God hardens hearts sometimes. Too bad for them.
The whole thing reminds me of Puddy and Elaine in Seinfeld.

That aside, I imagined myself walking alongside the farmer in his field. It wasn't the first time it was tilled and planted. Places which were Hard Path last year could be Good Soil this year. Places which grew well before might be littered with weeds now. Last year's Good Soil could be this year’s rock pile. The field would change parameters based upon the season. Yet each year, the farmer would throw the seed. That seed would grow for him to harvest.
Instead of feeling guilty or overwhelmed when I struggled with faith, maybe I simply need to have that part of my heart cleared. Especially when I am wrestling to understand something of the Kingdom of God.
Because, the Creator knows my heart better than I. Where I feel parched and struggling I can ask for understanding. Where am I being stubborn or willful I can for the stones to shift. When I am overwhelmed I can pray to see where the entanglements are. I can seek the grace to have the thorns removed. Being Good Soil is a process, just like the farmer and his field is a process of seasons. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

An Era of Threads Part 6

On January 16th, Grandma Edna passed away. According to Dad, over the last few weeks she communicated her readiness to go Home. Without much fanfare her soul left this mortal coil in the middle of January. At peace with those close to her. Dad said it was beautiful.
I went to the funeral.
It was the end of an era.
A season of family and fallout. Wounds and healings. A permanent parting of ways for the two branches of this family.
The sky was a thick gray as I stood on the outskirts of the grave side ceremony. The tule fog simply waiting to be unfurled and blanket the little town once the sun set.  I watched her family and friends laugh, wipe tears and shared knowing looks. Grandma was a woman well loved by those around her and I was glad. I felt for my Dad who shared stories and scripture verses. Caught between a family that was and a family that is cannot be easy for him. Grief is just different in that situation.
The service ended and I walked to the quiet end of her casket. I thanked her for the example of strength-the way she defended her own ethic without compromise. I admired how she could communicate what she thought of people. I loved how she liked everyone she met, then decided whether to dislike them later. Her sense of style was impeccable. With a steely grace she would walk into a room. Her daily crossword puzzles and Yahtzee kept her mind sharp until the end.  I honored her as my Grandmother. 
Then I said goodbye for the last time.
Turning around I met Aunt2 and Uncle2. They live out of state now. With a warm hug we caught up on their new life. The task at hand and the gloomy cold that is Central Valley fog.
Then I set my gaze to the other side of Grandma’s casket. The family she loved deeply stood together. It would be the last time I would ever see them. I walked over and waited for conversations to ebb. Uncle looked at me with no hint of recognition. I reminded him of who I was and in surprise he said hello. It was good to see him again. I gave him a quick hug and he turned to address those standing behind me.
Aunt was next. My heart brimming with love for her, I hugged her. We looked into each other’s eyes for a moment and I said,
“Sorry for your loss.”
Her soft reply was, “Sorry for yours.”
My heart broke for Aunt. Grandma was her best friend. They had a very close Mother/Daughter relationship. I waited for the right words, “But you two had something special.”
Aunt’s eyes welled up. Her arms reached and I melted into them. For a moment I was a little unscathed girl being held by an aunt who loved deeply. We savored that moment then parted.
“Goodbye.” I simply said. She nodded.
The quiet ride home I watched groves of orange trees blur for acres. My eye followed the power line as it seamlessly flowed alongside the road. Never again would I have to travel there again. I could leave the pain and take the lessons with me. Let the bad leave its’ scar and walk forward in strength.

It was finished. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

An Era of Threads Part 5

Grandma Edna married again. In a new house with a new husband she thrived. A wedding reception at her house contained everyone. All within a safe distance of each other. After she again voiced displeasure to Dad about the boundary that existed.
She wanted her family around her on her terms.
Months later she turned her plea to a Sister. During her usual brag about Aunt and Uncle’s accomplishments. Her pride in their kids overflowed. She turned to Sister3 and asked again:
“Why can’t you just get over it?”
Upon hearing that, my resolve was set. I would not go up to visit her. I could not trust myself if Grandma ever asked me that question. My response would not be an honoring one. Grandma taught me well of independence and fierceness.
Photo taken by clarita
After a few years on their own, it was time for Grandma Edna and her husband to move into an Assisted Living situation. It worked for them well. Game nights, dining halls, and constantly surrounded by people to talk to made her happy. Still the person in the middle of a party.
Dad helped in her process of downsizing. He asked if I would like to go. After much thought I went. It was time not only to forgive, but reclaim a bit of myself. To move beyond the fear and begin to bravely exist.
We spent the day with her. My mind ready for the uncomfortable topic. I prayed for grace in my answers. Grandma Edna gave me the usual updates about Uncle, Aunt, Cousins and their kids. Accomplishments and accolades liberally described. I, my usual quiet self, listened. The anxiety ever present about the situation, I felt at peace with her. My heart resolved that this would be our Goodbye. It was a good day.
The curve all came when Grandma Edna then suggested go to Uncle and Aunt’s house to collect things meant for my sisters and their kids. 
My heart braced.
I began to think about it.
Not only did I come to her town and know that I existed in peace. Not only did I need to have a day where our strength met dignity and respect.
 I needed to allow my brain to heal as well.
 I sat in Uncle’s house still on the outside while my PTSD rattled brain ran through scenarios.   My breath measured but shallow. The knot in the pit of stomach settled. I listened as Uncle and Aunt talked about life and their transitions. Dad shared a few stories and laughter happened. I talked about my kids a bit. While I carefully controlled my exterior, my interior continued its’ inventory.
Uncle wasn’t a very big man.
Aunt looked just like Grandma.
I was an adult just like them.
Then a blanket of security wrapped around my heart. He will never be able to hurt me again. I am safe. I can leave all of the memories, feelings and hurt right there on the couch. It didn’t need to come home with me. I had permission to be done with all.
My thoughts calmed. The ball in my stomach relaxed. I was able to breathe deep.
The drive home with Dad was pleasant. We discussed the miracles of the day. What our family was like before the Big Thing. How much we laughed then. I told him about my boundaries. I felt at peace with all of them. It would be my last trip there. My gratitude expressed, we spoke our goodnights as he dropped me off.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

An Era of Threads Part 4

As the case against Uncle dragged on, laws changed within the molestation epidemic. By the time it came to trial, the cousins’ and my testimony was no longer admissible. Statute of limitations had passed. Two Sisters would face the trial. The case continued to drag until the last moment when Uncle plead No Contest. His sentence was Community Service.
Legalities settled, Grandma Edna renewed her vigilant pressure of bringing the family together. Birthdays. Holidays. Anniversaries. All of us in different places of healing.
I found myself not caring about what she thought. Her discomfort did not bother me.
This resolve was something I learned from her.
Photo taken by dancjr

What I did dread however were the funerals. Only three important ones remained. My Great-Grandmother.
Grandpa Johnny
And Grandma Edna’s.
Each I would need to attend and pay my last respects. Honor their lives and support my Dad as he grieved the loss.
Great-Grandmother went first. She was an immigrant from Switzerland. I spent a few nights with her when I was little. Within her was a sweet resolve. A similar fierceness to Grandma Edna, but a gentleness and grace. I greatly admired that quiet dignity. With only a few years of, I attended her service and wake. It was the first time I had seen Uncle. I felt a little sick, but not falling apart. He stayed on one side of the room and we the other.
By the time Grandpa Johnny passed away, I understood a little about forgiveness. Giving up my right to get even, be vindicated or even see justice was a start. The longer I wished him ill. I understood the verse, “Vengeance is mine, says the LORD.”
It was God’s job to judge. I don’t know what wounds Uncle carried which influenced his choices. Who knows, maybe Uncle simply paid forward a violation he received.
I needed to stop being afraid.
I needed to get out of God’s way as judge.
For my own healing, I needed to forgive
So, at Grandpa Johnny’s graveside, I approached Uncle.
With shaking hands and a trembling heart, I looked into his eyes. I said, “I forgive you.” Then hugged him. A peace flooded my soul. The words, “It is finished” breathed within me. Then I walked away.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean a Do Over. It doesn’t mean access to my life. It simply means I accept the same God that judges me, will judge him. The same sun that warms me, warms him. The same air I breathe, he breathes.
That’s all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Era of Threads Part 3

When I started high school, something changed within me. I so subtle it couldn’t be defined, but at the core was a fierceness. My Parents announced they needed a trip away. I asked if we could stay home. They hesitated and that subtle fierceness grew.  I was babysitting the sisters on a regular basis. I knew how to cook, clean and keep a schedule. Dad’s brother, Uncle2 and Aunt2 lived five minutes away. If something happened, they were only a phone call away.
I was 14.
I considered myself responsible.
And it whispered to me, “Keep Sisters away from them.”
It bothered me that the voice made no sense. Grandparents, Aunt and Uncle were kind. They loved us…But… I lobbied that logic with my feelings.
Feelings said we weren’t safe. Feelings said to protect Sisters.
Feelings won and never again did we spend a weekend with Them.
Then my Senior year.
A string of suicides.
An extra credit paper for Sociology opened a rabbit hole that rivaled Pandora’s Box.
The flood of memories explained why I became so fiercely protective of Sisters. Uncle had been a little too friendly. Compelled to do the “right thing,” I sat my Parents down and told them what I remembered. It was 1986 and Incest was the hot topic. Parents sat Sisters down and asked them the questions.
I had failed.
Uncle acquainted himself with two Sisters, the Third and youngest of us was unscathed. Dad approached Uncle2 and informed him of what was going on. Uncle2 already knew about it. Their family dealt with it years before.
Dad and Mom were left with a decision. Cousins and I sat down to discuss what the options were. We voted to report it and let the law take its’ course. Dad made the arrangements. We all made our reports to the Sheriff.
Then Dad had to sit down with Grandma Edna and explain what was going on. Why our family along with Uncle and Aunt2’s family would not be attending Holiday gatherings.
Grandma Edna didn’t take it well.
Her system of things was violated. This was her family and she needed them around her. Stuff like this happened all the time. She explained to Dad that growing up Uncle Blah and Uncle Pfft did such and such to girl cousins. It was just what our family did. What’s the big deal?

She then said to my Dad, “Well… why can’t you guys just get over it so we can get together as a family. I was raped at 14 and I got over it.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Era of Threads Part 2

My admiration of Edna grew as I got older.  Any time Edna included me in was an adventure an uncomfortable feeling was always present. When the aerobics craze exploded in the 80s, she committed completely. With the legs of Tina Turner, Edna would walk into a conversation. Then tell everyone how great going to the gym was and they needed to go too.
Her car was a beige Buick. When Edna pushed the gas pedal you could hear fuel pouring into the engine by the gallon. Often if a driver offended her, the window would be rolled down. Her fist shook out with a string of obscenities following behind it. Edna could never understand why someone would get in her way.
Photo taken by JasonGillman
As former produce ranchers, Grandma Edna and Grandpa Johnny employed migrant workers during harvest seasons. They believed their workers were treated well and fairly. However, when Caesar Chavez began to unionize the labor force. They felt betrayed. Many a holiday table was filled with this topic. The turning point for them was during the grape boycott. 
My Grandmother with great pride told the story over a dry turkey. Driving by a market In her gas guzzling Buick , she saw protesters out front.
She turned a tight corner.
Stormed into the store.
Purchased a bag of grapes.
Then strolled through the protesters, slowly eating the grapes in front of them.
I thought Grandma Edna was fierce.
Even though I didn't agree with her-and THAT car ride home was filled with my parents discussing how wrong that was. I admired her fearlessness. The way she could walk through life, not carrying about what people thought. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t popular. It was the way Edna thought things should be, so the world just better keep up.
I wanted to be as strong.
Parents tried to protect us from Grandma Edna and Grandpa Johnny’s opinions. We never heard all of them, but I heard enough to understand what prejudice and bigotry was. The hour ride home after a gathering at their house was filled with conversation about people. How we shouldn’t judge people by the color of their skin, but by their character. That Grandma Edna could have her opinions but to keep the secret that those opinions were wrong.
When we stayed for the weekend while Parents were away, it was quiet. If I spoke to Grandma Edna, my words were weighed carefully. Conversation was weighed and measured within my mind. It was always careful.
The rhythm went like this: one night with the Grandparents. One night with the Aunt and Uncle. Aunt had a bubbly laugh and made me feel sparkly and special. Uncle was friendly and busy. The houses were like dark and light. Careful and carefree.

Then something mysterious happened.

Monday, February 2, 2015

An Era of Threads Part 1

Edna, the oldest of five children, grew up through the Great Depression. Her belief as the eldest was to keep everything running. It was her job to help raise he siblings. As a young adult in movie theater, during a news reel saw a friend die while storming the beach at Normandy. Did her part to support the cause of World War II.
Edna married Johnny and they had three kids. When Johnny’s Step Mother asked him to help run an Orange and Olive ranch, the family moved. All three kids have stories to tell about squirrel shooting, burning tires on frosty nights to save the oranges and working together.
Photo by Sgarton 

When Edna and Johnny retired, they moved back to the Central Valley small town. Edna went to work at a doctor’s office. Johnny worked in an appliance store. If there was something in their community to be involved in, Edna was there. Somehow she held command of a room filled with people.
I met Edna in the late 1970s. We moved from Utah to California. My Dad, fresh from the military, looked diligently for employment. My Mom early in pregnancy, a little sister who was three and I in third grade lived together in the spare room. It was an adjustment for all of us. She and my Grandpa Johnny had strong opinions about everything. Often exchanged views in the kitchen. Edna made it very clear to me what rooms I was allowed into and where I was not. What could be touched and what was to be left alone.
Both of my parents were visibly uncomfortable when they left for their weekly card games and bowling league. Often they smelled strangely when they came home. Parents reluctantly explained to me about cigarettes and alcohol.
As much as Grandma Edna and Grandpa Johnny scared me, I was also intrigued by them. In the quiet my parents discussed their need for salvation, but we all attended church together. I liked their pastor. The Congregational Church seemed to have air within its walls, music and we could all sit together.  Children were welcome in service. After a time of worship, the pastor would call all the kids up for a story. Then we would run to our classes. It felt like an honest, whole body.
The Aunt and Uncle who lived in town seemed nice. Aunt was Grandma Edna’s daughter. Their relationship seemed filled with love and laughter. Aunt and Uncle had two teenage kids. Grandma Edna and Grandpa Johnny doted on them.
My Dad found a job and we moved into a neighboring town. Sister Three was born, Sister Two toddled around and I landed into my Third school of the year.  Three schools in Third Grade is a story for another time. Two years later Sister Four entered the world
Once in our own rhythm, the visits with Grandma Edna and Grandpa Johnny were limited to holidays and an occasional weekend when Parents needed to go out of town. The relationship, however, never changed. It was cordial always but what Grandma said went. No one disagreed with her. We watched golf and played Yatzee for fun. Otherwise we were expected to be quiet and play with our own toys.