Post Election Blues

I'm a pretty staunch independent voter. I woke up with a lot of disappointment today. And not just centered around election outcomes.

There was a lot of hate today. A lot.

This election was marked by hate. And fear. They tend to go hand in hand. One leads to the other.

Hate/fear of women. Hate/fear of Muslims. Hate/fear of Mexican immigrants.

But today he sides switched. Many of those who were voting against the hate became hate themselves.

That was the sad part of all this. Few people did not succumb to the hate.

"Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering."

Today at school I saw it's effects in my students. All they have taken in from the rhetoric of this election is fear and hate. My class is about 75% students of color. Our school is over 50%. There were comments about fear about how they're afraid their family or even themselves won't be able live in this country any more. They're afraid that their parents won't be able to stay married. They're afraid of threats against themselves. They're afraid that as girls they won't have a future.

Fear and hate aren't getting any of us anywhere.

The only way we as a nation can move forward is in love and kindness. To see the good in the other. To disagree without castigating. To listen. To hope.


Table Manners

I just spent a week with around sixty 4th - 6th graders at a YMCA camp in Minnesota's North Woods--just outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. It was a great week away from technology, surrounded by the beauty of lakes and woods. The students were great, but I noticed a few things that we (as a society, as parents) can work on.

1. Self-regulation. Students need to develop an awareness of how their actions effect others. Talking while one person is speaking (I notice this among adults, too), using indoor voices, words that aren't helpful.

2. Self-reliance. I don't mean this in the typical sense, but in the sense of not needing to constantly be entertained. The students did pretty well without technology for a week, but even while hiking in the splendor of the North Woods I heard a few students say, "I'm bored." This isn't a surprise to anyone who has been around children. They have a need to be entertained and lack the ability to do it on their own.

3. Table procedures. Every meal we ate was served family style. You know the one: large bowls of food on the table that get passed around as each person serves themselves with the amounts they actually think they can eat. The camp talked with the students about taking appropriate amounts of food to work toward having little food waste at the end of a meal. Students had to work on this. But I noticed as much of a struggle with knowing how to pass food around a table.

I suppose this isn't much of a surprise in a society where we're too busy with activities that we seldom have the time to eat a meal together. Even when there is time to eat together, families are smaller and we seldom eat family style where there is a need to pass dishes of food. Maybe the rare holiday with families.

I believe that this is the best place to start work. It takes intentionality, of course. And time. And work. But these things are typical for any work in a family. But in spending time together as a family, teaching children how to pass food around a table so that each member of the family receives everything, opportunities exist to talk and teach about how to handle time without entertainment and how to think about others.


Taking it Slow

"Go slow."
"Take your time."

This is some of the most admonished advice given to the dating divorce. And I understand it--or the intent behind it. Kids are in the picture. There's already been pain. No one wants more hurt.

But it's also a load of crap.

Time is not a guarantee. I just read a story by a pastor who was paged to a hospital ER during her CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) while she was in seminary. A 30-year old mother lay dead on the table while here two preschool aged sons were in the next. Last year I read another story by a Midwestern writer and volunteer EMT in his small town community about being called to the scene of a fatal accident and finding it was his sister-in-law who had only recently married his brother. I'm already 41. I hope to have a long life, but there is no guarantee. And time passes more quickly than I'd like.

And none of us (speaking in generic terms on behalf of other divorced people) honestly know what going slow means anyway--other than the well-meaning warning not to get too physical. Nor do we know what guarding our hearts means either--at least not in practical terms.

I was teach the senior high Sunday school class at church today. We talked about discipleship in the ancient Hebrew setting. If a young Jewish male wasn't chosen to become a disciple of a rabbi, he went home to learn the family trade and start a family of his own by age 14 and 15. Scholars believe that Mary was likely around that age when she and Joseph raised Jesus. Did anyone tell them to take it slow?

I think the proper aphorism is to make the most of your time and use your head as well as your heart. I know there are plenty of mistakes we make when dating after divorce. I've made several. But in relationships sometimes you have to give things a try. It's a learning process of trusting your heart and your mind--and learning when to question them.

What I'm discovering is that when things are right and meant to be--when a lot of prayer goes into the relationship and God's hand is clearly at work--that you know when and how to proceed.

There is plenty of advice out there on when to take the next steps in dating--especially with children involved. And it varies quite a bit. It's all well-intentioned. It's also frustrating and confusing as you try and figure out what's best. Sometimes you can only trust God, trust the other person, and trust yourself. Which is what a good relationship needs anyway.


Summer Reflections

Summer is one of those sacred times for me. I think it's because I grew up on a farm and my mother was a teacher. Summers were about family time. Working hard, playing hard. I love the outdoors as well, and summer is prime time to be outdoors. Hiking, biking, swimming, camping, sitting under a tree or on the grass by a lake.

This summer didn't go as planned. At the beginning of the summer I thought I'd be working at our church's Bible Camp. Within a couple days of when I was planning on leaving to head up, I learned that those plans had fallen through. I was disappointed. I love camp. It's a special place. My boys were looking forward to being up there for half of the summer as well.

But being around meant I got a chance to develop a friendship with a woman I had gone out a few times, but where the relationship had been delegated to just being friends. After not too long we clearly saw God's hand at work bringing us together, and that our friendship had become more. It's been a relationship I didn't expect but have longed for.

I also had the blessing of going with our youth group from church on a missions trip to Ecuador. It was an amazing experience. One where I saw God at work, where I learned much. I learned about hospitality and seeing the other.

The kids and I had a couple really good camping trips. We enjoyed the outdoors. Hiking, picking wild raspberries and gooseberries, swimming. They were moments where summer was at its prime, where the boys were boys. Exploring, playing, enjoying.

I had a few trips to the North Shore. It's my happy place. My spiritual place. It renews me.

I had somet time with my extended family. Watching fireworks, cheering on family runners in a 5K (including my son and nephew for their first race), sitting at a parade, playing lawn games, laughing.

I didn't get to many outdoor concerts. Only one movie in the park. Only a few bike rides.

Meanwhile school starts this week. I've already been there for staff training for two weeks. Fall will come soon. Seasons change. More opportunities to be had. Many will be missed. But I'm learning more and more to be present in the moment wherever I am, whoever I am with.

I will take the space to reflect on the blessings of each day, to make note of what I'm grateful for. I will see those around me, noting their presence. I will live, and worship, and love.


Missions Trip Overview

I recently returned from Ecuador where I was on a missions trip with our church youth group. It was been a blessing beyond words. We had to be at the MSP Airport at 3:30am on Tuesday, July 19. It was a long day. We had a long layover in Miami so we hopped on the bus to go to the beach for an hour. We arrived in Guayaquil quite late, and stayed at a hotel near the airport. The staff from Merge Ministries (a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church that helps facilitate missions trips) met us at the airport. The next morning they briefed us on our schedule and things to remember. Then we headed to the church and school where we would be spending most of our time.

When we arrived we were welcomed with an hour long assembly by the schol we were serving at during the day. They performed dances, sang songs, led us in worship, and treated us like celebrities. Students would come up to us with paper and pens and ask for our autographs. Some would even have us write our names on their arms.

During the day part of our group leads worship services and part goes into classrooms to help students practice and learn English. Some students knew English fairly well and wanted to talk and ask questions. Some didn't know it at all and didn't want to try. Most had some interest in interacting with us regardless of their proficiency in the language. Most of our group, however, only knew the rudimentary basics of Spanish (some knew none), so at times communication could be an issue. Still, we usually found that we could communicate far beyond what words allowed.

We stayed in groups with local families. Three of the high school guys and I stayed in an apartment building where our hosts lived. We had our own flat. We missed out on living with our family, but it was also nice to have our own space and be able to go to bed when needed. Hot water is a rarity in most homes. Toilet paper cannot be flushed into the sewers. The water isn't safe to drink for North American stomachs. The windows don't have screens and parts of the apartment are open to the outside or hallway. Doors are metal and have several heavy bolts. Cats roam the sidewalks outside at night and pigeons do during the day. We had a lizard show up in our bathroom the first morning. And we thoroughly loved our "Ecuadorian Bachelor Pad." 

The first two evenings we went into neighborhood churches and ran outreach programs for children. We sang some songs, acted out the Good Samaritan, memorized a verse in Spanish, made some crafts and played some games. We had initially been told that we would be doing three nights of this as a whole group. We ended up having to split up our group into two and doing two churches each night. It wasn't what we had planned for, but flexibility is a needed quality in Ecuador, and things still went well. The youth did great in reaching out to the kids who came.

On Friday the students at the school had assemblies to celebrate three upcoming holidays over the course of July 24-25: a celebration of Armada (defeating Peru), the birthday of liberator Simon Bolivar, and the founding of Guayaquil. The youngest students dressed up in traditional outfits (the girls often in dresses that reflected the pattern on the city flag) and performed skits or sang songs. The junior and senior high students had a pageant to vote for Miss Guayaquil, enacted skits about the founding of the city and traditions, and had another pageant of outfits made from recycled material. That evening we played games with the youth group from the church.

On Saturday the local youth group joined us as we boarded busses to drive two hours to Salinas to play at the beach that day. The students from both countries got along together remarkably. At this time of year the water in the Pacific was much colder than what we experienced in the Atlantic.

On Sunday we attended the two morning services at the church. The Holy Spirit was very present. Our group led a few worship songs and Pastor Mark preached the sermon. Right after church we left with our host family. They had a family obligation that day that we were invited to. It ended up being our host father's parent's 55th Wedding Anniversary. We drove out to the wealthy suburbs where his brother (a doctor) had a home. The parents and along with the brother and his wife renewed their wedding vows. We were welcomed as part of the family and enjoyed time with them.

There was no school or work on Monday because of the holiday, so we had the day to tour the town with our family. We went to the Park de las Iguanas were scores of lizards roamed freely. Then we went to Malecon 2000, a park that stretched along the riverfront. We visited two soccer museums, hiked to the top of Santa Anna where we climbed the lighthouse and saw 400 year old houses and cannons that were used to defend the city from pirates, and visited a firefighting museum. The brother-in-law of our host dad picked us up and took us to their home where we played soccer with some neighborhood kids, swam in the pool, and enjoyed a meal and their hospitality.

Tuesday was our last day at the school. We did some English classes and the youth did three assemblies teaching the students about Minnesota life and culture, focused around the four seasons. Before the final assembly, the school and church gave us a farewell. It was very touching. That night they decorated tables and chairs in linens with gold trim for our supper. After a reflective debriefing, we headed to the hotel we stayed at for the first night and had a short night's sleep as we had to be ready to leave for the airport by 3:30am the next day. After hours in the airport and on airplanes and delays of our final flight, I was finally home by 1am Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

The trip was a huge blessing. I was blessed by getting to know people from church better. Blessed by the guys in my group. Blessed by the hospitality of our hosts. Blessed by the welcome and sending off from the school. Blessed by the worship there. Blessed by the ministry we got to be a part of. Blessed by the people.



My oldest turned 12 this week. We went camping. He wanted to explore a new place, so we went down to Whitewater State Park. We got, set up camp, and explored. We did some hiking up the bluffs, got really hot and went for a swim.

We had some rain after supper (thankfully the storms held off). We almost always have rain when we camp. My youngest dislikes camping because of the rain we always get. But this time it was a nice light rain. We played bocce in it. And they slept though the night well.

The next day we drove down to another state park. We checked out Mystery Cave and historic Forestville. It was fun to see the boys ask questions of the naturalist in the cave and to interact with the historic actors who took the boys back to 1899. I enjoyed watching them ask questions, answer questions and pretend they lived back in that time.

After playing some molkky (a Finnish lawn game) after supper, we all sat around the campfire and drew pictures of our campsite (unarranged--we just all ended up drawing the tent at different points). While the oldest read in the tent, the youngest and I took a walk and looked at the stars and fireflies.

On our last day we took another hike. It was supposed to be a short hike before lunch. It took us over two hours. We took a hike up to inspiration point for the view. Then we continued back on the trail we were on because there were lots of wild raspberry bushes (and a few gooseberries). The boys really enjoyed fresh fruit and ate their fill.

They were happy to get home after a couple nights away (we had only been home two nights before that after a 4th of July trip to be with family in Iowa). I wasn't as excited to be back. It was nice to be in the wilderness, seeing the stars at night, away from traffic. It was nice to have the time with the boys, making memories (I'm about to go into a long stretch without them around). Life is good when camping.


A Wetland Walk in April

I abandon the city in search
Of a hillside forested in birch;
But find myself in a marshy wetland,
Ground seldom dirt, mostly sand
And where the land changes
So does the scenery and vegetation:
Fewer willows and more evergreen,
Basswood, larch, birch to be seen
When the path goes from sand to soil.
The tiniest of purple flowers
Polka-dot the land in places.
Reeds and sedges fill the open spaces.
Canada geese take wing;
The redwing blackbirds sing.
I happen upon a pool with
Several fallen logs upon which
Upwards of two score turtles bask
Until I walk close by
Then they all dive
Into the safety of murky waters.
Spring peepers sing their chorus;
Bullfrogs croak along the shoreline.
Cranes circle overhead, trumpeting their cry.
Shot gun shell casings litter the ground;
Red, yellow, teal, even purple, abound.
I want for shade, as the day is hot,
But leaves are just budding, so shade is not
To be found upon the dusty, dry land,
And when I try to sit or even stand
For a short moment, ticks emerge
And crawl from my socks to exposed skin
Upon my legs seeking a place to dig in
And feast upon a meal of life-giving blood.
Dragonflies zoom around, also looking to feed
But not on me--I am not what they need.
But though it is early spring, insects are about.
Even the butterflies flutter
And a bumblebee buzzes.
This place did not have the hills I desired,
Yet still my walk has made me tired
And yet renewed and refreshed
And feeling wonderfully blessed
To be able to experience solitude
And yet I was not alone at all
But surrounded by life and the presence
Of the One who created it all.


Spring Break: End of the Road Trip

We made it safely home. The boys are with their mom now. I miss them already--it's a big adjustment after being in close quarters with them for a week.

The drive was uneventful in a good way. There was really light snow off and on at times through South Dakota. It had been almost 70 when we went out--and it's supposed to be in the 70s again this weekend--but most of our time was cold--at least at night. We played a few rounds of finding the alphabet in order on road signs. We ended up with 41 state license plates, 4 provinces, 1 Native American tribe (Cherokee from Oklahoma) and some US Government plates. We thought that all but 9 states was pretty good in a trip just across one state. We even saw at least 4 Alaska plates (but no Hawaii). I had the boys work on their math as we went by figuring out what percentage of the states we had found (ended up with 82% as they can tell you). We also ended up seeing a total of 162 different Wall Drug signs (99 on the way out along Interstate 90 from Worthington, Minnesota, to Wall, South Dakota, and 63 heading back east from Summerset to Wall).

All in all, despite colder weather that only allowed us one night in our tent, we had a great trip. I hope to return to do some more intense hiking some day. The landscape is beautiful, from rugged mountains to forests to grasslands. Saw a lot of wildlife we don't see here (bison, pronghorns, prairie dogs, mule deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep--we saw all the large mammals except mountain lions and elk). And most importantly we had fun together as a family.


Spring Break Day 5

It was a crazy windy day. It was almost impossible to open the car door at times. And at times there were ice pellets in the air which became miniature ballistic missiles in the wind.

We made our way from the Black Hills and had our obligatory stop in Wall Drug. 99 signs on our way out. 63 different ones today. Half the place was closed. The problem with touring this time of year is that most places aren't open. The good thing is we don't care for the most part---we've enjoyed the wilderness--and there aren't crowds of people anywhere. Before leaving Wall we stopped at the National Grasslands visitor center.

Then we headed into the Badlands. Right away we saw a group of bighorn sheep. I was excited as we hadn't seen any yet. We saw most of the large mammals found out here except for elk and mountain lions. Because of the wind (which did make it colder), the boys didn't want to get out of the car much. But eventually they did and we had a few fun hikes.

Another night spent in a motel. I knew we'd end up in them some, but I was hoping the weather would cooperate for more nights of camping. Tonight the tent would have blown away. And waking up cold isn't fun with kids. If I was alone I would have tented a little more, but it's been more comfortable this way. Still, I haven't slept in this many motels over several years' time. We ended the day with a game of cribbage to make up for the lack of math practice (though I did have them work out what percentage of the states we had found license plates of on the road each time we found new ones).


Spring Break Journey Day 4

We never saw the snow or heard the wind that kept us in a motel in Hot Springs last night. I didn't catch any news to hear what the winter storm did in the area. But we awoke to rain, and it's not fun to wake up in a tent in rainy near-freezing temperatures and have to make breakfast and pack up camp, so I'm thankful we holed up in a motel for the night. The boys are already a little weary of camping from some of the weather experiences we've had in the past.

Hot Springs is a quaint old town built on the healing power of the natural mineral springs that dot the area. Many buildings in the downtown are built of local sandstone circa 1888-1930s. There is an active paleontology dig in the city of mostly mammoth remains. The boys, however,  were more interested in checking out the swimming pool built on a hot spring. Naturally we get out of the rain to get wet.

From there we headed back north, driving through Wind Cave National Park. I had planned to visit Jewel Cave. We didn't end up staying near there. And the boys weren't really interested in going in another cave (we had visited the Mark Twain Cave in Missouri a few summers ago which apparently was enough for them), but we stopped and explored the visitors center and Nils got another Jr. Ranger badge. We continued driving back through Custer State Park. We saw the burros this time, though not very close.

And now for a good night's sleep to rest up as we slowly start our way back east tomorrow.


Spring Break Wandering Day 3

We survived a chilly night, but it wasn't that bad when we awoke. Still, the park ranger seemed skeptical that the boys would do well sleeping in a tent tonight with a winter storm coming through and I decided she was right, so we packed up camp this morning. We drove north through Custer toward Mt. Rushmore. Three tunnels along the road perfectly framed the four presidents in each. There were also three pigtail turns on the road.

We arrived at Rushmore and added a few more states to our list of license plates we've seen along the trip. Mountain goats awaited us within the park.

As we left we weren't sure where we'd spend the night do we just drove and made stops to climb rock formations and watch wildlife (I saw a marmot but was too slow for a photo).

We ended up in the town of Hot Springs for the night. After some bison burgers we walked along the historic downtown, sampling mineral water from springs.


Spring Break Adventure Day 2

We left our cheap but cozy (and with a hot homemade breakfast) motel and traveled on to Custer State Park. On the way we saw 68 more signs for Wall Drug for a total of 99 along I-90. We added a couple more states to our list of license plates we've seen as well as another province.

We had a lovely day. The weather nearest 70 degrees and we planned to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. We drove the Wildlife Loop, taking in pronghorns, mule deer, bison and prairie dogs. We did some hiking through trails a foot deep in snow. We climbed rock formations.

We got a nice campsite along a babbling creek. Its sounds are lulling us to sleep. Unfortunately a winter storm is supposed to move into the area tomorrow night so we may be looking for affordable lodging tomorrow night.


Spring Break Travels Day 1

He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Our day started at church remembering the resurrection of our Lord. We went a little earlier than usual and did the traditional service rather than the contemporary as we normally do. An organ and brass instruments seem fitting for Easter morning.

After lunch we finished packing the car and got on the road to enjoy our spring break week. Destination: the Black Hills. The boys have never been.

Our first (and only) stop of today was at the (in)famous Corn Palace in Mitchell. Being a late afternoon on Easter Sunday everything was closed of course, but we enjoyed seeing the murals made from grains. It was nearly 60 degrees ans the sun was out (it had been in the 30s when we left Minnesota a little after noon) so we stretched our legs a little. And we enjoyed a pb&j sandwich before getting back on the road.

We crossed the Missouri River and found an affordable hotel for the night. We hopefully have a short drive to the Black Hills tomorrow where we plan to camp the next couple of nights.


Good-bye Harper Lee

Ever since I read To Kill A Mockingbird sometime in junior high (I think), it became one of my favorite books. I had always wished that Harper Lee had written more. Though I admit I haven't read her recently released book, Go Tell a Watchman. I will some day, but part of me doesn't want to for fear of becoming disillusioned with her if I don't like it. I want the story to be as god as the first one, but I've heard mixed reviews.

Nonetheless, Harper Lee holds a place in my heart--at least her first book does. Harper Lee was famously a recluse for most of her life. When doing research in college I wrote about my other favorite southern writer--Flannery O'Conner--because there wasn't as much out there on Harper Lee. Still, To Kill A Mockingbird will remain one of my favorite stories for many lessons.

Growing up in an all-white town (most of the time--there were occasional families who would move through town that brought some color and non-northern-European culture to our community), To Kill a Mockingbird taught me the value of humanizing the marginalized.

Justice, compassion, and mercy were big themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Through the careful guidance of Atticus Finch, his children Jem and Scout learned to empathize with those who were seen as outsiders in their community--whether an elderly lady, a shy recluse, or a person of color. While others spread rumors and fear, Jem and Scout learn that those people are people.

Intimately tied in to justice, compassion, and mercy is the lesson to do the right thing, even when it is unpopular. Atticus Finch wins our respect in the story as he takes on the legal case for a wrongfully accused black man who doesn't stand a chance of a fair trial. Putting his life in danger at times, Atticus goes against the popular consensus to do what is right.

And now, at my stage in life, I can appreciate how Atticus, as a single parent, raises his two children. He manages career and family. He treats them with respect, allowing them to be children, but encouraging them to be responsible and respectful. He expects the best from them and for them. He doesn't avoid difficult issues with them. He goes the extra mile.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those rare books that I keep coming back to, reading it again and again. Harper Lee teaches without teaching, preaches with out preaching, and opens ones eyes to life as it should be. For that I am eternally grateful for her quiet, but poignant life.


Stubborn Love

Several years ago at my ex-niece's (I find there are no proper names for family members who were a part of my life for almost two decades, but are not any more) wedding I was introduced to the music group The Lumineers when they played their song Ho Hey ("I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart") in a sideshow about the groom's mom who had passed away when he was young. I've since found the raw vocals and haunting lyrics of The Lumineers poignant at many times in my life. Though I'm older than their target audience sometimes the songs feel like a soundtrack to dating as a middle-aged man.

I've made many mistakes in relationships in the past. I fully own that. Some were because of my own issues which got in the way of a health relationship, some were from poor decisions, and some were just because of blindness. But I've hurt others, and gotten hurt in the process. My sister pointed out to me recently that I'm a lover--that loving others is part of my DNA, and I desire the romantic relationship. I'm not always good with my feelings, but I'm usually pretty good at knowing love. Of course, love is less of a feeling, and more of a decision. Still, my heart is involved. And though I try and be discerning in love and who I give my heart to, I still end up with heartbreak from time to time.

Many times as a 40-year old bachelor I have wanted to give up on love. I don't want to go through more pain and hurt again. I want to avoid the tears. But eventually I come around and remember how good it feels to love another person and let them into my life.

The Lumineers' song Stubborn Love reminds me that it is better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all:

She'll tear a hole in you, the one you can't repair
But I still love her, I don't really care
When we were young, oh, oh, we did enough
When it got cold, ooh, ooh, we bundled up
I can't be told, ah, ah, it can't be done
It's better to feel pain, than nothing at all   
The opposite of love's indifference

It's easy to become indifferent. To become apathetic. To become walled-up to avoid hurt and pain. 1 John 4:8 tells us, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear." Fear. Indifference. Apathy. Whatever you want to call the opposite of love (I don't think it's hate--hate may be a byproduct of fear, but fear is a much fuller dark side to love).

Tennsyon penned, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." I agree. But it's also better to have loved and kept that love. But let not the pain of love lost or the fears of loves to come keep one from loving at all. Yes, there will be heartache anytime one loves another. But what is gained in loving another makes life so much richer.