The Longest Night

295But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31.

Wednesday, December 21, is the Winter Solstice-the longest night of the year. My church celebrates the longest night to acknowledge and sooth some of the pain, sorrow; grief and darkness many of us have suffered or are currently suffering during this holiday season.

For some this grief is raw, a death of someone young or in their prime, a shocking loss with no good-byes. This grief is a vise on the heart, the pain sometimes so severe breathing is difficult.  There are softer but still lingering losses for others. The pain of putting down a dog who took you on walks every day and won’t be there tomorrow to greet you. The cat who slipped through your legs one night and never returned home. Some loss is hard to explain to others but still bittersweet for you; the death of the beloved ancient oak tree whose shade made your west facing backyard bearable in summer. You know you won’t live long enough to have the same shade at your house again. Or maybe the pain is just beginning because you have learned you or a loved one has some condition that will keep them from spending another Christmas with you. You celebrate shared joy today but dread the year ahead and feel the small kernel of coming loss beginning to grow deep within.

My mother died 30 years ago, a week after Christmas. She suffered from a rare liver condition which both my sister and I have genetically inherited. As her liver failed her, she turned an odd sinister yellow, her face and feet bloated, her skin stretched like a balloon with too much air. When some small part of her liver was working, she knew us and except for her distorted appearance, she could joke with us and share memories of better times. But over the course of her 18 month decline, these moments of lucidity became less frequent. The poisons seeping from her non-functioning liver gave her dementia. She would think I was her mother, that my father was her daddy. Just when I would get used to the new reality of my lost mother, she would reclaim a piece of herself and know me again. On her last day, she knew everyone and told us how much she loved me. I went to a basketball game planning on moving her home in the next few days. This was before cell phones and by the time I got back to her room from the game, her bed was empty and new people were moving in.

Because we are blessed (or possibly my mother would have said cursed) with financial resources, my dad and I took mom to Denver to specialists and then to Omaha to see if she was a candidate for a liver transplant. These were early days in the transplant world. We had to put up $100,000 just to be seen in Omaha. We got the funds back because she didn’t qualify. But it was a lesson to me about the differences in treatment in this country based on income. As we waited to see if mom physically qualified for the surgeries; other younger  qualified liver candidates with young children waited to see if they could raise enough money in their communities through bake sales and other events, carefully orchestrated by the hospital to pay for the operation.

Mom didn’t want to do anything to extend her life. She would ramble on about “wanting to go where the angels sing and the flowers bloom.” During this period she would have us read Isaiah 40:31 to her two or three times a day. We flew her home from Omaha on a private plane a few days after Christmas and she died soon after.

I carry a piece of her around in my heart but her soul has flown free. In her illness, she knew more about God and spirituality than my sister, father and I combined. Sometimes, it is a gift to let go of the person you love. Extraordinary measures to keep a loved one alive are often for the family not for the one who is suffering. Thirty years ago she was lifted on the wings of eagles, soaring joyfully to sing with her beloved angels. She was just about my age.

Now when I pray for those in need, I visualize them being lifted up on eagles’ wings by the Lord’s enduring spirit. As I age, my Christmas card list shrinks as friends and family pass. My father died 10 years ago, my step mother last Christmas. I grieve their passings but take joy in their memories.

Weeping lasts through the night but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5-6

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Redneck Lives Matter

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Playing on Payette Lake provides a metaphor for life

I have lived in Idaho almost 22 years, a third of my life. Idaho is the most Republican state in the nation.The state where a perfectly normal question is “Have you heard of the group Black lives Matter? Well, in Idaho Redneck Lives Matter.”  In rural Idaho, PETA stands for “People eating tasty animals.” (Probably shot with a concealed weapon, all perfectly legal.)

In this staunchly  Red environment,  I have transformed into a strong Democrat. I drive a blue car with a novelty license plate that says BLUEGRL. I am proud to be a Blue girl (Democrat)in a Red State.  I sometimes worry about the car getting keyed for advertising my political opinions.

I have a Republican friend who says Idaho Democrats could hold the state convention in a phone booth if we could find a phone booth anymore. Idaho Democrats running for statewide office get consistently  about 30% of the vote if the individual candidate runs a good campaign.   We haven’t had a Democrat elected statewide since our Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction, Marilyn Howard, retired in 2006. No other position has  even been competitive in the 20 years I’ve lived here

The miracle of Bernie Sanders in Idaho is that thousands of people showed up for Democratic caucuses all over the state. In Boise, there are still Bernie yard signs up. Before the Democratic National Convention several hundred people marched in Boise in support of Bernie.While I still see Bernie stickers on cars and yards signs, I haven’t seen any Hilary stickers. I got an email  last week that Hilary had hired an Idaho  field organizer, a young woman, recent  graduate of  the University of Idaho.  The email said Hillary could use some help in Idaho. NO KIDDING! Hillary and  Idaho? Talk about an oxymoron! The fact Hillary has paid staff in Idaho shows the fundraising process of the Democratic Presidential campaign.  Maybe Hillary has a field organization in Idaho to recruit Bernie fans. But the few I know wouldn’t vote for Trump. They may choose to not vote and thus the need for Hillary to have a grassroots  organization.Paying to organize Idaho Democrats for a national election is like seeing how many people you can get in a Volkswagen. You can run around a lot, create frenetic energy, spend a great deal of time but in the end the number will be quite small.

In this environment,  where there are no decent Democrats running for national office why do I remain a Democrat? Afterall, I will be voting for Republican Congressman Mike Simpson in my Congressional District. Congressman Simpson is a retired dentist who supported expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. He recently got Congress to  pass the White Cloud Wilderness Bill, designating three areas in the Owyhee Mountains  as wilderness. This legislation took years of  work. In other words, Simpson is a good guy.  Why bother with  the Democratic label at all when I am clearly the minority?

I have wrestled with my Democratic values for some time. I am forced to when I am consistently in  the minority. Saying my political alliegence aloud can lead to crazy arguments and loss of friendships.

I grew up a Republican in Wyoming. I can remember standing on the tamarack at the Cheyenne airport. My sister was dressed in white holding glittery  gold poms poms along with other teenage girls. I tasted  the bitter bile of jealousy as the wickedly cold wind made my eyes leak because I wasn’t old enough to be a Goldwater Girl and stand with the cheering girls. Goldwater went on to win only  six states,  Arizona (his home state) and five southern states.  He even lost Wyoming and Idaho.

Early in my early professional career I worked for both Democratic and Republican Governors. I considered myself an independent, supporting the individual rather than the party.

I capitulated to dyed-in-the-wool, bright Blue Democrat as I saw the Idaho legislature become progressively conservative giving tax breaks to business, failing to appropriately fund our public schools, repeatedly defeating Medicaid Expansion. Last year in the legislature an emergency room physician testified that at least a 1000 low-income Idahoans  die a year because of lack of health care. Our Republican  Governor Butch  Otter’s response was, ” Lots of people die every year.”

My husband  and I give monthly to Idaho Democrats.   I am volunteering to stuff envelopes for state legislative races. All of this money and energy with no expectation of it making a difference. The question is why bother?

I got the answer on Saturday at Payette Lake in McCall.  I was sitting on the dock at Ponderosa State Park watching my daughter and her friend  jet skiing across the lake. A woman with head covered, black leggings and a beautiful white lace top got on the back of a new jet ski behind her husband. I presume she was Muslim and the man was her husband. After bouncing across the water at full tilt, she came back to the dock sporting a huge smile. At that moment it became crystal clear to me why I am a Democrat. Jet skiing provided  a great metaphor for living in our complex world. My Chinese daughter was out on the same water with the Muslin couple and behind me some black families who were speaking a language other than  English, also in full dress,  probably refugees, were playing on the beach and wading in the shallow water, laughing and splashing. All of us from very different backgrounds were sharing  the lake  linked by our human capacity for laughter and joy.

I am a Democrat because I believe all lives matter. Hurrah for Rednecks, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, Jews, Gays and everyone else! You all matter and American should be a big enough place that we can embrace and live with our differences.

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Everyone at the lake had a moment of shared joy across cultural boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tulip Mania

20160402_124542Spring is the season of tulips. Throughout history, the colorful tulip has been considered rare, partially because it has such a limited blooming season. Tulips burst forth in spring and each bloom lasts 1 to 3 weeks. The tulip season itself is limited to a couple of months. Even today tulip lovers have to be in the right location at the right time in order to view the vast fields of blooming tulips cultivated by tulip growers to sell their products. I have been fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam at the end of the tulip season two years ago and had the opportunity to view the world renowned Keukenof Gardens.  Just last week, I was in Skagit Valley, Washington for the first weekend of the Annual Tulip Festival, which runs April 1 to 30 this year.  If seeing grand displays of tulip fields are on your bucket list, you must be willing to flex your schedule since tulip bloom dates follow Mother Nature’s schedule not a tour guide book.

Tulips originated in Asia and Turkey over 1000 years ago. In Turkey, the flowers came to be called tulips because the flower looked like a turban. Tulip bulbs were transplanted to Holland in the 16th century. Because of their beauty and short bloom period, during the Golden Age, the Dutch engaged in financial speculation on tulip bulbs. Between 1636 and 1637, bulbs were so highly valued that prices rose daily reaching astronomical numbers. By the peak of tulipmania in February of 1637, a single tulip bulb was worth about ten times a craftsman’s annual income or more than a house at that time. Bulbs were sold by weight, usually while they were still in the ground. The crashing price of tulip bulbs in Holland caused by the default of a tulip merchant on a large contract is considered the first financial bubble. As prices dropped, leading to the ruin of many speculators the government tried to support bulb prices to no avail.  The brutal popping of the tulip bulb bubble ended the Dutch Golden Age and hurled the country into a mild economic depression that lasted for several years.  (This story of tulip speculation should sound familiar to anyone who has seen or read The Big Short about America’s housing market collapse in 2007-2008. Apparently, we have learned little about financial speculation over the past 300 years).

I have been blessed to see both the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands (about an hour by bus from Amsterdam) and the Tulip Festival in Skagit (about an hour by car from Seattle).There are some major differences and similarities between the two.

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Keukenhof Gardens provide a tranquil, viewing space for large numbers of visitors

The Keukenhof Gardens, sometimes called the Garden of Europe, is considered one of the most beautiful spring gardens in the world. The gardens served as the 15th century hunting grounds for the Castle Keukenhof, which still resides on the site. The gardens were established as public benefit in 1949 to help showcase the Dutch flower industry. The Netherlands is the largest exporter of flowers in the world. Keukenhof is filled with more than seven million tulips displayed in organized formal gardens surrounded by grass and accented by running streams, lakes, fountains, and walking paths. The gardens cover an expanse of about 80 acres.  The layout of the gardens is that such that while hordes of tourists are at the entry way once inside there are vast areas where there is only you, flowers, and an occasional swan.  The garden begs you to come and stay a while. If you choose to go, I would recommend you go by bus from Amsterdam so you don’t have to hassle with a car. Once off the bus, you are to free to spend the day on your own.

 

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, on the other hand, is a driving tour. Most people drive themselves.  There are signs everywhere marketing the tulip route, along with sheriff officers to help move the large numbers of cars along in an orderly fashion.  Skagit is a rural area in Washington. The roads are clearly not built for the traffic created by the festival. There are two display gardens, Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde.  We chose to visit Tulip Town because it was the easiest to reach by car. Parking was free but not easy to find. Fortunately for us, we were coming down from Canada on Saturday morning so access was fairly easy from the highway.  When we drove into Seattle on Saturday afternoon, we saw long lines of traffic exiting the highway at the tulip route.  I’m not sure how such volume could be handled in the parking areas we saw.  If you go, plan to go during the week if possible.  If not, go early in the morning on the weekends. The tulips in Skagit are displayed in vast rows of gorgeous colors surrounded by muddy walking paths.  There are tractor rides to take you around.  But I believe flowers are best admired on your own two feet.  While not at all formal or peaceful like Keukenhof, the rows and rows of various colors on a clear day are truly spectacular.  There were tons of children running everywhere, a clear sign that seeing tulips is a family outing.  Workers were vainly attempting to keep visitors out of the flowers.  But invariably you would look up and see people marching down the small muddy lanes between varieties, or groups of friends kneeling in the flowers with selfie sticks to get a picture of themselves surrounded by flowers.  Most amusing flower trespasser to me was a mom, who had popped her small baby girl, dressed in all pink into the pink tulips so only a little  smiling face was showing out.  Of particular interest to me was the diversity of the population viewing the Skagit flowers, many identifiable by their traditional clothing. I heard one of the paid “shoers” or tulip guards  say they had tried signs to keep people out of the flowers but so many languages were spoken at the festival they couldn’t put up enough signs. Apparently, flowers speak to all nationalities.

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Tulip Town, Skagit Washington showcases rows of tulips in wild abandon.

 

I have also learned that tulips speak in the animal world. When we first moved into our house in Boise, I had a beautiful professional garden put in with tulips, I had carefully selected by hand for colors and to provide a full season of blooming (2 months).  We had the garden put in the fall and moved into the house at Christmas.  The first spring, I heard a lot of noise on the front porch and I looked out our small side window to see a large eye staring backing in.  I was taken back for minute and then realized the eye belonged to a deer on our porch.  We have quite a few deer that run freely across the foothills where I live.  I came out the next morning to find that the deer had eaten every single tulip bloom and left the nasty daffodils behind.  I have since learned that deer consider tulips the bon bons of the flower world and are delighted to munch through your tulip garden when flowers are in full bloom.  This happened every year until the tulip bulbs gave out.  Bulbs only rebloom about three years and get weaker flowers each time.  Our yard is now full of daffodils, the national flower of Whales.  My family ancestry is Welsh so maybe there is some justice in our inability to support the Netherlands, though I still love tulips.

The beauty of tulips, their short blooming period, and bulb life remind me how transient all life is. In Ecclesiastes 3, it is written;

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…

For me, spring is tulip time.

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What’s in a Name? How we chose a name for our Chinese daughter, Kayla

Almost seventeen years ago, my husband and I learned that we had been selected by the Chinese Government to be parents of a little girl. We were ecstatic.  Her Chinese name was BiYunYang. But the question for us, as for many new parents, “What would we name her?”

After rejecting a long list of names for a variety of reasons, I remember sitting on the floor at the Boise Barnes and Noble store going through books of baby names. I came across the name Calla.  The name was a derivative of the Calla Lily which grows wild in China and Idaho.  Since our baby had started her life in China but we hoped would thrive in Idaho, I thought this was a perfect name.   The strong “K” sound also went well with my husband’s last name, Kozisek.

I went home and told my husband I wanted to name our daughter, Kayla. I have trouble with pronunciation.  I actually thought “Calla” was pronounced “Kayla”.  He corrected me on the pronunciation indicating the first “a” was short with a strong C in Calla.  “Kayla”, on the other hand, contained a long ”a” and strong” K”. We both were undeterred by my mistake.  “Kayla” seemed a perfect name for our new daughter.  The story of Kayla’s name originating from the Calla Lily, rooted in China and Idaho, is still part of our family folklore.bell-shaped

Every Easter, I buy a Calla Lily from our church youth group to be displayed on the alter. We bring Kayla’s plant home after Easter services and display it on our kitchen table before replanting into our yard. Some years, the lily, a perennial, survives Idaho’s winter and returns the next spring.  But more often, we only have the lily throughout the summer months.  The tall-stemmed plant with the glorious, glistening bell-shaped flower and arrowhead shaped leaves is a regular reminder all summer of the gift we received in spring 2000 from China.

The language of flowers has existed for hundreds of year. For example, during the Victorian period, lovers sent secret messages to one another with small bouquets, called tuzzy-muzzies. Today, the symbolism continues, as lilies displayed at church represent new hope, new life and new beginnings of the Easter season.  I personally believe that we saved Kayla and gave her a new life and a new beginning when we adopted her from China.

golden liliesThe Bible references lilies on a number of occasions.  One of my favorite Bible verses about lilies is Luke 12:27: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” This verse refers to the natural beauty of the earth. God’s world does not need additional adornment.  The verse, however, also reminds me that my Chinese daughter is a gorgeous girl and we are fortunate to have had the opportunity to share our lives with her.

I became interested in Chinese adoption after seeing several beautiful Asian girls in Helena, Montana. When I investigated the adoption process, I learned that these girls were available because of China’s one child adoption policy.  Since boys were seen as more valuable in providing for their extended family in later years, girls of poor Chinese families were given up for adoption.  Many of these girls were left at bus stops, on door steps or otherwise without any identifying information. Relinquishing a baby was also against Chinese law so babies were deserted in public places.

We now know that these policies have proven to be short-sighted.  China has a shortage of marriageable age young women.  Recently, there have been reports of occasional gangs of young Chinese men in rural areas crossing Chinese borders to kidnap young women.

China has lifted the one child rule and made international adoption much more difficult.  But during the period when I was interested in expanding our family, adopting a young girl from China was relatively easy. All one needed was to be patient and diligent about paperwork and have the funds to pay the Chinese government for processing and travel.

Our Kayla lily has proven to be true to her American name. She came to us as a malnourished, 8 month old, weighing only 9 pounds and unable to sit on her own.  Within months, she was sitting, crawling, and full of wonder.  Now 16 and half, Kayla is an honor student and outstanding athlete.  She is a beautiful person both inside and out.  We chose the right name for Kayla. Her soul is truly rooted in the beauty of the wild lilies, that thrive in Idaho.

As William Blake wrote in his poem, The Lily

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn, 

The humble sheep a threat’ning horn: 

While the Lily white shall in love delight, 

Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

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What Happens When God shows Up—the Pope versus Donald Trump

My sixteen year old daughter had surgery last week for a torn ACL. While she was recuperating, we found ourselves watching a variety of movies.  One of them was “Woodlawn” (2015) based on the true story of  Tony Nathan  a gifted, black, high school football player, who attended Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama, 1973.  Woodlawn experienced federally mandated busing to enforce integration.  The film opens with black and white news footage of buses burning, President John Kennedy speaking, personal stories from black people on the devastating impact of segregation and shots of the huge crowds at Billy Graham revivals. There is also footage of Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Democrat, (demonstrating that idiocy and meanness have no party boundaries) proclaiming,   I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

The premise of the story is that forced integration was not going well at the school until Hank Erin, a total outsider, converts nearly the entire football team, black and white, to Christ. The team’s spiritual conversion subsequently transforms the coach, the school and the community.  Mr. Erin was part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an international non-profit Christian sports ministry based in Kansas City, Missouri. The unseen star of the movie is Christ. The finger pointing up in the movie posters does not symbolize “We’re number one!” as I always thought but “Our Power comes from the one above!”

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The pointed finger symbolizes our power comes from God.

The narrator of movie, the Woodlawn team’s coach, describes Woodlawn as a miracle.

 

After watching the movie, I starting thinking about when over the past couple of weeks have I seen God show up. I pray every day, go to church on Sundays but I am somewhat of a doubting Thomas. I believe in God but am also frequently asking where is He? Upon reflection, I have seen a recent very public instance of God on earth.

Pope Francis denouncing Presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s policies on immigration as not Christian” is a triumph for social justice. Trump’s harsh campaign promises to deport more illegal immigrants and build a wall along the border, may resonate with an angry populous. Remember, George Wallace’s line in the sand on segregation got him elected 4-times. But political rhetoric and Christianity are not the same. Trump immediately fired back that the Pope is “Disgraceful”.   I believe the opposite. Pope Francis represents— grace in action. He cares for the poor, washes the feet of prisoners and speaks out on issues of social justice.

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Pope Francis meeting with crowds in Mexico.

 

No reasonable person could think hunting down and routing out Hispanics from their homes at night, loading up truck loads of Mexicans at gun point in a military maneuvers, breaking up families since children born to illegal residents in America are U. S. citizens, could be seen as Christian acts. The logistics of financing, building, and maintaining a massive wall along the Mexican border are ludicrous.

Trump is a brilliant man. He knows the challenges of putting these proposals into action. Trumpism is an effort to capitalize on the anger many Americans feel about the course of our country.

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Donald Trump is a brilliant man, capitalizing on America’s fear.

This same anger was around in the early seventies with start of desegregation. Status threat is a sociological concept with real life consequences. When people’s lives are not going as they hope economically they feel threatened, angry and find someone to blame and lash out at. The targets of their anger may be minorities, homeless, refugees, but almost always the target is someone less powerful. Current economic inequalities are further complicated by global terrorism. We have become a nation of avengers, security zealots, and foreigner-phobes. Trumpism provides a constant, shrill message to rally the masses rising to a crescendo on Election Day. I am not a political forecaster. I do not know if his tactics will be successful. They have certainly gained him international attention.

 

I do know that Trump’s America is not one of Christ-like service to our neighbors and community. I am not a Catholic. But with the selection of Pope Francis, Christians throughout the world have had the opportunity to see God’s boots on the ground on a regular basis.

I realize now that I started this blog with the wrong question. God is always there. The right question is,  “What happens when Christians show up? The answer is miracles!