Saturday, November 26, 2016

Struggling Upstream

Photo by John Williams
Surrounded by the hush of the forest - firs, cedars, and maples closing in with all their muted glory - I was once again struck by the fragility, yet the stubbornness, of life. Below us in the stream the salmon struggled, their once-glorious bodies battered, tattered, and covered with white splotches of fungus. Theirs was a trip of a lifetime, a one-time journey upstream to preserve their species; a trek marked by danger and tragedy as they wended their way past fishermen, boulders, logs, predators, through culverts, over or around dams and fish ladders.

Many would not survive the ordeal. Those who did would, if successful, produce progeny that might face even greater challenges on their return journey to the sea. It was a risk they all had to take – to choose otherwise would mark the end of their kind.

Salmon are driven by instinct, a highly-sensitive sense of smell, and an uncanny ability to detect the pattern of the Earth's magnetic field at the mouth of their native river. They are one of the few fish that can adjust to differences in salinity, spending part of their lives in both salt and fresh water. Adults live in the ocean where they feed and grow for six months to seven years, depending on the species. At maturity, they return to the stream where they were hatched and literally fight their way upstream to the ideal gravel beds for laying their eggs.

During this time, the adults stop eating and their bodies undergo many changes to help them attract a mate and ward off competitors. After the precious eggs have been laid, fertilized, and gently covered, the adults finally give in to the starvation and damage of their bodies and die. But that is not the end of their story – far from it. Some of the dying or dead fish provide food for other animals; their decomposed bodies return valuable nutrients to the water and soil of the surrounding forest.

Photo by Laura Finch
The newly-hatched fish continue to feed on the yolk sac attached to their bellies. Some kinds stay in the gravel for several weeks before swimming up into the open water of the stream, where they feed on plankton and other tiny aquatic organisms. Some spend one to two years in fresh water before beginning the long journey downstream and heading out to sea. As the current carries the young salmon tail-first to the ocean, their bodies undergo physical and chemical changes to enable them to survive in salt water. It truly is an incredible, never-ending circle of life.

Photo by Laura Finch
God provides us with many teachers and there is much we can learn from the salmon. We need to become keenly aware of our instincts and learn to trust in them; as we develop our finely-tuned sense of self and a sense of place, know that those are inexorably linked. We should set our goals and persevere until they are reached, no matter how tough the going may be. If we value the wisdom and knowledge of older people who have amassed a wealth of information, experience, and acumen, we will find it is worth making the time to listen to and learn from them. To live sustainably, so that there is enough for everyone, we need to become fully conscious of our use of the many natural resources this planet provides – carefully buying, using, and recycling; there should be little that we waste or throw away. We must trust that others will carry on after us.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:ferences for Ecclesiastes 3:1

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…   
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-5

It is the season of renewal, joy, and hope -


Monday, November 7, 2016

SCARY - or just Scared

I’m SCARY!” the small voice suddenly boomed out menacingly, while the arms straightened and stuck out and there began a stiff-legged strut around the room. Frankenstein had come alive! It was only a costume, of course, and not a very good one at that. It was just a cheap print of the infamous monster’s face on a sort of rectangular pinafore of vinyl with a matching plastic mask. But he had chosen it himself and now wore it proudly over a bright yellow raincoat and dark red jeans. I’ve often wondered if he thought he really was that scary or was just trying to convince himself of the fact…
We had only lived here six months when we got the OK to pick up this four-year-old child in Everett and bring him home as our foster child. It was not really what we wanted; we wanted to adopt, not foster, a child. But as they say, beggars can’t be choosy and we’d waited long enough - we’d been married fourteen years and time was flying by. We’d been assured that they were “almost positive” this little boy would become free for adoption within a year and we decided to take the chance. It proved to be so.

I look back at that time and cringe, for none of us really knew what lay ahead. We drove to Everett once to spend a couple of hours with this boy before picking him up the next week. There was no time to get acquainted; very little time to prepare. We’d had a bedroom ready with the basics - bunk beds, chest of drawers, rocking chair – because we’d hoped to adopt while living in Idaho. When that did not happen before we found out we’d be moving to Washington, we stopped planning. Disappointment can do that to a person. We went through the motions of applying to adopt here, but had no idea things would happen as fast as they did. By the middle of October, we had a child and wondered if we knew what in the heck we were doing. All new parents must feel this way to some degree, but this was a preschooler with “issues” and we had no instruction manual. We were new in the community, so knew few people and had no family nearby. My husband was commuting to Seattle every day and still traveling some with his work, so I was alone much of the time. To say I was apprehensive is an understatement…

Our son arrived with one small box of clothes and a small paper bag of toys from the child center – he had none of his own and didn’t seem particularly attached to these. We drove to Penney’s in downtown Bremerton (There was no mall in Silverdale yet.) to buy him a few clothes that fit better and just sort of winged it the rest of the way. As Halloween approached, he made it known that he wanted a costume and to go Trick-or-Treating. I took him around to a few houses where we knew the people for his treats. He acted so brave, but I could tell that underneath the bravado was a scared little boy – new home, new parents, new experiences. But he did enjoy himself and managed to eat his entire small bag of candy the next day. We all had much to learn yet!

How often we put on a brave face and go forward as if nothing is bothering us, afraid to show our perceived weaknesses to others. How often we won’t face our fears and misgivings. How often we refuse help and seal our hearts against risking more. How much hurt and grief we would avoid if we would just let it all go…

My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.  Psalm 38: 10

 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. 
Psalm 109:22

Friday, July 15, 2016

Those Daily Miracles

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

~  Albert Einstein

Amazed. It is a word which today is over-used and has lost much of its meaning. But on this day I truly was - amazed. Before me stood a minor miracle, a small plant which only the day before anyone would have taken for dead.

I had recently purchased my yearly supply of garden plants; most I had planted, but this one had somehow escaped me. I thought I’d gotten six lovely coleus plants, but when I planted them I only had five. Thinking I had simply miscounted, I thought no more about it. But now I remembered that before planting we had found one of them lying on the porch deck. It had been dry and therefore very light-weight and we assumed either the wind or a pesky squirrel had knocked it off the ledge where it had sat. I watered it well and planted it that very day.

Unbeknownst to me, another coleus lay nearby, but out of sight. A week later I had found it, pot and all, lying on its side on the ground, bone dry with withered leaves. In fact, about half of its leaves were brown and crunchy-dry. I nearly threw it out, but I had spent good money on those plants and decided to do what I could. Setting the plant in a small bowl, I thoroughly watered it and set it on our kitchen window sill. The following day all three of the plant’s stems stood straight up, its remaining leaves full and healthy looking, with bright green and rich rust coloring. I will plant it in a larger pot and nurse it along until it has fully recovered before planting it outdoors. I call it Lazarus.

“The only way to live is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle, which is exactly what it is: a miracle and unrepeatable.” ~ Storm Jameson

Recently, a family friend had a horrendous bicycling accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He lay in the intensive care unit for days with bleeding and swelling on his brain, no memory of the accident, and questionable prognosis for recovery. Doctors were guardedly encouraging, friends and family were in shock, and the patient himself had no idea of what was going on. But those close to him were always there with him – sitting next to his bed, holding his hand, praying, crying, staring off into space, occasionally nodding off – keeping watch by simply being present. But in a situation such as this, it is never simple.

After a couple of weeks, he was released from the hospital and admitted to an in-patient rehab center. After another few weeks, he was allowed to go home with continuing out-patient rehab. Fortunately, he is able to walk, talk, and communicate, although not as well as he did previously. Some of his memory has returned and his functioning has improved, but he still has a long way to go. No one can say, with certainty, if he will recover fully and how functional he will end up being. However, he has made great strides in a relatively short amount of time, which is a positive sign. He might have died, but here he is one short month later. Again I am – amazed.

Whether you believe in them or not, miracles do happen every day. Many are seemingly insignificant, some mind-blowing - ALL are evidence of something far greater than ourselves.

Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.
Psalm  105:5

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Repairing Damage

I’d been watching for her, so when the tall, long-haired woman walked across the small parking lot, came in through the door, and immediately approached me, I was not surprised. “Are you Barbara?” “Yes, you must be Kristin?” And so it began.

We all know about Internet dating, but this was something different. Still, with my age and experience, it is not something I ever could have envisioned myself doing. But I’ve learned to never say never, and in this instance it was a sort of modern day miracle – and yes, thanks to the Internet.

We climbed the stairs to the second floor and settled ourselves into the only couch in this small, cozy, eclectic coffee shop. It was the idea place to meet – casual, easy to find, and centrally located. After a bit of small talk to acquaint ourselves with each other, I pulled my treasure from the large bag I had carried in. Before us lay the white, hand-crocheted coverlet that my mother-in-law had painstakingly made back in the 1940s, lovingly created of thin cotton thread with a variety of intricate stitches. “I lied” I said. “Instead of four or five areas to fix, there’s more like twelve…” Kristin studied it carefully. “That’s OK” she said “let me go get my kit.”

I had packed this coverlet away, safety pins marking and holding in place the areas that had unraveled. I had considered repairing it myself, even buying a “how-to” book on crocheting. It did not take long, however, for me to decide that this was not something I wanted to attempt. Asking around for someone who might repair it gleaned no results, so I finally submitted my request to a local group via the Internet, complete with a couple of photographs. Someone who saw my plea asked for permission to share on a local needle crafters' site which is how Kristin heard about it. She responded immediately: “… I have experience repairing vintage crochet and knitting work and it's something I really love to do. I love that you value the piece for sentimental reasons and I would be happy to help you keep it around for many more years…I will bring my kit, if the picture shows the full extent of the damage it's possible that I can fix it then and there for you.” She included some references, we discussed her charge, and agreed to meet.

Her repair kit included different spools of cotton thread, in various shades of white, and a selection of crochet hooks. Carefully, she held the different threads against the coverlet and crocheted a few stitches, meticulously comparing the different shades and sizes of the work – asking me what I thought – until we were both satisfied with the results. Then, she settled in to do her work. For the rest of the morning she worked, while I sipped my coffee and visited with this most interesting and talented woman. When she was done, the final results were more than satisfactory – the heirloom looked as if it had never been damaged at all. I expressed my gratitude, paid her what we’d agreed upon, and we went our separate ways. Perhaps our paths will cross again – perhaps not – but we agreed that we’d enjoyed the time together and we are both richer for that brief time we shared.

Our lives are much like this aged coverlet, intricately stitched together in different patterns, textures, and subtle colors. Often, we experience a closeness and tight-knittedness which strengthens and melds us together; in-between spaces allow for variety, independence, and breathing space. There is a rhythm and a beauty which fulfills us and keeps us on an even keel.

Some relationships may be delicate and can break on minor issues and simple misunderstandings. Others, although strong, may suffer major damage through severe trial, tragedy, broken trust, or a myriad of other situations beyond our control. When damage occurs, it threatens to destroy all that holds us together. We must admit the relationship is broken, slowly start to rebuild it by tackling each small problem, and create a stronger foundation. Mending broken relationships is never quick or easy, but over time, it can be done. Sometimes, we can do the mending ourselves – and sometimes we need help. Trust that it’s out there…

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.   Colossians 3:12-13

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Those Small Rays of Hope

"Hope is being able to see that there is light
despite all the darkness."
Desmond Tutu

As this new year progresses, we are ever more aware that we truly are a part of a greater global community. Degradation of our environment, poverty, war, pestilence, hatred, and violence seem to be unending and it is easy to allow that to dominate one's thinking. Indeed, the world can seem a very dark place with evil rampant. The problems appear myriad and the solutions hopeless. After all, what can each of us, alone and insignificant, do?

I believe we need to look for those small, bright rays of goodness and action that we see in those around us. Begin locally and then widen your circle of awareness. We all may look for different things, and not agree on all of those, but here is a sprinkling of what gives me hope:

  • One of our High School's recent graduates has begun college with plans to study engineering and develop prostheses for those with physical disabilities.
  • A neighbor helps sponsor a local gathering each November where the sole purpose - besides having fun - is to collect gifts for the needy. This year that was just under $4,500 in cash, food and toys. Each year, I see more people responding to the needs of those less fortunate.
  • One of my friends has worked diligently for years on generating no waste. Through her creative re-use, far-reaching recycling, and non-judgmental example, she has inspired many others to lessen their impacts on our environment.

  • One of our county's residents publically offered to run errands for or accompany any Muslim citizens who were feeling threatened or afraid because of outrage aimed at Muslims over recent violence. Many others have agreed to help in this way.

  • The Washington governor's 2016 budget addresses urgent needs in the state’s mental health system, including new spending on mental health programs.

  • The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales have eight new calves this year.
  • 70% of Washington voters enacted a state law banning trade of parts or products made from elephant ivory, rhino horns and other species of endangered wildlife, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins, certain marine turtles, sharks and rays.
  • A 21 year old Dutch engineering student is working to develop technologies to extract, prevent, and intercept plastic pollution in our oceans. He plans to initiate the largest cleanup in history.

The answer, I believe, is in holding tight to HOPE and basing our actions on that, for without it we truly are lost.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future."
~ Jeremiah 29:11