Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pepe and the Beast

Late last week we headed off to bed but couldn't find the dog anywhere. So we called for him outside. He came, but. . . Pepe was alive, but it was obvious he'd had a run-in with some sort of wild beast out in the yard. Bite wounds on his head, claw marks on his side and belly, one leg hanging limp.

Thankfully we had a friend spending the night, so we could make the midnight run to the 'local' emergency vet (and by 'local,' I mean 30 minutes away in Tacoma). I expected him to be dead by the time we got there. But he made it. The vet took him in the back, then met with us to talk about process. And by process, I mostly mean how much it all would cost. All the time she talked we could hear Pepe yelping in the back as the technicians attempted to diagnose the extent of his wounds. (We'd later see on the admittance form where they wrote "unable to diagnose right front leg - he tried to kill us." Which, if you know our dog, you have to admit is kind of funny.)

He spent the night there, and once they sedated him they were able to figure out that it really wasn't all that bad - just a lot of surface wounds, cuts, bite marks, claw marks. He came home 1/2-shaved and with drugs, so he's kind of a punk dog right now. And all in all, it didn't cost as much as it could have, so we have that to be thankful for.

We still don't know what it was that got to him - we have raccoons in the yard, and I saw a fox run across our driveway the next day. I suppose he's lucky to be alive, considering how much this beast scarred him up. And we're lucky, too; I didn't want to deal with a dead dog right before Christmas. I wasn't too happy with him at first, but I guess I have to be proud of him, now. Our little Pepe scrapped with a ferocious beast and came out alive. I just hope it doesn't turn into a habit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What kind of person?

Many years ago I flew from Sacramento to Seattle. When I arrived, I realized I'd left my PDA (remember those?) at the counter in Sacramento. I called, and they said they had it, and would hold it until I returned to pick it up. Two weeks later I flew back and went to claim it. . .but it had disappeared. The agent admitted it had been there, even placed in their safe, so all they could figure is an employee must have stolen it.

They were gracious enough to buy me a brand-new one, which I appreciated.

A year or so later I flew home from Knoxville to San Jose. This was following an exhausting week working as CHIC staff, working 20 hour days non-stop for a week. I was beyond wiped out. And in that exhaustion, I left my PDA in the seat pocket on the airplane.

Realizing my mistake a few hours later, I called the airline lost-and-found, but nobody had turned it in. I tried for a couple weeks, but it was never turned in. Whoever found it just kept it.

Last June we flew from Denver to Seattle. Somewhere in the process of checking into DIA Clara set down her 2nd-favorite blanket (thankfully we had left the most-favorite blanket at home) and forgot to pick it up. Even before leaving DIA we talked to some agents and the lost-and-found people, but it was nowhere to be found. For a few weeks I called, but nobody ever turned it in. Seems whoever found it just kept it.

A few weeks ago we flew from Ontario to Seattle. Somewhere south of Sacramento Olivia realized she'd left her most favorite stuffed animal at the airport. There were tears and sobs and anguish. But I told her we'd do our best to track it down.In Sacramento we started the process, calling the airline and the airport, but nobody had turned it in yet.

Unfortunately, it's now been three weeks, and it never turned up. We've called the airline lost and found, we've called TSA lost-and-found, we've called the airport lost-and-found. And nobody has it. Whoever found it just kept it.

Which I admit I don't understand. Don't people turn in things when they find them? I always do, if I can. I teach my kids to turn in found items. Just last week we were at Trader Joes and found a necklace in the parking lot. I had Olivia turn it in to the manager. I thought that's what people did.

If you find something, do you turn it in? Did I miss the memo that said "finders-keepers' is the expected behavior for us all?

Or maybe it's something about airports that cause people to keep things they find, even though it may be the most precious possession of a child, even though a dad may be spending a lot of time calling around trying to see if it's shown up. I really don't know. I'm beginning to wonder why we even have lost-and-founds, since in my experience people don't actually turn in things they find (or, when they do, somebody else just steals said item).

What kind of people just keep things they find, knowing somebody else may be looking for it?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Book Review: Reaching Out

Loneliness, hostility, illusion - these things mark the lives of so many humans, wandering through life trying to survive, trying to find meaning, trying to make sense of it all. Broken by a sinful world, we find ourselves isolated and angry, living in illusions of our own making that cover over the reality of our pain.

Rather than avoiding all three, Henri Nouwen sees each as a starting place toward wholeness, as we realize each has something to teach us, and each can lead us deeper into the heart of God. In Reaching Out, Nouwen explains how our loneliness, painful and frightening as it is, can be transformed into solitude, the quiet place where we can know ourselves better, and the place where we can finally rest in the comforting presence of God's Spirit. "Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude." The Christian life needs its time in the desert; by developing hearts that are comfortable with solitude, we can find again what it means to commune with God, and thus be better equipped to live with our neighbors.

This leads to the second movement - from hostility to hospitality. Because we are lonely we are protective of our space, and we often use others to fill up the empty spaces in our lives. "When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promises they are carrying with them." Hospitality, according to Nouwen, is "the creation of a free space where  the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy." Hospitality is a ministry in which the host creates space for the guest to come as they are and find themselves. Nouwen sketches this out in the context of the teacher/student, parent/child, and healer/patient relationships. In each of these, says Nouwen, "Affirmation, encouragement and support are often much more important than criticism. The good host is the one who not only helps the guests to see that they have hidden talents, but who is able to help them develop and deepen these talents so that they can continue their way on their own with a renewed self-confidence."

Unfortunately, our loneliness and hostility is often hidden behind a veneer of illusion. We have such a hard time getting to the heart of our brokenness. We live as if we are immortal. We cover over our hostility with sentimentality. We make idols of our dreams, thinking ourselves much greater and of more importance than we really are. The answer is found only in prayer - not the pious platitudes of religion, but open, honest communication before the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. "When, however, prayer makes us reach out to God, not on our own but on his terms, then prayer pulls us away from self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart."

Like all of Nouwen's writings, this book is deceptively simple. It is a short and easy read, yet so rich and deep that it requires time to ponder, contemplate, and re-read. Even more, it requires action - not programs or plans, but action of the soul, as we seek to reorient our lives back into line with God's loving desires for us. It is an extremely helpful book for people whose lives have settled into religious routine, who feel stifled, who feel like it's time for something new but are uncertain where to turn. It's a book that requires a little maturity, but will lead to so much more.

Friday, December 02, 2011


- Prairie Bible College, the place I spent my first two years out of high school, is in a world of hurt. Although, like with many stories, the truth may not be as clear as some people think.

- Our friend Lori recently published an article about the building of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. She included a nice shot of Clara.

- I've gotten more positive feedback about my Christmas article in the KP News than for any other piece I've published there. In case anybody missed it, I'll post it here in a couple days. (I just noticed the KP News has a new website up and running. It's a big improvement over the old one. And it has a picture of me at the farm tour. I'm the one with the trumpet case, walking away from the pigs.)

- Fresno Pacific Seminary (my alma mater) and College have put out a devotional booklet for Advent. It looks nice. You can download a copy here.

- Thanks for asking. Thanksgiving week was good but busy. A 2-day train journey to L.A., a family thanksgiving celebration, a 40th-anniversary party for Karina's parents, an overnight trip to Las Vegas (sans kids!). . .lots of great memories. It all just swept by too quickly.

- Covenant Church in India burns down under suspicious circumstances.

- Missed in the busy-ness of the last couple months: Sumner Presbyterian chooses to leave the PCUSA and join the Covenant Church. (the article's mostly about Chapel Hill, but it throws in that little tidbit about Sumner). If it goes through, they would instantly be one of the largest churches in the North Pacific Conference. I have friends in the middle of all of this on both sides, and grieve for the pain it causes. But am also inspired by their good efforts at civility and love in the midst of great disagreement.

- This Sunday's sermon: What exactly does it mean to "Prepare the way of the Lord?"

- We're also throwing in two less-familiar favorites this Sunday. "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" will be our communion song, and "Come, Messiah, Come," written by Cheryl Boydston, gets in there as well.