Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sretan Rodendan!

Da bismo mogli, bismo ti poklonili cokoladu....

i cvjece.....

Svi ti zelimo lijepi dan....Paolo....

i Tosca (iako je ona malo umorna).....

i Drazen......
Mislimo cesto na tebe i jedva cekamo da dodemo tamo i da budemo opet skupa,

da vidimo tvoje cvjece!
Ti si najbolja mama i svekrva, i volimo te od srca.

A iako mu nije rodendan, isto tako volimo i Tatu!

To my non-Croatian readers, January 25 is Drazen's mom's birthday. We decided to send a non-traditional birthday greeting this time. Our neighbors will be inviting her over "to show you something," and will then show her this blogpost.

In case you didn't figure it out, those are pictures of their garden, and them in it.

She is truly an amazing woman that we love very much. Happy Birthday, Mama!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Slow Goodbyes

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time, or who knows me personally, knows that my grandmother is a very important person in my life and that she left this world a few years ago. In fact, it will be five years this Thursday, on the 17th.

I wasn't thinking of that date when I took these photos. They have to do with a New Year's resolve to get my office in better order.

The flowers came from Grandmother's yard. I think some I picked the spring after her death, and some the following spring. I wanted to remember the things she had planted in her yard.

Well, they have lived, so to speak, on my prayer desk all this time. I had them laid out on a piece of white paper, and even though they dried out and got dusty, I never felt the desire to get rid of them. I like the direct connection they provided to a woman who was out in her yard daily, who knew the name of every plant in it, who knew how to take care of each one and did just that.

But last week I decided it was time to say good-bye. My little desk (which she gave me) just had too many things. It did not feel peaceful; it felt cluttered and was nearly impossible to dust. So I said good-bye. And of course I did it my way, taking pictures and reminiscing and being thankful. And I think there were a few tears, too.

And by the time I finished, I realized I still didn't want to throw them away. So I put them in a box and in the drawer with other things related to her.

I think eventually I will take them to Croatia and put them in the soil there, when I have my own garden and can plant some of these things there. (We don't have enough sunlight here for most of them.)

So, here is a (very small) sample of Grandmother's garden . . . .

Daffodils that grew between her yard and the next-door neighbors' . . .
Tiny white roses from the south side of the house . . . .

Closer to the daffodils . . . .

A peony that was once pink, also from the south side of the house . . . .

Tiny sweetheart roses, from the cutting garden out the back door . . . . The top photo is their petals, some still pink after all this time . . . .

And lavender, from the border along the cedar fence, near the garage . . . .

I wish everyone had flowers from the gardens of their loved ones. I wish everyone had people in their lives who loved them so much and gave them so much to remember, to respect, to reach for.

I wish I could give that to the people I know who can't let go of the people they've lost because there is so much unresolved pain and hurt in the relationship. We call it "complicated grief," and it is very hard for people to work through.

I'm thankful for my fairly simple grief and for the flowers that have helped me through it over the years.

And, I must be honest, I am thankful that they are off my desk and no longer gathering dust! Grandmother wouldn't have liked that one bit!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hemingway and Human Beings

I just came across this, written by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, entitled "A Second Glance," from The Christian Century, December 25, 2007.
It strikes me especially because recently I have had more than one client who came across as unusually intelligent, or sensitive, or interesting for whatever reason. As a professional, I have to guard against paying more attention, or giving more of my time, to such a client. And as a person in any situation that involves human beings, I have to continually ask myself why and how I unconsciously--and consciously--assign value to a person's life.
Good food for thought follows.

For several months during my time as a seminary student I worked the night shift at a local mirror factory. My title was prism inspector, and for every hour of work I was expected to check about a hundred car rearview mirrors for possible defects. But I was also required to take a ten-minute break each hour, to rest my eyes from intently staring at mirrors for the previous 50 minutes.

During these brief rest periods I would study for my seminary courses. Alongside the stacks of mirrors on my work bench was a small pile of books—Hebrew grammar, church history, systematic theology.

My attempts to cram some studying into my scheduled breaks were often frustrated, however, by the appearance of Jed, the night watchman. Jed always seemed to pass my way just as I was in the middle of some important reading. And he liked to talk.

I dreaded Jed's interruptions. Frankly, he did not strike me as a very bright human being, and he insisted on trying to engage me in conversations about topics that would not have interested me even if I was not so intent on studying. Jed seemed oblivious of whatever signals that I was sending about not wanting to be distracted from my reading.

Jed came along one night while I was reading a church history text. "You really like books, don't you?" he remarked. With a sigh I responded, "Yes, Jed, I really do like books, and right now I have to be reading this one in order to be ready for a test in class tomorrow." Jed was not to be ignored. "Yeah, Ernie really liked books too. He was always reading." Without lifting my eyes from my book, I mumbled "Ernie who?" "Ernie Hemingway," he responded.

Jed had my attention. "What do you know about Ernest Hemingway?" I asked him. He proceeded to tell me that he had worked for a while as a hunting and fishing guide for a wealthy physician who owned a local estate with large tracts of forest land. His employer often hosted Hemingway, and when Hemingway came to stay the doctor would assign Jed to accompany the writer on hunting excursions.

"Yeah," said Jed, "Ernie always had a book. He would read with a flashlight in the tent at night, in his sleeping bag. Sometimes the light kept me awake!"

As a college English major I had studied several Hemingway novels, and I always found him fascinating as a writer—and as a larger-than-life person. I was eager to hear more from Jed, who had suddenly become a more significant human being—a person who knew Ernest Hemingway, and who could call him "Ernie."

Later I realized that this experience with Jed pointed to a real defect in my way of viewing other individuals. I had come to see Jed in a very different light just because he had known Hemingway. A seemingly insignificant human being had risen to a new status in my eyes because he had spent hours in the same tent with one of the great novelists of the 20th century.

Here is what troubled me about the experience: I am not going to come across many people who will surprise me by having a connection to one of my literary heroes. If Jed had not told me about "Ernie," I would have continued to treat him as a person whom I could legitimately ignore.

Of course, Jed was related to someone greater than Hemingway, and I did not have to pump him with questions to find that out about that relationship. Jed was a creature of God, fashioned in the image of the divine. He was a person for whom Christ died. He had an eternal destiny—a fact about him that matters much to the Lord whom I serve.

Why did I have to wait until I found out about the Hemingway connection before I took Jed seriously? Why could I not have seen him right off the bat as a God-connected person?

OK, maybe I am being a little hard on myself. Jed did lack some people skills. And I was a student desperately trying to support my wife and myself while also wanting to succeed in my studies. Even after I found out about his experiences with Hemingway I knew that I could not devote too much of my time talking with Jed. And I suppose it is reasonable to say that even if I had kept Jed's status as a friend of Jesus clearly in mind from the start, I still would not have owed him the kind of attention that would have distracted me from other important commitments.

But there is still a point here that I cannot ignore. The Christian life is a special way of seeing. "Open mine eyes that I may see / glimpses of truth Thou hast for me." And other human beings are high on the list of what we must work at seeing in a Christian way. However else I might rationalize the way that I had been responding to Jed, there can be no denying that I had not been attributing to him the value that God had placed on him.

To be sure, we can't always be thinking noble theological thoughts about every person we come across each day. It is unrealistic to expect that when we're going through the checkout line at the local supermarket we will always remember to see the image of God in the person who asks whether we want paper or plastic. But we can try, and entertain those thoughts more often than we do. It is a good exercise to step back on occasion and think about some seemingly insignificant soul, someone we'd been ignoring, as a friend of Jesus. That is a lesson I learned while gazing at rearview mirrors. It took a story about Hemingway to bring the lesson home.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Twelfth Night

Tonight we put away Christmas things, always a bit hard for me to want to do. I decided to take a few pictures, and some interesting things happened.

This clay ornament, done by a friend in Croatia, is one of my favorites. I just set it on the nearest stable horizontal surface to take the picture. It wasn't until I had the photos in the computer that I realized I had set it on the only Croatian crocheted piece currently displayed in the house. The perfect setting!

These leaves are from my last trip to St. Columba. I was in the habit of saving leaves and pressing them to send to Father Stevens after he moved away. I did the same this time, knowing I couldn't send them to him, but needing to do it for myself, I guess. So they became stars on our table throughout Christmas.

I think that must be my hair that got in front of the camera, but I like this because it turns that one into a shooting star!

And here's the best of all. I didn't think about it until I had already shot the picture, but I got "A Merry Christmas" and the photo of Granddaddy and Grandmother Christmas side by side. And it is, I think, the merriest photo of the two of them that I have. (I know, it isn't a clear shot, but you get the idea. You can enlarge it to better glimpse their merriness.)

Good-bye until next time, lovely, merry Christmas. And Christmases.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year and Eleventh Day

It’s the eleventh day of Christmas, and I have no pictures of lords a-leaping that I can put my fingers on.

It’s also hitting me that we really are in a New Year. I’ve mis-written the date a couple of times, but actually gotten it right often enough that 2008 feels real to me now.

And so, the photo….Anyone who has been to our house, or who has seen enough photos on my blog, will recognize it as our tablecloth.

Here, however, it is doubling as a runway. A taking-off place. A place where you build your momentum. Momentum is necessary, by the way, for leaping. Just ask any leaping lord you come across.

While I tend not to make bold resolutions for the new year, I do experience a hopeful energy with this new beginning. After the glory of Incarnation and angels appearing and human beings being unusually kind and generous for a season, all kinds of things really do seem possible. It is easier to believe in leaping, or flying, or simply getting my desktop cleared off.

And so I share the following article that I came across this evening, with a toast to new beginnings, to hope, and to possibilities.

Life is full of opportunities to start over
Scripps Howard News Service
2008-01-02 00:00:00

The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald famously lamented that "there are no second acts in American lives," having persuaded himself that any failure along the way consigns us to be losers for life.

Despite his early success and lifelong genius, Fitzgerald managed to fulfill his own prophesy. As his beautiful wife descended into madness, he became a bitter and violent alcoholic, dying prematurely of a heart attack at the age of 44.

The novelist's failure might be dismissed as the product of a morbid artistic temperament. But at this moment many professional economists echo his pessimism, teaching that humankind is condemned to inhabit a "zero sum" universe, in which life's winners succeed only at the expense of the losers.

Don't believe it. The weight of evidence from the beginning of recorded history demonstrates that the novelist and his disciples of gloom are dead wrong. Failure is not permanent, but predictable and passing.

The conjunction of Christmas and New Year's is no accident. At Christmas we take a fresh look at our old faith from its beginning, with a child in a manger. With the New Year we affirm the belief that our fates are not fixed, and resolve to renew our lives.

If the gloom mongers were correct, Jesus of Nazareth would qualify as history's greatest failure, broken in body and persecuted in spirit, ending his life as a criminal nailed to a cross. But two millennia later, more than 2 billion people across 260 nations feel blessed to call themselves his followers, persuaded that Calvary was only the final scene of Jesus' opening act. In the second act of his life he prevailed over death.

On a less lofty level, countless men and women throughout history have displayed a marvelous resilience in confronting their setbacks and handicaps, converting defeat into victory. Whatever else we may lack, hope is seldom in short supply, because most Americans are persuaded that we have second chances. The current fashion for "total makeovers" only underscores our confidence that it is never too late to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and start all over again.

If we suspect ourselves to be handicapped in overcoming failure, it may be because we worship at the altar of what psychologist William James called "the bitch goddess of success," narrowly defining personal fulfillment in terms of financial wealth and physical beauty.

Although Christianity acknowledges distinctions in our gifts and accomplishments, it insists that we are all equal in the sight of God. If we can begin to regard ourselves as our creator does, and see what he sees, we can summon the strength to start over, again and yet again, reinventing ourselves.

Sally Jenkins, writing in The Washington Post, affirms that "every act is redeemable... and the days ahead are a blank gift in which a person can remake himself... in any fashion he pleases." But, as Jesus himself advised, for doors to be opened to us, we must first knock on them.

David Yount's new book is "How the Quakers Invented America" (Rowman & Littlefield). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount(at)