Surprising Journeys

In my first job out of grad school, I had a colleague Mark.  Mark was married to June and I became friends with them both.  At a point where I had a roommate moving out, they suggested that their friend Phyllis needed a roommate while she finished her final semester of law school.  Phyllis and I met and agreed to share my apartment for the duration of her schooling. 

I really liked Phyllis and for a time, even after she graduated, moved back to her Colorado roots and married her longtime boyfriend Tom, we kept touch.   Mark and June had moved away and it seems like the last contact I’d had with Phyllis, she told me Mark and June had divorced.  Over time I lost contact with these friends I had so enjoyed.

In this day and age of social media and multiple ways to track down lost connections, I had an impulse last week to do a search for Phyllis on FB.  What popped up was her familiar face and a promotion for her book, Quantum Lite Simplified: How to Calm the Chaos .  If anything, I might have expected she was serving as a judge somewhere.  The book and its intriguing title were a surprise

Of course, I had to get the book, a very credible and readable effort, which flows so naturally it seems effortless.  Phyllis begins “with a brief history and explanation of how I got into quantum.  Parts 1-3 give you an understanding of energy, systems and chaos theory from a quantum perspective.”  The last half, parts 3-5, “offers a way to ‘be’ in chaos without ‘being in chaos’.”

Her book reveals much of her own evolution from lawyer to author.  I thought of other friends whose lives developed in such different directions from their starting point.  My friend Mary, for example, was a psychologist, later a Physicians Assistant, and now a creator of beautiful quilts and a teacher of quilt-making.  My life is testament as well, as I now pastor after years as a therapist.  And I really don’t think I’m finished.  I have wondered if there is another book lurking somewhere in my brain and heart.  It is now five years since Dream In Progress was published.  It was so much work but so much pleasure. 

My father was a newspaper printer from the time he apprenticed at 17 to the time he retired at 70.  He told me that, coming up in the depression, he was encouraged that whenever he got a job, he should always hang onto it.  And he did.  He shared with me once when I was a teen,  that he had in mind a story that he really thought about writing.  Years later I reminded him of that and told him if he would tell it to me, I would write it.  He said, with some resignation, that he didn’t remember it. 

Thankfully, there is more freedom now to pursue multiple avenues over the course of a lifetime.  May we have the courage of those like Phyllis, and avoid the regrets like those of my dear father, who surely had a worthy tale to tell.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Geology is Boss

One of our guides on our recent trip to Yellowstone National Park told us that the geothermal features can shift and move over time.  She said that when they became problematic to a road,  the original response was to pave over them.  Eventually, they began to re-route the road or change planned construction, instead of attempting to “tame” the hot spring or geyser.  As she put it, “Geology is boss.”

I wonder how long it took them to come to that conclusion.  How often do we attempt to “solve” problems by administering the same “solutions” without the desired outcome?  As Albert Schweitzer is often quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Mindless repetition whether paving over Mother Nature’s marvelous works to “maintain” the road or repeating the same behavior in our own lives that has proven itself unworkable, is like the hamster running on a wheel, expending lots of energy but getting nowhere. 

This topic is especially relevant to me and to all those in churches and other organizations that thrived in the 50s and 60s.  One problem lies in that these attempted solutions were formerly standard operating procedure which worked well in previous years.  So we turn to what we know, what has felt comfortable and are puzzled when it doesn’t work.   

 How does one stay vital in a culture that over time has shifted so dramatically?   “Work smarter, not harder” comes to mind.  Pay attention to what excites you, gets your blood pumping, a vision of your desired goal.  Then figure out the steps to reach it and evaluate as you go.

I was once part of a visioning process in a church that was seeking to revitalize itself, to develop new ways to relate in a meaningful way to the community.  We did a visualization exercise with the goal to imagine our church in the future.  One person said he saw the church dark and shuttered.  I was aghast.  I had seen in my image a group of children playing in the yard adjacent to fellowship hall being called in to supper where they joined their families, which seemed a bit farfetched in a church with no children.  Six or eight months later, however, we began to work with what was then called Interfaith Hospitality Network, where churches rotate opening their spaces to homeless families a week at a time.   The first night we served the network I was awestruck as I watched the children come in from playing outside to join their parents for the evening meal, just as I had envisioned it.

 There may always be naysayers to a vision and perhaps they have valid points to consider.  But it serves any organization to have enthusiastic people and leaders who can help focus that energy to pursue and carry out a vision. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Do One Thing Different by Bill O’Hanlon, describes a process of change making one small alteration at a time, another suggestion.  One change builds on another.

Wonderland

While we were recently immersed in the wonders of Yellowstone National Park, which I learned was originally known as Wonderland, I came across this poem by Dawna Markova.  It so resonated with me in the midst of such beautiful and vast space that came into being due to the foresight of those who would promote its preservation for the public. 

“I will not die an unlived life.

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom,

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.”  — by Dawna Markova

I recognize that I perhaps give too much credit to those who made a case for the park, as they were also looking for aggrandizement for themselves.  Nathaniel Pitt Langford was described by Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey as always seeming “to be standing close to the till.”  The author of Myths and Legends of Yellowstone reported “Langford was an ambitious man whose vision of exploiting he area for his own financial gain was shared by many, especially the men who ran the Northern Pacific Railroad.”

Nevertheless, their efforts have resulted in a park that continues to draw visitors who avail themselves of the opportunity to witness the magnificent mountains, the fascinating geysers, the abundant wildlife.  We were also astounded by the young guides who so clearly loved the park and felt so privileged to live and work there. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their color, lights and shade.  These I saw.  Look ye also while life lasts.” — From an old gravestone in Cumberland, England

The Pandemic and Us

Backing my car out of the garage one day this week, I thought of how automatically I perform the actions it takes to drive, all the necessary steps embedded in my brain.

          However, I recall after my mother died, I went through a period where I could not recall how to operate the clothes dryer.  The appliance was suddenly mysterious, inscrutable, the result of the trauma of that loss. 

          Last week, I watched a program on Trauma on Our Bodies and Brains presented by clinical psychologist Dr. Betsey Stone.  She talked about the impact of months and months of the stress of various aspects of covid—uncertainty, restrictions, isolation, illness, death—on the brain.  In a time of fear, she said, our “lizard” brain (the amygdala) “hijacks” the blood supply from our “rational” brain (the prefrontal cortex).  We are actually receiving a reduced blood supply to the part of our brain that thinks rationally.  Because of this, we are less able to think clearly, to make sensible decisions, to evaluate danger, to regulate our emotions.  Dr. Stone attributes increased violence and lack of impulse control, such as that frequently demonstrated on airplane travel in recent months, to be due in part to this decreased blood supply. 

          The ongoing stress of living in this time of pandemic highlights a need for greater attention to caring for our bodies and our brains.  As Sid Garza-Hillman has said, “Caring for the mind is as important and crucial as caring for the body.  In fact, one can not be healthy without the other.”   (from Approaching the Natural:  a Health Manifesto)

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  How to deal with stress and build resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Increase your sense of control by keeping a consistent daily routine when possible — ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic.
⁃ Try to get adequate sleep.
⁃ Make time to eat healthy meals.
⁃ Take breaks during your shift to rest, stretch, or check in with supportive colleagues, coworkers, friends and family. (from CDC website). 

I would add to drink plenty of water.  I have read that under stress the body produces a thick, paste-like blood, making adequate circulation more difficult. 

Remembering Daddy

February 4, 1917, my father, Charles Virgil Emerson, was born in Plains, Kansas.  Among his siblings he had two older sisters—Pearl, 9 years older, who went by “Spud,” and Velma, 7 years older, who went by “Billie”—and they doted on him.    I always heard them refer to my father as “Chuck.” He had two other sisters born after him who did not survive the terrible influenza that gripped the country from February 1918 to April 1920.  I adored my aunts and the thought that I missed out on two more aunts feels like quite a loss.  My father’s family was an exceptionally sweet group of people.   

February 4, 2007, we had my father’s 90th birthday party.  His brother Irvin brought his sister “Billie” from Missouri to the Oklahoma celebration.  How I love the memories of that weekend.  My daughter made a lovely little photo album of it.  By February 4 the next year, I was scrambling to get to Oklahoma as my mother began to transition in hospice.  She died February 5.  The morning of her funeral, Daddy and Terry and I met my brothers and their spouses for breakfast before the funeral.

 I had discovered his wardrobe became pretty disheveled as my mother deteriorated.  At breakfast I noticed we had just enough time to seek a suit and tie before the service.  JC Penney’s was near the restaurant.  We found a very kind salesman who located a suit, shirt, tie, and even shoes and socks!  Everyone commented how sharp my father looked.

The following February 4, I was once again in Oklahoma, this time to bring my father home to live with us.  Sadly, he had a stroke in April and died in July that year.  But the time we had in those few months was some of the most precious in my life. 

Fast forward to February 4, 2018.  I had selected that day as the occasion for my ordination, in honor of the man who was such a quiet, steady presence in my life, a man who was respected for his breadth of knowledge, his kindness, his faith.  He spent his life as a newspaper printer from the time he apprenticed at 17 to the time he retired at 70.  I have a few letters he sent me in college, typed on his linotype printer.  In one he typed into the want ads “Lonely Hearts:  Would like to establish contact with beautiful, blue-eyed blond.  Last seen boarding giant jet for Kansas City, St. Louis and points east.  Am unable to sleep nights, also suffering greatly from loss of appetite.  Am considering drastic measures if I do not hear from her soon.  Any information as to her whereabouts and activities greatly appreciated.  Ponca City Papa.”  This was so out of character and unexpected, I was quite startled but very pleased at his humor and expression of love. 

 Today my father would have been 105.  Happy birthday, Daddy.  Love, your daughter.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: “My father didn’t tell me how to live.  He lived, and let me watch him do it.”  Clarence Budington Kelland

My Montana Tiara

January 23 I was “installed” as pastor at Columbus Community Congregational Church.  It had been joked that it was going to be my “coronation.”  I responded in kind that I would “polish my tiara.”  My friend and colleague Meg was the speaker.  She carried the joke forward. Saying she was sure that I was too humble to actually bring a tiara, she pulled from a bag a lovely cowboy hat.  She proceeded to place it on my head, identifying it as my “Montana Tiara.”

The most amusing aspect of this for me, however, was how my attitude evolved about this event.  Initially, I thought “ho-hum, a necessary formality.”  But then I took more initiative in planning for the ceremony.  I asked Meg to speak.  I asked that the formalities be kept simple.  I decided to read a poem and sing a solo in response to my installation.  The day turned out to be a lovely celebration.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Those who attended seemed to really appreciate the upbeat atmosphere of the ceremony. 

What difference might it make if we approached matters in another way?  Tasks that might otherwise  seem to be boring or drudgery or overwhelming, instead might become a challenge, an opportunity to take initiative to alter the situation. 

An extreme example is currently in the news of Lily Ebert, the 98 year-old Auschwitz survivor who wrote Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Will To Survive.  Much like Victor Frankl, who survived concentration camp  imagining himself as a professor teaching at a university, she made it her intention to live to tell her story. 

I don’t expect to ever experience anything as traumatic as those situations.  But I do know I sometimes I have an attitude that makes even ordinary tasks more difficult than they need to be.  And I know life can challenge us in ways we never expect.  My Montana Tiara serves to remind me that I choose my attitude and the approach I take in situations that present themselves to me. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  My Montana Tiara!

When An Entire Generation Passes

              This week my Aunt “Pinkie” died, just short of her 97th birthday. I have no aunts or uncles left now.  Her five children are surely now experiencing that sense of being “orphaned.”

              Her given name was actually Betty.  In the way that names sometimes run in families, I had another “Aunt Bettie,” my mother was named Betty and my sister-in-law Elizabeth is known as Betty.  But Pinkie was more often known by her nickname due to her red hair. 

              My favorite memory of her occurred when I was about four or five years old.  My parents and I had gone to visit. Unlike my parents’ small home where my bed was located in my parents’ bedroom, I discovered at my aunt’s and uncle’s home, I was put to bed in a big bedroom by myself.  Even now, I can remember feeling scared and alone.  I began, first softly, then more loudly, to call out for my parents.  It seemed like my aunt suddenly appeared and recognized how distressed I was.  I don’t remember where I ended up, only that she was so understanding and immediately corrected the situation.

              My aunts and uncles were mostly peripheral during my growing up years.  I saw them mostly at family reunions whenever they occurred.  But somehow they provided a comfortable backdrop of caring relatives who always seemed happy to see me, predictably proclaiming how much I’d grown.  I can recall thinking, “Of course I’ve grown.  What did they expect?” 

              As one and then another has died, I am aware of how valuable even that limited amount of contact was. When I became an aunt at 17, I so valued my new role. I, too, am on the periphery of my nephews’ lives.  Yet one of my proudest moments was a few years ago when the oldest posted tribute to me on Face Book. 

              The slender threads of connection can be more meaningful than we know,  so much more solid than we recognize.

               May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

              Hope’s Café Bonus:  I discovered if you google aunt that you will discover there is a national aunts and uncles day. (Who knew?):”National Aunts and Uncles Day is observed every July 26. Our aunts and uncles are unique parts of our family; they can be like a second set of parents, or great friends you happen to be related to.”

What Can One Do?

Michael Blassie was an Air Force pilot sent to fly missions in Vietnam in 1972.  It was a time of reduced troops.  At the height of the war in the late 60s, there were 500,000 troops.  When Blassie arrived there were about 25,000 who were stretched to the limit.  On his 132nd bombing mission he was shot down over territory held by North Vietnam.  A helicopter team was sent in to retrieve the body but enemy fire forced them to retreat.

Five months later a fellow named Chris Calhoon, who was responsible for calling in airstrikes, at the urging of some of Blassie’s pilot friends, got approval to send in some South Vietnamese soldiers to retrieve the body.  They returned with some bones but also his wallet and other identifying information.  But given there was no DNA testing at that time, and no way to conclusively identify him by military standards, he was declared missing in action and declared dead.  The recovered bones were eventually placed in the tomb of the Unknown honoring other unidentified Vietnam military.

The story took a turn in 1994 when a former Green Beret called the Blassie family, indicating he believed that the government was not telling all that it knew about Michael Blassie’s remains.  Another three years passed and a CBS reporter in Denver got wind of the story and, while skeptical, decided to pursue it.

The upshot of this story is that there was finally a congressional inquiry and ultimately a positive ID by DNA and return of the body to Blassie’s family. Because of the actions first of Calhoon; the troops he sent in to recover the body; later by the Green Beret who created doubt; and then the journalist who decided to investigate, this outcome was possible.

After learning this story, I heard another one of a fellow who received a call from someone in Ghana, trying to sell “gift cards.”  The person who got the call confronted the caller: “This is a scam.  You are targeting elderly people trying to take their money.  Hank up from this call and call me back.”  And the scammer did call him back and the two made a connection that has persisted through the years.  His father had died and he was trying to make a living to care for his sick mother.  But the connection he made with the man he had called motivated him to change his direction.  He is now working to come to the United States where he wants to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

In these events, I hear a challenge to us to never deny the power a single individual has to impact a situation that might seem impossible to influence. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate.

Hope’s Café Bonus: “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés ( A quote I love!)

Connections

When I was a child, I was entranced by the notion of pioneer times.  I thought I would have liked the adventure of being a pioneer.  There are a lot of reasons I recognize now that I would not have adapted well to that kind of experience.  Being cut-off from easy communication would have been my downfall.  No phones!  No email! No Facebook!  No internet!  Now some people would say, that would suit them fine.  Certainly, the plethora of modern communication does become burdensome and unplugging periodically seems to serve our health.  And yet….

I think of a long-lost friend who tracked me down through an old phone number she got through my high school alumni association.  I recall a phone call I received once as I was just about to walk out of the office at the church I was pastoring in Florida, the caller having somehow gleaned from the internet that I was there.  She had been a client of my husband Terry when she was a teenager and just wanted to convey how well her adult life was going and to thank him.  And last week I discovered someone had left a message on my blog, yet another former client in search of Terry.  These kinds of connections strike me almost like wizardry.

People have applauded us for uprooting ourselves at this stage in our lives to move to Montana, trekking like modern day pioneers to a place where we had no established connections.  And, indeed, this was an adventurous thing to do, when staying put would have been the more reasonable course to take.  But I honestly don’t know how well we would be able to live with this choice were it not for zoom.  This morning we will zoom with a group back home, and again this evening with another group of home folks.  These are weekly rituals.  This is not to say we aren’t making new friends.  But the former ties sustain us.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Connection:  The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.— Brene Brown

When Things Go Awry

I recall a friend years ago recounting her wedding day when she made her way down the aisle with 104 degree temp.  My husband Terry tells the story of a friend whose bride limped down the aisle on crutches at her Washington D.C. wedding.  (Full disclosure:  Terry was the driver of the couple in a pre-wedding celebration that resulted in the crash that caused her injuries. They had been a bit too enthusiastic, shall we say, in their celebrating, and 19 year-old Terry in his diminished capacity plowed into a CIA man’s car.  Amazingly, Terry and the couple remained friends).  Wedding- related or not, we all have our experiences When Things Go Awry.

This brings to mind Winnie the Pooh.  As I languish post-Christmas with a very bad cold, feeling as sick as I can remember in a very long time, the memory of those hopeful little characters cheers me.  Nobody likes being sick but I resent it:  I had Things To Do.  But even the gloomy Eeyore was full of wisdom for When Things Go Awry.  Witness:

              “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”
                —Eeyore

And here is one that rings so true as I seek to remind myself of what I am thankful for in the midst of Nyquil and cough drops and Kleenex:

         “After all, one can’t complain. I have my friends.”
               —Eeyore

Friend Meg brought all manner of medicinal remedies and a big container of chicken soup.  Multiple people checked in on us (as Terry is sick now too).  With the help of friends, I think I have secured someone to blow off the next round of snow that is due to start soon.  I’m feeling better even as I write this! 

Blessings in the New Year.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:Flu Season Ginger Honey Lemon Tonic: 1 cup water

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger (or more to taste), peeled and coarsely chopped

1/2 medium lemon

1 teaspoon honey, or to taste

1 ounce whiskey (optional)

Place the water, ginger, lemon juice, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat until heated through. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mug and add the shot of whiskey, is using.