727. The free and the brave – and the kind

Karen Blouse.jpg

On this Fourth of July morning, Happy Birthday, America!

Three of my four grandparents were immigrants from another country, arriving here on a ship through Ellis Island. The grandparent who was born here was the daughter of parents who also were immigrants arriving on a ship. Like many U.S. cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul have a long history of being a destination site for immigrants: Swedes, Norwegians, German, Irish, Czech, Slovak, and many more. In the late 1970s, after the Vietnam war, Hmong families began to be resettled to the U.S., primarily to this area. In fact, my sons' grade school was half white and half Hmong. ASomali refugee population began to build here starting the 1990s.

Lately, I've become personally involved, for the first time, with a refugee family, a family of ten from Karen. I had never heard of Karen before this family arrived. The Karen are a group of people from Myanmar (Burma). During World War II, the Burmese sided and fought with Japan while the Karen sided and fought with Britain. Based largely on this conflict, the Myanmar government wanted the Karen out of the country. Off they went through the forest, away from their homes, to refugee camps on the border of Thailand, where some wait much longer than a decade to immigrate to another country, such as the U.S. or Canada. (Did you know an entire people group is still bearing the physical burden of WWII?) When their turn comes, the airline tickets are paid for plus a per-person resettlement fee is granted. The refugees are expected to pay this money back over time. The local coordinator of the refugee program told us that the parents of refugee families will likely never see a financial benefit or perhaps even ease in their lives, but they do it for their children's future.

I have learned that the Karen people are known for their kindness and have found this to be true. During my first visit to their apartment, the Karen mother cooked and fed the three of us who were visiting a multi-course Karen meal and gave us each a traditional Karen woven skirt and blouse. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, it is a thing of beauty. This woman could speak no English and owns very little, yet with a deep and true smile, gave us what she had.

This afternoon, my husband and I are going to visit the Karen family for an Independence Day celebration. I'm bringing watermelon and will wear at least part of the Karen clothing I received as a gift. My daughter-in-law (the key friend and helper of this family, giving so much of her time!) and son will bring other treats, as will a third family. Even while these refugees are working hard to learn the language and figure out how to earn a living, all while still being a family and caring for daily needs and finding friends, they are modeling what it is to be free and brave, and importantly, kind.


[Photo: taken of the blouse given to me by the Karen woman.]

717. Thoughts of mary on this Christmas eve

With Thoughts of Mary on this Christmas Eve.jpg

At a Christmas Eve service years ago, the church we were then attending did a series of character scenes: a shepherd, Joseph, Mary, and so on. We were late and came in just before Joseph.  Joseph's monologue had him talking about accepting what Mary had told him about carrying God's son, but he got stuck at the "no room in the inn" part.

If this was God's son, and if this was God's plan they were participating in, and if God was providing the way, marking the path, why wasn't there room for them in an inn? Why was God's gift to the world relegated to a manger? He voiced his frustration to Mary.

She responded, "Allow it."

I suppose the rest of the monologue went on to have Joseph reporting Mary's further explanation and encouragement to let God work out his plan in whatever way he wants and to trust him, but I stopped listening at "Allow it" and lingered there.

"Allow it," of course, calls to mind Mary's famous response to the angel Gabriel, ”Let it be to me as you have said,” with its strong note of agency. An unequivocal statement of active passivity. No bracing, straining, or plotting to change or avoid a thing but a nod of the head in assent. "Allow it" conveys a reciprocal arrangement, with the one allowing and the other asking, or not. While there are times to plan and push and knock down doors, there are also times to allow. To be like Mary is to know which time is which. "Allow it" moves in and out with the breath.

This scene was a fiction, not a reporting of a fact. There's no record in the Gospels of Joseph pushing back at staying in a manger and Mary calming him with a two-word response. But like all good stories it rings of truth.

May you be blessed by the many mysteries of Christmas Eve and all that it brought into play.


[Photo: taken of our Christmas tree]

713. Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving 2016.jpg

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I offer you words from an old Swedish hymn of thanks, “Thanks to God,” or in the Swedish “Tack O Gud” (original Swedish lyrics by A.L. Storm; translated by Carl Backstrom; tune by J.A. Hultman). This hymn was often sung in the church tradition in which I was raised and which I’m still a part. Sometimes even a verse or two in Swedish was sung. I’ve always loved this hymn, its melody, the steady repetition of “Thanks for…”, and its acknowledgment that what is dark and painful often intermingles with that which is joyful.

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

For grace, hope, peace, and love, and for the giver of these, I give thanks.


[Photo: the brilliant red on the bare branches caught my eye]