Global Pandemic – New World Order?

As we Zoom/ TikTok/ Instagram/ HouseParty/ FaceTime our masked way into the future during the worst pandemic of our lives (for those of us not around during the 1918 flu pandemic), we are offered an ideal opportunity to take stock of where we are at a very personal level of humanity and consciousness. The pandemic has forced us to stay put and face ourselves as well as those closest to us in sustained and profound ways. I’m certain there will be or are already in progress a number of psychological and sociological studies that will reveal the true impact of this isolating, social distancing phenomenon.

For the introverts among us (unfortunately, I’m not one of them), it may feel like a welcome respite from the incessant demand to socialize and interact with their fellow humans. Contemplation, meditation, alone-time, me-time, can all be more easily accessed for some. Yet others with greater numbers of household members may feel too much closeness when everyone is home 24/7. Will there be a post-pandemic population explosion or a statistically significant increase in divorce and separations? Perhaps some of both? Will introverts lament the end of this global apartheid (in its original Dutch meaning: separateness) that dictates individual isolationism?

For extraverts, like me (scoring 361 on an Introversion-Extraversion scale from -500: total introvert to +500: total extravert), this quarantined seclusion and social distancing have wreaked havoc on my internal sense of well being and self. I certainly enjoy my alone time as much as anyone, but this mask wearing, people avoiding new world order has, at times, taken me to deep moments of lonely despair which I promptly with regularity superimpose on my spouse (who incidentally began working full-time, 5 days a week in his chosen profession of nursing very soon after I retired. He had up until then maintained a much more laissez faire, part-time schedule, but that’s another story). Spreading the wings of my new found retirement freedom was heavenly, yet felt perversely sardonic and at times, a betrayal to my hardworking, immigrant roots that propelled me from lower working class status (read: poor) to the echelons of the solidly, financially secure upper middle class… and during what would become known as the beginning stages of COVID 19’s world domination. My solution? The creation of an inner-sanctum of safety inside of which could be found a small circle of trusted friends and friendships both fresh and old. Weekly couples gathering to play cards, eat snacks, share stories and protect one another from both the disease and forced solitude. Relationships were forged that would never have been developed without the extremes of the circumstance. So I am indebted to this virus for enduring bonds and ties cast in the unforeseen molds of seemingly apparent desolation.

There are still naysayers willing to call this worldwide pandemic a hoax (don’t know how many are left – but  ironically, I bet they were the first ones standing in line to get the vaccine!) despite, to date, 2.16 million deaths worldwide. To those who continue to refuse to wear masks in public and privately-owned settings because of their “constitutional rights”, I say please stay in your own communities, with your own values that disregard and don’t care about anyone but yourself or those like you. Your privilege threatens the health of heroes whose jobs and careers require them to conduct their work in a less isolated environment – healthcare professionals, emergency responders, law enforcement officers, teachers, grocery store clerks, restaurant personnel, among them, overwhelmingly, people of color risking their lives every day as they interact with scores of unknown persons. I wear a mask to protect them and to protect me.

It’s January 2021 and although vaccines have been created, they continue to be an elusive creature for those not in the priority groups. With the inauguration of President Joseph Biden, is it possible we may have access sooner than expected given we may actually experience national leadership to protect us from COVID 19? Time will tell…

As the eternal optimist, I believe what lies ahead will allow us to retrospectively look back with some portion of gratitude that we gave our world a moment to breathe easier, partially revive itself, cleanse the air and water…. and to renew ourselves and our relationships. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

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Morning Tea, Rice and Semur Ayam: Reminiscences of Mom

This morning I’m missing Mom so much! As I was getting ready to drink the tea I had just made for myself, an overwhelming sense of loss came over me. I added a little milk and it reminded me of the innumerable cups of tea waiting quietly and patiently for me on my nightstand… made by Mom every morning. Lovingly prepared by a mother of eight just for me. Lipton for Ludy, not the generic Red Rose brand from Fred Meyer’s because in Mom’s mind, I deserved the best. If the tea got cold because I woke up too late, [for many years unbeknownst to me] it was magically whisked away and warmed up/refreshed so I would be enjoying tea at just the right temperature. And this ritual didn’t end when I grew up… it continued even when I was in my 50’s visiting with my mom in her apartment at Belmont Dairy in Southeast Portland. It was love with skin on it as my pastor in North Carolina would say. Not many spoken words, the “I love you!” statements so characteristic of our adopted American culture. But an unmistakable joy in serving the ones she loved; love demonstrated through her actions.

Now what about the rice and semur ayam? As kids, we loved the sweet flavor of chicken stewed in onions, broth and black ketjap (Indonesian soy sauce) served with white rice scooped from a mottled gray enamel steamer. And three little birds, Ludy, Lorette and Michelle, would sit in a row waiting to be hand fed by our mom from a community bowl and one spoon. Michelle would chirp out, “Sauce only, no meat!” The other two just fidgeted in place with expectation and anticipation of our next delicious bite. I’m not really sure how old we were when this started nor when it ended but it left an indelible marker on my lifeline – yet another reminder of a loving mother and the unbreakable bond I have with my siblings. What might have seemed commonplace and normal when it was happening has become a cherished memory that invokes all its love and warmth by just picturing this scene in my mind’s eye.

So I’m writing down these memories and describing in detail these moments so there is no way Nancy Tency will ever be forgotten. The next generations need to know about this kind of old school, old world love from a different era.

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Planting seeds

More than a decade ago, my pastor, the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens-Moffett, led a bible study at St James Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. On a piece of chart paper, she drew a series of ovals lined up in a row. She said these represented seeds we plant during our lives. Most often, she went on to say, you will not see the fruits that are borne from these seeds but just know that by merely planting them, you are doing God’s work and they will contribute to the formation of fruit. That’s of course if the seeds are positive and loving. One could also plant other seeds – seeds of discord, seeds of malcontent, seeds of envy… these are the seeds I hope and am intentionally trying NOT to plant.

Pastor Moffett’s drawing has stuck in my mind for all these years and finally this year, it struck me that I had found my purpose – in fact, it had been revealed to me at least 10 years prior at that Thursday night bible study. It is to plant seeds as an expression of my faith. Seeds borne out of my own doubts, sadness, inner turmoil, struggles and fears, but that transformed into seeds of triumph and joy – not mine but God’s. All the bad seeds planted in my spirit along the rocky road of life by people and circumstances were no match for God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and protection. Because God also sent many to plant in me the good seeds. The seeds of faithful family, friendship, caring, love in all its forms, stern guidance, preparation and goodness.

And so it is I am exploring what it means to plant seeds as an expression of God’s love. Sometimes it just means to pay attention and listen. As I’m learning to hear God’s voice, I find it’s hard to ignore the homeless youth sitting in front of the drugstore. And so I ask, “What’s your story?” By the simple act of showing some care and concern I witnessed an immediate change in his posture and being… he told me about his struggles and trying to get on the right path. I just listened and in the end gave him the money I had in my pocket. I have no idea where he may be today, but the moment we shared was a sacred one. The seed was planted.

I find myself looking for ways to plant more seeds. I want it to become an obsession. I want to find new and different ways to plant seeds. I want to start a movement. A seed planting movement. I want it to permeate every aspect of my life. I want it to resonate throughout my being. I want it to take hold in a world too busy and self-absorbed to plant seeds.

So I thank my pastor for planting the seed in me and apologize that it took so long for me to recognize it.

What seeds will you plant today?

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Seeking answers to the wrong questions: Why God sometimes remains “silent” until we figure it out…

As humans, we pray – pray for love, pray for change, pray for peace of mind, pray for protection, pray for healing, pray for acceptance, for prosperity, for loved ones, for the world, for all manner of things, we pray. Under dire circumstances, even people who might not consider themselves as having faith in anything beyond themselves pray in desperation, turning to a higher power when circumstances push them to the brink.

When we are especially hurting, longing for answers to life’s greatest questions, languishing in uncertainty, we pray. We can pray for years, sometimes feeling like God doesn’t hear us. Years of tears and pleading, yet, still no answer, just excruciating silence. We suffer under our own cares and woes, under our feelings about ourselves and who we think we are.

But be careful what you pray for. The world has sold us a pack of lies; like how we are not good enough, how we don’t really deserve what we have, that we are not worthy of God’s love because [fill in the blank]. But God has never said such a thing. God is a God of love who keeps calling us and will not let us go. God knows our deepest darkest secrets and in spite of our own hurts and self-loathing, God reaches in and tells us – “I love you – you are my child.” When we are inside our own heads, we are unable to hear that message, no matter how often God sends it to us through people, experiences, songs and other signs and counter signs. So we continue to think God is silent, unresponsive to our most fervent prayers.

In my early years of struggle with myself, who I was, how I fit (or better said, did NOT fit) in this world. I prayed. For years I prayed a prayer for God to change me. “God, how could I have these feelings and thoughts that I’ve been told are sinful and will send me straight into the fires of hell? Please change me. You can do anything so how hard could it be?” And this went on for a very long time – just me, my guilt, God and silence.

I don’t even remember when I finally heard God’s voice in the silence. Some time in my late 30’s or even early 40’s, God said, “I have not been silent. I have been with you since you were conceived. I have had you in my hands lifting you up, protecting you, loving you. For decades I’ve been trying to tell you, I can’t answer your prayer for me to change you because you’re praying the wrong prayer. You assumed my condemnation of you and that you needed to be changed. I don’t want or need to change you because I love you as I created you. All I ever wanted from you was for you to love me and love yourself and others as I love you.”

And in one fell swoop, I realized that I was enough. No change needed. Society, government, religious people, friends, church, family, everyone told me that being gay was not compatible with my Christian faith. They were all wrong. God was right and God told me so.

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Mr. Babcock, knowledge is power!

In the 1958 film, Auntie Mame, played by Rosalind Russell, one of my favorite stars from that period, declares to the boorish banker, “Mr. Babcock, knowledge is power!” This in defense of her young nephew, Patrick Dennis, who is preparing said banker the perfect martini and states that he haauntie-mames learned to “stir, never shake, bruises the gin…” and that “Auntie Mame says olives take up too much room in such a little glass.”  Mr. Babcock considers it inappropriate for little Patrick to have such knowledge. Ahhh, knowledge – who has it, who wants it, who is being denied access to it, who shapes and molds it? It comes in so many shapes, sizes, contours, and forms. Knowledge can be expansive or narrow, hard and set or fluid and malleable. For some it might be how to scale the tallest mountain in the world, while others would be content to “know” how to bake a cake or drive a car with a manual transmission, clutch and all. I almost want to talk about “fake” knowledge – but I think I will leave that for another post… Likewise, don’t get this blog post title confused with the original sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a side note, knowledge and truth are not the same and philosophers, pragmatists and other deep thinkers have argued since the beginning of time about the definitions, similarities and differences of these two terms.

Knowledge has always been my nectar of life, my source, my rock. Knowing has been my defense, my offense, the solid foundation upon which I stand with steadfast and utter righteousness. Starting with the letter, “A”, my young mind, thirsting for knowledge, voraciously consumed the encyclopedia set bought one by one with green stamps from the grocery store. I was fascinated by this source of knowledge and what I thought of as the absolute truth. I think I reached approximately the letter “K” before the green stamps ran out. The set was never purchased in its entirety so I was left with a giant hole in my knowledge base that starts with L and ends with Z. So don’t ask me about zebras or xylophones. The sheer vastness of it was overwhelming and exciting and this decades before the Internet was invented by Al Gore. I’ve never stopped wanting to know, know more, seek out knowing, and be knowledgable.

On the flipside, “not knowing” is my kryptonite, my nemesis, the stuff that causes me nightmares and anxiety, throws me off, makes me feel vulnerable and extremely uncomfortable. Faking it is not an option for me… In fact, acknowledging and being very transparent in situations where I find myself in a state of ” not knowing” is also a way of avoiding that sense of dread that I experience. However, I have also come to some self-realization that I am the last one to ever ask for directions (even when I’m lost) or make an inquiry about something that I clearly should know already… In other words, I fear that I build a lot of my self-worth, esteem, sense of self, and pride on knowing.

THE POINT: Knowledge opens doors. As Auntie Mame says to Patrick, “I’m going to open doors for you… doors you never even dreamed existed.” I am an example of how the unrelenting quest for knowledge has afforded me opportunities… opportunities I never even dreamed existed. In many ways, I believe knowing has allowed me to transform my poor, immigrant, non-English speaking youth into a solidly, dare I say, upper middle class professional life. Knowledge is power. And given I have spent my entire professional career in the Kindergarten to Grade 12 education space, this is what I hope and want for every young person who walks through those doors, the opportunity to develop an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. The love of learning cannot be legislated nor taken away from you by anyone. Once acquired it sustains you for the rest of your life. And it’s a good life.

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The Lord’s Prayer 2018…

Anyone who grew up in the Christian church knows the Lord’s Prayer and can most likely recite it from memory. And many of us are exceedingly familiar with the King James version with plenty of thee’s, thy’s and thine’s. The Lord’s Prayer feels majestic, ritualistic, and VERY churchy. But I have a feeling that, though highly appropriate for the people living in 1611 in England when this version was completed, much of its true meaning has been lost in the modernization of the English language. We cling to the feelings it evokes when we “recite” it in the King’s English, but I have often wondered if it is, for the majority of us, truly a prayer, that is, a personal encounter with God.

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During my morning commute today, I was listening to a prayer meditation on YouTube that used Psalm 118:24 as its foundation. Inhale with “This is the day the Lord has made.” and exhale with, “We will rejoice and be glad in it.” As I breathed in and out, God told me that if I had never really understood the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, to rewrite it as if I was talking to God like I do every day… So I have on my heart to paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer in my own words. Firstly, to give it meaning for me and make it come alive and secondly, to give others another way of thinking about the Lord’s Prayer. In some ways, I am bewildered that it has taken me so long to do this. I pray that God will reveal God’s words to me. So here goes…

The Lord’s Prayer in Ludy’s words inspired by God:

Lord, you abide in a peaceful, beautiful paradise watching over us. When we say your name we know it is holy and that it brings us life.

Send us peace, love and joy so you can reign in our lives and remind us that everything we experience here in this life can and should be a reflection of heaven.

You know our every need so thank you for providing the nutritional, spiritual, and emotional nourishment that gets us through the day and is renewed every morning we wake up. Be gentle and merciful with us, Jesus, because we constantly fall short of the purpose and greatness you have in store for us. Likewise, help us to be gentle and merciful toward others who have in one way or another made our lives difficult.

Help us with our struggle to do your will because we are so often distracted by everything that is happening around us. Protect us from the perils and dangers seen and unseen that threaten our walk with you and remind us that you are with us always.

We know you are everywhere and in everything. We acknowledge that all things are under your control. Your greatness is impossible for us to even imagine but once in a while we catch a glimpse of it through our prayers and meditations. If I close my eyes and imagine the most beautiful colorful sunrise or warmest sunset, it gives me a tiny insight into who you are. And we are so happy that this is how it will always be.


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How God kept me through it all

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Ephesians 1 Word Cloud

I am here, as we say in the church, “but for the grace of God.” Born protected. Not sure why, certainly nothing I did. As I look all the way back on my life, every step along the way then fast forward to today, I see a distinct thread leading me through the worst and the best of times – yes, God has kept me through it all.

It has not always been easy. My faith has come and gone in wave-like patterns, sometimes of tidal wave proportions, other times a small ripple in a pond. I actually thought that for several decades of my adult life I had turned away from God. But God never turned away from me, never left me, always, provided, protected, prevented, preceded… I serve a faithful God that has never given up on me, even when I gave up on God. And I am, therefore, even more humbled by this steadfast, loving, unequivocal, unceasing relationship — one that I am finally, after a lifetime of struggles in faith(fulness), taking more seriously than ever before.

Even in the times when I thought I was exercising my faith, I now realize that I was often just going through the motions. Using my life as a hula dancer as a metaphor, I started out dancing hula upon moving to Hawaii. I had a grand time learning the motions, studying some Hawaiian language and memorizing chants, and enjoying the camaraderie among my hula brothers. I became a front line dancer, confident in my precise footwork and synchronized movement. I chanted louder than anyone, projecting my voice across spaces and places. I was chosen to become an alaka’i, a person who assists the kumu (teacher/leader). I did this for years. And then I stopped, feeling a bit of burnout on fundraisers, rehearsal schedules and the pressures of prepping for competitions. Several years later, I realized that I missed hula too much not to keep dancing. A dear friend, Maile Loo, became the hanai (adopted) daughter of the preeminent Hawaiian cultural phenomenon named Auntie Nona Beamer. Maile had been a “Beamer” dancer for years and was officially recognized as a kumu hula in the “Beamer” style. She convinced me to join her group as the sole male dancer, no competitions, no fundraisers…  Unbeknownst to me at the time, my next hula journey would be transformational. This approach to dancing hula was completely different even though footwork, posture, motions were just as important. Before we were shown even one step, we studied the lyrics of every mele (song) and chant. We learned the meaning of every single word, the origin, the composer, often we visited the place that was being celebrated. We were taught to embody the lyrics and the traditions as a dancer… and then we learned the movement. The first time I danced hula this way, I came to the realization that for the many prior years of highly proficient dancing, I had never truly danced hula. I felt a freedom, a depth of understanding, an authentic emotion as I swayed to and fro. I wasn’t just dancing hula, I was the hula… And thus ends my metaphor for faith. We can become highly proficient at going through the motions, but have we ever experienced the moment when we become our faith?

So, as I make this faith journey, I love sharing what I discover along the way in hopes that it may help someone – I know it helps me to write it. Many of you may have already walked this path and might regard this as Faith 101 or Faith for Dummies. Nevertheless, I want to share some of my learnings that I truly believe are divinely inspired:

  1. Talking with God like a best friend, mentor, psychiatrist, family member and loved one builds a relationship that is real and tangible, not to mention, comforting, strengthening and encouraging. If you haven’t spent time with God in one on one conversations on a regular basis, how will you ever connect to God?
  2. Knowing God’s word (the Bible) is foundational to our faith. This is not just taking a few verses that support your belief and using them as weapons to reveal others’ shortcomings or “sin” or to defend your point. It is reading, questioning, struggling, immersing, visualizing and first and foremost seeking divine insights to gain a more holistic understanding of its meaning for our lives. I listen to the audio Bible nearly every day during my 1/2 hour commute to work and even the most familiar books like the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have come alive for me. I feel like I learn or hear something new every time I listen to God speaking to me through the Word.
  3. Questioning what you believe is a healthy part of the journey. I have never been a fan of the concept of blind faith. For me, blind faith = cult = people control and bondage = nothing to do with God and can result in some very negative consequences (remember Jonestown?). Faith actually frees us to be the people God created us to be. And part of what we should be engaged in are healthy, respectful debates that challenge us to go deep and embrace the struggle.
  4. Faith is relational so it requires community. Faith is not a solo endeavor. There are aspects of faith that are deeply personal, but I now believe that to grow in faith requires interactions with others. Some people will lift us up and others may drag us down. For years, I believed that I could fully practice and grow in my faith in isolation through solo meditation and inward prayer. I have since come to understand how important an extended faith community is to our individual growth. As we share our lives, experiences, ponderings, challenges and insights with others, we expand our thinking and understanding and have the opportunity to be supported as well as provide support.
  5. Seeking God’s will for our lives is a deeply personal effort and is oftentimes confusing. In truth, I don’t think we are ever finished seeking God’s will. It is an ever present and ongoing effort. In our lives we encounter huge forks in the road as well as more minor daily decision points. As we are led by God in these spaces and every one in between, it is the seeking that counts. We sometimes get it right, but more often than not, many of us are unsure of many of the steps we take. And that’s why I say it is the seeking that counts – God takes our steps and missteps and turns them into gold. Each experience, each moment leads us to a better and brighter future because that’s how God operates. God takes our heartaches and turns them into our hallelujahs.
  6. Being filled by the Holy Spirit is real – it just looks different for every person. I never understood the shout or the running for God as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit until this year… I still have never run (I have, however, had a good jumping in place experience in a wee hour encounter with God). I think I’ve come close to a shout (also in the wee hours) during which I felt like I would burst out of my skin because of the overwhelming gratitude I was feeling toward God. But sometimes it’s just a glowing inside, a quiet peace that you know comes from God. Sometimes it’s a grand insight into something you’ve been struggling with that you know came from God. My main learning here is that it is a unique experience for each believer. As long as there is an authenticity and openness to the Spirit, it could appear in many different forms. My learning is to not allow your preconceived notions of what it means to be filled by the Spirit dictate how and what form it takes.

My hope is that these musings may inspire someone to think about their faith journey and try out something new. For in spite of ourselves, God keeps us through it all.

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The parable of the blind man

350_healing_of_the_blind_man_jekelThe metaphor of going through life blind is deep. I woke up this morning and opened my eyes. In the dimly lit bedroom, my eyes slowly grew accustomed to “seeing” again after a night’s rest during which seeing was through the eyes of my mind and not physically through my optic nerves. But even after I opened my eyes, was I truly seeing? As humans, we are constantly filtering sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, sensations… And though this filtering process allows us to cope with the millions of stimuli we are subjected to every moment, if we are not vigilant, we will, in essence, go through life blind. The automaticity of filtering blinds us to many things. But being on auto pilot is in some ways comforting and reassuring. We automatically filter out everything that isn’t part of our “normal” routine and often do not see what is right in front of us. We pay attention to the details of the things that interest us and go “blind” to those that don’t. It’s kind of like remembering someone’s name. If you are interested or feel some connection, it’s easy to remember most of the time. If it is someone who does not hold our interest or even worse, someone toward whom we harbor some negative feelings, we often “conveniently” forget their name. So it is with “seeing”. The question is, “How can we open our eyes to all the wonders and miracles we experience on this life journey?”

In the gospels, there are several instances where Jesus heals the blind. Each follows a slightly different sequence, again, a metaphor for how we each individually experience blindness in our lives. Some of us spend our whole lives wandering in the wilderness blind to the miracles that surround us. Others are on a constant journey of seeking out the next wonder. Yet others have periods of blindness, a relationship that should have ended but lingered; the job that didn’t quite fit, but fear kept you there; the love that you let go because you couldn’t see its beauty; your career that was so all consuming you were unable to enjoy the world around you.

Of greatest interest to me is the healing of the blind man from Bethsaida. This healing happened in stages – not too different from how we, in life, can go from total blindness to perfectly clear vision… Jesus took this man through a process before he could see it all. Maybe because the man wasn’t ready to see. Maybe he couldn’t handle what he would see. Jesus in his infinite wisdom helped the man adjust to his newly opened eyes. I love this concept. First, Jesus took him away from all the clatter of every day life (outside the village) – perhaps so he could focus on Jesus? We could all use a retreat from the clatter. Then Jesus physically treated him with his saliva (applied to the man’s eyes) followed by the laying on of Jesus’ hands. Then when this was complete, Jesus did not declare, “You can now see.” Rather, he asked the man if he could see anything, leaving it up to him and his faith to indicate his healing. Apparently, the man needed another touch from Jesus. Sound familiar? Sometimes our faith is not sufficient the first few times and we just need another touch. It was then that the blind man from Bethsaida was healed and he could see and experience the world around him with total clarity.

Mark 8:22-25 (NIV) — They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Today, my prayer for myself and all of you is that (1) we would recognize and acknowledge what we are blind to; (2) our eyes would go through the process of being opened through faith; (3) we would be able to see and experience the wonders of this world with all its beauty and not let it pass us by for even one more second; and finally, (4) we would lovingly support and actively reach out to one another so that none of us continues to walk through life in the dark.

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I surrender all…

During my time with God in the wee hours thisMom_cute_hair morning, I remember how Mom would always cry when she heard the hymn, I Surrender All. As a young and naïve son, I never understood her tears. What could drive anyone to such an outpouring of emotions? It couldn’t be just this old hymn…

A little more than a year since my Mom’s passing, and having lived enough years to experience a few of my own ups and downs, I have finally been given some insight into my mom’s feelings, her sufferings, pain, and helplessness, her unimaginable burdens – those things that drove her to weep upon hearing that hymn. In spite of life’s crushing disappointments and seemingly insurmountable challenges, she persevered and came out triumphant. Though I have no real say in the matter, I am convinced she has since walked through the pearly gates of heaven and is alive on the other side – overjoyed to finally be one with God.

You see, my mom had a deep and abiding faith. She would always tell me when I shared my problems with her, “Bid maar, Lude. Onze lieve Heer slaapt niet. (Just pray, Lude. Our dear Lord doesn’t sleep).” In those few words she taught me, in essence, to surrender all…

In life we mostly think we can figure it all out by ourselves and we spare God of the many easy moments we have that don’t “require” a divine intervention. This morning, I give thanks for the people who make my life difficult, for the worries, for the stressors, for the circumstances for which I have no answers. It’s especially at these times that I feel closest to God – for that’s when I know I can’t possibly survive out here on my own. I have no choice but to surrender all. I am reminded that God is, in fact, omnipresent in all situations, the good ones, the bad, the ugly, the delightful, the disappointing, the challenging, the “jumping for joy” times as well as the “sobbing on my knees” moments. By giving up control and casting my cares upon God, I am certain of victory; An important lesson of which I lose sight in the shuffle of life’s trials and tribulations. It’s an easy concept to write about in my early morning musings, but so much more challenging to put into practice.

So, Mom, today, I’m going to “just pray”. You were right, surrendering all makes so much more sense.

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The Door of No Return…

Door of No ReturnDon Lemon, whom I love for so many reasons, went on a journey exploring his ancestry that brought him back to his roots on the slave coast of Africa. During his visit, he had an emotional encounter with what they call the “Door of No Return”. The guide told him that through that door millions of people left behind the known for the unknown, security for insecurity, to be loaded onto a ship and treated as cargo. And centuries later, still be struggling to escape the bonds of slavery both from external foes as well as internal demons.

As I, with similar emotions, watched the CNN segment, I could picture my ancestors on both sides of the family – ancestors who left home to seek a better life, some compelled by circumstances to flee their native lands, some brought in shackles by force, some on slave ships as cargo and some as crew. Others were native to the land but enslaved by the Dutch and other European overseers whose only goal was to extract the riches that the exotic Spice Islands yielded. And yet others were me and my parents.

BarbesteinI know for sure of one unwilling piece of chattel. This is the story of our maternal great-great-grandmother, the slave woman Apu who walked through the Door of No Return from Africa to the Dutch East Indies on the ship Barbestein. This branch of the family was fortunate to endure only one generation of enslavement, sailing East and providentially not West which placed our family on a totally different trajectory for generations to come. Her children would not be born slaves but free like their Dutch seafaring father, Wijnand Lucas Baggers, and become part of the mixed race folk who would fill the Dutch East Indies multicultural melting pot with a flavor all its own.

And what of our Japanese paternal great-grandmother, Ogide, whom we know so little about except that she was reported to be just another member of our great grandfather’s multiethnic harem? Why did she have to walk through the Door of No Return leaving Japan for a place so far away? Family stories weave a tale of intrigue and exoticism about Henri Alexander Wasch – this part Austrian gentleman born in the Indies is said to have had a Dutch wife, but also Chinese, Javanese and Japanese women with whom he had many children including our grandmother, Louise Fanny Wasch with the Japanese Ogide and our father’s half uncle, Harry Wasch, with the Chinese woman.  I wonder how these women led their lives in the shadows of a culture that did not empower them and in fact, regarded them as property. Somehow they were able to rise above, survive, thrive and recast the culture that intended to silence their voices.

Fast forward to 1957 as my parents flee the now independent Republic of Indonesia, the only home they had ever known. Five children in tow with just a few suitcases that represented multiple lifetimes and generations on Batavian soil both natives and immigrants from all corners of the world deeply rooted and steeped in its colonial history. They walked through the Door of No Return as they too embarked on a ship leaving behind the known for the unknown and the security of language, culture, family and a way of life destined for a lifetime of insecurity and never again truly belonging.

A few years later, they again walked through the Door of No Return when they decided to leave the Netherlands where at least the language, some cultural notes and extended family provided a bit of security and familiarity. But the lure of the United States offered all sorts of opportunity in the early sixties. What better place to find new life, fresh beginnings, and unlimited possibilities?

Although I walked through the Door of No Return as a small child with no real knowledge of leaving anything behind, ever present in my consciousness is the reality of my parents’ risky, courageous and selfless decision to seek out more for us; their ways though curious and old fashioned are woven into my DNA; their willingness to be foreigners in a foreign land. In some ways it is ironic that I still feel the insecurity of the unknown even with so much American cultural insider information. A foreigner in a foreign land like my parents. We walked through the Door of No Return together and though I live what is unarguably a charmed American existence, I often wonder what it would be like to walk back through time retracing the steps of those who came before me. What would I find on the other side? Java, Holland, Japan, Sulawesi, Ghana, China, Austria, Belgium? The Dutch East Indies no longer exists as a physical space but the vestiges of our culture can be found among the diaspora of those who passed through the Door of No Return carrying with them nothing but their hopes and dreams for the future.


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