A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hope for a New Year

Our garden beds getting mulched for next year's garden

    I find myself sitting down to write, finally, in the last few days of the year. This is the third time I have attempted to pull together the incoherent strands of my life into a December blog post, each attempt failing on account of the fact that life lately has not fit into a convenient narrative or theme. The shocking election results and the new direction that they implicate for us as a nation have left me grasping for solid ground. Quite literally. Mike and I retreated to our garden the morning after; and while multiple of our conservative neighbors seemed to be out shooting their guns in celebration (we are surrounded by hunting land after all), we worked the earth, perhaps reassuring ourselves that at least the basic ingredient for survival cannot be taken from us, whatever changes may come. But in reflections since that day, I have come to feel certain that this election forced many, many people into polarized camps backing candidates that do not fully represent their values. They voted either because they were desperate for change, or they were voting for a single important issue, or even voting against something they were afraid would be worse. A two-party system does a poor job representing the diversity that is our country, and an even poorer job fixing the intractable problems that effect us all.

     News of a Trump presidency was swiftly followed in my life by the unexpected death of a much beloved uncle of mine. I scarcely had time to absorb the shock and wake of sadness that followed news of his death when Mike had to depart for a month of seasonal work, leaving me to manage with our baby. I felt so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of single parenting (on a half-completed homestead, in a state of muddled grief) that I decamped for my parent’s home in Wisconsin for several weeks, and then the home of Philadelphia friends for several more weeks. Being constantly surrounded by people who love you, and unconditionally support you, is a wonderful heart-balm for all sorts of hard times, this being no exception. In that same vein, we are now visiting Mike’s family in Ohio before returning to our Missouri homestead. The mood here is festive and celebratory, full of parties and visiting guests, and we have lots of support with our nine month old daughter. And still. My own inner state is dissonantly contemplative and yearning for signs of hope to start the new year with.

Perhaps the last Thanksgiving feast with many of our community members

      In the interests of full disclosure, I realize I am omitting one more strand, one that sits heavily on our hearts as Mike and I look forward toward 2017: our Missouri community is in the midst of major upheaval as well. Several of our neighbors have announced plans to move. The community as we had all dreamed it could be has not coalesced soon enough to assuage concerns about children’s educations, and other reasons to deem the grass greener elsewhere. Perhaps this has been a failure in priorities, or perhaps in community organization, or perhaps in simply not being enough people to form a critical mass that could sustain all of our community needs… There will be much soul searching to come to get to the root of what went wrong, I know. So on top of major changes facing our nation, Mike and I (along with our remaining neighbors) are looking at a major shift in the structure and nature of our beloved community, a shift that will likely take some time, healing and re-visioning to resolve.

Mural in process at Take Root Cafe in Kirksville, now completed!

     How does one begin to make sense of a world changing all too quickly? The words of one of my dear friends and mentors, Dee Dee Rischer, recently struck a chord in me following a visit with her and her family in Philadelphia. “This is what I can do in a future filled with uncertainty. Share space. Grow food. Stay in compassionate relationship. Pray and pray more. Stand somewhere, even if it is the wrong place.” She is one of the voices I turn to for guidance when I feel most in need of a compass, and fortuitously, this time she placed in my hands a book that she just finished writing— The Soulmaking Room—about how difficult passages in our lives help make us into our best and truest selves. It is so timely for me, I feel it worth mentioning here (www.soulmakingroom.com has more). I think she is such an excellent writer and Christian leader (she and her husband Will O’Brien have been mentors for countless young people, including spiritual heavyweights like Shane Claiborne) that she should be more known. The humble life of simplicity and servitude that their family lives is probably not the best platform to leverage a readership with. Instead they pour their energies into social justice causes, inclusion of the poor and homeless through work with Project Home, and the creation of a small co-housing community in the city that shares meals, garden space, prayer time and a hospitality space for those who need a temporary space to live. Another beautiful model of what is possible with community. So perhaps more direction is on its way through her writing… Hope enough for the time being.

Mike and our daughter Caris at his November birthday celebration (playing pin the mushroom)

     I also have been trying to learn from my unflappably happy daughter and the little beacon of hope that she is to so many. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with worry for her future on a planet that is increasingly being dumped full of substances toxic to all life, with an ozone layer being punched full of holes by greenhouse gases. There are too many nuclear weapons, and guns, and people bent on killing other people. She is so small and fragile in the face of these huge things, but they aren’t hers to worry about yet. So I try to shut off my mind and watch how she navigates the world: she makes no distinctions or judgements between people or objects or places. She receives everything with curiosity and joy, which is contagious. I catch strangers staring at her with sheepish smiles, obviously caught in a moment of connection I wasn’t supposed to witness. Old men soften as they touch her tiny fingers, and her dimples seem to have mighty heart-melting power all on their own. It is just amazing to witness this sweet force—I have seen even construction workers break into the biggest of toothy smiles in her presence and start cooing! I am beginning to understand what the Christmas season is all about—the miracle that a new baby is and the hope they represent for people. I used to picture the stately Magi bowing in serene reverence for their new messiah, baby Jesus. Now I picture them grinning and cooing, their hearts opening.

    So Caris's joyful new life energy will be carrying me along with her into the next year, and giving me a reason to look forward instead of back. May 2017 be a hope-filled new start for us all!