I’ll Meet You There

By Elaine Knudtson20160823_141906

October 17, 2018

This morning I had a dream.  I was sitting in my office at work, writing in a journal back-lit by the window behind me.  It was a moment of peace; a reminder of all the years I had spent in that room before I was asked to leave it five months ago.  It put me in the proper frame of mind for an encounter with God.

Paul and I were scheduled to spend the day at the St. Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane, Alberta.  It was to be a day of silence, reflection, and prayer.  Before I closed the door on my house on the way to the centre, I paused and prayed, “Lord, I’ll meet you there.”

It was a simple day.  We met for a short time and pondered “Our Father who art in heaven.”  There were some verses and questions to use as a guide and we were sent on our way to engage in silent meditation.  I eagerly set to work, pondering the ideas that had been given to me, but I couldn’t shake my dream or the invitation I had given the Lord to “Meet you there.”

Friar Dan introduced the day by going through the Lord’s prayer.  He paused on the phrase: “As we forgive those who trespass against us.”  –“We forgive,” he said, “because we deserve peace.”  I had never heard it explained that way before and I couldn’t shake that perspective—-We deserve peace.

It wasn’t long before I realized that God wanted to meet me at the place of my greatest pain in the past year—my office.  “No, Lord,” I said.  “It’s too painful.  I don’t want to meet you THERE!”  But that’s exactly where he took me, towards the promise of peace.

 

“Meet Me There”

Baggage packed.

Hang ups and mental images stowed in the scrapbooks of my mind, all dusted off for the big reveal.

“I’ll meet you there, Lord.”

It’s been too long since I heard your voice and walked beside you enjoying your presence in silence.

The Friar recites the Lord’s prayer and pauses on “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“We forgive,” he says, “so that we can have peace.”

I must unpack the hurt and confess my reluctance to forgive.

I frequently revisit the place of my pain in my dreams.

It’s always changing.

At times the room is empty; all traces of my influence gone.

Other times, it’s as if I never left.

The sun shines on the Norman Rockwell picture of the surprised teacher;

Empty desks wait forever for students who will never return in a painting my sister in law created from a photo of a Norwegian school in a museum.

The rosemaling on the black plaque blends into the wall, seldom noticed,

Until I remember my mother-in-law’s love of all things Norwegian.

Her crafts hang silently in the memory of that room.

20161110_114650I see the stuffed dolls and toys I brought to entertain children who visited—my children, whether by blood or responsibility.

The music wafts through the room to the ceiling of that century-old room, like monks filling the abbey with their chants.

The cupboard is filled with old photos of vacations past that I plastered on my door each September to celebrate my summer adventures.

I could never discard them, even though digitized and printed on unlined paper, I kept them to mark the passing of my time there.

binders.jpgThe notebooks on the shelf were thinned out over the years—manuals, guides to practice—no longer needed as technology improved and everything went online.

Wisdom, experience, workshops, interdictions all captured between the covers of 3-ring binders representing the work of those who passed before me.

Their work, irrelevant, because they left, and the void was filled with fresh new voices looking for different ways to tell the same story.

Smash the idols of your predecessors as ancient voices before the enlightenment is ushered in.

Their edifices dance online in a maze of addresses with little connection to my search.

They have hidden their work in plain sight—obvious to them but too obtuse to be found by those looking for answers.

Do they think their masterpieces will remain in the museum of bureaucracy after they’re gone?

Do the generals hear their voices ringing in the field the day after the battle?

Sentiment maintains traces of the work, but soon that too will be boxed for the attic or retrieved by the trucks at Highfield to be decommissioned and destroyed.

We destroy our friends.

The enemy is merciful in ending our lives on the battlefield as we fight for a noble cause.

Those who die in battle are immortalized as heroes and we remember them.

Not so we who are retired.

“You’re the past.  She is the future.  I’m sorry.”

You leave me in my shame.

I’ll Meet you there. . .

I didn’t want to meet you HERE Lord.

I revisit the pain as a martyr in silence.

I collapsed as I packed my last trinket in the box; carrying it home to the arms of my husband who reinforced the offense as he sympathized with my pain.

Even the angry tirade against me rallies my hurt when I go back there.

We forgive because we deserve peace.

And so, this is where you meet me today?

  • Not in the shade of the garden,
  • Or on the river walk by way of the cross.
  • Not in the Adirondack chairs facing the azure sky, framed by mountains, outlined in snow.
  • Not even in the questions about God and heaven and our citizenship not being of this earth.

You meet me here.

In the room you returned to me in my dream this morning before it was disrupted by my successor.

Why did you bring me back to the pain, shame and unfinished sorrow?

I walked away and left it behind, running after the bobbles and adventures of retirement.

Is it because you know my feet are nailed to the threshold and I never leave that place completely?

I am locked in the frame of a picture, captured at the moment before I shut the door—

Holding my box of trinkets,

Emptying the room of all my memories,

Surrendering my legacy to the silent voices,

Listening to music that I played as a backdrop to the emails that no longer have a return address.

I’m Angry! Defeated.  Humiliated.  Obliterated.

5 months and not a word from those who pledged their eternal loyalty and praise.

How shallow our allegiance.

How selective our memories.

Only in eulogies or reunions do we ever renew our bonds, if only for a moment.

“I’ll meet you there.”

You stilled my frenetic pace today:  the trips, the visits, the renos, the plans for meaningless encounters to fill my days.

You needed to free me from my mind-numbing routine so I could remember.

“My sheep know my voice.”

I hear your voice in the dream, in the voice of the Friar. . .

“You deserve peace.”

Who do I forgive?

  • The one who replaced me? – I invited her in when I said I’d retire.
  • My Director who tried to ease my transition with a plan that created an explosive combination of old and new in the tiny space of one office?
  • Those I left behind?
  • The system?
  • The building?

Or mortality?

The inevitability of change and leaving and fading like the flower of the field.

Am I angry with a world where I contrast the face in the mirror with 6 decades of photos where I mature,  blossom, and fade.

It came so slowly one second at a time,

One season after another,

One school year after the next.

I didn’t see it until I walked out of that room:

Irrelevant, forgotten, misunderstood, following the instincts of leaders before me who were discredited by time.

Do I forgive them for leaving me behind?

Who needs forgiveness?

“I’ll meet you there.”

Take my final box of trinkets.

Carry it over the threshold.

Remind me that I have an eternal place in a kingdom that will never fade.

The world of not yet and eternally now.

“See what amazing love the Father has given us!  Because of it, we are called children of God.  And that’s what we really are.  The world doesn’t know us because it didn’t know him.” 

“Dear friend, now we are children of God.  He still hasn’t let us know what we will be, but we know that when Christ appears, we will be like him.  That’s because we will see him as he really is.” (I Jn. 3:1-2)

“I’ll meet you there, my beloved child.”

child-of-god

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Role of Grandparents

By Paul Knudtson

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” (2 Timothy 1:5)

gran2
Grandpa Eilert Knudtson with some of his grandchildren in the summer of 1957. I’m the shortest boy in the front row.

All of my grandparents had died by the time I began school in the fall of 1960. Grandma Knudtson and Grandpa Johnson died long before I was born, but  Eilert Knudtson (d. Mar 10, 1959) and Mina Johnson (d. May 11, 1960) lived long enough for me to have met them.  Their memory lived on, reinforced by stories that my mother told me in later years. For instance, mom told me that once, when grandpa was visiting, he watched one of my brothers run across the yard and he said, “You run like a jack rabbit!”

gran1
Eilert Knudtson with two of his nieces in Norway

In another story, they were visiting Grandpa Knudtson and our aunts at their home in Calgary. Everyone was standing outside and Allen, my brother, took grandpa by the hand and said that he wanted to go with him into the house. Grandpa thought that Allen wanted something, but when they got inside,  Allen told him, “I just wanted to sit with you.” Grandpa liked to hear this, and repeated it later to my mother. It is nice to have a grandpa’s lap to sit on, and it is equally nice for a grandpa to have a grandson who wants to sit on his lap.

These stories are fragments of memories. I became vividly aware that I didn’t have any living grandparents when I was in grade two. Our class was reading a story in our readers about Dick and Jane visiting their grandparents. We saw pictures of the car they traveled in and of their arrival at the home of their grandparents. As I studied these pictures I felt somehow left out and sad that I didn’t have grandparents that I could visit. I suppose that I was also aware that many of my classmates still had grandparents they could visit.

 

My wife, Elaine, tells of a special relationship that she enjoyed with her grandparents. When Elaine was a preschooler, she lived for a while with her parents in the same house her dad’s parents, Grandpa and Grandma Anquist. While her parents and grandpa went to work for the day, Elaine would spend all day with her grandma. These were special times of bonding between the two of them. They would go together on errands, like visiting the butcher shop where they would watch the butcher wrap the meat in paper and string, or they would work in the kitchen preparing supper or baking. And it was fun when grandpa came home from work and gave special attention and love to his granddaughter, taking her onto his lap as he sipped a cup of coffee.  I have no such memories.

gran5
Grandma’s house, built by her husband Henry in 1915. Grandma (Mina) lived in this house until she died in 1960, and as a widow since Henry died in 1943.

My brothers Allen and Arthur are both older than I am (Allen is six years older and Arthur four years older), so they have more vivid memories of our grandparents. Arthur told me in recent years how as a little boy he and Allen slept over at Grandma Johnson’s house on one occasion. He remembers that they had to sleep at grandma’s house that night because grandma was “afraid of lightning.” Someone must have explained it to Arthur in this way.  Grandma lived alone in her house on the farm just a few miles from our farm, and in same yard as the home of her son Clifford and family.

On July 2, 2017 the descendants of my grandpa and grandma Johnson had a family reunion. That day I learned more stories about my grandmother from older cousins. One of them (Carolyn, born 1941) told me how during the summer she would sometimes stay with grandma in her house. Carolyn said that grandma was playful. After the noon meal they would sometimes play Chinese checkers. The person who lost would have to do the dishes. But if grandma lost, then they would have to play more games so that the person who won the most games out of three would be spared the dishes. Or if the pastor showed up for the second time that week just before noon, grandma had everyone (grandchildren) quickly hide the dishes so that they could tell the pastor that they had already eaten.  The pastor enjoyed grandma’s home cooking–but enough is enough.

As I have observed, there is often a unique relationship that develops between children and their grandparents, one that differs qualitatively from the one between parents and children. Parents are often preoccupied with the demands of work and the responsibility to correctly  training and correcting their children. Grandparents, on the other hand, may have a somewhat more relaxed attitude concerning their duties and responsibilities, which may, in turn, give distinctive shape to the relationship. “What happens at grandma’s, stays at grandma’s.”

This past Sunday (October 7, 2018) we had our two oldest children and their families at our home for a thanksgiving meal. Timothy has just moved this summer back to Calgary with his family from Seattle (Bellevue), so it was nice now to be able to have both his family and Kristy’s family here for Sunday. This meant that four of our six grandchildren were here. It felt good to have all of them and their parents, enlivening our usually quiet house with boisterous noise and activity.

As I watched and listened, I thought, “How good it is to have grandchildren.” At one point, I observed Elaine interact with our oldest granddaughter. “How good it is that Faith has such a grandmother,” I thought to myself as I saw how they understood each other at a deep level.  This relationship between grandmother and granddaughter has developed over the years, and is a treasure to both of them.

gran6

I don’t know what it would have meant to have had grandparents during my school years. I suppose I pictured being doted on by a grandparent, being given cookies and milk at the kitchen table or simply having someone who was happy to see me and spend time visiting with me.

 

gran7Though I grew up without grandparents, in recent years I have come to enjoy a relationship that has in a way filled this void. As I was about to turn sixty, I came to know a man—one much older than I am (he is about 24 years my senior)—who has become a kind of grandpa figure in my life, Father Robert (“Father Bob”) Mitchell, a Franciscan friar.  Since the fall of 2013, I have been making monthly visits to Father Bob. He is someone who looked like a grandpa, who was always happy to see me, and who was not in a hurry.  He patiently sits and listens to me talk about how I was doing. Even though I am too old to have a living grandpa,

 

 

 

Father Bob is always genuinely happy to see me, as I am to see him. We often greet each other with a hug, or give one as we part—or both. We begin by informally sharing something of how we are. Then Father Bob reads a short scripture, and we pause for a period of silence before I share what strikes me about this passage, or how I may hear God speak to me through it. Our conversation continues, leading wherever it will, as we seek together to hear ways in which God may be leading in my life. Father Bob listens or shares examples from his own life and experience that we relate to what I have been talking about.

Father Bob has become my “spiritual director,” a term with a centuries-long history within Catholic Christianity, but increasingly familiar to other Christians as well. Gordon Smith of the Christian and Missionary Alliance gives a good definition of spiritual direction, a definition that accurately describes Father Bob’s contribution to my own life.

“A spiritual director offers spiritual guidance and companionship to help us make sense of our faith journey, interpret with us the significant markers on the road, and encourage us, particularly through the more difficult transitions and valleys of our pilgrimage. Most of all, a spiritual director helps us make sense of the witness of the Spirit—assisting us to respond well to the question, How is God present to me and how is God, though the ministry of the Spirit, at work in my life?” (Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Giving and Receiving Direction, InterVarsity Press, 2014, page 9).

Much of what happens in that little room where Father Bob and I visit concerns more of a feeling or impression than of information that is shared. I often leave those visits with a sense of unexpected joy that leaps up within me. Though much of our conversation is quite ordinary, made up of the regular stuff of life, I have nonetheless often left with a sense of how uncanny and good our visit has been. These little visits are unlike anything else that I do in my life—similar in some ways with a good conversation over coffee with a friend, but more like a child’s visit with a grandpa or grandma.

I think we all need “elders” in the faith, people who are genuinely interested in our well-being, who have the time to listen to us and help us discern the ways of God in our lives. The apostle Paul describes his relationship to the Corinthian Christians in such terms. He writes, “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15)

Many people decry the fact that so many churches today are made up of a preponderance of old people; there are so many grey heads. It would be better, we think, to be part of a youthful church filled with young families. We of course want to see the gospel flourish among the young, but I also wonder if we are not often missing out on the treasure we have with the large number of seniors in our churches. I think of the potential benefit that many younger believers could receive if they were “adopted” by these older people who could take on the role of spiritual parents or grandparents.  I wish that everyone could have the equivalent of my relationship to Father Bob.

gran10There is a significant role for grandparents to play in the lives of their grandchildren.  This may be the greatest calling of all in our later years.

In 2016 my mother knitted baby blankets for her great grandchildren who were born that year. Mom died on December 8, 2016. These babies were born into a world where they were loved by generations of their family, even by a great-grandmother they would never know in this lifetime.

“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their parents.”   Proverbs 17:6

 

Tov Me’od

By Elaine Knudtson

20170916_170107We are forever chasing rainbows, unable to enjoy the rest stops along the way.  Or, we give up searching and settle for the safety of predictability and routines.

The “to do lists” of our lives focus on key events, major purchases, and vocational aspirations.  Convinced that in attaining our goals, we can be released from emptiness and longing or attain contentment and joy, we throw ourselves into a continuous preoccupation with the “next” big thing on our road to happiness.   C. S. Lewis described it as “shadowlands”.

“We live in the Shadowlands.  The sun is always shining somewhere else.  Round a bend in the road.  Over the bough of a hill. . .”  C. S. Lewis (movie quote from “Shadowlands” 1993)

butteWe went on our first fall road trip.  With no commitments, we were able to pack the car and follow the weather to warmer adventures along the west coast.  Living the dream: the pot of gold at the end of the retirement rainbow–travel.  Why was I not deliriously happy?  Surely this trip should have been the best ever because I was free.

As we were driving towards home through Butte, Montana, we noticed how the tops of the hills were sprinkled with snow.  It was overcast and we watched the car thermometer dip with every mile as we headed north.  Knowing our adventure was coming to an end, we were unsettled, tired and anxious.  Then my husband read these words:

“What is present to me is what has a hold on my becoming.  I reflect on the presence of God always there in love, amidst the many things that have a hold on me.  I pause and pray that I may let God affect my becoming in this precise moment. . . Lord teach me to slow down, to be still and enjoy the pleasures created for me.  To be aware of the beauty that surrounds me:  the marvel of mountains, the calmness of lakes, the fragility of a flower petal.  I need to remember that all things come from you.” (26th week of ordinary time—Sacred Spaces by Irish Jesuits).

True rest wasn’t found on our road trip; it came when we stopped and pondered all that God had made.

The creation narrative ends each section with the words, “And God saw that it was good (me’od)”, but on the final day, when the work is complete, there is the addition of the word “tov”—VERY.  “God saw all that He made and it was VERY good (tov me’od)”  Perfection.  Nothing more to add.  God rested.

In Hebrews we are reminded of the significance of that moment:

“Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said. . .Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. . .There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. . . for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work.  Just as God did from His.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest.” Heb. 4:ff

Our redemption is given to us by the final “It is finished” on the cross.  The work of striving to be reconciled to God is complete.  Perfection.  Nothing more to add.  We can rest.  At that moment we are able to say, “And I saw all that God had done, and it was “tov me’od”. . .

“Tov Me’od”

The swirling disruptive artistry of creation complete, God rested.

 It is finished. 

And He saw that it was very good – Tov me’od.

The moment between creation and rest.

He waits for me there.

It is the moment of surrender.

Thankfulness

By Elaine Knudtson

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (I Thess.5)

polyannaAs a young girl I watched Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” on Sunday evenings.  A three- part movie, “Pollyanna”, about a young orphan who transforms a town with her constant and excessive optimism seemed like a magic formula for happiness.  It was based on a character created by Eleanor Porter in 1913 (before the century of world wars).  It was easy to find the good in happy events; much more challenging to see anything good when I was angry or misunderstood.  The term “Pollyanna” is now used derisively of those who are unrealistic and inauthentic.

 

 

prisonIn 1976 I read Merlin Carother’s book Prison to Praise.  I was intrigued by the challenge to change my focus from suffering, hardship and failure to thanksgiving.  It was a concept that was prevalent in the early 1970s, along with clichés such as “Smile, God loves you”, “When God closes a door, God opens a window”, and “Let go and let God.”  The premise was that we needed to give God thanks in all situations because He was allowing circumstances to happen so that we would trust in His providence.

I no longer subscribe to these self-help techniques as I have seen that some troubles are a result of my own choices, others are natural occurrences in a physical realm, and still others are part of living in a broken and fallen world.  However, the conscious decision to focus on gratitude continues to be integral to my spiritual and mental health.

We seem naturally drawn to problems.  Some are “doers” and look for the way out; others are “feelers” paralyzed by fears.  Either way, the focus is on our response. It can so easily quench the spark of gratitude and replace it with the scars of cynicism and doubt.  When it becomes a habit, life seems joyless.  Often people will diagnosis their malaise as being stressed or tired, but often, at the heart of it is a lack of thankfulness.

gratitude

We met with all our grandchildren this summer for four days in southern California.  No sooner had we walked into the door of our Airbnb before I heard complaints about the condition of the house, the lack of bathrooms, and a jocking for the “best” bedroom in the house.  Here we were on the family vacation of a lifetime, and they were complaining.  At the supper table, before any of them could eat, I asked them to stop for a moment and ponder, “What are you thankful for?”  The whole attitude around the table changed, including my own, and we enjoyed our meal together.

They all commented on being thankful for family, vacations, “the whole world”, Jesus, and the food on our table.  Amazing how an appreciation of the simple blessings silences the anxiety and negativity.

It is Thanksgiving today in Canada.  I am reminded of the expression “Carpe Diem”—seize the day.  It goes along with the Jewish toast: “l’chaim” – to life.

“Today is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24)

Thankfulness:

Lord, I give you thanks for those special moments:

  • The vista from the top of the mountain after a long climb
  • The crashing of the waves on the edge of the shore
  • The beautiful explosion of colors as seasons change
  • The golden light piercing the cloud after the storm
  • The cacophony of creation’s voices in the forest at the setting of the sun
  • The giggle of children playing before bedtime
  • The hug after an argument
  • The “I forgive” eternally offered for my ungratefulness