Investments

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Good morning from the diner,

Today will be a day of grading and preparing for the end of the semester and beyond. It is also a day to catch up on some household items. Finally, it is also the first Sunday and the beginning of the Advent season. In the liturgical year, it is actually my favorite time. Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. It is also considered a season of hope. Hope is an entirely different topic, one on which I could probably do an entire posting. Nevertheless, it is a season that provides both memories and, for me, a sense of goodness in a world that at times seems irreparably broken. It is that sense of goodness that offers at least a glimmer of hope. While I believe we should (and I try to) give to others throughout the year, again, at least we pay attention to the needs of others a bit more intentionally. While there are more than enough stories about why this time is stressful, particularly within families, it also seems that generally attempts to remediate issues might occur at this time (in spite of some of my own experiences to the contrary). It is a time when we actually think carefully about what we have done in the past year and how those events have continued to shape who we are or move us toward some growth we hope to accomplish.

Those events in the past year are an investment of sorts. They signify the things or people on or in which we believed there was value. The question is always whether or not the investment was wise or sound. Not really that different from one’s portfolio, one looks and tried to determine the performance of those investments and then decides to either continue that position or change it. However, there is a difference when you are analyzing things or people and stocks or bonds. Investing in things or inanimate objects is more about what one values or deems important. The item itself is the passive or non-acting agent, and yet, is considered to have value (i.e. a house, a college degree-the piece of paper, one’s electronic gadgets). Investments in people are a bit more tricky. As something not inanimate, people are neither passive nor inactive. While some might seem as such and others certainly not, the decision to invest time or energy into another person (i.e. a spouse, a student, a family member, a friend or acquaintance) always has an inherent risk. Who people seem to be and knowing who they actually are is an imperfect science at best. Likewise, time and experience changes people, but I think those changes are more drastic the younger the person is. I see that everyday when observing my students. The differences one sees between freshmen and seniors is beyond extreme. The difference one can experience from semester to semester or week to week can be much more dramatic than one might ever imagine. I have, again, witnessed this first hand, even in the past few days.

Last night I had two experiences that epitomize the extremes of what I am noting. A former, and now graduating student, and her father came over for dinner last night. It was the first time I have met the father, but I was referred to as the “God-parent” (Bóg-rodzic). That was a compliment and it has been fun to watch Marysia grow over the years. I have been invited to travel to Poland and spend the New Year’s holiday with them. I am excited because it will be my first trip to Eastern Europe. On the other hand, I have tried to understand the philosophy of another and it is apparent that it is not as much a philosophy as it is simple selfishness. As I noted in a previous blog, I have to learn to see things for what they are and quit making excuses for others. I had the opportunity to speak with another last evening, a person I have helped with school issues and with housing. Their attempt to make it on their own is admirable, even though there are stumbles. It was insightful to read and observe their behaviors and listen carefully to what was said. The wisdom that I observed in that conversation was quite astounding. I know the importance of the investment I have made in the other, but that investment needs to be reconsidered not from what I get, but rather from what it has taught me about myself. I think that is the difference between investing in things that are passive or inanimate and things that are active or not inanimate. When we invest in the inanimate, the consequence is much more understandable, perhaps predictable. People, on the other hand, are seldom understandable and so we cannot see what we might receive from them as the investment. What I am sure of lately if we could only evaluate on what we might receive from the other, I would be bankrupt. What I believe we must see in our investment in others is what we learn about ourselves and how we might better ourselves from those experiences. It is similar in my teaching. While I invest a great deal of time, I cannot make a student learn; I cannot make him or her want to succeed. What I must realize is my investment is in my profession and in my own learning to do what I do better.

As we head into the last week of classes, I know it is a stressful time. Some people manage stress well and others (as I have watched this entire semester) do not. I am not consistent with how I manage stress if I am going to be honest. Sometimes I can take it in stride and manage quite well. Other times it can almost paralyze me. I think about some of the moments I had last spring as I tried to manage things here and in Wisconsin and it was overwhelming to me. I must say, in spite of some things I am currently trying to navigate this semester, I am doing pretty well. I did have another fever last night (or early morning), but they are certainly not as frequent as they were last summer. I also know it is much less stressful having come to the conclusion I have during the break and what I need to do during the next semester. I had a chat with one of the people I visited over the break and there was a question about why I feel the need to publish or move forward in my rankings. It was a fair question from the perspective of not being in the position of needing to publish, teach, or serve. It was a fair question to ask if that ranking was merely about salary. My desiring to publish and to advance is about demonstrating expertise in my field and demonstrating that what I do in my classroom has substance and credibility. I am not upset with the questions, particularly when the questions were asked out of concern for me in a bigger picture. It is nice to have someone who is contemporary ask questions. I must admit the questions and concerns are genuine and the treatment has always been respectful. I guess that is what being 50-something will do versus being 20-something. I see late-teens and 20-somethings everyday because of my job, and even if one seems older at times, he or she is still only 20 and their narcissistic behaviors are much more likely to be intact and functional than later in life. I think the difficulty is their feeble attempts to justify their behaviors, but again that is an issue of maturity. It is not the first time I have had to face that reality though this time might be a bit more difficult to swallow than other previous experiences. Again, this is where I have to come to terms with my understanding of what I hope to get or receive as an investment. If my investment is dependent on another person’s behavior than the investment is flawed or, at the very least, pretty damn risky. If I consider what I have invested as something merely meant to benefit the other and not myself – if I can be more unconditional in my expectations – then I cannot lose. Unfortunately, I expected something better and that is my own mistake. Some of that expectation was based on experience, but the experience has certainly changed and I think the true nature has become rather clear. That is not the fault of the other, it is my fault for believing that there was a capability to do what seems to be reasonable or honorable. I also understand that I am imposing my standard of reasonable or honorable, but I have come to those understandings based on almost 60 years of life and a lot more experience than many. It would be nice if things were free or we were as free to do as we’d like, but that is a misguided notion. It is merely a choice to act that way. However, I must remember my own phrase, one I once wrote: “prepare to pay”. Again, the cost of the investment has been high, but it was my decision to take the chance. While I probably did not see it as much of a chance as it has turned out to be, any time you put energy or care, love or commitment into another person on any level, it is taking a chance. I cannot blame anyone for my decisions and/or my stupidity in this case. Much as I had the choice to invest, I have the ability to divest. While it takes a lot for me to walk away, I am capable of doing so.

Yet, if I see it as only as a misguided decision or simple stupidity, then every good thing I have done would have been undertaken foolishly or somewhat idealistic. Ultimately, that is not how I see it. Giving of one’s self, of one’s time, of one’s dedication, and love to another is never to be considered foolish or wasted. I do not regret what I have done and for the help I have given, even when needed without their realizing it or unappreciated. I feel pretty decent. I took some chances and I learned. That is the investment. It is the learning. It is standing back and considering all the data and then realizing the true nature of someone. What is significantly more important is the learning I did about myself and how that might help me in the future. I know that I could have been a pretty reasonable parent. I know that I can see bigger picture and I also know my frailties when dealing with someone for whom I care deeply. All of those lessons have been valuable and will help me as I move on and forward. Finally, it is good to invest both in things and in people. If we do not do so, I believe we live a life devoid of hope, devoid of promise, devoid of possibilities. While I am learning that we only have some much time, that is the reality we all live with. Sometimes we are more cognizant of that limitation.

It is the season of Advent, a time for preparation and I am preparing to move on. I have learned in life that there is no constant and as I was reminded the other night when speaking with my 50+ contemporary, I only have so much life left. This Advent will be a special Advent for me and I do want it to be a season of hope and I am hopeful because I have learned so much. It is a season of caring and for the care I have given, I know that I have been true to my nature and to what my grandmother demonstrated in her life. For a season of possibilities and for Cassey and Becca, this will be an amazing week. For Brittany and Maria, it is your last week as an undergraduate student. You have grown so much since that first summer class. I am still grateful to all four of you because I still have some surrogate kids. Last week I received a wonderful email about what I do in class . . . the student ended with the following words: “Thank you for pushing me to be the best I could be, for showing me that I am far more capable than what (sic)I ever imagined. Thank you for making an impact on my life and my educational career. It was truly a blessing to be a part of your class, and experience I will never forget. I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and pray that you continue to change other students’ lives like you’ve changed mine.” While I am touched and humbled by this, it too provides hope. There is a hope that after time, the investments made in any situation might be considered or realized as efficacious for both. Of course, there is no guarantee of that, and it is certainly not wise to need that response. I have learned that to about the 10th power or exponentially.

Yet the chance it might happen is at least one reason I have invested in students; that is why I invest in people in general. It is my sincere hope that what I offer, or give, or provide makes their lives better. When it does, I have invested wisely because it makes my life better.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Traditions of Christmas

Scan 757Hello on the day retailers go into the Black,

I am probably not helping them make any goal today and I am grading and attending to matters that somehow once again seem beyond my control. I do not plan to do much shopping, if any today, and I have other things I want to try to manage. I sometimes wonder if my attention to detail is something wrong or merely something that causes me difficulty, or perhaps both. The picture here is of two of my seminary friends when they came to Pennsylvania when I first lived in this state a quarter century ago and was a parish pastor in Lehighton. They are in the house I lived in and their names are Tim Christensen and Sandra Van Zyl. I miss them, but still know where they are (in Montana).

I did have a nice Thanksgiving, though a bit untraditional and a bit traditional. I spent part of it on the road taking my Midwest guests back to the airport and spent some time in a traffic jam. Then I went to a family’s house for dinner. They had extended family there and it was nice to meet them. It always it interesting to be around a group at the holidays. I listen to comments and conversations and one learns so much. It was the “cousin” comments which taught me the most and gave me new insights.

I didn’t finish all of this yesterday and last evening (it is 4:00 a.m. and I have been awake for over an hour, so I write) I was at the Decker’s. I had a nice time watching Grace in a parade and seeing Caroline and Rose scramble for candy. Mary always brightens my day because of her amazing love and beauty. Max, Mark and I played a card game following the parade (which Max beat us both) and Ethan, Christian (the Clark nephews who were visiting), and Gayle worked on a jigsaw puzzle (which they pulled an all nighter and I just got the completed picture as a text). It was interesting that advice both Mark and I gave Grace last night, I need to take for myself. It really dawned on me as I was saying it. In fact, I noted that point and Mark and Grace both noted it back to me.  It is a bit ironic how we tell others not to put up with what we ourselves are putting up with. So, now comes the hard part: doing it and continuing to say that impoliteness is not reasonable nor acceptable, regardless of what the other does to justify. I realize that I put up with a lot more of this than I should and then when the consequence is my generosity or kindness (in any form) is taken advantage of, I am always surprised (I should not be). What I am learning is what I offer or think about a person’s intentions or character is not as pure as I want to believe. If one’s heart is not selfish, it is almost impossible to act selfishly. This is the adage I must remember.

Tonight when I got home I pondered (yes, again I am pondering) why it is that Christmas music so profoundly affects me. I am not sure if it is because I grew up singing from the time I was small. I am not sure if it is because I remember recording an LP (do your remember those things?) with the Sioux City Children’s Choir. However, it was actually trying to listen to Christmas music on Thanksgiving evening and a comment from the cousin that gave me the most insight into things I have watched, but perhaps did not really understand. In addition, it also got me thinking about the music. The station I was listening to was probably the most traditional of any Christmas station one could ever hope to find. John Rutter and Robert Shaw have probably done more arranging and composing of Christmas music than any other two people in the world. It is their Pandora stations that play the most amazing Christmas music one could ever hope to hear. Check it out; I am quite sure you’ll be glad you did.

This coming Wednesday, I am going to see Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas concert in Bethlehem. I have not seen them live since I was in seminary. I got two tickets way last summer, but the plans I thought of have changed pretty dramatically, and I am really fortunate to be going with a former colleague. She has a “bit of a musical appreciation” so going to see the concert with her will be amazing. She is also one of the people for whom I have great admiration. I am looking forward to it. Next weekend I am going to hide out in Jim Thorpe for the weekend. I plan to see the Bach and Handel Chorale there (and probably do some grading).

When I grew up every Christmas was at my Grandmother’s house. This is the same person with whom I lived until I was about four and a half. I have mentioned her in my blog many times, and she is my hero. She is probably the most loving and giving person I ever met. She had a much more difficult life than I have really taken the time to imagine. She grew up on a farm in the depression and the dust bowl years in South Dakota. She did go to college, at least for a period of time, but she did not finish. I never learned the story behind that. I’m not exactly sure how she ended up married to my grandfather, but I think that deeply loved each other. He died when she was only 45 years old. So what I’m realizing that she spent the rest of her life, the next 19 years, as a widow. Another one of those ironies, Lydia has been alone also for 19 years. I think with me this is me the most about my grandmother is that she overcame her alcoholism. I did not know she was an alcoholic, but I remember as a small child going to the liquor store with her. From what I understand, my grandfather also had a drinking issue. It was really after I became an adult that I understood what it happened. Long story short, AA changed her life. I think she quit drinking when I was seven years old and she never drank again. For the rest of her life, she focused on her ownership of the bakery and she was active in Eastern Star. She eventually was the Worthy Matron of her chapter. I remember in high school being amazed as I watched these elegant women do the things they did at installations. It reminds me of someone, a person who worked at the bakery. I wonder where she is today.

Christmas at my grandmothers house was amazing. She owned a bakery – the one I worked at from the time I was 12 – and everything that was made there was delectable. Both she and her older sister, Helen, where the most amazing cooks in the world. So between her bakery and her culinary skills Christmas dinner has never been equaled. However, that was only the beginning. Grandma pulled out all the stops at Christmas and her generosity was unparalleled by anyone. I do not come close for those thinking I am like her. I only wish I was. I can still remember her kindness, her smile, and how happy she was that everyone was in her house. Perhaps the best part of Christmas was that we got to stay at her house the week that followed. My favorite breakfast every day consisted of two poached eggs, a half a grapefruit, and toast. Hanging out at the bakery is a small child and working later in my life was something that I love to do. I still remember the present of a toboggan and sliding on her hill. The house she lived in the rest of her life with the house I had spent my first years in. It was a place of safety; it was a place of love. Perhaps that’s the most important gift she gave me the gift of unconditional love. While I’ve tried to emulate her all too often I fail miserably. However I still have her example to remember and to cherish.

In spite of the craziness at the end of the semester, regardless a number of things that can get in our way, it is the time to remember the things that matter. No matter how busy we are or how much we have on our plate simple acts of courtesy and kindness or what Christmas and traditions are about. I am blessed by my traditions from earlier my life and the memories I have. I’m grateful for the things that I have learned this past year. I’m not sure what the future will bring or how long with future is, but I do know that I have been blessed. Even when I don’t understand all the reasons or even the actions of others, I can still find some blessing in those experiences. I’m grateful for my traditions, for my heritage. While I will not leave children behind, I was reminded again this week by an email that somehow I make a difference. While I love the traditions of Christmas perhaps my most important legacy is in the classroom. It is one of the places my gifts really shine. I hope you can find time to create new traditions and begin new things. I’m looking forward to Christmas and having some people at my house to share to learn together, and perhaps create a new tradition, at least once. Well, it is 5:30 a.m. – time for a nap.

The link is from one of my favorite group, the concert I will see this next week. The song is titled “Traditions of Christmas”. I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Somos todos los Immigrantes

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Buenos días de mi oficina a principios de una ruptura de Acción de gracias (Dzień dobry z mojego biura na początku przerwy Dziękczynienia or صباح الخير من مكتبي في بداية عطلة عيد الشكر، or Bonjour de mon bureau au départ d’une pause de Thanksgiving,),

I realize this is quite the salutation for a beginning of a post, but these are languages that some of my students speak as a native or first language, but they are, with the exception of one, American citizens. I would also note that they are outstanding students, fluent in English for those who want to argue such issues, and also fine human beings. In the last weeks, and longer, and now after a decision for no indictment in Ferguson, Missouri, politics and racial tensions seem to be the order of the day, which is even more ironic as we pause to celebrate our status as immigrants. Think about it for just a moment, the pilgrims were immigrants in a new land and at least according to tradition (and yes, historically), without the help of the native population would have probably been wiped out in the harshness of the winter, a season and event for which they were woefully unprepared. Yes, I understand that many people can trace their relatives back for generations on this continent, but at some point your relatives were from another place, coming to the shores of this continent hoping to achieve something they could not. Whatever that reason was, they believed that coming to this land provided opportunity. I should note that this blog will illustrate my own particular political bias, and for that I can only say, it is my opinion and mine alone, but it is what I believe and feel in my heart. I offer it as a way to cause those who read to ponder. It is what I try to do in most of my postings.

Since before President Obama was elected, he has been pretty open about his position on the question of immigration in this country. In fact, even George W. Bush pushed for immigration reform while president and seemed to have a bi-partisan group that was willing to push that forward. As recently as 2012, the Republicans, themselves, noted that something should be done and it was time to work together. I am well aware of the arguments about the border or issues of amnesty, but all of those things aside, it is time that the Congress get beyond their incessant arguing and actually accomplish something. It is for those reasons, in my opinion, that President Obama has issued the executive order he has. I will get into the specifics and my thoughts about that in a moment. However, the fact that the Congress has tossed this political football around for a decade and done little to nothing (please note I have not mentioned a party here, but I have noted the Congress in it entirety.) is what has prompted the President to finally act. More importantly, the action taken neither grants citizenship nor amnesty. It is a stop-gap, which, in my opinion, offers the Congress time to act on one hand, while offered an opportunity to hard working people who want to be productive citizens of the country. It also keeps families together. That is not a political thing; that is a humanitarian thing. It is an ethical thing. It is simply what each of us might hope for ourselves. I would challenge any person whose family member was being deported to argue that they would not hope for such a protection, even if that is a temporary option.

So, at this point, I am arguing two things. First, if the Congress had merely acted with some sense of decency and with some modicum of intelligence, there would have been no need for an executive order. Second, the executive order is not a be-all, end-all. It is merely to give the Congress more time to finally do something for which they get paid a pretty good salary and benefits (don’t even want to go down that road). In the meanwhile, people who are working and trying to do something helpful and support their families have a chance to merely keep on doing it. Again, I understand that they came here “illegally”. The executive order notes that this applies to people who have been here five years or longer. In addition, I know that many of the jobs that these hopeful people are doing are the very jobs that many citizens refuse to do, saying they do not pay enough, or that they are too good to do. That is another place I do not really want to walk down at the moment. There are too many citizens who believe they are entitled to something because they are a citizen or because they went to college or . . . you fill in the blank . . . . oops, I am not done and did not mean to publish, but now I will have to write faster.

I took some time away so if you have read and missed what follows, I am sorry. I went to the Fog and Flame (a local coffee shop) and met with Melissa (a different one than the surrogate) and her daughter and had a nice chance to catch up. Following that I got some yard winterization done as well as put the Harley into winter storage. I got a snowblower purchased and got a couple of other things ready for our imminent snowstorm. Then Lee, Judy, and I met one of my faculty colleagues for dinner. Now I am back home and we are settling in, but I am also working to finish this post.

Throughout the day I have listened to a variety of people’s take on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, the other topic I noted in the beginning of this post. I am reminded of some of the times I have previously posted about feeling marginalized. Not that I have felt that marginalized and that indeed, as I have been told rather unabashedly, I do fall into the position of “privileged”. It is true; as a male, as a caucasian, as a citizen, as an employed professional, as a person with a pension and health benefits, and the list could go on. I get up each morning and I do not really worry about what the majority of people think when they see me. I was not in Ferguson and I do not know all the facts of the case, but who actually does? The police officer at the center of the controversy probably knows better than anyone else, but does he even realize everything at this point? What I do know from listening to and observing many of my students, particularly those who are either ethnically diverse, economically challenged or educationally underprepared. It is easy to see when they feel uncomfortable or they believe they are deemed unworthy or not as good. There are so many messages, unintentional or not, that create situations where people feel less than what they should. I often say that I do not wake up feeling like . . .  and again you can fill in the blank. I have marveled as I have read comments on Facebook or other social networking sites some of my students’ (and former students’) responses. I have also been gratified by their willingness to state some pretty insightful responses to the sad state of affairs, not only in the riotous responses, but also in their consideration of the larger issues at the center of this tragedy. I am a firm believer that violence begets violence. I have seen this reality throughout my life; it does not matter if it is between two individuals and interpersonally or if it is in a larger interactive situation and as such it spills into a larger societal incident. The lack of appreciation for the other has a number of causes, but fundamentally I believe that inadequacy is due to fear of the unknown. It is because of narrow mindedness and an unwillingness to consider our differences as an opportunity for growth versus a basis for disagreement.

Again, I think both the issue of immigration and the response to the incident in Ferguson are indicative of our unwillingness to care unconditionally; it is indicative of our selfishness and fear; it is indicative of our bias and our failure to remember our own origins. While I have generally been a pretty accepting and open person, this past year has been an experience for me. It has pushed me to consider the other. Because of the amazing opportunity I had to be part of a Dominican family, I have learned first hand what it is to be a citizen, but watch and listen to their struggles to be seen as more than Hispanic. I should note that the following  is my interpretation of their experience based on my observation and conversation. As citizens they are completely cognizant of what that means and the opportunity it has provided (some of the family has been naturalized and some of the family was born here). They understand completely both why they came to the United States and what they have accomplished in that move. I am reminded of how much they have taught me about the importance of family, the importance of giving to those around them, and the importance of taking their role as a citizen seriously. I have learned more than I can ever put into words from the opportunity they have afforded me and I know I am a more thoughtful person because of that.

I know the question or statement Melissa posited to me the first night we did something together rings as true now as it did that February night. She said appropriately, “I do not always understand America.” My response then, while her statement caught me a bit off guard, was “Neither do I. There are some things that are not very logical.” Now more than ever, as I watch our pitiful, but elected, Congress threaten impeachment, legal action, or defunding because the President made them accountable for their inaction, or as it seems we are back in 1968 and the riots of that time as I listen to the response in Ferguson, I am forced to admit that the country I love is full of a lot of ridiculous people. I hear it on a daily basis. I find myself considering the words of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine”. “Nothing to kill or die for . . . . imagine all the people living life in peace . . . . you may say I’m a dreamer”. I can only hold on to such a dream because where we are both individually and societally is painfully sad. That is not to say we cannot make progress, but it means we must make it a priority. We must accept and believe that each person has value and worth (and that potential has its place). Well, I think I will call it quits for the moment. I pray that we can find healing to manage our hatred; I pray that we can find justice for a town and a nation when too many misunderstand or misinterpret the meaning of the word. I pray that we can finally create a society where each person is valued and cared for.

Happy Thanksgiving and remember we are all immigrants.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Ejemplos y rememeraciόn

Sunsets and Sunrises -what an amazing promise
Sunsets and Sunrises -what an amazing promise

Good early morning,

It is about 3:00 a.m. and I have been awake for about an hour, so I decided I should probably be productive. It is early on Monday morning and we have one more day of classes before the elongated Thanksgiving break though a number of students have already left for the break, blowing off Monday classes and making the break more like a 10 day Spring break. I had a good weekend, a bit busy, but enjoyable. Yesterday (technically) I drove to Philadelphia and picked up Lee and Judy Swenson, two of the most amazing people I have ever been blessed to meet. They were my first host family when I was a member of “Daybreak”, a Lutheran Youth Encounter team, traveling around the Midwest in 1978-79. Through the years I have been fortunate enough to stay in contact with them. Seeing where we both are since that first time I met them as a 22 year old (and later, obviously, that year as a 23 year old),  little did we now we would still be in contact, I imagine. Their daughter, Anne, was 4 and is now a professor also. That makes me feel really old.

It was also a weekend of ironies.  As I was driving to Philly, I spoke with my sister-in-law, Carolyn, about her dissertation. She is trying to get it finished up and there is some work yet to do that is outside the realm of merely editing. I must admit, it seems that she is having one of the more nightmarish experiences that I have heard about, but was fortunate enough to not experience. The irony of her coming to me for assistance is she is a bit older than I and she was the person (and is the person) for whom I have had unbelievable admiration for from way back when she was married to my brother. Little did she know that she would become a widow at 25 and have three children. Little did I know that we would continue to be family in spite of those profound changes. The irony of having the conversation with her, while I was driving to pick up the Swensons, was more than a bit strange with its ironic implications. Carolyn is the person to whom I give a great deal of credit for standing by me when I was 21-22 years old and I was aimless and sad. I was depressed and had little idea where I was headed or why. I had dropped out of college and was bartending and drinking too much. She came into my room one day and made me get up, shower and she took me out to eat and we spoke for a long time. She was struggling as a widow with three small children, but she was determined. She also showed me that I had more positive things than what I was seeing or feeling. The irony of that is it was her chat that got me looking at options and how I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. It was on that team that I met the Swensons. They are another example in my life, one that demonstrates clearly to me how blessed I have been. What they did not realize was the impact they had on me the very first time I walked into their amazing house in Newton, IA and I stayed in the most amazing barn-boarded basement that was totally finished off and gorgeous. I was unlike any home I had ever visited. The décor, the warmth in their house, the family interaction, there was nothing in that experience I did not hope I might emulate someday in my life.

When we returned to the house last night, I was so proud to have them in my house to see what I have accomplished. I have wanted them to come and visit me for many years and we finally have made it happen. We went to dinner last night when we returned to Bloom around 5:00 and then spent the rest of the evening in the living room just talking and reminiscing about the 35+ years we have known each other. Coming back yesterday we spoke about so many things in the car, life, changes, Iowa, politics, what has happened in our lives. I have been at their house from time to time and they have attended graduations (more than one) and ordinations, and weddings for me. They are like the older brother and sister. They have so many amazing things. The irony of when I met them and what I was thinking about doing with my life and where I am now is certainly a bit of a departure. Please do not laugh, but I hoped or wanted to cut hair and be a male who did everyone’s hair. I am sure many of you are going: “Really?? Are you kidding me?” Well, when I told Judy that in June of 1978, her response was that I should probably think a bit beyond merely doing that. Not to say that being such was a bad thing, but she believed I had a bit more potential than that. At the time, I am not sure how seriously I took her suggestion, but I do know that the year of travels with John, Ruth, Susan and Gloria changed my life and put me on the path to Dana College and beyond. I had to smile last night as we sat in the living room and chatted. Judy was in there first and she noted that she might rearrange my living room. I told her to go ahead. She is the most amazing designer I have ever met and having her put her touch on my house is a treat and honor (This is an edit and addition. When I got home the living room was rearranged and looks very nice.).

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to go out with some faculty on Friday night, where we gathered and socialized. It was a wonderful gathering and I had the opportunity to spend time with a college colleague and her partner. It was such a wonderful time and chance to speak with them one-on-two for some time. They are both such outstanding individuals and I do not know of a couple that better compliments the strength of the other in my life. We made plans to get together for dinner and I am looking forward to that. On Saturday night I had three alums come for dinner and two of them ended up staying for the night. I gave them my room and slept in the guest room, which I still call Melissa’s room. I have been looking for the electric pump for the air mattress for a month, and I still have not found it. Even though I think the bed in Melissa’s room is the best bed in the house, I felt terrifically uncomfortable staying in that room . . .  and now I am in there for a few more days. I actually have rearranged the room to make it seem less like I am invading someone’s space. It was so fun to have Emily, Anh, and Mariah over for dinner and listen to them speak about their jobs and life after college. It is always interesting to see how people change and mature, how they become their own person, if you will. In someways that is what this post is about. We become who we are because we are provided examples. Those examples could be positive or negative, but they do help us understand the world in which we live and how we hope to manage that world. In the case of Emily and Mariah, they are both such talented and capable young women. They are dedicated and focused, but they are also very human. They were both in my class as freshman, and in Emily’s case, from that second semester until she graduated, she was in a class of mine every semester. I think she has the record for the most “Dr. Martin classes”.

As I have been writing this post, it dawned on me that the age I noted in the beginning is the age of my “surrogate daughter”, or my God child, or my former house guest, or  . . .  I am not actually sure what where it all fits. What I do know is she certainly has things together at 22 much better than I did. During this semester there has been an evolution, but, generally, things are in a good space. I will be at their house on Thursday and it will be nice to spend some time with them. I have actually missed that connection, but that is the reality of a semester. Earlier this week I took the time to re-read some of the posts here in the blog and I am so grateful for what I have learned from the entire family. At some point that will probably be a topic of this blog. This past week the grading initiative has begun and it will continue now until it is finally completed. While I am doing that I am still planning for the holidays. As noted in the last post, things are still up in the air, but I am trying my best to be comfortable with not knowing specifics. Between now and the end of the semester I  have a concert to go to in Bethlehem, a weekend in Jim Thorpe scheduled, and trying to make sense of the holiday break and beyond schedule. Somewhere in there I want to get to SLC, Poland, and the DR. If I end up in Europe I might try to do a bit of traveling to see Elena in Spain, Kirk in France, and maybe see Ireland and Scotland.   Decisions . . . Even before that I have a concert to see featuring Mannheim Steamroller. I have not seen them since seminary days and I have a weekend getaway planned in Jim Thorpe the first weekend in December. Those things should be a great way to bring in the holidays.

Well, in my immediate future it is necessary to finish classes today and the the enjoyable time will be to spend time with Lee and Judy. I think I am taking them to Jim Thorpe on Wednesday. I will drop pies off at the Galans that morning. That would also give Lee and Judy a chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Galan. I am looking forward to the rest of the week. I have nothing planned next weekend and I think I am going to keep it that way so I can concentrate on my work. As you prepare for this coming week, I hope you find the time to reflect and time to express the gratitude you feel for those who matter. I am aware all too well that they are not permanent and that things change. Nevertheless, we are all blessed in our own ways to have others come into our lives. Some will stay and some will leave, but as I have been reminded this week and today, some we are fortunate enough to have around decades later. I am grateful for the example they have been and continue to be in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

Understanding Afterwards

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Hello from the acre,

This past week was a whirlwind of events, places, thoughts, and emotions. I imagine each week is actually the same, but when we are in our same routine, we have a tendency to overlook for we fail to notice those things. The point of routine is security, perhaps productivity, but it can also lull us into complacency or a sense of auto-pilot. Too many times in my life I think I have been willing to be lulled into this sense of security. Too many times I have wanted to believe in the honesty of another, wanted to believe that what I saw, felt, or experienced provided something that I was perhaps lacking. What I am realizing is sometimes we are not blessed with or allowed to have some things in our lives. That is not necessarily a lacking, it is our own particular reality. It is what we must learn to accept and manage.

There are a variety of topics I would like to touch upon in this post, but whether I do them justice or not is something quite different. First, there is the remembrance of my younger sister, Kristina. She would have turned 58 yesterday. She had an incredibly kind heart, in spite of the abuse she endured throughout her life. In additional, she was unbelievably intelligent; she was a ponderer. She was continually questioning the why of things (I think I am just realizing that similarity between us). Yet, regardless her talents, she struggled mightily because of her demons and her subsequent choices. In spite of those things, I have always asserted she was much smarter than I was, or am. I hope she knows from wherever she is that I respect her so much for how smart she was and for the kind heart she had in caring for those less fortunate. I know there are things that happened in both of our lives that have had long-term consequences and somehow I was able to move beyond some of the things she was not, or at least move beyond them to the extent I was able to continue farther down the path than she.

This past week or two I have had the chance to ponder myself and wonder what I believe I might consider the impending end to a year to have accomplished, or more accurately what I have accomplished during the year. I am hoping that before the year is out, I will have one particular accomplishment, but when that happens, and if it does, I will surely note it here in my blog. It has been a year where I have learned a great deal about myself and my strengths and weaknesses. I have realized that I am more capable in managing some things than I expected. I have been more fragile than I wished I was, but I have also recovered and I have gotten tougher. I have learned that I am too willing to give and then give again, but I have also gotten more discerning in that area of my life too. I am not as willing to be treated poorly and act as if it is, or was, my fault, regardless of whether the disrespect was unintentional or not. I am also not as willing to merely jump into things. If you have been reading this blog, you know that I have been the recipient of some amazing gifts (in terms of people as well as things). I had the amazing gift of others who were willing to share their lives with me. I am fortunate for those times and for what I have learned through them. Both the experiences and the people have helped me face what I know to be coming hopefully with more grace than I might have.

Some of those changes are because of things that have occurred over a period of time (perhaps even decades) and some of it has been because of things which are certainly more recent. It does not really matter how long or how quickly it takes someone to learn something; what matters is that “afterwards” the learning, however much or whatever sort has occurred, stays with him or her. I have been much too wiling to have received a lesson and then ignore it, left to endure the consequences. Sometimes that failure is because I have been stubborn; sometimes it was because I simply did not understand. I think it is because I have been afraid of losing something or someone. I think as I look both reflectively and imagine the future, I am aware that my being alone is not something I should fear. There is a certain freedom in solitude. There is a certain giftedness in deciding to live somewhat reclusively. Maybe Lydia was, or is, wiser that I realized. I am pretty sure that my solitude is something that helps me focus on what is yet to come.

I think we are too often willing to allow others to influence our decisions to such an extreme that we lose ourselves. I am still attempting to wrap my brain around the idea that love will take care of everything. I have heard it in church as a young person; I know the commandment; and I have listened to it being espoused again this past year. I only wish I could believe it. What does it mean to love someone? Really love him or her? The belief that love is truly present in my life has caused me to cry on more than one occasion, especially this year, but I am still not convinced our imperfect attempts to love are all that efficacious. I guess I am also not saying we should disregard that part or aspect of our life nor the people who provide that unparalleled sense of hope (I do believe love can provide or offer hope). Perhaps what I am feeling is a certain guardedness which causes me to wonder if our imperfect attempts to love create more damage than benefit. I know that I am probably too willing to believe that the presence of others in our lives can provide some sense of love or compassion. However, exactly what do we benefit from those situations? That is part of my pondering at the moment. I know I have a romantic side to me, one which hoped for the head-over-heels kind of love, but I am not sure it is possible. I am not sure it has actually ever happened to me. I know there is a person who has stunned me and still does, but there are so many things that would need to happen. I am quite sure if it does exist, it is not common. I also think that giving love to someone is not the same as loving them. At least that is what I am presently inclined to believe. Of course, this is because I am pondering the “afterwards”. Experience is such a harsh teacher, but also a valuable one.

I have been putting (or at least trying to do so) a calendar together for the remainder of the semester and for the break. I am already trying to figure out logistics and feeling a bit overwhelmed. I am not clear on dates for some specific things and a couple of additional things might create even more opportunities. I am not sure which state, country, or even continent I might be on. I guess options are always exciting. As I finish up the weekend, it was a good weekend for seeing or being around people. Dinner at Seasons on Friday with colleagues and running into other colleagues (thanks John and Janet) was delightful. Finally catching up with Ronnie and having dinner was great fun. Attending a stake meeting with the Deckers and hearing Grace speak was quite the gift.

This next week, I will have visitors from Iowa, from home. They actually arrive next Sunday and will be here until Thanksgiving. I also have a small dinner party for former students on Friday or Saturday (I need to check my calendar). I have a photo of the two of them gracing a space in my living room. I think of the third and wonder what he is up too. He is another example of my learning about and expecting more from someone than I should. The third student that night is a former student, but not one I ever had in class. She worked in the dean’s office. She is the most inspiring person. She is willing to take me back to a country I “visited” long ago as a Marine. I have a colleague who has been there and I have often wondered what it would be like to be there again. Well, until next time . . .

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Reflections

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Good morning from my office on an increasingly chilly day,

Understanding our fate or realizing our finitude is not a bad thing, at least that is what I am learning. Today is the 19th anniversary of George’s passing. While I never met him, I have heard so many things about him. He was a survivor of Dachau and one who actually escaped that dreadful, horrendous place. It was evident from what I know that we was meticulous, focused, and insightful. I have learned from those who knew him that, not surprisingly, he was also very guarded and private. Not surprising considering his experiences in the war. On the other hand, it is the birthday of the eldest child of my adopted Dominican family. While I know the age, it is not polite to reveal those things, particularly about young ladies. While I do not get to see her as often, and I did not meet her until some time after the others in the family, she too has a way of finding her way into my heart. She has worked hard to learn from the things she has or has not done, and I believe she is quite an amazing person. She has the charm and beauty of her mother and some of the personality of her father, which makes her a most exceptional person. It is ironic that two important people in the bigger scope of my life have a birthday or passing that have a corresponding date. That is not the only case of that happening in my circle. Lydia’s birthday and the passing of my adopted mother are also on the same day of the year. That one is even more ironic to me.

It has been a busy, but productive week. I have been grading like crazy and I have more to do, but I think I am at least able to keep my nose above the surface on things again. I have midterms to give back today and other things to work on with my Bible as Literature course. I have a lot to work on for my Foundations course and I have some significant work to do with managing their work, but I think I can get that squared away in the next week. My 400 level students are busy working on project and I think their work will be fine. There are some really outstanding students in that class. If I get the grading I hope to get accomplished in the next week, I think I will be in pretty good shape for the remainder of the semester. The other day I was looking at my next semester schedule and I think I have my schedule already figured out. That is something I always worry about. I am rather obsessive about schedule and when I plan things I probably unrealistically just expect they will happen.

It is now actually Saturday and I am headed out on the road. I am hoping for a productive week in a variety of ways and in a variety of venues. For that to happen a significant list is being developed. This past week was a week of surprises. I am always amazed at how things are either much simpler than I think and I complicate them at times, or I over- simplify then when they actually need more consideration. In either case, I seem to create some sort of difficulty. I am also glad that I stood up for myself in a couple of instances this week. My trip to the Dominican Republic in August was one of the highlights of the last probably 20 years of my life. It was the first time I was out of the country in almost 25 years (not counting Windsor). I want very much to go again, but I need to work on a couple of issues to feel that I would be able to go a next time. Interestingly, I am comfortable with my standing up in this instance.

This past Friday I got news that I have been recommended for tenure at all levels (which are required) before going to the president of the university. I did get some notation about my lack of publications and that is a fair concern. My work on the Professional Writing minor took its toll on my writing for publication and I need to work hard on that for the foreseeable future. I think if I focus and get some other things off my plate, I can get this accomplished. Reflecting on my work. I found it amazing to consider what has happened to the minor in 5 years. Yet, there is so much yet to do. I am hoping to merely focus on the specific things which relate to my teaching, my publication, and the program.

It is now even later and I am managing things for Lydia. She did recognize me today and actually smiled quite a bit, but her ability to communication beyond a single word is gone. She comprehended what I said in German much better than she did when I spoke to her in English. The sparkle in her beautiful eyes is pretty well gone. There is much more gone than there are things present now. . . . Yesterday she did not know me at all and today she held my hand, but I doubt there was much concrete recognition. I am glad I am here because I am not sure how much longer she will continue this way. I sat and watched her sleep in a recliner this afternoon and she was quite peaceful with the exception of some labored breathing. I had the opportunity to catch up with another person today for a few moments. Sometimes we are not really mindful of how amazing people from our past are until we see them in person again. This individual is so astounding and phenomenal both as a professional and as a person. It was a gift to run into her today. Tomorrow I have a couple more former colleagues and friends to spend some “moments” with.

I had dinner with the administrator of Lydia’s facility and with my neighbors also . It has been nice. I did keep a low profile and got quite a bit accomplished. Still more to do and hoping to spend time in the hotel tonight working hard. It is in the 20s here in Wisconsin and I imagine it will be chilly today. At the moment getting an oil change for yet another long drive. Sounds like I am being the snow out of town.

Need to post, so thanks for reading.

The Traveler.