Monday, December 25, 2017

The "visited planet"

from the Jesus Storybook Bible
Our interim pastor (Vance Hays) made a remark about us being on a "visited planet" in both of his messages yesterday (the morning service for the 4th Sunday of Advent, and the evening candlelight service for Christmas Eve). He meant, of course, visited by Jesus. I had never heard that particular phrase to describe it.

It reminded me of Psalm 8. Vance spoke about the vastness of the planets and space, and Psalm 8 always comes to my mind when I think of the great expanse of space, our planets, the stars, the universe and many more universes.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
    what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
I have heard people who imply that we humans are pretty conceited to think that we are the only inhabited planet in all of that immensity. I, like many others, have often wondered what kind of life, of creatures, may inhabit other planets. Are they, too, "visited"?

I don't know if other planets or beings are visited by God, the way we humans on earth have been and are. When I contemplate it, I think that no matter how they may or may not be visited by God, they are certainly loved by God, as he loves all his creation.

Musing on this phrase -- visited planet -- made me wonder, what other worlds has God visited? I thought of Narnia, the world that we first came to know as a place of "always winter but never Christmas." As the white witch lost her power, and as Aslan's power grew, the snow began to melt, and Father Christmas made a visit.

Middle Earth is another land that came to mind. What a complex, complicated, many-faceted, super-populated story of good versus evil is the world of Middle Earth. Is Middle Earth visited? I think yes, through Bilbo, Frodo, the Nine, Gandalf the Mithrandir,  Aragorn, and many others. Places like the worlds in Star Wars and other worlds of myth and literature are visited by God, too, sometimes in surprising ways. Realizing that brings me to the phrase I hear often as I read Jesuit authors -- finding God in everything.

Somehow the knowledge that we are a "visited planet" is a great comfort to me. Why is that? Maybe because I know the insignificance of Earth, of us humans, of me. Yet God visited us because he loves us, because to him we matter.
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
    what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
    all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
    the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
"Powers of Ten" by the Eames Office

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Look Back on 2017

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,

the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 has been on my mind a lot in 2017. I remember years ago at a Bible study some of the older women in our church spoke about what a comfort the Psalms were to them. At that time I was not really even trying to have a regular time of devotions, and I felt ashamed that I could not even remember more than Psalm 23, and maybe part of Psalm 100. I still can't recite anything more, but I do read more, and I better understand the importance of the Psalms.

At the beginning of the year both my father and my mother passed away. My dad was days away from being 88, and my mom had recently turned 85. Although as I get older, the 80's don't sound as old as they used to, I am thankful my parents had a good, long life. Mom was in hospice with Parkinson's symptoms that made her need a lot of care. Dad was in assisted living and doing all right but with health issues, too.

At the end of January Dad got sick and things kind of spiraled downward. He was able to spend his last days at the nursing home where Mom was, so he got to say good-bye to her. I flew out to Lynden and took turns at his bedside with my sister and sister-in-law. The whole family was there around Christmas, so we are grateful we all got to see Mom and Dad one last time. Mom died a few months after Dad, for which we are grateful, too. She would often forget he was gone and it was heart-wrenching. I sometimes say that if their deaths had to happen -- which they did, of course -- they were good deaths.
Mom, Kathy, Dad - Christmas 2016
During that time, I often thought about not being afraid, and knowing that "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Many of you sent cards with beautiful, loving words of sympathy. I did not formally send out notes of thanks, but I thank you now for all of them. Your words and prayers were a wellspring of comfort. Our relationships are everything, aren't they?

I was able to go to two different retreats at a nearby Jesuit retreat center. What a blessing it is to "be still and know that [he is] God." Silence has always been a source of peace for me. One of the retreats was a silent retreat, and that gave me a taste of what it is to be silent for an extended period of time. It was a bit more difficult than I'd anticipated, but it was good.
Jesuit Retreat Center
Speaking of silence, Randy and I took a 2 week road trip through the Northwest, including a visit to Olympic National Park. According to a scientist I heard on a radio interviewer, Olympic National Park is one of the few places in the world that still has areas of silence -- where you hear no man-made sounds. We had never been there and it is truly awesome, in the "awesomest" sense of the word.

As far as the family, I still feel like the luckiest mom and grandma in the world -- all the kids and grandkids are in the Bay Area. It's wonderful that they are close enough to see often. Our youngest granddaughter, Zach and Ashlee's baby, Violet, just turned one on December 1st. Zach just got a new job at a large audio-visual company. He's working in a warehouse in Pleasanton and he and his family plan to move in the near future, to be nearer his work, and also, they hope, to find housing that is less costly.

Luke and Des' daughters, Delaney and Lydia, are 9 and 4, respectively. Luke recently got promoted to a supervisor position at Safeway Distribution so both the "boys" are advancing in their careers. Des is working part time at a furniture dealer. Both their jobs and Delaney's school are quite close to their apartment in Pleasanton.

Cori continues to work as an ER Nurse at Stanford Hospital. She enjoys the work and has gotten to be good friends with several of her co-workers. Recently they took a trip to Mexico and had a great time. Cori loves to travel. She lives in an apartment in downtown San Jose with her cousin (my niece) Rachel. They've been roommates a few years now and it works out well. Cori likes it that her apartment is within walking distance of the "Shark Tank" (where the hockey team plays). Our family are big fans of the Sharks. (Except me, I just don't get into watching sports.)

Randy is working at Labcyte still and that is going well. I still work at Pivot Interiors and it's going well, too.
All of us. Front row: Cori, Des. Second row: Zach, Ashlee, Violet, Randy, me, Luke. Third row: Delaney, Lydia.
Our church is another big part of our lives. I finished my term as elder and president of the Council. We went through some tough times during my tenure, but with God's help we are through it. Our church is small, but beloved.

Besides wonderful family times, there have been great times with friends, weekend trips, and much more. If you are interested in seeing photos from our various adventures, click here. I also blog at

Two times, like a chorus, Psalm 46 says
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
"Fortress." Not a word we use much. I looked it up, and one meaning is "a person or thing not susceptible to outside influence or disturbance." That seems to me like a good definition for its context in the Psalm. There are all kinds of influences and disturbances out there, but "the Lord Almighty is with us," and
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall...
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts...
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear...
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


My brother, Joel Kok, writes and sends a meditation to his congregation, friends & family called "Emmaus Connection." Today I was especially blessed by what he wrote:

Dear Friend,
   As I study the Lord’s birth announcement of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), my spiritual kinswoman Elizabeth has formulated the question on my mind: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) I think Mary has visited me through the Gospel to wake me up to matters of justice and mystery.
   Regarding matters of justice, Mary reminds me that my Saviour “has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” (Luke 1:48) Mary lives in an obscure town in an occupied country. When she makes an offering “she cannot afford a lamb… [so she offers] a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Leviticus 12:8 and Luke 2:24) And she is a woman.
Beginning with the Gospel writers, many have noticed Jesus’ high regard for women and their high regard for him. A group of women traveled with Jesus and his disciples, and they “provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1-3) While the disciples fled from Jesus as the time of his arrest and crucifixion, “the women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid.” (Luke 23:55) And the first preachers of the resurrection were women, most notably Mary Magdalene. (All four Gospels)
   Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, combined with the testimonies of women to Jesus and also recent news reports, have led me to do something I almost never do: sign an on-line statement. The statement is called “#SilenceIsNotSpiritual: Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women and Girls.” In summary it states:
“We are experiencing an awakening today. The rise of the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have awakened the world to the nature and extent of violence against women and girls. For too long the voices of women and girls who suffer violence have been marginalized, ignored or silenced. The global Church has been slow to speak up and take action. But silence is not spiritual. Action is not optional. More than 100 leaders from across the world are calling upon the global faith community to stop standing by and start standing up for women and girls who experience violence. We face a defining moment as a Church. Will we shrink in fear and despair or will we join the cry of the vulnerable, echoing their voice and defending their courage?”
   I believe that through Mary and her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), our Lord can give us eyes to see and ears to hear biblical calls to justice, including justice “for women and girls who experience violence.” And through Mary pondering Jesus in her heart (Luke 2:19 and 2:51), our Lord can awaken also to the mystery of every human being in relation to God.
In an illuminating article, a religion teacher named Nichole M. Flores describes how Mary has inspired countless women to magnify the Lord and lift up the lowly. Like her Son, Mary does not fit neatly into any ideological category. Instead, she guides women to experience God in their complex and multifaceted identities. According to Flores, Mary “comes not to orient women to men but to orient women to Jesus Christ.”
   The mother of our Lord orients us all to Jesus Christ in fascinating ways. And in her best moments, she offers a compelling example to all Jesus’ disciples. For the sake of both justice and mystery, I hope we will all join Mary in saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
   Love, Joel

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Poetry & Tears at 3 in the morning

Sometimes at 3 in the morning I wake up and start reading. That happened last night (this morning) and I started reading poetry and articles from the Poetry initiative on the "On Being" site. I posted links on Facebook and below.

Some of the reading I did made me cry. I wrote this about that.
I've always been a cryer.

Tears hang out right here
in the bags of my eyes.
When emotion comes,
tears jump out of the pool. 
Here they are, tears.
Here they come, tears.
Here again, tears.
Here with smiles, tears.
Here with heart, tears.
Then on the opposing page I tried to draw them. That didn’t go so well, as you can see. I decided the head has to be the fat part of the teardrop, so that would come out first and sit poised on the lid, then they had to go headfirst.

I wrote:
Sometimes I picture them, these chubby little tear-people. Climbing out from my bag pools, over the eds of my eyelids. Peeking their heads over. Pushing their arms on my bottom lid. Pausing a second. Then plunging head first down my face.
That is the silliness that happens in my mind at 3 in the morning.

Poetry links.

The Fish: A Story of Love and Letting Go

Perfection Will Do You In

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Should I have?

The other day, in a non-church/religious setting, a bunch of people, including myself, were lined up for a buffet meal, unsure when we should start getting food. Someone said, "Should we pray?" and that was followed by guffaws of laughter. How absurd, right?

Every so often I wonder, should I have offered to do just that -- pray? Praying before we all ate sure seemed like a good idea to me. I'm not usually fearful anymore of talking about being a woman of faith. I'm open about it when something relevant comes up. I try to be matter of fact about it and I haven't felt embarrassed or looked down upon when I do say something. There have even been times people came and asked me about my beliefs.

In the moment this suggestion of prayer happened, my thinking was that it would be awkward if I said I would pray, and might make the person who asked and those who laughed feel uncomfortable. I can still think that and find it true. But, still, sometimes, I wonder.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Finding God in all things

One of the things I love about the Jesuit tradition is their emphasis on "finding God in all things." Today one of the Fathers said, "When someone is at a retreat and really getting it, I could give them a phone book and they'd find God in it." I often think of finding God in all things when I get a glimpse strangers showing love to each other.

Right before this morning's presentation, I snapped a picture of an example of that. A younger and an elder woman were walking together on the sidewalks of the buildings here in the retreat center. The younger woman not only hooked her arm into the elder's arm, she put her other hand on the elder's arm, too. She leaned her body and inclined her head to hear and speak to the elder woman. She nodded often. When they came to stairs, she carefully took a step and waited for the elder woman's foot to reach each step, too.

Chocolate covered cherry

At the retreat, I have decided to go on a "Facebook Fast." I will use my time to meditate and pray, and not on Facebook. Just to note: I actually think Facebook gets a bad rap, but I understand. I love Facebook for what it was when I started using it, and what I still try to use it for -- community. I love "talking" with my sister, my cousins, my brother, the rest of my family, and my friends. I love reading about what they're doing and thinking, seeing photos of what's going on in their lives. Now, I know we tend to show only our positive side on Facebook. I have said that it's like those newsy Christmas letters we used to send with our Christmas cards -- full of the good things that have happened in our lives, not much about the bad, or the hard, or the sad. But I like the newsy Christmas letters, too, and I like Facebook for the same reasons. It's no substitute for real-life talking and friendship, but it's still community.

Anyway, I decided not to go on Facebook during this retreat. I made an exception that I would post my blog entries, but that's all. Every day, though, at least once if not more, I have gone on Facebook on my phone. It's truly a habit. I check my emails, then click on Facebook. Each time a memory has come up in my memory stream. I start looking at the memories, enjoying them, then realize, "Oops! I'm on Facebook!" and I close it.

It makes me laugh at myself and it reminds me of when I used to fast sometimes while going to college. I'd go for a full day not eating. At Calvin, in the bookstore checkout area, they usually had a display of single chocolate covered cherries. You could buy one at a time for a matter of cents. They were my favorite kind of chocolate covered cherries -- clear liquid inside, not that too sweet white stuff. I would often use the halls of buildings on the way to avoid the snow and cold as I walked to class. I would sometimes allow myself the treat of going through the bookstore checkout and buying one of those cherries.

Several times on days I was fasting, I'd buy a cherry, eat it with great enjoyment, and then remember, "Oops, I'm fasting!" Very much a creature of habit!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgive = a new relationship

Here at the retreat one of the Fathers gave a talk on forgiving. He said a sentence that really struck me. He said, "Forgiveness is a re-imagining of our relationship with Jesus, not just a 'car wash.'"

I thought of our liturgy at church, which always contains a part for "Words of Confession and Grace." It's quite common that after the pastor reads a confession on our behalf, he will recite 1 John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
I love that part of the service. I love the reassurance that all our sins will be washed away, and God will not even see them anymore when he looks at me.

I have to admit, though, I was thinking of it kind of like a "car wash." I was thinking of my heart with sin all over it, and Jesus washed them all away.

What does it mean that forgiveness is a new, re-imagined relationship with Jesus? Does it mean when we have a heart full of sin we are kind of estranged from Jesus and his forgiveness makes us more like his friend? Or his sister? Does it mean when we have a heart full of sin we're kind of embarrassed or ashamed to be with Jesus, and then when he forgives us we are comfortable and close to him? Does it mean when we have a heart full of sin, we are tied to things, to stuff, to success, to what we think is important, and when Jesus forgives us we are free to be with him, and happy?

Lots to think about. What do you think?


I wrote a while back about hineni, the Hebrew word for "Here I am." Hineni has become a refrain in my mind. I keep thinking about it and finding more and more in it (pronounced hee nay nee).

Right now I am at a 5-day spiritual retreat at the Jesuit retreat center in Los Altos. It's my first silent retreat. We meet once a day with a spiritual director, and have two "presentations" where a leader gives a guided meditation or talk.

For me, hineni seems to be the topic of thought and prayer for this retreat. Yesterday I googled it and found a bunch of references to it in the Jewish tradition.

I'm sure there's much more.

One thing that struck me yesterday is the rabbi in that first search result said that "hineni" means more than just "I am here" or "I am present." When they're taking roll in the Yeshiva there's a different word for "here" or "present," poh. Hineni means "I am here, willing and ready to take on the mission you give me."

How's that for a lot to think about?! What does willing and ready mean? What is my mission?

I was mulling over the many things that may be coming in my life, to which I am saying I am ready. There's so much that could be coming, that it could be my mission to go through. So often things just come out of the blue, right? Like ALS for my brother, cancer for my friend. Of course there are happy things out of the blue, too, like a bonus from work, or an exciting opportunity. 

It's a little -- more than a little, a lot actually -- scary to say, "Here I am, willing and ready." How can I know I'm willing or ready when I don't know for what? It makes me think of when our pastor had us all paint a little canvas to symbolize the cover of the book with the story of our lives in it. I drew a curving path with a shining cross around the curve. It was meant to signify that we never know what's coming around the curve, but we always know Christ will be there. So even though it's scary not knowing, it's good I do know Christ will be there, walking beside me every step of the way. Holding my hand. Like the friend that he is.

Hineni in Hebrew. I think if I ever got a tattoo, this would be it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Its smell woke me up.
It blocks our view of Mt. Umunhum.
It turns the sun orange.
It makes us turn on our headlights.
It cancels recesses.
It reminds us to pray.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Today, after 3 weeks of not attending a church service (because of our road trip vacation), it was wonderful to go to our worship service. So good to see my beloved church family, to hear a sermon with insights from God's word, to spend time focused on God, and to sing.

Our worship team led us in singing "I Will Rise" by Chris Tomlin. As we sang the chorus, "I will rise as he calls my name," I couldn't sing anymore for crying. I kept remembering the last days of my dad's life as I, my sister, and sister-in-law took turns at his bedside. We stayed at his side 24x7 because every time he woke up, he would immediately push aside the sheet and blankets and start to get up. We were afraid he would fall, he was so weak. Each time he woke and went to get up, we'd say, "Dad, where are you going?" and he'd say, "I'm getting up," as if what a dumb question to ask.

As I sang, "I will rise, as he calls my name," I would imagine Dad rising from his bed, and just keeping on rising, meeting God in the sky, being "caught the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thessalonians 4:17) And the next line, that adds, "No more sorrow, no more pain," I would think of my mom joining him and all the rest of God's loved ones -- my brother, my Grandma, my father-in-law, my uncles and aunts, cousins, everyone who has gone on before. Yes.
Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Northwest Road Trip - September, 2017 - #10

After a great dinner at Judy's with her, Nancy, and Bob, we left the next morning for Crater Lake. This was the first night we did not have a hotel room reserved. We weren't sure whether we'd go to Crater Lake or not, with all the smoke from the fires. We did wonder about it, with all the smoke we saw on the way. You can see a couple photos I took from Eugene. However, it turned out that the lake was clear -- and beautiful.

Smoke in Eugene, OR
Crater Lake!
Selfie by the lake.
The lodges and buildings by the Lake were really pretty. All that wood and stone.

Wished we could stay in the lodge and enjoy this view from the veranda.

The blue of the water was beautiful.

The lake was bigger than I expected.
Randy was here when he was 10 years old and he said it was bigger than he remembered, too.

Randy got some good shots of birds that were flitting around.

Shadows on the edges.
A nice couple took our picture for us.

You can see a little bit of snow still out there!
On the way to the hotel in Medford, we stopped to look at the Rogue River. Beautiful, too, and Randy thought it'd be fun to come back and camp and fish someday.

The sun through the trees.

It was a FANTASTIC road trip!! To see all the photos, go to:

Friday, September 15, 2017

So clear, so real, so there

Does this just happen to me, or is it common for people who've lost someone? I woke up crying again this morning. In my dream there were other confusing things, where I woke up, walked through a hallway, and ended up coming out behind the pulpit of our church. The service had ended as I walked up so people were getting up and leaving. I saw a friend and asked how the service went with the new interim pastor and he said, "John has asked me not to talk." No idea who John is.

Then I went back into the room where I'd been sleeping and I was glad to see Mom and Dad sleeping there, too. Mom was just lying back down after writing in a little notebook. She laid the notebook down and said, "Hi, Ran," to Randy who was lying in a bed nearby, then she went back to bed. Dad was up and standing with his back to me, maybe fixing his bed or something. I thought how glad I was they were there and that I could tell Dad, "Hey, I had coffee with Karla, and tea with your sisters Betty, Marcia, and Sheila while I was in Lynden." But even during the dream, I realized I was dreaming and they weren't really there. So I started crying and woke up.

It's been quite while since I dreamed of them. I suppose it happened because of my visit to Lynden and thinking about them so much. Even though they make me sad, I love these dreams. I wonder if I'll stop having them or if they're part of the grieving process and they'll stop?

Mom and Dad were so clear, so real, so there.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Northwest Road Trip - September, 2017 - #9

Now we are in Portland. Our final night in Lynden we had delicious Mexican food provided by Heather, then we worked on a puzzle together.
I kind of hate puzzles. I contributed by doing a little sorting of pieces. And breaking into song with the rest when it was appropriate. Oh, and a few funny stories of Heather and her delightful interactions as a child with her brother James.
The drive to Portland was pretty short and uneventful. We met Judy and Nancy for drinks and snacks at a sports bar near to the hotel, then settled in for the night at the hotel.

This morning we went to Powell's City of Books downtown. Love that place. I could spend hours there, not to mention many dollars. I got out for just above $100, which isn't too bad for me, and then we had hamburgers and root beer floats at "Little Big Burgers" for lunch.

I had never heard of this.
This was a cover of a little booklet I didn't purchase. The quote was great!

Surrounded. Paradise.
Randy at Powells
Foodies in Portland. Root beer floats - they were made with Tillamook ice cream, so that's pretty cool.
After lunch we met Judy at The Grotto. Judy told us about it and it was so nice. It's a spiritual retreat that an order of Fathers, the Servite Fathers, built in honor of Mary the mother of Jesus.

The trees and foliage were beautiful.

We walked the stations of the cross. I like the Catholic church's use of statues and altars and so on.
They are like prayer starters.
This one is Jesus on the cross.
For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually (1 Peter 3:18)
The Grotto
Jude and Randy
Going to the elevator to go to the higher level.

In the meditation chapel. What a view.
A replica of Michelangelo's pieta.
View from above of the chapel.

There were several altars from various countries, reflecting their nation's traditions.
My treasure from Powell's.