Margaret & I send out a healthy handful of Christmas cards, but we don’t hit everyone … either because we run out of good addresses, or cards or stamps or time … so if you didn’t make the list, here it is, on the tenth day of Christmas:
Dear family & friends,
Very soon now, surrounded by Christmas decorations and children (and grandchildren!) I’ll join Margaret at 56, both of us now unambiguously on the backside of our fifties. Hard to imagine. Where did the time go? We both still feel so youthful … in between the aches. One thing I sense more clearly as the years increase is that the connections we hold with one another are priceless. They help us anchor ourselves in who we choose to be and they inspire us to envision the community we want to work toward. Truly, across miles, generations, dreams, interests, backgrounds, and opinions, the more we weave even snippets of ourselves into each other’s lives, the healthier we are—and the more hopeful our world is. This Christmas, no less than any other—and perhaps more than most—we can use an extra measure of hope. So here is this year’s weaving.
Children and grandchildren abound, filling our house and our lives with joy. All the kids are grown, though Susanna has a room-in-waiting for college breaks, which doubles as the grandkids’ sleepover-room the rest of the time.
Leah (soon 34) and Mark live just 3 miles from us. Leah works as a probation officer for Hennepin County and Mark is an overnight correctional officer for Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center. Their three children are Waverly (almost 7), Landon (5), and Gretchen (3).
Megan (32) and Bobby live about 20 miles south of us. After entering the credit union world right out of high school, Megan just left her job to work fulltime toward her college degree. Bobby is a partner in a small accounting firm. Their three children are Kaleb (7), Nora (3½), and Eli (nearly 2).
Meredith (soon 30) and Will currently live with her dad, about 4 miles north of us. After living and working abroad (Spain, then Nicaragua) for most of the past five years, Meredith moved back to Minnesota in June, with son John (2). After a few more months of visa wrangling her husband, Will (native Nicaraguan) joined them here. Meredith works as a literacy coordinator for an agency that serves immigrant families primarily from Central America, Africa, and Asia. Will is focused on learning English and eager to find work.
Ben (28½) and Jess live in Minneapolis, about 6 miles SW of us. In 2015 Ben completed his MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) and hopes to land a job in an academic library someday; for the moment he is grocery manager for a new branch of the natural foods co-op where he has worked for several years. Jess works at the same co-op in the deli (she’s actually worked there longer than Ben) and has volunteered with Big Brother/Big Sister and 4-H. As you might imagine, good food is at the center of their lives.
Susanna (19½) is in her second year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a chemistry major, likely to add another major and/or minor along the way. Besides her coursework, she tutors math, plays violin in the orchestra, and works part-time in the chemistry lab. She shares an apartment close to campus with four other young women.
Laura (34½) needs a short introduction. As a 17 year-old student from the Dominican Republic at Luther College in 1999, she found her way, first into my classroom, and subsequently into my home, my family, and my heart. For half her life I’ve been a father to her, not biologically or legally, but surely. Two years ago, when she moved from Chicago to Minnesota she—and her family—lived with us for 9 months. So it’s past time to remove any asterisk and simply name her as family. Laura and her husband, Jesús, live 3 miles from us (just blocks from Leah and Mark). She is a bilingual office coordinator at a Spanish-English dual immersion elementary school. Jesús works part-time as a hospital chaplain (seeking a full-time position) and as a classroom aid at the Laura’s school. Their son is Tomás (9).
It’s fair to say these six children and eight grandchildren lead the joy in our life. Everyone finds their way to our home on a regular basis for a meal or a visit. The grandkids come in varied assortments for playtime and sleepovers. Our home is rarely neat, but the clutter is more than matched by laughter and love. Even as our own children moved out, our home remained full. From 2010-2013 (and for a couple months this past spring) we hosted international high school students: 15 boys and girls for stays ranging from four weeks to nine months. They hailed from Brazil (6), China (6), Hungary (1), Turkey (1), and Switzerland (1). I can’t begin to say how much our lives have been enriched by this experience. Our friendships crisscross the globe.
After Laura and family moved out, we thought we’d try the “empty nest” thing for a while; that lasted all of two months. In August 2014 Kim, a 60 year-old ESL (English Second Language) teacher to immigrant children, joined the household. She requires less supervision than the high school students J and stays incredibly busy in the African immigrant community. An avid cyclist (she bikes to work year-round), she flies herself—and her bike—to Africa over the summer to spend 8 weeks bicycling around Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Additionally, for three months this fall we added Teran (23) to the mix. The grandson of a lesbian couple in Dallas who knew the son of some good friends of ours at church (follow that?), Teran lived with us while doing an intensive program in computer coding. Besides all these people, Percy, our shy 11 year-old cat (adopted just over a year ago), the bubbling aquarium of tropical fish, and the silent big bin of worms now in their 13th year (!) of eating our garbage, complete the household.
As for us, we stay busy!
Margaret remains with the Minneapolis Public Health Department where, for the past three years she’s been coordinating their national accreditation process. This means crossing more t’s, dotting more i’s, herding more cats, editing and uploading more files than you can possibly imagine. Through it all her combination of attention to detail and people skills have made her a departmental treasure. The initial filing is done, but the process will go on for another 4-6 months. In the meantime the department is now imagining other ways to put Margaret’s gifts to good use. She is also part of the Emergency Response Team, meaning that whether it’s a chemical spill or a zombie apocalypse, I’ll be on my own as Margaret works to save the world. Overall she really likes her job; it’s a healthy environment where she assists in important work with a good crew of people. And she’s a very happy light-rail rider (and reader) back and forth to work each day.
She continues to sing in choir at church and (during the holidays) with the City-County chorus. But if you haven’t caught the hint by now, Margaret is happiest of all as Grandma (and the grandchildren all know that!)
My life continues to defy easy summary. It’s been a year since I’ve taught a college religion class, but I’ve kept a foot in academia by helping lead the drive to unionize the adjunct (part-time) faculty at Hamline University. Elected the first union steward, for the past 15 months I’ve been leading our contract negotiations; it’s been a rewarding, grueling, frustrating, enlightening experience.
In August I finished a one-year appointment as “theologian in residence” for a local Lutheran congregation: a very part-time role that allowed me to preach, teach, and otherwise engage members in mutually enriching ways. It was a great opportunity for me to bring my creative-intellectual gifts into the church. In fact, I’m in conversation with another Lutheran church right now about taking on a similar role, but with a specific focus on helping them imagine a Christian theological-spiritual-practical response to climate change. I’m as excited about this as I am concerned about climate change—which is to say: very much.
My children’s book, illustrated by Joan Lindeman, (www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) has done well. Crowded-funded, self-published, and award-winning J, the book has proven transformative—exactly as we had hoped. We’ve sold 2700 copies since we published two years ago. This fall ACTA Publications, a small independent Catholic press (lay-owned and with a liberal bent to it), took over as publisher. They’ll market the book nationwide, especially to liberal Catholics (coincidentally coordinated with the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation!) but also to a much wider audience than Joan and I could ever reach. Now, if only Ellen or Oprah would call …
I wrote two new hymn texts this year, one for the dedication of a new art piece at our church, the other to premiere this spring at a concert by The Singers, a Twin Cities-based nationally recognized choral group. I’m especially excited to hear that piece as it’s an anthem for Uganda and has its own specially commissioned choral score by noted composer Craig Carnahan. I remain deeply committed to the struggle for dignity and safety for LGBT Ugandans (want to know more? Ask me how you can help!). Besides some devotional writing (which appears occasionally in Augsburg’s daily devotional The Word in Season) most of my writing shows up on my blog, where I touch on everything from my union work to religion, race, sexuality, politics, and more. It’s a great place to be inspired, challenged, or just riled up: www.davidrweiss.com.
As much as all of this activity makes the world a little bit better, it pretty unpredictable at generating income. So to steady our monthly budget, I also drive a van two days each week for Store to Door, a nonprofit that delivers groceries to senior citizens. I have about 70 regular clients that I serve. It’s been a wonderful job offering me good exercise, both for body and for soul.
Besides the frequently frenzied rhythm of our daily lives, Margaret and I made several trips this year. We traveled to Nicaragua to visit Meredith, Will, and John in January to see shape of their lives there. You can find my travelogue of impressions on my blog. We ventured to Columbia, Missouri in May for a niece’s wedding and a chance to re-connect with family there that we see too seldom. And we treated ourselves to a trip to Denver in October, savoring some time just for us, but also celebrating the marriage of our dear friend Kelly to her beloved Katherine. Each trip was abundant with joy in its own way. Additionally, I made it to Michigan City to visit my parents, siblings, and others in the family several times, with Susanna joining me once and Margaret joining me another time.
There you are, a few threads of our lives woven into yours. And just like that, the holy promise of peace and hope is a bit brighter. At Christmas, we Christians recall how passionate love for humanity led God to join us here on earth, taking on mere flesh—and making mere flesh most holy. It’s a miracle worth remembering as we look at all the “mere flesh” around us today: from refugees to black lives, immigrants to the homeless, elderly to the working poor, and of course, to each of you—all mere flesh. All most holy.
Wishing you all the seasons’ blessings!
David & Margaret
1359 Blair Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104; 651.645.2079