Monthly Archives: December 2022

Kukla Christmas Letter 2022

It’s the annual Kukla Family (after) Christmas Letter – settle in for a long winter’s nap…

I don’t know about you – I have my suspicions, but I have been wrong before – but we are tired. Anything I say after this about how much I love my kids, about their activities, about holiday spirit, about the phenomenal partner and beloved I have in Caroline, about the ways you inspire me and I love my larger community co-workers, and joy: let me ensure that the record is clear… this year was like one long mile 11 on Robbie Creek half marathon. It wasn’t the sharp incline of mile 9 where running is barely possible (and the photographer takes your picture because your barely moving)… mile 9 we know why we are exhausted and we understand why we feel so unproductive. It isn’t mile 10 when it’s a sharp downhill and you feel the partial elation of incredible speed mixed with the terrible reality that you can’t stop if you wanted to… no it’s mile 11. That flat (but feels uphill) drudgery where you are close but miles away and you are not sure why but you just don’t really have it in you – people are cheering and it makes you mad – don’t cheer me, just shut up! (Seriously… mile 11 isn’t pretty – or at least I am not pretty on mile 11.) You don’t want to hear it.. you just need to keep moving. I will be honest – a great deal of 2022 was one long mile 11. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also precious and wonder-full and rewarding… but…. One long mile 11 y’all.

Danielle – let’s start with Danielle because she is the biggest pick-me-up ever. Danielle has long been known as pure, unadulterated, refined joy. Smiley D. Here is a little secret: she throws more tantrums than all our other kids combined (anecdote warning, I don’t actually have data on that)… but here is the other thing. They don’t stick. She is so easy to pull out because while she is free to express disappointment and hurt… it’s almost as if the ease with which she does creates the ease with which she leaves it behind. She teaches me! And so whether it’s not making the volleyball team with her best friend this year, but being elated she made the other team because she just wants to play, or being in the soccer goal against a team we should never have played and having a barrage of goals scored against her and not missing a beat – she is the picture of the value of wearing your heart on your sleeve. And it is her spiritual gift she offers freely to the world. If you don’t know this, that girl would also love to go to space… like she REALLY loves space. Shatner tells us it’s depressing up there… I don’t know him, nor do I know space, but I wonder if space is what you bring to it because as he says, there is nothing there. And as I would add… nothing to distract you from you. So I wonder if space is what you bring to it… kind of like life but with less noise. And I’m sure one day that girl is going to bring joy to space.

Meredith – if Danielle is the easiest to mood shift… Mere is the hardest. That girl has always been solid – since the moment of birth she is one giant toned muscle of unrelenting intention. That isn’t always easy to parent but it’s almost always awesome to watch. This has been the year Mere moved into junior high (half time at Treasure Valley Math and Science Center like Elizabeth), moved into official teenage years, and continues to blossom in so many ways… though apparently that now includes make-up. That’s a new one for us. Understand that with two previous teenagers we have never yet had a kid go on a date… have a “significant other” or be even a slight bit interested in “all that”… our house has never had make-up in it! Which is how we earned Meredith in our life. I’m pretty sure she will be the death of us (in all good ways…or mostly so…). She continues with gymnastics and she basically reads any and all books as if they are one-sitting short stories (I also know a bit about that). She also got her first phone per the family rule: if you get straight As in the first quarter of 7th grade you get a phone early. Between books, gymnastics, and a phone… we actually see Meredith once in a while…. Once in a long while.

Elizabeth – would probably prefer I say nothing, and I will walk the line. E continues to wrestle with anxiety and finding their own way and that continues to be a journey I’d sign up for every day. We have shared much of that journey elsewhere so suffice it to say E has grown a lot in being able to live with anxiety… anxiety of non-conforming gender, social anxiety, and the general sense that E will define themselves against all the expectations. E has done good hard work in coming to a place of greater comfort with all of that – using all the resources available. E continues to work in the church Food Pantry for 4 hours every Monday… something they do well and love and were allowed to do in the place of youth group. They did Pit (the big percussion non-marching part of marching band) in marching band at the high school (despite some rounds in the emotional boxing ring with mom and dad) and ended up being grateful we “made them do it”. (Usually, it takes 10 years to learn that – E told us that on the last day of marching band season and we even kept ourselves from gloating… much.) Next year E starts high school and has paved the way for that jump to land well (high school for us starts in 10th grade.). They did a Boise State Honors Flute chorus, and are gearing up for trying out for the Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in the spring. E writes, reads, plays SIMS, and swings… and jumps around the house like the energizer bunny…. It’s a coping mechanism so we mostly get used to feeling the whole house shake… except occasionally when Warren (whose room is beneath E’s) reaches his limit. All in all, I’m amazed at how well E and E’s siblings work out the fact that they play with very different rule books… and that they do that with understanding and empathy – and that will make all the difference (everywhere).

Warren…. Deep breath – the kid is a senior in high school… that’s not even fair… deep… breath. He is a lot of work. Kid has always been a lot of work. Maybe that is the way of first children. I don’t know – I only had one. 😉 He continues to be the person in our family who bore the marks of COVID the most. Not actual COVID, which to our knowledge he has still never had, but the COVID world. Trying to keep motivated… keeping joy… keeping engaged when nothing is “the way it’s supposed to be”. And yet the kid still amazes me in two ways in particular: he took the second year of AP Calculus. He BARELY got through AP calculus last year. His joy and skill with math seemed to crumble under online COVID world and that carried into last year with Calculus… but with a LOT of work he got through it… and then – when he didn’t have to take any math and against our wishes – he took the second year (AP Calc B/C) while dealing with senior-itis on top of it all. We said: why? He said he could do it. And he did. God, I love that kid. He also got a job at Chipotle. It has been a great experience… he doesn’t like managers, he hates scheduling, he doesn’t like mean people (of which there are a lot), and he struggles with the politics of Idaho in the workplace. So many great life lessons… and he has learned to make great burritos. I always said.. “when this kid learns long obedience in the same direction (that’s Nietzsche writing about art) look out, he will change the world.” This year I realized it.. he has arrived.

Caroline is the glue parent – she is why this all gets done. And it ain’t easy. The whiteboard is full… negotiating drivers and carpools and activities and my work schedule makes it all that much harder with so many night meetings and long days and yet she keeps it all spinning to some detriment to her peace of mind. She is a bedrock kind of person and because of her, we are a house built upon stone. She continues at Allstate where she celebrated her 16th year, and has resumed helping in the kitchen at church (since we can do meals again) as well as on the church finance team.

We are tired y’all. But it’s good tired.. mostly. I reflect a lot on responsibility. It’s my job really. You could say my job is about faith… religion… God… you could say it’s about a lot of things, but I will tell you it’s about responsibility. “Love thy neighbor as yourself” I recently read something that points out how often we hear that but still externalize the act of love as me acting on another person. But what if we hear that word about recognizing the neighbor is an extension of yourself. Love thy neighbors AS yourself. That’s the responsibility. This world is full of messaging to take care of yourself. And it’s full of guilt to take care of “others”. But the messaging I predicate my life’s work upon is about taking care of the world AS yourself. Our lives enrich the life of the world. “Seek the welfare of the city in which you live because its welfare is your welfare.” There is no life apart from the other. We are all one. Thus… responsibility. We are an interwoven universe of life responsible to the welfare of all.

Why do I share that? Because life happens… but responsible life is work. It’s heart on your sleeve feeling all the feels and finding joy, its stubborn unrelenting intention, its learning to walk your way and respect others with compassion and empathy, and it’s finding our place and digging down deep in it, it is being the bedrock for each other. My family teaches and witnesses that to me… and I’m so very grateful for them all. And I’m grateful for you too. 2022… has come to a close. I can’t say it was great… but great things happened in it. I can say I’m tired… but I’m not done – mile 12 is waiting… and my metaphor has to go away because I fully intend to keep at this for a long, long time.

My hope for 2023.. my hope for you and me – we are one after all – in 2023 is that we step into that with joy and tenacity and responsibility to each other. It is after all just another day waiting to see what we bring to it. It’s less about what it holds in store for us than what we fill it with – and looking around at the people I’m grateful to call family and friends, neighbors and co-workers. I feel pretty good about what is in store.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Listening To the Dead Inside Us

My first (not chronologically but in the sense of bright lights whose voice and wisdom still speak to me through the years) mentor and teacher in pastoral care was a gentle giant in many ways. He also was a dauntless prophetic voice quite capable of piercing all your protective illusions. His name was Rev. Dr. Percy Johnson… though I don’t recall using all that title baggage… I remember him as Percy. Percy worked at Grady Memorial Hospital which was, and is, holy ground for me. I did class hours, an internship, and a residency there in Clinical Pastoral Education, and two of my brightest lights of guidance were supervisors and mentors I met there.

Percy, however, did not work at the main hospital – he worked down the road at the Infectious Disease Hospital. Percy wore no visible trappings of religion – he walked among a population that was deeply traumatized by religious people. I can recall him, with crystalline clarity, speaking to us about how he was called into ministry with people suffering from HIV/AIDS. Percy had been Marine Force Recon in Vietnam… and when he started ministry he recalled a person who had HIV who no one would visit for all the fears those days of the AIDS epidemic put on our hearts about people with AIDS… but Percy looked in and saw a fellow veteran… a veteran like him… who was being treated like a pariah… and Percy would not let that happen. With a marine’s (as much as a pastor’s – at least as I recall it in my fading but clear memory) sense of duty and care, he walked in and sat and listened and attended… he did not judge, he did not preach, he did not fix… I mean I don’t know that he didn’t… but I KNOW that he didn’t. I imagine that he was a well of deep compassion and you-are-not-alone-ness, gentle but strong… a Peter-like-rock carving out space to grieve and hope and heal… all without a word. I imagine Percy was, in that moment and many, many others, present to a person for whom few if any others were willing to be present. Present to a person that few if any others weren’t standing outside judging without knowing. Present to a person who very well may have kicked out of our, the Church’s, hallowed halls.

My absolute favorite confessional statement of the Church comes from the Holy Spirit section of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Brief Statement of Faith:

In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

To unmask idolatries… to hear the voices of peoples long silenced….

Since 1988 December 1st has been designated World AIDS Day. It feels in many ways the world I live in has forgotten AIDS… after all we learned and grew, other pandemics have raged, and we are a people of short memories. And more than just a little, I imagine, many of us feel (if we feel at all on the subject) a sense of guilt when we look back… after all, we stayed on the other side of the glass and we judged. We created silence… the silence of the closet… the silence of people no longer in the room… the silence of a grave before anyone was dead. We held to idolatry and closed our ears to the voices of people long silenced.

I cannot go back to that time, but I will not look away from it. The words we speak are never unlived. The legacy of our silence, of our harm, of our rejection… it echoes and rings out still in the silence and the silencing. Generational harm is real, and generational trauma is powerful… and pervasive. We imagine it was yesterday and so it is water under the bridge… but that simply isn’t how we work, how the human heart works… how our bones work. Because even if we do not – our bodies remember.

A friend has me thinking this morning about trees and silence. And as I was reflecting on that I thought about the growth rings inside the tree. A tree is dead inside. I never knew that until today. The heartwood of the innermost tree is dead (it is the tree that once was) and yet so long as the exterior living tree protects it, that part of the tree itself protected by the inner and outer layers of bark, it will not rot. The living tree embraces its dead and former self and in death, that center still provides the structural heart and strength of the tree.

I’m not fully sure what to do with that but it’s teasing at my heart and mind. Nothing of our history is dead to us… its there in our bones – it is our strength or our downfall… and our history continues to shape us – whether we are aware of it or not. And so we are called to enter the room where we once slammed the door… we are called to listen to the one we once silenced… we are called to care for wounds we once caused (wounds that are still causing present and future harm). We are called to attend to the dead within the living… and let it shape our future.

I mean not to let that wax poetic. I play with words because they play with me… I’m not yet sure what tree rings and the dead being encased in the living is trying to tell me, but I am sure of the harm me and mine have caused and the listening I owe that harm – the reparations I long to attend to… and I have a heart to follow where the bright lights of my life are leading me: to pray and witness and unmask and hear and work… so now I must go, I have a tree to hug and listen to the whispering it is doing in the enforced silence.