Friday, May 4, 2012

Chasing the wind

Last night I made a comment on Facebook.  I’ve been better about these type of comments, learning to think before I type.  During Lent, I disciplined myself to say only positive and thankful things on Facebook.  But I slipped last night.  Maybe it was a good thing.  Comments reminded me that my status updates are read and understood as well as misunderstood.  I realized the power and the foolishness of my words.  I also began to realize the root of the comment.

No one likes to realize that they are sinning.  Nevertheless, we all do it, don’t we?  As I pondered my comment, I realized that I had broken the 10th Commandment – sounds really serious, doesn’t it?  Perhaps I should get some sackcloth and ashes.  This blog is my virtual sackcloth.

The 10th Commandment is that one about coveting.  I looked up the word covet and its meaning isn’t all negative.  Covet means both to wish longingly for something.  It can also mean envy.  My comment on Facebook last night was all about coveting.  It came from the frustration of my heart.  It came from the frustration of unfulfilled dreams.  It came from a sense of being rejected.  It came from a sense of hopelessness.  It came from asking the destructive question, why not me? 

I am frustrated.  I am wondering why not me.  I am feeling a bit hopeless.  My husband hears it the most.  His reply is always – it’s all God.  That’s too simple an answer for me.  That brings up all the endless questions of “theodicy.”  Since Job, we have pondered why?  My husband’s answer makes me ask if God is mean.  It makes me ask if God just doesn’t like me.  Am I some rejected step-child rather than His beloved child? 

As I pondered my sin this morning, I asked why this is sin?  I don’t know.  The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know is the best answer.  Nevertheless, my thoughts went to the issue of forgiveness.  So often, and rightly so, we are reminded that forgiveness is not about the other person.  It is about us.  
Unforgiveness eats away at the soul of the person harboring those feelings against another.  It shortens your life by stripping your joy.  Revenge is its food but never truly nourishes the soul.  It is likewise with coveting.  It hurts me.  Those I covet go on their merry way with their life, while I sit destroyed, further being robbed of hope and joy.

This morning I read the book of Ecclesiastes.  You should too.  It won’t take you long.  It puts life in perspective.  As I read its overall depressing themes, my heart begged for hope and resolution.  Everything is meaningless writes Qoheleth.  Everything is a chasing of the wind.  Fearing God and enjoying life seems to be the prescription to avoid chasing the wind.  It sort of reminds me of the serenity prayer – accepting the things I cannot change, changing what I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

There is no room for coveting if one wants to enjoy life.  My days are getting shorter.  I have less years ahead of me than of those behind me.  I cannot change how God blesses others.  I can only receive and enjoy what blessings God choses to give to me.  I’ve prepared the best I know how to answer His call and purposes – if He chooses to not allow me to serve Him with my gifts, there is nothing I can do about it.  That brings tears to my eyes.  But it changes nothing.  To try to change it is chasing after the wind.

As I pondered Qoheleth, I came across this quote:
As I sit here reading yet another book, desperately continuing to search You out God, I read about the many who are “famous” in their service of You.  While I attempt to live a life pleasing and worthy of You, I have a twinge of jealousy in my heart because I too want to be that kind of faithful servant – famously faithful.  I also fear that fame, that it is an in itself, a desire leading to destruction.  But, my yearn to do Your will is consuming so, somehow I must no care if anyone but You know that I serve You well.  All I can do is pray that I have the faith to endeavor to serve well, to pray that I am serving well, and hope that I may be anonymously famous, even to myself. (Anonymously Famous,
Ecclesiastes 9:11 I have seen something else under the sun:  The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I wrote the other day about Edna.  I met another Edna type person today at a Panera's in Hoboken.  Hoboken reminds me of Brooklyn.  I guess any place with sidewalks and stores reminds me of my home.  I love being able to walk places and see people.  Like Brooklyn, Hoboken is becoming one of the best places to live in the area.

As we ordered at Panera's, this older woman was walking alongside of a stroller.  I thought she was with the people.  She grabbed my coat briefly to steady herself.  I smiled.  We picked our seats and soon we found that this delightful woman had sat beside us. She welcomed me to come and sit with my family... How nice of her!

It didn't take long to realize she had dementia.  She told us her mother had worked at Panera's and that her mother died a few years ago at age 27. I asked if she had children.  She told us that she did but wasn't too clear about the details.

She finally decided to order. The young man at the counter reminded her that she had already had coffee and should have saved her cup for refills.  He smiled and gave her another one.  She paid for her soup and bread.  He filled her coffee again.  He was so gentle with her.  Even though they were busy, everyone treated her well and with respect.  All this, in the Northeast!  Hmmmm -

That was the vibe I experienced the whole time I've been in the NY/NJ.  People aren't smiling and making big fuss over us in that southern polite friendliness but a genuine friendliness.  I don't know how to describe it but I've had more friendly conversation with people I don't know since I've been here than I ever do in Nashville.

Okay, I know.  You're going to say: isn't this woman ever happy?  She moaned and groaned for Nashville when she lived in South Dakota - now she's complaining about Nashville.  I guess it seems like that.  But it's not that... I like Nashville overall and am thrilled that I live there and not in South Dakota.

It's just that every time I come home, I feel better.  I enjoy random conversations with guys who sell me hot dogs in Manhattan, and the Edna's.  Sometimes I wonder, what if?  What if we never moved away from Brooklyn?  I've lived long enough now to know that what seems like a crisis when you are a teenager is just a short passing bubble - it will burst and life will sort itself out.  Almost everyone grows up and figures life out.

But we did move and leave Brooklyn.  I guess you can never really go home, but I sure wish I could - I wish I could call the Northeast home again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Yesterday we did the mini-Brooklyn nostalgia tour.  I so love returning home.  I think anyone who is disconnected from their roots and home can understand the feeling one has when you return "home."  I suppose it is also understandable that those with me don't feel the same warmth and exhilaration when they see the streets, shops, trees, churches, and diverse people of Brooklyn.

As we toured, I told my 17 year old granddaughter that she had visited Puerto Rico, China, Israel, and the Arab Middle East in that afternoon alone.  There was a quick trip into a Norwegian shop a remnant of a large Norwegian community that was replaced by the Chinese.  As we left, we munched on Kransekake and Krumkake.  YUM.  In my hand was a block of precious gold - Nøkkelost cheese.  I will savor every bite of it later.  Those with me could never appreciate its flavor or delight in its taste as I will.

The last stop was Hinsch's. I don't recall when was the last time I was there.  It was likely around the time I was sitting in Mrs. Cedar's class in the fourth grade at PS94.  A frequent ritual was to accompany my bff Barbara and her grandmother Rose to this delightful old-fashioned soda fountain/ice cream parlor.

The 33 block walk each way was hard on the little legs. The walk was worth the feast of a hamburger and crinkle cut fries.  Barbara and I would share the fries.  She liked ketchup; I didn't.  My pleas to put the ketchup on the side were unheeded.  I would hunt for fries not smothered in ketchup.  I'd give anything to share fries with Barbara and her grandmother again.

My family has a difficult time appreciating my walks down memory lane.  It's not their memory.  I ordered egg creams for them.  I savored two sips of a vanilla egg cream as my lactose intolerance prohibited more.  I twirled a little on the stool at the counter.  I looked longingly at the booths and pictured a little girl with her bff and Rose - Rose always wore a hat.  I could see her.

The server became an instant friend of my granddaughter Maria.  Here is their picture:

As we lingered a bit longer, Edna came in.  Edna was greeted by Lisa, the server.  Edna ordered some vanilla ice cream to take home.  Edna got a big hug from Maria.  It was like an instant family!  Once a Brooklynite, always a Brooklynite.  Edna, probably in her 70's, had lived in Brooklyn all her life.  She told me that she had loved once but the day before her wedding to her love, he died.  He died in a scaffolding accident.  Their apartment lovingly furnished for a life together was never lived in - she gave their furniture away to the Salvation Army.  She told me she'd never found love again.

It was like I knew her all my life.  It's like that with people from Brooklyn.  As she left, she said, "I'll see you tomorrow."  I said, "no" with a frown.  I wish I could see Edna today.  She told me I was good looking - then she exclaimed:  "But you work here."  I said, "no, I'm just visiting - I don't live in Brooklyn anymore."  She told me to talk to the boss, a typical Brooklyn guy sitting reading the newspaper on the first stool.  She was sure he'd give me a job.

Sometimes I fantasize about moving back to Brooklyn.  Yesterday, I knew I could.  I knew I could find Edna's and Lisa's and even the guy on the stool who'd welcome me back to my home.  I'm homesick.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hospitality - A Holy Week Discipline

I heard an interesting sermon on Monday.  No I wasn't at church when I heard it.  It wasn't from a preacher either.  It was from this very blond, very white, very young, FFA (Future Farmers of America) leader.  If you know me, or have read my blogs, in particular Storehouses of Snow, you know that I am usually not too excited when I have to go to FFA, 4-H, Fairs, Achievement Days, Farm Bureau Events, and the like.  As we pulled up to see the sea of blue jackets, I remembered when I first saw those jackets at Hickman High School.  When I was a kid, there were no FFA Chapters in Brooklyn that I was aware of - this was new.  I would laugh at the Aggies.

Later my husband would teach Vo-Ag.  Those blue jackets took his time and attention. He'd leave me for long trips to the State Fair, State Conventions, and the Annual National Convention that always fell on my birthday.  I don't have a long love affair with FFA. FFA, 4-H and the like have always interfered with my life and happiness even though it has been our bread and butter.  As a good wife, I go with him when I can.  This event on Monday had no cows or smelly barns.  My husband was to be given an award.  I am proud of him.  As hard as it is for a girl from Brooklyn, imagine coming from a different country and culture and teaching Aggies.

This blond in blue spoke to her peers and those assembled about practicing your values.  She told a story of bullying and name calling.  She didn't participate but she didn't defend.  Her core value was challenged in elementary school as she realized because she didn't defend and speak up, she too was guilty.  As she spoke, I tossed the message aside.  Oh she was right - but I also thought how young and idealistic she was.  I thought "wait until life beats you up."  It beats up everyone.

Today I am thinking again about her message.  I realize that her sermon was for me.  I am preparing for a visit.  My brother-in-law is coming to visit with us for a few days or weeks.  I like my husband's family.  They may not realize it because I often succumb to resentment.  Everything in my life changes when someone comes.  We will eat different.  While I scrounge around for some American leftovers, I'll fix curried dishes until my house smells like an Indian restaurant.  I'll dress differently.  I will be careful concerning my attire and be unable to come in my PJ's to drink coffee in the morning lest my brother-in-law see me.  I'll wonder whether it is more rude for me to sit and stare at the wall as Saraiki is spoken or leave and watch TV alone in my room.  Yes, everything will change.

And it's Holy Week!  What bad timing is that? Or is it?  I talk a lot about love of God, love of neighbor.  I say my core values include love those that are different - loving the other.  I believe that hospitality is a Christian virtue.  I'm feeling challenged to be like Jesus during Holy Week.  I'm feeling challenged to put my values into practice.

As I prayed this morning, I could sense the Holy Spirit nudging me.  I was reminded of practicing your values.  I was reminded that Jesus' life was one of loving the "other."  As I thought of the coming Passover season, I thought of the passage at the heart of the Holiness Code:
Leviticus 19:33-34
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
All this is easier said that done.  I've tried to be hospitable for my husband before.  I've tried because it is the right thing to do before.  I've failed every time.  Today, I'm offering this up to Jesus.  I'm going to do it because of and for Jesus. I am going to do it because Jesus asks me to live my faith in actions - 

James 2:20-24
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.  You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone. 
So when I'm feeling that I want to run into the bathroom in frustration and cry my eyes out, I pray God will give me the grace I need.  I will, with God's grace, offer hospitality as part of my spiritual worship during this Holiest of Weeks.  My sacrifice is nothing compared to that of my Lord who offers me the hospitality of life, grace, hope, and salvation as I commune and partake of Him at His Table.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daddy's Girl

I've always been a Daddy's girl.  I miss my dad more and more every day.  That may sound odd since he's been gone for nearly 41 years.  

Today I've been thinking about how much I still want to be a Daddy's girl.  No, I can't climb on his lap anymore and ride the horsey on his foot while hearing Rida Rida Runka.  I can't snuggle in his arms and hear him say Lille Venn.  I can't beg for the extra piece of lump sugar while having my Biblical knowledge tested with the story of Naaman.

I want to be a Daddy's girl by being like my dad.  

I have a very eclectic group of friends both in real life and on Facebook.  My scroll on Facebook fills up with all sorts of things - mostly nonsense.  I see things about how to love your pets and why dogs are wonderful.  I see things about politicians.  Unfortunately, I see a lot of hate stuff about people who are different or those who are perceived as enemies.  I see calls to action to repair a fire station or to vote for someone to be the next model.  I see Bible verses used AND twisted to suit an agenda.  And of course, what would Facebook be without a YouTube video.

It was YouTube video that caught my attention today and made me think about my dad. It was a video criticizing a popular Televangelist.  Now if you know me, you know that I don't really care for any of them.  I just don't care at all for big name preachers, teacher, prophets, etc. because most of them have egos bigger than their names.  I don't see a lot of Jesus in that.  Oh yeah, I know they build a well in Africa at times to try to get more money from you and pull on your heartstrings (I know, cynical) - but overall, they live in big houses, fly in private jets, and live a celebrity lifestyle expecting people to think they are God's only messenger.

You get the picture - I just don't care for any of them.  A YouTube video telling me that this one said that and the other said this - and how it isn't Biblical is not big surprise to me.  The person doing this "exposé" usually isn't Biblical either.  A quick scan through YouTube's similar offerings looks like the dual on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal but without Elijah.  Everyone is right!  Everyone KNOWS exactly what God wants, thinks, says - they have TRUTH.  Here is the most ridiculous example I've found so far:

Here's where my Daddy comes in.  My Dad was one of those rare individuals that never said anything about anyone unless he could say something good.  Seriously!  He really was like that.  He wasn't stupid or naive - he just didn't say things.  If he could find even the smallest thing good to say about them, he would.  If not, he kept silent.

And I always knew who my Dad admired.  He would tell me he had a lot of respect for this one or that one.  He demonstrated a strength of character that I want to have.  I want to not be looking to expose someone, but to cover them.

There is a story in the Bible that we usually don't find in the children's coloring books about Noah.  In fact, we rarely hear it from the pulpit either.  It's found in Genesis 9:20-23.  Noah our hero plants a vineyard after all that time on the stinky Ark with the animals tossing around on the flooded earth.  He makes wine.  He gets drunk.  He lays naked in his tent.  One son sees him and does nothing.  The other two walk in backwards so as NOT to see their father's "shame" and cover him.  The son who does nothing is cursed.

So what's the lesson?  The lesson is we need to be careful how we "expose" people.  We need to keep our mouths silent, turn off the video cameras, and live by the scriptures:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

I want to be Daddy's girl.  I want to focus on the positive, love, and speak kindly with mercy.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Why Lent?  I’ve been ask this question a lot this year.  How does a born and bred Pentecostal decide to observe Lent?  Maybe because I am in contact with more and more people from my past and present who have never considered Lent.  This is not my first year to consider Lenten practices.

Several years ago now – probably at least five – I decided to in a small way practice the ancient Christian practice of observing Lent.  I didn’t go for ashes that year nor did fast.  I wasn’t quite ready for that “Catholic” of an experience.  Nor did I understand enough to consider it.

That year I had picked up a book at Goodwill.  It was a book by Phyllis Tickle: Eastertide Prayers for Lent through Easter with the Divine Hours.  Five times a day (well, most days) I'd open the book, recite the reading, pray the prayers, etc. Often it was rote; I would read with mind elsewhere.  However, just as often, the Holy Spirit would move in and the time with the book expanded long past the reading on the page.  Often while sitting on an early spring morning alone on my deck, the written prayers turned into heartfelt prayers of praise, worship, petition, repentance, and longing.  As a Pentecostal, I would say these times were times of "praying through" an issue - usually a heart issue.  I grew spiritual in ways that I hadn't expected. I have returned to the ancient practice of Divine Hours and find the discipline always a spur to my spiritual growth.

My first experience with Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes came surprisingly at a Nazarene church.  Small, meeting in a shopping plaza, for a short time I joined in regular worship with this Nazarene church.  Much to my surprise, on a Wednesday night in that place I had my first experience with the imposition of ashes.  Part of me thought perhaps I'd be struck with lightening for becoming "Catholic."  The other part of me was struck with the symbolism and profound meaning of the ritual.

In 2010, during our sojourn to South Dakota, I was home for an interview for the doctoral program at Trevecca.  I had this urgency in my spirit to go find a church and receive ashes again.  It was odd.  I couldn't shake it.  I thought how ridiculous and yet... it compelled me.  I recommend you read these two of my previous blogs to understand:  I am Dust and Suddenly.  As you read, you'll understand that urgency I felt for the ashes was God's way of preparing me for the death of my mother.  Her death vigil started the day after I received ashes reminding me that I am dust and to dust I will return.

My "record" with Lent is spotty.  Last year I received the imposition of ashes at the Catholic church with my daughter. It was a rather routine experience and not particularly profound.  We shared fish sandwiches after.  That was about it for Lent last year except for failed attempts to not eat meat on Friday.

This year I have once again felt the need to attend to my spiritual disciples.  While I know I don't need to follow Lent.  It's not in the Bible; it's not a command.  However, I do believe that ancient Christians developed these practices for spiritual benefit.  I can testify that they have benefited me.  If you would like a short version of the history of Lent in ancient Christianity, go here.

This year I have a church home.  As I pulled up to the church on Ash Wednesday my sense were alive as I smelled the palms burning in preparation for ashes.  I ate a bread and water supper with my brothers and sisters.  I received ashes on my forehead once again.  I purposed to fast meat on Fridays this year.  I cheated already.  I had a turkey sandwich last Friday and feel no particular guilt about it. However, the intention of trying to fast is a good one and one I will continue to strive to practice this year during the Lenten season.  

Most importantly, I am drawing closer to God through this season.  I have humbled myself and asked for prayer.  I have seen answers to those prayers already.  I am aware of the Holy Spirit working in my heart.  Changes are coming. I have purposed to not be negative in my speech and outlook and to be grateful and express gratitude.  I am dust.  I am nothing except for God.  Lent reminds me of that.  Lent helps me focus on my heart and soul to self-discipline and repentance.

I've learned that God can speak to me in infinite ways.  I only have to listen.  Just yesterday I watched a video sent to me by an intercessor.  It's a video of a Jewish Rabbi teaching on Esther.  It pierced my heart and brought both tears of conviction and tears of hope.  You can see it here.

I would never discount or discredit my Pentecostal heritage.  I love it.  I cherish it.  I embrace it.  I practice it. Sometimes I long for it as one does your favorite meal from childhood.  My heritage taught me to pray through, to see God, to fast, and to pray.  For me, that's what Lent is all about.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Heart Strangely Warmed

These are the words of John Wesley.  The full quote from his journal of May 24, 1738 is:

In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.  

I heard this phrase, my heart strangely warmed, numerous times this weekend at the Wesleyan Theological Society annual meeting on the Trevecca Nazarene University campus in Nashville TN.  It is an oft repeated phrase in Wesleyan circles.  Thousands, if not millions of words, have been written about Wesley’s Aldersgate experience.

My heart was strangely warmed this weekend at the conference.  I found a warm welcome by most of the people in attendance.  My husband, who also attended, felt likewise.  While not always the case in Nazarene circles, this time it seemed that someone said let’s move over and make room for one more.  I desired to be part of this group in increasing ways.  Time will tell if they will move over and make room for me again. 

I am particularly grateful to Dr. Michael Lodahl.  Others had turned our presentation down but he made room for us.  What I have seen of the man personifies grace.  His openness, as well as others, to my husband seemed to me as a means of grace exhibiting a sacramental show of hospitality.  Further grace extended through the celebration of Eucharist at the end of the proceedings.  Together my husband and I received the sacrament.  Thanks be to God.

I suppose one could wonder if God was attempting another Pentecost during this meeting.  There was a sound of a rushing mighty wind swirling through Nashville and the surrounding areas while we feasted on scholarly presentations.  All day Nashvillians had “tarried and waited” for the storm.  It came.  A tornado touched down in the tiny town where I live while I listened to hail and wind inside the walls of familiar classrooms at Trevecca.

My daughter was in a shelter at the mall where she works.  My son’s studying was interrupted to go to the basement of the medical library.  My husband with no sense of direction was driving back to the conference as hail beat his car.  He did arrive safely.

Yesterday was the first time we had a chance to assess damage.  We toured in sorrow the center of our tiny town.  The church I belong to had significant damage.  The siding on the city hall building looks like Swiss cheese.  Large trees were uprooted awaiting a chain saw.  Our own house has minimal damage.  Our cars show signs of hail damage. 
Stained-glass window destroyed

Notice the two stained-glass windows in the back of the sanctuary

Airing and drying the Bibles and Hymnals

Siding on buildings all over Kingston Springs look like Swiss cheese

My heart was strangely warmed in the midst of the storm.  Numerous calls from our youngest daughter to assure we were safe warmed my heart.  Facebook messages from friends near and far – are you okay? -- warmed my heart. 

Today I am thinking about those whose hearts were broken by this storm.  I am thinking about those whose families are forever changed by this devastation.  I am praying that God Himself will come and envelop them and that their hearts will be strangely warmed by His comfort and love. 

Heartwarming doesn’t just come from God. As marvelous, miraculous, and needful as that is, heartwarming also comes from the words, are you okay?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Singin' Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do

Riding in a pick-up truck with the love of your life listening to the oldies sure brings back memories. Sprinkled between stories on NPR and country tunes, we found the oldies.  I like to sing along – soon I was singing "Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do." 

I remembered the young girl with her transistor radio walking to the candy store with her transistor in hand singin’  "Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do.”  She prayed that someone would notice her and that they’d be together every single day.  She prayed that someday she’d live happily ever after.

It didn’t happen in Brooklyn.  No one saw her walkin’ down the street.  It was a scant nine years since she’d been  "Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do-ing" down the streets of Brooklyn.  In that time, she’d been a child bride. Dropped out of high school.  Given birth to two sons.  She’d been divorced.  She’d remarried her childhood husband.  She was beaten and abused.  She had a daughter.  She was alone again.  She was 23.

No more would she sing the diddy song.  Life was not easy.  She grooved to gospel and Jesus music.  Then one day, someone saw her walkin’ down the street.  Actually, they saw her walking through the University of Missouri Brady Commons.  Seventies music of Abba, Sir Elton, and a little disco came from the ever playing Juke Box. 

That was over 34 years ago now.  A memorial trip to where it all began seemed so complete listening and singing along to Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do.”  As the sun was setting we drove back to Nashville. We found the oldies again.  I grooved to “Under the Boardwalk” and “All You Need Is Love.”  How simple life seemed back when I sang those songs as child.   So many years, so many ups and downs, so much happiness and so much sorrow.  Life is never easy.

As we reflected on our life together, my husband said “it takes a lot of give and take…”  I agreed.  Love alone is rarely enough.  Love is a bit like mortar, it holds the bricks together when the wind blows.  Without the bricks of determination, the mortar has no purpose.

Life is not a fairy tale; there is no happy ever after.  Rather, a good marriage is a gift.  It is a gift from God.  It is a gift a man and a woman give each other through years of give and take.  I’m glad we both learned how to give and take, and to love and forgive.  That two imperfect people can come together to form a family is a miracle. I’m so thankful that after 34 years we’re still together and that’s how it’s going to stay – "singin’ Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do." 

Under a starry night we heard an oldies that we'd never heard.  We laughed as Joe Tex told us what we already knew - You gotta hold on to what you got...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Religion Is My Dog?

It was time to take the dog for a walk.  As soon as I stepped outside, I heard the neighborhood owl hooting.  Our yard is alive with critters.  We have many moles.  We often see deer in the yard and they leave their evidence all over the yard.  Then there are the birds.  So, many birds call our backyard and the surrounding area home.

I like to walk the dog.  I often find it is a time to think about the day, pray, or just think.  I had a lot churning around in my heart and mind today.  I was thinking about the odd and alarming Facebook conversation I generated today.

Today is the first day of Lent.  Today is Ash Wednesday.  Being rather new to liturgical calendars and worship, I still come to these days with a lot of thought, prayer, and seriousness.  Perhaps that is the only way to approach a holy season of fasting, penance, reflection, and service. 

I chose not to give up something but to add instead.  I decided to be more consistent in my spiritual disciplines of prayer and scripture reading.  I purposed to use this time to be positive and ask God to cultivate within me the fruit of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23:
But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (The Message)
Thinking I might encourage others to reflect during this season, I posted something on Facebook.  Immediately someone felt it necessary to question Lent.  Was this just Catholic?  Why was I doing this?  It got rather ugly.  I was so sad.

As I walked around the yard, I thought about the comments.  I thought about my desire to draw close to the Lord.  I thought about the birds that seem to offer their morning and evening prayer faithfully every day.  I thought about all the passages in the Bible that talk of creation praising God.  I thought of the beautiful passage in Revelation – a rare glimpse of Heaven (Revelation 4:13):
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:   “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (TNIV)
 It made me wonder.  What religion is my dog?  What religion are the birds?  What religion is the deer hiding in the woods?  Does the mole praise God too?  Do those eagles that fly so high over my house and astound me know God?  And, that owl, is he hooting his evening praise as well?

It seems easy as I think about the beauty and the simplicity of creations praise to God.  Perhaps they are calling me to worship.  Perhaps the deer and the mole join in praise to their Creator without asking what religion are the birds.  Could it be that this is the key to a relationship with God, to just come to Him and offer your worship and praise.  Okay, I know there are times when doctrine and orthodoxy are needed but today I just want the simplicity of worship.

As the trees of the field clap their hands, the lilies grow without worry, and the sparrow knows that God’s eye is on her, they all offer thanks to the Creator.  And my dog, she shows a depth of unconditional love I’ve never experienced.  She reminds that God loves me.  I think she has a good religion.  She knows how to love.
 He who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love.  1 John 4:8 (AMP)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Circle of Life

Life has flow. It starts at a point and flows on to the next and the next. We speak of generations. We speak of milestones where life altering events occur. For most people, the path of life may meander and curve, but it flows in one continuous path.

My life isn't like that. My life is full of circles. Like a bad flow chart with seemingly no connections, I left one circle and jumped to the next. Very occasionally one of the circles touches another circle and a loose connection is made.

You can see these circles very clearly on Facebook. I belong to the Brooklyn Norwegian group. That group reminds me of my childhood, my dad, the streets of Brooklyn, laughter and joy, as well as sorrow and abuse. I belong to the Salem Gospel and Camp Challenge group - memories of my childhood church fill it's wall. Pictures that remind me of my heritage and memories of first learning about Jesus fill my heart as scan faces so familiar. I have friends who now sort of merge together in an odd kalediscope as they "like" and "comment" on my wall together. Each knows me from one of my circles. Each are a piece of my life. But except on a random comment, they have no connections.

Last night I revisited a circle. It was a short circle of time. It was a profound life altering circle. As I gaze at the picture of myself, sitting on the second pew behind the pastor and his wife, their daughter and soon to be husband, I try to look deeply in my face. I remember her. I remember that 17 year old girl who thought she was all grown up. I remember her hopes and her dreams.

Her husband sits on her left. Her son is held by someone on her right. She sees her future in a parsonage. She sees herself cleaning a parsonage, making a home, and ministering the gospel with her husband. She dreams of a Volkswagen van that will hold her and her husband as they travel as evangelists. She will sing. He will preach. Occasionally he will preach. Then God will call them to a church. Perhaps a small town in Missouri that only local people know. A girl from Brooklyn has already been transformed by her shrinking world and the culture of the midwest.

Little did she know that abuse would follow. I look at her and think the first slap had occurred. Nathan, her son, had already been slapped for crying. Her husband looks so kind in the picture, so angelic. He's told by people that he reminds them of Jesus.

I look at the picture again. I squint until I see my dad. Then I find my mom. They always sat in the same place. They always sat near the back. In two short years, my father would breath his last. I wouldn't know how to grieve, so I still grieve him all these years later. As I think of my own grief, I wonder about his. Was he grieving the loss of his "lille venn." Was he craving the arms of his little girl? Was he wishing he could let her ride his foot or cuddle on the green recliner? He was thrust once again to live as a foreigner. His Norwegian accent sometimes was not understood. They did it for me. They left Brooklyn in an attempt to make my life better. Within a year, I was married, then pregnant. This was not what they planned.

My eyes wandered over the picture. The circle exploded. Memories, names, laughter, good food, prayer, repentance, tears, and sorrow came together. The nursery where I rocked my son and talked to other mothers trying to appear grown up was visible. The altar was too. The old fashioned mourners bench that is so absent from our modern structures. The place where on a Sunday night you went and knelt to pray. The place you affirmed once again your devotion. The place you received pardon and joy.

As I looked at that altar bench, I saw myself putting a blue and white receiving blanket on the bench. I would lay my son on his stomach on that bench. Usually sleeping, I would pat his back as I prayed. Like Hannah I would offer him to God. I would tell God, He's Yours Lord. Use him for Your glory. Call him to ministry. Protect him. Then I would plead with God to make me a better wife, and mother, and Christian.

There has been no evangelist van in my life. There never was a parsonage to live in - instead their were houses of abuse. There was abandonment and alcoholism. There was pain and destruction. Finally, a new circle, a new life, a new husband, more children, and new hope would emerge.

As I looked at that 17 year old, I wanted to hug her. I wanted to tell her, you have no clue all the ways life is going to change. I wanted to tell her nothing you think or dream of now will come true. I want to tell her that everything will change but one thing - a lifetime later, she will still love Jesus and He makes all things work together for good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Too Many "I's"

I’ve been emotionally revisiting my childhood in Brooklyn a lot these days.  Maybe it is the sign of aging.  Maybe it’s the nostalgia triggered by Facebook and finding old friends.  Maybe it’s the trip to Brooklyn over Christmas and the joy of seeing stoops that I stood on, steps to school that I walked on, and the visions of a young Joyce walking down the street.  Whatever it is, it’s wonderful.

There was a question often asked of each other on those Brooklyn streets:  What are you?  Now to the untrained and non-Brooklynite, you might wonder and say something like “I’m a human being.”  You’d probably ask, what do you mean by that?  In Brooklyn, you would answer, “I’m Norwegian or Irish or Polish or Puerto Rican or German or Lithuania.”  Neighborhoods while mixed, often had a dominant ethnic flavor or culture. 

Everyone had an identity.  Everyone belonged to one group or another.  I guess we all knew we were Americans but so many of us were immigrants or children of immigrants that knowing what you were was just part of breathing.  It wasn’t about discrimination or stereotype – although of course that did exist.  It was more of a way of learning about different people, different cultures, and life.

Our block was an interesting microcosm.  We had one Jew.  She was a Holocaust survivor.  We had one large Irish Catholic family and the oldest daughter’s name was Kathleen (of course).  I don’t remember the other children but I am sure there must have been a Michael.  My best friend was Italian.  I learned to eat pasta properly and enjoy the wonders of homemade “gravy” (sauce).  I learned the coolie (end) of the fresh Italian bread was the best part. 

I learned we were on the lower end of middle class in the neighborhood of my block.  The girl across the street whose father worked days at a bank was a higher socio-economic status than being the daughter of a janitor who worked nights.  We still played together and our mothers were friends. 

I learned about the crisis of NIMBY – not in my back yard when our first Puerto Rican family moved on the block.  I heard words like “they are creeping up from 2nd Avenue-soon there will be many of them.”  There may have even been a comment about their birth rate.  Interestingly because of a swing set, a small pool, and amazing jelly and cream cheese sandwiches I became the good will ambassador and played with their children.  I quickly discovered they had a lot more than we did and were very nice.  Anything that was different was a plus – especially those sandwiches.

I’m Norwegian.  I love my heritage and my culture.  I’m reconnecting to it through Facebook, Sons of Norway, and baking.  Tonight I’ll fix Norwegian meatballs for supper.  It is becoming a staple and go-to meal along with the chicken curry and other Pakistani dishes. 

I am the daughter of an immigrant and the wife of an immigrant.  I am first generation and five of my children are first generation.  We are close to the immigrant experience.  It forms my political views.

As I think of the question,” what are you?” it is not as simple as it was in Brooklyn.  I can no longer just smile and say I’m Norwegian.  I’m still Norwegian but the answer now has so many other complexities.  I am a wife.  I am a mother.  I am a grandmother.  I am a doctoral student.  I am … I am … I am …  So many “I’s.”

Labels are so tricky.  They lump everyone into a mold that may not fit for them.  I heard a saying the other day – if the box people want to put you in is too small, they need to make a bigger box.  Another label defines me these days – I’m known as old.  I’m known as a baby boomer.  I am known as someone nearing being put out to pasture.

Yes, those new labels are true if I look at the calendar.  But like the little girl who went after the jelly and cream cheese sandwiches made by the Puerto Rican girl with the swing set in her backyard, I need to make the box bigger.  I don’t fit in the box of old.  I’ve never fit in most of the boxes people have formed to put me in.  I’m not done.  I refuse to quit.  I’ll break any box you put me in and in the process I’ll break the box for others – for I AM A FOLLOWER OF JESUS CHRIST and He broke every mold, stereotype, or box that could ever be formed.
 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Friday, January 13, 2012

Generalizations and Labels

I love school.  I suppose anyone who knows me, knows that’s true.  I love to think.  In fact, I think way to much.  I have to analyze everything from every perspective.  Sometimes I wish I could just accept something, not worry about it, and go on. 

I am like Mary I guess.  You know, Mary and Martha?  How many sermons have you heard on that one? They usually go like this – Mary was “worshipping” at Jesus feet – she was a worshipper.  Martha on the other hand was worried about kitchen duties and hospitality.  We should be like Mary.  Amen.

No I’m not this extravagant worshiper that can’t serve a meal.  Neither was Mary.  Mary was a student, a thinker, just like me.  Mary was “listening to the words of Jesus.”  I see her hearing him talk.  Sitting with the men (a no-no?) and taking in every word.  Martha, who always gets a bad rap in these sermons, was practicing Eastern hospitality.  She was fulfilling a very important role. 

Why all this talk of Mary and Martha and school?  Because I’ve been thinking.  I’ve been mulling something over that has come up in one of my classes.  Like Mary, I have listened to the discussion.  I have read the material.  I am now thinking something through.

I stuck my neck out yesterday and mentioned what I was thinking.  So far, no guillotine has found my neck.  I tend to think that every time I open my mouth someone is going to say I think I’m a “know-it all.”  Truth be told, on this issue, I probably am the closest to a “know-it all.”  That doesn’t mean I don’t respect other opinions, I’m just saying that it is hard to express what I know, what I really know very well, because I fear the backlash.

We are talking about “exceptionalities.”  That is the new term for talking about disability issues in the workplace.  It’s as bad a term as any of the others, but it’s the latest.  We are all discussing how we should include PWD (the acronym for people with disabilities).  I don’t like it.  It’s not the concept I don’t like, it’s the acronym and all it seems to represent.

I was an advocate for persons (the word I prefer over people because people sounds like – you know “THOSE people”) with disabilities for many years.  I trained on the state and national level on inclusion, etc.  I walked the difficult path of incorporating persons with disabilities of any age into a multipurpose senior center.  Talk about difficult, you have NO idea…  It taught me a lot.  It taught me to look at a person with a disability not by their label, but by their humanity.  Throwing around acronyms and labels really bothers me.  It’s like rubbing your nails on the chalk board.

As I thought about it this morning, I thought of Jesus and Mary.  I wonder if Jesus repeated the greatest commandment as Mary intently listened:   
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  Mathew 27:37-39
Notice, Jesus didn’t say love your “neighborhood.”  He didn’t lump all people into one group or another.  He just said, love your neighbor.  To love your neighbor, to love your neighbor, you need to know them.  You need to meet them as a fellow human being who journeys through life with you.  They may not be the “same” as you – they may be a different race, a different religion, they may have a disability, we could go on and on with ways we generalize and classify people.  

But that’s NOT what Jesus said, He simply said Neighbor.  Love your neighbor, that person who you rub elbows with, no qualifications, no words that say they have to be like you, just love your neighbor – a person as a person.  Then love them the way you love yourself. 
I’ll be spending the whole semester learning about diversity – personally I think if we just followed the greatest commandment in all areas of life, we’d do just fine.