Friday, March 26, 2010

I Want To Be A Church Basement Lady

Last year I went to a celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day in the little town of Hendricks MN. It’s a far cry from the grandiose 17th of May parades in Brooklyn. Nonetheless, anytime I can sing the national anthem of Norway and celebrate being Norwegian, I’m up for it.

The program in Hendricks included a skit featuring the “Church Basement Ladies.” These ladies, had decided to open a restaurant to help people through rough economic times. Their culinary feature would be “hot dish,” also known in other parts of the country as casserole. They had some interesting variations of Campbell soup inspired dishes. They of course would have macaroni and cheese one day. Another day that would have the “hot dish” with the tater tots. Every day the desert would be some sort of “Jell-O.” Or as they said “Yell-O.” This is a Norwegian community after all.

Some creative person had put together a wonderful play. I am not Lutheran, and I didn’t grow up in the upper Midwest. I did understand the humor. Garrison Keillor would have been proud of the people of Hendricks as they poked fun at themselves. I did a short clip of it and put it on youtube:

I’ve been reminiscing about church basements. I guess that sounds strange. Most churches have done away with their basements. They have activity halls and often nothing of any great joy goes on there. A church basement is something different than an activity hall I think.

The church I grew up in had a basement. On Sunday, minus Sunday School rooms we would gather for Sunday School. Sunday School was divided by the “downstairs department” and the “upstairs department.” I believe we moved upstairs around the 5-6th grade. Early on Sunday, men would come to put up the partitions that parceled off our Sunday School class. Chairs were kept in the middle of these partitions for “opening exercises” where we belted out such wonderful tunes as: I’m in the Lord’s Army, Deep and Wide, Peter, James and John in the Sailboat, Running Over, Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain, etc.

Once opening exercises were over, we would go to our respective round table complete with flannel graph board to learn about Jesus. One flannel background seemed to fit every lesson. Competing lessons on both sides of us kept us from being board. I don’t recall any girl in my class having ADD; if we did, it might have been interesting. Once you graduated “upstairs” you didn’t have the benefit of partitions, a class was conducted every few pews. Somehow, we all learned in spite of these conditions.

The small children weren’t the only ones who occupied the basement on Sunday morning. Behind some old wooden folding doors were the adults. As these giants of the faith, with large Bibles, dressed in their Sunday best, men with suits and top coats, women with fur collared coats came out of this room, my eyes would grow wider and wider. I can still see the power of their faithfulness.

Back to the basement - the life of the church went on in the basement. The sanctuary was wonderful for Sunday morning but the basement was where it all happened. I’ve visited that church in recent years and have been surprised at how small it is. How did all those things happen in this wondrous but small space?

On Tuesday night, they had prayer meeting in this space. The faithful would gather to pray and seek God. Once a month, they also had a business meeting. At the time, this church practiced closed Communion. When I was very small during these business meetings, they would break bread and partake of the Lord’s Supper. Later it moved to the sanctuary on the first Sunday of the month still only members partook.

One other night of the week, the choir practiced in this basement. On Wednesday afternoon, children, released from school for an hour of religious instruction gathered to learn more about Jesus from four women devoted to this ministry. Friday night the youth gathered to worship in the basement.

The basement was the site of countless wedding receptions and anniversary parties. Their own “church basement ladies” would gather the day of the event to prepare the most luscious of banquets. Those same round tables we used for Sunday School became banquet tables with white linens. I remember the wonder of watching them work in the kitchen giving the greatest of detail to every attention including the making of fancy designed balls of butter. That always amazed me. And the desserts! It was always a spread fit for royalty.

I think that was the point of the church basement. It was a place where the family gathered and where each one gave to the other. Each person who came to that church basement, felt like royalty. Whether they were the child learning about Jesus, or the person being celebrated at some great feast, it was a place of community.

My parents 25th Wedding Anniversary celebration in the church basement.

I’m in seminary. I hear a lot about community. It seems it is a word that is bounced around a lot. It seems that we long for community in the church. I think I know part of the answer. I think we need a return to church basements. We need a place where the family gathers. A place where each one is esteemed higher than the other- a place where we treat each other like royalty and share in the rhythms of life.

I’m glad I grew up in a church basement. I am thankful for the church basement ladies (and gentlemen).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Home Stretch

I got a call yesterday from the funeral home that handled the arrangements for my mother. A pleasant woman called to tell me that the date of my mother’s date was now on the headstone. Having purchased this headstone in 1982, for 18 years it has been waiting for this date.

The many times I have visited my father’s grave I have also stared at my mother’s would be grave. I have looked at that headstone and wondered what date will appear. Now there is a date. Now it is final. It is official. On February 25, 2010, almost one month ago, Elsie Mae Bumbaugh Johannesen Martin joined with my father all those who worship around the throne of God.

Many years ago while still a teenager I had a pastor who is buried not far from my parents at Memorial Cemetery in Columbia MO. I stopped at his grave when we buried my mother. I think I will stop there often as I visit both of my parents.

Brother Parker, my pastor, preached a sermon series that I still remember. He preached from Hebrews 12:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

I never remembered Brother Parker doing sermon series. Maybe he did and I don’t remember but this one has been forever etched in my brain. Each week he would look back at the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11. Each week their stories would be shared. These Heroes of Faith, human beings with faults and limitations like mine, rose to greatness in God.

Each week as he began and ended the individual stories, he would remind us that these were those in that cloud of witnesses. I was young and I would picture myself running in a race, getting almost to the finish line – there would be all these bigger than life biblical giants yelling come on Joyce, you can do it!

When I heard that sermon, I had no idea that one day I would see my mother and father in that cloud of witnesses. Or that I would see Brother Parker there. Lately I’ve been looking at pictures from the church of my childhood. I’ve been looking and scanning at the familiar faces, wondering their names – recalling many.
I’ve been thinking about Friday night youth services without the benefit of a youth pastor. Yet somehow, we learned and thrived spiritually. We sang the same hymns as Sunday morning and the same pastor preached the word to us.

I look at those people and I realize most are in that cloud of witnesses with my parents. They are looking down and cheering me on. Their memories fill me with desire to be more faithful. They make me miss church.

I’ve been reading that Calvin, the great theologian, said that the church is our mother. I had a great mother. In fact I had several great mothers, Salem Gospel Tabernacle premier of them all. Sort of the mother of all mothers… but there was also Calvary Tabernacle and First Assembly of God where Brother Parker preached the Word.

That cloud of witness is getting very familiar to me now. New dates are being engraved on headstones of my heroes of faith-Pastor Dahl, Pastor Johnson, Pastor Crandall, Brother Parker – Sunday School teachers like Helen Titland, Fran Larsen, Esther Paulsen, Joyce Paulsen, Gunda Braaten, far too many to name along with the others whose presence still fills my life and reminds me to be faithful. They are cheering me on. I am hearing them. I don’t have much further to go and I will join them.

What a day that will be….

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I've a Story to Tell

Yesterday I was wondering a lot about whether I should keep telling my story in this blog or beyond. I got a really nice comment from someone that meant a lot. I didn’t really expect a lot of comments. I was just trying to be honest about how I felt. It was a legitimate question.

I have this amazing memory. I don’t take it for granted. I realize that memory is a powerful gift. Like all powerful things, it can be a mixture of blessing and curse.  There are many times I wish I didn’t have such a good memory. Often I wish I could hit some button and clean the hard drive of my brain or at least defrag. Memories that are painful don’t leave a person with a good memory either.

My memory causes me to remember names of people from my long past. Every so often a name will pop into my head. Now in the days of google, I can google them and see what I find.  I was trolling memories last night.

From previous such activities on Facebook, I had found the children of the Sunday School teacher I have mentioned a few days ago. One that I baby-sat for when she was a pre-schooler is now is a grandmother. I decided to send her the link of the blog. It seemed to bless her. She told me how her mother’s active faith continued throughout her life.

Then in one of those odd chain of internet events, I stumbled on someone else I remembered from my childhood. I imagine I am long out of their range of memories. I saw pictures of them when they were teens and thought of Camp Challenge. I remembered whom one of them dated. That started me thinking of that family. My mind kept hopscotching through memories of people whose lives interacted with mine and who helped me become who I am.

I guess we never realize the impact we are having on people. People who have long forgotten the third child of Olav and Elsie Johannesen of Brooklyn NY float on my memory and remind me of a rich heritage that I have. I see some of their faces again. It reminds me that I too have stamped my influence on those I’ve prayed with, ministered to and taught. Maybe they will someday remember me and wonder what ever happened to me.

Last night I found the other Sunday School teacher, Fran, on Facebook. I’ve friend requested her. I’ve found my first boyfriend from Camp Challenge – I didn’t friend request him. I found what appears to be his ex-wife who was a childhood playmate and daughter of one of my mother’s closest and dearest friend.

I continued to fish my memory of people I’ve known. I thought about the Vikse family of Staten Island. I still remember the name of the street they lived on, Gansevoort Blvd. While they worshipped in Brooklyn, they lived in Staten Island. I thought they were rich because they did. To me anyone who didn’t live in Brooklyn and who owned a car must be rich. Many years later, I drove on Gansevoort Blvd in my own car and realized their house was not a mansion.

While I told the story of Helen and the full gospel businessmen’s meetings, I didn’t mention it was a tall Norwegian named Simon who prayed with me along with a short Italian woman named Bruno.  So many things I could say about my memories of the Vikse family. So many trips to camp, so many times at church, so many warm memories – all too many to share. Most of my memories were from afar, impressions indelibly impressed on my memory. 

What did find on google about Simon and his wife Helen. Ironically through the mouth of their grandson, I heard the answer to my blogging/writing question.

I have a story to tell. I have experienced the gospel in unique ways. I am a gospel story. Jesus wrote in red on my life making a living epistle. I will tell my story. 

I love to tell the story, 
For those who know it best 
Seem hungering and thirsting 
To hear it like the rest. 
And when, in scenes of glory, 
I sing the new, new song, 
'twill be the old, old story 
That I have loved so long.

I love to tell the story, 
'twill be my theme in glory, 
To tell the old, old story 
Of Jesus and his love. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Should I Hit the Publish Button?

This morning my status on Facebook reads, “Wondering if I should blog this a.m.?” I’ve been asking this question of myself a lot lately. When I was writing the eight part series One Hundred Fourteen Days that begins here and the blogging as my mother slipped from this life to the next (beginning here), I felt compelled to write.  Never sure if it was for my own mental health or for the benefit of the reader, every day I would effortless express my thoughts on paper.

The blog I wrote after my Ash Wednesday experience was so appreciated by the church I visited that they have asked permission to reproduce it and distribute it. Thrilled, of course I said yes. First, they were going to put it in their newsletter but decided it should stand alone so as not to get lost when the newsletters are gone. If you didn’t read it already, go here for the original version.

A former employee came into my office once and said that she struggled with the demon of external validation. I said I do too.  Every day I check far too often to see if I have any comments on my blogs. I check google analytics obsessively. I want to see how many visits I had to the blog. I look to see how many pages they read and where they live. I want to know which particular blog was read the most.

Recently I googled - how to promote your Christian blog. Among the responses was a place called Amen Me! Since it was free, I signed up. My insecurities control me, I go and check if someone gave me an Amen. None so far. 

My husband doesn’t read my blog but if I am particularly happy with the blog I will read it to him. It hurts my feelings that he doesn’t read it on his own. His usual comment is “very good.” I am never really sure if he listened and thought it was good or if it was just his auto-response.

Maybe that isn’t fair to him. He does occasionally make a sound when I’m reading my blog that seems to indicate that he like what I wrote. His bland very good is just him. He isn’t much for expressive words. I wish he were. Nonetheless, he has said enough for me to believe that he thinks I write well.

I asked my husband last night while on the flight from Detroit back to Sioux Falls, since you seem to think I can write, what do you think I should do with this? I lamented that this would be just another one of the things that I find out I do well that then goes flat on its face and amounts to nothing.

Maybe my blogging is just about me. Maybe this is just an electronic journal that lets you into my life. Maybe I should just keep a private journal. I’ve gotten into some trouble that I can’t afford with some members of my family about my blogging. I think they would like to muzzle me but I resist that muzzle. Whenever you write about your own life, the lives of those you love and interact with will always be involved. They just don’t see it like you do. I've always been the odd person out.

I’m wondering today what is the point of this blogging. I’ve been told that I am too transparent at times.  That is probably true. To tell me to stop is a bit like the proverbial leopard changing it's spots. Maybe I could just do some inspirational stuff and hope someone gets a spiritual boost out of it. I could babble on and on about my opinions.

I’ve blogged today. I’ve been the Joyce who shares her heart transparently. This has not been a fishing expedition for compliments or comments. This is just where I am at this morning. I am wondering why I sit here and blog. I am wondering if it serves any purpose. Nonetheless, I enjoy it.

I’ve been told more times than I can count to write a book. A book? About what? I’ve even been told it is my ticket out of South Dakota –a ticket I covet many days. 

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can You Sing Kum-Ba-Yah Alone?

I’ve been reading a lot about the church lately. It is part of my theology class reading. Moreover, my blogging friends seem to be talking about it a lot. 

Over the years, I’ve belonged to 2 churches in Brooklyn during my childhood, 3 churches in Columbia MO, during a short year and a half in Fayetteville NC, I went to about 3-4 churches (not a good experience), 1 church during the 16 years I lived in CT (now that was a great experience), 4 churches in TN (one of which I pastored) and 0 churches in South Dakota.  (There are none in SD because I’ve always just been a visitor when I do go to church there.) 

That’s a total of at least 14 churches I’ve belong to on some level. That’s a lot of church!

I’ve lamented with the best of them about the state of the church. It’s pretty sad. I’ve been critical of friends who aren’t solidly involved in a church. Yet, for the last two years, as I have refused to settle down in SD, I’ve been just like them. Where I once was critical, I now understand. Sometimes it’s just hard.

In my reading yesterday, I was reminded that the salad bar approach to church is a new phenomenon. Once upon a time, your “church” was determined by where you lived. Everyone in your geographic locality was the same flavor of Christian. Most of the time, you were with the same congregation all of your life.  Before the Reformation, if you were Christian, there was only one flavor of Christian.

Now, there are so many varieties that you have a hard time choosing. Sort of like when you stand at the Baskin Robbins’ counter and can’t decide what flavor you want. Maybe this day you want German Chocolate Cake but next week you want Fudge Ripple. Worse yet is when your spouse wants Orange Sherbet, you want Blueberry Ripple, your teen wants Chocolate and your preschooler needs a baby cone of plain vanilla. One of the options in this dilemma is just not go for ice cream any more.

Nevertheless, church is not ice cream. I know church gets a bad rap. It’s boring. It’s too organized. It’s out for money. It is like a country club. Believe me I can tell you horror stories too. I’ve gotten pretty beat up and banged up in church during my life. If you were to ask me where was the one place I got hurt more than any other place, it would be the church. That’s pretty sad.

I am not ready to give up on the church yet. Even though I haven’t settled in enough to be part of a congregation in SD, I won’t give up on the body of Christ. Okay, I know someone out there is saying: it’s just Jesus and me. Jesus is fine but I don’t care for the church. But if the scripture says we are all part of one body, and that we are the body of Christ, you as a thumb, or arm, or pinky pretty much can’t do anything cut off from the rest of the body.

I’m not sure I know how all this works.  I heard a professor say a few weeks ago that your salvation is within the church. I thought, I know he’s not saying the church saves you. That membership in a church or denomination guarantees your salvation. No, he’s Baptist, he wouldn’t say such a thing; they’re big on personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, I think he had a good point. How can you really be a toe, or thumb, or arm, or pinky, or whatever in the body of Christ if you aren’t connected to the rest of the body?

There are a variety of ways to do church. You can go to a traditional service or a contemporary service. You can go to a liturgical service or one with no order at all. You can sing hymns, worship songs or rock it out with a praise band and light show. You can go to a house church or a cathedral. You can even have a type of church on the internet. I’ve preached on the internet through my fingers. We had worship, we had prayer, I preached and then I prayed for people… all while sitting in front of a monitor. Eventually we need people in the flesh. To see a smile, receive a touch, a hug, we need each other.

I think the point is not where or how, it is that you do. It is important to be in relationship with the rest of the body through worship, prayer, sharing your life, receiving Communion, and the preaching and teaching of the Word.  If you saw the movie March of the Penguins, you know penguins only survived because they huddle together. The lone penguin couldn’t make it alone in that harsh environment. We are in a harsh environment as Christians. We need each other. Even the ones the upset us and irritate us. We still need them.

We need the church really means, we need each other.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Storehouses of Snow

I know more of you read this blog than read Storehouses but I thought you should check it out today. It was pretty good.

Follow this link and enjoy Three Skevts of Coffee

I am traveling. In Tampa after a very stressful annoying trip on Delta Airlines today. I'll be back soon though.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

You're Weird!

When someone tells you that you are weird, it usually isn’t meant as something nice. It means you are out of the norm. It means you just don’t do things like other people do. It is far from a compliment. Sometimes I wonder when people get that look on their face when they talk to me, if they think I’m weird.

Yesterday I went for another interview for a doctoral program. I wonder what drives me. I’m really too old for this. Then I think of all the people whose contributions to life didn’t start until they were in their seniors years. I've already contributed in many ways. I had a great career. I have a wonderful family. Yet, I think I still have more to contribute. I'm not done. I knew someone else who was not done, the former Town Clerk in Cromwell CT.

I first met him when I also worked for the Town of Cromwell. A distinguished widower with striking white hair he had been Town Clerk forever. People would try to run against him. The Republicans would convince his assistant to run against him just so someone would be on the ballot. She never won.

Everyone liked Bernie. I was never sure how well he did the details of his job. I do think the assistant was best at the details. Bernie was popular because he knew you. He knew your name. He would stop and talk to you. He ate his lunch at the local grocery lunch counter.

Always dressed in a sport coat and tie, trim and handsome, he was in great shape for his 70 plus years. Coupled with his genteel personality, he was popular with everyone. Bernie evidently was elected before people cared as much about how many academic degrees you had. His highest academic achievement was a high school diploma.

At 70, Bernie decided to change that. Bernie enrolled at Trinity College, a prestigious college in Hartford, CT.  For a few hours a day, Bernie would be absent from the Town Hall. The assistant knew her job well, and another was hired to help her. Bernie was going to school. Bernie finished his Bachelor’s degree in history just in time to celebrate his 75th birthday. Bernie didn’t stop. He retired from the Town. His goal-a PhD.

I have that same goal. I have quite a few years until I’m 75. I already have a the requisite Bachelor and Master’s degree. I’m way ahead of Bernie. But I am no less driven than he must have been; driven to reach a goal that seems at times impossible.

At this interview yesterday, I was asked quite a few interesting questions. I was asked what I wanted to acquire by this degree. I had to think. Then I told them that once I was a single mother. I had married when I was 16 and became a mother at 17. At 23, I found myself a high school dropout living on welfare with three children, one an infant. I stood at a hospital window watching my peers in their black caps and gowns jubilant at receiving their college degrees. I had just given birth to the infant, my daughter Bethany. She was in critical condition. I was alone having been beaten and abandoned by my husband.

I told them that one thing I determined that day in front of the hospital window was that I wanted an education. I didn’t know how I would do it but I wanted an education. I wanted knowledge. I wanted something that no one could ever take away from me. I still want that. 

That thing that rose up within me that Saturday in May of 1975 as I watched graduation from afar drove me to 3 ½ years later achieve the same degree. That thing still lives within me. It still rises up and drives me to pursue a dream that won’t die.

I will wait two weeks to hear the results of this interview. However, this blog is ending with a surprise. As I’ve been writing there was a loud bang at the door. I got up even though my hair was wet and I am still in my nightgown. I am glad I did. It was the mailman. He had a certified letter for me. Usually a certified letter is not good news. This one brought good news. It was from Trevecca Nazarene University. 

The letter starts:

Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that the Doctoral Selection Committee has selected you to be invited to become a member of Cohort 13 (oh, I hope that isn’t unlucky) in the Ed.D. program, Leadership and Professional Practice.

I guess they didn’t think I am weird.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Humming for Change

If you've read this blog very much you have probably figured out that I know a lot of hymns and gospel songs. I am finally old enough to “get it” about these songs of faith. I’ve commented before how my brain pulls one out of the recesses of my memory. Yesterday it was The Church’s One Foundation. This morning it started with He Leadeth Me while still in the shower. Then it quickly turned to the peppier In My Heart Their Rings a Melody.

I can remember trying to track the words in the hymnal with my index finger when I first started to read. I remember wondering what the byonder was when we would sing that the roll would be called up byonder.  I don’t know if it was the mix of the Norwegian accent I heard or something else,  but I heard it byonder. Of course, it wasn't when, it was Ven the roll. To this day, while I sing without the accent, my heart hears the strong Norwegian accent when it hears the hymns.

We had a choir in our Norwegian church. The first choir director I remember was a tall skinny Norwegian man.. His wife was the pianist. No one could play the piano like she did. She was also my first piano teacher. Unfortunately, they moved away and I lost her as a teacher. I never have learned to play well.

This church believed so much in democracy that everything was an elected position, including choir director. I remember my mother coming home from the annual business meeting to tell me that someone had beat out the tall Norwegian in the election. This new director, of course Norwegian, played the musical saw. Yes, the same type of saw that cuts wood. He would bring it with him to every meeting just as others brought their mandolins and guitars. He was amazing.

This choir had the richest harmony. I always dreamed of being in the Salem choir. I didn’t reach the required age of 16 until I lived in Missouri. They sang out of the hymnal. I don’t remember cantatas from them or the like. Nevertheless, their rendition of Wonderful Grace of Jesus is still the most beautiful I have ever heard. Rich Norwegian male voices such as the Titland brothers had would blend to make the most magnificent sounds.  

Long after I thought my dream of being in the Salem choir had died, I got to sing with it at the 75th anniversary of the church. Joyce Paulsen, who always called me “re-joyce” included me as the choir sang Wonderful Grace of Jesus for the last time. Most of that choir is now in heaven.

I was having a conversation the other day with someone about how I came to realize my Wesleyan roots.  Norwegian Pentecostalism is firmly rooted in Wesley. (I did a presentation for class reflecting on my roots, if you’d like to see it, you can see it here.) My realization came in what seemed like a very unsophisticated song. As the use of hymns was waning and choruses replacing them, we’d march around the church shaking hands and exchanging hugs to this ditty:

I care not what church you belong to
Just as long as for Calvary you stand
And tonight if your heart is as my heart
You’re my brother (or sister) so give me your hand

While it seemed as sort of a cute way to get people to shake hands, I used to tell people it summed up my theology.

I was reading a book by Alice Wynkoop, The Theology of Love.  As I was reading, I came upon a quote from Wesley. It was the same words as this song.  Wesley and I agreed.

As I told this story to that person that day, he said: what you hum you become. That’s true. Those words so rich from the red hymnal at Salem, replaced later by the blue hymnal in other churches, the melodies that ring in my heart as I hear Salem’s choir in my ear, all of them have been part of the transformation process.

When I lived in Connecticut I always had multiple children and often their friends in the station wagon or van. It took several years before we had a cassette player in one of those vehicles so I was dependent on the radio. There is a Christian radio station in CT, WIHS (We’re In His Service – 104.9 on your FM dial). This station played only hymns and traditional church music along with a lot of preaching and the classic radio program "Unshackled." Even though most were switching over to choruses and contemporary music, they played hymns. I really thought they were “old fashioned.” I wanted to bounce around to latest contemporary music.

My children would ask me: why do you listen to that “boring stuff?” I would reply that while it wasn’t my favorite, it was all we had to chose from for Christian music. I said what I feed my soul with will affect who I am. Whatever your taste in music may be, and mine includes such diversity as Matisyahu, remember - 

What you hum you become

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time to Iron

I spent some time ironing this morning. I used to keep a basket of ironing. It was something I learned from my mother. My mother had no “profession” but would earn money by taking care of other people’s children and doing ironing. I tried the ironing back when I was still a high school dropout. As I recall, the rate of pay was “per piece.” It was pennies apiece but if you had a lot of ironing to do for someone, you could earn a few dollars.

As a child, my mother would sprinkle the clothes she would iron. I suppose she didn’t have a steam iron. Maybe they weren’t available or maybe they were too expensive. She would take the sprinkled clothes and roll them into a tube awaiting the iron. Her tableclothes always seemed to require the most attention. Usually made from cotton even the breeze as they hung on the clothesline didn’t remove the thousands of deep wrinkles. It was only after the heat of the iron that they emerged smooth enough to grace her table.

My ex-husband was in the Army. That was my most difficult time with ironing. Fatigues were made of a heavy cotton material. In the trailer in which we lived, we had a washing machine but no dryer. Fatigues were to be stiff enough to stand on their own so I learned how to use liquid starch. Along with the cloth diapers I washed daily in a separate load, I would wash and starch fatigues.

As they hung together on the clothesline, they would often get an addition rinse from the daily afternoon rain shower in North Carolina. Somehow, I always missed my opportunity to take them down before the rain.

For literally hours, I would stand at the ironing board ironing those fatigues. Cans of spray starch were used in order to smooth out the hardened wrinkles. Looking back, I wonder if it would have been cheaper to just send them out to be laundered?  I was only 19 years old.  I wanted to be a good wife and good wives did these types of things.

As I ironed this morning, I thought of something else. I thought of a sermon I heard a very long time ago. The church was born in part out of the Jesus movement. The energy in the early days was palpable. Young people with zeal crowded the basement of a church. I would sit on the counter going into the kitchen for a birds-eye view.  Our leader, Pastor Joe had a gift for storytelling. I doubt he had taken a class in Narrative Preaching-it just came natural.

There are sermons he preached 40 years ago that I still remember. I remember his sermon about cursing the fig tree. He said that church could look good, have all sorts of programs but without fruit, it was not fulfilling God’s desire. Another time he talked about his daughters. He said how he loved to boost them up into the back of their station wagon. He likened it to how God takes delight in boosting us up. I learned from Joe that God was not someone who was stern and wanted to punish me. He was someone who loved His kids.

I am guessing his text was from Ephesians 5:25-27
 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless
As I ironed, I thought of Joe talking about the brides he’d married in the church. He talked about their obsession with the iron. The dress would be perfect to his eye. Nevertheless, to the eye of the bride, there was always one more wrinkle to smooth away. Everything had to be perfect for her groom.

I’ve known the Lord all of my life. I have been washed and cleansed. Yet as I ironed today, I asked God to show me that wrinkle; to give me the eyes of a bride preparing for her groom. When my Bridegroom will come, I do not know. I do know He will come.

Matthew 25: 5-6 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tip Toe Through the TULIP

I was very insecure in my faith for a long time. I’ve mentioned that I could get an award for the most trips to the altar for salvation. Here was this little church girl who was so riddled with insecurities that she was sure she was perpetually “lost.”  

Several years ago, I worked in a church office in Tennessee. My official title was secretary. Like secretaries everywhere, the term didn’t fit the job description. In my case, I also filled the pulpit when the pastor was gone, including many Sunday mornings. I answered deep questions on the phone, like the day someone had committed suicide in the community and someone was worried about their soul. I prayed with people, counseled people. When a female came in for counseling, if they didn’t already have a relationship with the pastor, I counseled them. I was a lot more than a “secretary.”

One of the true secretarial duties was to record data. I recorded in the official notebook baby dedications, baptisms, and deaths. I designed some nifty certificates for baptism. On two of them, I verified that I had baptized a daughter and a grandson. In spite of having to use a typewriter to enter this information, it gave me joy to see the significance of people’s lives recorded.

The data I found less interesting was the prayer/decision cards. It seemed the same people were getting saved or re-dedicating their lives on a routine basis. This would make great sociological research for someone.

The Children’s Pastor was the biggest contributor to this pile. About once a quarter or more often she would be evangelistic. There wasn’t a lot of fluctuation in attendance, so as I was, they were church kids. I don’t know what she’d tell them. I imagine she scared them about hell. That was a common theme in this church. Year after year, they celebrated Halloween with a horror house to scare people into decisions for Christ. I never once saw any of the 100’s of people who made decisions continue in the faith.

On the Sunday that Pastor Judy was evangelistic, she would come beaming with a stack of decision cards. Glory Hallelujah, we have a revival going on in Children’s Church. I would thank her and start the computerized recording of her victories. Eventually national headquarters would beam with excitement that so many victories had been won in this little town in Tennessee. These successes enhanced the status of the pastor, who desired to move up the ladder of church leadership. I guess it worked, he has.

I had a database. I had all of these children already listed. If there was a new child, next to their decision, Pastor Judy would write “first time salvation.” Then there would be ten or twelve repeaters for salvation. I wondered how she determined that they needed another salvation instead of just checking the re-dedication box? It was my job, so I recorded it as she gave it to me. I thanked God my children were too old for Pastor Judy.  My children had been taught that there is a security for the believer.

This brings me to Calvin. Yesterday I was reading Calvin. I never thought Calvin would have much to say to me. I was first interested in Calvin in Junior High School. I remember asking my Youth Pastor to explain to me what Calvinism is. He gave me the standard TULIP. He also explained how our doctrine was different from his – we believed in Arminianism.  If you are a nerd like me and want to read more about the two, go here.

I asked those questions because I wanted some security in my faith. In my warped insecurity view of my own spirituality, I decided maybe I wasn’t one of the “elect.” I thought maybe if I just kept hanging around and repenting, God would decide to let me in anyway. While that seems childish and laughable now, it was painful at the time. I didn’t need more salvations, I needed to understand the one already given to me. Sometimes we think our own piety and spirituality will bring salvation. I needed to know about grace.

As I read Calvin yesterday, I found him rich. I think I actually found an answer to the struggle I had as a child, a struggle for salvation.  Saving grace always stayed in my head.  My view of God and His word still often just stays in my head. It has difficulty getting to my heart. Listen to what Calvin says:

It now remains to pour into the heart itself what the mind has absorbed. For the word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depths of the heart that it may be an invincible defense to withstand and drive off all the stratagems of temptation… It is harder for the heart to be furnished with assurance than for the mind to be endowed with thought. The Spirit accordingly serves as a seal, to seal up in our hearts those very promises the certainty of which it has previously impressed upon our mind; and takes the place of a guarantee to confirm and establish them.                                                John Calvin on Faith

The work of the Spirit is not about goose bumps, although I love them. I love feeling the presence of God. The work of the Spirit is deeper. It is the channel for bringing what the mind has absorbed transforming it beyond knowledge, to truth. Heart truth supersedes head knowledge. Fear may cause you to change your mind, the Spirit moves in your heart to bring you salvation.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Blog

I have a house that is sorely in need of cleaning. I was reading about preparation for Passover last night. I would not make a good observant Jew. I don’t think I could clean my house that thoroughly. In the area of cleaning, I am not Norwegian. 

I also have weeks of school work to catch up on in order to get through this semester. I believe this will be the semester where the GPA takes a nosedive. I just can’t focus. I didn’t sleep well last night at all. I woke up more tired than when I went to bed. Even when I sleep well, I still don’t feel rested. I feel I could sleep for days. I wish I could sleep for days. I also wish I could quit school.

Nevertheless, here I sit writing blogs. Recently I’ve thought I would have been better not to even start this blogging business. It hasn’t been since my Junior High School blue diary that locked, that I have written this much. Then I tried to keep my thoughts secret. That was why it had a lock. Then I lost the key so I had to cut the strap holding it together.

My mother routinely went through all my drawers and things. I tried to hide the diary. I became a master at hiding things behind public hallway radiators, etc.  I wrote a note to my mother in the diary.  I asked her please don’t read my thoughts. Sometimes I’d lie in my diary. I’d say the things I wanted to do but hadn’t, were actually true. Sometimes because I knew my mother would read my diary, I’d say sensational things just to see what she’d do.

Here I am blogging. I have regular readers who for whatever reasons enjoy reading my thoughts.  I check to see where people are reading from and how many. I know there is someone from Estherville, Iowa that reads nearly every day. Someone from NYC regularly reads. I wonder if they are from Brooklyn. The other day someone from Mumbai read it. No one in Africa or South American has read. I wonder who these faceless people are that read about my life.

I wonder why I write. I feel this compulsion to express myself.  I’ve been asked if this is cathartic. It is. Maybe I am being too candid at times. Maybe I shouldn’t share my feelings. But I am, and I will. I need to do this.  This is my story. This is how I feel. This is how the world looks to me.

I’ve learned that I’m not that different from everyone else. I used to think I was a misfit. That is probably true. I pastored a church of misfits once. We all lived on the Island of Misfit Toys and worshiped together.  There are other misfits in this world, other people who struggle with the same things with which I struggle.  There are people experiencing life and death just like me. There are people insecure at times, yet strong at other times. Just like me.

 I’ve been told there are books inside of me waiting to come out. As I pour my soul out on the keyboard, I wonder if I am putting into words what you are feeling as well. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

No Compromise

We went to Minneapolis Friday night and came back yesterday. Up here in the Dakotas they say they go to The Cities. I don't know much about The Cities. Honestly, as much as I like cities in general, I didn't see much in my brief visits that I like. I love IKEA but didn't get to stop yesterday. I like the Mall of America; it's nice to say you've been there. If I had lots of money I'd jump at a chance to spend it at IKEA and maybe the Mall.

I went into one of the grand hotels. The opulent meeting rooms had familiar names like The Norway Room, The Fjord, The New Sweden (where was the old one?). I thought wouldn't my dad love this. I wondered how long it would take to get to Lake Wobegon. At Culvers it seemed we were sitting next to a resident of Lake Wobegon, he looked so Norwegian. I felt at home in an odd way, Ekte Norsk. I wanted to find some good Norwegian Meatballs with a side of Lingonberries.

In an odd way, my Norwegian roots were converging with my Pentecostal roots. Our purpose for this trip was to go to the campus of North Central University, one of the venerable Assemblies of God Universities. My husband and I were to present a session at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. If you follow that link and search for Lighari you'll find us listed for 8 a.m. March 6, 2010 under Religion and Culture. Our title:

Acceptance without Compromise: The Personal Journey of a Pentecostal and a Muslim

I've been a member of SPS for about five years. This was my third annual meeting. The faces are all familiar now. One person even recognized me. That surprised me. I'm rather used to being invisible.

I guess I didn't realize how interesting we are, my husband and I. I suppose it would be very simplistic to say that our marriage has survived against many odds because we love each other. Yet, when you boil away all the other stuff, love remains.

We were asked how we navigated theological issues. An honest answer would include avoidance. An answer would also include the lack of compromise of the core and essence of not only who we are as individuals but also our faith. 

Some in the room seemed surprised that my husband was just as nice, kind and gentle as they were. One man said: you knowI wouldn't mind having you for a neighbor. Perhaps like the story of Hagar his eyes were open to see something he had never seen before.

We were warmly received. It was a good day. I need some normal. I needed to see people doing everyday normal things. I needed to feel normal, whatever that is really.

We were encouraged to write a book. We've been thinking about it. I think it is time to set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. We've a story to tell. It isn't a glorious story. It isn't a victorious story with some fairy tale happy ending. It is a story still unfolding. It is a story of first a man and a woman who love each other. All the other details pale in comparison to the deep love we have for each other.

We were young. I had three children. We came from different parts of the world. No one seeing us then would have thought 32 years later we'd be telling our story. I was told recently by someone helping me in my journey that ours is a great love story. I suppose it is.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Time to Grow Up

Every few hours last night, I awakened with a start. My mother was on my mind. Nothing bad, nothing good, nothing sad, nothing glad, she was just in the forefront of my thoughts.  My brain rarely stops so usually if I wake up in the middle of the night I have a hard time falling back asleep. My brain is always ready to go.

I think it is part of the letting go process. I am beginning to come out of whatever surreal state I’ve been in for the last two weeks. Yesterday it was two weeks since she signaled the end had come. I noticed it first when we returned to the apartment. I am prone to caffeine headaches. I had one that day for the first time in weeks. Like those first tingles when your mouth awakens from the dentist’s Novocain, my emotions and body was awakening.

It’s odd this numbness I feel.  While it makes decisions difficult, it has been a soothing anesthesia.  I think I am ready to wake up.  When you are numbed for a medical or dental procedure, you may have some significant pain when you are fully awake. Perhaps I should be glad that I haven’t fully woke up.

I have wondered for quite a few years how I will feel when my mother passed away.  On the surface, we looked very close.  For short periods in my life, we have been somewhat close. Notice the hesitation to claim those times as fully close.  Our relationship was complex and complication.

To most people my mother appeared to be a simple person; she was not. She was as complex as our relationship. At her funeral, we read something sent by one of her nephews. A line spoke of questions we (the remaining) were not wise enough to ask. I think I would like to know what traumas she experienced in her life that caused her to be so complex. I know a lot about her life. I was very inquisitive as a child. I have an amazing memory. I know a lot. Nevertheless, I think there are many things I don’t know about her.  Even those questions I asked her, she no doubt held back because of her own pain.

There are secrets and stories forever locked in the grave now.  Her father was not faithful to her mother. Her mother had more children than they could afford and would take measures to abort fetuses. Horrific stories she would tell. Her father tried to hang himself one time. Her sister Minnie came home just in time. She said he was “under conviction.” I rather think he was "under" depression.

I heard stories of her constant hospitalizations before I was born. When I was a child she wouldn’t eat. Was she anorexic? Or was it a symptom of her depression. I remember her buying little jars of baby food saying this is all I can eat.  As I look back at that with adult eyes, I realize she must have had deep pain inside.

I worked for several years as a therapist in a mental health facility. My boss was a wise person. He would say, you know you are grown up when you forgive your parents for the mistakes they’ve made, realize they are human and that they did the absolute best they could. I grew up a long time ago.  At times, the immature little girl who was hurt reappears. Nevertheless, I know she did the best she could.

We glorify motherhood, forgetting that a mother is just a fragile, frail, human being. No less human or imperfect than the children she bore.  We heap superhuman expectations on them. Often they can rise to those expectations; often they cannot. 

Long after I was grown, she reached maturity. She was finally able to receive and express love. Hugs denied me were given to my children and grandchildren. I taught my children to love her and respect her in ways I was never able.  Experiencing that love, she was able to give it back. She continued to grow as a human being until her last breath. She died at peace.

As I awaken and grief comes, I will remember my mother as a complex and complicated person who was only capable of doing her best.  I am a product of her best.  I find myself as complex and complicated as she was. I also have some growing to do. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

First Page of a New Chapter

I'm sipping from my mother is a friend mug again today. I finally got all the things out of the car. Sitting in my apartment living room is still a maroon shopping bag with gold lettering, Memorial Funeral Home. In it are the left over memorial cards, book and perhaps other items. We already got a card from the gentleman that helped us at the funeral home. He was very nice. He even hugged me as I left the cemetery. One of my sisters asked him to join us for a meal. I wonder how many times you feel so comfortable with the "undertaker" that you ask them to come to lunch and hug them.

I had a very ordinary day yesterday. When I got up yesterday, most people were at their jobs. This apartment is not home. Home is in Kingston Springs. Yet, the ordinariness of a familiar shower was good. We've showered and slept in a hotel for many days. I had slept in my own sheets. Now I used my own towel.

I drove alone to Sioux Falls. There is something about an hour in a car by yourself that can generate a lot of thoughts. I had an appointment and then went to lunch with some people from the Seminary. The purpose of the lunch was to explore ministry opportunities in Iowa. It was a nice lunch, with nice fellowship, with nice people. That is all it was though. Ministry opportunities continue to allude me. 

I have been wondering of late about this call to ministry. I have wondered if I misunderstood God. I wondered if these gifts and passions that I have to ministry to God's people are going to lay forever dormant. I wonder if the gift that God gave me to preach His word is never going to be heard in the ears of those hungry for it. I had the President of the university who taught my preaching class tell me I preached one of the best sermons he'd ever heard. He told me I was like Barbara Brown Taylor, a great preacher. The class that day stood to its feet with a standing ovation. I know I have these gifts. 

I have clung to the scripture from Proverbs18:16
A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.  

I've been told that verse means that the gift God has given me will open the way for me. As I look at the verse with the eyes trained in exegesis, I wonder if that is really the right interpretation.

I've been told to wait. I have waited. I have been patient. I have prayed. I have trained myself and developed my gifts.

I've been told that I have to go knock on doors. I have knocked on doors. While someone usually answers the door, no one has let me in. There has been no hospitality of welcoming me fully. No opportunity to belong and serve.

I've begun to pursue some other avenues. Discouragement was high before I left South Dakota. Now as the numbness wears off and reality creeps back in, so does discouragement. My passion for God and to serve His people is no less strong. Nevertheless, I experience another verse from Proverbs: 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick (13:12).

I wrote yesterday on my facebook page: the first page of a new chapter. That sounds hopeful, doesn't it? Some one commented back: can hardly wait to read this book. I thought yea, me too.