Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Cromwell CT is a “bedroom” community adjacent to Middletown and 15 miles south of Hartford.  It’s a wonderful place to live.  The people are community minded.  It has great schools.  There is plenty of shopping in town and you are a hop skip and jump from the interstate taking you within two hours to New York City, three hours to Boston and multitude of interesting stops in between.

Cromwell also had Nooks Hill Road.  Parts of the “Nooks” fit the profile of Cromwell.  Other parts do not fit this profile.  We bought our first house near the corner of Nooks and Field.  A cluster of five houses was a colony of people who didn’t quite fit the more affluent profile.  We fit right in.

We shared our driveway with two of the other houses.  Actually, we didn’t own our driveway, the owner of the other two houses did.  His name was Rev. Hodges.  Driving a big old station wagon, he was a familiar site around Cromwell.  However, his church was not one of the Puritan churches that still meet in pristine New England.  No, Rev. Hodges was a pastor of a Fire-Baptized Holiness Church far away.

Rev. Hodge’s wife was from the south.  Exceptionally tall she was an imposing figure with an equally imposing voice.  In the summer she would butcher chickens on a stump between her house and ours.  Other times she would can vegetables on an outside fire in this same area.  Like us, their house overflowed with children.  They had grandchildren and foster kids.  The foster kids had such delightful names like Papaya.

The Hodge’s home was a large brick home that looked more like an old school building than a house. They owned the corner lot along with a house they rented to the DeMoranville’s, another large family.  I never took count but on any given day there must have been over 20 people living on that corner.  The Hodge’s painted their rental house a lovely shade of lavender.  The DeMoranville’s had a “farm” across the road and down an alley.  The barn attracted a lot of barn cats.  These cats went to the vet courtesy of our daughter’s report card money.

There was a large willow tree near Mrs. Hodge’s butchering stump.  One of these cats scaled the tree.  For a couple of days terrified meows came from near the top of the tree.  On Saturday morning, perhaps because of lack of sleep, someone on that corner called the Cromwell Volunteer Fire Department.  A fire truck with a lone firefighter appeared at the bottom of the shared driveway.  Climbing the steep driveway, Mrs. Hodge was there to meet him. 

In her typically loud voice, Mrs. Hodges informed the firefighter and the gathering crowd that one of God’s poor creatures was stuck in the tree.  She pleaded for its rescue and safety.  The firefighter went for a ladder, a metal ladder.  Placing the ladder against the tree he was ready for rescuing this creature in distress.  All eyes were on the cat and the firefighter.  It was as Mrs. Hodges was at her husband’s pulpit.  She admonished the firefighter and all of us standing there that the cat was God’s creature.

She persisted.  Save that God.  Oh Glory Be To Jesus.  You have to save that cat.  That’s God’s creature.  Don’t you hurt that cat.”  On and on she continued, in English, in Tongues, she prayed and interceded for the life of that precious creature of God.  We watched.  Our eyes rose to the top of the tree.  The cat just meowed.

Soon the lone firefighter had help.  Mrs. Hodges continued her loud prayers for deliverance.  The firefighters huddled.  It seems the metal ladder was also resting on the electrical wire going to our house.  It was moved.  A new plan was necessary.  The hose became plan B. 

The prayers and exhortations of Mrs. Hodges reached a higher more fervent pitch.  Cars were moved.  A white sheet was opened to catch the cat should he fall from the tree.  The hose was turned on and aimed at the cat.  The cat, rather than falling to the ground scaled higher in the tree.  Now at the top, Mrs. Hodges became most vocal.  The cat’s actions resulted in a change of heart in the dear Mrs. Hodges. 

With even great fervency than her pleas for its rescue she declared:  “That’s a stupid cat.  You ought to kill that cat. Glory Be, that is a stupid cat.”  With that, she went in the house to leave the gathering crowd without its leader.  Another burst of the hose and down came the cat.  Hitting the sheet it leaped from the sheet to the street.  I don’t think that cat ever came back to the willow tree between our houses.

The crowd dispersed.  The cat was saved.  Our cars got a free carwash.  The children were ready for lunch.  It was just another Saturday morning on the Nooks.  The lesson or sermon in this:
James 5:16b (AMP) The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I’ve already mentioned Nike, Smooth Chocolate, and Kisses.  Nike and Smooth Chocolate were brothers.  They were brought home by our then teenage daughters.  It had been quite a while since we had cats.  I wasn’t thrilled.

It was 1997.  It was the kick-off of our year from hell.  It was December 10.  Nike and Smooth Chocolate were loved and cared for and were adolescent kittens.  My husband and I were shopping for his emergency trip to Pakistan.  His father was sick.  I was trying to be helpful as he bought gifts and necessities.  I was bracing for a Christmas without three of my children.

As the cart grew with our purchases, my pager kept going off.  911 was the signal for a family emergency.  Using a pay phone (remember those?)  I kept calling and got no answer.  My husband kept ignoring my pleas to go home.  I knew something was wrong.

As we approached our house, we were stopped by the Fire Chief.  We told him we lived there and he let us through.  Five fire departments were battling blazes and smoke.  Included was our condo.  No sign of the teenagers who sent the frantic 911.  No sign of my mother.  Eventually they were found.  But where were Smooth Chocolate and Nike?

So many things I could say about the fire, the year from hell, the panic, the fear, the confusion, and seven months of displacement.  But this is a Cat-Tale.  This is the story of Nike and Smooth Chocolate.  Among all the differences between dogs and cats is that dogs run and cats hide.  Nike was found first.  We feared the worse for Smooth Chocolate.  Persistence paid off – he was found in the basement hiding.

Both cats were sent to the Catzablanca courtesy of our insurance.  We had an insurance adjuster which seemed to help.  I doubt the insurance would have paid so much for the cats if we hadn’t.  Smooth Chocolate needed breathing treatments.  They both recovered.  Well, sort of…

Like their owners, they were displaced for seven months.  For us it was two corporate apartments.  For them, it was a cage at Catzablanca.  Like their owners, they were never the same.  The impact of the fire and the displacement took its toll on them both.

Their trauma was magnified when their primary owner left for college.  She told me when she left that if anything happened to her cats, she’d hold me responsible and never forgive me.  That’s hard to hear.  I did my best.  Both cats stayed to themselves.  Both were always scared and yet aggressive.

Soon it came time to move to Tennessee.  Nike was caught and placed in the truck.  18 hours in the back of a truck, in the dark, was probably not the best for an already traumatized cat.  Smooth Chocolate was not catchable so stayed behind.  A few days later, when I arrived in Tennessee I was told that Nike was refusing to eat.  I remembered the threat of my daughter. 

Children will frequently drive you to desperate prayer.  Finding Nike one day in the corner of the shower I thought this is my chance.  He wouldn’t let me touch him but I could come fairly close.  It was time for prayer.  I managed to sprinkle some anointing oil.  I prayed in Jesus name that Nike would adjust and eat.  I prayed that God would comfort his spirit.  I was pretty desperate.  I didn’t see him eat but there was proof in the litter box that he had finally ate.  God hears the prayer of mothers.

Smooth Chocolate joined Nike later that fall.  On a trip back to Connecticut my husband insisted we take the cat in the van with us.  I knew this was a bad idea.  I knew it would stink.  I knew… but, I lost the battle.  In the van with my mother and three children, packed to the top with more of our things, Smooth Chocolate was in a cat carrier by the back door.  The meowing wasn’t too bad.  But the smell, OH the smell!  After four hours I heard the words every wife loves to hear.  “I guess you were right.”  We stopped at CVS and bought stick on air fresheners.  It helped for about five minutes.

With a hiss these two brothers were reunited.  Smooth Chocolate made the litter box his home and would sit for days in the litter box.  I know now that the litter box is like a security blanket for a cat.  Maybe for him it was like sitting in sack clothe and ashes as he mourned his traumatic life.

When Kisses, a cute adorable kitten became our third cat, a second litter box was necessary.  Kisses was the result of my baby girl’s brown begging eyes.  I thought maybe he’d be a nice cat.  He was for a while.  He was “corrupted” by the other two. 

It’s been said that I could make a blog out of a paper clip.  I’m not sure I could do that; I might try sometime.  But I usually can make a sermon out most of my real-life stories.  This is no exception.  Here are two sermon ideas.  Traumatized people and hurt people are never normal and need lots of love.  And eventually the company you keep will change you.

I have one more cat-tale to tell.  I’ve saved the best for last.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cat-Tales GIZMO

There is hardly anything as irresistible as a little beautiful little girl with that begging look in her eyes.  Almost as irresistible is a cute ball of fur, a tiny kitten.  Put the two together and only the toughest of individuals can withstand the pleading look from both the kitten and the girl.  They seem so natural together.  They seem to belong together.  If you can resist the kitten, you certainly can’t resist this duo of persuasion.

Having had five daughters, I’ve melted away all resistance to yet another kitten by those warm pleading brown eyes looking at me so hopefully.  They plead with promises of cleaning the litter box themselves.  You weaken.  They hug you and tell you they’ll love you forever.  You now own yet another kitten.

It was the mid-80’s.  The movie Gremlins and the toys were popular.  I wasn’t crazy about my children seeing this movie, but like the kitten, I gave in to their pleadings.  Soon we had our own Gizmo.  If you are one of the few people who never saw this movie, here is a clip for you to enjoy:

With all things Gremlins popular, we named our newest kitten Gizmo.  This cat was a Gizmo for sure.  He had ears too big for his small face.  He could run fast, climb walls, and yet charm your heart.  He was cute, energetic dynamo.  The name Gizmo suited him well.

Gizmo was in the house with Golden.  The rest of the cats we fed and tended to were outside cats.  We buried many a stray cat at our pet cemetery on the hill.  Nooks Hill Road was the natural predator for these cats.

Our house on Nooks Hill Road was an odd house that we made odder with our attempts to make a two-bedroom cape livable for three adults, two teenagers, one pre-adolescent, two children, one toddler and a baby.  The attic had no dormer but we managed to sleep four children in it.  Occasionally my mother would decide to sleep in the attic.  The house was overflowing with people.

This was the first house we purchased.  Décor was decided on the basis of discontinued wallpaper, discounted paint, and anything that we could get cheap.  My husband, not a carpenter, mechanic or electrician valiantly used trial and error.  I put up wallpaper and painted.  I was not skilled in these tasks either.  But soon we moved our small army into this house.

89 Nooks Hill Road

One of the most creative adaptations to the house was the bathroom.  There was no master suite and bathroom in this house.  The bathroom was far away from all sleeping spaces.  It was more like an inside outhouse.  The bathroom was the last stop before the small room where the oil tank and oil furnace which exited on the other side to the back of the house.

Once you turned the corner to the bathroom, like a bizarre scene from the Price Is Right, you had to decide which door to use.  Door number one was a half bath.  Door number two was a full bath.  We had taken what was one bathroom and turned it into a bath and half.  There was no noise barrier.  If you flushed in the full bathroom, the person in the half couldn’t wash their hands because there was no pressure in your sink. 

Gizmo was missing.  For hours we searched for Gizmo.  I feared the worse, the dreaded fate of Nooks Hill Road.  As we took our turns in the bathrooms, we heard a scratching.  A mouse?  Or worse, a rat?  Ears perked up.  We heard it.  Meow, Meow – just a faint sound but it was Gizmo.  Gizmo had found a small hole by the pipe in the bathroom and went in it to explore.

Keyhole saw in hand, the hole was made bigger.  With some coaxing, out came the terrified Gizmo.  Gizmo was converted.  It was a true conversion.  The cat was never the same.  His nature was changed.  He was quiet and well behaved.  No more racing through the house.  No more climbing walls.  And definitely no more trips inside the wall.  I still smile when I think of Gizmo coming out of the wall.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cat-Tales ANGEL

I promised I’d tell you some more cat-tales.  I thought of some other perhaps more meaty topics for this blog yesterday on my way to class.  I’m learning to write things down when I get an inspiration.  Perhaps that will mean more blogs. 

But a promise is a promise.  If you know me, I will die trying to keep my word.  Not sure where I got that from but it is a huge thing for me.  I will do what I say I will do.  And if I use the word promise – that’s sacred.

It’s a Sunday when I am writing this so it seems most important to write about the cat we had for a very short time, named Angel.  She appeared on the farm seemingly out of nowhere.  Now if you knew all the strange things that happened on that farm, you might not think she came out of nowhere.  Ultimately, I didn’t think so either.

She was a black and white long haired cat.  She had been treed by our dogs when I first saw her.  We already had three cats in the house, Smooth Chocolate, Nike, and Kisses.  I’ll tell you about them some other time.  I didn’t want another cat.  However, she was so pretty, in a tree, scared, and I thought oh, what’s one more.

I think one of my girls named her Angel.  I guess it was that she was pretty.  She was mostly white and came from nowhere – she seemed like an Angel.  It didn’t take long to realize she was not an angel.  At the risk of offending my cat lover readers, the cat was possessed.

I knew immediately after inviting her in the house that it was a mistake.  She was mean.  My spiritual discernment went into overdrive and I knew this cat had to go.  As you might guess, in a house that already had three cats, there were some quasi-cat lovers in the house.  This was not going to be easy.

I prayed over that cat asking God to calm it.  That wasn’t the first time I prayed over a cat.  I did that with Nike after his traumatizing trip from Connecticut to Tennessee –yet another cat-tale for another time.  Prayer didn’t seem to help.  It was time for expulsion. 

One day, when my cat-lovers were at school I took the broom, had the kitchen door open, and chased her out of the house.  I prepared for the wrath and tears of little girls.  I had told them she had to go.  I had heard their pleas but I just felt she had to go.

It was interesting.  You’d think after she’d been in our home she’d have come to the door and meowed for entrance.  She never did.  She seemed to disappear as quickly as she came.  That seemed odd too.

A few days after her expulsion, there was a note under our door.  It was from Angel.  She talked of her expulsion.  She used every literary tactic of guilt.  I did feel bad.  I gave the note to my husband.  He still has it.  It comes out whenever he wants to talk about the creativity of our daughter.  He tells the stories sometimes in public.  It always makes me feel bad, yet I don’t know why because Angel was no angel.

Actually Angel's story will preach. Sometimes we invite things in our life because they are attractive or appealing only to find out that they aren't.  I found the only way for relief was expulsion.  Sometimes you have to clean your spiritual house as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cat-Tales GOLDEN

Over the years we’ve had a lot of cats.  I thought I’d share some of our cat-tales for your amusement.  I am not a big cat lover.  I think there are cat lovers and dog lovers.  Although a bit afraid of dogs I don’t know, I would definite by a dog lover.  I’ve written before about our little dog Pebbles.  Maybe someday I’ll tell you more about some other notable dogs like Gilligan and Wolfie, Daisy, Canine, and the assortment of puppies we’ve had over the years.  Or my first experience with a dog, Duke.  But those tales are for another day, today we’ll talk about our cat Golden.

Golden is a cat of notoriety in our family.  He looked like Morris the Cat.  I have no idea how we came to have Golden.  It was during a time where we had a lot of cats in and out.  Unfortunately, most were part inside and part outside cats.  While outside, they often would meet their maker on Nooks Hill Road.  If the time ever comes when they excavate the hill behind our house on the Nooks, they’ll see we gave a lot of cats a proper burial.    

Golden was a nice cat.  Not too lively, not a scratcher, and he was pretty.  He also would frequently go outside.  One day while at work I got a call from my mother who was at home.  She said that Golden had followed his predecessors and had been hit by a car in front of the house.  Good news was, he was still alive.  Bad news was, he was meowing with pain.

My secretary was a cat lover.  She came with me.  Wrapped in a towel we took Golden to the Vet.  We knew Dr. Efron, he had children in school with ours.  While Golden had not been to the Vet, we had taken other stray cats to him.  One of our daughters was such a cat lover that she would use her report card money to get these stray cats checked out.

That day, we saw Dr. Lynch, his female assistant veterinarian.  She gave me the grave news.  She said that Golden needed surgery.  He would make it and be a “normal” cat again if he had the surgery.  I asked the logical question – how much?

I honestly don’t remember the exact figure she gave me.  I gulped.  One of our other daughters, still a cat lover, really loved Golden.  I couldn’t imagine telling her that we couldn’t afford to bring her cat back to health.  I asked if we could think about it.  Golden was given a bed in a cage at the Veterinary hospital.

I talked to my husband.  He said what I already knew.  We couldn’t afford Golden’s surgery.  With 8 children, we did well to feed and clothe them.  I called to see how much it would cost for Golden to have a peaceful end.  Dr. Lynch soon called.

Much to our delight, she felt she could repair Golden for about $200.  Amazingly she found a way to cut costs.  I was relieved.  For the sake of our daughter, we said okay, go ahead.  Golden had surgery and was good as new.

Golden came home.  We recycled our playpen into a cat pen.  We kept him inside and gave him his meds.  He recuperated well.  A cat that has known freedom doesn’t like a play pen.  Soon the swinging of the doors by children running in and out resulted in freedom for Golden.

All was well for a short while.  Eventually, yes, you guessed it, Golden found his way to the winding curves of Nooks Hill Road.  Once again we dug a hole in dirt of the hill.  Once again we had an impromptu cat funeral.
As if by ESP, the Vet’s office called days after Golden’s burial.  They were told that Golden had died.  Next day the mail brought a sympathy card and words to help us with our grief.  That is the only time we’ve received a sympathy card on the death of a pet.  However, as you’ll learn later, we got a letter from a cat named Angel one time. 

Over the next few days you’ll learn of Angel, Gizmo, Smooth Chocolate, Nike and Kisses.  You’ll also hear about the cat rescued by the fire department and the cat I prayed for so it would eat.  Ah yes, cat-tales abound.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

I've shared that I was once an optimist now turned pessimist.  I've lamented in my previous blog, Storehouses of Snow.  I've wanted to scream when people have told me to be patient.  Or worse, when they use cliché such, good things come to those who wait or all in God's time, His timing is perfect.

The older I get the more impatient I get. I suppose our view of aging is that we become more settled and more accepting of life.  Maybe I am just not accepting that I'm getting older but I'm still ready to conquer the world.  Since the clock is ticking and my body is telling me the truth about aging, I'm getting very impatient.

There was a time I felt successful.  I have some certificates and newspaper clippings to prove it.  If you google my name, you'll find I even made the pages of the NYTimes.  It was during the time I was a director of the a very large Senior and Disabled Center in CT.  I remember the thrill of getting that job.  I remember the first year seeing the Center move from under the direction of Social Services to a department of the town.  That made me a municipal Department Head.  

There were times I would walk around that building and wonder, how did this happen to me?  I would think, yes, that decision to get a degree paid off.  Our Center was the show place of the state.  I was on the Rolodex of congresspersons, senators, newspapers and the governor's office.  I would be quoted in the newspaper on senior issues and testified before the state legislature on issues related to aging.  The apex of that experience was the appointment as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging in 1995.  

I don't want this blog to turn into a boast fest nor do I want to whine and complain.  But I am impatient.  I applied for several jobs yesterday.  Seems that the rest of the world doesn't think I still have it in me to conquer the world or even contribute just a bit.  I was a bit shocked when I had hardly hit the send button for a job at Thomas Nelson that required a high school diploma and preferred some college that a reply came immediately.  I was told that I didn't meet the requirements.  I was like what??? Okay, I'm overqualified but I could do a great job for you!

I applied for job where my husband works.  I'm probably a bit overqualified for that too.  My husband assured me that I would get consideration for that job. I said why do you say that? It's never happened there before?  He said yes, and you said you'd never get a yellow Volkswagen and it's sitting outside the house, isn't it?

He's right.  It did happen.  It seems that when the time is right, good things happen quickly and almost by surprise.  Perhaps there will be an opportunity to change the world or at least change someone's world for the better.  I've got a lot of energy, drive, ambition, and desire left in me.  I hope someone will see that soon.

Until then, I suppose I'll just keep on keeping on - that's a cliché too but when you don't know what else to do, I suppose you just keep doing what you know to do until God opens up another door.  I wish God would hurry up with that door!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Convenience Center Saturday

Now that we are back home, one of our weekend rituals is a trip to the convenience center.  Now you may be thinking that maybe we go to Home Depot or Lowe's.  You can't imagine that a trip to a convenience store would be a ritual.  Are you wondering?  Are you asking what is a convenience center?

We live Cheatham County, the remaining rural county adjacent to Nashville.  I hated it when we first came here.  I would say CHEATham and laugh.  Our first Tennessee home was on a farm.  Yes, the girl from Brooklyn has lived on a farm.  Although not farmers, we did have dogs and chickens.

Living in the country meant a 6:25 a.m. school bus pick up to get to school.  Our daughters were greeted by Miss Stacy the driver and her daughter.  Across ponds at Little Pond Creek then winding through Sam's Creek Road a now full bus would arrive at Pegram Elementary (pronounced PEAgrum).  Some of the children would disembark. My two girls would go to their schools in Kingston Springs.  We were told we were very fortunate to have our children go to school in this part of the county.  I think they were right and eventually we moved to Kingston Springs ourselves.

The view from my front steps in Kingston Springs
Early we realized that no matter where you live, eventually you have to deal with getting rid of trash.  We asked around, made a few phone calls, and found out that Cheatham County had "convenience centers" for this purpose.  Actually this is just a euphemism for the dump.  There are several convenience centers "conveniently" located throughout the county.

It's actually a great system.  Household trash is received with no charge as long as you have a Cheatham County tag on your car.  As you drive up, kids doing community service for juvenile offenses, or adults, or occasionally a county prisoner in an orange jump suit greets you with a howdy ma'am or sir.  You can pop your trunk or hatch, have your trash removed and be thanked for coming all from the comfort of your front seat.

Today, like most Saturdays we went to the dump.  Our trash was piled in the back of my husband's Mercedes-Benz ML320 SUV.  A pleasant community service worker assisted with the trash.  What was that smell?  Then I saw it.  No it was not the stench of rotting garbage.  It was the smell of hamburgers on the grill.

It was lunch time at the dump.  The weather was gorgeous for "grilling-out."  Probably the grill had been someone's trash that was now being recycled for use by the hardworking prisoners and community service workers.  As we pulled away, one of these workers was carrying a plate, perhaps also reclaimed from the trash.  On top were perfectly cooked grilled burgers.  I was envious.  I was hungry.  Maybe they could challenge Bobby Flay to a Throwdown?

It's grillin' time in the south - even at the county dump.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tales of a Church Nursery

This may not be the most profound blog I’ll write.  Hopefully it will make you smile.  Smiling and joy are sometimes the most profound of things.  Having been in a place where joy was scarce, I am rediscovering it.  I hope this give you at least a smile.

There was a comment to my last blog, My Roots Are Showing.  It was from an old and yet new friend.  We grew up together, sort of…  She is a several years younger than I am.  I remember her well.  I think her memories of our childhood are less.  We were Norwegian children running through the basement of Salem Gospel Tabernacle, marching in the Sunday School Parade, attending released time, navigating the world of Brooklyn, and sitting under the teaching of a tall white haired Norwegian, Pastor Dahl.

Here is what she wrote:
Joyce, as you know, our roots come from the same Norwegian Pentecostal church -- and I remember the ladies with the "Pentecostal roll" hairdo.  My earliest memory was way upstairs in the baby nursery - I must have been 3 or 4.  My mom was there with me and my baby brother and a couple other moms & their babies.  Thru the speaker roared, what sounded to me, an angry voice -- the voice of Pastor Dahl.  I asked my mom why was he angry to which my mom replied, he was not angry, he was just "excited." hmmmmm..... wasn't sure I understood how angry and excited could sound the same. 

Ahh, yes, we have similar roots.  I remember that church nursery.  It was like a crow’s nest found by navigating the staircase to the forbidden balcony.  I was never allowed to sit in the balcony as a child.  As a teen, it became the place to watch baptisms.  Nothing like a bird’s eye view of someone following Jesus.

Rather I was to sit under the careful eye of my mother.  To keep me entertained I would color, or draw.  My mother would make a doll out of her handkerchief – no woman could leave home without one.  In school, the handkerchief was mandatory.  Occasionally mine would be pinned to my blouse.  I always wondered how I was supposed to use it if it was pinned and my little hands could not manipulate the high tech safety pin that secured it in place.

In addition to the doll, she could also make the two twins swinging in the cradle.  When crayons and handkerchiefs failed, she would bring out the food – a tea biscuit to keep my mouth busy.  Occasionally I would save the tea biscuit to pretend I was having communion on the first Sunday of the month.  One time I was very spiritual and read the first chapter of Genesis instead of listening to Pastor Dahl.

As I neared the edge of adolescence, Ruth the strikingly beautiful daughter of Pastor Dahl would come from Long Island with her family.  I would beg her to let me watch her baby in the nursery.  Absent of nursery attendants, mothers would sit behind the nursery glass in the crow’s nest of the balcony.  

Resembling a hospital nursery, white wicker bassinets lined the glass from the inside.  Attached to the wall streams of ribbons were the names of the children on the cradle roll.  The ribbons streamed from a picture of Jesus blessing the children.  A reminder that Jesus loved all the little children of the world.

One of Ruth’s daughters was a beautiful baby named Renee.  I remember it because I never knew a Norwegian named Renee.  I was fascinated with the bluish tint to her eye lids.  I would use her to argue with my mother about eye shadow.  I told her that baby Renee had natural eye shadow as a baby.  I was told to leave the speaker on to hear the sermon but instead I turned it off and played house dreaming of the day I’d be a mommy of a beautiful baby.

As I read that comment yesterday, thousands of memories exploded in my heart.  I also wondered.  Could the day that she heard Pastor Dahl get “excited” be the same time he yelled at me?  Perhaps the night she was in the nursery, I was kneeling on the floor, in the pew, playing with the hymn book.  Facing the seat, I knelt hymn book open, pretending to sing from it.  I started to sing with Pentecostal gusto.  

I guess I was tired of coloring and had eaten all my tea biscuits.  As my mother shushed me, she would say, “Pastor Dahl is going to be upset with you.”  I loved Pastor Dahl, he was like God.  I tried really hard to be quiet.  But boredom overtook me once again.  As I started humming once again, Pastor Dahl got “excited.”  I was sure he was yelling at me.  Inconsolable, I was removed from the sanctuary because there was no end to my tears.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Roots Are Showing

I was in Aldi’s today.  For those of you not fortunate to have an Aldi’s near you, it is a grocery store plus.  To a lot of people, Aldi’s is new.  I was shopping with food stamps at an Aldi’s near the corner of Garth and the Business Loop in Columbia MO when my kids were little.  I’d do some laundry next door at the Laundromat and go to Temple Stephens grocery store for the things I couldn’t get at Aldi’s. 

The quality and choice keeps getting better at Aldi’s.  Today I was on a quest to quickly buy one of the few carpet steam cleaners they had on sale.  As I meandered through the aisles I kept intersecting with this woman.  She looked to be in her mid-60’s.  She was tall and had pure white hair.  Dressed in simple light blue pants there was nothing unusual about her except her hairdo. 

Now this was a “hairdo” not necessarily a hair style.  The word “do” fits.  As a lifelong Pentecostal, I’ve seen this do many times before.  This woman was sporting a “Pentecostal Roll.”  A Pentecostal Roll looks a bit like this but with the glamour and the extra rolls in the front:

Seeing this woman got me to thinking about my roots.  I don’t remember when I first heard the word Pentecostal and that we were Pentecostal.  This was before the days of being able to say you were Charismatic.  It was also before the Pentecostals moved to the right side of the tracks. 

When I was kid, I learned very quickly that Pentecostals were also called “holy rollers.”  I don’t know what the connection was with the Pentecostal Roll hairdo and the rolling on the floor – I did hear stories of people dancing in the spirit until their hair pins fell out and their hair cascaded down.  We were Norwegian Pentecostals, so as far as Pentecostals go, we were quiet.  I remember my concern when I would see beloved adults with tears streaming down their faces.  My mother would assure me that everything was fine.

I rarely admitted that I was Pentecostal to my peers as a child.  If asked about my religion, I would say I was “Assemblies of God.”  There were NO Assemblies of God churches anywhere in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.  That would lead to the question, “What’s that?”  My answer would be, they are a like Baptists.  That way I wasn’t lying since Assemblies of God folk were Pentecostal and they were a bit like Baptist.  Early I learned the stigma of being Pentecostal.

My mother wasn’t Norwegian.  Her early days as a Pentecostal must have been lively and loud.  The church where she came to faith in Christ had been a Christian Missionary Alliance.  Shortly after the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, this church became “Pentecostal.”  In 1931 a young girl of 13 walked from Wayne Hill, a less than desirable address in Waynesboro PA to a Pentecostal church.  She was invited by her lifelong friend Marguerite.  The church had been in revival with Pentecostal revivalist, Hattie Hammond.  The young Elsie, came to faith, was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. 

Her babysitting money was used to purchase her cherished Bible.  When I miss her, I flip through its sacred pages.  Later she would lead her mother and father to the Lord. I stood beside her as she shared these stories at the anniversary in 2006.  Already a little confused, it seemed with help, the memory and the tears flowed.
Elsie and Marguerite in 2006 -
now they are in heaven together forever

Names of some of those early Pentecostal believers -
some I had the privilege of knowing
My mother was one of those 34, her name Elsie Mae Bumbaugh
was listed in this newspaper article.

A warm reunion

"The woman in the blue suit tells her, "I remember you, you were
 my Sunday School Teacher when I was a little girl"
Helping my mother tell how she came to Christ and then led her mother and father to Christ
In 2006, my husband and I took my mother to the 100th anniversary of her home church.  I heard again the tales of those early Pentecostal days.  I heard again about the spite wall and the balls of raw dough.  It seems these early Pentecostals were serious about prayer.  With windows open on a summer night, they would be on their knees crying out to God.  The church was close to its neighbors on either side.

On one side, there was a bread bakery.  While these folks were pray, the bakers were baking.  Irritated by their loud prayers, the bakers would hurl balls of raw dough in the open windows.  It didn’t deter these stalwarts of faith.  In 2006, the bakery was gone replaced by a hardware store.  I shudder to think what might have happened if it had been there in the 1930’s.
The spite fence still stands between where the church stood
and the neighbor. Notice how thick and high it is.
Most interesting was the neighbor on the other side.  This neighbor was so irritated by the loud Pentecostals that he built a fence out of concrete blocks up to the second story of his house.  The believers called it a “spite” fence.  It’s still there.  It’s still there as a testimony of folks who stormed heaven.

No one builds fences to filter out the noise of our prayers.  But these are my roots.  Today my roots are showing.  I decided to show them to you.  What are your roots?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent Begins in Asheville

We are in Asheville NC.  As fate would have it and because of our perpetual bad luck, it snowed last night.  I discovered that tickets to the Biltmore are $39 a person.  Somehow, while I really, really want to see the Biltmore, spending $78 doesn’t seem that wise.  The waitress at Waffle House told us to come back in mid-April.  She said it might be worth the cost then.

As usual we opted for a cheap hotel.  I tried to push for a mid-range one but we are at the Super 8.  I’ve stayed in worse hotels but this is certainly not that great.  Plus it is noisy.  Here we sit.  Our anniversary trip is being spent sitting on opposite ends of king size bed with laptops on our laps. 

Now before you say, oh boy, she really does complain a lot, that’s not my intention this morning.  I’m just sharing the reality of our anniversary trip.  This was my consolation prize for an anniversary trip to Phoenix that didn’t materialize because of poor planning.  I’m rather disappointed but I’m going to try to make the best of it.

This morning we had a good breakfast at Waffle House.  Ahhh, Waffle House!  If you’ve never lived in a part of the country that has a Waffle House you don’t know what you are missing.  In some ways it is a throwback to a diner.  Usually the servers are a bit colorful and good hard working women.  Often, the only male employee is the cook.  Orders are yelled out and the cook remembers them.    Eggs are dropped, potatoes are scattered.  Anyone who minimizes the intelligence of these hard working individuals should try it – it takes a lot of higher level functioning to remember orders, people, and keep them straight.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to these trips that end up like so many other things in my life.  Somehow there is a pattern of disappointment that seems to go along with them.   I realize that in part it has to do with my expectations.  I claim to have lost my optimism but somehow it always creeps up on me.  I hope for a great trip.  I hope to do something fun and new.  I hope to see the Biltmore on this trip.  I think all my hopes are going to be dashed.  I should be used to this by now, but I’m not.

Nevertheless, I am doing well.  I have survived the crucible of South Dakota.  I am enjoying life.   I passed my test with a great grade in Research Methodology last Saturday.  I saw that professor and he approved my research design.  I was terrified and was so sure I had no idea what I was doing.  Funny, I did.  I was surprised as I saw in his office and saw the confident Joyce who hides so well come out.  He probably thinks I am a very confident person.  HA!
I saw my advisor.  My Chapter Two was solid.  Not a lot of revisions to be done.  I think my advisor is a little bit aware of the nervous, anxious Joyce but I think she’s pretty fooled too – thinks I’m confident!
I went to church with my daughter on Wednesday.  We received the imposition of ashes.  We are entering Lent.  Afterwards we shared good conversation over fish sandwiches at Arby’s. 

I don’t know what we’ll do today in Asheville NC.  Husband is looking for junk yards in the area to find a headlight for his car.  Hmmm, not the romantic fun filled activity I had in mind J.  Nevertheless, as I think of how life is for me right now I’m thankful.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent.  I’ll eat fish on Fridays and try to be better about my personal devotions.  I will also be thankful.  

As I begin the season of Lent in the Mountains of North Carolina, my purpose is to be thankful.  If I am to bear the cross of ashes I must remember that sacrifice and unconditional love go hand in hand.  I’d love to see the treasures of Biltmore, but I have a great treasure-the guy sitting on the other end of the bed with his laptop on his lap.  I’m going to just enjoy being with him today and make the best of a dreary gloomy day in Asheville.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Got Regrets?

Facebook is an interesting place.  I know some people who absolutely hate it and won’t use it.  I however, am one of those that use it all the time.  It’s a part of my life.  I am working on a dissertation about Facebook.  It has saved my sanity, kept relationships, built Christian fellowship, and entertained me.  I’ve read all manner of books and articles on Facebook.  I’ve read all manner of status updates as well.  I’ve even lost a friend or two because of Facebook.

Yesterday, I saw a status update from someone I have a complicated relationship with.  Their status concerned their philosophical observation about life.  Often Facebook statuses do seem to give you a window into the thoughts and soul of a person.  This person shared through cyberspace that the only thing they could control was themself.  That’s true. 

Someone else responded with the wise words of Steven Covey.  Between stimulus and response there is choice.  Then they added: you live with your choices.  The arrogant comment from this person was that they were with ALL their choices.

Now this blog is not about this person even though this person is very, very arrogant and would love to think that – sort of like the Carly Simon song: You’re So Vain.  Rather it is about choice and responsibility.  As I thought about it, I thought how in the world can anyone be happy with ALL his or her choices?  Whether it is the food you chose to eat that gave you indigestion or a life changing decision, I can’t imagine not having some bad choices in life.

I thought about my mother as I pondered this deep philosophical question.  I remember her saying to me one time that she had no regrets.  I wondered if she meant that she was happy with ALL her choices.  She had made her mistakes in life.  After all, only Jesus lived a perfect sinless life.  None of the rest of us can lay claim to a sinless, mistakeless status.  No one is born with perfect wisdom. 

I think what my mother meant had to do with responsibility and acceptance.   She was near the end of her life.  She had been emotionally preparing for leaving this world for a long time.  Spiritually she had been prepared since she was baptized at the age of 13.  But emotionally preparation for death is much different.  For long hours she sat in her room.  Often I would see her with her Bible on her lap and her arms raised.  Sometimes I would see that she had been looking at her mother’s obituary.  When she died, she was muttering mum, mum, mum – we wondered if she was seeing her mother.  Wondering if her mother had come to greet her as she entered glory? 

There is no way we can be happy with ALL our choices.  The best anyone can do is accept responsibility and accept that life is not perfect.    That takes humility.  That takes asking and giving forgiveness.   That takes love.  Most important that takes a Savior who comes and covers your sins. 

There is an odd little story in the Bible.  The Bible is full of surprises.  The Bible never sugar-coats the lives of its prophets and holy people.  That’s one of the reasons we can believe Jesus truly was perfect and sinless.  Everyone else’s blemishes and sins are thoroughly exposed.  This story is the last thing we know about Noah.  You know, the guy that built the Ark.  Noah, the one who was the sole recipient of grace from God in Genesis 6. 

At the end of his life he is laying naked and drunk in his tent.  One of his sons exposes him to ridicule and was cursed.  The other two cover him by walking in backward to cover his shame.  You can read about it here.   That is such a picture of how God covers our shame.  It is also a picture of how we should cover others.  We should lovingly cover them.  Their mistakes, their humanness, their shame doesn’t need to be exposed.  Tomorrow it may be you lying naked and drunk in the tent. 

Jesus summed it all up with the Golden Rule – do to others as you would have them do to you.  That’s responsibility.  That’s not arrogance.  That’s honesty.  In the darkness of night, alone in the tent, everyone knows there are some choices that should never have been made. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Divorce Decree and Pharisees

I’m waiting for a copy of my divorce decree.  Now, before you get upset, I’m still happily married to my husband of 33 years.  Divorce just isn’t an option for me.  It actually never has been.  Yet, I am waiting for a copy of my decree from 33 years ago.

Last time I asked for a copy of it I was pursuing back child support payments from the father of my three oldest children.  I still haven’t gotten all the back child support but I’ve not let that go.  I won’t let that go.  Sooner or later justice and fairness have to prevail. 

I’ve never made any bones about receiving welfare or feeding my children with food stamps.  I had no choice.  The state of Missouri has been reimbursed from the absent father for all the money they gave me when he neglected his responsibilities.  Now it is my turn to be reimbursed.

At the request of someone else, I contact the Boone County court house for a copy of the divorce decree.  They said they needed someone to go look through the “old books” to find it.  They found it. Another phone call and it was on its way.  I opened it with curious hands.  It is odd looking at old legal documents that say so little about huge life changing events.  As I read, I noticed that the date was June, 1974.  It was the wrong decree.  Oh my name was there.  Alvin’s name was there.  The names of our two sons were there.  Missing was Bethany’s name.  This was our first divorce.

Boone County court found the “right” divorce-the last divorce of Alvin and Joyce Lynne.  The divorce decree that lists our daughter conceived in the hope of a restoration of our marriage but born after another beating and abandonment.  I’ll make a copy and send it on its way.  The request was not for me.

For years I bore a lot of shame because of these documents.  I barely shared that I had been married twice before, even though it was to the same man.  I so often buried my head in shame as I shared I had been divorced and remarried.  I thought at times there was no way to redeem myself from this scarlet letter of shame.

Several months ago I thought about that shame once again.  I was looking at a denominational website for information about ministerial credentialing.  I spent most of my life in that denomination.  I saw nothing about doctrinal viewpoints or call to ministry.  Rather I saw a chart that started with the question – have you been divorced and remarried?  An elaborate flow chart detailed the process for those with the shame of divorce and remarriage.  If you were divorced before conversion almost guaranteed with the right fee, you could have this stain wiped away.  If you were a good church girl like me who thought your prayers had been answered and restoration occurred, it was not so easy.  If I wanted to credentials, I could say I wasn’t really “saved.”

I’d been through this before.  I was being considered as a deacon in a church of the same denomination.  My divorce and remarriage prohibited my serving.  A new convert who had been a prostitute but never married was offered in my place. 

My scarlet D has not completely faded.  Today I will see another reminder of its presence.  I will once again rage inside at the hypocrisy of it all.  I will once again think of the shamefulness of exclusion.

Nevertheless, I am thankful for that divorce.  I will be thankful that God gave me the grace to endure.  I will be thankful for a divorce that set me free from abuse. I will remember that young welfare mom of three, so alone, so scared, represented by a law student who walked out of the courthouse alone knowing the shame of divorce would follow her all her life.  With the wisdom of hindsight I will know it turned out much better than that lonely girl thought it would.  

I will once again be thankful that Jesus is not like the hypocrites and Pharisees of today.  It’s time we eliminate divorce as the unpardonable sin and excluder.