Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Holy Ghost in the Catskills

This week on Kingdom Bloggers we are talking about summer and Jesus.  When I think of summer and Jesus, I think of camp.  The equation for that is S + J = C.  That got me to thinking that as people are prayerfully packing their children off to camp, you might like a few camp stories.  As with so much else, I have lots of camp stories.

My first experience of camp must have come when I was about 6 or 7.  Our church staunchly believed in the sovereignty of the local church.  However, they had a group of daughter churches that they fellowshipped with regularly.  Eventually these churches and some other churches around the country would form the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.  The group of churches in the greater NYC area rented a camp.  They called it Camp Challenge.  I don’t know what the history was before my first Camp Challenge experience.  I do know eventually they bought property for a permanent camp.  This year, however, it was a rental camp on lake in the Catskills.

I remember that there were teenagers at that camp.  I think I went because my mother was to work at the camp in some capacity.  I also know my mother and I weren’t in the same cabin.  Maybe the teenagers and older youth were the counselors.  I was young, I really don’t remember. 

What I do remember is swimming in the lake.  That was something as a child of Brooklyn I rarely got to do.  I knew all about pools.  I regularly went with my father to the Sunset Park pool.  I also knew all about the ocean.  I loved long sun filled afternoons at Coney Island.  My mother liked neither.  She didn’t swim well and never had the taste for the water that my father and I had. 

I remember the camp was rustic.  How rustic it was is debatable.  Anything with a lot of trees and no sidewalk was rustic for me.  One night as we headed to supper my mother was chased down the hill by a small snake.  Such excitement!  I imagine now the snake was more frightened than my mother was.  That was the year she also mistakenly sprayed Right Guard in her hair rather than hair spray. 

Most camps have a canteen for buying snacks and candy.  The leaders came up with an interesting way to keep things litter free.  All those wrappers were saved for an auction to be held at the end of camp.  For being environmentally cautious, you could bid with those empty candy and gum wrappers for a prize.  Had I known, I probably would have brought a suitcase full of candy wrappers from the sidewalk outside my house. 

The thing that stands out the most to me about that camp was the Holy Spirit.  Ahhh, as I write this short series, you’ll hear lots about the Holy Ghost and camp.  The Spirit seems to show up and you meet Jesus, usually many times.  Seems the world gets a hold of you each year and you need to come back to camp and find Jesus again.  I know I did.

This year I was too young to have guilt.  I don’t remember long altar calls.  I don’t remember finding Jesus that year.  What I did see was my first experience with the Holy Spirit.  Our church had regular altar services.  I was used to hearing the saints pray out loud.  But these were Norwegian saints, and the prayer was never too loud.  At camp, the Spirit moved and the prayer got much louder.  I remember clearly a group of four or five teenage girls praying.  They were storming heaven.  They were tarrying for the Holy Ghost.  My mother called me over.  She said, “Joyce, look at their faces.”  I did.  They glowed.  I will never forget it.  Then she said, “When the Holy Ghost comes, your face will shine with His presence.”  I wanted my face to shine.  It would be several years before I encountered the Holy Spirit for myself.

Camp is a special place.  As parents are checking lists, labeling clothing, and getting ready for camp, they are praying like my parents did that I’d encounter the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit.  I hope they do too. 
What was your first church camp experience?  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about Ashford Hills. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stones of Help

I have been known to cry when a military band marches by in a parade.  I’ve never known why I do this and usually try to hide it.  Somehow my emotions are always stirred at the sight of soldiers marching.  I’ve lived long enough to see patriotism be unfashionable and see it return.  I guess I’ve always been patriotic.  Even during the turbulent years of the Viet Nam war, I remember wearing a pin that said love it or leave it.  I was young and probably didn’t understand all the nuances of politics; I was just patriotic.

I’ve always been patriotic, I don’t remember Memorial Day (or Decoration Day when I was a small child) as a significant holiday.  It was a day off of school.  I probably played and dug dirt in the backyard.  It was the first Sunday I’d sit alone in Sunday School as all my friends had fled with their parents to their beach houses in Long Island.  We had no car.  We had no beach house.  We rode the Subway to Coney Island for our beach experiences.

My great grandfather (or maybe it is my great, great grandfather) fought in the Civil War.  At least we think so, that side of my family history is murky including stories of horse thieves during the same war.  My father was in the “great one” – World War ONE – yes, I did say father and did say WWI.  He was a young Merchant Marine sailing on a Norwegian vessel when a German sub took them down.  During WWII he was too old to serve.  However, he was block warden and made sure everyone observed the black outs.  I have uncles and cousin who are Veterans.  My oldest granddaughter served for a short time until a broken bone sent her home.  I see the faces of children I taught in Sunday School who are serving.  I read the laments of spouses of these same children as their husband’s go to war now sanitized with terms like deployment.

I honor all of them today.  While in my heart I think I want to be a pacifist, I am conflicted.  Regardless of politics or religion, I still tear up at the sight of a Veteran’s cemetery.  The graves so erect speak of the soldiers who died for my freedom.  I wonder why freedom always comes with that price.  My spiritual freedom was also paid with death.

Memorial Day also makes me think of Eben-Ezer.  Playing on 53rd Street I could see the sign every day that said Eben-Ezer.  It was the name of the Norwegian language church across the street.  My father went there often for special meetings.  Eben-Ezer literally means stone of help.  It can also be translated “thus far the Lord has helped us” or in KJV, ” Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”  Often we read in the Old Testament of stones of remembrance.  Eben-Ezer was such a stone.  It was a stone placed to help people remember God’s help.    

Memorial Day is a day we decorate the stones of help, those erect graves standing in Veteran’s resting places all across the country and world.  American blood was spilled and is still being spilled with the goal of bringing freedom.  Let us pray that our leaders will make wise decision because the “Eben-Ezer’s” that line our cemeteries are a very high price to pay for freedom.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Paper Towel Wisdom

As I went to grab a paper towel I noticed that amidst the colorful butterflies, there were words of wisdom.  I smiled as I read: “A good laugh is sunshine in a home.”  I thought aww, that’s sweet.  And it’s true.  I thought of times when I laughed so seldom that when I heard myself laugh, it shocked me.  I remembered the release of laughter as God poured His blessings on me.  Yes, the paper towel sage spoke truth.

I looked to see the next phrase.  “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”  Wow, that’s profound isn’t it?  I thought for a few minutes about hope.  I still need more hope in my life.  It seemed the wisdom of the paper towel was going to be nudging from God.

As I pondered the paper towel wisdom, I started to church.  As I took the turn in Kingston Springs, I soon came to Craggie Hope.  Yes, Craggie Hope.  Like many places on the winding roads of Tennessee, it has a sign announcing your entrance.  I wondered how Craggie Hope got its name.  A crag, that’s a crossword puzzle word – it means: a steep or rugged cliff or rock face.  I thought yes, hope is like that.  Sometimes to maintain hope you have to climb steep and rugged cliffs.  Hope doesn’t come easy.  Hope, in the midst of darkness and hard times, is a steep climb.

Soon I passed the quaint town of White Bluff.  It was sleepy on a Sunday morning except for the church parking lot and the McDonald’s.  By afternoon, Carl’s Perfect Pig would be the hottest spot in town.  I continued on to church.  My mind still wondering if God was finished with His words of wisdom from the paper towel.

He wasn’t.  It has been a long time, too long of a time, since I’ve been in a church where it seems God’s eye is only on you.  And yet, you know that’s not true.  Yet, every word, every song, every smile, every prayer seems to be focused on you and your thoughts.  God was speaking hope.  I needed so much to hear about hope.  I needed to be reminded that no matter what situation I find myself in, He is worthy to be praised.

As I sat there wondering where I belong?  I thought of my dream.  I had tossed and turned all night with an odd dream.  The dream told me to go home.  I saw my pastor in Connecticut and good friends.  I heard in the dream that people love me and have been missing me – I struggled to remember the route to the church.  I woke up only to be disappointed that we were not in Connecticut again.  I thought what does this mean?  It may mean nothing.  But it gave me pause.

The service was so familiar.  The service was long, but it was long because they took the time to love on people through prayer.  There were tears as friends gathered around those moving away.  The pastor spoke of his love for these people.  At the end, a son brought his father and brother with him to the altar to commit their lives to Christ.  Loving people and building relationship just takes time.  It is time well spent.

Maybe I was home.  I don’t know.  I do know that I heard love.  I do know I heard God.  I do know God knew I was there and spoke to me in the words of the service.  I heard a prayer from the pastor that revealed his heart.  In hearing it, I heard my own heart.  He prayed: “Lord, there are those who turn their back on pain, may we never do that here.”  I want a place that’s real.  I want a place where it is okay to admit the reality of your pain.  I want a place where pain can be absorbed by love.  That’s a prescription for hope.

Today I looked at the roll of paper towels, a new piece of wisdom was exposed.  It said: “There’s a whole lot to be thankful for if you take the time to look.”  I’m going to follow the wisdom of the paper towels.  I’m going to laugh more and bring sunshine into my life.  I’m going to have hope for the future and cultivate thankfulness.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What A Beautiful Day for Jesus to Return

I usually have to get up and go to the bathroom before I have to actually stay up.  As usual, that was the case this morning.  The sun was already up.  I love the windows in our bathroom.  Light streams in and when the window is open, you can hear the birds.  As I sleepily headed back to my bed, I thought what a beautiful day for Jesus to come back.

Okay, before you think I’ve gotten caught up in the rapture ready business of May 21, 2011 or I have become a disciple of Harold Camping, let me assure you I have not.  I haven’t even paid any attention to the hoopla.  However, people are talking.  One of the last things I did before drifting off into dream land last night was watch Nightline’s interview of Camping.  The interviewer had a bemused look on his face clearly trying not to laugh as the somber Camping made his predictions.  Rather than quote the scriptures that clearly tell us that no one knows the day nor the hour (Matthew 24:36), the interviewer ask Camping if he was a false prophet.

I suppose these thoughts and comments I’ve seen or heard elsewhere swirled around in my head during the night.  On first day break, I was thinking about Jesus coming back. As a child, I spent many nights tossing and turning worrying that the rapture would come and I’d be left behind.  Too many sermons, tracts, movies, and such had convinced me that I was always a hairs breath away from eternal damnation.  And this from a kid who used to make up sins to get attention!

Other times in my life, I’ve so wished Jesus would come back.  On those days when I felt better about the assurance of grace and my status with God, I would wish the rapture would come.  Usually it had nothing to do with praising Jesus, it had to do with escapism. 

So what is my take on Camping?  I’ve heard this stuff before.  In fact I’ve heard this stuff all my life.  I think every generation of believers have heard this stuff.  I remember singing to the top of my lungs with someone on the radio – I’ll See You In The Rapture.  We may have sung it at “Watch Night Service” as we anticipated the Lord’s return because the pastor’s wife had a vision that the year ending was the year of Maranatha.  We went home after midnight a bit puzzled, a bit disappointed, a bit happy to sleep in our own beds.

I’ve been thoroughly taught and trained in the notion of rapture readiness.  I took a good course during my Master’s program on apocalyptic literature and modified my thinking considerably.  The purpose of this blog is not to debate rapture theology (hmmm, that’s sort of an oxymoron in my thinking).  I just don’t want to go there.

However, I do believe Jesus will return.  I don’t know when the last days will be, Christians have thought they were in the last days since Jesus ascended into heaven.  I suppose all I can say is someday someone will be in the last days.  At this point, I think I’ll probably die an old woman and not see in my life the return of the Lord.  However, I don’t know, nor does Camping.  Anyone who says they know is suspect.

Yes, it is a beautiful day for Jesus to return.  I am sure there is an amen chorus to that statement.  However, let me explain.  Jesus said we are His body, His hands, His feet, His way of showing who He is to the world around us.  The goal of every Christian should be to become more Christ like.  What did Jesus come to do?  Hear His words:
Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 
The scripture tells us that true religions is:
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I think it is time for Jesus’ body to behave like Jesus.  I couldn’t help but think how many kids would go to bed with a full stomach, or have shoes?  How many lonely people lives would have been brightened?  How many sick people could be healed?  IF, Camping and his followers actually were more followers of Jesus, there are a whole lot of people whose need would be met.

Monday, May 16, 2011

After Thorough Analysis, I AM A C....

I love taking personality tests.  Whether it be the Dr. Phil personality test on Facebook or the fake Myers-Briggs, I never turn one down.  I did take the “official” Myers-Briggs a few years ago when I entered seminary.  I was amazed at the results.  I was an INFP.  Now I could understand myself and analyze the results.

I scoured over every piece of information I could find about the INFP.  I printed out pages and pages.  I think I still have them somewhere.  I determined, yes, I was an INFPIt was  the missing link of understanding.  However, there is one problem with this… last year I took it again.  This time I was an ESTJ.  WHAT??? Even if you don’t know anything about Myers-Briggs you can tell there is NO similarity between INFP and ESTJ.  In less than two years I developed the polar opposite personality.  I know South Dakota was life changing, but come on…

My favorite test to take was the “Strength Finders.”  I took that last summer for the first time.  I had predetermined what I would be after reading about it.  Of course, I read all about the test and the potential results before I took it.  However, this time I was honest with my answers.  My top strength?  Ideation.  Wow, that wasn’t on my radar screen at all.  Nor was strategic, input, or developer.  The last of the top five was the only one that I would have picked before taking the test, connectedness.  Once again, I had to analyze my results.  I read and printed more pages.  I googled many times these combinations for more “input.”  Hmmm… well, maybe that one was right after all!

When it comes to these types of tests I probably have taken a spiritual gifts inventory more times than anything else.  I always come out “pastoral giftings.”  Often administration and service show up.  I usually rank lowest in the area of financial giving.  I often am tempted to be less than honest so my test will come out something more interesting.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.

While I am confessing, let me tell about the latest test I’ve been exposed to, the DISC Assessment.  I was asked to take it for a job for which I applied.  I was excited.  Woo-hoo, now I can find out more about myself.  I didn’t like my results.  I was like what??? That’s not me.  Then I thought they probably didn’t want a person like that, nor did I see myself that way.  I picked the category I liked best for me and changed my results. 

Not my actual graph, the D was
higher in mine.  You know I
am a C so accuracy is important.
Saturday, the DISC assessment was given to me again.  I decided to be as honest as possible in my answers.  While a doctoral program is not a safe place, nevertheless, there is no value judgment on what you are – it is just what it is… guess what?  I turned out the same thing I totally rejected the first time.  Now that’s better than the Myers-Briggs!  Maybe I will finally know who I am before I get Social Security benefits.

It seems I am a C – no, not C for Christian and definitely not C for cute...but C for conscientious-ness.  Okay, I’m very conscientious about most things.  I am rule oriented.  And yes, it’s true, I don’t like sudden changes that haven’t been thoroughly thought through.  I do make decisions based on logic (except when it comes to buying shoes).  

The test was further analyzed.  My adjectives are calculated risk taker, controlled (not controling!), alert (if I have enough caffeine),  and courteous (I always say please and thank you and wait my turn).  These are surrounded by an additional 24 adjectives that I didn’t have time to write down.  I liked some of them better than others.  When I asked my husband, he said yes, that’s you, and concluded it was because I am Norwegian.  I think there’s another blog in that statement.

Gazing at The Thinker was
always a must on my
childhood trips to the
Metropolitan, now
I know why!? No further
analysis needed
Lastly, the test said I was an objective thinker.  It said I liked data and analysis.  I thought I’m not a scientist.  The test determined that I was objective.  I thought people like that are cold and unemotional.  I’m a bundle of emotions.  But despite my need for perfection, after further analysis, I have concluded that maybe I am a C-objective thinker after all J.  Now I have to analyze how this aligns with Pastoral gifts.  And what about creativity? I have a lot of that too... 

Today I read a great blog by my friend Pastor Duke, Original content – you are God’s masterpiece.  It got me to thinking (I can only sleep at night because melatonin shuts off the thinking temporarily).  I am original.  My originality is a gift from God.  I can be a C-objective thinker and be pastoral.  I love people.  Just because I am logical, rational, and analytical doesn’t mean I can’t also have a passion for people.   I’ll be analyzing this for days, if not weeks, and months.  Or at least until I take another assessment and have more data and input to analyze.
Psalm 139:14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tears and Hugs

I haven't had a church home in a long time now.  When I left Tennessee for the long sojourn to the Storehouse of Snow of South Dakota, I was pastoring a small church.  I loved that experience.  However, looking back at it, I always feel sad.  I will never know but it seemed we were on the verge of growth.  I loved that small congregation with everything within me.  I saw God moving and touching lives.  Just before I moved to South Dakota we seemed to all disperse.  It was the great diaspora from The Well.

I've not belonged anywhere since then.  I made some attempts at fellowshipping with other believers while I was in South Dakota.  Like the geography, everything was cold and distant.  There were no warm smiles or greetings at any church I attended.  It probably wasn't personal.  The coldness of the people was so pervasive that I think it seemed as normal to them as the sub-zero weather.

I knew that all excuses and reasons were over.  I have struggled every Sunday since coming back to Tennessee. I knew I needed to recommit myself to the Biblical admonition to regular fellowship (Hebrews 10:25).  But where?  I've changed a lot over the years.  Where did I belong?  Certainly if God wanted me in church, there had to be a place for me.

I attended a church in walking distance a few times.  It's a really nice church.  The people seem happy to be there.  The church seems healthy.  I liked the liturgy and found it meaningful.  I loved the opportunity to partake of the Lord's Table every Sunday.  Was this the place for me?

Last night I tossed and turned all night.  I knew I had to get up for church this morning.  I knew I had to go somewhere.  I woke up several times.  I went back to sleep.  Finally the clock said now or never.  After hitting the button on the coffee maker I hit the shower.  Where would I go?  I put on one of my new dresses.  I still was unsettled.
I got in the car and prayed.  Where should I go?  I took the 25 minute drive to Dickson.  Even when I got there I wasn't sure I'd go in.  I drove past the place once.  When I came back the parking space I eyed was still open.  Why was this so hard?  I parked.  I walked in.  I found a seat in the back.

I have a friend at this church.  If she were there I'd sit with her.  I'd been there before to minister.  You can see it here.  A friendly face spotted me.  Immediately she came, called me by name, and gave me a hug.  Five minutes past until I saw my friend.  My back seat was traded for a front seat.

It sounds corny, but you could feel the love in that place.  The love multiplied the hugs around me.  I was greeted with the warmest of hugs and smiles.  I realized how long it had been since I felt welcomed.  The Pastor came and welcomed me.  His wife greeted me with an excited hug and smile.  Finally, the service started with another invitation to greet each other.  Hugs and smiles again.  As if the love there couldn't be contained, for a third time they stopped to hug each other again.

As I stood with my arms raised singing How Great Is Our God I felt a tear begin to form.  It never dropped but it was in my eye.  My heart was thankful.  I was thankful to have survived the crucible of South Dakota.  Perhaps someday I'll share the depth of my pain there.  Until then I will only say, it is a miracle I am alive.  It was good to be in the presence of the Lord and with His people.  The love of God and His people enveloped me like one giant hug.

It was graduation Sunday.  Like the unexpected guest at a family event, I listened and prayed for the graduates.  Those bright young faces listened to their sermon - God Created You For Greatness.  It was a good word.  I stayed until each was prayed over and blessed.  There were lots of tears in the house of the Lord today.  The Holy Spirit has melded their hearts together in love and fellowship. It seems they are a family, not just a congregation.

I am sure I'll go back.  I'm not sure it's home. I do know I felt welcomed. I felt loved. Most importantly, I saw Jesus manifested in each face.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Dancing Was Sin

We are in the midst of birthday season.  In May we celebrate lots of family birthdays!  We had birthdays on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, and one to come on the 15th.  It used to be we’d eat birthday cake for days.  When the children were still home we tried to get each one of them their own cake.  This year, I didn’t get any birthday cake.  We only bought a cake for our son and he took it home with him.  It was chocolate too.  Oh well, I don’t need cake.

Near the end of these birthdays are two other birthdays that I always remember.  One is my Tante Bitta’s oldest daughter's birthday.  She was my childhood playmate.  She was the one who came faithfully every day to visit me when I spent weeks in the hospital in the seventh grade.  I had rheumatic fever.  Every day, Grace would walk from school to the Norwegian Lutheran Medical Center.  She would keep me company for the afternoon.  After we shared the food on my hospital tray, she would go home.  I was in the “old” wing of the hospital.  It was a very dreary place.

Later, we’d spend our summers at Brighton Beach with the old Jewish Yentas.  We’d end our day with a walk on the boardwalk back to Coney Island where we’d play a game of skee ball, eat Nathan’s fries with a wooden fork out of a paper cone, and ride the subway home.  Life was good.

I sent an e-card to Grace.  I think she got it.  She’s always so busy.  We keep talking about getting together.  I hope we do.  I want to someday sit on a beach with her again. 

Her birthday made me think of another birthday.  I have this amazing memory.  I get it from my father.  His was better than mine.  But, nonetheless, I have an amazing memory.  I don’t know why I remember the things that I do, I just do.  There was someone else from my childhood who shared a birthday with Grace.  Maybe I remember because he was my first crush.

He doesn’t remember me.  His younger sister who is my friend on Facebook never seems sure of who I am.  I haven’t seen him since I was a child.  He is a few months older than I am.  We went to Sunday School together before they got rich and moved to Staten Island.  That's what my mother always said when I would ask why people moved away from Brooklyn.  She always said they were rich and we weren't so we'd stay in Brooklyn.  

Somewhere in someone’s old photograph album is a picture of my crush at my birthday party.  I remember the picture even though I don’t have it.  I was wearing a plaid suit my mother made for me.  We all had funny hats on.  All my friends from Sunday School were there for my big day.  Philip was there as well.

I don’t remember my crush on him.  But as with all family tales that get repeated, I know the story well.  I was sitting one day with a dreamy look on my face -- or so my mother said.  She said I told her that I was going to marry Philip one day.  I said I could see him coming down the aisle.  I said he was so handsome, he looked just like his father.

The other day I checked out my memory with Philip’s sister, the one who doesn’t know for sure who I am.  She confirmed I was right.  I'd nailed his birthday.  As I thought about his family, another memory sparked. This one was of the handsome father and his mother, my Tante Lisabeth.  As the story goes, Tante Lisabeth was a childhood friend of my father’s older sister.  My father remembered her from his childhood.  During a Sunday afternoon stroll, we'd ring the buzzer to her apartment.  My father revered her. She was a connection to his childhood, to his family, to Arendal, and home.  She was always very nice to me.  

Tante Lisabeth is the third person from the left in the back row.
I am the third person from the right.  That was my Twiggy phase.
When Philip’s father, Odd (a common Norwegian name but not pronounced like the English word odd) was a child, he came home with his report card.  As his mother read the words, she was quite upset. The report card said that Odd had good attendance.  Why did that alarm her you ask?  In her broken English she read the word, ahh – ten – dannnsaaa.  She wondered if Odd was dancing in school.  That sounded like some sort of evil American dance.  We good Christians didn't dance!  It was forbidden.  It was sin.  I don’t know remember who finally told her that Odd wasn’t dancing in school.  The story made me laugh all over again.

As I recalled the story I wondered if her grandchildren knew the ahh-ten-dansa story.  I wonder if someone will tell it this weekend during Philip's big birthday bash.  Probably not.  They'll probably tell stories about Philip.  

Tante Lisabeth has gone home to glory.  She's probably fussing over my dad like she did here.  She was a great lady.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rolling Bandages for Jesus

Like something from an old black and white TV show, their faces look young and vibrant.  Their large print dresses must have been a kaleidoscope of color.  But the black and white echoes that most have gone home to the Lord.  It seems so odd to think that women would gather on a Monday night once a month to pack a missionary barrel to go to India.  One of their own was helping lepers in India.  Karin and I would take torn sheets and roll bandages.  I often wondered about the person whose wounds would be bound by the fruit of our labors. 

These women made quilts to cover the lepers while I was rolling bandages.  Before the night was over, several quilts would be finished.   A page from LIFE magazine served as a pattern.  Colors and texture were blended and pinned together on those pages.  A zip through the sewing machine and a quilt was finished in hours.  Once the bandages were rolled, the quilts lovingly folded, the barrel filled, and prayed over, it was time for dessert and coffee.  My mouth waters to think of that spread of Norwegian waffles with butter and jam, or boller, or a cake.  The coffee was strong.  If the confections were not enough to sweeten your mouth, lump sugar was available, as was thick real cream.
Lillian Olsen is sitting on the right.  My mother (standing) and Judith went to her
stateroom to bit her bon voyage as she returned to India.
These memories made me wonder.  It seems easier and practical to send money to the missionaries.  I suppose they don’t need homemade quilts or rolled bandages anymore.  Barrels aren’t packed to sail the seas for weeks.  In so many ways, that’s progress.  But it’s not personal.  Maybe we’d remember to pray for missionaries more if we gathered once a month to assemble a quilt and pray over it.  Maybe children would dream of being a missionary someday if they still rolled bandages.

When I think of missionaries, I also think of my cousin Ruth.  She answered a call to Swaziland.  We had cloth table scarf in our living room that said Swaziland.  It had pictures of men in a loin cloth and a spear.  Once a week when I’d move it to do my weekly chore of dusting, it reminded me that my dad’s niece was telling children about Jesus.  My father would collect old Sunday School material (including mine), old Christian magazines, and anything that told the gospel.  They would be lovingly and prayerfully rolled, covered with brown paper, tied with string, and taken to the post office for a long journey to Africa. 

I wonder about those children who read my old Sunday School lesson.  I wonder about those with leprosy whose limbs were covered with those bandages.  So much has changes since those days so very long ago.  One thing hasn’t changed.  Missionaries still travel to the remote places of the world ministering love and compassion in the name of Jesus.  Pray for a missionary today.   

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No Drama

I have a tendency to say too much at times.  Now for those of you who know me, you probably think – “now that’s an understatement.”  In general I am not overly outspoken in that harsh old lady Maxine-ish sort of way.  However, sometimes the emotion of an issue causes me to say too much.  When I do that then, I get caught up in all sorts of drama.  I really don’t like that.  Today I want to talk about the daughter who has given me no drama.

My youngest daughter has been very clear-I am forbidden from using her name on the internet.  I suppose when she’s rich and famous she doesn’t want my words to come back to haunt her.  She did say I could write about her, just not use her name.  Today I’ll just call her baby girl.  If she were from a culture that gave names based on characteristics, her name might be “no drama.” 

When she was born I had already observed a disturbing pattern on our family.  I have a lot of kids.  For years they came fast too – not much time in between.  Soon, the newest infant needing my fulltime attention would arrive.  The older children helped some with the younger ones.  My husband was the year round perpetual Santa Claus always saying yes to everything and opening his wallet regularly.  That left me to turn my attention to the newest child, to worry about bills, and to provide some structure and discipline.  Children usually get all warm and fuzzy with the parent who indulges them.  I didn’t have that luxury of being the indulgent parent.  By the time baby girl came along, I decide I was going to be her main indulger.  I knew she was the last one and I wanted a child to spoil.

She had the most expensive clothes.  I picked out the top of the line stroller and high chair.  I was ready.  I was going to spoil her.  And I did.  I didn’t spoil her “rotten” as we say in the West.  I’ve learned that probably you can’t spoil a child unless you are a millionaire who uses money in place of love.  Everyone always said I was spoiled “rotten” because my mother didn’t make me wash dishes when I was kid.  However, she did make me clean the toilet every week.  I wasn’t spoiled.  I digress…. By the time she had come along I had been to Pakistan and seen children totally indulged with no discipline turning into very respectful loving adults.  That really puzzled me.  Still does.  However, I was ready to give it a try and indulge baby girl.

Let me make it clear, I have a lot to be proud of with ALL of my children.  I love them all very much.  But this is about baby girl today.  Baby girl is unique.  I don’t know if it had anything to do with indulging her.  I think she was just born this way.  She is unique because she’s rarely made me cry.  She often brightens my day with her soft voice asking if I’m okay.  She listens when I go on and on about life.  She still lights up when I make her vegan food.  I’ve not have to search for her throughout the wee hours of the morning.  I’ve never had to go to court or the police station for her. I've never worried if she were dead or alive.  I got to share in her prom excitement.  She still asks my opinion and sometimes listens to my advice.  She is “no drama.” 

Today I’m thinking about her upcoming move.  She’s decided to get an apartment.  She’s old enough both in years and in maturity I suppose.  I’ll miss my baby girl when my nest is empty.  Her wings are strong and she’s promised to come home often.  Whatever she does, I know she’ll do well.  I’ll still indulge her every chance I get and pray for her.  Today is a good day for no drama. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Marigolds, Milk Cartons and Evening in Paris

Yesterday we went to the graduation of my husband’s nephew.  It was hard to find him in the sea of graduates.  It was hard to find his parents, siblings, and his cousin who had come to celebrate this momentous occasion.  Eventually, we heard his name, saw him wave to his parents, and like that feeling when you finally find Waldo, we were satisfied.  

I spent a lot of time looking at the women.  I determined I wanted a dress.  So many pretty spring dresses.  I am self-conscious about so many things but here were all these women, in all shapes in sizes dressed for spring celebrations.  Yellows, purples, flowers, and butterflies contrasted to my black skirt and shirt.  It’s definitely time for some color in my wardrobe.  Now that my mood has brightened, it’s time to update my drab look.

As I uncomfortably sat on the bleacher bench enduring the hundreds of names being read, I thought how special this day is for their mothers.  What a wonderful Mother’s Day present for their moms!  I thought of last year as I saw my daughter walk across a stage and be hooded as a Juris Doctor.  I was so proud of her.  She probably would not want to be compared to me, but I thought of all the people there, I knew the most of how hard it is to get a degree while raising children.  She had so many difficult obstacles, but she did it.  Her children seemed as bored as mine did the day they watched me get my degree with her in my belly.   

As she walked across the stage my husband whispered to me, "congratulations that’s your accomplishment too."  The tears streamed down my face just as they are now.  My father often said “all Yoyce wants to be is a Mommy.”  That was true.  When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d mutter a teacher.  Of the two choices open to women, nurses and teachers, it seemed the better option.  But inside I knew all I wanted to be was a wife and mother.

This morning I’m thinking about marigolds in a milk carton.  Perched on my wooden desk at PS 94 with blunt scissors I carefully cut the top off my milk carton.  There was Elsie the Cow looking at me.  This carton would be transformed into a gift for another Elsie, my mother.  My little hands would push the dirt down.  At the instructions of Mrs. Dickinson we would drop the seeds into the dirt.  For weeks they would sit on the sill of the large windows of my second grade classroom.  Soaking the sun peeking through the painted daffodils and tulips on the windows, they grew.

By Mother’s Day most were in bloom.  Orange and yellow bursts of spring, some construction paper walls to cover Elsie the Cow it was time to take my gift home.  At the door she was waiting to walk me home.  With pride I walked home with my hand in my mom’s clutching the marigolds.  I thought everyone on 5th Avenue would know I loved my mother.  On Saturday I’d walk with my hand in my dad’s to look for some Evening in Paris scented talcum powder and a card to honor her again for Mother’s Day.

My teachers and my dad taught me well.  They taught me to honor my mother.  They taught me that the woman whose body carried me, delivered me into the world, burped me, changed me, fed me, and loved me the best she could was due respect, honor, and love.  

As I think of marigolds, milk cartons, and Evening in Paris, I wish I could place a marigold plant on my mother's grave.  I couldn’t make the trip to visit her grave.  Instead I watched a sea of the future get their degrees.  I hope they honor their mothers.  I hope today they give their mother a hug and a kiss telling them that they love them.  I hope they will do that every year. Someday they’re mother’s will be laid to rest.  Someday they will wish they could plant one more marigold in a milk carton. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Before She Was Mother, She Was Mommy

Everyone has a mother.  Probably most people would say their relationship with their mother was complicated.  I honestly don’t know any mother who is totally worthy of sainthood, except for maybe someone like Mother Teresa.  Yes, she would count.  Not to minimize her in any way, but remember, she never gave birth to a child.  For that reason, she really doesn’t count.

I think all mothers need huge doses of grace.  I think our perfect mother, Mother Teresa depended on those huge downloads of God’s grace too.  I remember my mother would say often, “Lord, give me patience.”  I am told that as a child I would repeat her statement saying “Lord give me a patience.”  

My relationship with my mother was typical.  It was typical in that it wasn’t perfect.  This is my second Mother’s Day since she went home to be with Jesus.  I know she is happy to be home.  In her later years, probably the last 20, we heard over and over, I just want to go home to be with Jesus.  She is where she wants to be.

I’ve thought so often of her legacy.  I so wish that legacy of faith and commitment to Jesus had continued with her sons, and her grandchildren.  While that saddens me, it also gives me hope.  She never wavered in her own faith.  She finished her race and has received her prize.  If she can do it alone, with no one with her, so can I. 

While we had our share of misunderstandings and hurt, I understand her better.  It’s hard being a mother.  You give your best, your very best, and often, regardless of how hard you try, it isn’t enough.  It’s not your fault.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  It just is.  I’ve always felt my mother did her best.  I’ve written before of wondering what demons she chased that made her who she was – I suspect like most of us, she was only partially successful in chasing them.  Life makes you who you are. 

This Mother’s Day I will think of my Mother – I will remember when she was Mommy before she told me to call her Mother.  I will remember the woman who sat at the piano and sang with me.  I remember the mother who baked Snickerdoodles for me because they were a favorite.  I might make her potato salad and think of warm afternoons in the backyard or trips to Wolf’s Pond Park.  I will remember the woman whose anger would flair only to come to my bedroom and ask me to forgive her for losing her temper.  I will remember her sitting at the Necchi sewing machine, crafting beautiful garments for me to wear.  I will remember train rides to Pennsylvania and summers in Waynesboro and Hagerstown. 

Yes, those are the memories I should remember this Sunday.  I have other memories, but the older I get the more I realize that humans are imperfect.  All we can do is to do our best and pray that other’s give us grace to understand that our best is all we have to give.

I wonder if my brothers remember.  I have no one left with which to share my memories of mommy, not Mother, not Grandma, not MamMaw but my mommy.  Someday in heaven, I’ll get to see mommy and daddy.  Perhaps we will be like that family of three living in Brooklyn so many years ago.  I hope the others find Jesus and serve Him and join us.  But I’ll be there and we’ll be together again.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sin Used To Be Easy

Sin is one of those things that most of us would rather not talk about.  I know I don’t like to even think about it.  I spent many years with guilt about real and supposed sins of my youth.  It’s been hard to overcome this guilt and receive the love of God.  Now I prefer to talk about God’s love and grace.

I remember when the definition of sin was pretty easy.  After the Ten Commandments, the big ones, there were the little ones of my youth, like playing cards, wearing make-up, and going to the movies.  It’s just easier when someone gives you a list.  You can look at the list, say yes, I did, or no, I didn’t, and you’re good to go.  If you had to answer yes to something, you follow the prescription of confession, repentance, and you’re done with it.  Now the definition of sin is not so easy.  Oh the big ones, the Ten Commandments are still there.  Although it seems we are increasingly glossing over some of those as well as reinterpret their meaning.  

I took a class at seminary that really gave me a lot to think about.  I really loved that class.  It always made me think.  As I think about sin today it’s not so easy.  Maybe sin is not the right word.  But I think I like it better than a more wishy-washy term like my theological or Christian ethical perspective.  How you think and what you stand for is important.  If you are wrong, it might make you sin.  Unfortunately, the things I consider today are not on a handy dandy sin checklist.

I learned a lot from Dr. Ron Sisk in Christian Ethics.  I wish I was in his class now.  Maybe we would discuss the current events.  We would probably discuss the killing of Bin Laden.  We would view it under the microscope of scripture, and perhaps the early church fathers.  More recent theologians like Niebuhr and Bonheoffer would lend their voices.  We’d probably talk about Shane Claiborne.  So many different interpretations.  So many different view points.  It’s hard.

A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog on the killing of Bin Laden.  It seems a lot of believers are questioning their thoughts and feelings on the matter.  That encourages me.  It also lets me know that I am not alone in my quandary.  I remember how I felt after 9/11.  I remember the t-shirt I often wore in those days following.  It was one I made myself with a beautiful picture of the twin towers taken from the Staten Island Ferry just the year before.  I put the words, we will never forget.  I haven’t.

I remember that I struggled with a sense of hatred.  I actually didn’t give my hatred much thought at the time.  I’ve grown spiritually a whole lot since then I guess.  Now I question those type of feelings in light of the gospel and the work of Jesus.

Dr. Sisk taught me that it is necessary to ask the hard ethical questions.  I can’t be neutral.  I have to craft answers to ethical questions.  This one is so hard though.  I remember his words that gave me pause.  He said one day that every time the state or the federal government executes someone in the name of the people, that's you too.  You share some responsibility for that death.  Some of us would rejoice that we had a part in the killing of a perpetrator of a heinous crime.  Other's don't want any blood on our hands. 

Then there is Jesus.  He said those difficult words about loving our enemies.  Dr. Sisk taught me was that Jesus is the normative norm.  Jesus life and words trump vengeance and call for mercy.  If I am a follower of Jesus, what does that mean?  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Good Preaching

I certainly had no shortage of good preaching when I was a kid.  I heard great sermons from many of the giants of the faith.  I was blessed.  I heard a sermon today by one of my childhood pastors, Rev. Ben Crandall.  Back then we called him "Brother Crandall."  While I write much about my beloved first church, Salem Gospel Tabernacle, there is no doubt our shift to Calvary Tabernacle made a huge impact on me.

He seemed so visionary.  It seems he was ahead of his time with everything.  He brought all sorts of people to his pulpit, David Wilkerson was a frequent guest, Demos Shakarian came and many others.  He saw the leadership potential in my parents. My mother was graduated to teach adults at Calvary.  My father served on the rotating board for a short time.  I remember the pride I would feel that my dad was able to serve communion.

Brother Crandall was never afraid to see what God was doing next and follow it.  He was a change agent.  I suspect he still is.  Long before the church was opening Christian schools, he did.  Long before it was common to have cell groups, he had them.  I remember as a teen going to one and listening to him talk of Wesley.  He wanted to reintroduce small groups.  He wanted revival in Brooklyn and the greater NY area.

Often I would sit with his daughter.  If you listen to his sermon you'll hear him talk of Karen.  She was quiet.  Nevertheless we passed our "wallets" and looked at each other's pictures.  We scribbled notes on deconstructed offering envelopes.  For a short while, I had a crush on her older brother Doug.

His wife, Sister Crandall, was amazing at the organ.  She was amazing with the choir.  I think she taught Carol Cymbala a lot during those days when Carol and her fiancĂ©e Jim were in that choir.  I longed to be in the choir.  I even longed to play the accordion in the "orchestra."  Just before we came to Calvary she had taught accordion to the youth.

I heard him preach this morning.  His sermon really impacted me.  It was what I needed to hear.  I think it might bless you too!  Click here to hear it.

It was good to hear good preaching.  It was good to hear someone who imprinted my life.  I wish I could hear Pastor Johnson, Pastor Dahl, Brother Parker and more.  I'm thankful for the preaching of the Word.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Roller Coaster Days

If you read my blog yesterday, you knew yesterday was NOT a good day.  It was a bit of a roller coaster ride.  I hate roller coasters.  I prefer the calm rides.  I'm a big fan of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disney.  I rode it first at the New York World's Fair (whatever happened to World's Fair's???).  It's my "speed."  Slow, steady, entertaining, no drop offs, no unpredictable spins, no nausea, no dizziness - just steady fun and entertainment.

When life becomes a roller coaster of emotions, I hate it.  I probably gave the impression that I was more upset than I really was yesterday.  OR maybe the truth was, I was that upset and was having a hard time expressing it. For those who prayed with me, I didn't sin :-).  I didn't take my anger to bed.  I didn't internalize it.  I dealt with it.  I confronted it calmly.

Nevertheless, it was still a roller coaster day.  They say that trouble comes in threes.  My roller coaster ride had three depth charges.  Unlike the roller coaster, my rise up to a peak was slow, but the drop each time was intense.  Interestingly, they all had to do with my children.

I love my children.  I love them more than they can possibly realize.  I love them when they are good.  I love them when they make mistakes.  I even love them all the time.  Yesterday I had to remind myself that I love them when they are in the midst of making bad decisions.  I realized my love is best expressed by prayer.

That didn't change my anger.  That didn't change my frustration. It didn't stop the snowball of frustration from gathering all the other things that frustrate me.  I'm human.  I'm very human.  I have lots of disappointments and they keep coming.

Today I will focus on a class assignment.  As much as I think I want to quit school and just be a lazy old woman, I realize that I want this degree.  I realize that even if it makes no sense and never accomplishes anything but giving me the satisfaction of proving I am not a loser, it's worth it.  Besides, I'm 1/3 there.  This is the closest I've ever been.  Maybe I would be the loser people said I was if I don't finish.  I'll write today and hopefully hit the send button on an assignment.

I will also pray for my children. I will pray that they make right choices and pray that if they don't, God's mercy will help them.  I've seen many miracles with my children.  Today I should focus on those and pray for more.

I will also pray for the world.  It seems trivial to say you are praying for world peace.  I think it is the thing Jesus would want me to do.  When I heard that Bin Laden was killed, I wondered, will this release more terror or will it bring peace?  I don't know.  I know I can't rejoice in a spirit of vengeance and death.  For me, the appropriate Christ-like response is to pray.

I guess I really am a "Small World Ride" person.  I want peace and harmony.  I want people to learn to be like Jesus. I want to be like Jesus. I say amen to:
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased (Luke 2:14)

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I'm having one of those day.  I'm getting ready to probably be more transparent and vulnerable that I should be.  It's just one of those day.

Warning, I'm letting it all out - well, not all, but some

Since the world looks at my blog, but so few actually read it, maybe my thoughts on this virtual diary will be ignored but I will feel better.  Now that was a complex sentence, wasn't it? Not the best I've ever written I'm sure.

It's raining.  I didn't go to church.  I still have no church home.  I sometime wonder how in the world I got in this shape.  Churchless - I used to so criticize in my heart people who said "I am a believer but I don't go to church." I'm not mad at the church.  I love church.  I long to be part of a body of believers again.  But it always begs the question of where?  Seems I don't fit any where any more.  Seems no one wants the gifts and talents I have to offer the body of Christ.

I got an upsetting email from my daughter about my grandson.  It's a mess. Like so many other messes I want to fix it.  But I can't.  I never have been able to.  For all my love and attempts to help and make things better, I just get kicked in the teeth.  Finally figured out it is better to just move on and focus on me.

Through other means I found out that secrets are being kept from me by my husband and other daughters.  I am so very tired of it.  I am tired of their attitudes and behaviors.  It makes me mad. It used to make me so sad.  I spent far too many days crying over these things.  I spent far to many days blaming myself.  I'm not doing that anymore.  I am mad.  I am ripping mad.  Now to pray what to do with this anger.  I am remember the scripture "be angry and sin not."  Pray with me I don't sin.  Pray with me I can appropriately express this anger.  Pray that I'll know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Pray with me that I'll know what IT is?

I'm wondering about school.  I'm wondering why an old woman is trying to spend money she doesn't have, will not be able to pay back, for a degree that will not lead to a job.  I can't get a job now.  It will be no different when I am called Doctor.  I apply and apply and apply and ZERO... NADA... ZIP

I'm pretty discouraged today. I'm pretty angry today.  I would like to have a punching bag and beat the crap out of it.  Yes, it's that kind of day.

Every once in a while I write a blog that stinks and eventually I take it down - probably this is one of them.  But I feel slightly better since I put it on paper.