Friday, June 24, 2011

Finding my voice...

I am sure some of you are wondering how I am surviving after jumping off the high dive of the pool.  It’s okay.  In some ways, it is better than last year, in other ways, not so much.  There are a lot I could say about dynamics.  There is a lot I could say about a “team” concept that doesn’t really exist.  There is a lot I could say about frustration.  Such as the high level of frustration I felt yesterday as we were told that much of what we’d already done and in my case, had been approved had to be redone to please another person.  It was all a matter of poor communication and “team” work on the part of the faculty.  Unfortunately, for my sake and those of my cohort mates, they didn’t hammer out their rules before they gave them to us.  Pretty sad for a program that is in its 14th year.

However, I’m still here.  I am sitting out the pedogological babble – for those of you not in education like me, that’s a bunch of teacher talk. God bless the teachers, I’m a natural teacher but I don’t work in the confines of public education, so I just don’t fit here.  PERIOD.  Fortunately, I am secure enough in myself to not feel obliged to pretend that I am OR be unduly troubled about being a fish out of water.

My goal is the degree.  My goal is to fulfill the ambitious quest of Dr. Joyce Johannesen Lighari.  That’s it.  All else is secondary.  I’m a horse, running in race whose only goal is the finish line. 

This morning I agonized over doing a devotional for the group while I am here.  Evidently our professor doesn’t like to do them.  So couched in a “more involvement” from the students, there was a plea for devotion leaders.  I do not feel that I have any authority in this group.  I also don’t like taking authority when it is not given.  So I wondered.  Should I?  Shouldn’t I?  I am the only religion major in this group. I am the only preacher.  Seems like a no brainer, but then there is the issue of reception. 

I thought about it.  I prayed about it.  I thought about it some more.  I put my name on the list for the last morning.  It came down to this.  Preaching and ministry is what I was born to do.  I am called for this.  I know that.  I may forget it at times.  I may be terribly frustrated at times.  However, this is my call.  Just like my cohort mates are mostly educators, this is what I do.  And little do they know or realize, I'm a pretty darn good preacher, teacher, and minister.  Who God calls He equips. 

I finally decided that it had nothing to do with authority given to me by the class, their perceptions, or any other superfluous distraction.  I have the authority of God to do what I do.  WHOA, I think that might be ready rather arrogantly or pretentiously – for those of you who don’t know me, you may be thinking, now isn’t she cocky?  No, I’m not.  I’m finally willing to step into the call of God regardless of circumstances.

Today, we did an exercise in class.  It was a really boring exercise on water district customer service – but at least it wasn’t classroom scenarios – at least we were all in the same boat, dealing with an area outside of our expertise.  As we looked at the flow chart to be analyzed, I spotted something immediately.  All those public administration class I took that show up nowhere on a transcript – all those years of administering public organizations, I knew something they didn’t.  To me it seemed like a fundamental and foundation flaw of the organization.  I voiced it.  I voiced it again.  I voiced it the third time.  I finally shut up.  The people in my small group had no desire to listen.

I waited.  I let it go.  I listened to their thoughts and contributed a little.  When the time came for class discussion, our table was asked a question.  All of a sudden, no one seemed to know what to say.  I did.  I regurgitated the discussion but didn't share my own thought.  There was no consensus on my thought and remembering my place, I was silent on that.  

As the discussion continued, I realized my contribution that had been ignored at the table was still churning in my head.  I raised my hand politely.  Recognized and given the opportunity (and authority) to speak, I shared my thought.  The teacher nodded.  She said that’s a really important comment.  I had found my voice.  I felt vindicated.  Someone at the table whispered, you should have said that before. I simply said, I tried.

I’m quiet.  Those of you who only know me through my preaching probably don’t see that.  But I am.  Today I was persistent about sharing my voice.  Next Friday, bags packed and ready to leave Trevecca, I’ll find it again.  Little do they know, the President of this institution once told me that my sermon was one of the best he'd ever heard... so, I'll share the gift and calling and my God given authority for ministry.

Do you hold back your gift?  Share it.  If you aren’t heard and recognized at first, keep trying. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jumping Off The High Dive

It seems my blogging has been neglected of late, hasn't it?  I guess I've been busy.  I think a better word is distracted.  I'm going to be even more distracted over the next few weeks.  It's time for summer ISLE.  No, this isn't some wondrous beach resort where I enjoy fun and sun.  Quite the opposite, it is a grueling 9 days living in a college dorm while taking classes from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.  Sunday and weekends are included.  Yes, 9 straight days of preparation and instruction.

I'm not looking forward to it.  Last year I was scared.  I was just beginning to come alive again.  Like the tiniest buds of April, I was just seeing the first glimpses of hope.  This was my first big challenge in a long time.  Could I handle it?  I wouldn't know until I tried.  Despite common perceptions, I'm a very shy and insecure individual.  A whole new group of people, most of them much younger, some the age of my children, would be my cohort-mates.  I'd even get to share the intimacy of bathroom sharing with one of them.

Here is my Professional Personal Action Plan update from last year - turn your speakers on for the finale:

I did survive.  I did fairly well.  I felt good about myself when I was done.  I had done something I'd never done before.  I'd slept in a dorm bed.  I didn't leave there with friends for life, but at least I knew names and faces of most of the people in our group.  A few have left since then, and tomorrow at 10 a.m. we'll be together to be oriented again to life at ISLE.

I'm not ready.  Oh, I have my classroom - pre-homework - done.  I am not packed, but that's typical of me.  I'm not ready emotionally.  The same fears I had last year have surfaced and been compounded by knowledge.  I KNOW what ISLE is like.  Despite telling myself I did it before, I can do it again, I'm stressed.

When I was a child I spent summers at Sunset Park Pool.  Carrying my rolled towel with clean panties hidden inside and a dime hidden in my pocket, the steamy pavement made me long all the more for the cool waters of the pool.  Five cents was the ticket to heaven.  The other five cents was for a Popsicle on the way home.  There were two pools behind the black iron fence of the pool.  One was the spectacular marvel of the WPA with lights underwater.  Its 3 foot depth was safe.    I swam like a fish in the shallow depths of that massive pool.  But the other pool, smaller, rounder, had a 16 foot deep that was for diving only.  The high dive was intimidating.  A life guard stood at the top to assure your safety.  The low dive, less intimidating stood beside it.

I never went off the high dive.  I would imagine how wonderful it would be, but since I had never learned to dive I never scaled the heights of the ladder.  My fears kept me from plunging face first into the water.

The high dive was for diving only,
         no jumping,
                no holding your nose,
                       no belly flops,
                                 just diving.
                                           The high dive was for the fearless.

Occasionally I'd jump off the low dive with nose plugs in place.   I always regretted not scaling the ladder and diving into those 16 foot waters.

Tomorrow, I'll scale the high dive.   As I finish packing, as I load the car, as I arrive on campus and as I drag the provisions of 9 days into my room, I will be taking each step up that ladder with fear.  I have so many self-doubts.  Today, like so many days, I ask myself,

"Why does an old woman pursue a doctoral degree when she has few years to benefit from it and no job?"

That is a good question.  I don't have a good answer.  I only know that I don't want to regret not jumping off the high dive again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Remember

I walked to the pay phone in the hallway.  Everything was green, the walls, the floor, a dull green to match the mood.  I picked up the phone and dropped my coin.  I dialed the familiar number of the church.  My call interrupted the merriment of an Afterglow, a time of fellowship after a Sunday evening service.  Pastor Calloway soon said “hello.”  I said, “my father is dead.”  He said, “I’ll be right there.”

We stood in the hall.  I don’t remember for sure who was there.  I know I was there.  I think my husband was there, but then he might have been with our son.  I think my brother was there, perhaps his wife or one of his boys.  Marta, the nurse my mother loved was probably there.  We waited as the body was disconnected from the tubes and wires.  A day before a young doctor knelt by his urine bag begging for it to fill with yellow liquid.  That liquid was like gold.  It meant my dad would live a while a longer.

People are amazed when I say my father died of complications with a gall bladder surgery.  Pastor Calloway was there to accompany the family for our last goodbyes in the hospital.  I remember he prayed.  I don’t remember how I felt.  I was so young.  I was married.  I was a mother.  I was pregnant with a second child.  I was the wife of a soldier.  But I was so young. 

As a small child people would think I was with my grandfather when I’d walk hand in hand with him on our great adventures.  His walk was steady but slightly off balance.  We thought it came from years on a rocking sea vessel.  I could tell if my dad was coming up the street before I could see his face.  I would look at that walk and say, yes, that’s my dad.  I suppose I always thought he might die before I reached maturity.  I thought I was mature when he was laid to rest.  I wasn’t.  I was still in my teens, still a child in need of her daddy.  I still need my daddy.

For many years I couldn’t tell you the day of my father’s death.  I simply didn’t remember.  I knew it was in June.  As I have matured, I have remembered.  Forty years ago today my father breathed his last.  He went home. 

 I didn’t understand the finality of death.  Perhaps the young can’t truly understand death.  I didn’t.  I had lost my father.  I had lost the one person in my life who loved me unconditionally.  My mother’s love was more complicated.  But my dad, he loved me, period.  I was his “lilla venn.”  My dad was not famous.  My dad was a good man.  He was kind.  I can honestly say he was one of the few people that never said anything about someone unless it was good.  You can read more about him here.

A few weeks before my dad had a death experience.  He saw himself leave behind the medical staff feverishly working to revive him.  He came to a river where his good friend Angle Jensen (sp?) was waiting for him.  Before he could cross with his friend he came back into the room and into his body.  My mother and I keeping vigil outside wear went home for some rest.  We returned in the morning to hear his mild scolding that we had not brought the Sunday paper with us.  A quick trip to the gift shop, and my father was happily reading the paper glasses perched over the oxygen mask.  A few Sundays later, he crossed over Jordan. 

I am probably the only one who remembers this day forty years ago.  My brothers don’t care.  And even if they did, the date is absent their memory.  I suffered a loss that day that I have only become to realize.  Rest in Peace Daddy.  

Hvil i fred min kjære far, jeg elsker deg. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sweet Wild Strawberries

It has been incredibly hot here in the south.  The weather feels more like the dog days of August.  I seem to be in a domestic mood.  The bounty of mangoes in season has resulted in freshly canned jars of heavenly salsa and divine chutney.  I suppose one would wonder how a girl from Brooklyn, with no 4-H training, knows how to can.  I taught myself many years ago.  I actually enjoy doing it.  I love looking at freshly preserved jars.  I will be doing a lot of that this year, we have a garden.

The heat reminds me of the summer of 1965.  I had graduated from dear Pershing JHS.  Accompanied by my mother and my beloved Tanta Bitta, I, dressed in a white pique A-line dress with lace sleeves and adorned with a red rose corsage, together we rode the city bus to Brooklyn College early Saturday morning.  My dad was in Norway for his last trip to his homeland.  I had a boyfriend named Ray.  I would go to his high school graduation before he went off to Bible School.  Like a scene out of Grease we celebrated at Astroland at Coney Island.  Still in my cranberry A-line dress made from the same pattern as my graduation dress, I was over dressed for a plunge into the waters of the Log Flume.  I was scared and he held me tight.  We broke up soon after that.  As I nursed my broken heart, the temperature climbed.  

The box fan in the window of our 2nd floor apartment accentuated the smell of melting asphalt. For relief we'd turn it to let the smell and suffocating air in the apartment out.  My mother and I stayed inside.  We played Scrabble, Life, and a variety of card games with a deck of Rook cards.  We didn’t get dressed for days.  We lounged clad in only our underwear and beads of sweat.  It was hot.  There was no camp.  There was no escape to the cool of the Catskills.  We were city dwellers.

I no longer had access to Camp Challenge.  We had left Salem for another church.  Once gone, people barely spoke to us.  I would not be welcome at camp.  As I pondered my now boyfriend-less existence, I thought of Charlie (not his real name).  Charlie, my first kiss, my first puppy love --- ours was a summer romance at Camp Challenge.  He was from Long Island but didn’t seem to be rich.  In my mind, only rich people lived on Long Island.  Anyone who could afford to leave Brooklyn was rich.  He wasn’t rich.  We were very different.  He was not Norwegian, and was the only son of a single mother.

He would be my first date for the camp banquet.  As I recall, I caught Charlie’s eye before he caught mine.  Holding hands we'd wander to the far corner of the camp grounds.  In a field far from the buildings of the camp was a wild strawberry patch.  Wild strawberry tasting gave way to the sweet taste of a first kiss.  After tearful goodbyes, we vowed to see each other again.  There would be “youth rallies” and letters.  Phone calling between Long Island and Brooklyn was expensive.  We made arrangements and met at the World’s Fair for a full day of imagining the "world tomorrow," food, fun and an occasional kiss.  Occasionally we’d run into his mother who never liked me and just scowled.  

Our last kiss was a snowy day in December.  The excitement of Christmas was in the air.  He had come with a present for me.  I quickly went to a store and bought a black turtleneck sweater for him.  I had not expected a visit or a gift.  It was over.  The drone of the box fan reminded me that it was over with Ray as well.  But, I was only 14.  In two years, I’d be walking down a church aisle in the heart of Missouri saying “I do.”  Like the box fan, love came and went too fast.  The first blush of love is never easy.  Like the wild strawberry, it's season is brief.

Ray went on to Bible School but never went into the ministry.  I located him a few years ago and exchanged a few emails.  Charlie married a childhood friend and worked for NYC Sanitation.  I saw him once during a visit with his mother-in-law.  I wondered if he was thinking about that strawberry field so many years before.  He was polite.  I was polite.  It was awkward.  He is retired and divorced.  At 14 you think your life is over when your heart is rejected.  Looking back, you realize it is a gift.  

Did camp bring you a summer love?  Did your first kiss come during the sweltering heat of the summer?  I wonder how many children will have their first painful but glorious first brush of love this summer.  Sometimes, you find more than Jesus at camp.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I posted a quick status update on Facebook yesterday.  It really wasn’t a big deal.  It was just one of my venting times.  Sort of like the big sigh when you mumble under your breath…but this time the mumble was broadcasted by my fingers on Facebook.  Foolish me J

Not as foolish as I am sometimes.  I do think before I post, but… sometimes the knee jerk or should I say finger jerk reaction gets the best of me.  I’ve even been known to write a blog or two I had to later delete because of regret.  Oh well… most of you love me anyway.

It’s always interesting how expectations and feelings get mixed together with disastrous outcomes.  Someone I love felt snubbed.  The other person I love didn’t know they had been the snubber.  Rather than let it just work itself out, as I am sure it would have since they love each other too, I decided to play peacemaker.  I thought I’d help the process along.  I am a fixer by nature.  While I hate to be in the middle, I sometimes just step in it.

There is a reason they call that child’s game “monkey in the middle.”  You just should stay out of the middle.  But no… fixer Joyce decided to give a quick heads up to the snubber.  I knew snubber was clueless and any offense was unintentional.  Now firmly in the middle the snubber decided to take aim at me.  Wrongly accused the snubber was now offended and felt the need for a defensive move.  Sigh… new goal in life, STAY OUT OF THE MIDDLE – it’s never a safe place to be.

So in my frustration my fingers let my Facebook world know: The bible says, blessed are the peacemakers. Why is it that when I try to make peace between people they bite my head off?  Wise statements followed:
  • People have to want peace.
  • Peacemakers are not wanted but God would bless the effort. 
  • You can get caught in the middle of gunfire.

Actually none of these fit the situation.  But I appreciated the wisdom sharing.  I could think of a few global and political situations that could use that wisdom.  But the best peace of wisdom came the today.  It sort of closed out the conversation well.  It came from a childhood friend who always seemed to be more stable and wise than I. 
  • Some people need to vent in order to get things off their chest and then they feel better

I think she was referring to the people who were not at peace.  However, I had to laugh.  Yes, that’s true.  That’s me…  I’m the venter.  I felt better after my fingers were foolish.  I realized people cared even if they didn’t understand.  I realized there is wisdom in not being the monkey in the middle. 

Amid the nonsense, Farmville, Café World, Mafia Wars, and spam, there is a wisdom on Facebook if you look for it.  I was thankful for friends and Facebook wisdom.

I will get back to camp stories later... I know you can't wait to read about my first camp romance :) 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

It's All About the Birds and Bees

When people hear I grew up in the big bad city of New York, and that I ran the streets of Brooklyn, they have a certain image.  There have been times I liked that image.  I liked to make people think I was tough, or I’d been around the proverbial block.  Truth was, I hadn’t.  I actually had a very innocent childhood and youth.  Even though I managed to fool everyone and riddled myself with guilt, I was blameless.

It was time for camp.  Our church had bought a camp “upstate.”  Any place with trees that was North of NYC was considered “upstate.”  The camp was in the Catskills about 3 hours from Brooklyn. It was a permanent home for Camp Challenge.  The main building consisted of dorm type rooms with a large mess.  The girls were put on the second floor.  The boys were housed on the first floor. 

I roomed with a girl named Elaine and another girl whose name I do not know.  Neither were Norwegian.  Both were connected in some way with our Norwegian church.  Elaine didn’t live in our neighborhood either.  I remember a birthday party at her house where we listened to the scratchy sounds as the stack of 45’s dropped to the turntable.  Unbeknownst to my mother I jiggled my body to “Can’t Buy Me Love” with other giggling girls.  Elaine was worldly.  So was our other roommate.

It would be the next year that I would have a camp romance.  Stay tuned for my first kiss and blush of puppy love.  This year, it was all about Jesus and fun.  The food was great as it was lovingly cooked by good Norwegians.  No bologna salad with mayo.  Some mornings we were transported in the bed of a pick-up truck to the pool at the Baptist camp down the road.  One year that trip resulted in vomiting campers as a virus from that camp spread to ours.  Someone, a sinner no doubt, suggested a little alcohol to settle the stomach.  After all, Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake.  My mother, always prone to severe vomiting took their advice.  One spoonful and up it came-she now had a new badge of honor.  The woman who was so proud that alcohol had never touched her lips had been purged of this demon brandy.  It was proof, she was pure, she had never been a drinker.

Other times we swam in a pond.  I don’t know if we had permission to do so, I just know we climbed over a gate.  Pastor Reviness would come with his swimming trunks on covered by a shirt complete with his hat on and shoes and socks.  He was a funny sight.  Once in the water, he’d shampoo his hair and do his bathing.  Back in the truck we’d go for the ride back to camp.  Other outings included a trip to a state park.  I’d take the trail and walk under waterfalls while others swam in the pristine pool.  A trip to Howe Cavern would often be included as part of the summer adventure.

At night, in the dorm room three adolescent girls would chat.  I suppose we should have been talking about Jesus or something wholesome.  But we were adolescent girls and the topic turned to sex and where babies come from.  I remember lying on that bunk listening.  Elaine declared that you had to have sex to have a baby.  I knew what sex was – well, sort of.  I had watched a episode on Dr. Kildare about a teenage pregnancy.  My mother had said how horrible that was – I was sure my parents could never had engaged in such horrible activity.  I corrected my friend by saying, “NO, Christians don’t have sex.  God gives them their babies.”  They laughed and corrected me.  I maintained my position.  “Maybe when Christians kiss something happens and God gives them a baby when they are ready.”

Interesting and laughable now… it wasn’t at the time.  Lights out, time to sleep.  I wasn't convinced.  I got to stay for teen camp since my mother was working the camp.  I was an annoying kid who the older teens didn’t want around I guess.  One day, left out, I went crying back to my room.  Carol, years older than me and always full of poise and beauty came to talk to me.  As I cried into the pillow on the upper bunk, she did her best to console me.
I soon stopped crying.  She looked at me and said, Joyce, I want to talk to you about something.  She and another girl had heard our late night conversation about sex.  She told me that she once believed like I did about sex.  She told me I was wrong.  She said it was really true that you had to have sex to have a baby.  She assured me that Christians had sex.  I was embarrassed but thankful she set me straight.  I’ve never forgot how kind she was that day.  I finally knew the facts of life… Like Blaire, Tootie, Natalie and Jo, I learned the Facts of Life upstate NY.  How did you learn the facts of life?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I'm in the Lord's Army!

So much for the idea of writing about camp for a few days J … busy and stuck get in the way.  I’ve had lots of inspiration this week about other things too… but they sat, because I was going to write about camp.  Oh well, the week is nearly over.  Don’t you love the fact that every day is a do-over from the day before? 

As much as I’d like to share my thoughts about some other things, or spout off about my latest insult or discovery, I think on this quiet Saturday morning, I will write about Camp Ashford Hills.  I remembered a lot about this camp experience.  I was a Sunbeam and Captain Johnson arranged for me to go to camp.  I remember I rode in a van.  Any trip that involved my sitting in a vehicle was a big deal.  We didn’t have a car.  We were quintessential NY’ers.  We took public transportation everywhere.  It was too much expense or hassle to own a car and have to move it for street cleaning, not to mention digging it out of the snow during the winter. 

I remember the wonder of arriving at the Salvation Army Corp before the sun came up and the street lights were turned on.  As I walked with my mother the few blocks, she carrying my valies, my familiar world had a surreal feel to it.  I was in awe as Captain Johnson turned the key and waving to my mother, we started this adventure. 

Captain Johnson said good-bye.  Funny, I don’t remember any of the children who were on that van with me.  Cabin assignment completed, I found myself on an old army cot complete with a scratchy army blanket.  This army blanket had probably seen a lot of battles.  Emblazoned on the front was the familiar shield of the Salvation Army, God’s Army – soldiers of the blood and fire.  I was instructed on the art of hospital corners.  Inspection meant tight corners and a uniform bed.

I thought I could swim.  I could stay afloat in the water, I could get where I wanted without drowning, especially in a pool.  That was all my father cared about – not drowning.  As long as I could do that, I could swim.  Not at camp!  At camp I had to pass my first swimming test.  I had to tread water in the deep end for 30 seconds or I couldn’t swim.  I succeeded. 

It was green and lush at Ashford Hills.  The food wasn’t too bad.  At Salvation Army events I had already learned to tolerate bologna salad on bread.  Even bologna had to be stretched.  First you take the cheapest bologna you can find and chop it up.  Mix with mayonnaise and pickle relish and who knows what else – spread on plain white bread.  We were poor but we usually had our bologna in slices. 

The morning and evening meant chapel.  The morning sharpened our Bible knowledge.  The evening was come to Jesus time.  And of course, we had quiet time every morning.  My Bible would open and I’d read a verse or two.  I’d fold my hands and pray.  I don’t remember coming to Jesus that year.  I think the altar calls were more subdued.  Yet, the Holy Spirit was at that camp too.  Funny, how that is – funny how when people pray and expect the Holy Spirit to show up, He does.

For years I wondered where Ashford Hills was… I remembered the camp, the glistening pool, the clean mountain air – but where was this camp?  I never forgot sitting on rocks at camp and singing:
Ashford, dati, ati, ati, ati
Ashford, dati, at, ati, ati
A, S, H, F, O, R, D YEA!
Ashford Hills is the Camp for me.
I sang that song all summer long.  It the year of hand clap rhymes, like Miss Susie had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell… or Miss Mary Mack.
Ashford had no conversion experience, just Bible, clean air, and sweet memories.  I always thought it would be nice to see the camp again.  I used to think I knew where it was - that I'd driven right by it.  I thought it was tucked away off of highway 44 in the sleepy town of Ashford CT and that it was still being run by the Lads and Lassies of the Salvation Army.  But I was wrong -- I recently learned it was in Scarsdale NY.  

I found this offering on Ebay - a postcard of the pool from Ashford Hills Camp.

It was one summer, one week, imprinted with the love of Jesus.  

Did you go to camp?  
What do you remember most?