Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sunday School Bell

I walked into a large library.  The type of library you think of when you think of old men smoking cigars surrounded by books.  I spotted a comfy couch to take my place.  I was late.  My entrance was not unnoticed.  Most of the faces were familiar.  I had seen these faces weekly for years.  These faces had grieved and rejoiced with me through so many events of my life.  I found tears near the surface.  How I missed my family.  How I missed the church family who had loved me for so many years.  They were still together.  I wondered if they knew the treasure they had.  Had they lost it as I had, they would know.

I was greeted with warm smiles.  Those I didn’t know probably wondered who is this woman?  I listened to the teacher.  I thought of the first time I saw this teacher.  It was almost 30 years ago.  Where has the time gone?  His wife had died tragically.  I never knew her.  I remember so clearly sitting behind him as we worshiped in a high school auditorium.  I would think how sad it was for his beautiful young daughter to have lost her mother.  I observed how she clutched her white Bible with the zipper cover ended with a cross.  I wondered if her mother had given it to her.  I didn’t know her, but I prayed for her.

The teacher remarried; his wife, a fellow schoolteacher.  She was there this morning to help me find my place on the handout and greet me with a warm smile.  I thought I should have gotten to know her better.  As the Sunday School time concluded, she rose.  She had a bell in her hand.  Memories flooded me.  The Sunday School bell.  She made her rounds to ring the bell signaling that classes should conclude in 5 minutes.  Churches have been ringing Sunday School bells since before I was born. It seems so odd and yet so familiar and comforting.

Hugs followed the lesson.  How great to hug these necks.  I followed people to the sanctuary.  I had no idea where to go.  More warm familiar face – some with looks of shock, most with looks of delight greeted me with their hugs.  Four of those people were there the day I first walked into that church nearly 30 years ago.  Others came after me.  So many years we journeyed from building to building sharing life’s joys and sorrows.  These were the brothers and sisters who watched my children grow.  They asked about them by name.

Filling the room were an assortment of people I had never seen before.  They were diverse.  Some appeared needy.  I thought once again about the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 

The faces of the people told me that many needed freedom and were finding it in this house of love.  I saw a young man with a developmental disability waving a flag to express his worship.  I saw people of every color joining in worship.  Hugs were exchanged by people who normally would not cross paths but for the grace and mercy of God.  There had been a death that week of a young woman in the congregation.  There had been a community wide outreach including a march of 1000 people to pray for the city.  The church, still small, was mighty.

The pastor, my pastor through many trials, the pastor who I worked side-by-side serving the Kingdom- the pastor who gave me the first pulpit to preach from – saw me.  We hugged.  Later I would lead the congregation in prayer.

As I raised my hands in worship singing Holy Holy Holy, I thanked God to be home.  I thanked God that I survived all the trials that life has thrown my way since I left that holy place 10 years ago.  I thanked God that the Sunday School bell was still being rung.  I prayed God would either send me back home or give me a new home in a house of love.

As I got ready to leave a younger man who was now teaching the teens came to say hello.  He appeared to be African.  He shook my hand.  Then he said words that brought the tears again.  “I want to thank you for being part of the founding of this church and working so hard.  Because you did, I have this church for me and my children.”  I thought yes, it was because those who went before me ringing a Sunday School bell that I learned about Jesus and prepared me for taking my turn building the Kingdom in New Britain CT.  Now God had sent this man to take his turn there.

Only one life will soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Reject Button

It’s been many years ago now that I heard a man whose ministry I have always respected bellow out in a loud voice: “I hear the Lord saying, have you considered my servant Joyce.”  Oh yeah, I knew that phrase, it came from the Book of Job.  I’d been compared to Job before.  It was after a serious of very bad things that had happened.  I had been through house fires, death, disease, separation, and all manner of things.  I was almost on the other side of the Job like experience when I heard those words.

It gave me much encouragement.  He went on to say that it was God who had chosen me (thanks God) and that I had come through well because God knew I would … or something like that.  He also said that he saw me with a great ministry and writing a book. I’ve heard that prophecy about a book many times.   I listened to that tape over and over again – Have you considered my servant Joyce.  Yes, God, have You considered your servant Joyce?

Today I wish I had that tape.  I am not sure how I’d feel after all these years later listening to it.  Would it encourage me as it did so many years ago or would it just add to the feeling of discouragement I am struggling with today.   Would it seem to mock me as I wonder where this ministry is?  Okay, the book? Yes, the book – maybe that’s my fault.  However, when you are discouraged and you see no hope of a publisher in view – AND you think you’d have no way to sell the book when you are done – makes it hard to start to write the book.  I’ve written it many times in my head though – that doesn’t count I guess.

Today I am also thinking about Job.  Thanks be to God there are no huge calamities on the scene.  There are minor ones – there are always minor ones when there is a big family and lots of people whose lives are intertwined with yours.   I am actually thinking about Job’s comforters.  I think they meant well.  Like the people who are caring enough to respond to my lament on Facebook, they mean very well.  Some know me, some think they know me, most don’t really know me. 

Like Job, I am trying to be silent in response – I did say trying… I haven’t succeeded.  I do know that even the advice that rankles me comes from a heart of people who really does care in their own way.  However, when you are struggling and hurting, pat answers and platitudes, cute sayings, and even quotation of scripture, just don’t seem to help.  I need someone to sit in ashes with me for a while.

Yesterday, sometimes my logical rational brain just can’t figure out what to do.  The frustration mounds.  Indecision is often worse than the consequences of a decision.  I finally made one.  Made one that I didn’t like but that seemed logically and rationally best.  It wasn’t best for my heart though.  My heart wanted something else. 
In response to the denying of my heart, I got reply concerning my decision.  It probably wasn’t as harsh as I read it but it crushed me.  It crushed my spirit, it crushed my hope.  If I told you what it was – you’d say, oh, that’s really nothing – or you’d tell me God has another plan, or God has a window, or God this or that. 

I want God’s window – I’d love to find it and fly out of it and soar like an eagle.  But I can’t find the window.  I can’t find a door that is open.  I am tired of rejection.  That big reject button I have got pushed once again sending shock waves of self-doubt through my soul.  The tears have fallen.  My dog has licked my tears and stayed very close to me. 

Today is a new day.  I need to find a way to bury that reject button.  But it’s there.  Job’s comforters inadvertently push it as well.  I know they mean well.  I know they think they are helping but the truth is, I just need what my dog is giving me – a little TLC.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid

I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday.  She’s one of those friends that pops in and out of my life.  I’d like it if we were closer friends, but it’s just the way it is.

She had called while I was in Florida.  One of my daughters has been accepted at a law school in Florida.  I’m so proud of her.  Of course, I’m proud of all of them.  I have three daughters who have chosen the law profession.  I am sure there is somewhat of a glass ceiling in the law profession.  However, with three women sitting on the Supreme Court, that’s one-third of the court, I think the glass ceiling is at least cracked. 

I returned her call on the long drive back.  We caught up in various ways.  She has been in ministry.  She has been ordained.  I think she has pastored.  If not, she has been involved in pastoral ministry.  She is scholarly and has a firm theological foundation.  She has had a hard time finding her place as far as worship and ministry opportunities.  I certainly can relate to that!  Our conversations often wander into our theological pursuits and ministry opportunities.

I was shocked at our conversation yesterday.  The contrast between a daughter, a female, a girl, beginning her law education with no barriers because of her gender and listening to this friend’s changing opinion concerning women in ministry gave me mental whiplash. 

I listened to her.  I didn’t criticize or debate with her.  I believe in letting everyone decide things for themselves.  I knew she’d been doing a lot of reading.  I knew she had previous said she had a call to ministry.  But now, in the process of exploring a new denominational home for herself, has concluded that women don’t belong in ministry.  In some kind of logic I can't follow, she said that only churches with male leadership and that exclude women have good preaching.  She said that the churches where women are allowed to preach do not have good preaching.

She did however, comfort me by saying she didn’t think it was a sin to go into ministry as a woman OR that a church having a woman pastor was not a sin.

I thought, HUH?  I thought about how Jesus empowered and included women in ministry.  He chose them to be the first evangelists proclaim Christ is Risen.  They were at the day of Pentecost.  I thought of Priscilla – did you know some scholars believe that Priscilla may have written the book of Hebrews?  I don’t know if that’s true but it’s an interesting thing to mull over.  I thought about how Jesus is the normative norm that trumps all – therefore, why aren’t we including women in ministry?  I love my friend but I thought:  what Kool-Aid have you been drinking?  With the glass ceiling still so high in theological and religious circles, why in the world are we still having these conversations?  I think one of the reason is that women are afraid to follow their calls and they – yes, drink the Kool-Aid.

Then today, I read this blog.  Ahhh, thank you Sister!  People occasionally challenge me concerning my call to ministry.  They question whether a woman – even though we have women doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc., should be following this call and if it could possibly be genuine.  I probably could get into scholar debate with them – but I don’t.  They don’t want to hear it anyway.  What I say as nicely as I know how – God called me, I know that – I have no doubts – and since He called me, if you have a problem with it, take it up with Him.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


It was hot yesterday.  It’s been hot a lot these days.  It is summer in the mid-south.  Humidity coats the windows every morning.  The garden is lush but slowing because of the heat.  Yesterday, as I left to go to the store, my rearview mirror was loose.  It’s an American car.  Therefore the mirror is glued to the windshield rather than screwed into the frame.  Why American cars do this, I don’t know. 

I tried to push it back into the glue spot.  It wouldn’t hold.  Next thing I knew, it was in my hands.  I couldn’t drive without looking in my mirror.  I found some super glue and fixed it myself.  Now I could see behind me and in front of me. 

Life is sort of like that.  Going forward is the goal.  Watching the cars and obstacles in front of you is most important.  Yet, you need to be able to look back with clarity.  

At the end of day I had on talk radio as I returned home.  I was listening to Plain Jane Wisdom.  I’ve mentioned this show before.  I suppose I would call Kim and Devon friends.  They are Facebook friends.  However, the reality is they are barely acquaintances.  Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to hear the show.  It’s on at a bad time for me so I rarely catch it.

I don’t want to quote them since I know I can’t remember exactly what was said.  It can be argued that I misunderstood.  The question was posed to a male guest.  They asked something about what the Bible says is our responsibility to the poor.  The guest struggled with an answer.  Perhaps he wasn’t qualified to answer it.  From there the conversation went to typical conservative talk.  Welfare people want to collect a check and do nothing was the general theme.

I started looking in the rearview mirror of my own life.  I thought of all the times people would have labeled me.  I was on welfare.  I got food stamps.  I got commodity food.  I lived in a section 8 trailer and then advanced to the projects.  I was never lazy.  I never had this “sense of entitlement” that some folks throw around like a badge of shame.  I even looked up entitlement – you should too – I’ll make it easy for you, check this out.  It’s legal.  Social security is an entitlement that I think most of us feel belongs to us because we paid into it and would not want it taken away from our elders.  And here is a vocab word for you – pejorative – when you say “sense of entitlement” you are labeling “those” people in a negative way.

I wanted to call the show.  I wanted to counter the woman who talked about how her mother back in the 50’s didn’t have assistance and she made it as a single parent.  I also wanted to counter the comments about eating possum.  Come on… I wonder how when I was a single mother living in the projects would I have gone and shot a squirrel or possum to eat.  I did eat squirrel once but I certainly had no way to obtain it fresh.

I remember standing in long lines in the heat of a dog-days of a Missouri August to get some clothes for my kids to start school with.  I remember the stares and glares of people as I took out my food stamps to pay for our food.  It’s easy to assume and criticize when you don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.

The welfare system has changed since I was in/on it. I am all for helping people find meaningful employment.  But had that been the case when I was choosing whether to clean toilets for the rest of my life, or be a professional, I’d probably still be cleaning toilets and have never contributed to society the way I have.

And my kids?  I have children who are contributing – need a lawyer?  I got several.  Need a doctor? In a few years, I’ll have one.  Need an artist? I got one.  Need a skilled carpenter to build your house?  I got two.  Need an engineer?  In a year, I’ll have one.  None of that would have happened if there wasn’t an “entitlement” program that I could legally access and get through school.

In May 2013 when my doctoral hood is placed on my shoulders, the former welfare mom will be further equipped for the work of the ministry, which is: 
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  Luke 4:18

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some wounds heal better than others

I have a lot of eggplants in the garden.  The heat seems to be slowing them down right now but for a while, they were coming fast and furious.  The eggplant has a pretty flower.  I’ve really enjoyed watching it grow from a seedling to a mature producing plant.  Of course, when you have bounty in the garden, you have to be creative in your cooking or storing of the produce.

I am an excellent cook.  I don’t like to say I’m excellent at this or that because I was taught to not talk about myself.  As I’ve mentioned many times in this blog, I have a pretty low self-esteem in general.  Mentioning what I do with excellence may sound like I like to brag, if you think that, you don’t know me well.  I really do have a problem with seeing myself as doing anything really well.  However, recently, after therapy and prayer, I have realized that yes, I do some things very well.  Cooking is one of them.

I’ve made grilled eggplant, eggplant parmesan, eggplant casserole, eggplant Pakistani style, and my favorite, eggplant pizza.  Here is a picture of it:

I even asked my husband if he was getting tired of eggplant.  He said no.  He loves the stuff.  For me, it is an acquired taste.  My mother hated squash and eggplant.  My father, being Norwegian, wasn’t too keen on them either.  I never remember having them at home.  I just assumed that the hate eggplant/squash gene was passed on to me as well.  It wasn’t.  I love the stuff.

As much as we love it, there are only two of us for the abundance of eggplant.  They don’t preserve well.  The best I’ve found is to make eggplant pickles.  I have several jars in my pantry now.  Honestly, I wonder if we’ll even eat them.  We aren’t a pickle family.  Nevertheless, I didn’t throw them away right from the garden.  Hmmm, if I throw away the pickles is that just as bad?  Oh well, at least I can say I tried.  And in case you are wondering, we gave a bunch away too.

I bought a new mandolin for slicing and dicing.  I have a food processor but that doesn’t do well for slicing.  Ever trying to be perfect, I thought it would be good to slice my eggplants on the mandolin.  I would have nice uniform slices to pickle.  I sliced one eggplant, then another.  This was going good.  Occasionally I’d have to remove a stuck slice.  I was careful.  The blade of an mandolin is very sharp. 

I picked up the third eggplant.  It was long and thin.  I sliced half of it.  Carefully I removed the stuck eggplant and started with the last half.  It was the fatter side of the eggplant.  I grabbed it with my fingers.  As I sliced the first slice, I felt it.  That sting you get when you have a paper cut, the one that brings tears to your eyes.  It took a while for my brain to register that this was NOT a paper cut.  As the blood poured down my wrist I looked at my thumb.  

OMG… I grabbed a towel nearby.  I held it tight.  Direct pressure.  The blood didn't stop.  Pebbles, our Chihuahua, started to whimper.  The smell of the blood and the look on my face set off her compassion and sympathy response.

I went to the living room to sit down on the couch.  The dog jumped beside me.  The towel was soaking with blood.  I was sick to my stomach.  I started to cry.  I don’t know if it was pain, or just emotion that caused me to cry.  I was glad Pebbles was there.  She comforted me in an odd sort of way.  It was like she understood. 

That was a week ago.  The jars of pickled eggplant are in the pantry.  My thumb, which bled all day, is now mostly healed.  I can couldn’t dress myself for a few days, I can now do that.  There are still a few things I don’t want to do with that thumb for fear of pain.  It looks good though. 

As I was looking at it this morning deciding to bandage and Neosporin or not, I thought it would be really nice if all wounds were like my thumb.  It was terribly painful.  It shock me to the core even though it was a relatively small although very deep cup.  But it’s healed.  In a few more days, other than a scar that has been minimized by the diligent application of Neosporin, it will just be a memory and a story.  I’ll get the mandolin out but use the guard next time. 

Emotional wounds are not like that.  It seems they never really heal.  Words, looks, and even smells release the flood of pain once again.  They are always there; ready to be opened up again.  Oh, they get better with time.  Time does not heal all wounds. When they flood over me I'll call Pebbles by my side for physical comfort and pray to Jesus to heal my wounds.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Keep Focus

My son took a motorcycle class this weekend.  I was proud of him.  It stretched him physically, and emotionally.  I was also in awe of what God has done.  If you haven’t read the story of his birth, you should.  It starts here as part of the Grace Street series on this blog.  Start here and keep reading forward.  He shouldn’t be able to do all the things he does.  He is a miracle!

He finished his first year of Medical School with excellence!  Now he can drive a motorcycle.  He inspires me.  If you want to do something, go for it!  Try it! But he shared another lesson with me when he was telling me all the details about his motorcycle class experience.

If you ride, you probably know this.  I don’t ride.  Heck, I can’t even ride a bicycle.  Yes I am one of the handful of people in this world who never learned to ride a bike.  I’m balance challenged .  J 

After hours of classwork to assure a knowledge base, he sat on the bike early on Saturday morning.  I can imagine he was thrilled.  It was going to be a long hot day.  First, they walked the bike.  Then they turned the key.  The power of the engine must have spiked the adrenalin rush.  250 cc’s of motorcycle power was in his hands.

I imagine that since he had balance, the straight line driving was not difficult.  But nothing is ever a truly straight line.  I became aware of that in South Dakota.  I realized that in God’s creation, God doesn’t like straight lines.  People do – we love things to move in an orderly straight fashion.  In God’s world, He doesn’t plan nor lead His people in a straight line.  

You can read more about that here.

The coach told the new motorcycle riders some very important information.  When you are going into a curve, don’t look at the curve.  Don’t look at the bike either.  Just look at where you want to go.  Look to the end of the curve. 

I don’t know exactly how he felt as he took his first curve.  I can’t imagine how he felt, even with a sense of balance, when the motorcycle leaned nearly to the ground so he could maneuver that curve.  I would have been terrified.  I would have never attempted it.  But following the coaches advice, he looked at where he was going, not where he was, not where he had been, not the vehicle that was taking him there, but where he was going.

I think that’s very good advice for a lot of things.  Think about it.  I think when we hit a curve we are tempted to focus on the curve.  We worry and stress – at least I do!  We wonder if we’ll make it.  We wonder if we’ll tip the bike over in that curve.  When we focus on those things we make maneuvering the curve not only difficult but sometime impossible. 

There is another temptation in the curve.  It is looking past the curve.  If you look too far down the road, you lose your perspective.  You think of all the other obstacles that might come your way.  Maneuvering the curves in life are not easy.  Life’s curves are harder than riding a motorcycle – even though I think that’s pretty difficult.  But focus on the end of the curve as you enter it and though you may lean and almost touch the ground, you’ll get there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An American Fourth

Mine is a unique American story.  I am the daughter of an immigrant and the wife of an immigrant.  I have two son in laws that are immigrants.  As a child, I would climb the many steps to the crown of the Statute of Liberty.  I failed to ask my dad how he felt when he first saw the majesty of that monument. Nevertheless, I can imagine that as a young sailor, she spoke to him.  He came as a Norwegian sailor who never went back.  The immigrant experience is my story.

I left the cocoon of my Norwegian surroundings when I started school.  However, with the exception of my dearest BFF Barbara who was Italian and a couple of other girls on the block, my exposure to non-Norwegians was limited.  One summer, I decided to attend Sunday School at another church during the summer.  It led to our leaving our Norwegian church and attending Calvary Tabernacle.  No longer did my ear hear the hymns in slower tones accentuated with W’s pronounced as V’s and Jesus was Jesus, not Yeesus.  The Italian song leader with the long Italian name would wave his arms as he led us in praises to God.  The cacophony of sounds brought to life the hymn O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.  It seemed we were in heaven where every tongue and tribe were confessing that Jesus is Lord.

This weekend we traveled to the Northeast to visit family.  We enjoyed America’s favorite past time at the ball field in New Britain, aka, New Britski.  The announcer flawlessly commented on a child in the stands, his or her name was filled with w, z, k, and I’s.  My grandson, a mixture of several ethnicities shouted out “Play Ball!” and later read names and stats from the press box.  We ate breakfast with newly arrived Polish immigrants at our hotel in New Britski – they looked like “regular” Americans but they spoke their native tongue.  Such is America!

On this weekend, the Fourth of July weekend, I thought about immigrants.  On the Fourth, I sat in a mall food court.  It was not your traditional picnic with watermelon, burgers, hot dogs, and potato salad.  Oh, I had a hot dog, not because it was the Fourth, but because I love Nathan’s hot dogs.  Mine were slightly charred and had a snap when I bit into it. I so wanted to indulge myself with kraut and mustard but I opted for just some spicy brown mustard.  I only wish the sound of the ocean was in the background, the smell of salt air was mingled with the smells of the boardwalk, and the sound of the carousel tickling my ears.

My husband asked me where the “real” Americas were.  There was every shade of color, little English was heard, even the American looking couple were speaking Polish, or German, or some Eastern European language.  Later that evening, a young mother, probably of Indian origin was singing to her baby in a slight minor key, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I smiled. It was a symbol of the mix of cultures.  It was a fitting symbol of America.

In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, at a mall in New Jersey, at an Indian restaurant, or walking on shore line, I thought about the words of Emma Lazarus that are inscribed on the base of the Statue:

" Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I am proud to be an American.  
I am proud that our country still has a golden door of opportunity open for all.