Sunday, September 25, 2011

A New Home

I officially became a member of a local church this morning.  It was a decision a long time in coming.  Perhaps all my life has prepared me for this - it wasn't that big of a deal ... really... and yet for me it seems significant.  It seems like one of those moments that I'll look back on and say - hmmm, that was milestone event.

I remember the first time I became a member of a local church.  I was 13.  I was actually too young by many standards.  That church had strict rules about everything.  They were Norwegian - Norwegian and rules and order often go hand in hand.  I had spent my 13th birthday in the hospital.  I knew I had committed my life to following Christ.  I had been filled with the Spirit.  I made my petition to the church elders to let me be baptized. I wasn't interested so much in becoming a member of the church but once they baptized you, you were a member.  The question for them was not so much about whether I was eligible for baptism but whether I was eligible to be a member.  In a surprising move, they decided to baptize me and make me a member of the church.  The youngest person up to that time to be baptized.  

The church had built a beautiful baptistery a short time before.  It had a flowing picture of the Jordan for emphasis. The heavy drapes were pushed back, the tank filled, and down I went into the water.  An older woman in the church was assigned to help me with getting prepared and she dried my hair when I was done.  Much to the chagrin of all concerned, I didn't stay in the prayer room long enough that night.  I went for ice cream at Helbergs with the "young people."  I was 13.

When we left that church a year later, I became a "junior member" of the next church - their rules were different.  When we moved to Missouri, after wandering to find a church, we settled on First Assembly under the leadership of the Rev. Charles Parker.  I married that first year at the ripe age of 16.  If you haven't read my story, click here.  

I had a problem with their rules.  Their rules required I sign a covenant card that said I wouldn't wear sleeveless dresses or pants (pants were men's attire), go to movies, play cards, smoke, drink, or mixed bath - the mixed bathing was my favorite.  It meant I wouldn't swim at the same time as members of the opposite sex. I probably forgot something but nevertheless, I didn't want to sign the card.  My husband was being welcomed as a member.  Brother Parker came to me on the second row where we always sat and suggested I become a member too.  I said, but I haven't signed the covenant card.  He said, you can do that later.  Later never came.  I was hugged and given the right hand of fellowship anyway.

I've been member of a few other churches since then.  All of them have been one or another type of Pentecostal/Assembly of God/Charismatic church.  Today I was welcomed as a member of a United Methodist Church.  It was odd how right it seemed.  

When the Pastor called my name and asked me to come to the front to help serve the Lord's Table, I fought back tears.  No one knew what was going inside of me.  I hide things well.  I was humbled to think that I had a place.  I had a place at God's table not just to receive but to serve.  As each person came by and dipped the Body and I said "the blood of Christ" - joy of inclusion overtook me.  God's arms are always open because of the broken Body and shed Blood of Jesus, the Christ.

I don't know what God is up to - I do know I'm doing my best to follow Christ.  

This has been an interesting week - the hint of a job, a new church home, and commissioning as the new Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator for the National Day of Prayer Task Force.  I was humbled at the prayer summit.  I wondered how I got there... and yet, it seemed so right.  I raised my hands in surrender to all God had for me to do - I received the blessing and the anointing for this assignment.  As I said "I Will" this morning to pledge myself again to the cause of Christ and accept God's call to work in His vineyard through the United Methodist Church it just seemed so right.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the Leash

We have a sweet little dog - her name is Pebbles. She's really not my dog, she belongs to our daughter.  However, of late, she's pretty attached to me and me to her.  She may just be a sweet little chihuahua - and YES, some chihuahua's can be sweet... but she teaches me a lot.

I remember reading a book one time about worship.  The author compared the dog's attention and focus on it's master to what it is to worship. It was a pretty good analogy.  I think of it often when my dog is all over me wanting attention.

But there is something more about God, spiritual things, and life that Pebbles teaches me.  Today as I was walking her in the yard I was thinking about the leash.  Sometimes I'd like to just let her off the leash and let her run free.  But I can't.  It is really too dangerous for her to run free.  We have neighbor dogs and she was attacked by one before - we don't have a lot of traffic but as small as she is... and then I worry if she'd go chasing something in the woods and get hurt.  Besides, she has never run free in the yard.  

I wondered if she liked the leash.  I wondered if it made her feel secure.  She's pretty obedient so if I yank on the leash and say come on, let's go in - she understands and obeys. Once, she didn't and insisted on going to one of the open areas near the house - she was right... she had "business to attend to" and I was rushing her.  Otherwise, she always listens.

It made me think about how God sort of has us on a leash. I think we think we are wise enough to run free but in reality, we aren't.  We have to trust that God knows our limits, knows what is safe for us, and trust the leash.  I don't know about you but that's awfully hard for me sometimes.

Right now, she has nuzzled her way between under my arm.  She is nuzzled there while I type - she just wants to be close to me... she knows I love her, care for her, and would never hurt her.  Because of that, she welcomes the leash... 

Jesus told us in Matthew 11 
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  
I think that Pebbles rests easy with the leash, she knows she's safe.  I think it is the same with Jesus - submitting to His leash keeps us safe.

Do you feel safe when you wear Jesus' leash?  I do...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Malla Moe, Tante Ruth, and Saturday Chores

Saturday morning after cereal out of a box while watching Popeye, Dudley Do-Right, Yogi, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Bugs Bunny, I’d go to the kitchen.  Under the sink were the dust clothes to be used for my weekly chore of dusting.  I must have been in the First Grade at PS94 when my mother and father told me it was time to work.  I was part of the family and my contribution was necessary.  No more free handouts of money for candy.  I had to earn my money.

Every week I would move the white elephant planter, the amber vase, the candy dish with candy for company only, and the furniture scarves to complete my job of dusting.  For my labor, I received 50¢.  Candy bars were only 5¢, for that same 5¢ I could get three long pretzel rods or a candy necklace, some wax lips or even a box of candy cigarettes.  If I chose the latter I’d have to consume them all before I got home.  Sugary candy cigarettes were forbidden.  I might end up smoking.

I still have that white elephant planter and the amber vase.  What I’d like to have is the scarves.  They spoke so much of our world.  Someone in my mother’s family had made a few crocheted ones.  There were several from Norway that said “Hilsen Fra Norge.  As I'd flip them over, the stitches were as good on the back side as the front - a sign of good embroidery work.  And then there was the one from Swaziland.  Combined, these scarves told part of the story of our family.  

Norway was always represented, we prayed in Norwegian, we sometimes sang in Norwegian, we ate Norwegian food.  Everywhere I went I heard Norwegian.  Hilsen fra Norge didn’t seem so far away. 

We saw my mother’s relatives at least once a year.  I feasted on such odd delights as pickled eggs and beets, Armatha’s amazing mashed potatoes and roast beef, we drank root beer that tasted so much better than Brooklyn’s, rode in cars, and went to see the battlefield at Gettysburg.  One year, we even toured the original Hershey chocolate factory where they actually MADE the chocolate bars I loved.  For months, I dreamed of swimming in those vats of chocolate.  Long before Willy Wonka, I was dreaming of the chocolate factory.

But Swaziland?  That was in Africa.  On this simple furniture scarf were several lion cloth clad warriors with spears.  While they didn’t look too intimidating, I’d always think of Tarzan movies that I would watch on TV on a Saturday afternoon.  I wondered when was the last time they used their spear?  Was it to kill a person or an animal?  As I’d move the scarf, I’d think of my Tante Ruth.  I had never met her.  But she was very real in our house – it was if she was always there.

Tante Ruth was actually my cousin, but since she was so much my elder, she was always Tante Ruth.  My father’s niece was a missionary.  For 30 years, she labored in South Africa.  She was sent from a mission board in Norway to spread the gospel.  Several times a year, my father would gather all the religious material in our house, including my Sunday School papers and quarterlies, roll them, cover them with brown paper, tie a string on either end to secure it and off it would go to Africa.  He would tell me that I was a missionary too.
My parents often talked of missions and missionaries.  My mother took me to roll bandages and help with packing missionary barrels.  One year, a book was given to me to read.  The title: “Malla Moe.  I thought it an odd book and an odd title. All I could think about was Mallo Cups from the candy store.  Malla Moe was Norwegian and a missionary for 55 years to Africa.  She died in Africa.  Her story told of hardship, long treks in the bush, sacrifice, and love for Jesus.  Heaven will only reveal how many people came to Christ because of her.  I wondered if my Tante Ruth dealt with such hardships.

Sometimes on Saturday afternoon, as we did some shopping on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, we’d hear music.  It was a Street Meeting being conducted by the local Salvation Army Corp.  There she was, Girly Johnsen – Captain Johnsen, then Major Johnsen in her bonnet and uniform.  She was preaching the gospel on the street.  She was asking people to come to the Corp worship service to hear more.  She’d be preaching on Sunday morning as she was the commanding officer of that Corp.  I saw a picture of her recently and it made me weep.  She was bigger than life to me, the strongest of the strong, revered by my dad, a role model for a little girl who loved Jesus.

I suppose it never really occurred to me that as a girl, as a woman, I couldn’t preach the gospel.  Recently, I have been told again that preaching is for men only.  Does this mean that these great women of faith, who suffered hardship to spread the gospel to the neediest of people were sinning? Were the people who came to Christ through their efforts charmed and deceived by a woman only to meet with a fate of damnation in eternity?  Or is it only “Western educated men” who can’t hear the gospel from a woman?  It’s okay for simple heathen but the educated heathen need a man to lead… 

I know the scripture better than most.  I understand the arguments.  But from my perspective, there are a lot of people who need Jesus – those that know Him and those that don’t – they need encouragement and love.  They need the gospel.  I’m following in the footsteps of giants – Malla Moe, Tante Ruth, and Major Girly Johnsen.  It’s a call I’ve had since I was dusting furniture in Brooklyn.  Nothing will stop me.

Maybe I'll go dust that white elephant planter and amber vase.  I need to be reminded of strong women who didn't bow to the culture but bowed only to God, His will and His call.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Don’t call me Christian

Okay, before you freak out and drop to your knees to pray for my soul, read on.  It’s funny this journey we are on as believers.  Sometimes, God brings you through things so you can see things more clearly.  I’ve been on that type of journey.

Since the Gospel was first preached in Antioch, disciples have been called Christians.  It’s been a useful term over the centuries – however, it’s been so sullied with the acts of those who call themselves Christians that it has developed a bad reputation.

I don’t ever remember a time I didn’t love Jesus.  I don’t ever remember a time I didn’t pray.  I don’t ever remember a time that I was an “unbeliever.”  Oh there was the two weeks in High School when I wondered if there really was a God.  In Biology we learned about the reproduction, and the development of a fetus – that did it for me… There had to be a God.  That couldn’t just happen by chance.  I was sure that some intelligent Creator devised that plan.

Recently, I’ve been church-less.  A lamentable situation for sure… There are plenty of churches, so I really have no excuse.  When I was in South Dakota, I sort of had an excuse.  We traveled and we were gone over the weekend.  Whether that was a reason or an excuse, it eased any guilt I had.

Since coming back to Tennessee, my exploration for a new church home has opened my eyes to what it’s like to be an outsider.  Several times, I’ve been in churches, like the ones I’ve spent most of my life in.  They like altar calls.  They want to make sure you’re saved.  You know, come to the altar, say the words, and receive Jesus.  Okay, I’m not knocking that all together but when you sit there and you know that you are the reason they are making that altar call exceptionally long – don’t want you to leave there, have a car accident, die, and go to Hell… I am sure they are well intentioned, but it’s offensive.  Even if I were a heathen, it’s still offensive.  It makes you feel like an outsider.

I’ve gone a very few times to the Roman Catholic church with my daughter.  They don’t do altar calls.  It’s a very predictable, orderly, and solemn experience.  However, at my granddaughter's baptism, I was looked at with disdain by a Knight who wanted to know ARE YOU CATHOLIC?  I respect that they don’t want me to receive Eucharist but somehow, it seems so exclusionary.  They file past me and stare... It makes you feel like an outsider.  

I’ve visited a few other places.  Some worth a retry, some not…  Most didn’t make me feel really welcome.  Most made me feel like an outsider. 

In these outsider experiences, there is one constant.  All of these folks love Jesus just like I do.  Yet they set up barriers for me to feel welcome.  This seems to be a problem with being a Christian.  We have our rules.  We have our subsets of rules and we just like things the way we like them.  We are very good at keeping the outsider out.  My daughter said it well, "can't we go to church and hear what's right instead of what we are against?" Somehow, Christianity and exclusion, self-righteousness, and elitism have become synonymous.  I don't want that label - I want to be seen more like Jesus - loving, open, caring, full of grace and mercy. 

Now that God has let me see what it is to be an outsider, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be called a Christian – it just smacks of all the Pharisaical self-righteousness I have experienced of late.  The Gospel doesn’t create barriers.  It says “whosoever.”  Jesus went to the sinners and outsiders with love, acceptance, grace, and mercy.  I’m following Jesus. 

I’m not opposed to the organized church.  I’ll find one – soon too!  I know I need to be in fellowship and have repented of my laziness.  But a Christian and all that represents to those on the outside?  

No, I’d rather just be known as a Jesus follower.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Recovered Treasure

My grandmother’s box has been found.  The look on my face was akin to seeing someone raised from the dead.  My grandmother’s box – a redwood rosemaling box from Norway.

I don’t know for sure if it really was my grandmothers.  That’s the story I’ve always been told.  I do know that it is old.  I do know that it is from Norway.  I do know that it has been in our family forever.

As a kid, it stored pictures.  It was full of all sorts of odd and assorted pictures.  I would take it down and go through each picture.  I’d annoy my mother with questions about those I couldn’t recognize.  There were the usual assortment of black and whites of children of friends, wedding pictures, pastor’s and their families – just an odd assortment.  Usually important pictures were stored in an album.  Oh how I wish I had those albums. 

So many things from my past are gone.  Too many moves, a house fire, carelessness, etc., have left me with very few items from the past.  I thought my grandmother’s box was gone forever too.  I would sometimes think of it and wonder.  Could it still be in Connecticut?  No, I know we brought it with us to Tennessee.  Did careless workers throw it out at the farm?  I didn’t know.

No it’s been in my daughter’s closet. 

She’d come home and was cleaning out her old room.  As I went to see her progress, I looked up.  There it was.  It was on a shelf in her closet.  My mouth fell open.  She looked a bit embarrassed.  I gasped: my grandmother’s box!!  She said: yes.  With a tear in my eye I said: I thought it was gone forever.  She said: no, it’s been here.
The platter to her China set and her salad bowl

It was an awkward moment.  I didn’t know whether to take it or not.  I didn’t know if she had taken it for sentimental value.  I didn’t know what it meant to her.  I just was so relieved it was safe.  As she took it down and gave it to me, she explained.  Grandma gave it to me.  I said: it wasn’t Grandma’s to give.  Grandma had discarded so many things that I still held, like her mother’s serving bowl, the salad set she got when she married my father, a few pieces of her tea set also a wedding present 74 years ago, a few pieces of her “good china.”  So few treasures of the past, all precious, but a scan representation of my past.
three of my mother's "good" china plates

74 years old glass salad set given as wedding present to my parents
She scattered some things to my brother.  A brother who never honored her in life holds pieces of her life.  He has her autograph album sharing her conversion story and that of her closest friends.  He has my father’s bible where he wrote his family history and his conversion story.  I do have my mother’s bible though – I treasure it and have honored their faith by making it my own.  Now, my grandmother’s rosemaling box was back with me. 

I don’t care why my mother gave it to my daughter.  As I lovingly held it again and memories of being my daddy’s lille venn flooded over me, I promised her that the box was hers when I died.  Until then, it is now where I can see it – it’s next to the Norwegian dishes and Norwegian flag. 

So much of my life has been fragmented.  I feel so disconnected from my past.  Too many moves… too much distance… but I have my grandmother’s box from Norway. 

It reminds me of the parable of the lost coin, Luke 15:8-10.  Maybe I should have swept more often but in cleaning her room, my daughter unearthed a treasure for me - God knew where that treasure was - He knew.  He knew my heart longed to see it and hold it again.  But the greatest treasure in my life is the faith my parents gave me - that is the treasure that cannot be lost.  Jesus is the treasure that is held in my earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 2)- it is a treasure that was given to me by my mother and dad - 

My grandmother's box reminds me that the treasure, the treasure of Jesus has come down through the generations - it is now mine to preserve and pray for my children and grandchildren.  I think my grandmother's box should now be a prayer box. In it, I should put pictures of my children and grandchildren.  Pictures that remind me to pray that one day, they'll hold the same treasure of Jesus in their hearts.

Friday, September 2, 2011

God created Fall because He loves me...

What's not to love about Autumn?

I thank God daily. I'm especially thankful in the Fall of the year because I live in one of the most visually stunning places on the planet...the Appalachian Mountains.

Having lived away from my hometown for the better part of nine years, I don't think I take for granted the annual picturesque moments when the leaves change colors. A simple Saturday afternoon drive with the windows down taking in the vibrant colors and crisp air of late October is the best therapy I know. My head becomes flooded with memories for long ago, as well as, not so long ago.

Fall means football! A sport that has been a part of my life in some fashion for over forty years. I started playing the game on an organized level when I was only five years old. Today, my Thursday through Monday has an element of football involved at some point in the day from September until January. I love it!

Fall means harvesting. As the growing season winds down, the bounty pours in to my home as homegrown produces are canned and prepared to hold over to the next growing season. Peppers, tomatoes, green beans and more are all plentiful and fresh. Another blessing from God.

All three of my girls were born in the Fall. The oldest celebrates her birthday on the first day of the new season, while the other two follow the first weeks of November and December. We truly celebrate Autumn in our home with birthday parties and family gatherings. The warmth of being with those you love always offsets the chill that arrives with shorter days of daylight. The kids play in the yard dressed in sweatshirts, pants and hats until their noses get a little red, then we retire inside for relief found in cups of hot chocolate complete with marshmallows.

I read more in the Fall finding my own comfort in lounging clothes while under a blanket with a good book. My wife and I enjoy watching several television shows together, so Fall brings a certain level of anticipation as a new season premiers and get started. Plus I'll admit...I'm a sucker for the old classics seen in the season like Charlie Brown once again trying his best to kick that stinking football. What a blockhead!

Tennessee has the benefit of four distinct seasons, and it's very easy to know at any given time about where our planet is located in its annual-long trip around the Sun. Since I love cool weather but not necessarily cold weather, Fall and Spring have always been to my liking. But all things considered...Fall is my favorite. I can't quite explain why, but I feel just a little closer to my Father then too. Chalk it up to sincere appreciation for His blessing called Autumn.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gotcha Covered

It's been an interesting morning already... I slept late.  A load of laundry has been started.  The dog has been walked.  Sliced some of the amazing Rye Bread I made the other day, smeared it with butter, and have had some coffee - not enough, but I've had some... There is never enough coffee.

Just a normal day - except....

As I turned on my iPhone this morning, I always turn it completely off at night -my husband's phone is on all night for emergencies - as the Apple disappeared I saw a picture.  Pictures!  Pictures of my grandchildren in Connecticut off to their first day of school.  I don't say much ... most people don't realize how much I wish I could see my grandchildren more often.  I get to see two of them that live in TN but the others - hardly ever :(.  When pictures come, they light up my day.

They look so big.  Is it possible that the oldest girl is finishing Middle School and will be off to High School next year?  She is... I am hoping now to be there for her Middle School graduation.  Why does my family have to be so fragmented by distance?!

Then I looked - another text... HUH?  I don't recognize this number?  It was from an Indiana area code.  The message read:

On my way 2 work.  new number. Bill's gone 4 good.  Locks changed.  Love u! Mary

I didn't know a Bill or Mary.  Obviously, a wrong number.   But was it?

Here is how the conversation went from there...

Me: Wrong number
Mary: So sorry
Me: No problem.  Stay safe sounds like u need good wishes and prayers
Mary: God's on my side. Thank u
Me: He is on all our sides and u randomly sent this to a woman who prays and who has had God help her through and out of abuse so I am praying for you.  I know this is odd.
Mary: God had a reason 4 me contacting u.  Thank u so much.
Me: Yep god wants to remind u that He's got this
Mary: Thank u 4 ur kindness.  God bless.

Mary's message came in at 5:35 a.m. She probably wondered why the person this was intended for didn't reply.  Hours go by - maybe she wondered if anyone cared?  At 8:50 a.m., 3 hours later, I replied.  It was a God thing.  I could have ignored it.  I could have silently prayed for her but still ignored it.  I didn't.  I saw a woman in pain.  I knew a God who cared.  I knew I couldn't ignore it.  I'm glad I didn't.

God's got Mary covered.  Made me think,

I guess God's got all my troubles covered too.  

I'll never meet Mary this side of heaven.  But I've been connected to her because God loves her.  The same God who loves her, loves me, loves you... He is on "all of our sides."

                 No, God....