Monday, October 31, 2011

Here I Am, Lord

I am continuing to learn what it means to be a Methodist.  I have become at home with the Methodist. It is the group that I have chosen to fellowship in community with – it is where my spiritual journey has taken me. 

Last night, I went to my first “Charge Conference.” For those of you, like me, who have no idea what that is, it is sort of like their “annual business meeting.”  I’ve been to a whole lot of business meetings. I’ve served as a trustee.  I’ve served in some unofficial capacity of reminding the pastor to get ready for the annual business meeting.  I’ve typed the reports and compiled them.  I’ve taken minutes and participated in more business meetings than I care to remember.

I’ve seen a lot of dispute at business meetings in church basements.  Questions, concerns, legitimate or not… on and on they went for hours.  Pontificating members with grandiose ideas in conflict with pompous members who had better ideas marred the meetings.  Negative members would lament and decry where the church was – positive members would quote scripture in some fanciful versions of “positive thinking.”  All meant well – all had agendas. Alas, they were usually not agendas born of the Holy Spirit.

I’d like to know the origin of the name “Charge Conference.”  I do know we heard a good charge from the District Superintendent.  The DS, a female with an easy style that made you want to have coffee with her and discuss theology and life, gave a charge on the Great Commission.  At times she sounded like a schoolteacher asking us what the action verbs were – or helping us remember what the Great Commission might be.  Her words were inspiring; her energy contagious.

The tedium of reports is always necessary at a business meeting.  They were minimal.  Unlike other meetings where they lament the inability to give their pastor adequate compensation, they offered their faithful servant a raise.  Unlike many business meetings of my past, worship was sweet as we sang and prayed.  The prayers were not just to bless the time together and the decisions, but both formal prayers of thanksgiving and informal prayers of remembrance were offered. 

It was those informal thanksgiving prayers of remembrance that touched my soul.  I didn’t know the people whose names were no longer on the membership roll of the church.  Their residence was now in the presence of God.  The church collectively and individually remembered them.  They spoke of their contributions, their attendance, their lives, and their love – love of God and love of God’s people.  I felt for a moment that I knew them.  I had not known them in this life; yet, their life still was touching mine.  It was sweet.  Faces softened; loved ones of those passed felt comfort to their still grieving souls.  

At the end, we sang a song.  Methodists sing a lot of songs I don’t know.  This one I knew… 

Here I am Lord.  
Is it I? I have heard you calling in the night.  
I will go Lord if you lead me.  
I will hold your people in your heart.

How odd to be singing that at a business meeting?  Even odder was that just earlier that day I had told my husband that I was a fool to think God had called me to ministry.  It was yet another pipe dream of my own making.  His eyes lowered; I think he felt my sadness.  I have never doubted the call on my life until recently.  I have clung tenaciously to that call.  I clung against all odds and massive disappointment.  When I finally uttered my feelings out loud, there was no response but a sad silence.

I did a very un-Methodist thing as we stood singing that song.  I closed my eyes.  I refrained from raising my hand – just too un-Methodist.  But I made it a prayer.  I offered another prayer of commitment to what seems illogical, improbable, and hopeless.   

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I had my emotional armor on all day yesterday.  Once I finally went to sleep last night, I fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion.  Emotional exhaustion drains you in ways that physical labor never could.  I could sense my attitude.  It was BAD… I was BA Lighari yesterday.  My emotional armor protected me as well as kept a lid on any eruptions.

Class always starts with a devotional.  He picked a passage I’d memorized as a child.  I was zoning out until he asked what scornful meant – what does it mean to sit in the seat of the scornful – who are those people you don’t want to be around… hmm, not sure I agree with his interpretation but I perked up when someone said – you don’t want to be around “crybabies.”

It rankled me.  I guess because I have shed so many tears and know that God collects my tears in His bottle.  I guess because I know the value of tears.  I was annoyed at the minimization of people whose pain causes them to cry.  I have learned that sometimes you just can’t suck it up and the best way for healing is to cry.  I’ve also learned that often you need someone to share your pain with…

When I worked in Psychiatric many, many years ago, I worked with a very wise man.  He was young.  He was brash at times.  He was a recovering hippie who had read Saul Alinsky.  He really believed the revolution would come.  As we would sit in group therapy, he on one side of the room and me on the other, the group would engage in a free flow of pain.  Each person had pain, even he and I.  As cream rises to the top of a bottle of milk, soon some ones pain would rise.  Soon the one whose pain had floated to the top would be asked to pick someone.  Pick the person you feel the most comfortable with… often, it was me.  I would be the absorber of their pain as their tears flowed.  Mascara would stain my shoulder.  It was interesting; eventually the tears would stop.  They were healing.  They were necessary.

Then I thought of Jesus.  Was Jesus a crybaby?  The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, our Savior, God incarnate wept.  Jesus wept over Lazarus.  Jesus cried out to His Father in the garden.  On the cross, as the willing sacrifice for our sins, the Lamb of God cried out – My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? 

I thought a lot about being a crybaby.  I don’t know what this person really meant when it was uttered in class.  I know it got under my skin.  Was it just my mood yesterday?  Was it part of the emotional armor?  Perhaps.  But it caused me to go to the lexicon.  It caused me to open my Spurgeon Treasury of David.  It caused me to reflect on the subject that makes my heart alive, Biblical scholarship.  It even caused an epiphany of sorts.  I realized why school has become such a drudgery for me.  There is no life in it.

A former professor once said to me, find the thing that makes you alive and do that.  He was right.  I know what makes me feel alive.  It’s ideas.  I love to play with them. I love to create them.  I love to think deep thoughts that come from a well of insatiable curiosity.  New ideas of passionate topics are lacking.  Even the scant new ideas fall flat.  They have no outlet.  My armor has silenced my voice.  There is no opportunity to bounce ideas off peers.  Ideas are like nostalgia, they need an echo. 

Today, I am a crybaby.  I am willing to shed my tears of lost hope.  I am willing to sit in the ashes of ideas with no outlet.  I will get up.  Tear do end eventually.  Hope may still glimmer.  Until then, I will not sit in the seat of the scornful.  I will not minimize someone’s pain or tears.  Rather, I will absorb your tears because I know they are needful - Today, my armor is off and my shoulder is open.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Views of the Slop Sink

It was the first year I walked the three short blocks and one and a half long blocks to PS 94 alone.  My BFF was taking several buses to a new school for smart children.  I missed her.  I wondered why she had to be so smart and leave me.  

Everything at PS94 was big.  As I would crouch in the hallway with my head tucked under my arms for the air raid drills, I couldn’t imagine those massive doors collapsing.  In the fourth grade, I had the seat in front of one of those doors.  Mrs. Cedar presided over a corner room, near the staircase.  Rather than opposite the windows, the massive wooden closet that housed our coats and galoshes was in a narrow hallway that led to our room. 

I had the first seat in the first row.  Since the door was always open, I had a view of those coming up and down the stairs as well as the slop sink.  Now for those of you who do not know what a slop sink is, it was a deep sink on every floor where you could go to wash your paint brushes.  Usually we were sent in pairs making a trip to the slop sink a time for socialization.  Likewise, you hoped for someone you wanted to visit with to be sent with you to the basement with its caged piano and scary bathrooms. 

It was from that seat that I watched and observed.  I was liked by my teacher and my gazing in the hall was rarely noticed.  I wasn’t a favorite though.  I remember the day we came back from the Science Fair.  My experiment was either substandard or I made an excuse and didn’t have one.  I hated the annual Science Fair.  Many kids had help from their parents and had electrical wires to make a door bell ring or other fascinating displays.  I don’t remember what was said to me but I remember the feel of the frown on my face.  I thought it would never leave…

I don’t remember if that was the year we made reliefs of the dinosaurs or the solar system.  I remember those projects but the years escape me.  What I do remember is the black and white composition notebook.  I probably had purchased it at the Woolworths, or maybe Alan’s Stationary store.  I loved going to Alan’s, a crammed store full of school and office supplies – I’d convince my mother to let me buy book covers with Dartmouth and Yale on it rather than the paper bags that normally protected my books.

In that composition notebook, Mrs. Cedar had us journaling.  We would write a one or two paragraph composition on its pages.  Perhaps it was weekly, or daily, I don’t recall.  I just remember the pages.  One day, as I gazed in the hall, I heard Mrs. Cedar say, “Joyce, I’d like you to stand and read your composition.”  I was behind.  I hadn’t been writing. I thought I had plenty of time to write something and catch-up.  It had been weeks since she had us read in class.

Since the frown had finally left my face, I feared it would return.  I stood.  I opened my black and white composition book.  I turned some pages.  I knew the topic that was supposed to be on that blank page.  I took a deep breath, and started to “read” from the blank page.  Yes, I read from the blank page.  I made it up as I went along.  I breathed again.  I looked at Mrs. Cedar.  She smiled, and said “You may sit down, that was very good.”

As we scurried to leave that afternoon, someone, I think perhaps Debbie Dennis who sat several seats behind me in row one said – “you didn’t have anything on your page?”  I said, “I know. I made it up.”  She smiled… I smiled… we passed the slop sink and down the stairs we went – Mrs. Cedar never knew.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Morning and Evening Prayer

Many religious traditions have set times for prayer.  The discipline of bowing one’s heart to God at a set time is something I’ve tried to cultivate with limited success.  Following the ancient Christians in the Daily Office is a desire of mine.  Yet, it’s discipline does not come easy for me.

The entrance to our subdivision - picture taken from our driveway

Our dog is walked twice a day.  Today it is very fall like.  There has been rain and the sky is grey.  The brilliant colors on the trees are muting.  But the birds… oh the birds… sometimes the cacophony of their sound is near deafening.  We have a chorus of birds that sing in the morning and sing in the evening.  Having a Franciscan bent, I thought, yes, little bird, praise God!  It seems that nature responds to the call to worship at sunrise and dusk. 

Today as I walked our large yard I marveled at all I saw.  I can’t imagine those who walk but don’t see.  I remarked to someone yesterday about the beautiful little pines in the lot beside us and said perhaps we’ll take one of those for our Christmas tree.  I spoke of the bursting pinecones on another huge tree.  They walk that same area but never see.  I wondered how curiosity and vision become dimmed. I have the curiosity of a child.  I hope I never lose that…

This morning I saw cardinals and blue jays flying through the yards.  I heard the sound of all sorts of birds.  I heard a crow.  I wondered, where do the robins go in the fall?  Then I spotted one in a tree.  I often count four, five, or six eagles flying over our house.  I've seen an owl.  I hear him sometimes in the stillness of the night.  I heard the rustle in the woods – a squirrel, a rabbit, a turkey, or a deer – I’ve seen them all in our backyard.

Roses are still blooming in our yard.  They seem to push through with a tenacity that says, even though the season is past, I still have something to offer.  I looked at the bush and yet another bud is waiting to open.  I hope the yellow bud is also able to burst open.  I wondered, are they a sign to me?  My season may be past but what beauty or worth can still burst open?

It was a beautiful short walk in the glory of God’s creation.  With the birds, I joined in their morning song of praise.  In my heart I sang:

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nothing Ventured

You know the old saying "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?"  Well, a lot of times I venture - no one can accuse me of not venturing... however, I get very frustrated because I thought if I ventured, I'd gain... that hasn't been the case much of the time.  Now before you say - Oh there she goes again... this is not yet another lament of mine.

Many of you have seen the pictures of the pies and cakes, etc., that I post on Facebook.  I even have one endorsement on Facebook "Branch Out" - it says, “She makes great pastries!”  

It's true.  I do... She was a customer in my coffee shop.  I used to make amazing food - breakfasts, including huge omelets with spinach, feta, and mushrooms - and then there was those Pumpkin Spice Waffles with Cinnamon Butter - OMG, my mouth is watering... My chicken salad was known as the best and so popular I had to start selling it by the pound.  Once I was asked if I could ship it out of state - I think they wanted to have me send it to Indiana.  I considered it.

But one of the most popular items, especially this time of year was my private Vanilla Chai Latte Blend.  You could have it hot, cold, frapped, sugar-free, decaf, or regular.  

Eventually, I packaged it and sold it for home use.  I even sold it for a while on ebay.  It didn't sell well on ebay because it is one of those things you have to taste to appreciate.  One of my regular customers, an exec on music row would stop every day - he would lament on days I was closed because he had to "settle" for Starbucks Chai Latte.  Yes, it really is that good!

I'm thinking that maybe it is time for me to make some Chai Latte Blend again.  The spices and blend is secret and ground fresh.  It is better than anything you've ever had.  I will be taking orders soon.  And yes, that is a real picture of the real chai on the postcard and made into a drawing to the rif
The contact information isn't
correct but you get the idea.

And if you are interested in some homemade organic pies, cakes, or bread for the holidays. I'm taking orders for them as well.  I do make amazing pastries....

Let's see if this venture has some takers.

More pictures of the coffee shop, its food, coffee, chai, and entertainment are available here.  Yes, once upon a time there was "myspace." LOL

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Minefield of Pathology

I like to think I’m not terrible thin skinned.  It’s a myth.  I rather think the reality is that it’s a myth for most people. We are human.  We get hurt.  We hear something, read something, and all those mines in our emotional field go off.  Sometimes they all go off at once.  Other times, it’s one or two. 

The booby-traps are everywhere.  Sometimes some unwitting (or sometimes dimwitted) person in a store triggers a life-time of feelings. That happened a lot in South Dakota.  A trip to Hy-Vee or Wal-Mart in Brookings SD usually resulted in my swearing to myself the whole way home.

Other times it is a remark that you know isn’t personal but somehow, it gets under your skin.  It just sort of sits there – like an unattended wound, it festers.

Last night two mines exploded in my heart.  My mood went from good to bad very quickly.  You try to remove yourself from the trigger but once it has been pulled, it is impossible to stop. 

Boom – you never expected it – you didn’t see it coming.  You were not the target.  No one knew that you were the one who would explode inside.  And I don't want people who walk on eggshells around me either.  That's phony. That's not real.  I want the freedom to be myself and for others to be themselves around me.  If I trip their mine, I want them to know it's not intentional.  Most of the people who trip mine don't intend to either.  If we walk on eggshells, we are never really real.

The first was a conversation people with degrees.  There was the usual banter, none serious, about how people with degrees are not smart.  The word idiot was used.  Believe me, I can think of some people who have no common sense and are blithering idiots who managed to get advanced degrees.  It’s one of those things that really rankles me.  I've been turned down for jobs because I don't have a doctorate and now that I almost have one, I'm told it's not the right kind - it's not a PhD - only PhD are worthy... so I understand the comment.

However, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to measure up –  after much agony and trying, I still can’t seem to stop trying to be good enough.  Okay, it’s MY PATHOLOGY.  It’s how I am.  You can’t fix it.  I can’t fix it.  It just is.  All I can do is monitor it and make sure it doesn’t overwhelm me to the point of despair. 

You see, for many years, as a high school drop-out, I was viewed as stupid.  Only a stupid person would marry at 16 and drop out of school – logic makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  But I wasn’t stupid.  Only a stupid person would live with an abuser.  But I did because God hated divorce.  I wasn’t stupid.  My blog has told you this story before, I don’t need to repeat it. I could go on and on with examples.

Now here I am an old woman.  I am getting used to the reality that my life is shortening fast.  I am trying to fulfill a lifetime dream of more education and yes, still trying to demonstrate that I’m not stupid and I’m worthwhile.  It was my emotional minefield.  Nothing else.  No one else.  Just my pathology.

Soon another landmine exploded last night.  There may be one today.  There are many of them.  I’ve been told I’m a survivor – I am…  

But I do have my minefield of pathology – and so do you if you are honest.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Maybe you've seen this scene from Madmen as the Kodak Carousel is introduced.  If not, go here and watch it and then come back to the blog.

In Greek, nostalgia literally means, a pain from an old wound.  In someways, this blog has been about nostalgia.  Even those topics of current inspiration draw life from the past.  You never escape where you came from or who you were.  We change, we grow but somehow the past is always with us beckoning us to remember.

I think the pain we feel as we recall the past is cause not by the wound by knowing we can't go back.  We see visions of the past and we want to go back. We want to go back not because we made some horrible mistake and need a do-over.  Rather we want to go back to experience the joy, the wonderment, the excitement, or any of the myriad of human emotions that can explode at anytime.  While a small substitute for time travel back to that moment, a memory can cause us to relive such joy and sometimes such pain.

I've shared a lot of my painful past with you; the first marriage, the death of a granddaughter, molestation, the marginalized woman on welfare , the young woman staring out a window - so many snapshots of pain.  You journeyed with me as my mother was laid to rest on a dreary cold winter morning.  I've shared the pain of the present as well.

I have been cut off from my past for many year..  My past was cut off by many moves - to various places in Missouri, to North Carolina, to Connecticut, to Tennessee, to South Dakota - each place, I've left a piece of myself.  Each place resulted in some loss and some gain. It's hard to be cut off from your past.  it's hard because no one can echo as I share my memories.  For me, the distance from the little girl in Brooklyn skipping, jumping, and bouncing her spauldeen, is very long.  When I speak of her, it is like an old picture found at a thrift store - you wonder who they are, but you have no connection.

This morning I felt the joyful pain of walking to Sunset Park pool with my panties wrapped in a towel clutching my nickles. My husband listened patiently as I counted the number of blocks I walked and how I dug for the long blue ice in a freezer paying for it with my last nickle.  I'd snip the top and hope that the long tube of sweet goodness would last as the sweltering pavement undid the coolness of the pool.  When I got home, my tongue and mouth would be blue.  He could only smile.  He could not provide the echo of adding to the story.  He could not talk of sitting on a stoop later in the evening as the sunset playing tag, hide and go seek, mother may I, statutes, or listening for the jingle of the Good Humor truck or the the melody of Mr. Softee.

As I looked at the picture of the pool realizing these were the very steps from which  my little feet descend into the water.  I thought it was like a baptism of love as my father held me, holding me up, teaching me to float and swim.  But without an echo, the story falls on smiles that don't truly understand.

I often feel that my memories seem unreal.  I know they are true but no one shares them with me.  No one else was there - no one can answer back and say yes, and do you remember this?  My memories had no echo.   Of late, I've seen pictures of me at Sunday School picnics, ice skating at Prospect Park, getting ready to sing a special at church - oh how precious to see me at these places again.

I'm in the second row, the fifth from the left sitting next to the leader in the middle.
Somehow, I managed to be the only girl whose face is partially covered.
Yesterday my heart leaped.  Another memory was validated and strengthened. Yesterday, I saw the little girl who walked the two blocks in a pale blue skirt and white blouse to 59th Street church.  It was scary at first. I missed Sunbeams - now I would be a Pioneer Girl.  New leaders who didn't know my name or my family - they were kind.  They welcomed the shy little girl anyway.

As I looked at the picture my mind flashed to a cracked marble necklace.  We fried marbles in their church kitchen transforming them into beautiful gems.  I loved that necklace and wore it often.  I posted my thoughts in our Brooklyn Norwegian Facebook group.  Immediately it sparked a loving vision in someone else.  She said - yes, and we dipped it in ice water and that's what made it crack. YES!!!  I had forgotten.  I thought it just cracked in the pan.  Someone to echo a memory - at last.... what a wondrous thing.  An echo, someone to say "yes, the leaders did say "catch-up" to make us form a line with our pilot and co-pilot."

I have echoes on Facebook.  A mixture of people with the same memories of egg creams, black & whites, good pizza, and who understand me when I speak of my childhood.  They can echo and I can echo, and together we form a symphony of nostalgia.

Yes, nostalgia brings pain, but it also brings joy.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is It Too Late?

One of the last things I do at night is take melatonin.  I’ve been doing this for years.  Did you know it is a good antioxidant?  But that’s not why I take it.  Coupled with watching TV in bed, it helps me turn off my brain.  I think too much. 

Sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. I usually have to go to the bathroom.  It’s a by-product of age I suppose.  I walk to the bathroom with my eyes closed.  I never turn on the light.  It would wake me up too much and I want to go back to sleep.  Unfortunately, my brain has other plans.  I start thinking again.
Last night I was thinking about blogging.  I was thinking I should write a happy cheerful blog.  I should write something so inspiring it even makes me feel better.  Of late, I seem to be in a place of sorrowful self-reflection.  The echoes of no follow my every movement.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook some sappy words about keeping positive – it wasn’t directed to me.  It just was her new goals.  It was all full of roses and platitudes… I have other friends who seem to have this ability.  I don’t.  I often wonder how they can turn off their humanity, or is that they are just better at life than I am. 

I wrote several blogs in my head last night.  Some I remember.  Most are forgotten.  One stands out.  I was thinking about how I like to cook and bake.  Someone recently mentioned that I should probably forget my doctorate, go to culinary arts school, and become a chef.  Sometimes I use a recipe, especially for baking.  I know that baking is basically a form of chemistry and measurements and temperature is exact.  If I follow the recipe, unless there is a malfunction, the cake, or bread, will turn out good.  It won’t flop.

But life isn’t like that.  I wish it was.  I wish there was a prescription that someone could give me so that what I am doing will be a success.  Oh, it doesn’t have to be a success that the whole world sees.  It just needs to give me that same feeling I get when I pull a loaf of perfectly baked bread out of the oven.  Or the feeling I got as I put the last strawberry on my husband’s blΓΈttkake last week.  It’s that inner feeling of satisfaction, of accomplishment that is the measure of success. 

Steve Jobs would agree – he told us to find what we love and go do it.  Others have echoed the same formula for success and satisfaction.  I love school.  I love teaching.  I love preaching.  I love ministering to people where they live and where they hurt.  But no matter what I try, there’s no place for me.

I watched a video today about social media.  I try to stay on top of social media and technology.  It is another passion of mine.  I was pondering how I remembered using AOL 2.0.  Now this old woman still has an insatiable oxymoronic hunger for technology.  It was interesting to listen to the next phase in social media, Mightybell.  I might try it.  I’ve tried everything else as it came on the scene. 

But something in the video pierced my soul this morning.  The founder of Mightybell said, “you are what you do.”  Is that true?  Then I am nothing if it is … However, she also said that everything we do is a series of steps, one building on another.  I thought yes, what is the prescription? What do I need to do next?

I don’t know.  I don’t even know if I should keep writing.  Or if I should stay in school? Or if I should just be an old woman and turn life over to the next generation.  I have bills to pay for all the education I got; the education that was supposed to qualify me, at least on paper, to what I already do well without the “paper.”  I believed for a while that it was more important to be than to do, but right now I'm not even sure I know how to "be."

Perhaps it is that I have a milestone birthday coming up in a few weeks.  Even uttering the number makes me choke and cringe.  I usually don’t utter it.  But the truth is, I am old.  My birthdate makes it official.  And yet, it is so hard to give up the dream.  I don’t want a rocking chair.  I want a life of contribution and fulfillment.  But is it too late?!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


It was a full day yesterday; first I met our youngest daughter for lunch at a deli that serves great pastrami.  Then I came home and made myself a NY Egg Cream – yum.  Last night we had a late supper with our son.  While the food was not as good as the deli, it was a great time of chatting.  He was coming down off an adrenaline high from a major test at Med School.  He was debriefing all the information crammed into his brain about cardiology and pathology.  He amazes me sometimes at what he retains in his brain and yet, he is never quite sure how old he is… I think it’s that way with genius sometimes.

He had on a nice shirt.  It was a “modified” western shirt.  It had snaps and pockets but no yoke.  It caused me to reminisce about some shirts I made for my older sons when they were little.  One year for Easter, I had made my oldest daughter Bethany and I matching pinafore jumpers.  Both went to the floor as “granny” dresses were in style.  We both had a white shirt underneath.  As I looked at the fabric I had left, I saw in my mind matching western shirts for her brothers.  I went and got some muslin for the rest of the shirt and off I went to sew.  The sewing wasn’t hard, but oh, those snaps.  I had learned to pound snaps into place but it was always a challenge.

I so wish I had a picture of us in our family matching attire.

My son said to me, Mom you are really good at making things.  Then he mentioned my latest time occupier, baking.   The other day, I mentioned to a friend that I made jewelry too.  Let’s see, what can I do – well, I’m an excellent cook.  I’m a pretty good baker.  I sew pretty well and have “designed” without patterns a few garments in my day – I was making most of my own dresses by the time I was in Junior High School.  I can do home canning.  My chutneys and salsas are to die for... I can make great soaps and potions.  I mentioned the jewelry.  I sometimes draw although I haven’t done that in a very long time.  I crochet and somewhat knit.  I fancy myself a good writer, but only you can judge that...I have always had this attitude that if it can be done, I can do it.  And usually I’m right, I learn quick and do good work.

Yet why do I still feel like I have accomplished nothing in my life?  Why does that nagging word “loser” still echo in my heart?  There are many reasons I am sure.  
An unsatisfied restlessness within me makes me want to prove that I’m worthy enough.  It’s a terrible burden.
Some of you will find yourself in what I’m saying – you too have that unquenched desire for something that seems unattainable.  You may not know what it is, but you are sure you'll know it when it comes.  Others of you will say – what’s wrong with this woman, isn’t she ever happy? Some of you will say she has a spiritual problem - she'll never be worthy, only Jesus is worthy.  I know that.  That's not what I'm talking about - those of you who have this same restlessness know that... 

Some will have a verse and mean well.  Others will have a verse and judgment.  A very few of you will just love me and pray for me.

I don’t need verses.  I definitely don’t need judgment.  I don’t know exactly what I need – I just know there is an aching restless frustration in my soul.  There is something yet undone.  There is something yet to fulfill.  My ambitions, plans, and wishes at my feet in ashes lay…  I don’t know anything left to surrender.  And my clock is ticking – each day brings me closer to eternity. There is less time ahead of me than was behind me.

I suppose until God chooses to pick up my ashes and breathe life into them, there isn’t anything I can do but wait.  Perhaps you look at me and say, can these dry bones live (Ezekiel 37)?  I ask myself the same question... I am waiting... I have waited.   The longer I wait, the deeper my restless soul cries out for satisfaction. 

In the waiting, I say with Peter, where else can I go Lord? Only you have the words of life (John 6:68).  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It takes bravery to follow Jesus

I’ve been struggling with an unseen force in an area of my life for nearly  two years.  Every time I show up, it seems as if I have some scarlet letter emblazoned on my chest.  I can’t figure it out.  I’ve blamed it on a bunch of different things.  I’ve soul searched and asked what am I doing wrong.  I’m a likeable person.  I like most people.  I am open to all sorts of people.  I am quiet unless you talk to me – that’s the “polite Norwegian” in me.  I do realize that sometime people take that for snobbery but I tried the best I could.  However, when the welcome mat is not out and an invisible sign says STAY OUT… you tend to just withdraw further into yourself.  I’ve realized that I appear to have a chip on my shoulder at times.  And I do, at times.  It’s been a painful experience.  It’s brought up all my insecurities and self-doubts.

I’ve found myself drinking at the well of self-doubts the last few days.  I’m exhausted.  I’m discouraged.  I ask daily what the point is in everything.  I’m smart.  I have many gifts and talents.  That’s not arrogance or a lack of humility.  It just is – these are gifts from God and have nothing to do with me.  I want to use them and the sound of doors slamming echoes in my brain through the day and night.  I hear often those words: "you're a loser."

This is often how I feel when I walk into the environment where
I've felt such pain and rejection.  Yet I keep walking anyway.
That's all one can do.
Yesterday I had one of those moments.  Someone told me the core of this rejection I have been experiencing for the last year and half.  It was one of those moments when the range of emotion went from What the ________?  To I want to rip someone’s head off (not the person who told me the truth, but the source of this pain)-To that’s so unfair and wrong-To why is it so important to someone to make my life miserable?-To I want to just crawl up in a ball and cry.  I honestly can't handle much more rejection in this life.

And ironically, this all stems from the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile.  I shared what I knew about the scripture at a time when it had come up in discussion.  I didn’t say “Oh you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re all wrong.”  No I just simply pointed out that often this passage is misunderstood.  It’s not about being a doormat or allowing people to abuse you.  In turning the other cheek, you force someone to see you and treat you as an equal.  It's about asserting your dignity as a person.  It seemed harmless enough at the time.  After all, it was my area of expertise.  But I wasn’t cocky with my knowledge.  But the perception was different.   Perceptions were shared and people who never took the time to get to know me or anything about me formed opinions about me that have caused me very painful isolation.  I would forever be viewed through a filter different than the truth.

But that’s not the point of the this blog.  I am not saying “Oh poor me.  I’ve been so misunderstood.  Had I wrote this yesterday, which I was wise enough not to, I would have wanted comments of sympathy and an outcry for the injustice being done to me.  But not this morning. 

As I tossed and turned early this morning, my nemesis’s face and name were calling from my wounded heart.  I tried everything I could to put it out of my mind.  I tried thinking about my husband’s birthday and the cake I would bake for him.  I prayed about how hurt I felt.  Nothing helped.  Finally, I prayed for my nemesis.  I prayed that they would be blessed.  I prayed that they would do well in their endeavors.  Almost immediately, I fell asleep.

Now I’m not some super-spiritual person nor do I pretend to be.  I am very human and have long since given myself permission to be human.   While I’m not particularly vindictive, and I usually am fast to forgive, this was different.  I was praying for this persons well-being and blessing.  It reminds me of some other words of Jesus.  How ironic, they are part of the same passage that sparked this dilemma: 
Luke 6:27-31 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This morning, I found a song coming out of my spirit.  It’s an oldie (of course). 
Lord, lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I bravely do my part
To win that soul for Thee.
I thought, where did that come from?  And then the Lord said, that's your answer.  Just love.  Return evil with good. That's a hard thing. It does require a bravery I'm not sure I have.  There is still a part of me that wants to rip this person's face apart and say, do you know what kind of pain you've caused me?  But... I won't.  And with God's help, I'll love.  I'll turn the other cheek.  I'll go the extra mile.  I'll need a lot of bravery and courage - the kind that only God can give.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Is Tomorrow

I’ve got so many thoughts floating around in my head.  I sometimes use this blog to lament.  I think some people see it as whining… but to me, it’s a lament.  I’m trying to learn to have a bit more filters in my life and maybe become a bit superficial.  How do you feel about that?  Yes, I guess it would be easy to see that as a rhetorical question and since I do screen comments, I guess only I will know if you honestly answer me.  But I do wonder and think I would like to know.

I used to feel that having people say I was real was a compliment.  Now I wonder.  I try to be very real. I hate phonies… I mean I really can’t stand them.  You know the type – everything is wonderful and lets stroll through life with a song in our heart.  It gags me.

Now some of you are the more spiritual type.  That’s great… seriously, it’s really, really great.  For those of you like that, you seem to have this deep faith that everything will be wonderful, no matter how bad it is, because God’s got your back.  Okay, I do believe that.  I’ve held on to God and faith with knuckles whiter than anyone else I know… seriously… that’s not an arrogant statement either.  It’s true.  IF YOU ONLY KNEW… I am a woman of great faith.  Somehow, I just don’t care for that everything is wonderful all the time business.

Life sucks sometimes…. Okay, I have a dear friend who hates that word – sorry.  But for the rest of us, isn’t that true?  I mean even those of you who lead toward being a Pollyanna where the sun is always shining even when it’s not – if you were honest, you gotta know, life is rough.  Does knowing that and admitting that I struggle with frustration, disappointment, and even anger at things in life make me not spiritual? Does it mean I don’t love Jesus? Does it mean I don’t believe in God?  Or that I don’t have faith that ultimately God is in control and can take care of me?

NO…it doesn’t. 

My latest lament has to do with a job.  Okay, I don’t want to give you all the details but there was a possibility of a job and it fell through because of the same old song and dance-we had someone internal.  What that means is someone knew someone…it means that the person who suggested me had less clout than the friend of the friend.  Sometimes it also means, you’re too old for the job… trust me ageism is alive and well!  But this time, it was just a form of nepotism – who you know and how much influence they have… this place, a private university is known for that – it’s all in who you know and their level of influence.  And all of this was for an underpaid part-time job too!

On the heels of this, I get this email from a professor.  I had mentioned that I had no realistic hope that what I was doing for the class would result in an opportunity.  He told me to be encouraged, that no one but God had control of the doors that could open.  Now I’m a realist.  I thought ah-ha… sure… the dean, the president, the supervisors, etc… they are nice people, they are godly people, they have no problem taking my money and training me for jobs… but when it comes to a real open doors, they really do have control. If you aren’t on the most favored list the best you can get is a recommendation for someplace else… and even that is sometimes difficult. You know, they are very busy. (BTW, that was sarcasm.)

I could go on but that’s not the point – the point I wanted to make today is about being real, about admitting you hurt.  What does the Bible say?  Does it always say that you should sing and be merry?  No, it says things like Jesus wept.  It says that Jesus grieved for Lazarus – it sort of indicates that Jesus had real emotions – guess what, Jesus even got angry.  Paul tells us to be angry and sin not… so if I’m angry, or if I’m hurt, I think it is okay to say so. And what about all those raw human emotions in the Old Testament.  Solomon reminds us that there is a time to weep...

Seems God does know we are human and it's okay.

Maybe I’m too much like Martha today.  Maybe I am saying but Lord, if you’d only show up.  However, the clock is ticking for me – I’ve got a milestone birthday coming up that’s bothering me.  Seems time for resurrection and new life in this life is going fast. 

I guess I just will never learn to sing the Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow but I sure hope it does.

Unfortunately, tomorrow seems to always be a day (or two or three or four) away... it never comes.

And I guess, I'll always flunk superficiality.  Would you like it better if I could learn it?  If so, how do you do that and still be real?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Citizens

It was way too early to be in downtown Nashville.  The traffic had not been too bad as we had left exceptionally early.  However, downtown was coming alive as people were finding their way to work.  The Federal Courthouse offered no parking.  We found a public lot behind the building and paid an exorbitant $12 for parking.  But the walk was short; it was worth it.

My shoes set off the security.  It took three tries to gain entrance to the building.  As we meandered the corridors to the elevator, it was obvious, this was a special day.  Nervous and excited people were following the Naturalization Ceremony signs just as we were… As we got off the elevator, there were more signs.  Finally, we saw the small crowd gathering.  It was obvious we were in the right place.

There were so many smiles.  Yet, the nervous excitement was palpable.  Little children were dressed for a party.  Mommies and Daddies did their best to keep the children in line.  Finally, the door opened.  We went in with the rest of the crowd. 

I am an observer of people.  I love people.  They are so diverse and so interesting.  What a wonderful place to watch the cultures of the world!  I had been to this ceremony once before.  It was many years ago in Connecticut.  That day, my husband was sworn in as a citizen of the United States.  Today it was his brother and his family who were to be sworn in completing their five-year odyssey into American life.

As I sat on the hard bench, one by one, the new citizens were called to the front.  They signed documents and were given a place to sit.  Sixty new citizens from 26 nations were naturalized that morning. Soon a judge would arrive and administer the oath...I was happy for all of them.

I wondered about my father’s naturalization ceremony.  I wished I had asked him about it.  But children never think of such things.  He had been here many years before he was able to become a citizen.  He would forgo trips home to see his family because once he left, he would not be able to come back.  Before he had a wife and children, he worked for nearly 20 years part of the time to help send a sister and her children back home to Norway. 

But the day finally came.  There was some amnesty given and he took it.  He became a citizen of the United States.  I could picture my dad in a courtroom like the one I sat in on Thursday.  He would have had his full suit on.  He would have had his papers with him.  He probably rode the subway or bus to get there.  I don’t know if my mother or my brothers witnessed that day.  I know it was an important day for him.  I know he was bursting with pride.  He loved Norway but I think he loved his chosen home more.  He would say to other Norwegians who would talk of the old country – “if it was so wonderful there, why don’t you go back?” 

As the judge on Thursday spoke of the responsibilities of citizenship, he mentioned voting.  I thought yes, my dad must have heard that too – he never missed an election once he could vote.  My mother to the contrary, although born in this country, never voted.  She said it was all rigged anyway.  She had seen slick politicians load the poor people into cars and tell them how to vote.  She did make an exception to her no voting rule when my husband, a naturalized citizen ran for local elections (and won!).

My dad was probably one of the most patriotic people I ever knew.  I wonder about these new citizens.  As I looked at those that came full of eager anticipation, well dressed, and excited, I thought yes, most of these folks will contribute to this country.  They are happy to be here.  They stood in line to have pictures taken with the judge whose decrees made them new citizens. This day was special for them.  They would honor the country they had chosen.

However, a few didn’t seem to have that same passion.  Their clothes and demeanor spoke only of a process to be completed.  They had no love of this country.  They had no desire to contribute.  Okay, I don’t know that for sure… but that’s what I thought I saw in their faces.  I hope I’m wrong.

The judge said that he (and I and all of us born here) were fortunate to be citizens just by chance (or providence) of birth – these new citizens chose to be Americans.  I understand his point, but I still think all of us need to choose to be Americans.  We chose by contributing.  We don’t all think alike.  We are divided over politics and interpretation.  Nevertheless, we live in a country where each person can live in relative peace, pursue a good life, and respect others - even those we don't agree with.  

I chose to be an American.