Friday, December 04, 2009

Anybody need a mint?

Several weeks ago our church hired a new senior minister. The getting-to-know-you phase is almost over, for which I’m sure everyone is grateful. One of his first sermons dealt with making the most of evangelistic opportunities, and he encouraged us to invite someone we knew to church. To remind us, we were handed Lifesaver mints with instructions not to eat the mint until we had invited one person.

I thought this was a hokey idea, and my first inclination is always to balk at orders, but I saved the mint, and it looked at me in silent reproach each time I opened my change purse. You see, between working here at the college and volunteering at the church, I know almost no one who isn’t already a Christian and active in a home church. Even my next-door neighbors on one side attend our church, and the ones on the other side have made it pretty clear that they don’t like to be repeatedly invited. So, I kept the mint for a month and finally tossed it out; it was pretty hairy-looking, even through its plastic wrapping.

But the idea wouldn’t die. Last night I went to get my hair cut and the grays covered. The stylist was very busy, and we started late. I thought my hair was almost done when she sighed, exasperated, and said, “This is just unacceptable—we’ll have to do it over.” My stubborn gray roots had not processed correctly, so I knew I was in for another hour at least, dashing my hopes of stopping by Kohl’s to see what was on sale. I made an offhand comment about my husband being at Journey to Bethlehem practice so he wouldn’t mind if I were late. At that point the conversation turned. My stylist said she and her family had come to Journey every year since she was 12, and she was looking forward this year to bringing her boyfriend and their little boy. I waited for my hair to process, and she went on to her next clients, a little girl and her mother. I sat in the next chair while she turned the girl into a princess, and began to get excited as she invited the girl and her family to attend Journey.

After they left, she went back to finishing my stubborn hair. By this time, the salon was empty, and she became more serious. She had not had any religious training as a child, and she said the first time she heard the Christmas story was at Journey. Now that her son is 2, she is looking for a church where she can find out more about Jesus, a church where her son will be welcomed so that he won’t have to wait for a pageant to learn about Christ. I explained the many opportunities for Bible study at our church, and made sure she had the service times. As I left, I wished her a Merry Christmas and told her I would see her in January. She said, “No, I think you’ll see me Sunday.”

Sure wish I had a mint.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Thankful List

When I ask my students to name things for which they are grateful, they are fond of giving Sunday School answers. They are thankful for Jesus, for safe travel, for the college’s free tuition, and so on, but I wonder if they—and I—forget the small, ordinary blessings we have, those things which escape our attention until we don’t have them. Now, before I have them make their lists, I will make my own.

These are the small things I am thankful for:

1. An inviting house to come home to every night. It’s even better when my husband gets there before me and has the fire going and candles lit. Getting Pug Therapy while relaxing in my Happy Chair makes the trials of the day fade.

2. My Kindle. I hate to be bored, but I just can’t take enough books around with me to be sure that I will have a book with me that I want to read. My Kindle holds an entire library and fits in my (grandmother-sized) purse.

3. Sunsets over Creve Coeur Lake. The sun sets at just about the time I go home, and the colors of the sky over the lake and the Missouri River remind me that God still has all of the crayons in the celestial crayon box.

4. Watching students spontaneously stop to pray with one another. They are building friendships with each other and growing closer to God.

5. My iPod, with its semi-custom fitted earphones. Christmas music in your ears does wonders on a gloomy November day.

6. The ability to make things. I love to give gifts, particularly gifts that are spontaneous. My stash of stuff helps me turn out cards and projects quickly.

7. Starbucks instant coffee. Ready when I need it—usually about 2 in the afternoon.

8. My car, the Reverend Mother. It’s not small, but it gets me where I need to go, comfortably. I don’t want a new car as long as this one runs.

9. The DVR. We can watch shows without having to endure the temptation of commercials, and the shows consume less time. We can go to bed at an earlier hour without feeling we are missing something.

10. Podcasts. The ones I listen to are free, and range from the best parts of Prairie Home Companion to Bible study to knitting. I put in my earbuds, press a button, and get education and entertainment while I accomplish something else, like knitting.

My list could continue, but ten items are enough for now. Enjoy the small things in your life, and remember that God doesn’t just give us the huge blessings; he cares enough to let us find joy in small things, too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Ago Today

Eight years ago today dawned bright, clear, and beautiful—the perfect September day. My family busied itself getting ready for the day, just like any other normal Tuesday. I remember curling my hair, listening to the radio reports of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I had visions of a tragically off-course Cessna, and hoped no great damage had been done to the buildings. During breakfast, my son and I watched TV coverage, and realized that the hole in the building was much too large for a private plane. About that time, we saw the second plane hit the other tower. (I did not realize at that time I was watching the sister of one of my internet friends die; she was a passenger.) My son and I looked at one another as the reality of what we had seen dawned on us: this was a planned event, and the United States was under attack.

Unable to discern the best course of action would be, I headed off to work, listening to my car radio. A reporter inside the Pentagon described a loud noise, then said he had to get off the air. He was being evacuated. A short time later, the radio announcer reported that all airspace was being closed and no civilian takeoffs would be allowed. My college was under the flight path for planes using Lambert Field, so you could always see contrails overhead. That morning, one by one, those contrails dissolved into the clear blue sky and were not replaced. At that point, I realized how accustomed I’d become to sounds of planes. Suddenly, it was quiet.

Lacking any directives otherwise, I went to my class, but no teaching was accomplished. Instead, I answered what questions I could. My students, all 18-20 years old, wanted to know about the draft and whether I thought it would be necessary. They knew, immediately, that we were at war. Students who were members of the National Guard and the reserves received orders to make ready to report for active duty.

After class, we watched replays of the towers crashing. We would watch the same scenes, over and over, for days, still trying to process the idea that this was real, not cinematic special effects.

The rest of the day was a blur. No one knew who had attacked us, or why, or even how many planes were involved. We knew there had been 4 crashes; we didn’t know if there were more. Reporters, lacking confirmed information, repeated any rumor they heard. What we did know was that we were terribly proud to be Americans, and we grieved the loss of all as though they were our own family.

I was the faculty advisor for Campus Crusade for Christ. The members of the club sensed what was needed on campus, and went about arranging a prayer service. That day, the whole campus—students and faculty—came together to pray for the families of the dead, the leaders of the country, and ourselves. That day, the small gathering of Christians on a secular campus was the church—unified and loving. That day, we all remembered to say “I love you” lest we not have another chance.

No one hopes for another tragedy. Too bad tragedy was what it took to realign our values. Let’s not forget again—be the people we were 8 years ago today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Today's Gratitude List

  1. Picture of a smiling granddaughter as my computer wallpaper. She’s happy and healthy, and we are blessed.
  2. Better than expected papers from my English class. We won’t have to spend as long on the beginning steps, so there will be more time to learn to write well.
  3. Good attitudes from students, which make it easier to maintain a positive outlook myself.
  4. My dinner menu is planned, and I have everything on hand to make it. Now we can eat and still have time left to enjoy the evening after dinner’s over.
  5. Not even one person has asked me a computer question today, so I have had time to do my own work uninterrupted.
  6. The shuffle feature on the iPod works well. I’m not even skipping the Christmas songs today.
  7. My dogs still love me--especially when I have bones in my hand. I think my husband loves me, too, though I don't tempt him with bones.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I lost a friend yesterday morning. She died, too soon, of a malignancy that all of the skill of the doctors couldn’t stop, in spite of all the fervent prayers offered on her behalf. She had accomplished all that God had for her to do, and he took her. She now has no need of faith, for she is in the presence of the Lord. Since there is no time in Heaven, it seems to her as though she has always been there, and this thought comforts us.

We were young women together. For the first couple of years we knew each other, one of us was always pregnant. We started a church together. I helped start a Christian school; she and her husband established a Christian daycare. Another friend and I gave her a baby shower for her second son; she threw me a party when I had my own surprise baby a year later. She sang in the choir; I played the piano. We sang in a trio together, and watched our children grow. Our church grew, too, and she worked in children’s ministry and continued in the choir. We attended Bible study together. Her husband helped mine lay my kitchen floor; in May, my husband returned the favor and helped lay the hardwood in her hall. We commiserated through remodeling projects and bought hot tubs. We drank pots of Nicaraguan coffee over after-church desserts. Once our children were all grown, we would meet in Branson for vacation. We shared an amazing night last Christmas watching the Silver Dollar City tree lighting show, and then closed down a restaurant in town (in Branson, that happens at 8 p.m. in December).

Last Easter, we went to church, where her husband, dressed as a high priest, served as a visual aid for the sermon. Afterward, we all went out to dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant where we laughed over the live goat that was part of the service, and then the conversation turned to our middle-aged aches and pains. She complained of a backache, which we all thought was because of a fall at Jazzercise. We swapped names of chiropractors. Ordinary meal, ordinary conversation—we just didn’t realize it would be the last time on this earth we could sip hot tea and linger over a meal. By the next weekend, she was deathly ill.

If we were younger, her death would be looked upon as a tragedy. She did die too soon—but not unusually young. For those of us in late middle age, losing a friend is a circumstance we will face with increasing frequency, until we keep our own appointment with eternity. If we live long enough, our circle of old friends will grow smaller and smaller, and there will be fewer and fewer people who remember us before our faces wrinkled and our hair turned gray. Our task now is to remember how short our time together on earth might be, and to appreciate each moment we spend. We have great and precious promises, and eternity will indeed be grand. I look forward to it with all my heart. But for now, I miss her.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Dear (former Facebook) friend:

It has come to my attention that you “defriended” me on Facebook. This is surprising, since we have been friends close to 45 years, and a friendship of that long standing should be able to take just about anything. I am confident that I did nothing to offend you; rather, one of my family members responded critically to one of your posts. You probably think I agree with him. I do agree with his sentiment, but he was harsh. To be fair, you were commenting about recent events at my church, which used to be your church, too.

Understand, friend, that I love my church. My family has sacrificed 28 years of our lives to establish and build the body of Christ in our area. We have spent time, money, and treasure, and prayed and wept over it as much as over any member of our family. We don’t always agree with the decisions of the elders, but since my husband has served as an elder, we understand how difficult some decisions can be and how much soul-searching goes into the process. We also understand that the elders are our God-given leaders, and as members of this particular body, we must submit to them as a spiritual discipline. Unless the elders do something in conflict with scripture, submit we will. If we feel they have handled a situation poorly, we are to handle this as any other conflict—privately.

You have chosen to publicly criticize our body, and you’ve obviously reacted rashly when you were called out for this. I urge you to temper your comments with good will, since you still have friends (including me) at this church. Wish us well, as we wish your church to prosper. We may no longer worship at the same place, but we still worship the same God, and I expect to spend eternity with you. I’m just sorry, that for the time being, we won’t be practicing fellowship now.

Monday, July 06, 2009

So Long, Michael

Michael Jackson will be buried tomorrow, and the world is fascinated. Fans and the merely curious have submitted their requests to attend the funeral, and the lucky (?) have been chosen, most to honor someone they had neither met nor seen. The hoopla over the “services” strikes me as odd at best, pathetic at worst. Yes, he was a public figure. Sure, he influenced pop music for years. Of course, we are saddened—50 is too young to die, especially when you look backward, not forward, to 50.

But I am not mourning his death. MJ was a decent musician. He could carry a tune without a lot of electronic processing, but much of his music was hardly uplifting. He was a talented dancer, but his costumes and movements could be found under the dictionary entry for “lewd,” especially in his later years. His personal conduct was hardly admirable, with multiple accusations of pedophilia, a couple of sham marriages, and less than stellar parenting methods. He should have been rich beyond counting, but he did not manage his fortune and was deeply in debt. If news reports are to be believed, he also had a problem with prescription drugs, and seemed to be obsessed with transforming his appearance from black male to white female. He was most definitely not a role model for our children.

Our reaction to Michael Jackson should more properly be pity, not admiration. We cannot judge what his ultimate eternal destination will be, but we cannot reasonably say that most of his adult life brought glory to God or caused his fans to think of anything that was true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable. He had great potential and squandered it along with his fortune. The willful waste of his life is the real tragedy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Praise of Followers

I heard a commercial yesterday for a large private university near here, advertising their mission of producing exceptional leaders.  My own college's mission statement is similar, proclaiming that we will produce servant-leaders, a mission I wholeheartedly support, since we are in the business of training ministers and leaders of ministries.  But the commercial did set me to wondering whether or not we really want everyone to be a leader, not to mention that making everyone a leader is contrary to the word’s definition. I think the time has come to get a dose of reality and train people to be educated, discerning followers.

All of us have to be followers.  All people have some authority over them--yes, even President Obama.  All of us have to learn to submit and obey.  Most of us will exercise leadership only within very narrow limits, perhaps only in our own homes, so we will spend considerably more time following instead of leading. Hence, understanding the characteristics of a good follower is important.

So what makes a good follower?  First, understanding that a follower is not the leader.  The follower must submit to the authority of the leader.  This does not mean that the follower is the slave; rather, he is the supporter and helper of the leader. The leader will go nowhere on his own, and opposition will slow or halt progress for all.

The follower, though, has an obligation to make sure the leader is heading in the right direction.  Blind following may lead to an undesirable place.  Therefore, the follower has to use discernment in choosing which leader to follow, and must be ready to speak his mind and advise the leader of obstacles.  Good leaders rely on their helpers and will listen; poor leaders will find themselves leading no one.

So we must learn to choose leaders wisely and to hold them accountable for their leadership.  We must pray for our leaders and do all we can to make the pathway smooth for all of us.  But if our leader is leading us in the wrong direction, we have an obligation to stop following.  We need to remember the saying we heard from our mothers: “If ____ told you to jump off the cliff, would you?”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Aftermath

Our daughter got married last weekend. She married a fellow we really like, and they are very well suited to each other in terms of intellect and interests. Weddings are always stressful affairs for the families involved, but I think we managed to make it through without too much difficulty. There were glitches, but the end result was achieved: a new family was formed, with much rejoicing.

This is our 3rd child to be married, so we are familiar with the range of emotions that we can expect. This time, though, the son-in-law has lived with us for almost a year, so we didn’t just lose one person from the household; we lost two. So we scramble to find a new, temporary normal—the “baby” leaves for college at the end of the summer. Then, after almost 33 years, the husband and I will be alone again.

Do we dread this? No, not much. We enjoy our adult kids, and we also enjoy our freedom. If we want to eat dinner at 4:30—or at 8:30—we can. I can run around in my pj’s after supper and not care if my sags and bags are apparent. We can eat food our kids still find disgusting. We can rediscover what we saw in each other B.C. (Before Children). We can take hot showers (hooray for a huge water heater and only the two of us).

So here’s to the natural order of life. My spouse and I intend to enjoy our “golden years” while we can, preferably with lots of grandchildren (hear that, kids: multiply!).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My New Career

Apparently the Department of Homeland Security has decided that my next career is that of right-wing extremist.  Since I believe abortion is evil, all immigrants should be legal, the Second Amendment is still valid, big government is dangerous, and Tax Day Tea Parties are just an exercise in the right of free assembly, I definitely fit DHS's definition of extremist.  Oh--I also belong to a conservative religious group.   Oh, well.  I've changed careers before, and I guess one more time before I retire won't kill me.

Hey, Janet Napolitano--you are invited to my office for a tea party.  Have a seat on my couch and I'll brew you a cup of tea and maybe feed you a scone if I have any left.  Enjoy the lilac candles and the classical music playing on my iPod.  We'll talk.  Maybe the tranquil atmosphere will calm you down.  If not, I have a Hallmark panic button for you to press.  Get to know me, and you'll see just how extreme I really am.  I'm about the least likely person to pose a physical threat to you, but I might just threaten your own left-wing extremist view of me as a danger to the New Society.  Maybe if you left your insulated Washington hideout and met real middle Americans you wouldn't have such a phobia about us.

So Janet--see you on my couch.