The River

I’ve never been in a kayak before. I’ve been curious– it seems like the Latest Thing these days, and I like water. I’ve been on canoe trips, one mild-white water trip in Reno, and a rowboat or two. So Larry signed us three up for a 3 hour kayak trip down the Platte River last Sunday just for fun. (The music kept playing in my head–“a three hour tour….”)

How hard could it be? I see the Platte nearly every day; driving or biking across bridges that span it. Around our area, it’s known to be very shallow. It has a sandy bottom, and during periods of draught there are areas where it’s completely dry.

Having been on a white water tour in Reno and a couple with youth groups over the ministry years, I remember there always being a guide; someone to tell us what to do and how to do it, and many times they were in my boat. I think that’s what I was picturing– at the very least someone leading us down the river to tell us when to stop!

Nope.

Did I mention I’ve never been in a kayak? And I’ve never been in any boat on the Platte River. The others who gathered for our time slot were clearly more experienced than we were. They had waterproof bags to carry cell phones, and they carried small coolers of water and beer. Oh! We didn’t think there’d be room in the kayak for anything but our bodies.

At least we remembered the sun screen.

It was meant to be a family fun activity, but Sarah was first, then me, then Larry– getting into our boats. By the time I got situated, Sarah was long gone. I also– being a bit nervous about my kayaking skills and eager to prove them– quickly got out of Larry’s sight. It wasn’t long before I got stuck on sandbars, which were many, and had to push my way off of them. I began to dread that sandy, scrunching, plastic-against-sand sound as I came to another standstill in shallow water. Getting out and pushing the boat out proved to be like standing in quicksand, as the bottom of the river is deep, shoe-sucking sand.

I tried to keep Larry in my sights behind me, but he, too, kept getting stuck, and the mild current was strong enough to keep me moving forward even when I wasn’t paddling. I caught up to Sarah once or twice, but again, getting stuck, she paddled out of my view. I was doing quite well, actually; my arms were sore, but in that way that you knew at the end of the day you’d feel like you actually DID something and your body would sleep quite deeply.

But then.

The guide (who was never actually on the water with us) told us when we set out to always bear to the left. But at one point, I came upon a fork and looked to the left. Trees hung very low over the water, and the branches didn’t look like I could duck low enough to get under. At the same time as this critical moment of doubt, the current was stronger and my kayak was being pushed to the RIGHT side of the fork. Ok. No problem. Deep breath. So I paddled. And paddled. Until it began to look like I was heading into a dead end, a watery cul-de-sac. That was when I made a bad decision. If I’d just stayed in the boat, I would have discovered that the dead end was not, in fact, a dead end, but went around to the left and hooked up with the branch that I decided against following. All would have been well. Slight detour. No worries! But alas, I had a brief moment of panic. So instead of going forward, I decided to go back to the fork and go to the right instead of the left.

Easier said than done.

The current was strong enough to deter me from this. I got out of the boat–sunk in the shoe-sucking sand– and tried to push my boat against the current. After just a few feet of progress, I was out of breath. (Did I mention I have asthma? Did I mention that I DIDN’T bring my rescue inhaler? After all, in normal life I never have to use it…) I had to stop and stand still against the current, clutching the kayak. I tried to move forward again. My chest got tight, my lungs burned, and I started to feel dizzy. In the distance, I saw the last group of kayakers (who had paused on a small beach to drink their beer) go right at the fork. I was saved! I waved to them, hoping someone would come to help me. They kept paddling. I kept waving until all of them had passed out of sight.

My thought was No one is going to save you.

At first I was angry. They HAD to have seen me, I was right in their line of vision. But they seemingly ignored me. Then I realized that if I let myself go on with that initial indignant anger, it would take up more energy than I had at the moment. The only choice I had was to keep doing what I was doing. Anger wouldn’t help me. I sat down on a log sticking up out of the water and held onto the kayak, to catch my breath. I put on the life jacket that was in the boat, just in case. I took deep breaths. Don’t panic. Don’t scold yourself for not being better prepared. You have to deal with what you have.

Once I felt like I caught my breath, I pushed the kayak, sludged through the sand and made it to the fork. The current was still against me, trying to push me back. I paused again to breathe. Once I got into the boat the current immediately pushed me into some tall, long reeds and grass, but I was able to push my way out and get into the current that went down the branch I’d previously ignored.

I laid the paddle across my lap and just drifted, gulping in the air and whispering a quiet thank you.

I didn’t see anybody ahead or behind me and as I kept paddling slowly, allowing the current to carry me, I realized how alone I was. I saw a blue heron fly overhead and I watched its impressive wings spread above me, gliding and dancing in the air. I smiled. I felt completely alone, but I didn’t panic. I thought, you have no idea where you are, you don’t know if you passed the stopping point, and no cell phone.

But I felt strangely calm. For which I said another thank you. Larry and Sarah often tease me about how because I’m from New Jersey I know how to “adjust,” because it’s a line in the song, “I’m From New Jersey.” It’s kind of a joke precisely because in the past I’ve had plenty of moments that I’ve panicked or did NOT adjust well to what was going on.

However, I had a long stretch of river where I had no idea where I was going or if I was going to end up in Lincoln or some other state, or get out and find a road to flag somebody down to help me… and I realized a lot of things.

No one is going to rescue you.

For a lot of my early life and early adulthood I thought I needed rescuing. Mostly from men. I was convinced that I was too weak, too sensitive, too “unprepared” to do things on my own. I was stupid. Helpless.

But I’m not. Even as I achieved a lot of things throughout my life, there was still that underlying self-doubt and sometimes self-loathing. Voices in my head saying You can’t do this. You’re weak. You too emotional. You’re too intense. Too, too, too…

As I took breaks, and let the kayak carry me, I put my fingers in the water, letting them drift across the surface. Or splashed my face with river water. I felt an overwhelming peace. And in influx of memories. Of when I DID overcome. When I did big things, even when the anxiety threatened to consume me, or people who were supposed to love me kept saying, but you can’t! you can’t! I did things. I moved halfway across the country. Alone. Because of a crazy notion that God was leading me that way. Even pastors back East said, you’re crazy! Why would God lead you to do that?

And yet coming to Nebraska was like the John Denver song, “he came home/to a place he’d never been before/he left yesterday behind him/you might say he was born again…” I did that.

No one is going to rescue you.

I went through a lot in pastoral ministry. During the hardest of times, I did want someone to rescue me. To say, “yes, you’ve been wronged, let’s make it right.” But life doesn’t happen that way, as we see time and time again in much bigger issues and situations. I had to figure it out. No one could tell me what the right answer was, or the right direction. I was fortunate to have Larry drop into my life, a man who believes that women are human beings with gifts and not inferior at all to men. His gentle, gracious love in my life provides space for healing and growth. But he has never tried to rescue me.

You are your mother’s daughter.

I smiled and talked out loud to God in the loneliness of the river. My mother was a warrior. She and I weren’t as close as I wanted, but she had so many battles in her life to fight. I realized, too, in the quietness of the water and the heat of the sun, that my mother was enormously strong to be able to live the life she lived. To keep finding ways to use her gifts without being shut down. She struggled a lot, too, with depression and anxiety, but through that, she soldiered on. Sometimes she crumbled. But then she got up and embraced life and went after it with intensity and passion. I didn’t always give her credit for that, because I didn’t think she should have had to fight so hard for her life. But it was what it was. My father was not as liberated as my husband is. And she found her way to share her joy and faith in the ways that she could.

I have her toughness in me. I realized that again. Or maybe I didn’t fully know that before. My father didn’t like emotion, so both my mother and I alarmed him with all our intensity of emotions. But emotions aren’t wrong. They aren’t weak.

My mother was not weak.

She was a warrior.

I. Am a warrior.

Life doesn’t have to be so scary. The Church and I are separated, likely divorced, but that doesn’t mean I have lost my way. God smiled on the river. I was so alone. And yet not. I had no idea how the day would end, how the stories I would inevitably tell would play out. Not knowing was suddenly ok.

The pains of the past, that sometimes get triggered awake again, are still there. But they don’t define me. I had to tell them in order to heal. I still do. But not as often. And not in the same way.

One, two, three bridges. How many bridges did the guide say we’d pass? I couldn’t remember. Or maybe I didn’t hear him because I am hard of hearing. My arms and neck were aching, but I’d managed to find a rhythm to the rowing, discovered how to see any sand bars ahead of me and maneuver around them without getting stuck.

I started humming “The River” by Garth Brooks. “and I will sail my vessel/till the river runs dry/like a bird upon the wind/these waters are my sky/I’ll never reach my destination/if I never try/so I will sail my vessel till the River runs dry/there’s bound to be rough waters/and I’m sure to take some falls/but with the good Lord as my captain/I’ll make them through it all…”

No one is going to rescue you. But it’s ok. You don’t need to be rescued. You got this. You always did.

I sensed my mother. The woman who dug up enough large slabs of rock in the Poconos to build a rock wall around the perimeter of the property when in her 50s. With no help. The woman who loved to learn new things and to do new things and did all things well, it seemed. The woman who signed up for Pilates on her 80th birthday and did it regularly for the next 7 years. That stubborn, stubborn woman.

My mother.

She would have done the kayaking trip if there was someone to go with her. And she probably would have forgotten the water too. But would have adjusted. And done it.

As I came to one more bridge, a flock of birds came flying out all at once, and I felt for a moment like I was on a Hitchcockian movie set, but once my vision recovered from the mass of feathers, I saw my husband and daughter waving frantically at me from the shore. I laughed. Of course they would be there to guide me in. Of course.

I was never really alone.

The Weight of the World

I used to believe that there were people in the world who “made it.” They got it together, healed old wounds, figured out life, learned not to stress, didn’t let the turkeys get them down, they had crossed the finish line into “maturity.” They always knew what to do and how to live life, no matter what life threw at them. My father, a pastor and student of psychology, tried to convince me as a child that he was one of those people. I believed him. I was his captive student. To a little girl, he seemed impressive. He seemed really smart. He often talked at length to me on various subjects– perhaps I should say he talked “at me.” He wasn’t engaging me in conversation, he simply wanted an audience. He didn’t ask me about my own life or thoughts. He didn’t teach me how to think for myself, he taught me WHAT to think.

I never saw my father cry. To him, tears were for women, but even when I did cry, I was made to feel as if I were just a “fragile female,” moody, or hysterical. He taught me that to truly be emotionally mature, one did not in fact feel anything at all. Feelings were a weakness. I am 55 years old, and it is still difficult for me to feel my feelings, to allow myself that freedom. I can watch a deeply sad movie and while I do feel the sadness, I cannot shed a tear. I wish I could! Tears finally come when anger or hurt or disappointment has built up in me and the tears have no other place to go but OUT. But it’s exhausting. I cry then, for so many hurts. So many losses, so much pain, all built up.

I’ve been to a lot of therapy over my life, and only some of it was helpful. I’ve grown a lot over the years, and now in my fifties I feel like I’ve finally been able to heal, to strengthen, feel my feelings, and communicate more openly with the people I love. I’ve only recently been able to stand up for myself. For decades before that, I have felt that the other person must always be right, because who am I? I worked hard to adjust myself to what might make the other person happy with me, or like me. Or I tried to figure out what to say that would make the other person respond positively to me. I tried to figure out what other people wanted me to be so that they’d like me.

That was a DEADLY way to be when you are a pastor– or any leader of a large group of people, for that matter. Because everyone wants something different from you and you can never make everybody happy. But I was raised to believe that it was my role to make other people happy. I thought that I had no right to be happy if other people around me weren’t happy. When I write that, I want to go back and hug the little girl, the teenager and young adult that was me, and assure them, “Oh Honey, no. You are not responsible for everybody else, and especially not the whole world.

I feel tired as I write that. Because I was tired for most of my life, trying so hard to be and to say and to do what made everybody ELSE happy. Because I believed I was surely too stupid, too naive, too sheltered, too emotional, too sensitive, too….too…too… whatever to be worthy.

About a week ago, my serendipity, or chance, or the breath of God, if you will, I stumbled upon more information about my family of origin. I’ve done the ancestry.com bit, as has my brother. I know that my mother’s ancestors were slave traders and soldiers in the Confederacy– which didn’t surprise me since she’s from Mississippi, after all. We discovered that my father, who grew up in India and fancied himself a Brit with a “little bit of Indian” in him, was, in fact, more than half Indian. Having left India when the country gained independence from Britain, this heavily disturbed him in the last 10 years of his life.

I received some information that triggered another search for the one last cousin on my father’s side that no one could locate. Before six years ago, I didn’t know the names of all my cousins on Dad’s side, nor did I know how many there were or where they were. Dad never talked about his family of origin in detail. He never communicated with any of his six siblings, except for the one or two times two brothers showed up at our door in the middle of the night and stayed a few days. These uncles didn’t talk to me or relate to me directly on those visits. They were mysteries to me. Apart from me, as if they weren’t related to me and had nothing to do with who I am. Because that’s how my father treated them and/or spoke of them when they were gone.

I didn’t find the last cousin, in fact, the last anyone knew he’s in France somewhere. I was in touch with his ex-spouse, who informed me that my cousin was under the impression that his father–my uncle– was an only child. My uncle, too, whom I met only once, hadn’t spoken to his own son of his family of origin. That relationship, in fact, was estranged while my uncle was alive, they weren’t close. The more I have learned, and the more I have asked questions of the few people who know anything, the more I was informed that either my cousins didn’t want to talk about it or they simply didn’t know anything. The more I discovered, the more I learned that none of us were able to have a close relationship with our parents– the children of my grandparents in India. It would seem that for whatever reasons, the one thing that the siblings of my father all had in common, was the inability to be emotionally connected to another human being.

This was a major insight to discover. And devastating. Bittersweet. All my life, I tried so hard to get my father to love me for who I was, to be proud of me, to bestow worth on me somehow, but it never worked. He was highly critical of me all my life, as he was all of us four children. He was impossible to impress. I thought I had to impress him in order to be of any worth. As the only girl in the family, he singled me out as even “less.” I was not expected to achieve much, because women don’t. They are too weak and inferior and stupid. And so I believed that for a long time. I believed too, that if Dad wasn’t happy– and he wasn’t a happy person– I couldn’t be happy. It was up to me to make him happy.

It was a weak ago, that all this information landed on me. I’d known a lot through the years, bit by bit. I’d learned much more about the Michael family through a cousin I discovered–I believe serendipitously– through Facebook six years ago. But this week, upon discovering and learning the story of the Last Cousin, I felt the weight of it all like an anvil. It was as if something pushed me down to the floor and held me there. The sadness and brokenness of relationships that was so pervasive in my father’s family (and therefore my family)– suffocated me.

On Monday, I wrote in my journal, “the weight of my family’s story feels so heavy on my back.” Later that day, I bent to pick up a piece of ice off the floor, and felt a sharp pain in my back. I stumbled around, put some heat on it, walked like an old lady all day. That night, I tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom… and the pain hit me so severely I ended up on my knees on the floor, drenched in a cold sweat, while the room spun around me. My husband put cold washcloths on the back of my neck and after a while was able to lift me up and help me to the recliner where I was able to sleep.

I truly believe that we feel trauma or emotional pain in our bodies. I’ve known many people who suffer chronic pain who experienced great trauma in their childhoods that was never healed or addressed. I am not– in any way– saying that all chronic pain is psychosomatic or necessarily psychological. I AM saying that it is often symptom of something deeper. Not always, but often.

I have no doubt that the pain I felt at unraveling yet another Michael story that had wide implications for the whole family– contributed to my back pain. Whether it was the stress that tightened my lower back as I felt emotion that I couldn’t express or what. The pain is still there. I have done yoga, stretching and careful walks. I’ve applied heat and ice and done some meditation, all of which has helped. I’m feeling better. I’ve journaled, talked with my husband, and prayed. It may take yet another few days, and perhaps massage, to rid myself of the pain. But I do believe our bodies respond to those emotions that get clogged in us and very much need to be expressed, lest they make us sick.

It was also the week of the Chauvin trial, and more mass shootings, more police shootings. As someone who was brainwashed into believing that I was responsible for the whole world!– this, too, was a heavy burden. Of course, I know better now, that I am in fact NOT responsible for the entire world, but I still respond as if I am. I feel like I need to say something to help everybody get along, or to see the other side, or to help someone hateful be more loving and kind. I feel the tension of conflict in my body and suffer anxiety for not being able to do much about it.

I do come back around and embrace the Serenity Prayer: “God, help me to accept the things I cannot change, give me courage to change the things I can, and give me wisdom to know the difference.” I pray that prayer not as an addict of alcohol, but an addict of Responsibility. But I often suffer before I get there.

I can only do what I can in this small corner of the world. I can do the next right thing, and then let go. I am allowed to be happy even if the world is a mess. Even if Donald Trump is still a threat or people I care about think he’s the Messiah. I am allowed to be at peace, even if the world isn’t– which is good, because when have we known the world to be at peace?

I can love. Myself– finally!–my family, my friends, the people who cross my path. I can be kind and do what good I am able to do. But that’s all I can do. I don’t actually have to save the world. And that’s a huge load off my back.

But I bet I’ll have to tell myself all this all over again tomorrow.

Unwrapping Life

Holy Week is always painful for me. For 19 years it was the highlight, the climax of the Christian year for me. I was the nerdy kid who sat through the three hours of our community worship services on Good Friday, that were hosted by our church in Woodbury, NJ. They were split up into 30 minute increments with different preachers for each 1/2 hour and people came and went. I sat there as a teenager, every year, for 3 hours, staring up at the impressive 16-foot dark cross that loomed as the sole ornament in the sanctuary.

As a pastor myself, Larry and I poured a lot of creativity, heart and faith into our Holy Week services, which all but one year we were able to do together. Somehow I never understood Easter without Good Friday. On Maundy Thursday, at the end of the communion service, we had a stripping of the altar to prepare for Good Friday. In silence after the last hymn, various laypeople would slowly come forward and take away one item from the chancel area till it was bare and colorless. The cloths on the altar, on the pulpit and lectern. The flowers on the altar. The candlesticks. The communion set. The cross on the altar. Then the colorful stole around my neck. We left in silence. The Good Friday Tenebrae service was a powerful reflection on Jesus’ death. It’s so easily glossed over in the teaching that “Jesus died for my sins,” as if his death was not the most horrible form of execution available. Like a lynching on a tree. Agonizing torture and pain. Religious people calling for his death and mocking him as he slowly suffocates inside his body. Bleeding. It was a horrible, horrible way to die, and he could have gotten out of it if he so chose. But he didn’t. Even though he was innocent, he died like a common criminal at the hands of the State.

What does Easter mean without a sense of that horrible death endured for Love? Nothing.

The Tenebrae service is made up of Scripture and hymns, and the sanctuary gets slowly darker throughout until there is only one hidden candle still lit. I never preached for that service, but always took the form of Mary Magdalene or Mary mother of Jesus, and did a monologue in character. It was as if I was in front of the Cross watching my beloved die a slow and unjust death. I spoke from that place of grief and pain and anger. As the lights finally went out at the end, I sang “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” We left in the dark, in silence. The worshippers approached us with a candle and we said to them, “The Master is no longer here.” They lit their candle off of ours and replied, “I will take his Spirit with me.” Then they walked out into the dark of the night, speaking to no one, carrying their flame into the world.

Easter was always that much more powerful and joyful because of it. NOTHING can separate us from God’s love and justice in the world… not even death. We are given that light to face the darkness of this world and spread the hope.

Good stuff.

But since I left pastoral ministry in 2009, Holy Week has been like the anniversary of a death. Even if you try not to think about it, your body remembers. My body remembers weeping, yelling, asking, grieving, singing in the darkness and HOPING for Resurrection. And discovering it with my congregation one more time on Sunday morning. My body remembers… and hurts. After a year of pandemic and relentlessly absurd and painful news of the world, there was no place to pour all that pain. For 19 years, I summoned up all my frustrations, stresses, griefs, etc. and poured it into the darkness of Good Friday– and allowing it to be redeemed on Resurrection Day. This year my body was sad. I couldn’t resist it or avoid it. I didn’t do much. But like the day after a death, Holy Saturday was a reprieve. Wondering — did that happen? Or was it a bad dream? My spirit rested on Saturday, soaked up the beautiful weather outside, and was assured that everything would be ok.

On Easter Sunday, we worshipped via livestream with one of my two favorite professors from seminary, Dr. Tex Sample. As expected, he brought the Word! He reminded me of hope against hope, of Love that conquers darkness and hate and always always always has the Last Word.

And I can go on.

Someone said recently that Christians are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I get that. There is So. Much. Pain. It seems relentless. I confess that one thing the pandemic changed in me was my optimism about humankind. Many people have suffered this year, and some of them express that by taking it out on everyone around them. I confess I hate to go out in public, even masked and socially distanced, because inevitably someone is going to be rude. The intensity of hate, racism, whatever “ism” that fuels more hate and violence and death, is astounding. It’s easy to lose faith. I can’t just gloss over all the very real evil and pain with “well, God is in control.” That denies the deep pain and sorrow that our very earth feels, much less so many human beings. God weeps too. The message of Easter to me is that we are not alone, and we can’t get out of whatever pain there is, but we have a way THROUGH. Good Friday to me is a symbol of what we do to each other, and Easter is the message of what God will continue to do with us and for us DESPITE it all.

I get discouraged. I doubt. I have tons of questions that cannot be answered. But I have experienced the power of God’s Spirit time and time again through relationships, friendships, worship experiences, a moment, a surprise gift of grace just when it’s needed, through worship, retreats, and the unfathomable love that keeps coming at me from various places whose source I know is God. I’ve known God’s presence and gifts too much to give up on it all. I weep for the Church because I think it is going through a rough time of trying to remember who it is supposed to be, which is NOT like the rest of the world with all its hate and violence. I weep for the Church, yes. I wonder what will come of it, but God wanted it so I trust that it’ll come through this time of shadow valleys. But God is more than the institution. Humans fail again and again, but God does not. That’s what I trust in. That’s what makes me get up one more time when I feel like curling up in a ball.

I always loved the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead after four days of stinking in the tomb. When Jesus told him to get up and get out here, there he was, looking like a mummy out of a Halloween movie, I suspect. Jesus didn’t say, “Now burst outta those wrappings, dude!” But Jesus turned to Lazarus’ astonished friends and said, “Unwrap him.” He asked his friends to finish the miracle and help Lazarus start his new life. Because God doesn’t work alone. It’s up to us to keep shining light into the darkest of nights, to walk forward saying “I fear no evil,” and love where love seems most impossible. It’s our calling to unwrap life amidst a world of death and pain. To make manifest the power of love in the resurrected Jesus. Love that hopes, endures and believes all things.

It’s the day after Easter. It’s just the beginning. Let the Life and Light of God in Christ permeate everything you see and know.

Peace.

Here… and There

We all go through this life with expectations, however realistic or not so much. We all get disappointed, which is what happens when one has expectations. Inevitably, they are not met to our satisfaction. Sometimes, they are devastatingly unfulfilled.

There are a lot of things that happen to us, for better or worse, but there are some moments in life that I feel strongly happen because they are meant to happen. Moments that define us, or set a course for our lives. One such moment for me was when the other kids in my church youth group signed up for a week-long summer camp in a town called Pennington, NJ. I was never one to go to such things, as I had never been away from home that long and was very very shy. But I had been “going out” with Eric for three whole months now– my very first boyfriend!– and alas, Eric was going to camp as well. Alas, I had to go.

Never mind that we pretty much broke up on the first day of camp and met other people. But I digress.

Pennington was a moment in my life without which I can’t imagine how my life would have gone. That first year I was so terrified and homesick (despite “falling in love” with another pastor’s kid) that I lost ten pounds in 6 days of camp. I was too anxious to eat. At all.

But in the next three years of camp, I blossomed. At Pennington I could be someone else, someone other than who I was during the year in high school, which was a nerd, a misfit with limited friends. At Pennington I had a lot of friends, and one year I was even voted “most popular camper” in the daily newsletter that I helped put together. The difference was, that I at Pennington I could be myself. At Pennington it was safe. We learned about Jesus and God’s love and we talked in small groups about our fears and our struggles and people listened. We played New Games, which was a bunch of games where nobody lost, and everybody won. Nobody was a loser. Nobody was a sad sack or embarrassing. We played games to have fun, not to win. This uptight, anxiety-ridden, desperately shy pastor’s kid from New Jersey could be somebody that other people liked. And somebody, it was driven into me, that God especially liked. Loved even.

I could play basketball, which I loved, and didn’t have to worry about being good at it, everyone was allowed to play. I could play my guitar and sing onstage for the talent show, because I knew I was safe. I was with My People. We worshipped, we sat in the dark with a candle and shared our hearts and sometimes our tears with each other. It was holy. It was safe. It was precious and tender.

There was Ed. He was the head counselor, and during the year, he was also a United Methodist pastor. He was a lot of fun. All the kids liked him, and wherever Ed was on the campus grounds, there was a group of youth around him. We called him Crazy Eddie, after a guy on TV who advertised his business, where “prices were… INSANE!” Ed told us stories about God’s love and he was so darn excited and enthusiastic, he made you listen. Somehow, Ed noticed me. Somehow, Ed sensed that this nervous, shy, sweaty-palmed teenage Goody Two Shoes needed a friend. During my first year at camp, I was sitting in the snack bar toward the end of the week, after my cute boyfriend left to get ready for the swim meet. Ed sat down with me. We talked. I’d never felt comfortable with other adults. I didn’t trust that they’d be the least bit interested in me. I didn’t think there was any reason anyone would want to take the time to listen to me. But he did. This guy who was so darn popular with the other kids, who acted like a nut and made us laugh but could also get us to take him seriously when he assured us that God loved us. Us. Dorky, awkward teenagers who didn’t know how to be in our skin.

He saw me. He considered me worth listening to.

It scared the hell out of me.

By the last day of camp, that day and every year I went, we were all high on friendship, joy, confidence, inspiration, fun and freedom. But it was time to go home. Ed and his fellow staff spent a good deal of time on that last day telling us about what they called “Re-entry.” There at Pennington, we hugged a lot. We cried sometimes, we laughed a lot, and we made a lot of friends. We were completely free to be ourselves and we believed that God loved us. But, the staff warned us, going home might be a bit difficult. Going back There– out into the rest of the world– out into our everyday lives with siblings, parents and high school… could be a shock. We didn’t know what the staff was talking about. They told us that people back in our lives at home don’t know what we experienced there at camp; the love, the joy, the games we couldn’t lose, etc. They hadn’t been at the climactic worship service on Friday night where some of us wept, gave our hearts to Jesus (again) and promised to trust God with our awkward lives. They didn’t experience Pennington. Camp. They wouldn’t necessarily understand. And, they warned, it might be hard to face that world that was a bit harsher, less accepting and welcoming. Less loving.

We didn’t know what they were talking about. We exchanged addresses and promises to write.

I remember that first year going home. My parents weren’t cruel or mean, but they were a bit detached. My Mom was sweet and kind. She was a generous person. My father was more like a professor in my life, always seeking to teach me something, sharing his wisdom while I sat at his feet and gratefully drank of his deep insights. My Mom, especially, loved God and had a deep heart faith. My father was more intellectual and kind of scoffed at emotional experiences or any sharing of feelings. Feelings were a weakness to him. They simply could not understand what I was talking about when I tried to tell them what I’d experienced, something that couldn’t be contained in words. The intimacy with other Christians, the freedom to say “I love you!” without being misunderstood, sharing prayer and hugs and holiness. The confidence I had there, that I didn’t have at home, or in high school. The sense that I was precious and lovable and beautiful inside.

I walked into the den one evening after being home and watched what they were watching on TV. It suddenly seemed so shallow and fake. I was disoriented. Lost. I had no North Star. I felt like I’d been dumped off on some island where I didn’t know the language. I dealt with it by writing letters. A lot of letters. To Ed, to other staff, to my many friends scattered up and down New Jersey– and I quickly received some back. It felt like we’d all been sent to our various wildernesses and we were sending SOS’s out across the state. I longed for the mail to come. I read those letters again and again. I read the messages my campmates had written to me on a folder that we all got and passed around like a yearbook. We promised to stay in touch, our letters were a touchstone, a remembrance of where we’d been, as if to assure ourselves it wasn’t just a lofty dream about Narnia.

That was 40 years ago. Pennington gave me a deep, satisfying taste of Christian community and sacred friendship. I still keep in touch with Ed through letters, email and visits when possible. His friendship is a precious gift that remains a touchstone of grace and comfort. I thought of it all again today, thinking about the staff’s warnings about Re-Entry into the world after that deep, satisfying swim in the sweet waters of Grace and Love and Community. I’d been a pastor for 19 years, and I got to say that part of the reason I had to leave (and there are many) was that I was sorely disappointed in the failed attempts at Christian community at the Churches I served. There were moments, mind you, where I got a taste of what I tasted at Pennington, but most of the time, it was severely lacking. I realize, I expected a lot. I wanted Pennington. And Life… isn’t Pennington. The Church. Isn’t Pennington. The world…. well.

It’s hard to live in a world so full of hate and meanness and violence. It’d be easier to understand if all that meanness and hate was coming from people who didn’t believe in God and try to do what Jesus calls us to do. But what has been most devastating for me over the years has been the discovery of how mean “church people” can be. To each other. To people who are different. To other Christians. To people in need.

And it’s hard to live in a world where so much is fake and on the surface. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to have deep, heart to heart talks. Tell me who you are, what you love, what inspires you, what gives you hope, what brings a tear to your eye and makes you want to live again. And let me tell YOU. Let’s be honest and open and REAL. And then let me give you a hug because I think we all need one, if we’re honest.

But most of the world isn’t like that. I realize some of my most painful experiences in life have been because I EXPECTED something that couldn’t be. I expected something that other people can’t give. I expected my experience at a Christian college or a Christian church… to be safe and inspiring and free. Mostly safe. To be myself. To let others be themselves. To share our deepest longings, and our worst fears. And find Christ in each other. To make friends that will still love us when we’re old and a bit lumpier and a little bit more scarred. Friends that we hope to see at the Heavenly Banquet so we can keep on being friends… forever.

I know. Lofty.

But it’s how I’m built.

And so I have to figure out, every day, how to live in this world that can be so cruel and hard. Detached. How to live in this world with my tender heart that longs to connect at an intimate level with another human being in a way that we trust each other. In a way that we experience God in the meeting. I have to figure out how to live with the disappointment of my expectations often NOT being met, or worse yet, being rebuffed sometimes quite harshly, by people who say they love Christ. And how to keep believing that living with that hope in Christ is still worth it and still real and still doable.

I try to figure it out every day, some days are better than others. Some days are really disappointing and scary. But I have a life partner who helps me see Jesus, still, in his eyes, after 30 years of marriage. I have a daughter with whom I can be completely real and honest and open and loving. Our home is safe for all of us. It is holy and precious and real. I send an email or letter to Ed when I need to remember why I ever believed in the first place. Someone once said that “memories are a means of grace,” and it’s true. I remember the moments of Pennington and many such moments in the decades since, where God was alive and real and life was connected and made sense. And there was love.

And so I remember. For one more day. And light my candle in the window, if for no other reason than to say that I believe in the Light that will overcome the darkness.

It’s Rough Out There

I never liked talking politics. My parents never talked about politics– in fact, growing up I didn’t know who they voted for. They were of that generation that felt it was a private thing. I didn’t even know if they were registered Republican or Democrat. We didn’t talk about it until 2016 and they let me know that they did NOT vote for Trump. And quite frankly, for my father to vote for a woman (!), you KNOW things are rough.

However, since 2016, I felt I needed to speak up about various things that deeply offended me and my sense of what my faith calls me to do. I marched in several parades and carried signs. I wrote letters to the editor of the local paper. I put signs in my window (because I knew if they were in my yard they’d be stolen.) All of that was way out of my comfort zone, but I felt strongly about what I expressed and felt I needed to speak up.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a letter to the editor expressing my concerns about Christian’s embracing of Trump. I won’t go into it here, but I made my position quite clear, concise and intelligent. I didn’t call anyone names or declare anyone’s eschatological destination if they were, in fact, Trump supporters. I made what I believe an intelligent argument that this man was not, is not, never will be a model of Christ-like behavior.

In mid-January my daughter and I took a weekend away at a socially distanced, well-cleaned hotel in Lincoln, to just spend time together and get away responsibly. We went to our favorite bookstores where they followed all the CDC protocols so we felt safe, and usually ordered food into the hotel. It was a lovely weekend, and a chance to spend concentrated time with my daughter.

Upon arriving home, there was a letter addressed to me that had come in the mail that weekend. I didn’t recognize the handwriting, there was no return address, and it was actually addressed to my house, and not the post office box. I didn’t think too much about it, I love getting personal mail, so I was curious. I opened it and it was typewritten and unsigned, and addressed me by my full name.

The letter called me out as a hypocrite, complete with a Bible verse about what Jesus thought of hypocrites. The writer let me know in no uncertain terms that they do not believe that I am the Christian that I claim to be, and how dare I say such things?? It accused me of bashing those who voted for Trump (I did not) and yet I have the gall to support “the likes” of Biden and Harris. “Sickening!” They ended with, “a bleeding heart liberal in ‘pharisees’ clothing you are! Be careful…” They added “Mark 7:6” just for flourish, which reads, “He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;”

My initial reaction was pure shock as I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Then I felt cold and sick all over– afraid. They’d addressed it to my physical address, so they know where I live. Then… I got angry. When I spoke to others, they perceived it as a threat and advised me to call the police. I asked the two lawyers in the family and they agreed it was a threat. I did call the police and talked to a deputy who said there was really nothing they could do about it, especially if I didn’t know who it was. There was no other evidence to work with. The postmark was Omaha, but all our mail in the area goes through Omaha so it could have been someone from my little town or anyone in the county.

I wrote another letter to the editor, calling out this person and what they did, but again, didn’t call names or throw about my anger. I just expressed my disappointment that they felt the need to threaten me and to do so anonymously. I received support from many friends in the area from the letter and the news of the threat.

I haven’t heard anything else, nor do I expect to. I don’t think this is someone I know or who knows me at all. At least, I sure hope not.

What I don’t get is why someone would do that. Sure, they were angry at what I said. I get angry quite a lot when I read the letters to the editor, but I have never felt tempted to write an anonymous, threatening letter to the person. To me, this is elementary school behavior. We know, of course, that despite the many virtues and gifts of the internet, there is a dark and sinister side. There is cyber-bullying. People can harass and threaten and intimidate people online and do great damage. We hear of teenagers who commit suicide over such bullying. People get online and feel like they can say anything, no matter how cruel, violent or atrocious it is. Chances are they would never say such things if they had to look the person in the eye. But online, anonymously, we can throw a lot of sticks and stones that not only hurt but can ultimately kill. If not a body, they can kill a spirit.

It’s a huge problem. I love the stuff I can do on the internet. I love that I can Google anything and find the answer. I love that I can keep in touch with people across the world, see pictures of them, and share news with them. I love that I have found friends from elementary school and can catch up and even make plans to get together when this pandemic is over. I love that I can share concerns and people across the country will pray for me and offer support. Or I can share good news and they rejoice with me! Or we can share our views and assure one another that we’re not alone in our perspective.

The internet can be used to rally support, get donations for good causes, help us find opportunities to expand ourselves, get therapy, learn something, or find jobs we didn’t even know about. It allows many of us to work from home during a pandemic, and better or worse, allows children and adults to learn online instead of missing school altogether.

But as Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And the power of the internet, while it has the power to open up all these opportunities, bring diverse people together, and connect people, it also has the power to do great evil and tear people apart. It has the power to inflict deep pain. We’ve obviously seen how powerfully the internet can spread lies and convince people of ludicrous things. Many years ago when I was in a pastor’s meeting, a woman was speaking to our group and said some truly bizarre stuff. Someone asked her why she thought it was true. She said, “it was in the newspaper, and everything in the newspaper is true!”

That was before the internet. Now, many people like her seem to believe that if it’s on the internet it must be true. God help us.

Part of me thought at the time of the letter that I “shouldn’t” let it get to me. It was just some blowhard letting off steam. But I’m not immune to pain. That hurt. That was personal. And I do think about kids who get bullied on the internet, have vicious things said about them or to them, and it’s so big, so widespread, we’ve seen the wide range damage that can be done to just one person online.

I don’t have a solution. I don’t know the answer. I do subscribe to Michelle Obama’s advice, “when they go low, we go high.” I can’t claim that I am always able to do that. But when someone acts ugly to me, I don’t believe as a Christian, I have the right to be ugly back. I can quote all sorts of Scripture– shoot, I went to seminary– but the basis of my faith is in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. When Jesus was confronted with nasty people, when they ran him out of the synagogue and tried to hurl him off the cliff–( this was at the BEGINNING of his ministry!)– he quietly walked away. When they spread lies about him, lies that ultimately got him killed as a criminal, he didn’t yell back at them. He didn’t call them names or do violence. He spoke his truth calmly, which sometimes seems like he was trying to blow a hurricane off course with a tiny puff from his lips.

The ones he called hypocrites, or “brood of vipers” or “white-washed sepulchers” — were the ones who spoke of God very piously but turned their backs on the poor and needy and vulnerable. He got really riled up and threw what was seen as an angry fit, turning over tables and scattering animals and people in the temple, for using God’s house as a moneymaker or powergrabber. Using God’s house for selfish gain.

I can’t live up to Jesus. I can’t always be calm, cool and collected. I try, God knows I try, but I often fail to be what Jesus wants me to be. But the model is there. And I can’t ignore it. I cannot justify acting out in hate or anger if I still claim to be a Christian.

The level of animosity and hatred that has been condoned and justified in the last four years especially appalls me. It confuses me. Especially when it is done in the name of God. God is not a sponsor of hate organizations. God is a part of everything that is about mercy, justice for the poor and disenfranchised, oppression, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and loving the unlovable. God is about making a table big enough for everyone who wants to come and eat.

There’s no clause for cruelty, exclusion or hatred. I confess to feeling overwhelmed when I look at the power of the animosity that divides our country. I don’t know how to fix it. But I do know that in my little corner of the world, I can only do what is in my power to do. To be kind to the person in front of me, to the person who crosses my path. To give to those who need what I have to give. To do what I have the power to do to bring grace wherever I happen to be.

That’s all I can do. God help me.

Please.

I Don’t Understand

I admit it, I’ve been very naive.

I thought we were doing better. Much better. I grew up hearing about Martin Luther King, Jr. In 7th grade we watched the TV mini-series “Roots” in school. I grew up in New Jersey, and at least half of our student population was African American. I knew a lot of the “blacks” lived on the “west side” of town, a place where we only traveled through on our way to the mall. It was the poor section of town, what was called “the ghetto” back then. It was the 1970s. Blacks and whites didn’t mix much. Even in elementary school, we all chose to sit separately in the lunchroom. There was a little black girl named Ruth who bullied me all through 4th grade. She always threatened to “beat my butt” if I didn’t give her my sub sandwich or my cookies from lunch. Sometimes she followed me part of the way home and bumped my shoulder just trying to scare me.

It worked.

I admit at the time being afraid of “the black girls.” But looking back, they didn’t have it as well as I did, so they took it out on kids like me; very shy, very wimpy and nervous. White. She never actually beat me up, I never gave her a chance. I could run fast!

I knew there were tensions between whites and blacks, but it wasn’t a big part of my world. My father had a deep tan, being half-Indian from India, and had an Indian British accent which made it clear he was “not from around here.” People always asked, “where are you from?” He didn’t like being “different.” He wore long sleeve shirts and pants to the beach, topped off with a ridiculous wide brimmed hat– all to avoid getting any darker than he already was. I never thought about it at the time. I thought it was weird he was so worried about getting darker when I would have LOVED to be able to tan!

When we made our pilgrimages to Mississippi every couple of years to see my mother’s relatives, I noticed things. My uncles and aunts used the “N” word which was a word I knew was bad, even then. My Mom was worried what her relatives would say if they found out my brother was dating “a black girl” back home. We tried not to talk about it while we were there. But I was still free enough to be naive about the intensity of racism, both down there and in my own middle class neighborhood. For a couple of years before they moved to a new building, I had to walk through the “west side” to get to middle school. My friends and I walked together, and at times I remember feeling scared. To be fair, I was scared because my brother had attended that school 7 years before me and had had knives pulled on him on the play ground.

We didn’t talk about race or color or class growing up in my family. Being a student of history, I read now about things that were going on in Mississippi in the 1970s while we were blissfully eating watermelon and boiled peanuts in my uncle’s front yard on summer nights. I didn’t know why the “N” word was a bad word, I just knew it was. I don’t remember asking my parents about what I watched in “Roots”– we weren’t that kind of family. But I do remember it made my stomach ache. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that my ancestors fought in the Confederate war, that they owned slaves, or that some of them were actually slave traders. (Thankyouverymuch, Ancestry.com!) If I’d known when I watched “Roots” what roles my ancestors played in the slave trade, I would have been very confused. I would have had a lot of questions!

As I do now.

We didn’t talk about unpleasant things growing up. I think part of that was my mother being a southern woman. You don’t talk about those things. Confusing things. Or things that don’t jive with the image of Walton’s Mountain or Little House on the Prairie. One could say maybe we talk about it TOO much now, but I do wonder, is there any such thing? Clearly, talking about it doesn’t seem to change it a lot.

I admit that I have lived a lot of my life thinking that we’d gotten better. It’s easy for me to say that, of course. I was free to ignore a lot. I learned about the 60s and the riots and the race wars and felt glad I didn’t grow up then, that I was a toddler the year MLK and JFK and RK were all assassinated. I grew up in a better time, surely.

I was at a pastor’s conference during Obama’s inauguration in 2009, but I stole away from meetings to watch his swearing in. I could have fallen to my knees while watching, I was so overcome with the “miracle” of his becoming president. I saw all the crowds in DC, the weeping African Americans, the joy and history of that day. I felt it, and I was proud of America. I had no idea about the intensity of the backlash that was to come, the strengthening of white supremacist groups and neo-Nazis. I heard about things, but it wasn’t until the rise of Trump that I was shocked into seeing it.

Then George Floyd. Breona Taylor. And many, many others.

The Proud Boys.

You know the list of eye-opening events over the last four years.

Then January 6th, 2021.

I couldn’t feel. I stared at the screen for hours. It wasn’t until the next day that I fell apart. I cried and cried and cried. I felt like I’d never stop crying. I don’t even know what all I was grieving in those tears. I did grieve the loss of my innocent trust that we had done better since 1968. That we were better. The loss of my image of the United States as that shining city on a hill where people can flee terror in their own countries and come here to be safe. My father didn’t flee terror, but a troubled India that was trying to figure out independence itself. He described many times the emotion of being on the boat that drew closer to the Statue of Liberty, discovering his new home.

I grieved for my country that I am proud of for being a place that people come seeking a new opportunity. This is not supposed to be who we are. The realization that as a white middle class person I have had the luxury of being naive for much of my life.

I grieved for the Church that raised me as I saw signs of “Jesus is my Savior/Trump”. Or crosses being held up as some sign of token of superiority. I grieved and got angry that people storming the Capitol to vandalize, kidnap, take hostages or even kill, dared to carry identification as Christians.

I have no doubt Jesus wept that day too.

I guess all I can say now is that I don’t understand. I truly do not understand how anyone can hate someone else that they don’t know just because of their skin color. I, who grew up relying on the Golden Rule as my mantra through childhood before I studied deeper, can’t understand wanting to do violence against anyone, especially against someone who never did anything against me. I can’t begin to get into the mindset of that kind of hate. That’s not to say I’ve never hated anyone. I don’t want to hate anyone, but I tell you I struggled with my hate against Trump, and still do. He hurts me in the soul. Because he represents everything that I am against and that I believe Jesus is against. I find him offensive, immoral, cruel, narcissistic, devoid of compassion or any kind of emotion toward anyone but himself, and blinded by his wealth. I have hated him for how he’s given permission for this kind of hate and violence to show itself out in the open and be celebrated and empowered.

But I just don’t understand hating someone I don’t even know at all, because they speak a different language, participate in another religion, or have a different color skin.

I guess I don’t want to understand. Because I don’t want to be that kind of person. Ever. I’m far from perfect, and I have my “issues” and I have a list of things in myself I’d like to improve, but I hope that I never lose hope that we can do better as a people. That the shock of January 6th will make us so disgusted by what we saw that we strive to do what we can to do better, be better, to learn more, grow more, and just be the kind of persons we try to teach our children to be.

I hope.

Upside Down and Turned Around

When I was a little kid, I’d sit upside down on the couch, hanging my head over the edge and look at the room upside down. I tried to imagine walking across the ceiling, stepping over the lights and over the openings into the next rooms. The lights would be sticking up from the ground that I was walking on, and everything would be attached to the “ceiling” that used to be the floor. I wished I could experience that for real somehow.

This year has felt like that– like everything is turned upside down. Or sideways. It’s like we’re living in “The Twilight Zone.” Reality is no longer what we thought. And of course there are many who choose to live in the reality that they know despite all this, and sometimes I don’t blame them. The world is shaken up like a snow globe, and instead of snow coming down, it seems like the pieces of our previous world are coming down all around us.

There have been many moments these past 9 months– and probably after the first six months of this, when it seemed like this would never EVER end–that I felt like I didn’t know what was up and what was down. What was real and what was not. I get really really irritated with anything bordering on “virtual reality.” Or photos that are photoshopped to represent something other than what they were originally. Even “reality” programs, that aren’t really reality, because the show is orchestrated, scripted, and edited to present whatever reality they want.

I get irritated because I don’t want reality “mastered” or directed. I want to know what’s what! Don’t mess with my perception! Of course, we were more easily manipulated– so I thought– before the internet. You didn’t know what a bunch of whack jobs the actors who portrayed the Partridge Family were. I believed that they were all good people who got along and were similar to their characters. I believed that “most families” were like the Waltons–or should be!–and loved each other and gathered for holidays because they wanted to be together. I wanted to believe that everybody was basically good and kind and wanted that.

Damn you, Google.

I still want to believe the best about people. I try to do that, until of course they prove otherwise. I have to do that, or I’ll be so cynical and depressed life would be difficult to live. This nine months have shaken everything up and challenged me to really figure out what it is I believe.

Ok, I thought we’d come a long way since the 60s. I thought we’d made a lot of progress in terms of racial prejudices and equality.

Apparently, not so much.

I am a Christian. I love Jesus and I believe that following his way of life and teachings is a good way of being. I don’t do it because I want to make sure I get into heaven. I do it because it is the way of life that makes sense to me as a way of being in community and trying always to be a better person who is always growing. John Wesley said he was “moving toward perfection,” and I’ve thought that’s a worthy goal, though I’ll never reach it in this lifetime. I strive to be better as I go, and certainly try not to be worse.

My image of the Church has been turned upside down like a snow globe, and I imagine the organ, the pews, the cross on the wall, all those lovely banners on the side, the pulpit, the lectern, the altar, etc., all coming crashing down in a big heap at the bottom of the snow globe. I’ve had my share of pain at the hands of the church, mostly as a professional holy person, and the huge disconnect the Church can have in some corners, from the rest of the real world. I’ve seen too much hate and cruelty done in the name of the Church. I always saw it “behind the scenes,” of course, as a pastor’s kid and as a pastor, so I never really had a chance to be naive. Yet I was. And I got hurt.

I can’t go to church. I watch my friend who is a pastor, preach online, and I read the Bible and journal. I pray. A lot. But still, going into a church service anymore (when it’s been possible) is still a physically daunting experience. I can’t quite breathe or sit still or feel safe. When I met people there I wondered if they would like me if they really knew me. Not that I fit many of the “isms” that are out there– I’m a white, heterosexual, untattooed middle class female. I am probably able to be classified as a “bleeding heart liberal” by some, so there’s that. But I don’t feel safe in church. Not at all. And so I don’t go.

But during this pandemic, I’ve wrestled with my faith and what I believe. There’s a lot of cynicism– rightly so– about Christianity and faith and believing in an afterlife. I fight that when I see what people do in the name of Christianity. But there’s so much death. There always has been, of course, but now, there’s a single threat that is touching EVERYONE. Not just the US, not just Nairobi, or Asia or the Middle East. Every. Single. Continent.

It seems to me that that truth alone should make us realize how connected we are to everyone else across the world. We are facing the same enemy, while still facing all the others that are still real.

I honestly don’t know what God is doing in the Big Picture. I can’t answer why is God allowing this (or anything else that is devastating). Of course, there’s always that Free Will thing. But I do know what God is doing “on the ground.” God is giving people the know-how to put together a vaccine in a never-heard-of quickness, that puts the hope of an endpoint to this craziness within our timeline. God is in the ICU, in the doctors and nurses who don’t quit, despite not getting a raise or even a break!. God is in their gloved hands and their masked faces, in the eyes looking with compassion on the critically ill and touching those patients through paper and gloves. God is in the leaders of communities that defy all the death threats and put rules in place to protect their people, despite the threats from their own government. God is in the police, the good ones, who try to keep law and order when people go crazy and do violence. God is in the countless people packing boxes of food and handing them out to people who otherwise would not have eaten today. God is in my niece or works with the homeless everyday, despite not always being able to “fix” their problem. She does what she can with what she has to work with. It’s stressful– especially in a pandemic– and exhausting, and she doesn’t always see that she’s making a difference. But she does it because she thinks that’s what Jesus wants her to do.

I see God in the retail workers who have to deal with customers who scream all their frustration and anger into these people that have nothing to do with it. They treat these crazies with compassion and kindness because that’s what you do in a civilized society– and of course, they want to keep their job. I see God in the people standing out there doing those uncomfortable tests on people, day after day. God is in the doctors who are trying to figure out the best treatment for someone. God is in the many, many people who don’t get paid nearly enough for what they do in proportion to the work they do. God is in the teachers in the public schools and universities, trying to educate children through masks, via a computer screen, or trying to keep them safe in person. In all those people having to learn new skills on the fly to figure out computer programs they never thought about before but suddenly have to master. Instructors teaching skills that really need to be taught “hands-on” and coming up with ways to do the impossible.

People who don’t give up when they have every right to do so.

I see God empowering, inspiring, leading, giving passion to, all those people we trust to be there, when maybe they’d rather be on the receiving end rather than summoning up compassion that ran out or energy that they don’t have. Because somehow, despite a lot of evidence, they still believe that we are called to be people of hope and compassion and kindness and intelligence. When I can’t see God in the questions that can’t be answered, I look “on the ground.” All around me. To the communities that start GoFundMes for someone who can’t pay their exorbitant hospital bills, or organize food to be brought to the exhausted caregiver who’s trapped in her home, caring for a loved one. I see God in the relentless passion of people who want to see good in the world, so they go out there and embody it. The people who lift up those who may have given up.

I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone. We’re no longer surprised at the news of another disaster or trauma. We’ve come to expect it. But if nothing else, I’ve opened my eyes to see God where I didn’t look for God before. EVERYWHERE around me.

And I pray others can see God in me too.

Breathing Again

Saturday evening, November 7th, my husband and daughter and I crowded on the reclining loveseat, practically in each other’s laps. We laughed out loud as we watched crowds of people dancing in the streets in New York City, Wilmington, Washington, D.C. and various other cities across the nation. We all watched silently, except for a sudden outburst of laughter. Not that anything was funny. Not at all. It was oxygen moving in my lungs again, it was a lightness of being, a huge burden shoved off of my heart. When was the last time I’d laughed? When had I dared to feel any hope? Dear God, it felt good. That night I slept deeper than I have in years.

On the morning of November 9, 2016, I headed into the day with a deep sense of depression. I had to work, I had to stay focused, but that day I felt like there was a boot on my neck pushing harder each moment. A friend of mine told me not to take it so hard, and certainly not take it so personally. It was just an election.

No, it wasn’t. They didn’t understand.

I didn’t know the full extent of the weight of those four years until Saturday night after this year’s election. I didn’t cry, but there are tears there somewhere. For the last four years I’ve carried weights in my chest that I couldn’t put down. Friends didn’t understand. “It’s not about you,” they said. But it was. Every time I saw that man on TV, talking to America like an abused lover/spouse, it triggered the pain. He put women down, he laughed about abusing them, doing whatever he wanted, because he knew he could always get away with it. He laughed and strutted around, daring anyone to challenge him. Whenever a woman did challenge him, he got into their space, tried to intimidate them and dismissed them as just angry bitches. “Pocahantas,” calling them names, reducing and belittling them.

And I remembered again and again, working for a senior pastor for two years. Behind closed doors, he berated me, challenged me, reminded me that he was always better than me. He tried to pry into my personal life, said sexually inappropriate things to me, and continually told me how powerful and respected he was. In public, he put his arm around me and acted like my best buddy. He put on a front to the congregation that all was well. When something upset him, he threw things and lost his temper. He put people down in private and charmed them to their faces.

There were days I was afraid of him. Afraid of making him angry. Afraid of being alone with him. When I succeeded and other people complimented me, he took me into the office and angrily told me that he was better, he would always be better than me.

He played golf with our District Superintendent, and knew how to grease palms so that others supported him, despite whatever it was about him that unsettled them. They made excuses for him. When I complained to our boss about the senior pastor, he condescendingly, patted my back. “You’re just being too sensitive.” “‘J’ is just a hothead, don’t take him seriously,” and he laughed. He laughed. I was anxious all the time. When I preached in front of him, I knew the better I did, the worse would be the talking-down after church. I was physically anxious all the time, sick to my stomach. It didn’t take much to reduce me to tears or send me off into a rage myself at home, as my nerves were so close to the surface.

“Just stand up to him,” our DS said, chuckling. Right. Just stand up to him.

These four years of hearing the president speak, mock, belittle, strut, challenge and brag about his greatness and power, often sent me back to that office as an associate pastor where many days I locked my door and cried.

He could do whatever he wanted. All his sins didn’t matter. Because no one is perfect, after all.

It sent me back to that church where my husband and I pastored for one year, brought in after the pastor of 18 years had been abruptly removed for sexual misconduct. He had sex with a parishioner. In the parsonage. In the church office. In the sanctuary. In a hotel. A few brave souls told us things about him that led up to the big Reveal. He told a Sunday School class that men are entitled to get sex anywhere they can if their wife isn’t putting out at home. No one challenged him.

He was charismatic, charming, and the women found him attractive. He was larger than life and he “did great things for the church.” When we moved in, hoping to help heal, we found many of them didn’t want to heal. They wanted their pastor back. It was the woman’s fault. Sure, the quilting group saw her go to the parsonage and throw a stone at the pastor’s office window and then disappear into the house. Men will be men, they said. They knew. They knew she was a minority in a very white town, a single mom, and vulnerable. The pastor was abusing his power, putting her at his mercy. But it was ok. She seduced him.

Bombastic declarations, the bragging of being able to do anything and his people would not stop supporting him… our hands were tied at that church. We lived in the house where the pastor had lived for 18 years. There was a fist-sized hole in the closet, a hole in the office window. Young women called the parsonage in the middle of the night, looking for our predecessor. I’d never believed in haunted houses, but that house felt dirty and ugly and I could never relax. There was anger and brokenness and deceit in the air. The house needed healing.

I am lucky. I am married to a man who is my best friend, who loves me for who I am, and encourages me to be myself. He’s more than I ever felt I deserved. He has never been threatened by my gifts or my assertiveness, and has never felt dulled when I shined. I’m not abused.

But the sound of that voice on TV every day, or on the internet, his in-your-face narcissism and macho bravado triggered feelings of anxiety, nausea and rage.

For the first 25 years of my life I lived with a man who believed that women were secondary, and much weaker than men. He told me again and again that I was “too sensitive, too emotional” and irrational. He literally pushed tranquilizers in my mouth when I got angry and tried to subdue me. Whenever I did well, he reminded me that he was the best, that I would never be as good as him, as smart as him, or ever as in control as him. When I did have the guts to challenge him, he said, “How DARE you! Do you know WHO I AM?? I’m a very important person!”

He questioned my sanity repeatedly over the years. He made me doubt my own sense of reality, my perceptions, so that I didn’t trust myself. I was always anxious and afraid, sick to my stomach, chewing Maalox tablets and downing the tranquilizers he offered me.

My marriage and my life since then has been very healing and I’ve grown quite a bit, despite some of my experiences in the Church that triggered my worst doubts and fears, my deepest despair. I’m in a safe place now. I have a good life with my husband and daughter and others who love me.

But.

I can’t imagine what women who ARE abused by their spouses have felt these last four years. How stressful and anxious they must have felt when faced with the leader of our nation, on TV, bragging about his power over women, publicly shaming them, and admittedly abusing them. How confusing it must have felt for them when many Christians embraced him as appointed by God. This man who so degrades women and who holds many people hostage with some unknown threats and warnings behind closed doors.

I just know that these four years have been exhausting for me. I spent so much time being angry, anxious, tired, defensive. It wasn’t just about politics at all. It WAS personal for every woman who ever had to face an arrogant bully who tried to reduce her to tears and then shame her for her tears, shame her for her anger at being put down.

Saturday night my heart was dancing in the streets with all those black, brown, white and whatever color of people expressing spontaneous joy and HOPE. Not because Joe Biden is the Messiah. He’s just a good, kind, intelligent, compassionate human being who is willing to get into the fray of our broken country and try to help us heal. To help us be decent again. To help us be whole again and kind and just and to work together. His leadership is only a beginning.

And we can begin to start over again. And to leave our nightmares behind.

Singing In the Dark

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“So give me hope in the darkness/and I will see the light/’cause oh, that gave me such a fright/But I will hold on as long as you like/Just promise we will be alright”  –“Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford and Sons 

 I haven’t written in a couple of months.  I haven’t really known what to say.  One of my defense mechanisms seems to be to feel as if what’s happening isn’t real, and I find myself feeling outside of the situation.  Like I’m looking on it as an observer, not a participant.  Then I go to the grocery store and see everyone else wearing masks, avoiding eye contact and looking somewhat grim, and it hits me again.

This is really happening.

I prided myself for doing “so well” those first few weeks after the gym shut down and everything else with it.  I work from home anyway, so leaving the house was a treat I gave myself whenever I had the chance.  When I’m at home, therefore, it’s easy to forget.  Just another day in my work day from home.

A couple of weeks ago I started to write something rather pastoral, because, well, old habits die hard.  It was so positive! I wrote about Easter and hope and faith.  But then as days went by, it all seemed to pile up.  The way I coped with anxiety and stress as a child was to push it down, put on a happy face and convince myself that it (whatever “it” was) really wasn’t that bad.  After all, there are starving kids in Africa or children whose parents beat them.  Inevitably after some time, the proverbial shit would hit the fan.  I’d break down– usually over something small that didn’t merit such an intense reaction.  I’d cry a lot, not even sure what I was crying for, or get so angry I couldn’t see straight.  For seemingly no reason.  But of course, there was a whole pile of reasons that finally got to be too much and burst open to say “Hey!  We’re here!  Time to FEEL!”

I’d love to say I’ve learned to do better over the years, but as much as I’ve grown in many ways, that is one area I still struggle with.  My mother was an incredibly strong person, but I also saw her when everything got to be too much and she “lost it.”  She’d let things pile up inside her until she couldn’t bear it anymore.  She thought that she needed to always look good, or to always trust God that things are going to be all right–and keep smiling.  She felt deeply, both the good and the bad.  Unfortunately, however, she taught me to “put on a happy face”, to “grin and bear it,”… until I couldn’t.

So I’ve taken on many of my mother’s characteristics, both the good and the bad.  Sometimes I feel like she’s trying to tell me something, as I find myself acting so much like her that I laugh out loud when I catch myself.  I hear her laugh in mine.  I feel her pain in my tears or my anxieties.  I feel her joy in doing something creative or in appreciating the natural world.

I’m glad she’s not here for the pandemic.  I don’t think she’d handle it well.  She didn’t like being cooped up her her memory unit anyway, especially after my father died.  She was not one to be told she couldn’t do anything or go anywhere.  The dementia would have only increased her confusion and frustration.

I’m only 54 and have my wits about me, and I’m not always doing well.  Like I said, I was doing “so well…”  I do have faith in God.  I do trust God to give me the strength and the resources to cope.  But some days I just get scared.  I’m not scared of dying, I don’t think,  I’m more scared of my loved ones suffering and/or dying.  I’m scared of losing what’s most important.  I’m scared of some of our leaders who don’t seem to care how many people die, but more about how much money they will lose or whether they’ll lose the next election.  It feels like a little kid might feel when the grownups aren’t acting right and the child feels like no one sane is really in charge.  Sometimes I don’t want to be the grown up.  I want someone wiser and stronger to tell me it’s going to be ok.

I’m afraid of evil.  I see it all over the place.  In the greed, the lies we’re told, in people taking advantage of the pandemic to launch scams and bilk people out of money.  I can really work myself up worrying about those awful people.  Like my mother, I find myself cleaning randomly or getting angry that someone left their socks on the floor– getting very upset about things that don’t really matter.  And I catch myself needing a “time out.”  Take a deep breath.

A friend of mine from college asked people on Facebook how their religious beliefs helped them, no matter their tradition.  I’ve been thinking about that.  Yeah, I’m scared.  Even though I have faith that God is indeed with us through all of this.  I do still hold onto the hope of Easter; that Love wins in the end, that Good triumphs, and that the final word on all of us is Life and Hope and Redemption.  I see countless strangers going out of their way to be kind.  I see the health care workers putting their lives on the line, even though their pay grade is shameful.  Obviously they are not doing it for the money.  They’re doing it because they are essentially kind and good people that feel the deep call to serve others unselfishly.  I see them go back again and again, even when their hearts keep breaking at the losses.  They keep hoping for another win.  My heart is lifted from the videos of the nurses and doctors clapping and cheering the patients who get to go home.  Because a win for one person in all of this is a win for us all, and the losses of thousands of strangers breaks our hearts a little bit more.

Two of my neighbors have posted encouraging words in their windows with lots of color and beauty.  It is hope I receive every time I go for my walk.  I see the artists and musicians posting videos of them reading or singing songs from their living rooms.  I watch John Krasinsky’s weekly SGN (Some Good News) broadcast, where he sums up a bunch of good news from the previous week.  They are mostly acts of kindness.  Some are just funny, injecting humor in a grim situation.  I tune into CBS This Morning almost every day to hear the news but also to hear the signs of hope and good news.  I trust those three anchors to smile and tell me what’s going right.

I believe that God is at work in ALL of those people, whether they give God any credit at all.  I don’t think God is so egotistical that God will only work through those who pay attention to Him/Her.  That Resurrection Spirit, Holy Spirit, Life Power, whatever you want to call it, that Creative Breath that moved over the dark waters of Chaos millions of years ago, is the same Spirit that empowers these everyday heroes to do what they do.  That Spirit gives them the strength to go back in there after sobbing in the parking lot after one more death.  That Spirit gives them the ability to offer love and a gloved hand to those that are frightened.  That Spirit brings together family members to the window of their elderly loved one, to sing a song through the glass, show them a puppy, or just let them see their loved one’s face.  To say, “We’re still here and we still love you.”

There’s a lot of crap in the world.  There seem to be a lot of stupid, selfish people around.  But if you really pay attention–and I assure you it’s worth looking– there are so many more everyday heroes who aren’t looking for attention or prestige or money.  They just want to help others get through this.  The people who put notes of encouragement in their windows, who write letters or cards to loved ones, who deliver food or medicine or masks.  After I had my earth-shattering cry from letting it all build up and wishing my mother were here and without dementia so she could remind me that God is with us all– I decided to look each day for small things I can do to help.  I love to write letters, and I miss getting letters.  So that’s one thing I’ve started to do; write letters to people near and far, just to say “hi” and “I’m still alive” and “how are you holding up?” and to tell them why I love them.  I wave to people when I walk to the post office.  I am extra nice to the cashier at the grocery store even though we can’t see each other smile through the mask, I try to smile with my eyes.

And after many years of not playing, I started playing the guitar again and singing.  Like I used to love to do.  But somehow, now, it feels more important to sing in the vast darkness, to chase away fear with songs of joy and hope and a little Elvis Presley.  I forgot what my own voice sounded like.  It’s nice to hear it again.  And I am reminded, through songs I sang throughout my life, of good times and loving connections and faith in a God who brings light out of darkness, life out of even the most violent and unjust death, and who empowers people to be sources of light in this dark world.

The worst and hardest lesson of all this is how to cope with having no control in almost everything.  That’s one of the most frightening and sometimes maddening things.  I think that’s why people protest and rage with stupid signs that say “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” and “I need a haircut.”  They’re scared.  I get that.  Sometimes when I’m scared I get mad too.  I can’t control what the looneys do.  I forget that sometimes.  I can’t change the world and I can’t change other people.  I can only change myself.  I can only try to change my own response to this lack of control of pretty much everything.

Be safe.  Take good care of yourself.  Don’t let the looneys get you down.  Breathe.  Bring a little light to your corner when you can.

We’re going to be alright.

 

When the Living is Good

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It’s weird, sometimes, how you end up doing what you do for a living.  I often want to ask people in various jobs why they do what they do and how they ended up doing it.

I would say I kind of “stumbled upon” my current job, but I don’t believe that’s true.  I look at my life, and as they say “hindsight is 20/20”, and I see ways that I believe God has directed and guided me.  I confess, in this day and age, that language is tricky.  With religion being politicized so much and– I believe– misrepresented, it’s hard for me to use those words.  But I believe it.

in 2015 I was ready to leave hospice work, not so much because of how difficult the work is but more because I was disillusioned by the political chaos that goes on in big companies that are in the industry that should be above that.

I wanted to work at the local university, UNK, because if you work there fulltime you are eligible for free classes.  I’m always interested in learning!  So that was my primary motivation to scan the Want Ads for jobs at the university.  I don’t remember the title of the position that I applied for, because it was vague, as was the job description.  It wasn’t very clear what the job entailed, but it was office work, so I applied.  I got a call back (this is big because I applied for many jobs who never called) from the contact person who instructed me that I had to take a typing test online as my next step.  I learned that the job entailed some kind of transcription.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Divinity, but one of my strongest practical skills is typing.  I took Typing I and II in high school when there were electric typewriters.  I excelled in that class!  With the advent of computers, I kept up my skills in typing.  When I was in seminary, I worked for two of my professors as their office assistants, and part of my work was transcribing interviews that my professor’s class had done.  He needed it done for a book he was working on at the time.  I’d transcribed hundreds of hours of interviews on cassette tapes in between my studies in seminary.

I passed the typing test online– apparently I did very well!– and was called in for an interview.  That’s when I met Becky, who has since become a dear friend of mine.  There were two other people from the Disability Services office at UNK who participated in the interview.  It was one of the most pleasant and easy interviews I’ve ever had, mostly because I knew I had the skills, and as the job description unfolded, it sounded too good to be true.

I would be transcribing live lectures for the deaf and hearing impaired students on campus.  I would go to class with a computer, log into a link that the student and I shared, and type what I heard so the student could gain access to the lecture.  It’s a bit like close captioning, but we are meant to type “meaning for meaning,” not word for word, which is nearly impossible.  So that also requires a bit of mental sharpness and the ability to discern what is the gist of what is being said and provide that to the student.

I spent three months that summer training in the software used to do this.  I learned the abbreviations, letters and symbols to make the typing easier.  Had I known how stressful and arduous the training was, I confess I might have bailed.  There were many times I wanted to just walk out and quit.  Typewell is the company that provides the software.  Only after I passed the final evaluations was I told that in 17 years of the company’s existence, only 250-300 people successfully passed the training.

Yikes.

I had no idea that there were that many young people with hearing disabilities to warrant such a service.  The causes are varied;  some had diseases as children, some were born deaf.  Most of my students have some hearing ability and wear cochlear implants and/or hearing aids.  I confess to being amazed that there were teenagers juggling the stresses of college and classes without being able to hear.

I enjoyed being on a college campus and moving among the students.  I had all kinds of professors, of course.  The student is not supposed to be singled out, and so the professors were supposed to just act as if I weren’t there.  If someone asked why I was there typing, they were to say that I was just doing transcriptions of the lectures for them.

But there are all kinds of people everywhere.  I had more than one professor say from the beginning who I was and why I was there.  They named the poor student as the one who “needed help” with hearing.  I was mortified for them.  Nobody wants to be singled out like that.  I spoke with professors about that, reminding of what we told them before classes ever started but of course, it was already too late.

As most jobs that are in the helping/education field, the pay wasn’t that impressive.  Though I enjoyed the job and the people I worked with, it became clear that I couldn’t really afford to continue for any length of time.  Additionally, I learned that since I only worked the school year, it was considered part-time work and therefore I wasn’t eligible for the class credit benefit– which was the main reason I applied for the job.

However, despite that disappointment, I had found a new career.  I’d learned through my first year that there were jobs available in the industry that were “remote.”  Representatives of companies who provided transcription for the hearing impaired often called my boss to see if any of us had the time to sub a class remotely.  All that meant was connecting with students somewhere across the country via Skype.  We listened in on the lectures via the audio on Skype and provided the link to the student so they would receive what we were typing.

That opened up a new job opportunity for me.  I left UNK to work from home, as a freelance transcriber for a year before one of the companies I subbed for decided to hire me full-time.  I now work for Vital Signs, based in Maryland.  I receive an annual salary for 12 months, but work very little if at all during the summer.  I get the same breaks as the college students.  We use Skype and Zoom.  I work with students in Alabama, Michigan, Illinois, New York, etc.  Vital Signs gives me a schedule of classes for the week.

Again, I’m still surprised how many young people deal with hearing issues.  They attend public universities and take the same classes as hearing students, but with a significant disadvantage.  Thankfully, it is now the law to provide accessibility to all students, no matter what their limitations are.  Buildings, as you might know, have to be physically accessible for those who may be in wheelchairs.  But what I didn’t realize until I got this job is that accommodations also have to be made for anyone who desires to be a student and meets the requirements.  Including the hearing impaired students.

I love my job!  And yes, it’s stressful.  I’m not strong in math and sciences, but I transcribe those classes for my assigned students.  I don’t have to understand it, I just have to type what I hear as best I can.  For math, especially, that is tricky.  I am grateful for the fact that most math professors write down the problems they are working on, so I can just refer the student to the board in their classroom.

Other classes like Engineering, Marketing, Philosophy, Anthropology, Nursing, etc., can be more challenging, as I have to figure out the meaning of what I’m hearing it and type the essential points.  It can be hard on the brain!  But for a person who loves to learn, I get to be a fly on the wall, listening in.  If an English class is reading something that sounds interesting to me, I’ll go find the book or the story and read it myself.  In anthropology if I am interested in what was discussed, I’ll Google the information and/or the text and learn more.

I get some crazy images of professors, too.  This semester I have two professors in different classes that talk so fast they slur their words.  It’s more than the idea that they’ve had too much coffee, but as if they’ve inhaled a case full of energy drinks!  They stutter and stumble and hardly take a breath that I wonder how much the hearing students are able to take in of their lectures.  Are they nervous?  Are they wanting to get it all over with and go home?

Then the real challenges are the ones who speak fast with a foreign accent.  Those can be a nightmare.  There are days that I have to laugh out loud because it’s almost indecipherable.  But I do my best.  Just so you know, there is a very diverse group of professors down in Alabama– who’d have thought?  Indian, Taiwanese, Nepalese, Korean and French.  Sometimes I go for weeks struggling with certain words that they speak but emphasize different syllables than we do in American English.  It’s a great A-ha! moment when I’m able to figure out that mystery word.

Most of the time, the professor is miked.  We recommend that the professors have a microphone on their lapel so we can hear just their voices and not all the coughs, sniffling, whispering and breathing of students near a computer microphone.  There have been a few times that professors have scoffed at being miked.  “You’re going to type every word I say?”  Some of them were put off by that, as if we were gathering evidence against them.  They were speaking those words to all the students, we’d say, they are taking notes too.  But for some reason, some professors were paranoid about having their lectures transcribed and put into print.  Who knows what we’d do with that information??

There were those disappointing few, too, especially at UNK, that didn’t want to put on the microphone.  They couldn’t give a good reason why not.  Some said, “Isn’t that giving your student a distinct advantage because you’re transcribing the lecture for them??”  No, we’d explain.  They’re already at a disadvantage because they can’t hear as well as the other students.  “Yeah, but…” Or some were even stupid enough to suggest they go to classes that were specifically FOR hard of hearing students.  Like… where?  I was often put off by the arrogance and insensitivity of these overeducated professors who didn’t seem to know basic common kindness.

The fun times were when they relaxed and were themselves and “forgot” I was there and either cussed (because they think that makes them “cool” to the students) or said something a bit controversial.

“Don’t type that,” they’ll say to me.

But of course I do, because that’s my job.

Sometimes the student in my remote classes will let them know who I am, by giving them my name for some reason, and so even remotely, the professor will say, “Oh shit, Peggy, don’t type that..”  And I just laugh.  And type.

I’ve received a bit of notoriety among my colleagues because many of us have wondered if we’d ever experience a professor forgetting to turn off the microphone while in the restroom.

I have.  It happened twice, actually, with the same professor.  He never knew.  I heard… everything.  I was embarrassed, even though I was in the privacy of my home office.

I didn’t type anything.

My only regret is that I don’t really know my co-workers, though occasionally we’ll team-transcribe a longer class together, taking turns typing every 30 minutes.  We haven’t met face to face, most of us, and we don’t know what each other looks like unless we provide a picture for our Skype profile.  But on class breaks or while waiting on the student to arrive, we’ll “chat” through Skype messaging.  We compare notes on what is challenging or stressful for us in the job, we’ll share stories of ridiculous professors, and sometimes we even share comfort.  This past year when I lost both of my parents, I had two coworkers who lost a parent.  It was comforting to connect with someone who knew.  Last week I celebrated a student who missed class because her dog gave birth!  She sent me a picture of the puppy and kept me up to date.

Most students don’t “talk” to me much except for “hey” or “I’m not in class today,” or “thanks for the help!”  So it’s especially fun that I have one male student that I’ve been with consistently for four semesters now.  He logs in early, asks me how I am, tells me how he is.  He’s engaged.  They’re going to get married in November 2021.  She goes to school in another state, so sometimes he drives up to see her at school.  He calls me “ma’am” and thanks me every day for helping him.  He apologizes profusely when his computer isn’t working properly or the WiFi in a certain building isn’t strong.  I’m going to miss him when he disappears from my computer screen someday and goes off to get married.

I am grateful for my job, which suits me in my later working years and will suit me for when my husband Larry finally retires (he’s tried it twice).  I love learning.  I love “hearing” for someone else that can’t hear.  I’m grateful to my typing teacher in high school who taught me to type at lightening speed and for my seminary professor who had me transcribe his interviews.  Somehow it all comes around.

Life is kind of funny that way.