Sunday, September 26, 2010

As My World Turns

The past few weeks have been amazing to me. I continue to marvel at how the world turns to bring around surprises into my life in which I can see the divine hand in it all, and view in awe the ways God is sending his grace gifts my way.

This all started with an email to me from my minister at Social Circle United Methodist Church a few weeks ago asking me if I’d be interested in a job opening in the church’s district office. Our district superintendent had sent out a notice to all of his pastors asking for recommendations for an administrative assistant at his office. Since Richard, our pastor, knew that I have been officially unemployed for the past year-and-a-half, he contacted me to see if I’d be interested. My response to him --- as long as it doesn’t involve a daily commute to Atlanta, I’d like to hear more about it.

Lo and behold, Richard sent me the name and email of our District Superintendent – Dr. Gary Whetstone! There could only be one Gary Whetstone in the world, and that would have to be the big brother of Pam and Mona, who were members of the youth group at New Hope United Methodist Church, David’s student appointment when he was in theology school back in the 70s. Being a fringe member of our church, and not actively involved beyond my weekly knitting group, our Relay for Life team, and early service on Sunday, I didn’t even know who our DS was! I typed up a quick email to Dr. Whetstone, with my resume as an attachment. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was qualified for the position, but I sure would love to know about Pam and Mona, as well as news about his parents.

I think Gary invited me to Athens for an interview as a courtesy, since I had a history with his family. It was a lovely interview, and I enjoyed meeting with Gary and his search committee. I knew, however, on the way home from the interview that this particular job was not the one for me, and definitely didn’t have my name on it. I faced the fact that I really didn’t want to become close to the policies and politics of the church again, and while I felt that I would enjoy working with Gary, I knew that this wouldn’t be a career choice for me at this point in my life.

However, it opened the door for me to make contact with Pam through Facebook, which led to a lunch with her last week in Blue Ridge, when Phil and I were returning home from seeing Brian at his play’s premiere in Kentucky. Seeing Pam was like having a burst of fresh air on my face, and the years faded away as we visited over lunch with her mother, Lu, at a little Chinese restaurant in Blue Ridge. Pam encouraged me to contact other New Hope youth group members who were also on Facebook, and after returning home, I did just that.

I am now Facebook friends with several of our youth group from those three years we were at New Hope. I love Facebook! It has brought me, after so many years, back to people whose lives touched mine while I lived the life of a minister’s wife, and has renewed my faith in Christian love and the incredible ways God can reach across decades and the internet to bring me back into the loving arms of those people I knew in the churches we served. It has been a year of Facebook surprises. First, it was a reunion between me and friends from Fieldale United Methodist Church in Virginia, and now with these great “kids” from New Hope. If it weren’t for Facebook and my local minister, none of this would have happened.

All of this also led to another revelation. While driving to Lincolnton this week to have lunch with a friend, my mind was wandering over the past 18 years since I first met her as my academic advisor and professor at library school. I realized that I have been an ex-minister’s wife longer than I was a minister’s wife. Those years, however, had a dramatic impact on me, and were instrumental in designing who I am today. With writing my novel this past year about a minister’s wife, and then reuniting with former church friends, a lot of memories – some of them buried very deep – have bubbled to the surface, and I can examine them with fresh eyes and attitude. I can also shed my ex-preacher’s wife cloak and simply be an old friend to laugh and cry over special memories and share in what’s happening today in all of our lives.

As I collect the days of my life, these recent days have certainly been worthy of noting in my Collection of Days. And I want to take this medium to thank those people who are now connected to me through Facebook and through my blog to say “thank you” for loving me and standing beside me, for reaching out to me, and for being my friends. For so many years I lived in the shadow of my ex-husband, who was adored by his congregations, not realizing that I could be loved apart from him as an individual in my own right. It took a bit of time for me to lose the feeling of invisibility, and I am thankful that God is patient and kind, and has blessed me by bringing so many special people back into my life.

But before I give Facebook all of the credit, I cannot end this Day without a mention of two special friends who have kept up with me since pre-Facebook days. My two friends in Virginia, Jane and Norma, are my angels who have lifted me up on their wings ever since the day my marriage ended. They never judged, they never questioned, they always loved, and they have been a constant in my life since the day I moved out of the parsonage so many years ago. And I also want to thank Wade, Brian, and Roy for encouraging me to sign up on Facebook, because it is through them that many of these wonderful connections have been made.

Wonder what the next surprise will be….. Stay posted!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Call

A few weeks ago while working at my tutoring job at Georgia Perimeter College, I was catching up on the students' reading lists so that I could better assist them with their writing assignments. On this quiet evening I was reading the short story, "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin. Inspired by the concept of an entire story taking place in the time frame of a single hour, I decided to try my hand at writing a short story with the same theme in mind. The last short story I wrote was in the seventh grade (I still have that particular story, and coming from a 12-year-old writer, I consider it quite good). I've always heard that you should write about something you are familiar with, and being a preacher's wife is something that I know a lot about.

For those of you who continue on with this blog who are familiar with my history, I want to assure you that this short story is FICTION. The minister husband is not David, my minister-ex-husband, and the wife is not me (although her questions about The Call are similar to those I asked God from time to time during my minister's wife years). Please do not think of this as an autobiographical sketch. It isn't. Angela and Matt are both my own creations, and are not based on either David or me, or my experiences as a minister's wife.

Here is:


Angela could tell from the way the door to the garage slammed that Matt was upset. As she stood at the kitchen sink scrubbing potatoes for dinner, the old familiar lump in the pit of her stomach bubbled to the surface and swelled, making her immediately nauseous. Matt would be standing behind her in less than a minute, bear-hugging her and giving her a peck on the nape of her neck – a sure sign that something was wrong. She wondered what she had done this time.

A million scenarios raced through her mind in the time it took for him to cross the foyer, traverse the family room and enter the kitchen. It amazed Angela that so much could flash across her brain in such a brief time. Maybe this time it wasn’t some transgression belonging to her; perhaps he was perturbed by something, or someone, else. She prayed that this might be the case.

The life of a minister was not an easy one, she knew that. Matt had to deal with a church full of strong-willed individuals, each carrying his or her own ideas of Christianity and how they believed the church should be run. Why Matt chose this path in life she couldn’t understand. What was this thing - The Call - that he had to follow all the way to the church pulpit and parsonage? Why couldn’t he be satisfied with simply being a good church member, like everyone else in the congregation?

Sure enough, her fears were realized. Before she could turn off the water at the sink or put down the potato in her hand, she felt Matt’s arms wrapping around her middle, upsetting her stomach even more, and the familiar nibble below her ear lobe. Recognizing that this expression of affection was a bad sign, she hesitantly asked, “Rough day?”

“You could say that,” Matt answered stiffly. “We’ll talk about it later.” With that, he released his grasp on her and headed to the bedroom to change from his preacher attire into more comfortable sweats.

Angela knew in her heart that she was the cause of the so-called rough day. Still standing at the sink, she absent-mindedly continued scrubbing the potato and gazed out at the field behind the parsonage, looking at nothing in particular, but taking in the late afternoon beauty of the sun caressing the wild flowers and bending the daisy faces toward the west. A lone tear tracked its way down her cheek, where she quickly lapped it into her mouth, tasting the saltiness of her fear.

“Why is it that God’s call hurts so much?” she quietly asked herself and whoever spiritual might be listening. “And why didn’t you call me, too?” she addressed God directly. Life had been good before The Call. She and Matt were happy, or at least she thought they were happy. Maybe they really weren’t, or he wouldn’t have wanted to leave a good job as marketing director of a successful firm to make such a drastic change in his life. Or maybe something was lacking in their relationship to make him go in this new direction. She had no answers, but plenty of questions.
Angela snapped back to reality as she realized the water was still running in the sink and the potato was just about scrubbed to death. Poor thing, its skin was nearly gone. She could almost identify with it.

Suppertime was quiet. While Matt hungrily chowed down on pork chops and fried potatoes, Angela could hardly swallow. She couldn’t help but wonder what their after-dinner conversation would be. She didn’t dare broach the subject while Matt was eating. He liked to enjoy his meals without the added challenge of a conversation. His typical response to her whenever she tried to start one, “Angela, I talk to people all day long. I’d like to eat my supper in peace, please,” kept her from saying a word. As they sat in silence, Angela reviewed the previous day, Sunday, in her mind, trying to remember if she had said something inappropriate of a preacher’s wife, or had snubbed someone. It had been an ordinary Sunday, as far as she could recall, but she had that familiar sinking feeling that she had done something that would come to haunt her until she and Matt moved on to their next church. She hated these silent meals, but in the six years since Matt had become a preacher, she had gotten used to them in a strange way. As long as he didn’t have anything to say, then she didn’t have to come up with a response, or more often a defense.

Last month, it was a cold-shoulder that she didn’t even know she had committed when she brushed by Eleanor Porter in the church hallway without stopping to chat. She had been late to her Sunday School class, and simply didn’t think to stop and engage in a conversation with that hypochondriac of a woman. And then, last year, Mr. Wilson, chairman of the pastor-parish relations committee complained to Matt that Angela needed to dress differently for the Wednesday night suppers. She had made the mortal mistake of wearing a skirt that was a tad short, and a sleeveless knit top that wasn’t two sizes too big on her, like most of the clothes that met Matt’s approval. Before that, in another church, there was a complaint that she sang too enthusiastically in the church choir, and a big hub-bub when she declined an invitation to fill in for the church pianist who was going away on a two week vacation. It seemed to her that someone was always on her case about something, and Matt never came to her defense, at least not that she knew of. Instead, he’d come home, give her the silent treatment for awhile, and then spring on her. Angela wondered if he ever supported her in front of his parishioners. She was glad that they didn’t have children yet. She shuddered to think about the complaints that would fly over the way she’d raise their kids. She had decided a couple of years ago that she didn’t want to bring a child up as a Preacher’s Kid. Matt still talked about having a family from time to time, but recently he’d been too preoccupied with the church to even want to have sex more than once or twice a month. She didn’t think she had much to worry about in that department. “Thank you God, wherever you are,” she silently mouthed.

She sat across the table from Matt, watching him eat, her thoughts drifting on and on. As she recalled all the times she’d gotten into trouble with him about her lack of preacher’s wife skills, she wondered if maybe there might really be something wrong with her. Was she a snob? Was she truly insensitive to church members? Did she portray a poor example of a minister’s wife? Matt had accused her a few months ago of being a weight around his neck, and she was beginning to believe that she really was dragging him down in his profession. Her own career was second-fiddle to his, even though she put her heart and soul into the community day-care center where she played games every day with senile senior citizens and listened hours on end to tales of younger years, lost loves, and unappreciative children. She loved these old folks. Why didn’t she feel the same about church members?

An ah-ha moment slapped her in the face. Maybe it wasn’t her after all. Could it be Matt? She suddenly realized that she wouldn’t have known anything about these offenses of hers if Matt hadn’t brought them to her attention. And, like the peace-maker that she was, she took to heart whatever the issue of the day happened to be, always trying to change to please him so that his life would run more smoothly. She suddenly felt very weary, and silently addressed the only God that she knew, “OK, God. I’m not the person Matt wants me to be. And, I know very little about The Call. But I’m tired of trying to be someone I’m not. I need your help with this.”

With this simple prayer, a new resolve took root. A stronger spine began to grow, giving Angela audacity she didn’t know she had. She looked across the table at Matt, not knowing what was on his mind, and realizing that she didn’t want to know. He pushed away from the table, having finished his dinner, gave her a peck on the cheek, and moved into the family room, leaving the kitchen for her to clean up. This gave her a little time to prepare, and to breathe another prayer, “God, I really, really need your help.”

With dishes in the dishwasher and the counters sparkling clean again, Angela wiped her hands on a dishtowel and moved toward the family room. This time, she wasn’t afraid of what was coming, but was armed with a newly found invisible shield. Before Matt could say a word, she stood in front of his recliner, firmly planted her feet, and said to her husband, “Matt, I’m sorry that you had a rough day, but I don’t want to hear about it tonight. If it has something to do with me and some member’s feelings I’ve hurt, you can forget about ever telling me. I don’t want to know.”

Matt sat upright in his chair, a look of sheer puzzlement on his face. “Angela, I had a long talk with Marcia Taylor today…” He didn’t have a chance to finish.

“Whatever Marcia Taylor had to say about me is not my concern,” Angela cut him off, “and I don’t want to hear about it. I’m tired of trying to please everyone, and I’m tired of not being able to count on you to back me up.”

Matt was uncharacteristically speechless. Angela had never spoken to him in this manner. This wasn’t like her, and this outburst baffled him.

She took a deep breath and continued. “I’m going to the gym to work out now. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. This will give you some time to think about things and decide who you are married to, me or the church. We can talk when I get home.”
With that, trembling inside with fear, but also feeling a strength she didn’t know she had, she spun on her heel, grabbed her gym bag and car keys, and exited the room, her head held high.

By the time Matt could jump out of his chair and run after her, the garage door shut in his face, and she was gone.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Spontaneous Creation? Has Anyone Asked God About This?

I recently read an article about Stephen Hawking’s latest book, which included his thoughts about creation and God. The article quoted Hawking, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.” He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” And then, "The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science 'God', but it wouldn't be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions." (

I usually don’t write about deep theological insights in my blog, but I can’t let this one go without a comment from Jennie Lou. I have been thinking about this for the past several days, and while I don’t possess the mind of a genius like Dr. Hawking, I do claim to possess a sliver of the heart of God, and have spent a lifetime asking God questions and kneeling in awe of God’s scientific mind in creation. It seems to me that Stephen Hawking has never taken a few minutes to ask God a question or the patience to wait for the answer. I have. I have felt the presence of the spirit of God, in what Marcus Borg describes as “thin places” in his book, The Heart of Christianity. Thin places refers to those places, times, and situations where I have felt God’s spirit near me, bringing me a sensitivity to the presence of God, often with tears streaming down my face. I feel very sorry for Dr. Hawking, that he has spent a lifetime looking for answers only in science, but hasn’t experienced the personal God who is ready to listen to, and answer, questions.

Spontaneous creation? God. The laws of gravity and science? God. The origin of the universe? God. Easy peezy for me. I don’t need to be a genius to see this.

But then, I would like to ask Dr. Hawking a question. I’d like to ask him how he explains music. Whenever I get discouraged or have doubts about God, all I have to do is listen to music to bring me back to his side, both human-crafted music and the music of nature. For me, music is the window into God’s heart and mind, both here on earth and throughout the universe. I know that there are laws that define music, like those that set the universe into motion, but there is no scientific explanation that can explain to me why music brings me to my thin places. Music can calm me down, bring back both sweet and painful memories, set me to twirling in dance, put me to sleep, wake me up, lift my spirits. And, while Dr. Hawking is a genius in the area of scientific theory, I wonder if music touches and moves his soul. It is through music that the heart of God is revealed to me, and as I believe, music is one of the avenues God uses to reach out to us humans. God is the master scientist, musician, and creator, and most definitely a good listener.

Try asking God a question, Dr. Hawking, and then listen. You might be surprised.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

As Summer Comes to an End.....

It’s finally happening. Summertime is releasing her hot and humid grip on rural Georgia. And not a minute too soon – I was becoming very weary of endless days in the high 90s, nights that felt more like Florida than Georgia, and a monthly electric bill that made my heart stop momentarily when I opened it.

The skies are changing to that beautiful autumn blue that doesn't have an adequate word to describe it. It reminds me of the Wedgwood china that I loved as a young girl, and the term “Carolina Blue” comes to mind, even though it’s a Georgia sky! Wispy, cotton candy clouds are now gracing the azure dome, replacing the puffy animal shaped clouds that gather together in the summertime to send us our summer thundershowers.

The breeze carries the fragrance of autumn, enticing the senses with the fragrance of kudzu blossoms and cut hay. While the days are still warm, the air holds a hint of autumn coolness, refreshing the face and neck during long walks in the countryside. The heaviness of summer air is gone; the weight has been lifted.

Even the okra is beginning to show the weariness of summer. While it loves the hot sultry days, and produces in abandon when the other vegetables have given up for the season, it is showing signs that it is tired of summer, too. The pods are beginning to curl and have funny little bumps on them, and I don’t have to pick twice a day to keep them from growing too fast and too tough. It continues to bloom, and the butterflies love the delicious butter-colored blossoms, but its days for this season will soon come to an end.

It won’t be long until the bright colors of Fall will replace the rich greens of Summer. Goldenrod will grace the fields, delicate fall wild flowers will replace summer daisy faces, and an entire wild garden of color will replace those of summertime. Leaves will begin to drift to earth, pecans will drop from the trees, and earth will prepare herself for the cold months of rest.

It has been a wonderful summer, despite the heat. Our garden produced an abundance of produce; our freezer is full, and our pantry shelves are sagging from the weight of canned goods. I loved the summer, but I am ready to shift gears and focus on something other than vegetables, fruit, and herbs for awhile. I welcome the Fall breezes and bright sky, and the coming days of winter hibernation.

Goodbye, Summer. I’ll see you again next year, and I’ll be ready to welcome you with anticipation and joy!