Monday, August 30, 2010

Preaching at church

Have you ever preached a sermon???? Put it on your bucket list. It looks so effortless when your pastor gets up there and just starts going on and on and you hang on every word (on a good day) and before you know it, it's been half an hour and you leave with things on your mind to ponder. At my church I always leave feeling encouraged and challenged.
My pastor, Juan, is a baby. I mean, I'm old enough to be his mother. English is his second language and he just got his bachelor's degree. But that man can preach! He has something to say and he says it with passion, conviction and eloquence (on a good day, that is). He makes it look so easy.
I've preached three different sermons since I've been at the church. Here's what happened:
Sermon #1. Juan was planning to be away and asked me to sub. Sure. No problaymo, Juanito. I spoke about Joseph. Not the father of Jesus, but the other Joseph, the one in the Old Testament who got sold by his brothers, thrown into prison, suffered way too much, then became the king's sidekick and ended up saving his family. It's a great story, hard to mess up. I wrote out my message, practiced in front of the cat, then spoke from an outline. I made it safely through but I can say without hesitation, I was scared to death and am sure few, if any, people walked away feeling encouraged or challenged (unless they were encouraged to know that Juan was returning the next week).
Sermon #2. Juan was away again and asked me to sub. I guess everyone had been polite when he asked them how I did. Anyway, I'm a career teacher so I know how to learn. This time I would not put myself through that same ordeal. I wrote out my sermon (and I think it was a good one, it was from my heart) and I read it verbatim from the pulpit. This worked much better for me because the chance of getting lost or rambling was greatly reduced. In the second service, however, my papers were out of order so I had to wing it for a while. But I knew what I was going to say and it was fine.
Sermon# 3. This weekend. Juan was NOT out of town but asked me to speak about my adventures in Alaska this summer. No problaymo, Juanito. I'll just write it all out, read it word-for-word and consider the congregation shared with. So I wrote it out, but something in me kept saying, "No, silly, don't read it. Tell everyone what you did. Tell them what you want to tell them." My three kids were there, and Juan. But I really wanted to just speak it. So I did. And somehow God calmed me (it may have been the xanax I took) and led me straight through it. It wasn't so hard and I'm REALLY glad I got to share my story. I think some people were even encouraged and challenged.
You really should do this in your lifetime. It will give you a whole new appreciation for your pastor (on a good day, that is).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Going Home

I drove to Roswell (just north of Atlanta) on Thursday to see my sweet family. I stay with my brother and his wife and they always treat me like a princess. My niece and nephew come to see me with their significant others and my mother and her guyfriend are always over. I am spoiled when I'm in Roswell. But I'm starting to realize what really draws me back there more and more often: It's HOME!!!!!
So many times during the last three years I have felt like a homeless waif. I don't feel connected to Dade City, where I'm living. It was Greg's and my dream place, but we were only here a couple of years before he got sick. Although I have made some wonderful friends here, I don't feel rooted. St. Pete, our former home, holds lots of memories but few friends remain there. Thomas and Leah are out on their own and subject to moving as their careers carry them here and yonder.
Spiritually speaking, I know I belong to the family of God, but as my earthbound weak self, I'm suffering from a lack of a sense of belonging. I've been reading a good book by a single woman who laments that this is often characteristic of singles and we all deal with it differently.
I have always been blessed with many friends, and my circle continues to widen as I venture out of my comfort zone and discover new people and places. Nevertheless, I feel belongingless. Except when I'm in Roswell.
Though we don't see each other often enough, I am part of an extraordinary family of warm, fun-loving, creative and generous southern folk. We are a mishmash of interests, talents and philosophies, but we don't care much about how we're different. When we're together we spend most of our time laughing (usually at each other. It seems I'm always reminded that I had pinworms as a child). We don't argue, never criticize (well, my mother does but it's just about my makeup. She thinks I should wear more), we roll our eyes a lot, but never get mad. We go bowling (my mother, at 85, can loft that ball halfway down the lane), play and sing music together, eat Mexican food and sit around telling stories (the same stories that we've told over and over, like when Uncle Bub hit his thumb with a hammer and got so mad he dove head first into a water drum and almost drowned. We're all crazy.)
Someday, after Alaska and where ever else God leads me, I'm pretty sure I'll end up back in Roswell. My name is already carved on a headstone there, next to my father, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, and yes, great-great grandparents.
I belong to my loving family and one of the greatest blessings of my life is going HOME.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Training

So I spent the summer in Alaska doing mission work, working with evangelists and learning the ropes of this new trade. Is that what it is, a new trade, a new job? Is it a calling or a much needed distraction? These kinds of questions weigh on me and I talk to God at length about them. I'm about to make a very profound change in my life. I'm calling my homeowner's company to make sure I can rent out my guest room, packing my life into a suitcase and moving way north, where it doesn't thaw until summer and you navigate the roads by starlight (and a lot of people call that "moon shine").
I was just talking to a friend this morning who's also going through a big life transition. I was trying to offer some encouragement but I found my tongue slipping and sliding around in my mouth and I'm not sure I was very convincing. We were asking why God puts us through these trials. We both are knowledgeable in scripture and know "the Biblical answer" but come on. He's God. Couldn't He find a way to accomplish His purposes that involved a few less human tears????
Then Matt appeared. Remember my damaged floor? I cried a bucket over that when I got the news, not knowing how to "fix it" from Anchorage and wondering what it meant. I think I wrote in an earlier post that there were lessons to be learned.
Matt is a young, nice-looking tatooed-up guy who got hired to do my floor by Carl, the guy I called. First, Matt called this morning to say he would be an hour late, then he got lost, then he realized he had forgotten his phone, and let's just say Matt was not having a good day and was fully aware that any future jobs might depend on this one.
When he finally got to work it was only a few minutes when he came into the living room looking clammy and shakey. It was not a heart attack but was probably just as bad for Matt. He said after looking at the floor he did not feel at all confident that he knew where to start and how to attack this job. Then he waited for my reaction and I could tell by the way he curled up under a table that he was expecting the worst.
I was very calm and understanding. Honestly, I'm in no hurry with the floor. I was very glad he was honest and up front rather than risking the one box of flooring I have left over from the original job. He agreed to finish scraping off the old glue and I went back to my email.
THEN...... (this is what I've been building up to and I know you're glad I'm finally there), SOMETHING or SOMEBODY moved me. I walked into the kitchen and said, "Matt, I want to tell you something." He started to dart under that table, then looked up at me. And I shared with Him what trusting God had done for me in the last four years. How I tried to let God direct my life and how He gave me peace whenever the unexpected came about.
He said he had been thinking about spiritual things lately... Just yesterday his mother had asked him to shave her head as she was beginning a much dreaded round of chemo.The kid had a lot on his mind. And now he has more to ponder and I believe with all my heart that it's because God is changing me and making me more sensitive to His Spirit. He has me in training for my new "job".
Before this summer, I don't think I would have bothered with Matt. And since I read stuff into stuff all the time, isn't it interesting that his name was Matt? I could have walked all over him.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Step Closer

I went to St. Pete Saturday to spend some time with dear friends AND to see if Richard was still in the apartment (see post from early this summer). I was sure he was. A friend told me his car was still in the driveway. As I approached the place, I felt butterflies in my stomach and wished as strongly as I can wish that I didn't have to have this confrontation. I didn't know if I had a key that fit the lock. Greg left a big bowl of keys that weren't labeled. I knew it was probably one of them.
I was picturing myself knocking on Richard's door, getting no answer (he's done that before) and then trying each key to try to get inside (I had to know for sure he was there). Then I imagined him calling the police to report someone breaking into his apt. and the sheriff arriving and handcuffing me and carrying me off to jail.It's so unfair.
Well God is good. The third key I tried fit the lock, and the apt. was vacated. Hallelujah! I was jumping for joy. Now just need to get both apt.'s cleaned out and on the market. I know I'm going to make no money on this place at all after real estate fees, taxes and cleaning help. But I'm still jumping for joy! And one step closer to Alaska!
btw, it also gave me great joy to have his run-down car impounded, although I'm sure he left it as a gift.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Home Again

So I've landed back at home. Practically no jet lag after the first day. I've made a list of things to get done, with the hope of returning to Alaska by the end of September. One by one, I'm checking stuff off the list.
Although I've returned home, this doesn't feel like home. After two and a half years of trying to get used to being here alone and reclaim the joy that this house once brought me, I find I am no closer to that goal than when I started. A friend trying to comfort me some time ago related the story of a widowed friend who found peace and contentment in keeping up the property she once shared with her husband. She nurtured their plants, walked their paths and enjoyed basking in her memories.
That hasn't worked for me. I feel very strongly that God is calling me to something very different and challenging. Being home is confirming that even more. I'm not going to miss this place. And that's a good thing. Remember Isaiah 43? "See...I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?" Yes, I do perceive it.
A teacher friend came by to look at the house today. She wants to rent the downstairs and.....she has offered to keep Daffodil. The new thing is falling into place.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jet Lag

I’m in the Philadelphia airport on my way home. My desktop picture is Denali. I miss Alaska. Is it time to go back?
Speaking of time, who is crazy enough to book a 7 hour flight that leaves at 9:10 PM? This was yet another first for me. The flight attendants are calling the shots and manipulating you into the routine. After passing out drinks they remind you of your pillow and blankey, ask you to close your window, they turn out the lights and put on a video. It’s a long, skinny sleepover in the sky. Now sleep, people.! Most of us tried to. By the time I finally dozed off, the lights came on, a “light” breakfast was announced and served. People began milling around and chattering, the sun came up and it was a new day. NOT!!! Are you people nuts???? It’s 3 AM! I don’t care what they’re telling you, it must be a conspiracy because I taught first grade for 20 years. I can do a clock. 9:10 plus 6 hours equals 3:10. You have to know that to get to second grade. So why is everyone acting like it’s morning??? Wasn’t this a Twilight Zone episode? I looked out the window to see if a little man was standing on the wing? Then they carried me off kicking and screaming. I need coffee. Or maybe I’ve had too much. Jet lag is going to be murder.
The coherent part of my flight was very pleasant. I had a wonderful seatmate. He was a retired 6th grade teacher and, thank you God, a Methodist. After my Southern Baptist summer, I wasn’t sure there were any of us left. I’m still wondering if we’re going to heaven.
I don’t think I’ve written about my experiences in the native village last week. 21 of us white folks slept on the floor of the tribal hall, chopped and delivered wood to the elders by day and had an informal church service at night. This particular village lies 25 miles off the nearest paved road, over two mountains and in the middle of nowhere. The natives own almost a million acres here and it is breathtakingly beautiful. On Saturday after the wood was chopped, we were taken by fishing boat along a meandering path to a gigantic lake. I’ll post the pix on face book. I may get to go back this fall with a native group of Christians who are going in to conduct services.
The night before we left, an old guy named Roy showed up and played guitar and sang some old gospel songs, some in the Athabaskan language. I took out the fiddle and we jammed for a couple of hours. That was a real highlight of my summer.
Scott told me about a bush missionary gathering in October at a remote, fly-in only, location. He goes every year and takes a group and I’m signing up. So I’m setting a goal to be back in Alaska by the end of September. Need to get the floor repaired, find someone to watch my house, evict Richard, get the apartment on the market, and hopefully find a home for Daffodil.
Dr. Phil would be proud of me. I’m excited about my life! (Now I know just because I said that something else is going to break or go wrong. Just remind me that I said life is good, okay?)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Testing

What is this testing business? I'm barely retired from teaching and I'm already confronted with what could be interpreted as a test. I've just committed to a stay in Alaska doing some mission work when I get word a pipe has sprung a leak in my Florida house and my things are floating away.
I don't usually attribute bad things to the work of Satan. I think we have enough evil and stupidity inside us to guarantee plenty of bad outcomes, without the help of a meddlesome demon. However, I have noticed in my short life that bad things seem to happen at the most inopportune times and it's quite often just when we've committed to something productive or worthy. I've experienced this over and over. In fact, I've come to expect it.
The day after I retired I was driving east toward the mountains on 6th St. when the thought occurred to me that I should expect something bad to happen very soon. No kidding, I really thought about it. I even prayed that God would give me the determination to follow through on my commitment and not be seduced by fear or conflict or any trials I might experience.
Then comes that disastrous call about my house. Really???? Even though I had anticipated something like this, I was still taken by surprise and felt a surge of panic.
But God has turned it all upside down. Everything fell right into place to avert disaster and put me at ease. Now, instead of being discouraged, I realize I have an army of friends who will always be there when I need them. I hope I can be a good friend back to them when they need me. I realize that God will not leave me helpless but will use circumstances to teach me more about trusting Him and living in faith moment to moment. And, like I wrote earlier, I'm confronted with losing the "stuff".
I also realize that in the scheme of things, my "disaster" was not a disaster at all. I hope when real disaster hits (as it has so many) I can take a small lesson from this week.
"Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing this: that the trying of your faith works patience..." Book of James
So did God allow Satan to put me to the test??? I'd say there's a good chance. I'd give me a B- on this easy one. But I definitely need to study harder for midterm exams.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Letting Go

The floor....I don't know any more about it today. I tried calling Gary, dear husband of my dear friend, to go take a look, but they are gone for the weekend. I'll try again tomorrow. If I can't reach Gary, I have other folks I'll call. I'm very blessed with menfolk in my life who step up when I need them and keep panic at bay.
Floors have a symbolic place in the narrative of my life. If you asked my children if their parents ever fought, they'd say, "Only about floors". I can remember three different times (no, four) when a pretty floor was my highest priority and my lust for floor perfection ended in conflict and frustration. What's with that anyway???
Yesterday I was talking on the phone with someone who might want to rent part of my house while I'm in Alaska. It sounded like a good deal until she said she had a dog. Ewwww....I told her that might be a deal breaker because I had really nice wood floors and wouldn't want anything to mar them. I felt the floor lust rising inside me as we spoke. Greg and I had those floors laid with the money I inherited from my Uncle Harry. They were a tribute to his generosity and satisfied me like no other floor ever has. This floor and I have been really good together.
Just a couple of hours later came the infamous call that my treasure was wet and buckling. It hit me like a baseboard. I told you I cried and cried. But I also prayed and prayed and asked God for some perspective and peace.
Now it seems as clear as a good polyurethane: God is teaching me something here. "Let go of the STUFF. Still connected to that floor (and your other little treasures)? LET THEM GO!!!!!!"
If this Alaska missionary thing is going to work out, I've GOT to learn to trust God WITH EVERYTHING and shake off the old life of material STUFF. This is going to be hard for me. I guess I'm starting on the ground "floor" ( :

The Challenge Begins

So how is it I have gone from first grade school teacher on a summer mission trip, to middle aged retiree moving to Alaska? I prayed diligently (and I mean on my face like a raving lunatic) for God to open a door of ministry for me. I begged as if it were for my life, because it was. As I’ve written before, I was sensing that change was imminent, but I didn’t know where He was leading.
Then a door opened and, like Lucy with the wardrobe, I stepped in…..and kept walking. This summer has been a steady hike, not just to glaciers, but toward my destiny.
Why Alaska? I have no idea. At first I was sure God had me mixed up with somebody else. Historically, I have NOT liked cold weather. I whine in the freezer section at Publix. But very clearly God led me here.
I don’t want to sound too philosophical but here’s my take (don’t laugh):
I’m thinking that moving to Alaska in some ways mimics the widow journey. Alaska’s state motto is “The Last Frontier”. Isn’t that what I’m facing? You know, exploring the unknown, battling extremes, testing my stamina, going where no man has gone before (oops, digressing into Star Trek again. Delete that last line). If I can survive an Alaska winter, I can survive anything, right? I’m excited to see what I’m made of, physically, spiritually and emotionally. This is my climb up Denali. I’ve been at base camp for two years just staring up, wishing, wondering and hoping. Gotta reach that peak and stand up and declare my freedom. Bring on the snow and the subzero temperatures and the frostbite and the sunless days and the isolation and………..I’m staying in Florida. No I’m not, yes I am, no I’m not, yes I am, NO I’M NOT!!!!!! BRING IT ON!!!!!!! (I told you not to laugh)

Next day:
“I’m excited to see what I’m made of”. Did I write that????? Apparently I’m made of jello. Before I could even publish this post, I got a call from home that I have a leak somewhere and my wood floor is flooded. Really? I fell apart. I had already been feeling a menopausal urge to cry all day. Not sure why. Could be seeing all the happy couples up here doing ministry together. My dream, as yet unfulfilled. Could be the emotional impact of retiring from a 34 year career. (At one time I had planned to be the oldest working teacher in the US. Not long ago my pediatrician was on the cover of Parade Magazine as the oldest practicing physician in the country. I think she was 99. I knew I could best that.)
But God had other plans for me and now I’m in Alaska feeling energized, adventurous and totally surrendered. But when I got word that my beautiful house was buckling, I just cried and cried. I called a friend who spent three hours on the phone trying to talk me down. I feel better this morning and will start making calls to do what needs to be done. I had just postponed my return to Florida by a week so I can spend time in a tribal village (earlier post). I still intend to do that. But I’m so being humbled.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, but as myself, I’m just jello.