August 11, 2016

His Legacy

The room was still dark when she peered through blurred eyes at the bedside clock. Disoriented, she stared first at the window, then at the ceiling tiles, watching the details slowly come into focus. It was several moments before she thought to wonder why she had been awakened. Shifting herself onto her other side, she saw that the sheets beside her were empty. The form of her husband was silhouetted against the faint light of the window. His kneeling form clutched the side of the bed and he emitted a soft murmur now and again as he wrestled in prayer.

Smiling, she closed her eyes and slipped back into a peaceful sleep. An hour and a half later she awakened again as he slipped back into bed. "Which one were you praying for tonight?" she queried.

"Margie. She's on my heart."

It was a nightly routine for him. Each of his ten children were specifically prayed for in turn. Night after night he pled with the Almighty for his kids. Every challenge, every concern, every joy or sorrow, was talked through with the Lord. He prayed for every endeavor that they undertook, and asked the Lord to keep them faithful. 

And the effects of those prayers live on today. 

All 10 of his children stayed strong in the Lord, raised godly children, and lived out sacrificial lives of service. His daughter Ruthie only recently retired from serving as the prayer coordinator for the General Conference. 

Pastors, missionaries, camp directors, conference workers, literature evangelists, teachers, faithful parents-- the list goes on. The number of lives and souls touched by his descendants would be impossible to count.

And as I stand here, young and green, and humbled to carry on the ministry of service to the next generation, I can't help but think of my great-grandfather's prayers for my Grandma Margie that night and be thankful that, in a small way, I was included in them. This legacy of prayer is a greater treasure to me than any legacy of fame or money could ever have been (had he had those to give.)

I look around me, as I write this here at a ministerial retreat at Camp Au Sable in Michigan, I see a second-cousin Pastor newly ordained on one side and another second-cousin and her husband serving as co-directors of the camp on the other. They are both raising children who love Jesus and are already serving others in their own sweet little ways.

I wish Grandpa Budd could be here to see the results of those prayers he prayed all those dark morning hours so long ago. I wish I could go back in time and tell him that Jesus was hearing him and that the petitions he desired were granted him. I wish I could tell him that his effectual, fervent prayer was availing much, much more than he ever dreamed.

But somehow I feel like he already knew. I think he took God's word and stood on those promises, knowing that what he could not see was fact. All great prayer warriors do.

And my heart burns to carry on his legacy-- not just the legacy of ministry and service, and remaining a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church-- but the legacy of intercessory prayer. The legacy of believing in promises and praying as though I have received the things for which I am asking because He said so.

And let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

June 4, 2016

Michigan

Written two weeks ago and forgot to post.
--------

So this is it.

This is Michigan.

Sun-toasted sand and lapping waves and just-right sunshine.
We came the right week, they said.

I stand at the waters edge just close enough for the icy water to soothe my burning soul. For the first time in far too many days, the pressure begins to melt away.

"Waves of peace" couldn't be a more cliche metaphor but I seem to understand it for the first time standing here with the waves breaking on my toes and lapping away at the massive stone heart in my chest. The sound of each crest seems to carry a deeper flush of peace and I finally begin to let myself believe that it's ok to relax.

No more office tasks waiting on Monday. No more schedules to make. No more hordes of important details to remember. No more complaints to field.

For two weeks it's just me and a beach and the satisfying pleasure of turning a house into a home.

And at the end of those two weeks I will be a pastor's wife. And with it will come a whole new set of pressures and expectations and late nights and busy weekends. And Jesus will be faithful to give the needed grace to meet those pressures when they come. He always is.

But that's not today.

Today I'm just a tired little girl on a beach talking to Jesus. And the still small voice never sounded sweeter.
 

February 26, 2016

When Queens Ride By

This is quite a bit out of the norm for me to post on this blog, but I felt the need to share it.

Few stories have ever moved me like this one. From the first time I read it as a bratty, smart-mouthed 12-year-old, I have found myself peering longingly through Jennie's weary eyes at the heavenly glory of pure, feminine womanhood. It still grips me in the deepest well of my soul and compels me with an inner urge to live up to my calling and be a queen.


When Queens Ride By 
by Agnes Slight Turnbull, 1888

Jennie Musgrave woke at the shrill rasp of the alarm clock as she always woke—with the shuddering start and a heavy realization that the brief respite of the night's oblivion was over. She had only time to glance through the dull light at the cluttered, dusty room, before John's voice was saying sleepily as he said every morning, "All right, let's go. It doesn't seem as if we'd been in bed at all!"
Jennie dressed quickly in the clothes, none too clean, that, exhausted, she had flung from her the night before. She hurried down the back stairs, her coarse shoes clattering thickly upon the bare boards. She kindled the fire in the range and then made a hasty pretense at washing in the basin in the sink.
John strode through the kitchen and on out to the barn. There were six cows to be milked and the great cans of milk to be taken to the station for the morning train.
Jennie put coffee and bacon on the stove, and then, catching up a pail from the porch, went after John. A golden red disk broke the misty blue of the morning above the cow pasture. A sweet, fragrant breath blew from the orchard. But Jennie neither saw nor felt the beauty about her.
She glanced at the sun and thought, It's going to be a hot day. She glanced at the orchard, and her brows knit. There it hung. All that fruit. Bushels of it going to waste. Maybe she could get time that day to make some more apple butter. But the tomatoes wouldn't wait. She must pick them and get them to town today, or that would be a dead loss. After all her work, well, it would only be in a piece with everything else if it did happen so. She and John had bad luck, and they might as well make up their minds to it.
She finished her part of the milking and hurried back again to the overcooked bacon and strong coffee. The children were down, clamorous, dirty, always underfoot. Jim, the eldest, was in his first term of school. She glanced at his spotted waist. He should have a clean one. But she couldn't help it. She couldn't get the washing done last week, and when she was to get a day for it this week she didn't know, with all the picking and the trips to town to make!
Breakfast was hurried and unpalatable, a sort of grudging concession to the demands of the body. Then John left in the milk wagon for the station, and Jennie packed little Jim's lunch basket with bread and apple butter and pie, left the two little children to their own devices in the backyard, and started toward the barn. There was no time to do anything in the house. The chickens and turkeys had to be attended to, and then she must get to the tomato patch before the sun got too hot. Behind her was the orchard with its rows and rows of laden apple tree. Maybe this afternoon—maybe tomorrow morning. There were the potatoes, too, to be lifted. Too hard work for a woman. But what were you going to do? Starve? John worked till dark in the fields.
She pushed her hair back with a quick, boyish sweep of her arm and went on scattering the grain to the fowls. She remembered their eager plans when they were married, when they took over the old farm—laden with its heavy mortgage—that had been John's father's. John had been so straight of back then and so jolly. Only seven years, yet now he was stooped a little, and his brows were always drawn, as though to hide a look of ashamed failure. They had planned to have a model farm someday: blooded stock, a tractor, a new barn. And then such a home they were to make of the old stone house! Jennie's hopes had flared higher even than John's. A rug for the parlor, an overstuffed set like the one in the mail—order catalogue, linoleum for the kitchen, electric lights!
They were young and, oh, so strong! There was nothing they could not do if they only worked hard enough.
But that great faith had dwindled as the first year passed. John worked later and later in the evenings. Jennie took more and more of the heavy tasks upon her own shoulders. She often thought with some pride that no woman in the countryside ever helped her husband as she did. Even with the haying and riding the reaper. Hard, coarsening work, but she was glad to do it for John's sake.
The sad riddle of it all was that at the end of each year they were no further on. The only difference from the year before was another window shutter hanging from one hinge and another crippled wagon in the barnyard which John never had time to mend. They puzzled over it in a vague distress. And meanwhile life degenerated into a straining, hopeless struggle. Sometimes lately John had seemed a little listless, as though nothing mattered. A little bitter when he spoke of Henry Davis.
Henry held the mortgage and had expected a payment on the principle this year. He had come once and looked about with something very like a sneer on his face. If he should decide someday to foreclose—that would be the final blow. They never would get up after that. If John couldn't hold the old farm, he could never try to buy a new one. It would mean being renters all their lives. Poor renters at that!
She went to the tomato field. It had been her own idea to do some tracking along with the regular farm crops. But, like everything else, it had failed of her expectations. As she put the scarlet tomatoes, just a little overripe, into the basket, she glanced with a hard tightening of her lips toward a break in the trees a half mile away where a dark, listening bit of road caught the sun. Across its polished surface twinkled an endless procession of shining, swift—moving objects. The State Highway.
Jennie hated it. In the first place, it was so tauntingly near and yet so hopelessly far from them. If it only ran by their door, as it did past henry Davis's for instance, it would solve the whole problem of marketing the fruits and vegetables. Then they could set the baskets on the lawn, and people could stop for them. But as it was, nobody all summer long had paid the least attention to the sign John had put up at the end of the lane. And no wonder. Why should travelers drive their cars over the stony country byway, when a little farther along they would find the same fruit spread temptingly for them at the very roadside?
But there was another reason she hated that bit of sleek road showing between the trees. She hated it because it hurt her with its suggestions of all that passed her by in that endless procession twinkling in the sunshine. There they kept going, day after day, those happy, carefree women, riding in handsome limousines or in gay little roadsters. Some in plainer cars, too, but even those were, like the others, women who could have rest, pleasure, comfort for the asking. They were whirled along hour by hour to new pleasures, while she was weighted to the drudgery of the farm like one of the great rocks in the pasture field.
And—most bitter thought of all—they had pretty homes to go back to when the happy journey was over. That seemed to be the strange and cruel law about homes. The finer they were, the easier it was to leave them. Now with her—if she had the rug for the parlor and the stuffed furniture and linoleum for the kitchen, she shouldn't mind anything so much then; she had nothing, nothing but hard slaving and bad luck. And the highway taunted her with it. Flung its impossible pleasures mockingly in her face as she bent over the vines or dragged the heavy baskets along the rows.
The sun grew hotter. Jennie put more strength into her task. She knew, at last, by the scorching heat overhead that is was nearing noon. She must have a bit of lunch ready for John when he came in. There wasn't time to prepare much. Just reheat the coffee and set down some bread and pie.
She started towards the house, giving a long yodeling call for the children as she went. They appeared from the orchard, tumbled and torn from experiments with the wire fence. Her heart smothered her at the sight of them. Among the other dreams that the years had crushed out were those of little rosy boys and girls in clean suits and fresh ruffled dresses. As it was, the children had just grown like farm weeds.
This was the part of all the drudgery that hurt most. That she had not time to care for her children, sew for them, teach them things that other children knew. Sometimes it seemed as if she had no real love for them at all. She was too terribly tired as a rule to have any feeling. The only times she used energy to talk to them was when she had to reprove them for some dangerous misdeed. That was all wrong. It seemed wicked; but how could she help it? With the work draining the very life out of her, strong as she was.
John came in heavily, and they ate in silence except for the children's chatter. John hardly looked up form his plate. He gulped down great drafts of the warmed-over coffee and then pushed his chair back hurriedly.
"I'm goin' to try to finish the harrowin' in the south field," he said.
"I'm at the tomatoes," Jennie answered. "I've got them' most all picked and ready for takin'."
That was all. Work was again upon them.
It was two o'clock by the sun, and Jennie had loaded the last heavy basket of tomatoes on the milk wagon in which she must drive to town, when she heard shrill voices sounding along the path. The children were flying in excitement toward her.
"Mum! Mum! Mum!" they called as they came panting up to her with big, surprised eyes.
"Mum, there's a lady up there. At the kitchen door. All dressed up. A pretty lady. She wants to see you."
Jennie gazed down at them disbelievingly. A lady, a pretty lady at her kitchen door? All dressed up! What that could mean! Was it possible someone had at last braved the stony lane to buy fruit? Maybe bushels of it!
"Did she come in a car?" Jennie asked quickly.
"No, she just walked in. She's awful pretty. She smiled at us."
Jennie's hopes dropped. Of course. She might have known. Some agent likely, selling books. She followed the children wearily back along the path and in at the rear door of the kitchen. Across from it another door opened into the side yard. Here stood the stranger.
The two women looked at each other across the kitchen, across the table with the remains of two meals upon it, the strewn chairs, the littered stove—across the whole scene of unlovely disorder. They looked at each other in startled surprise, as inhabitants of Earth and Mars might look if they were suddenly brought face-to-face.
Jennie saw a woman in a gray tweed coat that seemed to be part of her straight, slim body. A small gray hat with a rose quill was drawn low over the brownish hair. Her blue eyes were clear and smiling. She was beautiful! And yet she was not young. She was in her forties, surely. But an aura of eager youth clung to her, a clean and exquisite freshness.
The stranger in her turn looked across at a young woman, haggard and weary. Her yellowish hair hung in straggling wisps. Her eyes looked hard and hunted. Her cheeks were thin and sallow. Her calico dress was shapeless and begrimed from her work.
So they looked at each other for one long, appraising second. Then the woman in gray smiled.
"How do you do? " she began. "We ran our car into the shade of your lane to have our lunch and rest for a while. And I walked on up to buy a few apples, if you have them."
Jennie stood staring at the stranger. There was an unconscious hostility in her eyes. This was one of the women from the highway. One of those envied ones who passed twinkling through the summer sunshine from pleasure to pleasure while Jennie slaved on.
But the pretty lady's smile was disarming. Jennie started toward a chair and pulled off the old coat and apron that lay on it.
"Won't you sit down?" she said politely. "I'll go and get the apples. I'll have to pick them off the tree. Would you prefer rambos?"
"I don't know what they are, but they sound delicious. You must choose them for me. But mayn't I come with you? I should love to help pick them."
Jennie considered. She felt baffled by the friendliness of the other woman's face and utterly unable to meet it. But she did not know how to refuse.
"Why I s'pose so. If you can get through the dirt."
She led the way over the back porch with its crowded baskets and pails and coal buckets, along the unkept path toward the orchard. She had never been so acutely conscious of the disorder about her. Now a hot shame brought a lump to her throat. In her preoccupied haste before, she had actually not noticed that tub of overturned milk cans and rubbish heap! She saw it all now swiftly through the other woman's eyes. And then that new perspective was checked by a bitter defiance. Why should she care how things looked to this woman? She would be gone, speeding down the highway in a few minutes as though she had never been there.
She reached the orchard and began to drag a long ladder from the fence to the rambo tree.
The other woman cried out in distress. "Oh, but you can't do that! You mustn't. It's too heavy for you, or even for both of us. Please just let me pick a few from the ground."
Jennie looked in amazement at the stranger's concern. It was so long since she had seen anything like it.
"Heavy?" she repeated. "This ladder? I wish I didn't ever lift anything heavier than this. After hoistin' bushel baskets of tomatoes onto a wagon, this feels light to me."
The stranger caught her arm. "But—but do you think it's right? Why, that's a man's work."
Jennie's eyes blazed. Something furious and long-pent broke out from within her. "Right! Who are you to be askin' me whether I'm right or not?" What would have become of us if I didn't do a man's work? It takes us both, slaving away, an' then we get nowhere. A person like you don't know what work is! You don't know—"
Jennie's voice was the high shrill of hysteria; but the stranger's low tones somehow broke through. "Listen," she said soothingly. "Please listen to me. I'm sorry I annoyed you by saying that, but now, since we are talking, why can't we sit down here and rest a minute? It's so cool and lovely here under the trees, and if you were to tell me all about it—because I'm only a stranger—perhaps it would help. It does sometimes, you know. A little rest would—"
"Rest! Me sit down to rest, an' the wagon loaded to go to town? It'll hurry me now to get back before dark."
And then something strange happened. The other women put her cool, soft hand on Jennie's grimy arm. There was a compelling tenderness in her eyes. "Just take the time you would have spent picking apples. I would so much rather. And perhaps somehow I could help you. I wish I could. Won't you tell me why you have to work so hard?"
Jennie sank down on the smooth green grass. Her hunted, unwilling eyes had yielded to some power in the clear, serene eyes of the stranger. A sort of exhaustion came over her. A trembling reaction from the straining effort of weeks.
"There ain't much to tell," she said half sullenly, "only that we ain't gettin' ahead. We're clean discouraged, both off us. Henry Davis is talking about foreclosin' on us if we don't pay some principle. The time of the mortgage is out this year, an' mebbe he won't renew it. He's got plenty himself, but them's the hardest kind." She paused; then her eyes flared. "An' it ain't that I haven't done my part. Look at me. I'm barely thirty, an' I might be fifty. I'm so weather-beaten. That's the way I've worked!"
"And you think that has helped your husband?"
"Helped him?" Jennie's voice was sharp. "Why shouldn't it help him?"
The stranger was looking away through the green stretches of orchard. She laced her slim hands together about her knees. She spoke slowly. "Men are such queer things, husbands especially. Sometimes we blunder when we are trying hardest to serve them. For instance, they want us to be economical, and yet they want us in pretty clothes. They need our work, and yet they want us to keep our youth and our beauty. And sometimes they don't know themselves which they really want most. So we have to choose. That's what makes it so hard".
She paused. Jennie was watching her with dull curiosity as though she were speaking a foreign tongue. Then the stranger went on:
I had to choose once, long ago; just after we were married, my husband decided to have his own business, so he started a very tiny one. He couldn't afford a helper, and he wanted me to stay in the office while he did the outside selling. And I refused, even though it hurt him. Oh, it was hard! But I knew how it would be if I did as he wished. We would both have come back each night. Tired out, to a dark, cheerless house and a picked-up dinner. And a year if that might have taken something away from us—something precious. I couldn't risk it, so I refused and stuck to it.
"And then how I worked in my house—a flat it was then. I had so little outside of our wedding gifts; but at least I could make it a clean, shining, happy place. I tried to give our little dinners the grace of a feast. And as the months went on, I knew I had done right. My husband would come home dead-tired and discouraged, ready to give up the whole thing. But after he had eaten and sat down in our bright little living room, and I had read to him or told him all the funny things I could invent about my day, I could see him change. By bedtime he had his courage back, and by morning he was at last ready to go out and fight again. And at last he won, and he won his success alone, as a man loves to do.
Still Jennie did not speak. She only regarded her guest with a half-resentful understanding.
The woman in gray looked off again between the trees. Her voice was very sweet. A humorous little smile played about her lips.
"There was a queen once," she went on, "who reigned in troublous days. And every time the country was on the brink of war and the people ready to fly into a panic, she would put on her showiest dress and take her court with her and go hunting. And when the people would see her riding by, apparently so gay and happy, they were sure all was well with the Government. So she tided over many a danger. And I've tried to be like her.
"Whenever a big crisis comes in my husband's business—and we've had several—or when he's discouraged, I put on my prettiest dress and get the best dinner I know how or give a party! And somehow it seems to work. That's the woman's part, you know. To play the queen—"
A faint honk-honk came from the lane. The stranger started to her feet. "That's my husband. I must go. Please don't bother about the apples. I'll just take these from under the tree. We only wanted two or three, really. And give these to the children." She slipped two coins into Jennie's hand.
Jennie had risen, too, and was trying from a confusion of startled thoughts to select one for speech. Instead she only answered the other woman's bright good-bye with a stammering repetition and a broken apology about the apples.
She watched the stranger's erect, lithe figure hurrying away across the path that led directly to the lane. Then she turned her back to the house, wondering dazedly if she had only dreamed that the other woman had been there. But no, there were emotions rising hotly within her that were new. They had had no place an hour before. They had risen at the words of the stranger and at the sight of her smooth, soft hair, the fresh color in her cheeks, the happy shine of her eyes.
A great wave of longing swept over Jennie, a desire that was lost in choking despair. It was as thought she had heard a strain of music for which she had waited all her life and then felt it swept away into silence before she had grasped its beauty. For a few brief minutes she, Jennie Musgrave, had sat beside one of the women of the highway and caught a breath of her life—that life which forever twinkled in the past in bright procession, like the happenings of a fairy tale. Then she was gone, and Jennie was left as she had been, bound to the soil like one of the rocks of the field.
The bitterness that stormed her heart now was different from the old dull disheartenment. For it was coupled with new knowledge. The words of the stranger seemed more vivid to her than when she had sat listening in the orchard. But they came back to her with the pain of agony.
"All very well for her to talk so smooth to me about man's work and woman's work! An' what she did for her husband's big success. Easy enough for her to sit talking about queens! What would she do if she was here on this farm like me? What would a woman like her do?"
Jennie had reached the kitchen door and stood there looking at the hopeless melee about her. Her words sounded strange and hollow in the silence of the house. "Easy for her!" she burst out. She never had the work pilin' up over her like I have. She never felt it at her throat like a wolf, the same as John an' me does. Talk about choosin'! I haven't got no choice. I just got to keep goin'—just keep goin', like I always have—"
She stopped suddenly. There in the middle of the kitchen floor, where the other woman had passed over, lay a tiny square of white. Jennie crossed to it quickly and picked it up. A faint delicious fragrance like the dream of a flower came from it. Jennie inhaled it eagerly. It was not like any odor she had ever known. It made her think of sweet, strange things. Things she had never thought about before. Of gardens in the early summer dusk, of wide fair rooms with the moonlight shining in them. It made her somehow think with vague wistfulness of all that.
She looked carefully at the tiny square. The handkerchief was of fine, fairylike smoothness. In the corner a dainty blue butterfly spread his wings. Jennie drew in another long breath. The fragrance filled her senses again. Her first greedy draft had not exhausted it. It would stay for a while, at least.
She laid the bit of white down cautiously on the edge of the table and went to the sink, where she washed her hands carefully. The she returned and picked up the handkerchief again with something like reverence. She sat down, still holding it, staring at it. This bit of linen was to her an articulated voice. She understood its language. It spoke to her of white, freshly washed clothes blowing in the sunshine, of an iron moving smoothly, leisurely, to the accompaniment of a song over snowy folds; it spoke to her of quiet, orderly rooms and ticking clocks and a mending basket under the evening lamp; it spoke to her of all the peaceful routine of a well managed household, the kind she had once dreamed of having.
But more than this, the exquisite daintiness of it, the sweet, alluring perfume spoke to her of something else which her heart understood, even though her speech could have found no words for it. She could feel gropingly the delicacy, the grace, the beauty that made up the other woman's life in all its relations.
She, Jennie, had none of that. Everything about their lives, hers and John's, was coarsened, soiled somehow by the dragging, endless labor or the days.
Jennie leaned forward, her arms stretched tautly before her upon her knees, her hands clasped tightly over the fragrant bit of white. Suppose she were to try doing as the stranger had said. Suppose that she spent her time on the house and let the outside work go. What then? What would John say? Would they be much farther behind than they were now? Could they be? And suppose, by some strange chance, the other woman had been right! That a man could be helped more by doing of these other things she had neglected?
She sat very still, distressed, uncertain. Out in the barnyard waited the wagon of tomatoes, overripe now for market. No, she could do nothing today, at least, but go on as usual.
Then her hands opened a little; the perfume within them came up to her, bringing again that thrill of sweet, indescribable things.
She started up, half-terrified at her own resolve. "I'm goin' to try it now. Mebbe I'm crazy, but I'm goin' to do it anyhow!"
It was a long time since Jennie had performed such a meticulous toilet. It was years since she had brushed her hair. A hasty combing had been its best treatment. She put on her one clean dress, the dark voile reserved for trips to town. She even changed from her shapeless, heavy shoes to her best ones. Then, as she looked at herself in the dusty mirror, she saw that she was changed. Something, at least, of the hard haggardness was gone from her face, and her hair framed it with smooth softness. Tomorrow she would wash it. It used to be almost yellow.
She went to the kitchen. With something of the burning zeal of a fanatic, she attacked the confusion before her. By half past four the room was clean: the floor swept, the stove shining, dishes and pans washed and put in their places. From the tumbled depths of a drawer Jennie had extracted a white tablecloth that had been bought in the early days, for company only. With a spirit of daring recklessness she spread it on the table. She polished the chimney of the big oil lamp and then set the fixture, clean and shining, in the center of the white cloth.
Now the supper! And she must hurry. She planned to have it at six o' clock and ring the big bell for John fifteen minutes before, as she used to just after they were married.
She decided upon fried ham and browned potatoes and applesauce with hot biscuits. She hadn't made them for so long, but her fingers fell into their old deftness. Why, cooking was just play if you had time to do it right! Then she thought of the tomatoes and gave a little shudder. She thought of the long hours of backbreaking work she had put into them and called herself a little fool to have been swayed by the words of a strange and the scent of a handkerchief, to neglect her rightful work and bring more loss upon John and herself. But she went on, making the biscuits, turning the ham, setting the table.
It was half past five; the first pan of flaky brown mounds had been withdrawn from the oven, the children's faces and hands had been washed and their excited questions satisfied, when the sound of a car came from the bend. Jennie knew that car. It belonged to Henry Davis. He could be coming for only one thing.
The blow they had dreaded, fending off by blind disbelief in the ultimate disaster, was about to fall. Henry was coming to tell them he was going to foreclose. It would almost kill John. This was his father's old farm. John had taken it over, mortgage and all, so hopefully, so sure he could succeed where his father had failed. If he had to leave now there would be a double disgrace to bear. And where could they go? Farms weren't so plentiful.
Henry had driven up to the side gate. He fumbled with some papers in his inner pocket as he started up the walk. A wild terror filled Jennie's heart. She wanted desperately to avoid meeting Henry Davis's keen, hard face, to flee somewhere, anywhere before she heard the words hat doomed them.
Then as she stood shaken, wondering how she could live through what the next hours would bring, she saw in a flash the beautiful stranger as she had sat in the orchard, looking off between the trees and smiling to herself. "There was once a queen."
Jennie heard the words again distinctly just as Henry Davis's steps sounded sharply nearer on the walk outside. There was only a confused picture of a queen wearing the stranger's lovely, highbred face, riding gaily to the hunt through forests and towns while her kingdom was tottering. Riding gallantly on, in spite of her fears.
Jennie's heart was pounding and her hands were suddenly cold. But something unreal and yet irresistible was sweeping her with it. "There was once a queen."
She opened the screen door before Henry Davis had time to knock. She extended her hand cordially. She was smiling. "Well, how d' you do, Mr. Davis. Come right in. I'm real glad to see you. Been quite a while since you was over."
Henry looked surprised and very much embarrassed. "Why, no, now, I won't go in. I just stopped to see John on a little matter of business. I'll just—"
"You'll just come right in. John will be in from milkin' in a few minutes an' you can talk while you eat, both of you. I've supper just ready. Now step right in, Mr. Davis!"
As Jennie moved aside, a warm, fragrant breath of fried ham and biscuits seemed to waft itself to Henry Davis's nostrils. There was a visible softening of his features. "Why, no, I didn't reckon on anything like this. I 'lowed I'd just speak to John and then be gettin' on."
"They'll see you at home when you get there," Jennie put in quickly. "You never tasted my hot biscuits with butter an' quince honey, or you wouldn't take so much coachin'!"
Henry Davis came in and sat in the big, clean, warm kitchen. His eyes took in every detail of the orderly room: the clean cloth, the shining lamp, the neat sink, the glowing stove. Jennie saw him relax comfortably in his chair. Then above the aromas of the food about her, she detected the strange sweetness of the bit of white linen she had tucked away in the bosom of her dress. It rose to her as a haunting sense of her power as a woman.
She smiled at Henry Davis. Smiled as she would never have thought of doing a day ago. Then she would have spoken to him with a drawn face full of subservient fear. Now, though the fear clutched her heart, her lips smiled sweetly, moved by that unreality that seemed to possess her. "There was once a queen."
"An' how are things goin' with you, Mr. Davis?" she asked with a blithe upward reflection.
Henry Davis was very human. He had never noticed before that Jennie's hair was so thick and pretty and that she had such pleasant ways. Neither had he dreamed that she was such a good cook as the sight and smell of the supper things would indicate. He was very comfortable there in the big sweet-smelling kitchen.
He smiled back. It was an interesting experiment on Henry's part, for his smiles were rare. "Oh, so-so. How are they with you?"
Jennie had been taught to speak the truth; but at this moment there dawned in her mind a vague understanding that the high loyalties of life are, after all, relative and not absolute.
She smiled again as she skillfully flipped a great slice of golden brown ham over in the frying pan. "Why, just fine, Mr. Davis. We're gettin' on just fine, John an' me. It's been hard sleddin' but I sort of think the worst is over. I think we're goin' to come out way ahead now. We'll just be proud to pay off that mortgage so fast, come another year, that you'll be surprised!"
It was said. Jennie marveled that the words had not choked her, had not somehow smitten her dead as she spoke them. But their effect on Henry Davis was amazingly good.
"That so?" he asked in surprise. "Well now, that's fine. I always wanted to see John make a success of the old place, but somehow—well, you know it didn't look as if—that is, there's been some talk around that maybe John wasn't just gettin' along any too—you know. A man has to sort of watch his investments. Well, now, I'm glad things are pickin' up a little."
Jennie felt as though a tight hand at her throat had relaxed. She spoke brightly of the fall weather and the crops as she finished setting the dishes on the table and rang the big bell for John. There was delicate work yet to be done when he came in.
Little Jim had to be sent to hasten him before he finally appeared. He was a big man, John Musgrave, big and slow moving and serious. He had known nothing all his life but hard physical toil. Hedaviess had pitted his great body against all the adverse forces of nature. There was a time when he had felt that strength such as his was all any man needed to bring him fortune. Now he was not so sure. The brightness of that faith was dimmed by experience.
John came to the kitchen door with his eyebrows drawn. Little Jim had told Jim that Henry Davis was there. He came into the room as an accused man faces the jury of his peers, faces the men who, though the same flesh and blood as he, are yet somehow curiously in a position to save or to destroy him.
John came in, and then he stopped, staring blankly at the scene before him. At Jennie moving about the bright table, chatting happily with Henry Davis! At Henry himself, his sharp features softened by an air of great satisfaction. At the sixth plate on the white cloth. Henry staying for supper!
But the silent deeps of John's nature served him well. He made no comment. Merely shook hands with Henry Davis and then washed his face at the sink.
Jennie arranged the savory dishes, and they sat down to supper. It was an entirely new experience to John to sit at the head of his own table and serve a generously heaped plate to Henry Davis. It sent through him a sharp thrill of sufficiency, of equality. He realized that before he had been cringing in his soul at the very sight of this man.
Henry consumed eight biscuits richly covered with quince honey, along with the heavier part of his dinner. Jennie counted them. She recalled hearing that the Davises did not set a very bountiful table; it was common talk that Mrs. Davis was even more "miserly" than her husband. But, however that was, Henry now seemed to grow more and more genial and expansive as he ate. So did John. By the time the pie was set before them, they were laughing over a joke Henry had heard at Grange meeting.
Jennie was bright, watchful, careful. If the talk lagged, she made a quick remark. She moved softly between table and stove, refilling the dishes. She saw to it that a hot biscuit was at Henry Davis's elbow just when he was ready for it. All the while there was rising within her a strong zest for life that she would have deemed impossible only that morning. This meal, at least, was a perfect success, and achievements of any sort whatever had been few.
Henry Davis left soon after supper. He brought the conversation around awkwardly to his errand as they rose from the table. Jennie was ready.
"I told him, John, that the worst was over now, an' we're getting' on fine!" She laughed." I told him we'd be swampin' him pretty soon with our payments. Ain't that right John?"
John's mind was not analytical. At that moment he was comfortable. He has been host at a delicious supper with his ancient adversary, whose sharp face marvelously softened. Jennie's eyes were shining with a new and amazing confidence. It was a natural moment for unreasoning optimism.
"Why that's right, Mr. Davis. I believe we can start clearin' this off now pretty soon. If you could just see your way clear to renew the note mebbe. . . ."
It was done. The papers were back in Davis's pocket. They had bid him a cordial good-bye from the door.
"Next time you come, I will have biscuits for you Mr. Davis." Jennie had called daringly after him.
"Now you don't forget that Mrs. Musgrave! They certainly ain't hard to eat."
He was gone. Jennie cleared the table and set the shining lamp in the center of the oilcloth covering. She began to wash the dishes. John was fumbling through the papers on a hanging shelf. He finally sat down with and old tablet and pencil. He spoke meditatively. "I believe I'll do a little figurin' since I've got time tonight. It just struck me that mebbe if I used my head a little more I'd get on faster."
"Well now, you might," said Jennie. It would not be John's way to comment just yet on their sudden deliverance. She polished two big Rambo apples and placed them on a saucer beside him.
He looked pleased. "Now that's what I like." He grinned. Then making a clumsy clutch at her arm, he added, "Say, you look sort of pretty tonight."
Jennie made a brisk coquettish business of freeing herself. "Go along with you!" she returned, smiling and started in again upon the dishes. But a hot wave of color had swept up in her shallow cheeks.
John had looked more grateful over her setting those two apples beside him now, than he had the day last fall when she lifted all the potatoes herself! Men were strange, as the woman in gray had said. Maybe even John had been needing something else more than he needed the hard, backbreaking work she had been doing.
She tidied up the kitchen and put the children to bed. It seemed strange to be through now, ready to sit down. All summer they had worked outdoors till bedtime. Last night she had been slaving over apple butter until she stopped, exhausted, and John had been working in the barn with the lantern. Tonight seemed so peaceful, so quiet. John still sat at the table, figuring while he munched his apples. His brows were not drawn now. There was a new, purposeful light upon his face.
Jennie walked to the doorway and stood looking off through the darkness and through the break in the trees at the end of the lane. Bright and golden lights kept glittering across it, breaking dimly through the woods, flashing out strongly for a moment, then disappearing behind the hill. Those were the lights of the happy cars that never stopped in their swift search for far and magic places. Those were the lights of the highway which she had hated. But she did not hate it now. For today it had come to her at last and left with her some of its mysterious pleasure.
Jennie wished, as she stood there, that she could somehow tell the beautiful stranger in the gray coat that her words had been true, that she, Jennie, insofar as she was able, was to be like her and fulfill her woman's part.
For while she was not figuring as John was doing, yet her mind had been planning, sketching in details, strengthening itself against the chains of old habits, resolving on new ones; seeing with sudden clearness where they had been blundered, where they had made mistakes that farsighted, orderly management could have avoided. But how could John have sat down to figure in comfort before, in the kind of kitchen she had been keeping?
Jennie bit her lip. Even if some of the tomatoes spoiled, if all of them spoiled, there would be a snowy washing on her line tomorrow; there would be ironing the next day in her clean kitchen. She could sing as she worked. She used to when she was a girl. Even if the apples rotted on the trees, there were certain things she knew now that she must do, regardless of what John might say. It would pay better in the end, for she had read the real needs of his soul from his eyes that evening. Yes, wives had to choose for their husbands sometimes.
A thin haunting breath of sweetness rose from the bosom of her dress where the scrap of white linen lay. Jennie smiled into the dark. And tomorrow she would take time to wash her hair. It used to be yellow—and she wished she could see the stranger once more, just long enough to tell her she understood.
As matter of fact, at that very moment, many miles along the sleek highway, a woman in a gray coat, with a soft gray hat and a rose quill, leaned suddenly close to her husband as he shot the high-powered car through the night. Suddenly he glanced down at her and slackened the speed.
"Tired?" he asked. "You haven't spoken for miles. Shall we stop at this next town?"
The woman shook her head. "I'm all right, and I love to drive at night. It's only—you know—that poor woman at the farm. I can't get over her wretched face and house and everything. It—it was hopeless!"
The man smiled down at her tenderly. "Well, I'm sorry, too, if it was all as bad as your description; but you mustn't worry. Good gracious, darling, you're not weeping over it, I hope!""No, truly, just a few little tears. I know it's silly, but I did so want to help her, and I know now that what I said must have sounded perfectly insane. She wouldn't know what I was talking about. She just looked up with that blank, tired face. And it all seemed so impossible. No, I'm not going to cry. Of course I'm not—but—lend me your handkerchief, will you dear? I've lost mine somehow!"

February 7, 2016

Let Me Be a Woman

Wednesday evening and we're running out of the house to prayer meeting. Needing to take separate vehicles since Josiah will be staying late afterwards, we both jab keys into ignitions and crank. His Honda purrs to life; the Camry, however, won't even give me a click or a flicker of dash lights. It is dead as a tombstone.

My handsome hero gallantly pulls out jumper cables, and within moments, my car is ready to go. I clutch into reverse and back out, but as soon as I pause to go into first gear, the car dramatically lurches and dies.

Again, my gallant husband is ready with jumper cables, and we get the car going again, this time giving it more time to recharge before trying again. As I jump back in to take off, Josiah is full of instructions. "Keep it in a low enough gear to hold the RPM's around 3000. You've got to keep the engine revved. Do you want me to drive it?"

Are you kidding me? Do I look like I don't know how to drive a car? I want this challenge as much as you do!

"No, I think I got it."

And I do have it pretty well-- for a thousand feet, roaring in second gear until I have to stop and turn onto the highway. Halfway into the turn my dash lights snuff out and I'm stuck in the middle of the highway without power. Frustrated, I slip it in neutral and roll backwards until I'm clear of the road.

My hero is already coming with the jumper cables. He runs back and forth, popping the hoods, attaching the cables. Rescuing me.

I'm not in the mood to be rescued.
I could totally help you with that. I'm not one of those girls that has to have a guy do everything for her.

He asks me to rev the engine in his car, to accelerate the charging process. "I don't mind driving it.." he says..a hopeful glimmer in his eyes.

Obviously I'm not going to win until I let him drive it. 

"Fine, drive it." My voice has a bit of an edge to it now and I resolve that this will be my last comment until my mood barometer has a better reading. No need to make a scene..

"You're ok with unhooking the jumper cables, and dropping the hood so I can take off? Make sure the jumper cables don't touch each other..."

I'm one big internal eye-roll. Like I've never jumped a car before....
Outwardly, I just nod the affirmative, unhook the cables, and send him roaring down the road.

As I deftly bunch the cables and drop the hood, I finally enjoy my moment of feeling like a capable woman who knows how to unhook jumper cables like a pro -- just as good as any man!

But as I ease the Honda onto the highway, the thought strikes me like a 10-foot wall of water. 

You know, Beth..It's really nice to not have to be a man.

Immediately I'm humbled.

Because it's true. It is really nice to let him do the grunt work, lift the heavy stuff, roll the trash to the curb, deal with getting greasy under the car, carry the brunt of providing for the family. There's so much that he does that I could simply be grateful for instead of fighting to do it myself.

Maybe I can be a woman and let him be a man.

When I got married, lots of people told me that it would be tough at first, and that there would be lots of challenges and conflicts as we adjusted to living together. To be honest I heard it so much that it almost became cliche. And it wasn't that I didn't believe them, but I kinda didn't completely. After all, we had worked through so much in our courtship and we had so much going for our marriage, and I'd lived with lots of roommates before and always got along with them fine. I didn't think I get could surprised.

Well, come to find out, they were right. All of them. And we had so much to learn.

The blending of two headstrong, independent, leader types into one is very similar to-- I don't know -- making a smoothie? Not the greatest of illustrations, but basically, it's painful.

Our parents both tell an almost identical story of us as toddlers struggling to put our shoes on. In both cases, a kind parent offers to help the obviously struggling little Beth/Josiah with the task, only to be met with a resolute refusal, "Do it myself!!" 

This became a sort of mantra for both of us as we grew up. To be free, independent, in charge. We're both good at flying solo. We like calling the shots.

But flying solo isn't a good marriage model. Marriage wasn't created to be a mere civil status, or a checkbox on your W-4 that gives you a better tax return. Marriage is a blending of two lives for the good of both individuals. It's "two are better than one." It's a collection of verbs like refine, ennoble, and strengthen.

Refine.

Ennoble.

Strengthen.

Refine.

Refine...

Ouch.

I'm pretty good at seeing ways that I can refine him, but I'm really bad at being refined.

I want him to give me all sorts of space and freedom to be me, and I want things to go my way. I want him to stand back and admire my tough-girl jumper-cable-hooking skills. They're beast.

But when he needs some space to lead? I'm all up in it, girlfriend. When he makes a good point? I've got the sarcastic one-liner on the tip of my tongue to take the glory out of it for him. When he's trying to tell me I'm wrong? I'm all pouty and cold emotional punishing techniques.

Not all the time, you understand, but enough to be ashamed of.

I definitely didn't see all this in myself 14 months ago.

But this is the glory of refining. You've got to see how ugly the baby is before you can grow. It's all part of "being molded by the Potter" and "refined in the fire" and all those romantic sounding religious words. They all just mean grinding your soul. And marriage is one of the best and biggest grinders. (They don't tell you that one in those spiritual romance books that all the girls love to read! I heard recently someone saying "To the right man your flaws will be perfect." Ahem..excuse me for a moment while I sneeze. Wow. And these poor girls who get suckered in to believe this nonsense...but I digress.)

And Josiah? He's so patient. Good listener. Gives me a hug and a kiss when I least deserve it. Gives back kind words for my mean ones. Braves the cold shoulder like a champ.

He deserves better.

And I can give him better.

I can be a woman.

I can exercise my God-given talents as a supporter, an enthusiast, an encourager. He's being tough guy, so I can let tough girl go and take on the queen-of-the-home role. I can be the calm presence shedding cheerfulness, love, and sunshine in that sweet way that only women can. I can encourage more, and criticize less. I can be his strongest ally-- the safest ear to listen to his heart.

Yesterday I wrote all this up in my trusty journal. I hadn't intended to share it with him, but it happened to come out in a joke at the breakfast table that I had made a commitment to let him be right more. 

His face softened into that happy expression it had that moment I said the fateful "yes." 

But I had no concept of what it really meant to him until later.

"You've been making me feel really loved today."

I have? What does he mean? He had to cook his own breakfast because I was sick. I spent a lot of time on my phone and we didn't really have any meaningful conversation..what did I possibly do?

"Mostly when you told me you were going to let me be right more."

Really?

Wow...

Holding the tongue on that sarcastic remark means that much? Stopping that conversation at you're right without tacking on the but I think, is like saying "I love you"? Giving him a hug instead of a cold shoulder does to him what words of affirmation does to me?

Whodathunkit?

And giirrlll let me tell you, all the attentive affection it brings out of him is so much better than the fleeting moment of pride I feel from being a jumper-cable pro. 

I give him what he needs most, he automatically responds with what I need most.

This is how it's supposed to be. This is what I want for my home.

The other thing people told us when we got married that I had a hard time believing was that we would be more in love a few years down the road than we ever were to begin with.

Yeah.

They were right about that too.

February 2, 2016

Kimchi

It couldn't get better. Fluffy floor cushions, great company, laughter, chopsticks, and Korean food. The sweet Korean mother is famous for her cooking, and everyone looks forward to her invitation. My friend, her son, passes steaming vegetables, perfectly seasoned potatoes, spring rolls, rice, until my plate is filled with more than I can eat.

"Oh, did you get kimchi?"

I had hoped he wouldn't notice.

"That's ok, I have enough, thanks!"

"But you don't have kimchi." He says. "This is the best kimchi."

"I'm sure it is amazing, thanks, but I don't care for kimchi."

Suddenly I'm the center of attention. "You don't like kimchi?"

And the comments fly from all directions, urging me to just try it, that I'll like it once I do, that everybody likes kimchi and I'm crazy if I don't.

But the truth is, I have tried it. I know why I don't like it. The cabbage taste is great but I don't enjoy the combination of the spice with sour. I'm a sauerkraut kind of girl, and love me a good Reuben sandwich, but kimchi has a weird pickled, fermented, spicy taste to it that my tastebuds don't care to get used to. 

"Thanks, but I just prefer not to."

Years later, and I'm catching up with a friend. We talk about her life, her job, her empowerment. She's living her dream. Writing her own happiness. She doesn't let anybody pull her down. She's a success. She's got the Gucci bag and the perfect makeup. She's over the quaint, old-fashioned Bible ways. Nothing holds her back now.

And suddenly I find myself looking at the kimchi again. Somehow it looks good to me now. Maybe it isn't so spicy as I remember it. Maybe there is a freedom in letting your tastebuds develop new likes. 

Everybody likes kimchi. Maybe I'm crazy if I don't.


But then again, maybe I'm not. Maybe not everyone has to like kimchi.

It's ok to say, "Thanks, but I prefer not to."

It's ok to let those choices be a part of her journey, and to love the journey I'm on for what it is.

After all, I've tried kimchi. It wasn't great. Spices give you heartburn and stomach ulcers if you eat them too much, so what need is there of developing the taste?

If a choice I have made is because God said it's best, I don't need to wonder if there is something better somewhere else.

You know, come to think of it, Reuben sandwiches are pretty awesome..

October 31, 2015

Being Real

For the last couple years this blog has lain silent for the most part. Frequent posting has slowed to infrequent and then almost to nothing at all. 

There are many reasons. When I am asked I tell people that it's because I've had so much going on.

You know-- a relationship, surviving first year of teaching, planning a wedding, first year of marriage.. These things take time and focus. More importantly they take emotional energy, which I find to be an increasingly scarce commodity.

Then too, entering a relationship entwining your life with another person's adds complication to blogging because you no longer speak solely for yourself. Another persons feelings and reputation are now directly impacted by what you write about yourself, not to mention that much of what you are experiencing in life is too sensitive and personal to be broadcast in a public setting.

But there's been a deeper reason. One that has effectively silenced me when none of the above could have in itself.

Publicity.

I have been forced to admit that though I have liked to imagine that my blog were only read by the few trusted and dear friends who leave comments, it is in fact silently read by many who are strangers to me. I have shrunk back at the realization. I have drawn my curtains and shutters and spent needless agony typing and retyping sentences to fit straight jackets of protection against public opinion. In the end, the final results were so gutted of feeling and passion that I have often deleted the posts before they saw the light of day.

How do you relate to this phenomenon of modern society where strangers can be so intimately acquainted with the inner sanctum of your heart and yet never say hi, or acknowledge their presence? In a face-to-face relationship it could almost certainly never happen, (insert awkward mental image of a stranger intently listening to you share from the heart without responding or making eye contact) yet in the sphere of social networks it is par for the course.

I've historically not been one to open the safe of trust readily to people face-to-face. I tend to watch closely for social cues and make little forays into friendship before I extend the sacred gift of trust. My close friendships are with those tried and proven souls who have demonstrated that they care.

Having an increasing stream of public traffic to this little sacred space intimidated me. What if my deepest heart feelings were misunderstood? What kind of people were these who were reading my blog? What background did they come from? How am I supposed to be able to write things that won't be offensive to them if I have no idea how they think?

So I've withdrawn.

And in the process I have lost touch with a truth that I once knew.

The truth that living wholly requires the courage to let yourself be seen.

This blog was once the birthing chamber for a new life for me. It was the place where I took my first tottering steps of openness. Where I laid down the mask of feigned perfection and bared my heart to be seen. Where I dared to share my life with the world irregardless of what people thought. Somehow I guess I innately recognized that being real was the only way to the life of abandoned joy and security I longed for. And in publishing these posts I practiced accepting myself as I was. It was here I first timidly began to consider myself worthy of love and belonging.

Here I first dared to believe that a spiritual insight or thought that God has revealed to me is worth sharing, regardless of how pitiful it seemed in my eyes. And here I was first humbled to  discover that brokenness shared opens a door through which healing can flow to other broken hearts.

When I read back through these posts, I feel freedom, and taste triumph over darkness just as real as I did months-now-years ago. I re-live what it was to see sunshine and light as it were for the first time.

Brené Brown says in her book Daring Greatly that freedom to live wholly is found in letting ourselves be wholly seen.

She's dead-on correct.

We know deep in our hearts that we were not created to live in fear and self-preservation. We are hard-wired for connection and openness. We were fashioned in love to be wholly vulnerable, wholly real. Real with God. Real with man.

Nobody has ever known pure joy while crouching behind a mask of pride and fear, unwilling to speak the truth about themselves for the fear of what someone would think. Secrets carried are a burden to the soul and our masks only serve to indicate to those around us that something is amiss.

Neither has anyone been able to bring light to a hurting friend by asserting, consciously or unconsciously, that "I have it all together. My walk with God is airtight and perfect." The best help is given when we have the courage to say "Me too. I get it. I'm a mess too but He loves and fixes messes and He's fixing me."

As a whole, the blogging platform (along with the rest of the Internet social scene) has veered away from openness. Other bloggers may remember the days of long newsy posts, where personal experiences were openly shared and posts got comments instead of likes. Now blogs are full of "7 ways" "8 types" and "9 secrets" and the author is safely hidden behind stunning photographs and links from other sites. That's not all bad of course, but part of me misses the personability-- when bloggers felt like neighbors and good friends chatting over lunch.

I miss just being me.

And when I really stop to think about it, I realize that I didn't lose anything by being free and open in this space. To the contrary, I gained. I've gained friendships I never would have had otherwise --some of my best and dearest. I've gained confidence and a healthier view of life.

And there is still much to be gained. 

Shyness is selfishness after all, and freedom from selfishness is a lovely thing indeed.

I'm not closing this with some promise to write more-- time and energy to write are, after all, scarce commodities-- but I do promise to write more. More real stuff.

Welcome, friends and strangers. I'm glad you're here. Oh and, hey,-- while we're talking-- just wanted to throw out there that leaving a comment can mean the world to a blogger.. Sometimes it's nice to get to know the ears that are listening. And who knows? Maybe we'll become best of friends!


Note: Real means a lot of different things in our society today. Some people believe that broadcasting gory personal details to strangers constitutes bring real. I disagree. Instead of enhancing connection, this actually leads to disconnection as people squirm away from the awkwardness of listening to extremely personal information.
The definition of "being real" throughout this post is referring to the quality of communication that comes when we let down our guard of fear and share what is deeply meaningful to us without caring if everyone gets it or understands. This authenticity enhances connection and leads to a more wholesome experience. 

August 23, 2015

Finding Fulfillment

Mr. Usher first told me. I don't remember exactly when but it must have been sometime my freshman year of academy. He was my Bible teacher and I had Algebra 1 with him too-- widely different disciplines mind you, but both classes were just a platform for Mr. U to share the really important lessons of life-- some gleaned from years of hard life experience, some from history, many from the dinged-up, coverless copy of Education that he carried with him everywhere.

I loved learning from him.

I, a fifteen-year-old roller coaster of turbulent emotions, feeling my wide-eyed way into the future. He, a veritable reservoir of spiritual experience.

I would seek him out almost daily with some question or another. He would be in his classroom grading copious stacks of papers, before going down to the greenhouse to help fix a water pipe, and then over to the cafeteria to supervise supper, and then direct choir, and then home to a hundred other burdens a freshman couldn't begin to understand. But he was never in a hurry when a student needed to talk. He always made you feel that you were his number 1 mission. He'd bend his six-foot-seven lankiness onto the desk in front of him and listen like he was hanging on your every word. Then he'd smile and begin telling how the Holy Spirit came knocking on his heart for something that morning in the shower. "And I said, You want that, huh Lord? Ok that's what we're doing then. And ahhhh, instantly, peace like you wouldn't imagine.." His shoulders would relax, hunching him further into the table at this point, his voice dropping to a hush punctuating each word, his face glowing with the joy of the peace he described.

Everything ended that way with Mr. U. Knowing Jesus was the aim of life and education, and surrendering in obedience to Him was the answer to every question. "This is what you want, Lord? Okie dokie!"

That was his philosophy when it came to work too. "Loving what you do is a choice. If you choose to accept the work God gives you, and do your faithful, responsible best, pretty soon you'll love it. And you'll be the kind of worker every employer out there is looking for, too."

And He was right. I learned to love hard work in the greenhouse and long hours in the cafeteria. I found joy in doing above and beyond what the supervisor expected. Work became fun.

All through academy and into college I learned to love many different jobs. I told myself that no matter what it was, or how much I wanted to do it (or not), it would teach me something to prepare me for "real life."

"Real life" was a nebulous, idealistic impression of what life would be after college when I was working in a dream job that fulfilled and satisfied me every day. But I didn't know that at the time. To me it was just the natural progression of life: childhood-> school -> real life.

The closer I got to graduating the more fear I began to feel. What if I wasn't ready for real life? I wasn't sure that I had found my dream job..maybe I wouldn't be fulfilled in teaching.

Grad came and went and I found myself dunked into "real life," warily testing my feet in the waters to see if I had chosen the right career and trying to find where the joy was in grading papers. I couldn't find it. I did have joy in teaching, but not the sense of fulfillment and passion I had expected. The next year I was in the office making schedules and handling details. This was definitely not my best fit job. I was a fish out of water. Details have never been my strong suit and every day I struggled with getting up the courage to go to work. I began complaining in my heart.

But I'm starting to understand that my job is not the problem.

Somehow along the way I had lost the sweetness of "Okie, dokie, Lord" and started looking inside myself and my work for a sense of fulfillment. I stopped seeking peace and started seeking passion. I sought satisfaction instead of submission.

And finally it's beginning to dawn on me why I'm not finding it.

Mr. U had it right all along. Life isn't all about finding fulfillment and satisfaction. It's about finding Jesus.

It's about surrendering to a God who is bending near saying "If you'll let me, I'll come closer to you and love you more than you can imagine."

It's about being so wrapped up in Him that even the lowest most menial work is sweet because it's done for Him.

I'll never find true fulfillment outside of Jesus, but in Him I cannot avoid being satisfied and fulfilled.

Mr. U would say, "You got it, Bess." And maybe, after all these years, I am.