Some Things Never Change

At the memorial service for my friend, Bill, a number of weeks ago, I ran into my former pastor, Tom, without a doubt, one of the best speakers, and the best Christian thinker I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing.  I had that privilege for some 12 years, until he decided, or was forced (depending on how you look at it) to step down, but that’s another post.

I said hello to him at the tea afterward, and asked how he was enjoying retirement. Turns out, he isn’t, not yet, at any rate – he’s been ‘subbing’ for a local downtown Baptist church while they seek a new pastor. I couldn’t believe my good fortune – I was going to have an opportunity to hear Tom C. speak again, before he retired for good!

The following Sunday I went downtown and entered the church. I should say that it’s on the next block over from the local homeless shelter;  on this day, as it happened, they had tables set up in the foyer for people to sign up for one of several service opportunities that would be conducted on an upcoming Saturday – the overall project was called ‘Serving the City’.  I was very happy to see this – I’ve been concerned, for some time, that my church is not at all active in its semi-rural community, but is, instead, inwardly-focused (again, a topic worthy of its own post). I signed up for a stint with a local charity that collects donations of all sorts and ships them to Third World countries.

Back to the service – as I entered, the worship team, on the stage, was in full swing.  At my church I skip the worship (music) portion of the service, because I don’t listen to Christian contemporary radio, and therefore don’t know most of the songs the worship leader sings (as opposed to ‘leads us in worship with’ – there, that’s the trifecta for other blog post topics) – but this ‘session’ was pleasant enough, and concluded with one of my favourite hymns – the old Irish ‘Be Thou My Vision’ – it raises a lump in my throat, every time I sing it, not just for the tune, which is beautiful, but of course for the words.

Then Tom got up and spoke, and he was classic Tom.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d heard him give the same sermon at our previous church, but it mattered not – a great thought is a great thought, and worth being reminded of from time to time. I was very, very glad I’d come out. After the benediction, I sat and spoke with the lady next to me, and as I explained why I was there, I had great difficulty in restraining some tears, but it was true what I said to her: I had not come because I worship Tom in any way, but because I hear God speaking to me through him. It was one of those moments when I didn’t know I thought that until I heard myself say it.  “Joan” was very kind, and again, I was glad to have come.

Out in the foyer, afterward, I went over to say hello to Tom’s wife – grace personified – who was talking with a lady who seemed vaguely familiar. Turns out she had attended the previous church at the same time I’d been there, but we’d never met. And this is where it got a bit sticky – the conversation turned to small groups, and when I shared that I’ve usually had trouble finding a group I felt comfortable in, because of my singleness, she said “Oh, you should come out with our ladies’ group – there are singles, marrieds, widows, everyone is there”.  She invited me to come to an upcoming symphony concert (even if I could afford it, it would bore me stiff) or a weekday morning walk along Dallas Road (sorry, I’ll be at work) – the same old, same old situation: as a single, I have to support myself, I don’t have a man paying the bills so that I can stay home.  I’m a square peg in a round hole. I missed my chance at ‘marrying years’ (19-29, apparently) due to my being away from the Lord after my mother’s untimely death. Everyone’s matched off like Noah’s Ark’s animals.  It hit me rather forcefully, on the way home – it’s the Christian norm to find a mate, settle down and raise a family. Period. Singles, apparently, aren’t a part of God’s plan.  I’ve given up on the hope of being married, therefore, wonderful Christian men should be, theoretically, breaking down my door. As if.

I’ll go hear Tom speak again, but that’s it.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

I’m following my usual morning routine of scanning the headlines on CNN.com, and I’m reading an opinion piece on the recent story in the news about the Dallas woman who, while being the CEO of her own marketing company, has announced that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t become president because it’s not ‘biblical’ for women to be leaders of men.  She also believes that women should not be leaders because their monthly hormonal surges could cause them to become so irrational that they could ‘accidentally’ start a war.

My first thought in reaction to this is, I wonder if any of her company’s clients are women, and are they reaching for the Yellow Pages to start looking for a new marketing rep?  Because I would be.

Where to start on this?  Well, for openers, this story reminds me of my comment in my first post about ‘cleaning my closet for the Lord’.  About 30 years ago, I was teaching in a small town in the BC northeast coalfields. I attended the only Baptist church in town, which was of the more conservative variety, and at one point, I attended a women-only home Bible study. Someone had ordered a set of audiotapes from a Christian woman who was, apparently, touring the US, giving speeches to say that a woman’s place is in the home, caring for her husband and children, and cheerfully cleaning the house, clipping new recipes to swap with others in the same boat, etc.

As we sat there listening to this, I looked at the faces of my fellow group members.  This woman was describing their lives, and I could see looks of agreement and acceptance of what she was saying. (I was the token ‘working woman’ in the group, but because I was a teacher, that was okay). I, on the other hand, was wondering “What’s your husband doing for clean shirts, while you’re out touring the country? Who’s making your child his PBJ for tomorrow’s lunch?” In other words, ma’am, why aren’t YOU following your own advice??

CNN commentator Mel Robbins (a woman) made several good points in her April 21 piece – http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/20/opinions/robbins-hillary-clinton/index.html – including pointing out that, since Ms. Clinton is post-menopausal, those pesky hormones Ms. Rios is so dang concerned about won’t be a problem, after all.

But I think Julia Sugarbaker said it best (30 years ago!) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVl4bmGcn3c

Ms. Rios, why don’t you take some of your own advice: retire, stay home and bake some cookies for your man.

See you again one day, Bill

This morning I woke up and remembered, right away, that later today I would be attending the memorial service of a very lovely man, Bill, with whom I used to fellowship at my last church.  I’d been scanning the obituaries in the paper about a week ago, and been startled to see his friendly, smiling face jump off the page at me.

Bill and his wife, Julia (not her real name), had hosted the first Bible study group I’d attended when I first started at that church.  They were in their early fifties at the time, and I was struck by what a good match they’d appeared to be – his yin to her yang, as it were.  They were the parents of two very nice young people, one of whom was married with a toddler.  They were quietly honest and up-front (another quality about them that impressed me) that they’d suffered some financial setbacks in the past, but they seemed quite content and happy with their current state of affairs, living in a rented house and getting by, financially, at their middle-class jobs (he drove a tour bus and sold insurance, she worked in an office). I admired that about them.

I subsequently left town for work for a few years; upon my return, I rejoined the church and resumed my friendship with them. This time, we were all attending another Bible study group, and it was always a pleasant experience to sit with Bill, or with the two of them, and chat about family, work and whatever in particular was going on in our lives at the time. The warm background constant was Bill and Julia’s strong faith – whether it was the quietly-stated decision to move from one rental home to another more affordable one, or to change jobs in search of more financial security. My own background of low-paying jobs and a succession of apartments, in search of my breaking into the public school system during a recession, helped me identify with their situation, and their example helped grow and sustain my faith.

About ten years ago, I broke with my church – the details as to why don’t matter at this moment – and I lost touch with Bill and Julia.  Occasionally, I’d run into him in a store, and it was always a particular joy for me, to see his face light up in recognition, and receive a side-hug from him. We’d stand in the aisle and have a catch-up chat; he never failed to give the impression that I’d just made his day by coming across me.  I can’t recall the last time I had one of these visits with him, but I KNOW that he was a happy and contented camper.

Then, last week, the news that he’d passed – “into the arms of his saviour”, the notice said, and I knew in my heart those were true words.  And that brings me to my first thought this morning: while I was praying for Julia and her family, that they’d be comforted today as they go through this last ‘goodbye’, it came to me, through my inner witness, that verse (I Thess. 4:13) about believers not grieving ‘like the rest of men, who have no hope’.  Those of us who are believers, and who knew Bill DO have that hope that we will see him again, someday, in heaven, and that we’ll not be parted from him ever again.  I trust that message will come through, loud and clear, later today at his service.  Hallelujah.

Not your typical Christian woman’s blog

This is not going to be the usual Christian woman’s blog – I’ve never been married, and I have no children, so obviously I won’t be spending time here talking about bigger life lessons to be learned from my toddler’s conversations with God, and I won’t be waxing poetic about the joys of cleaning my closets for the Lord.

I’ll be honest with you – I have never identified with that type of Christian – how could I??  Aside from my singleness and my childlessness, I’ve had a hard life – harder than some, but not as hard as others.  And I’ve had (and have) many blessings that I’m incredibly grateful for, starting with having been born in Canada.  Simply by virtue of having been born to two people who were also born in Canada, I’ve already won the lottery of life; I’m the envy of 98% of the world. How can I reflect on that and not be grateful beyond expression?

On top of that, I currently have all my marbles; I have my physical health, to a pretty good degree for someone my age; I have a good-paying job in my chosen field (education); I am free to worship as I believe (I find it utterly mortifying to know that believers in Third World countries pray for ME, because I live in a land of so much wealth that the temptation to turn away from God and worship Mammon is a constant threat); and on and on.  Count your many blessings, name them one by one, indeed.

And yet, I struggle with depression. There it is, in black and white. I was diagnosed a few months ago with dysthymia, “a low-grade depression, punctuated by periods of deeper, more intense depression, lasting more than two years”. I’ve been depressed for sixteen years now, ever since I started working in my current school district. In fact, in the first month of my employment, I walked through the doors of the counselling agency my district pays for for the first time, convinced I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After speaking with a therapist for a little while, he assured me that I’m ‘not the nervous breakdown type’. “No, actually, what you’re suffering from is post-traumatic stress disorder.”  I sat back, stunned – my first thought was, “I have something in common with a Viet Nam vet?!”

It took several years, and some sessions with another therapist (the incomparable Dr. Tina – a Christian! Thank you, Lord!), but I eventually conquered that particular condition, which I would not wish upon my worst enemy, if I had one. But the depression has remained.  Mainly it centers around (a) my state of singleness and (b) my frustration at not being able to do my job properly, which is dependent on the cooperation and understanding of my role by my colleagues.  This latter cause has been the focus of my struggle for the entirety of my contract with my school district. (And in case you’re wondering Why doesn’t she just move to another district?, it’s not that simple, for a number of reasons).

And yet, through all my ups and downs, I can honestly say my faith in God has not left me. Yes, I have questioned Him at times; I’ve cried out ‘WHY!??’ more times than I can or want to remember.  I have cried into my pillow and had sessions of deep breathing to regain my self-control, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, it has always been restored to me. I am His child; my understanding of what it must be like to be a parent comes from my viewing our heavenly Father from the perspective of a child, who doesn’t understand: Why these things are happening to me, and why can’t you just fix it, Abba?

He doesn’t answer me, not in so many words, but He gives me His peace – He’s there, He sees what I’m going through, He feels for me, but He can’t/won’t intervene – and, unlike a literal child, I understand that. I know that I have to make my own way and solve my own problems. I may be an adult, but I will always be His child, whom He loves SO much that He sent his most beloved Son to die for me. Knowing that centers me, calms me, soothes me in my deepest turmoil.

So – I will continue to share my thoughts here, but as I said before, this won’t be your typical Christian woman’s blog. To paraphrase one of my fave actresses, Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”  But not one without hope, or humour!