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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Info on Story Break

     Next week is Holy Week, the time between Palm Sunday and Easter. I will be taking a bit of a blogging break during the week but don’t want to leave you without something to read (wink). So, each day I will post one of the stories I have published in Faith Writers this past quarter. Faith Writers is an online writers group of people who enjoy writing from points all over the globe.

    Each week Faith Writers holds a “Writing Challenge” competition for their members. A one-word topic is posted and the writers have one week in which to write and post an original article of not more than 750 words. (Yes, you are right; the word count is my biggest challenge of the contest!) Their members are grouped into four categories, related to writing skill/experience. I began in the “Beginners” category at the end of January, moved to the “Intermediate” category in February and will be in the “Advanced” category when the challenge recommences April 5th. Changing categories is dependent on having a first place win in the present category, with the exception of the Advanced category. To move into the final, Masters category, one must have three wins! There are so many great writers in that category, I may grow really old before I can move on!

     On the bottom of each story, I have indicated the topic or theme for the week, the category I was in at the time and if the story was ranked in the top 5 of the entries for that category. All of the stories are true anecdotes but I sometimes failed to indicate that at the end of the story.

     I hope that you will enjoy reading the stories! Have a wonderful Easter season!

****The Yellow Tie… Coming Monday

Friday, March 30, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors, A Biblical View

     Our understanding God had a plan which included folks who would help us grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord.

     Ephesians 4:11-13: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

     Our loving Heavenly Father wanted us to learn to know and understand His ways. His plan was a good one, with properly equipped leaders and teachers. He had included pastors to shepherd the flocks. He had thought of everything a church would need to grow its people up, once a church had been planted. It wasn’t enough to just have “another church in town.” God wanted His people to grow and mature so that there would be unity. Just as Jesus and the Father are One, God wanted His people to be one. The pastors and leaders the Lord appointed were to contribute to the maturing of the congregations.

     Ephesians 4:14 goes on to let us know that God did understand what happens to us when we are newborn Christians. We are vulnerable to all kinds of teaching from all kinds of teachers, some of which are not grounded in the truth of the Gospel message. Sometimes the leader is trying to line his pockets more than really share truth with new Believers. God has always been very aware of this! Maturing in the truth will give us the discerning we need.

     “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

     It was God’s intention that those teaching, leading and pastoring us would do everything in His pure love.

     Ephesians 4: 15 “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

     There should come a time when the new Believer has matured enough to take his place in the work of the church; that’s what growing up is all about, right? Each one of us has a place in the Body of Christ and each one of us has a part to play in His church. It works like a well-oiled machine when each of us does his part. It was always God’s plan that the pastors and other appointed leaders would get us there!

     Continuing verse 16, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

     So what happens that there can be fallen leaders? It has to do with hardening of their hearts.

     Verses 18-19 say, “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity.”

     It was never God’s plan that pastors should take advantage of their congregation, especially those too young to be discerning. Such behavior is an abomination to the Lord and, most certainly, brings pain to His Father’s heart. How many times, and in how many ways, the evil one tries to discourage the people from trusting God when it is his evil ways that are at fault, not the loving Heavenly Father Who longs that His people know and understand him!

***Info on Story Break… Coming Tomorrow

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors, Reflections Concluded

    Off and on, I had been suffering from a bad headache while working on a temporary assignment to help folks with a counseling ministry. They were interested in starting some training programs in Africa so we had agreed to spend some time with them during the planning process. I joined the prayer circle one morning, in spite of my headache, and the teddy bear of a pastor asked if they could pray for me. I stood and he latched onto my hands, shooting them straight up into the air. He was a tall man, compared to my short stature. The resultant pain was a burning dagger in my head and I tried to remove my hands from his clutches. Continuing his loud and earnest pleading with the Lord, he tightened his grip and, in that instant, the pain of my head was replaced with a monumental fear of the pastor. There was nothing at all sexual in what this precious man had done but the image that flashed across my field of vision was of the other pastor molesting me. The fear that I could not get away from him.

    It was then that I realized two things: 1. It was the fear of the pastor that had taken root in my heart, not the memory of the physical event of what he did; and, 2. I had never forgiven the pastor. When I later learned about our need to forgive those who have hurt us, neither the pastor’s name nor the frightening scene ever came to mind.

     I suspect that the praying pastor may just have thought my hands were slipping out of his, causing him to increase his hold. I am certain he had no idea that his actions had scared me to death. The issue was put to rest that day so many years after the event. Forgiveness produced the miracle I had not known I needed. Since another 23 years have now passed, I am confident that the issue has been put to rest for good!

     If this story has brought back any such memories for you, dear Reader, but you cannot recall a time when you forgave the individual who hurt you, take just a minute to address that unforgiveness. The Lord is always there, waiting to hear our hearts. God had intended that the leaders of His church would care tenderly for His young flock; He had never wanted you to get hurt. Forgiveness begins the healing process.

****Authority Figures: Pastors, A Biblical View… Coming Tomorrow

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors, Reflections

     My keen interest in God and the Bible served to introduce me to quite a number of wonderful pastors and Christian leaders over the years. I have fairly well covered the denominational and nondenominational scope of Christian clergy in my search to know God. I have had good student-teacher relationships with Catholic priests and nuns, Methodist, Lutherans and Presbyterian reverends, as well as pastors from the Baptist, Assemblies of God, Open Bible, Four Square gospel and a number of just Christian fellowships of a variety of unique names. No, I am not a “church hopper”; I just like to learn. I have not left a church because of dis-satisfaction or because there was a split. Sometimes when I moved into a community, the particular denomination I had been attending did not have a church in that community so I went to another one. Normally, I regularly attended Sunday morning service in one church while participating in Bible Studies in two others during the week where friends were studying. Like I said, I just loved to learn!

     The one pastor mentioned in this week’s sad account was my only contact with ungodly behavior in the pastorate. Tragically, many others have suffered serious harm at the hands of those ordained by God to help them learn of His perfect and unconditional love. Books have been written of children sexually abused by fathers who preached in the pulpit the morning after inflicting his lustful pain on them. I can think of no greater injustice to the child or their image of a truly loving Heavenly Father.

     I included this account while sharing my journey in the Tween and Teen years because it is a part of my journey to understand God. Sometimes folks have negative experiences with the church or someone in leadership within that church and they want to toss every part of God out of their lives. This is the real tragedy. The one who hurt them is a fallen, imperfect human being, not the true and living God Who loves them more than they can ever know in this life.

    Yes, this frightening event did occur in my young life at a time I was searching for understanding and knowledge of God. Yes, God could have seen that I never met this man and learned that people, even pastors, have a sin nature that is not always submitted to the Lordship of Jesus in order that it never happen to an innocent child. I would never have wanted to have this experience, nor do I wish it on any little girl or grown woman, but I learned that day to trust that “check in my spirit” the Lord had already placed in my young soul. If something just doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t and I must beware no matter who the person is. I also learned that God was there to protect me from what could have happened. This man still had enough fear of being caught that he fled at the possibility that my mother might be coming soon.

     Oh, it could have been so much worse and I am thankful it wasn’t. Still, I had not escaped without a bruise in my heart towards pastors. I feared those I did not know well, as a result of this encounter. As the years passed and fine men and women had key roles in teaching me and discipling me in the ways of the Lord, that wound buried itself deeper and deeper. I didn’t ever think of this day and never talked to anyone about it. It was over and he was not a part of my universe in any way. I had gotten away unharmed.

     Twenty-seven years later, on the other side of America, the fear erupted inside of me as though this day had just happened!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors, Conclusion

     When the front doorbell rang I knew it was not some friend or family member. Everyone always came to the side door unless it was the postman, milkman or a door-to-door salesperson. It was not likely any of the folks with religious tracts because they normally came in the evening or on a Saturday, figuring weekdays people would be at work during the lunch hour. Peeking through the peephole, as we had been instructed by our parents to do before opening the door at any time of the day or night, I was startled to see Pastor Sanders*. Something must be wrong. I hope his wife is okay; maybe he’s had some bad news. He’d never come to our home before this. I unlocked both doors and invited him inside.

     “Hello, Pastor Sanders, is everything all right? Is your wife okay?” My greeting sounded like a short clip as I poured out my concerns. Backing up to let the visitor cross the threshold, my back encountered the fireplace bricks. Our fireplace was unlike any I had seen, with bricks like a tower, the opening on two sides. I stood against the backside of the cold bricks.

     “Everyone is fine. There is no problem. I just came to visit you. Are your sisters at home?” I had not yet caught on to just why the hard ball was forming in the pit of my stomach. He was smiling but something seemed a little off.

     “No, my younger sister’s school is too far away for her to come home for lunch and my older sister has a Future Teachers of America meting at noon so she took her lunch.”

     “And, it is Thursday so your mother doesn’t come home for lunch either.” His smile did not look warm and friendly any longer as he slipped his hands underneath my blouse. Petrified, I tried to slide sideways away from him. I could feel the rough bricks biting into my blouse and was afraid I would tear it. “Don’t be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”

     “Stop that! You’re not supposed to be doing that.” I was clutching his wrists as hard as I could, trying to pull his hands off my breasts. The almost weird thing was that, while I was certainly terrified, I was also frightened he would laugh or comment on how small my breasts were. No one had ever touched me in this way and I couldn’t believe it was the pastor. “Stop it! You’re hurting me.”

     “Well why don’t you invite me in to the living room. We could get comfortable and I won’t be hurting you. It’s the bricks against your back that are hurting you.” Think, I told myself. What did Mom tell us to do if we were in some kind of trouble? The thing is that I really could not scream. I just wanted to cry and I wanted him to stop. I felt one of his hands slide down off my breast but it did not leave my skin.

     “S-Stop that;  I mean it! Stop! My mother will be home any minute now. You’d better leave.” Suddenly, his hands were motionless, though he kept them under my blouse.  He stared into my eyes, confusion quickly passing from them. He’ll see I’m lying, I thought with more fear than I had ever had in my whole life. Would he hurt me when he found out I was lying?

     “You’re lying. You told me Saturday that she always has a meeting on Thursday so takes her lunch.”

     “I-I didn’t know her meeting had been cancelled for this week when I told you that. “ I twisted around, trying to se the clock. “You’d better go before she gets here.  She’ll be here any minute now.  She’ll want you to explain just what you’re doing coming here when my parents are at work.”  Without saying a single word to me, he slid his hands out and whipped around to open the front door. I didn’t wait to see him get in the car; I locked both doors as quickly as I could.

     Running to the telephone, fumbling to get my finger in the right hole of the dial, I phoned my mother at her workplace. (No cell phones in those days.) Mom would be in the meeting so I would have to calm down and ask to speak with her. I was able to convey that my call was important enough to get her out of the meting without letting on I was about to crash. However, the sound of my mother’s voice broke the dam of restrained tears.

     “What’s happening? Are you hurt? Tell me why you are crying?” But, I couldn’t speak. I only sobbed and choked with the flood of tears. “I can’t understand you. “

     “M-M-Mom, c-c-come h-h-home n-n-now.” I was so afraid he might realize I was lying and come back to hurt me. But if my mother did come home, then he would see I wasn’t lying and would be afraid to come back.

     My precious mother did jump in the car and was home in a matter of minutes … the longest minutes of my life, I might add! I spent those sobbing minutes trying to think what to tell her. I didn’t want to tell her who the man was. I didn’t want to go to the police and I knew she would make me if I said who the guy was who had terrified me. I just couldn’t. No one would believe me; I was certain of that. He was a pastor, after all. Who would believe a kid over him? And, what would people say about me?

     The bottom line was that, while my mother did believe that such a thing had happened to her daughter in her own home, it would be years before I told her who the man was. I had simply told her a man came into the house when I was alone. I never returned to the Confirmation Class and never saw Pastor Sanders again. When I did, finally, tell Mom who it was later on, I felt badly because he had molested other young girls before and after me until he was finally “run out of town.” In those days no one was ever prosecuted for such things.

     While I was very fearful of men I didn’t know and it would be some time before I answered that front door again, I had not realized how deeply that fear had buried itself in my heart. Twenty-seven years later, the remnant of that experience reared its ugly head.
                                                            *Name has been changed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors, Scene 3

     “Why is he asking you to help him wash the car? I’m not sure this is such a good idea.” My mother was a bit more resistant than I had expected.

     “I don’t know. Maybe his wife usually does it and, since she is out-of-town this weekend, maybe he just wants the company? Or, maybe he needs the help because he has a bad heart or something. I really want to help him, Mom.” I could really turn on those puppy-dog eyes when pleading with her. My dark brown globes were nearly barking at my mother by this time.

     “If you can take someone else with you, you can go; but you may not go alone.” Yes! I mentally pumped the air while profusely thanking my mother.

     “This is my friend, Jill*. She is here to help us wash the car.” Pastor Sanders* did not seem to mind Jill being with me and greeted her warmly.

     “Nice to meet you, Jill. Thanks for coming to help with the car. I’ll fetch the soap and wax, along with some clean cloths.” Once Jill and I had filled a bucket with water, we dragged the hose over to the waiting car. Pastor Sanders was soon back with the supplies.

     “If you have something else you need to do, we can do this job ourselves. We’ll let you know when we are finished.” Pastor Sanders protested only a little before agreeing and heading back into the house.

     Jill and I really scrubbed the car, pleased with the results as the sun glistened on the shiny, waxed surface. Pastor Sanders stepped out to check on the progress.

     “You girls have done a great job on the car! I would like to make you some lunch. Sojourner, would you help me in the kitchen, please?” I followed Pastor Sanders into the kitchen.

     “Thanks, but I can’t stay for lunch. My mother will expect me to be home but I will help you before we go.” Pastor Sanders was smiling at me as he moved to the cupboard next to the sink.

     “I just appreciate you girls washing the car and letting me work on my sermon notes.” Opening the cupboard door, he pointed to the top shelf. “I can’t reach the tuna fish. Let me lift you up so you can grab it for me.” I protested that he was an old guy and I was too heavy for him to lift up there but by then he had his hands around my waist. “Nonsense. You jump while I lift.”

     “Why don’t you use one of the chairs over there? I’ll get it for you.” I started to pull away from his grasp as tension tightened my stomach into one huge knot. I didn’t want to jump up and I didn’t want him to hold me around the waist. Nevertheless, with a grunt, Pastor Sanders hoisted me up and choked out that I should grab a can. I was so shocked that I didn’t grab anything.

     “Put me down. I’m not a little girl that you can just lift me up like that. I’m thirteen.” I was nearly whispering, but he heard me and, gently, set my feet back on the floor. Quickly I moved a chair to the counter and, in a flash, retrieved one can of tuna. “Here you are! A can of tuna.” I was smiling but the knot was still in my stomach.

     “Are you sure you girls can’t join me?” Walking to the kitchen door, I shook my head at the same time as I grasped the knob. “Does your mother come home for lunch every day?” Without thinking of anything except getting on my bike for home, I answered him.

     “Every day but Thursday. She has a meeting on Thursdays so takes her own lunch.”

     Finally, turning the last corner for home, my stomach relaxed. I wondered why Pastor Sanders was acting so weird. Maybe that was normal for him? I would see Pastor Sanders just one more time in my life but it would remain in my memory forever.
   *Names have been changed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors, Scene 2

     “We’d be happy to have you visit our Sunday morning service, if your parents give you permission, but Confirmation Class is for the children to learn about our church. They’ll become members at the conclusion of the course.” Well, I did visit a few churches of the different traditional denominations, but what I really wanted was to be in a class where I could ask questions and learn things about God. I was too old for the usual Sunday School classes and too young for the youth groups. Besides, those things had lessons designed already. I would just keep looking. (I should insert here that the fundamental and charismatic/Pentecostal groups were not on my list because, at 13, I was afraid of them. They just seemed too aggressive for me at that time. It would be seven more years before I learned what I had missed excluding these folks.)

     “Welcome to our class,” Pastor Sanders* said in response to my introduction. I had been close friends with one of the kids taking the class since I was nine, so I just went with her to Saturday Confirmation Class. Perhaps, my error had been in asking permission of the other pastors first. I would act like I belonged there and see what happened. Their course lasted for a long time, not just a couple of months, so there was bound to be mention of more than just church stuff, right? How much could you really cram into youngsters about church rules, councils, and leadership issues? No, there would be talk of the Bible and God if I just persevered.

     “I’m glad to meet you, Sir. I can’t join your church but may I still come to the class?” Pastor Sanders was smiling as he took my hand. He looked old to me but was probably in his 50’s.

     “Of course, you may come any Saturday you’d like. You can sit there with your friend.” I really liked the warmth and friendliness of the pastor. He reminded me of a jolly old guy when he laughed, and he did that a lot when the kids tried to answer his questions. None of us knew much in the beginning.

     Riding my bike across town each Saturday, I was often early for class. My mother’s motto was, and still is, “Leave early because you never know what might happen on the way.” I wasn’t often the only one waiting for class to begin; but, if I was, I’d take the opportunity to ask some of my questions. My perseverance was paying off. I’d, occasionally, show Pastor Sanders a poem I had written, using something I had learned about God or the Bible. He always liked my poems.

     “Sojourner, would you write a Mothers Day poem I could read in church? It will be in two weeks and I know the congregation would like to hear one of your poems as much as I would.” Wow, I couldn’t believe it! Pastor Sanders wanted to read a poem I’d write in church? I was so excited, I could hardly think as I took pencil in hand.

     The next Saturday I presented my poem to him. To my great horror, he read it to the whole class. My face was burning and glowing red from my neck to my forehead. I thought I’d throw up. It was one thing to read my poem in church but to my own friends? No, not here! Of course everyone laughed; they were 13, after all. What did he expect? Once pastor Sanders had restored order in the class, he declared that it was one of the prettiest poems he’d ever read; he’d be proud to read it to the mothers for the service.

     “Sojourner, we won’t have class next Saturday but would you be available to help me wash the car?” I always washed our car so why not? He was an old guy so maybe he did need a little help with the waxing once the soap had been rinsed off. I’d have to ask my mother but, since Pastor Sanders had let me sit in the class, I was sure she would let me do him this favor. That’s when I discovered things are not always what they seem.

                                                                      *Name has been changed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Authority Figures: Pastors

     Coming up the high steps in a single file, the right foot waiting for the left on each step before moving on, my Sunday School classmates and I climbed our way into the sanctuary. Most of us were three years old, making our legs pretty short for all of those steps. The door at the top was already open because our teacher had gone ahead of us to make sure the front row was cleared for her class. Crossing the threshold into the sanctuary our feet sank into carpet and we turned to the left. Of course, our gaze also turned to the left and there he was. Standing tall behind the wooden pulpit, the pastor was wearing a black robe, only his white shirt collar and knot at the top of his tie showed us what he might have under those heavy folds. Lifting our stare up a bit we smiled back at his wide grin. It was then I noticed his white hair and thought he is probably the same age as God. Our teacher hurried us over to the pew, instructing us to quietly slide back against the shiny wooden backrest. As I did so, I noticed my little legs flipping straight out in front of me and I didn’t like it. I wanted to swing my legs off the edge of the pew so I scooted myself easily to the edge of the smooth bench.

     I think we had to be in the front row because we couldn’t read. When the organ began, everyone else held up books that they took from the back of the pew in front of their row. There was no row in front of us and, therefore, no books for us. But, it didn’t matter because they were singing my favorite hymn, Number 1 in the thick book that didn’t have a single picture in it. I sang with my whole heart and loudest volume each time the song got to the line I knew, “Ho - ly, Ho - ly, Ho - o- ly. Lord God the Mighty*.” Each time I opened my mouth to sing my line, I looked up to see if the pastor was watching me. He was, with that beautiful smile that told me it was okay I didn’t know the rest of the song yet.

     “Thank you, Sojourner, for that first memory of church,” the pastor said to the circle of kids in the “Fireside Room (which BTW had no fireplace).” It was the first after-school meeting of our confirmation class and everyone was supposed to answer his questions so he could get to know us. He was not the same pastor as the one in my shared memory; that one had probably retired. I was 11 years old and my sister was 13. She smiled at me and I just knew what she was thinking, how in the world can you remember all this stuff? I have no idea what my first memory of church was. She was not alone but other questions more easily answered were to follow.

     Throughout the weeks of meeting with the pastor, I came to think of him as a friend and not someone to be feared. Before Confirmation Class, I figured the pastor was someone like the school Principal. You never saw him unless you were in trouble for misbehaving. I enjoyed learning the things he told us each week and my hunger for the Bible grew. Too often, though, the questions his lectures provoked had nothing at all to do with the subject at hand so I completed the course with a lot more questions needing answers.

     I didn’t think that this quest for answers would really be any problem; I had friends who went to other churches. Therefore, they had other pastors who might just have some of the answers. I had been allowed to do the Confirmation Class a little early so I could be with my sister, which meant that my own friend still had Confirmation Classes ahead of them. I would just join their class!

Related PostLife 101: Truth  Sojourner, Sunday School, and the Birthday cake… in case you missed this one!

          * The words should be "Lord God Almighty" but this is how it sounds to a 3-year-old!

****Authority Figures: Pastors, Scene 2… Coming Tomorrow

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Authority Figures: Teachers, Reflections

     “C’mon, Sojourner, can’t you be a bit more creative with the names of your teachers? Miss A, Mr. B, and Mrs. C! Even one of each title.” Uh-huh, well, yes I could but, as it turns out, these are the real first letters of their last names and were, also, their particular status at the time. At least you noticed, which means you are reading my blog, right? Great!

     When thinking back over the year spent in Miss A’s Sixth Grade class, I was impressed with two facts. The first of which I am not especially proud but “facts are facts.” Kids that age in any culture are usually fairly competitive. This “detention competition” I had with myself goes to show just how I loved competition. If there was no competition going on with others, I would come up with one for myself! What I had never taken into account was just how selfish such a request was. If I was staying in the room, making up my detention minutes/hours, my teacher had to be in that room, too. It was school policy. As an adult now, I am appalled that I did that to my beloved Miss A without a single thought.

     Reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:17) where he says, “But even if I am being poured out…,” makes me think of Miss A. She was, indeed, being poured out for us each and every day of the school year. She never once said to me, “Well, do you have any idea just what your little competition with yourself will mean to my own break times?” She didn’t ask and I didn’t consider it at all.

     The second point is one that I think applies to all of our dedicated teachers both then and now. The issue is sacrifice. The Apostle Paul encourages the folks reading his letters to the Romans with these words: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Of course, Paul means all of us, not just the teachers. Nevertheless, I know of several teachers who have really worshipped God with their service to Him through the educating of children. Miss A was, definitely, one of those worshippers!

     Mr. B was an exceptional teacher because he was self-confident enough to not wield his authority the way he whipped his conductor’s baton through “The Grand Canyon Suite.” He did not exert autocratic rule over us. This was such a blessing for me during this phase of exploration. He could have just said I had chosen to play the trombone and the band needed me to stay there. Or, he could have pointed out that I had already changed to the trumpet from the trombone and one change was enough. Didn’t I realize the other kids were not changing all around the band but were concentrating on perfecting their performance on the one instrument? He could have so advised me/ordered me; but, instead, Mr. B encouraged me to “go for it.” Little wonder my eighth grade “Career Term Paper” declared that I would grow up to be a band director like Mr. B! I didn’t, of course, since band left my life at the same time as Mr. B transferred to another school district.

     Did the Apostle Paul have any Scripture verses that addressed my time in Mrs. C’s class? Well, as a matter of fact, I did run across one that speaks to the very incident just recorded here Monday and Tuesday. You can find it in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the last half of verse 3 of Chapter 15: “… the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Okay, okay, yes, I have taken it a bit out of context! Still, at 11 years old, that is exactly how it felt to have Mrs. C and my classmates laughing about how my Australian-born mother had taught me to speak.

     For the rest of that year, I was stressed every time we had to go into English class. I was very sad to have to leave Miss A when the school year ended but, equally relieved, Mrs. C would never have the authority to do that to me again. Years later I realized that Mrs. C was not at all out to humiliate me nor bring negative, demeaning feelings about my mother before the class. She was just insensitive as to how I might take her comments and laughter. She had spoken without thinking and, of course, did not know that my mother had obtained citizenship many years before her remarks. While I do recall this day in Mrs. C’s English class and, still, don’t like to read out loud, I was not really permanently damaged by the event. I have known of other children who have been seriously hurt by comments from a teacher during elementary school and it did change them for the rest of their lives.

    We read in James 3:1“…Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

     Though James was speaking more of teaching the Word of God when he penned these words, there may also be some truth in them for academic teachers, since Jesus was very clear about his love for the children. Not everybody should be an elementary school teacher. Teaching is not a job, it is a calling. Can there be a more important ministry to children?

****Authority Figures: Pastors… Coming Tomorrow

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mrs. C, Conclusion

     “Who knows how the way Sojourner said the word b e e n is different from the way you and I say it?” Different? Different! What is she talking about? I sat down without being given permission, confused as much as embarrassed. “Sojourner pronounced the word been like we would pronounce the word bean, didn’t she?”

     “But, Mrs. C, Sojourner always says it like that.” The lone voice was, immediately,  joined by a chorus of kids as one after another they spoke out their confirmation to the waiting teacher, who was not sitting now but was smiling. Could it get worse? Yes, it could and did.

     “Ye-e-es, but do you know why she always says it like that?” The kids were busy looking at one another for an answer and no one was actually looking at me, which was my only comfort.

     “Hey, Sojourner, do you know the answer she is wanting:” the girl in the desk behind whispered to the back of my head. I shook my head ever-so slightly. I was totally clueless.

     “It is because her mother is not an American. She comes from a foreign country and has taught Sojourner to talk like that.” The kids all looked at me and, when the teacher began to laugh, so did the class. Well, I can tell you one thing that happened at that exact moment in time that never left my memory. My humiliation at being singled out exploded into a vicious, protective rage. To my young mind, the whole class was laughing at my mother. I shot to my feet as though propelled out of a canon.

     “Stop it! Stop laughing at my mother! She is too an American. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” My face was crimson and felt hot enough to sizzle if someone dared to touch my cheek. Suddenly, the room was totally silent, save for my sobbing.

     “Oh, Sojourner, we aren’t laughing at you or your mother. I didn’t know your mother had gained citizenship in this country. Your mother was born and raised in Australia, wasn’t she? I just wanted the children to notice that different countries may pronounce words in a slightly different way, even though they are spelled and mean the same. The way you and your mother pronounce the word is not wrong; it is just not the American way.” Mrs. C. clapped her hands and directed the children to pick up their books again. She was ready to move on, while I was ready to bolt. I had never ever noticed any difference in the way I pronounced any words. I did sound like my mother, but I did not know that what she said was different either. Did my sisters also sound like us? Did my father, who was born and raised in Montana sound like us? We were a family; of course, we must sound the same, mustn’t we?

     For the remainder of that particular English class, these were the questions over-riding whatever anyone else might be saying. I never found out what happened to Farmer Bob and his wife, or even if he finally finished milking those cows. I just wanted to go home and listen to my family talk.

     This particular subject was never raised again in Mrs. C’s English class, neither did she ever mention it to me. Mrs. C knew English very well; but, sadly, she did not know much about kids. I would have some exceptional English teachers in subsequent years. Not until my last year of university studies, did I experience another painful event at the hands, literally, of my English teacher. It was one of those “put out or flunk” situations. But, then, that is a story for another day when I will share memories from the 20’s decade, eh? Suffice it to say, Dr. B had no idea just who he had threatened!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mrs. C

     “Get out your English books and notebooks, Class. Stand and prepare to move to Mrs. C’s room.”  Now very familiar orders from our Sixth Grade teacher, though not necessarily ones that brought a smile to my face. The personality of our English teacher was so different from Miss A and less kid-friendly, that I did not enjoy that hour. At least, our teacher no longer had to remind us to behave, the implication being that we would get double-trouble if we did not reflect her well-behaved class when in Mrs. C’s room.  Single file we quietly marched from one door into the next, trying hard not to look at our friends just a foot from us in the other line. They would have English in our room, from Miss A. To glance up at one of the other kids, most assuredly, would result in a giggle or two and a checkmark after our name on the board. Oh, a giggle isn’t all that bad, but it never stopped with one kid or one giggle, if you know what I mean. The teachers knew what they were doing insisting that we not start anything!

     “Today, Children, we are going to begin with reading out loud. Turn to page 58 in your books, please.” Ugh and gag me with a spoon. I just hate to stand up and read with everyone listening. My stomach tightened as the first boy stood by his desk and started reading.

     “When Farmer Bob left for the barn that morning… .” I had no idea what he read as I was trying to figure out when my own turn would come.

     “Can anyone tell me which word Jonny missed?” Good grief, did she really expect us to answer her and embarrass our friend? “No one knows? Well, it was the third word in the second line. He left that word out.” Yeah, well, if he left it out and no one noticed, maybe the word was not all that important anyway, right? The stress was, definitely, giving me a bad attitude towards this exercise.

     “Sojourner, please, stand and continue the reading.” The tight ball in the pit of my stomach instantaneously expanded to fill every bit of this now-empty sack, which felt like it was on fire. At least, Jonny’s mistake had brought my attention to the place where I should continue to read.

     “When Farmer Bob had been milking the cows for… ,”

     “Stop! Sojourner, read that sentence again.” I reckoned it was too much to hope that she’d been distracted and hadn’t heard me read it the first time?

     “When Farmer Bob had been milking the cows for about an hour, his wife came to tell him that she’d just been called to go to the church to… ,” I read with even less confidence, my face flushing red hot.

     “Stop! Read that sentence again, please. Class, listen to how Sojourner says the word b e e n.” Mrs. C instructed the kids while looking straight at me. I whipped through the mental phonics cards as fast as I could, beads of perspiration popping out on my forehead and upper lip. What could I be doing wrong? “Sojourner, we’re waiting. Repeat, please.” Shuffling my feet and choking back tears of embarrassment, I tried to speak.

     “When Farmer Bob had been milking the cows for about an hour, his wife came to tell him that she’d just been called to go to the church to help set up for the wedding.” I stopped reading and figured no one really cared that the pastor had called her because Mrs. Jones had taken sick and they needed a substitute that morning.

     “Now, Class, who noticed the way Sojourner said the word, b e e n?” To my great horror, all of those 11-year-old kids threw their right hand in the air. What’s up with that? These kids are my friends! But, alas, it was not going to end there. Things got worse!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My First Parade March

I couldn’t believe my ears; Mr. B. was looking right at me. ”Please stay to join the Senior Band for practice today.” Oh such sweet music those words carried to my eager, 11-year-old heart.

The Senior Band boasted mostly high school students, plus a scant sprinkling of talented middle schoolers. With one more year of elementary school, my inclusion was no small matter. I, on the other hand, was a small matter, and certainly looked like it sitting in the trombone section next to the high school boys with those long arms. Harmonies blasted forth from a trombone by pushing a well-oiled slide in any of seven positions, while adjusting the embouchure on one’s mouthpiece. I managed six of the seven, but the seventh position was a struggle. To reach a C-sharp I had to, literally, throw the slide out past my reach, leaning around to catch the crossbar before it flew off.

My life with the trombone began in the fourth grade, when Mr. B decided it was time for kids to learn to play instruments. He assured me that my arms would grow into the trombone but I was still waiting when he gave me this opportunity to play some “real” music. We had rehearsed for several weeks when the new challenge came.

“Okay, folks, we need to hit the streets for the next two weeks. The Frontier Days Parade in Sheridan is just around the corner. You know the music; let’s see how you can play while marching.” To my horror, Mr. B. positioned us with the trombones leading the parade, their pint-sized member dead center. Parade practice went okay that day and we did improve as time marched on with us. We tried various John Phillip Sousa songs; the final decision would be made in Sheridan.

Dressed in cowboy hats, white western-cut shirts tucked into blue jeans that flashed faux-silver belt buckles, we tied the red bandana around the neck while listening to final parade instructions. The bats had fled my belfry and were chasing the butterflies out of my belly; my mind was at war with my stomach. The announced piece was the only one with a C-sharp. Street rehearsals had gone okay but this was the real deal.

Knees lifted high, horns swinging in unison with the rhythm, the march music filled the hot July afternoon as the streets lined with clapping spectators cheered us on.  So far, so good, I told myself, as we rounded the last corner of the parade and started down the home stretch. Was I suddenly focused on my aching feet, truly grateful that we wore rubber-soled tennis shoes instead of leather-soled boots? Did I have some momentary daydreaming about the tasty barbeque awaiting us at parade’s end? Was I overly confident because I hadn’t made any mistakes? Whatever the reason, the thing I feared most happened.

The C-sharp was upon me before I realized and I let go of the slide. I gripped only air when I reached around to grab the crossbar of the slide, now free of the instrument and flying forward unencumbered. I froze in place right in the street while the band played on. Like a boulder in the path of a rushing stream, the musicians stepped around me, without missing a beat. I simply could not move, my arms still holding the large body of the trombone in place against my lips. In spite of the blaring music, I heard the tender whisper of a familiar voice.

“Get out of the street.” How merciful of Father God to see that my own sister marched in the center of the clarinets. passing by, Donna let go of her reed just long enough to un-freeze her petrified younger sister. Shaking off my stupor, I ran up to retrieve the slide and zigzagged my way through the rest of the band and on to the sidewalk. My little heart was thumping out a double time inside my throbbing chest while crashing cymbals and pounding drums penetrated my head. I was swinging my flexed arms and pumping my legs as hard as I could. With each contact of foot to concrete, my mind sent out the cruel two-syllable assessment: Dum-my, Dum-my.

Slumping down on the hotel steps, head in hand, restored trombone at my side, I waited. I endured only a bit of gentle ribbing, followed by a marvelous western barbeque.

I did march in the next Frontier Days Parade, playing a trumpet.

Author’s Note: This true story happened in July 1960, in case any of you were in Wyoming and saw my flying trombone slide.

Faith Writers Challenge: Topic “Predicament”
Intermediate Writer Category
Ranked: First Place (This win puts me in the Advanced category. Pray for me; I’m a tiny fish now in a huge pond of really good writers!)

****Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B, Conclusion

     “Mr. B, I am ready for a challenge.” Mr. B looked up from his desk and smiled.
     “So, you decided to learn the clarinet from your sister after all then?”

     “No, Sir. I have taught myself to play the trumpet.” I was beaming an extra-wide smile, from the surprise I knew this news would be to the teacher, as much as the fact that I knew I had done it myself.

     “Uh-huh, well where’s your trumpet? Let’s take a listen and I’ll decide if a challenge is warranted.” I pulled Tommy’s trumpet out of his case, attaching the mouthpiece I carried in my pocket. Butterflies felt as nervous inside my tummy as did my shaking hands positioning the trumpet to play. From memory I played my best tune… the melody, of course. “Well, let’s hear you play this one,” Mr. B said to me while putting a piece of sheet music on the stand next to me. He followed that with a second and third.

     No longer nervous but elated, I finished the last piece and turned to Mr. B, still seated with his fingers steepled in front of his face. “What do you think? Can I call for a challenge?”

     That was the first of many such challenges as Mr. B released me that very day to teach myself any instrument I had a desire to play. I could not play in the band unless I had successfully challenged on the new instrument but he would allow me the liberty to choose what I wanted to play. He would see that I had time in the practice rooms and instruments to use, if my friends did not have any for me to borrow.

     I am so grateful to God for Mr. B’s willingness to “give me my head”, (as we say about horses)! I “ran like the wind” through those junior high years in the school band, playing with the high school band during the summers. Because of the freedom given me, I played 10 different instruments in the school band, including the clarinet! I just could not let it defeat me, could I? I was never as good as my sister, but I could play it. Even so, the trumpet remained my favorite and most frequently played instrument.

     This is not where this happy story of using God’s gifts ends, though. Sadly, Mr. B left our school system when I was 15. The man taking his place was young, new to teaching and eager to please the authorities over him. According to the rules, all Senior High band members must march in the football marching band, without exception. Okay, no problem I can do that. However, the rule also said that the uniforms were first chosen by seniors, then the junior class and, finally, the sophomores, my class. By the time my alphabet letter was called and I  went to the uniform room, the only uniform left for me was, quite literally, eight  inches too long in the pants and six inches too long in the jacket sleeves. There was no cutting allowed. I would have to fold it under, stitching the hem under the legs and sleeves. My mother was a brilliant seamstress but, even she, could not make that look good. I went to the new teacher’s house to plead with him. He would not be moved and I resigned from the band. (It was also not allowed to rejoin the band after football season.)

     I was so blessed to have had Mr. B and all that I was able to learn while he was my teacher. Though I did not accept the scholarship, I was offered a four-year, full-ride scholarship to one of the universities in our State. All I had to do was play the trumpet in their Music Department. I missed playing but, in truth, I sold my trumpet to buy myself contact lenses. I was 18 and that should say it all, right?!

     Last week I submitted a story in the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge that may show you another reason I traded in my trombone for a trumpet, besides to play the melody!

****My First Parade March… Coming Tomorrow

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B, Scene 2

     I studied the fingering chart, memorizing the various combinations used for the three valves to make all of the notes. It was a bit of a challenge at this point because I was still playing the bass clef trombone music, wile trying to learn the trumpet in the treble clef. As a result of this confusion over the different clefs, I sometimes missed the note while playing my trombone with the band. Mr. B was kind enough not to mention it, but I did notice his arched eyebrows and cringe whenever it happened.

     Soon, I was ready to move on to blowing the notes, not just fingering them on my leg or a tabletop.  Nervously chattering to Tommy as we walked home, I found my much-rehearsed words before stepping on to our block.

     “You know what, Tommy? I learned all of the fingerings for the trumpet already, or I think I did. It’s hard to know for sure without trying to play, I reckon. Tommy raised one eyebrow and looked at me.

    “Oh, yeah? Well, you can come to my house right now and see if you can blow any notes. I’ll let you use my trumpet.” His tone was clear that he fully intended to laugh at my attempts, not believing I could teach myself to play. I, on the other hand, could hardly wait to put that mouthpiece to my lips. And, that’s about as far as Tommy was willing to go that day, too!

     “Okay, here’s the mouthpiece. When we learned, that’s what Mr. B had us do… just the mouthpiece. After a while you can put it in the trumpet.” Disappointed, I reached for the mouthpiece and began to blow. “Hey, Squirt, that’s not bad at all. I have this extra mouthpiece,” he was bending over the still-open instrument case and pulling out his second, “so take it with you. Keep it in your pocket and practice whenever you can.” Tommy was well-aware that his joke had disappointed me, but what he did not know was that it had also ratcheted up my desire to succeed even higher! I would show him I could do it!

     “Hi, Bob! I was wondering… ” the older trumpet player was just about to snap his case closed, following his own practice session. Glancing over to me, he smiled and that encouraged me to continue. “I have been blowing on this mouthpiece, trying to work on my embouchure, and I just wondered if you would mind if I put it into your trumpet to see if what I am doing is right or not.”

     “Uh, well, why not? Go ahead, knock yourself out, Kid,” Stooping down and removing the trumpet from his case, Bob held the beautiful instrument out to me. My first blast was, well, jus that, a blast, not a musical note. “Here, let me show you how to hold it.” Once I had adjusted to match his instructions, we both were surprised at what came out of his horn.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B

     “Mr. B, I am really tired of the music we have to play in the trombone section. We don’t get any of the good stuff there. Can’t you find something that let’s the trombones play the melody, not just the oomp-pah-pah, oomp-pah-pah?” I had stayed after band practice, earnestly seeking some encouragement from the band director. Okay, he was a tall, handsome guy so maybe there was more than music involved.

     “Well, Sojourner, at the level your class plays, the trombones do not really have a lot of choices. The harmony and accompanying parts are very important to every piece. It would be pretty flat if the whole band played the melody, wouldn’t it?” Mr. B had a point there, of course, but it just seemed so unfair to my 11-year-old way of thinking.

     “Well, how about the clarinets play our part and we play theirs? Then there would still be harmony but we could play the melody?” My face smiled up with hope brightening my eyes.

     “You are forgetting one thing here, Sojourner. The musical score for the clarinets uses the treble clef and your score the bass clef. The two are not interchangeable.” Ugh! What a bummer. I’d have to do something else then if I wanted to stop playing the oomp-pah-pah’s.

     “When will my class be good enough to play something with more interesting music for the trombones?” Mr. B’s contemplative visage, again, gave me hope as I waited for his answer. When he smiled at me, I held my breath; this should be something good, right?

     “Well, there is one thing you could do,” Mr. B was rubbing his chin and looking right at me, “You could learn to play the clarinet.” Oh, no, not that. My sister had tried so tenderly to teach me to play her clarinet already and I just could not get it. The whole reed-thing escaped me. Okay, I was only 9 years old at the time and she was more interested in teaching me what she had learned than I was in learning but still… memories of failure. No, not the clarinet. I would just have to come up with something else.

     “Tommy, what clef does your music have in your book?” Walking home from school the following day, I noticed the boy who lived across the street from me carrying his instrument case. He was a year older so we were not in the same class or band. I wasn’t even sure what instrument he was learning to play.

     “Treble clef.” Yes! Just what I wanted to hear.

     “So, do you get to play the melody of the songs, then?” My voice had risen in pitch to match my growing excitement.

     “Kinda, I guess. I mean, I’m not really that good yet so I still have to play the lower notes not the real melody. Pretty much it’s the first chair guys that really get to play the melody of the songs.” So, I’d not only need to learn another instrument but be good at it, too, if I wanted to play the real melody. Well, I did!

     “Tommy, could I borrow your fingering chart?” We had arrived at our corner, where my neighbor squatted down and removed Book One from the carrying case. As he did so, I glimpsed the shiny trumpet. Handing over the book, with the page turned to the fingering chart, Tommy wished me luck.

     I quickly crossed the street and began learning the fingering for the various notes. The trombone had only seven possibilities, the rest of the notes depended on how the lips were placed on the mouthpiece. The trumpet had only three valves to push down but eight possible combinations. I noticed that the mouthpiece was a lot smaller, too, so I would need to re-learn how to position my lips to bring out the right notes.

     Remembering my earlier failure, I determined not to tell anyone I was teaching myself to play the trumpet… just in case it proved too much for me. If I succeeded, I would let Mr. B know I was ready to challenge the row of trumpet players to get to that coveted first chair… and the melody!

****Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B, Scene 2… Coming Tomorrow

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Miss A, conclusion

     “Miss A, I’d like to try something.” I had stalled leaving the classroom so there was little doubt Miss A had not just been waiting for me to spit it out.

     “Yes, Sojourner, what is it?” Sitting at her desk, red pen poised over someone’s notebook, the teacher smiled up at me. “Do you have a question?”

     “Uh, well, kinda. I was just looking at all those names and checkmarks over there.” Both of us followed my outstretched arm and extended index finger.

     “This time yours is not on the list. Are you happy about that, Sojourner?” She was laughing with that special tenderness so a part of Miss A.

     “Uh, I guess so. I mean it’s good not to be in trouble, right? But, well, I, er, would like to try something.” I hated it when I stammered and struggled to just get on with my request. My feet shuffled under my bowed head’s view. Then I heard my father’s reminder echo in my ears, telling me to look him in the eye when I asked for something. It would show I was serious. Straightening up and meeting Miss A’s waiting visage, I barked it out like someone had hit me on the back. “I want to put my name on the list and add 50 checkmarks to see if I can make up the time before the report cards are due.” There my request for self-imposed detention was airborne.

     “Well, I am a bit surprised at such a request. Why would you ever want to do such a thing?” Miss A had put down the pen and clasped her folded hands on the notebook, as she waited for my reply. She had not laughed so that was good. She was curious, not angry.

     “I just want to see if I can do it. I wouldn’t want to stay in every recess but I could stay after school and help you clean the boards or something, if I’d already finished my homework. May I do that, please?” My brow was furrowed, both eyes squinting a little, as I held my breath for her answer.

     “Well, it’s an unusual request, to be sure, and I would still add my own checkmarks to your name if you misbehaved, Sojourner; but I don’t really see a reason to refuse your request. I tell you what, I’ll write your name and the number ‘50’ next to it. Then you will be responsible to change that number each day of your competition-detention; but, if the checkmarks are real detention, I’ll put my own checkmark next to your number. That way if you change your mind about this contest you want to do, you can erase your number but you must still make up any of my checkmarks for the real detention before your name is erased. What do you think? Do you want to do that?” I was nearly jumping with joy as I felt my shoes take me to the door and out of the building. Once outside, I whooped a great release of excitement, jumping in the air … the competition was on!

     As I neared the close of the six weeks, I began to stress because I had whittled down my number a lot but I also had four of Miss A’s checkmarks after my number. I had decided that I would clear my number first and then the real detention marks to give me the added incentive to hang in there. As you might have imagined, I was with Miss A a lot over those weeks. I did go out to recess once a day, instead of twice and I took only fifteen minutes for lunch. Most of my time was made up after school. My father worked until 4:30 and my   mother until 5:30, so didn’t mind the time I spent after school. As is often the case with marathon-like competition, the most effort is needed at the end when quitting sounds so much better than making the final effort to cross the line.

     Finally, it was the very last day and I had only two checkmarks and my name to clear. I had forgotten my name represented fifteen minutes when I was calculating my time, though, so it lasted that much longer than I had planned. Still, I made it; I had finished before the six weeks. One great point was I never had to take work home after school since I did it all there!

     Perhaps the greatest thing my competition brought to me was a real awareness of just what a fine person my teacher was. A committed Christian lady, I watched as she encouraged those kids sitting out detention instead of going to recess every day. Some of the kids resented the detention but, it seemed to me, that these were the very kids who needed it the most. Oh, not for the work they would get help doing but for the kindness and gentle touch of a woman who truly cared how they were doing. No one ever said they liked detention but there was no doubt everyone liked Miss A! Until she went home to be with the Lord somewhere in her 90’s, Miss A helped kids in her own home learn to read. The Bible says that there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for another. Miss A certainly, gave her entire life for all of us kids.

****Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B… Coming Tomorrow