Monday, October 20, 2014

#MyFaithHeroines


My precious friend, Terri, challenged me. She has challenged me before, but I have failed to rise to those challenges. This suggestion, however, has not gotten lost in the endless stacks and shuffles of paper and books that line every horizontal surface in my house. No. This one stayed.
Terri sent me a message.
Do it. Do it. She said. And she sent me the link explaining what she wanted me to do.
This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. 
Michelle DeRusha asked us to blog about our faith heroines. To recount the women in our lives who helped to solidify our faith, who added to the water in our faith bucket and who unknowingly caused us to reach deeper and want to know our Almighty God.  
Truthfully I would put Terri near the very top of my faith heroine list. I considered just reposting my tribute to her, but I know she would fuss at me and encourage me to do something different. Out of respect for her and our decades of friendship I will be true to her suggestion. But she needs to understand it was a hard choice to not include her (I guess I just have. If you want to know about her read Quarter of a Century).

Two Heroines of Faith

I should have known. God lays groundwork long before it is needed. He builds foundations long before you need to stand on them.
This assignment is to share about my heroines of faith. Immediately two particular women come to mind. As I look back into my childhood and college years I realize I should have understood what God was doing, but I was too young both times. The first time I was chronologically too young. I am not sure I have actual memories of the events or if I simply hold onto others’ stories. The second time I was chronologically old enough, but spiritually I was still very much of a newborn.
Mamaw Mandy. That’s what I called her. My maternal great-grandmother. My earliest positive memories revolve around her.  She was old before I was born, so by the time I have recollections of her she seemed quite ancient to me.
Mamaw Mandy was a frail and tiny woman. Her long gray wisp of a braid wound in small knot at the back of her head. Her fingers were completely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis; they opened only wide enough for her to clasp them around the handles of her metal walker. My only personal memories of her come as snippets:  her bedroom where she spent almost all of her time, the couch where she would allow me to stand behind her and brush out her long hair. I was a boisterous and talkative child (surprise anyone?), but she indulged me. I cringe because I know with hindsight I didn’t treat her with the respect she deserved. Even now it bothers me. But she loved me anyway.
What was the evidence of that love?
She prayed for me.
I know about these prayers not because I heard them, but because of my grandmother and mother’s accounts. Over the years they shared recollections of Mamaw’s prayers too many times to count.
The stories always follow the same telling: as a child I played outside in my grandmother’s front yard. Mamaw Mandy’s windows and front door opened onto a porch overlooking a wide, tree-lined front yard. I played alone. I was an only child, and the trees were my playmates.  
During these childhood recesses Mamaw Mandy would hear me playing outside and rise from her bed, pull her walker to her, wrap her gnarled fingers around the handles and then shuffle to the front door.  She stood—a bent sentinel—watching and craning her head to follow me in my imaginative play. In the physical realm this woman seemed weak and far too frail to cause any ripples in the cosmos, but I know now she did. She rippled her great-granddaughter’s world because while she stood at that front door she prayed for me.
I don’t know what she asked. I don’t know what she pleaded over me. I don’t know any of the words. The words were not preserved for me in my awareness.  Mamaw Mandy’s prayers, however, were and are not limited or bound by time or space. Whatever she prayed as she stood guard at that door hovers over me today.  Those prayers still rise before the throne room of the Almighty. They continue to add to the volume and rise of golden-bowl incense before the Father.  
I believe her prayers assisted the course and path of my life.  
Long, long before I understood prayer or prayer warriors my great-grandmother prayed for me. She warred for me. I believe those prayers are now a part of my spiritual armorthose words she spoke on my behalf before the Father are now links in the chain mail I don and wear in my daily life.
Perhaps her prayers were merely sentences sent up to heaven. Maybe, they were a few words spoken a couple of times. Whispers. Neither affects the outcome. Truly I am writing these words now partly because of her prayers then.
Fast forward fourteen years.
My sophomore year of college I enrolled in a required class titled Music Appreciation. It was a strange and peculiar music I was asked to appreciate. My Bluegrass DNA had never experienced this wordless and complicated genre. During that semester I realized the crazy strains of music that accompanied Tom chasing Jerry or Bugs Bunny rubbing Elmer Fudd’s head were actually great scores composed by Mozart and Beethoven and others. But as the semester lengthened I realized I was not enrolled in this class simply to learn to appreciate the geniuses of the classical music world.
No. Of course not. The Lord almost always has a double-fold purpose for all things. And this class certainly was no exception.
The professor of the class was Margaret Therkelsen. She was an arresting and handsome woman, long-limbed and large boned. Assuredly she was the tallest woman I had ever encountered, at least 6’0.  
I was mesmerized by her grace. Certainly I was taken by her physical grace which belied her stature, but far more by her powerful spiritual grace. Each morning I attended her class with anticipation, an eagerness and a hunger. She would walk in, come to the front of the class and open her small leather New Testament and thumb through the tissue paper pages until she found the passage she wanted. The book was so worn that it draped over her hand, and somehow I knew that the state of her small Bible was the result of use not abuse.
Then she taught from that little book. Dr. Therkelsen taught with an authority that stunned me. Never in my life had I heard a woman speak with such spiritual authority about such deep things in Scripture.
NEVER.
She taught about prayer that semester. I remember very little about the composers and the language of music, but I do remember learning the language of prayer.
It seemed as if she were a translator who unfolded, at least for me, the mysteries and power of prayer.  
I ate her words. Surely this is the only metaphorical language I can use to accommodate how much the Spirit used her to teach me. I remember taking notes furiously (how I wish I had those now). I sighed each time she closed her tattered and threadbare New Testament. I didn’t want the teaching to end. I wanted more. But then she bowed her head to do exactly what she had been teaching. Suddenly the teaching became flesh.  
While sitting in that room, though spiritually immature, I knew God was unfolding to me my purpose and calling. Certainly then I could not articulate this truth, but the fiber of me knew it. The Spirit in me bore witness and affirmation to it.
Years before this Music Appreciation class the Father used my frail Mamaw Mandy’s prayers to begin the unshakeable foundation in my life. Dr. Therkelsen built on that foundation.
Years passed before I understood that power in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with physical strength or the lack of it. Mamaw Mandy was a frail and ailing elderly woman; Margaret Therkelsen was robust and strong. The power of prayer has nothing to do with education or the lack of it. Mamaw Mandy completed the fourth grade and Dr. Therkelsen earned a Ph.D. in Music and a M.A. in psychology.
Each woman wielded a power not from their own strength but from the Spirit of God and his calling on their lives.
These two women dispelled a traditional teaching I had absorbed as a child and teen. Indirectly I was taught women were secondary in the kingdom of God, that we could never stand and hold the place of friendship with God as men did.
Mamaw Mandy and Dr. Therkelsen taught me God hears the prayers of women, of his daughters.
And answers them. Empowers them. Friends them.
These two women taught me where the battles are fought and won.
These women are two of my faith heroines.
When I read Hebrews 11 I know that the ending of that passage is not the completion of Faith’s Hall of Fame—no, it was only the beginning of it. For me Mamaw Mandy and Dr. Therkelsen are added—
By faith they prayed
And I have been forever changed.

 

Father, oh how I praise you. How I thank you for what you do when we are unaware. How grateful I am for these two women and their presence and influence in and on my life. I thank you for placing them where and when you did. I thank you that when no one else seemed to be watching out for a little four year girl this grandmother stood guard. Thank you for putting watchmen on the porches and on the thresholds of doors. Certainly, Father, you put Mamaw at the threshold of me—praying for me. For my protection, for my safety. For my growth. For my salvation.

And Father, how I thank you for Dr. Therkelsen. Oh, that you have helped me to hold her Spirit led teaching in my mind and spirit’s eye. Father, how you used her to mold me, to set me free of so much spiritual bondage and confinement. How you used her to instill in me a deep love and appreciation for your Word. Through example you used her to show me the power and intimacy of prayer. Father, thank you that your words bring life. And decades after they are spoken they are still giving life. The prayers and words of these two women are still molding and shaping my responses to you. Father, thank you. Thank you for supplying all our needs according to your riches. Thank you that my supply included these two women. Thank you. Praise you. Oh, that you would receive all the glory for the works these women have accomplished. In the sweet name of Jesus’. Amen and amen.

 

 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Treasure Hunting: Pelicans


Gawky.
Awkward.
Ugly.
Pelicans.
Have you ever seen one up close?
 
 
At the beach I was drawn to them. My attention darted to them and my gaze fixed on them.

Rarely do they walk around on the shore. Their feathers are the color of driftwood. Their long necks and heads seem out of proportion and lack grace in the curvature. These birds sit on the surface of the water bobbing, heads bent over and chin tucked tightly to their chests.
When walking around in the sand they are not in their element.
I followed them everywhere.
One morning Steve and I were out walking. A pelican walked on the shore too, snapping at the water and scooping something into its great cavernous bill. Then it would lift its gangly neck straight up and swallow. More gulping than swallowing. That’s when I really realized how gawky, awkward and ugly they are. Up close and personal they are a very strange looking bird.
 
That morning I followed this bird down the beach. I kept getting closer and closer. I almost got close enough to touch it. And then it flew away.

In the air this ugly, ungainly bird transformed.

 
Its neck and head shifted into a straight line, only the smooth rise of its head set above its wingspan—which was enormous. It wings spread and pulled at the air lifting it higher and higher with speed. But also with an agility and grace that was absent when on the shore.
In flight this bird did what it was designed to do.
Fly.
And dive.
To watch a pelican dive is astonishing. If you don’t train your eye to stay with them you will miss the landing, miss the scoop. That great awkward bill, which on shore was cumbersome, now is efficient and elegant. Gone was the strange, ugly bird on the shore.
We are like the pelicans.
Sometimes on shore, in places we have not been gifted, we feel and seem awkward and gawky and ugly. We are out of our element. We are walking outside our realm of giftedness. Our gait on shore is ungainly and choppy. Grace seems to be absent. Elegance seems faded.
But in the air.
In the air we are doing what we were meant to do. When we are walking in the gifts God has given us then we fly. Wings outstretched. Neck elongated. Bill lifted and extended. And suddenly we are flying. The awkwardness falls away. Our unsightly gait becomes soaring.
There may only be short seasons of this flight. Only brief moments of lucidity. Of clarity.
Often times I try to move outside of my giftedness. I attempt to be or do something the Spirit did not give. Did not bestow. During these times out-of-my-element I expend more energy, acquire more stress, become more discouraged and develop more insecurity.
I rarely spotted a pelican on the shore. Only twice.  They tended not to hang out there. Instead they spread their wings and did what they were made to do. Fly.
You and I were created to fly. In whatever matter and manner that translates. Paul explains this to us in Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

We are given gifts by and through the Holy Spirit for the equipping  and building up of the Body of Christ. When we operate in these gifts we benefit, but even more God’s Body benefits.  
The Body of Christ in all its various and sundry places needs its people operating in their gifts. This Body needs its teachers to teach and its preachers to preach and its prophets to exhort and its pastors to shepherd and its administrators to administer.
The pelican taught me a great lesson.
Now, when I struggle with that awkward and gawky gait I ask myself a question. Am I moving in the giftings God has given me? Am I attempting to do something the Holy Spirit didn’t intend for me to do?  Usually I have to answer the first question no and the second yes.  (There are a few exceptions: when the Lord calls me out of my comfort zone. Out of the familiar. Out of the known. In order to expand my faith and trust in Him.)
Fly, friends.
Don't spend your time and energy waddling around on the shore. Just fly. Even if it is for a brief moment.
We will be blessed when you do. We will know more of him because you do.

 

We were looking at each other.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Treasure Hunting: Not If, but When


Melissa Darsey, lovely and profound spirit that she is, shared her recollections about this particular evening. You can visit her at Tethered: His Night Song.

Profound occurrences are often profound only to the person experiencing them. The serendipity of events does not quite impact others as it does we who are in the middle.
But I want you to see God. Watch him show up.
This story must be unfolded. Fold by fold. It is a long story. Read it in parts. Take a break or get a cup of coffee and join me for a little while.
I just want you to know my sweet God must have been chuckling as he orchestrated this one. 
 

On Melissa’s last night of vacation we discovered that one of her dreams was to walk the beach at night.
Abby and I declared we would go that night. It would be Melissa’s last adventure before going home. I was so excited for her. Years ago I walked the beach on Cape Cod at night, and it profoundly affected me. Vivid details still remain. I wanted Melissa to experience something very similar.
Little did I know.
Do we ever?
In our finite grasp of reality and space and time do we understand that the God of this universe really does hear us? He catches the sighings. He perceives the longings. He listens to the unvoiced desires—the ones we tuck away, tight back in ourselves. These are not secret to him. They are not veiled from his vision.
For years I have been tending a low burning fire for a sojourn to Ireland. There were times when the fire leaped and danced with flames high. Hot and compelling. Other times, a simple quiet fire, banked. Recently the embers burned down, ashen and powdery. The task seemed overwhelming. The finances. The time. The schedules. Slowly the fire became just a warm place in my heart. I attempted to substitute more practical things for it. Ones that would benefit far more people than just me.
Little did I know God heard, and his breath was about to blow over my dream embers.
The whole day began with a trip to the marina. We wanted to see dolphins and so we booked an afternoon outing—the marina’s advertisement gave full assurance that dolphins would be spotted.
While we waited for our departure time we visited several of the little shops along the marina’s boardwalk. We indulged in ice cream and truffles and dark chocolate covered stick pretzels (I ate the latter, not all three).
 

 
While Steve stood and watched the fishermen fillet their catch I meandered into a jewelry shop.
The small shop was filled with shelves of nautical jewelry and cases of charms and necklaces and earrings shaped like shells, fish, palm trees and ocean waves. Weaving in and out of the labyrinth I stopped at a few of the cases. Some unique piece would catch my eye.
Then I turned.
Behind me almost in the middle of the store was a rotating kiosk of Irish jewelry. Four leaf clovers, Celtic crosses, Celtic knots and pots of gold. It seemed so out of place. So random.  I spun the stand slowly. Looking and all the while pondering the question, “Why in the world was this in the middle of this store?”  
We went to wait in line to get on the boat for our date with the dolphins (another story for another post).
I forgot about the Irish jewelry.
After we docked we were all quite hungry. We were looking for something local—something with the reputation of serving really good food. We heard The Friendly Fisherman was the place to go. All twelve of us traipsed into the restaurant. If our numbers worried anyone we couldn’t tell.
Our waitress’ name was Dawn. She was from Pennsylvania: a transplant enjoying the ease of ocean front life. We could almost see her apartment complex from our table. We knew we had been given the seasoned waitress; she knew what she was doing. Feed the kids first. The food was fabulous. Other than Amy’s shrimp tacos it was the best meal I ate during the entire vacation.
Remember the random Irish jewelry back at the marina boardwalk? Here we go again.
Dawn wore a necklace. Not just any necklace. It was a large silver Irish claddagh. I know she saw me staring, so I just asked. Where did she find such a wonderful piece? She touched it, rubbing the embossed hands and crown and heart and explained that she commissioned it to be made. An original piece.
For an instant my head reeled. This absurd thought crossed my mind:  I am in The Friendly Fisherman eating clam stuffed tilapia being served by Dawn from Pennsylvania with a claddagh necklace.
The old fire stirred. The wind was blowing.
We left.
We spent the rest of the day playing and resting.
I forgot Dawn and the claddagh necklace.
Evening came. Everyone trekked back to the condo. Bedtime routines commenced.
I kissed Steve, then Melissa, Abby and I walked back down the beach.
We took pictures under the dock—leaned on the weathered wood. And the light began to fade.
 
 

We discussed which way to walk and Melissa explained she wanted to walk toward the light—in the direction of the setting sun.
Away we went. Jaunty. Happy. Carefree. Fulfilling a dream.
I kept watching Melissa’s face and praying for her. Praying God would meet her. Praying she would experience His presence in this trek in the dark with the water lapping around our feet and the sand grown cold. At first she and Abby held up their dresses, but then they let them down. Unfettered, the hems grew wet and heavy. They drug in the sand, combing it smooth as they walked.
When I walk the beach I am forever keen-eyed for shells. That night was no exception.
I saw one. Or what I thought was one. A black shadow in the sand. A large one.
Cautiously I reached down and tapped it quickly with just the tip end of my pointer finger. Just in case. Earlier in the weekend something had caught my eye in the sand and I failed to use caution. A crab bit my finger. A snap, a sting, and a narrow trickle of blood encouraged and wizened me to be careful of shadows in the sand.
This one didn’t bite or move, so I picked it up.
Oh, what a treasure. It appeared to be a black oyster shell (still not entirely sure). It was the most unique piece I found during the entire trip. I was thrilled.

We began again. Walking.

A woman passed us. Nothing odd. Except she was holding a shell almost exactly like my own. She noticed mine. There we stood, as if we were holding two pieces of the same puzzle wondering where our pieces fit.

The early part of the conversation is hazy in my mind. I think it was just courteous beach dialogue. But several sentences into the conversation my hearing heightened and honed.

Flames flickered.

I cocked my head and looked at her, and the words were out of my mouth before I realized I was thinking them.
“Would you mind if I asked where you are from? Originally?”
I wonder now what was going through Abby and Melissa’s heads, but then I was oblivious.
I took a deep breath as I saw her mouth open to answer.
“Ireland.” She answered.
I gasped. Whether out loud or not I don’t know. It was very loud in the cavernous places in my own head. And puzzle pieces began to click into place: the Irish jewelry at the marina, Dawn and her one-of-a-kind claddagh necklace.
I peered at this woman. Holding my breath. I wonder now if she thought I was crazy.
We began to talk. The lyrical cadence of her voice was soft. Her “r’s” trilled slightly.  In my peripheral vision I saw Abby looking at me.
We continued to talk. I asked questions somewhat just to hear her speak.
I told her I had dreamed for years of going to Ireland.
She gazed at me. Eye to eye.
“Then you will, Lady, you will.”
Tears, as usual, threatened to pour down my face. But I held them. There was something in her tone. Something in her gaze.
We kept talking. I asked her where she would want me to visit if I ever went. What out of the way place would she like for me to see? Again that eye to eye gaze. She held it longer this time.
“It is not if you go, but when. I want you to set a date.”
I blinked. Finally.
I explained I also loved the Vikings and wanted to visit Dublin because of their influence there. She chuckled and said she was from the area the Vikings first settled in Ireland.
She went on to tell me that tickets were not as expensive as one might imagine.
I watched her face. Tried to drink it in while standing in the fading light.
Surreal.
The real time lasted a few minutes. But in my head it was slow motion. Almost stop frame.
I stood in a dream. And in that dream I saw myself on the shore of the Gulf at night having a conversation with an Irish woman.
It welled up in me. The question. Bubbled in my mouth.
“If you don’t mind I would love to know your name.” I waited.
God must have leaned forward for this one. Leaned right forward and looked over the rim of heaven. He must have been laughing his great belly laugh of delight. Absolute delight. His divine appointments always change someone’s life.  
One of my favorite authors is Linda Windsor. She is the author of a beautiful series of books set in fifth century Ireland: The Fires of Glennmara. The female protagonist of the first book in the trilogy is one of my absolute favorites. This is quite important. Unlike me at the time, my dear Reader, you know what is coming.
The Irish woman looked at me and said, “My name is Maire.”
The character in Linda Windsor’s book is named Maire. (Pronounced: Moi-rah).
I spelled the name back to her to make sure I heard correctly.
I did, although this sweet Maire on the beach had to spell her name differently here in the States because no one could pronounce it. Often she was mistakenly called Maria or Mary.
Maire is a soft and musical name when spoken by an Irish tongue. I can still hear her voice pronouncing it for me.
Our encounter ended after that. We hugged. Clasped hands.
She turned to leave, but before she did she looked at me with that eye to eye gaze again.  
“You will go to Ireland. It is not if, but when. I want you to set a date. An actual date on the calendar.”
Maire turned and walked down the beach disappearing into the evening. I watched her walk away until the dusk became dark and she disappeared.
God set me up.
I can hear Him laughing still.
Little did I know.
My God. My God.

He knows and pays attention to every detail of our lives. He knows the longings of our heart.
The embers are hot now.
Red. Alive. Glowing.
It is not if I go to Ireland, now it is just a matter of when.
We’re working on a date.
 
 
BTW. A couple weeks after we returned from vacation all these events were but memories beginning to fade. One day I pulled into a parking spot at a local department store. I got out of my car and looked at the van parked in front of me. I noticed the license plate. I took a picture.
Are you kidding me?