If God’s Keeping Score, I’ve Fallen Way Behind

What did you do the summer after you graduated from high school? Take a vacation? Go to summer school? Work a summer job?

I spent the summer hours away from home, serving as a Southern Baptist Convention summer missionary. I was 17 and felt called to save the world*.

Here are some things (from the perspective of 35 years later) that I no longer am:

  1. 17
  2. A recent high school graduate
  3. Southern Baptist

As a 53-year-old with a few more degrees and a certificate (somewhere) verifying I am a confirmed Episcopalian, this is what that summer looks in retrospect:

Door-to-door is an introvert’s worst nightmare

First, let me say that I think the definition of “introvert” has become a bit contorted as it has taken hold in the public mindset (although I trust most everything Jennifer Kahnweiler has written about it). For me, the most salient part is the fact that I recharge more by being alone than I do with being in room full of people (this is the case with my husband — ask me how it works out when two people in a marriage recharge in different ways!).

Despite the fact that my religious beliefs at the time and my concern for my fellow man led me to apply to be a summer missionary and to accept an assignment in Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, FL (hours from home), that hunger to serve did not make it any easier to knock on strangers’ doors and try to get them to accept the gospel.

I would stand there at the door, playing mental games with myself (“If they don’t answer by the time I count to 10, I can leave” … that kind of thing). 

Staying at host homes is an eye opener

Staying in host homes was probably a burden for the homes (and a joy, I know), but it was one of the most growth-inducing parts of this summer experience for me. I had a lot of growing up to do, and figuring out how to function in other people’s homes helped with that.

I’ve lost touch with most of my hosts, but am still in touch to this day with one. Her daughter was 3 then and she has her own kids now. Time moves on.

Lack of clarity about roles

Something happened during my summer as a missionary that has repeated itself in other areas of my life subsequently.

One of the churches (we moved around — I think we were at 5 churches in 10 weeks — also 5 different host homes) was sending its puppet ministry to a workshop in Orlando. I asked if we could go. I am pretty sure they hadn’t budgeted to send two summer missionaries to this workshop, but they let us go.

We weren’t *this* creative but here is an example Christian puppetry at its finest — in the form of BETHLEHEMian Rhapsody:

The reason I say this repeated itself later is … I was presenting to our board at Healthy Kids once. I was situating the screen so the presentation’s graphics could be shown and I was angling it toward the audience. Our Executive Director somewhat dramatically indicated that the screen needed to face the BOARD not the audience of hangers-on there to observe the meeting.

It’s always important to think through hierarchies in organizations and to understand your place (not that there aren’t some times it’s worthwhile to push a bit to be seen/heard (or to learn how to properly coordinate a puppet’s mouth movements with the spoken audio)). 

There’s no scoreboard for salvation

One of the biggest memories of that summer has to do with a day that we were out knocking on doors (sigh…) with a minister. I think this particular home visit consisted of the minister, another missionary and me. We talked at length with a woman, discussing her life and her spiritual needs.

She said she had a void in her life, and the minister walked her though confessing her faith in Christ and accepting Him as her savior. (The follow-up steps would ostensibly be her seeking out a local church and following through with baptism.)

When we got to the car — no lie — this minister pumped his fist and said (paraphrasing a bit — it was 35+ years ago!) “YES! IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME!” It became clear that he was keeping count and (more importantly) that as a minister he felt there was some type of quota he was expected to reach.

Now that I have more life experience behind me, I see in that woman’s “void” something maybe a little less spiritual and a little more human — she was a woman isolated in a suburb of Orlando (because yes we had driven to Orlando to expand our soul-saving activities), needing someone to talk to. We offered companionship and a promise of more warm fuzzies, not to mention eternal security.

I can’t say denominations don’t hold their clergy and evangelists to “scoreboards.” Any business, even the business of providing religious support/education/worship, runs on metrics. But something about that moment in time —- he was more excited to have another tick mark than to know that she had had a genuine change that would benefit her —- has always stuck in my head.

Keeping Score

I have peeked into some deeper evangelical things and …. I’m glad my path went a different direction

I can’t say that the things I was exposed to this summer were the first time I experienced some of the activities that are more aligned with expressions of evangelicalism like speaking in tongues, talk of demonic influence and being afraid of secular influences. I still can’t listen to “My Sweet Lord” without hearing the hour-long audio lecture I heard in a high-school Bible Study about backmasking and that “My Sweet Lord’s” insidious Hare Krishna messages.

We went skating once — most of the summer missionaries and the children of our host family — just to have the mom come back about half an hour later to make us leave early, “convicted” that the secular music we were listening to at the rink was somehow corrupting us and leading us astray.

That summer was the first time I saw the fear of demons be manifested in an actual demon exorcism (picture a middle class living room and a chair, not anything you’ve seen in movies).

And although I think this actually tracks back to some camp I went to, and not my summer missionary experience, that time in my life definitely carried a heavy (very) set of messaging around purity. Even “fingerprints” (ahem) were to be avoided (more about how I evolved past that particular phobia here).

Faith evolves…and did I mention there’s no scoreboard?

There’s also no script.

Don’t get me wrong…I know there are “scoreboards.”

And I know there are scripts. I scored a 100 on my “Certified Witness Training” test (this was after the summer missionary period, to be clear) that demonstrated I knew exactly what to say to try to get someone to recognize their “void,” the verses to parrot to help them know Jesus is what they needed to fill the “void,” and the steps to take to notch another score on the “scoreboard.”

However, I have evolved as a human and a person of faith.

It would probably take a whole separate post to explain that evolution (although this post from 2011 details a slice of it).

In a nutshell, at this point I think the way I live my life — including trying to work my way out of messes and mistakes and the times I’ve offended others — says more than any script I’ve ever memorized. God will choose whether that added to His (or Her) scoreboard, not me.

Does faith ever call for a pause?

This is a bit of an abrupt diversion from talking about me (but YAY LET’S PLEASE MOVE ON FROM ME…..).

One of my favorite writers (and humans … and people of faith) is Sarah Thebarge, author of The Invisible Girls and Well. Sarah is more than an author. She is a medical professional, a cancer survivor and a Compassion International spokesperson.

Sarah is also, as she discussed in If Your Gospel Isn’t Good News For Everyone, It’s Not Good News For Anyone: Why I Signed #PledgetoPause, someone who has chosen to sign the #PledgetoPause.

The #CallToPause was created by Lisa Sharon Harper. Among other things it posits that, “Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination poses grave danger to the rights and protections of historically marginalized communities.” This is what Sarah writes about it:

Dozens of high-profile evangelical leaders have joined the #CalltoPause.  And hundreds of others have signed the #PledgetoPause, committing to fasting and praying for American Christians to return to what God’s called us to: kindness, mercy, compassion and love.

While I don’t plan to sign the pledge (I’m too pro-choice to be comfortable doing that), I have to admire the people who are. They may have spent a lifetime in the environment I encountered during my 17-year-old summer, telling people there was only one way to avoid a life of damnation and being scared that a note of music or pursuing any hint of personal pleasure was a failing. And yet they are willing to confront “why the right-wing culture wars began in the first place: racism.”

In my opinion, talking to each other about a middle ground and placing more emphasis on “kindness, mercy, compassion and love” is the kind of thing where it would be fine to keep score, as long as the scoreboard goes to infinity.

Keeping Score

I have linked this post with the Kat Bouska prompt “Who needs a vacation when you can spend your summer doing this…”

Keeping Score

*I suppose some would argue I still feel compelled to save the world. Hopefully my attempts these days are a little less heavy-handed.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Five Minute Friday: ONLY

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.”

Today’s prompt: ONLY

Five Minute Friday

I have been feeling many “if only’s” lately.

(Caveat: I know this is raw writing but that’s the way I roll.)

If only I had done something more lucrative right out of school and built a bigger financial base (even if I didn’t love it).

If only I had made different choices about spending, debt, finances.

If only we hadn’t committed to such a huge  house that we now have to sell, as I sweat out being able to give my kids and family a modicum of a holiday.

**

I have been listening to “Well” — a book by Sarah Thebarge — about her several-month stint doing volunteer work as a physician’s assistant in Togo.

One day, after two of her patients had died of conditions that would most likely  not have been fatal in the US, she found herself at the end ….. she wrote:

“I was out of determination, out of energy, out of motivation … out of hope.” (Note of irony: she was volunteering at a place called the “Hospital of Hope.”

She went on to say:

“I was completely depleted, completely out of reasons to keep going.”

Although I know objectively HOW MUCH I have, I also know I face the consequences of the choices I made over the last decades.

They keep me from traveling as much as I would like to, from giving generously to the causes I love (one of the reasons I try to make up for it in time and energy), from giving the people I love the things I want to give them.

I have composed letters in my head to my kids “don’t let the lack of ‘stuff’ this year make you think you aren’t loved.” I probably won’t send them.

I only wish I could make peace with the choices I made years ago for which I am paying now.

Additional Note: Sarah is now providing medical training in Sudan. Please read more about her work here, pray for her, and consider donating to the cause.

 


Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday linkup.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

The Cancer Color of October is … (2015 Version)

NOTE: This is an update of a post I originally wrote in October 2014.

The Cancer Color of October is … not always PINK.

SONY DSC

It is October, and pink predominates pretty much everything because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because I am the daughter of a survivor and have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans (women and men) be diagnosed with this disease. Some are (blessedly) still alive and thriving; others have passed away. As a woman, I face a 1:8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in my life. Therefore, for selfish reasons research should be supported. However not all “pink” is effective “pink,” and there are many other causes out there of which we need to be aware and for which we need to take action.

When Pink Makes Me See Red

I am wearing a lot of pink this month, and having been a multiple-year captain at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I am in full support of many efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise toward support and research. Here in Tallahassee, October 2015 is fully in pink bloom, with many of our city’s leaders and brightest lights leading the way. However, it is important to know that not every product robed in pink does much good and to make well-educated purchasing decisions.

When Pink Has Gray Areas

It is also important to respect the connotations all that pink carries for people currently dealing with breast cancer, either for themselves or a relative. Sarah Thebarge writes eloquently of the evolution of her feelings about pink as a color representing breast cancer here.  She also wrote a superbly useful list of 31 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer (visit it here) which goes beyond wearing pink.

But Paula You Said This Post Wasn’t Just About Breast Cancer!

It’s not. I want to encourage you to add some “blue” to your October observances (I know, now it’s feeling baby shower-ish up in here, isn’t it?). Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. It has affected many men I know.

Ed Randall’s Fans for the Cure seeks to “save lives by increasing awareness of prostate cancer and the life-saving value of early detection while providing education and information about cutting-edge research to reduce risk, detect, and treat prostate cancer.”

Fans for the Cure aims to encourage all men over 40 to consult with their doctors and schedule their prostate exams and PSA blood tests today because early detection saves lives.

See Tom Foley, Tampa Bay Rays Bench Coach, discuss prostate cancer and his father’s experience here:

Fans for the Cure envisions a world where all men are aware of their risk and know how to prevent prostate cancer. (Early detection can involve a simple blood test. Read more about detection options here or visit this site to donate.)

Fans for the Cure was present at nearly 175 minor-league games this baseball season. At these games, Fans for the Cure partners with local hospitals to offer prostate cancer screening and provides information. I hope to make one of these games next year.

Got it: PINK, BLUE, and … GRAY?

I had this “pink and blue” post planned for weeks before I wrote the original post in 2014. One individual’s story presented itself to me via friends, though, and it was important to add it. Andy Nichols was the brother-in-law of a friend (as she puts it “the brother of my heart.”). Andy had an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor, which is in the same family of brain tumors as the one my friend Dustin had. When I learned that Poplar Head Baptist Church would be holding a 5K race in Blountstown on October 11, 2014, in Andy’s honor (to help with expenses not covered by insurance as well as raise awareness), and that his friends wanted help getting the word out and generating as much participation as possible, I knew in a heartbeat that I would be heading west that day.

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Tiffany, Debbie, Paula O’Neill and I had such a fun day at the fun for Andy!

Andy and his family chose the "I have hope" phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

Andy and his family chose the “I have hope” phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

NOTE: Andy passed away from complications caused by his brain cancer. He is not forgotten, even by those who did not technically know him.

So Many Causes … Where Do I Go From Here?

I wish I knew! I have only scratched the surface, with a bias toward the fact that it’s October, that my mom (pictured in this post with a pink bird of hope) is a breast cancer survivor, that Ed Randall is doing so much across the country to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer, and that Andy and his family needed (and got) our support on October 11. My friend Mary Jane, a multiple myeloma survivor, organized a team for the NYC Half Marathon in March via Team in Training and our team ROCKED THAT RACE. As to “where do I go from here?”

cancer colors

This graphic is from www.crochetforcancer.org.

In a sea of choices, the best recommendation I can make is the same one I would make if you were drowning in a literal sea: clear your head, get your bearings, look for the surface, orient yourself toward the shore, and take action. Your action may be donating funds, running in a race, running for a cause (hello, Charity Miles and Stand Up 2 Cancer!), or simply telling someone who has cancer “I am here for you” or asking their family what you can do to help.

Whatever you choose, don’t for a minute let yourself believe that your contribution is too small or won’t matter.

My mom, Ed Randall, Andy, and Mary Jane would surely feel differently …

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

The Cancer Color of October Is …

The Cancer Color of October is … not always PINK.

SONY DSC

It is October, and pink predominates pretty much everything because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because I am the daughter of a survivor and have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans (women and men) be diagnosed with this disease. Some are (blessedly) still alive and thriving; others have passed away. As a woman, I face a 1:8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in my life. Therefore, for selfish reasons research should be supported. However not all “pink” is effective “pink,” and there are many other causes out there of which we need to be aware and for which we need to take action.

When Pink Makes Me See Red

I am wearing a lot of pink this month, and having been a multiple-year captain at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I am in full support of many efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise toward support and research. Here in Tallahassee, October 2014 is fully in pink bloom, with many of our city’s leaders and brightest lights leading the way. However, it is important to know that not every product robed in pink does much good and to make well-educated purchasing decisions.

When Pink Has Gray Areas

It is also important to respect the connotations all that pink carries for people currently dealing with breast cancer, either for themselves or a relative. Sarah Thebarge writes eloquently of the evolution of her feelings about pink as a color representing breast cancer here.  She also wrote a superbly useful list of 31 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer (visit it here) which goes beyond wearing pink.

But Paula You Said This Post Wasn’t Just About Breast Cancer!

It’s not. I want to encourage you to add some “blue” to your October observances (I know, now it’s feeling baby shower-ish up in here, isn’t it?). My friend and former coach, Jeff Kline, has stage 4 prostate cancer.

jeff running

Jeff Kline of PRS Fit

Jeff has devoted October to running across the United States with a goal of motivating men to get screened (his point is that if he had done a simple screening a few years ago, his cancer would have been caught at a time when treatment would have been simpler and the prognosis would have been much more hopeful). One of Jeff’s initial blogs about his diagnosis and decision to run cross country is here. Jeff and a team of supporters are running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 26, 2014, to raise funds for ZERO (an organization dedicated to ending prostate cancer).

M2EPC

In support, I will be participating in a virtual half marathon on Saturday, October 25, 2014. It occurred to me one day that the drive from my house to my favorite traffic light, The Optimism Light, is roughly half of a half marathon, so my route will either begin or end at the O.L. to symbolize optimism that men will commit to getting themselves screened so they can be around for their families and friends for a long, long time. (Early detection can involve a simple blood test. Read more about detection options here or visit this site to donate.)

Got it: PINK, BLUE, and … GRAY?

I have had this “pink and blue” post planned for weeks. One individual’s story presented itself to me via friends, though, and it is important (and time sensitive) to add it here. Andy Nichols is the brother-in-law of a friend (as she puts it “the brother of my heart.”). Andy has an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor, which is in the same family of brain tumors as the one my friend Dustin had. When I learned that Poplar Head Baptist Church is holding a 5K race in Blountstown on October 11 in Andy’s honor (to help with expenses not covered by insurance as well as raise awareness), and that his friends wanted help getting the word out and generating as much participation as possible, I knew in a heartbeat that I would be heading west that day. If you are here in North Florida, please consider coming over to Blountstown and participating in the race. You can register via this link.

Andy and his family chose the "I have hope" phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

Andy and his family chose the “I have hope” phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

If you are not able to participate in the 5K or mile Fun Run, but would like to show your support by purchasing a t-shirt, sponsoring the event, or making a donation, you can contact Tiffany Nichols at run4andy@gmail.com or Clint White at 850-643-8584.

So Many Causes … Where Do I Go From Here?

I wish I knew! I have only scratched the surface, with a bias toward the fact that it’s October, that my mom (pictured in this post with a pink bird of hope) is a breast cancer survivor, that Jeff is running across the country to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer, and that Andy and his family need our support on October 11. My friend Mary Jane, a multiple myeloma survivor, is organizing a team for the NYC Half Marathon in March via Team in Training so you’ll be hearing about that, for sure. As to “where do I go from here?”

cancer colors

This graphic is from www.crochetforcancer.org.

In a sea of choices, the best recommendation I can make is the same one I would make if you were drowning in a literal sea: clear your head, get your bearings, look for the surface, orient yourself toward the shore, and take action. Your action may be donating funds, running in a race, running for a cause (hello, Charity Miles and Stand Up 2 Cancer!), or simply telling someone who has cancer “I am here for you” or asking their family what you can do to help.

Whatever you choose, don’t for a minute let yourself believe that your contribution is too small or won’t matter.

My mom, Jeff, and Andy would surely feel differently …

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Invisible No Longer (A Book Review)

I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Jericho Books. I received a product sample to facilitate my review.”

My morning yesterday started with two “first world” traffic situations within a half hour of leaving the house. There was the motorist who tailgated me even though I was already going 50 in a 45 mile an hour zone. Then there was the motorist who threw up his hands at me because we were in a relatively unmarked lot and I was coming toward him. I was tempted to tweet my frustrations away.

Thebarge-TheInvisibleGirls-book-large-345x525

In her book, The Invisible Girls, Sarah Thebarge introduces us to two decidedly UN-First World problems and leaves the reader appalled, empathetic, hopeful, and dumbfounded. This was the first book I have been unable to put down in a long time.

In “The Invisible Girls,” Sarah encounters Hadhi, a Somali refugee with five young daughters, who had been abandoned by her husband after the family had arrived in the United States (they had fled the political instability of Somalia and spent time in a Kenyan refugee camp before an aid organization helped them fly to the United States where, according to Thebarge, “they were allowed to stay as political refugees.”)

The circumstances that brought Sarah to be on a train in Portland, Oregon, where she ended up making eye contact with a young Somali child (Hadhi’s daughter) with a heart for play despite her difficult situation, were not simple. She had battled breast cancer at the age of 27 and after being broken up with by her boyfriend and simply needing a new start, had decided Portland sounded good.

The two points about this book that stuck out to me (and there were many more than two) were:

  • How utterly daunting it must be to be plopped down in the United States after a lifetime in a culture such as the Somali one. Hadhi’s struggles reminded me of Ping Fu’s story about her entry into the United States when she was ordered to leave China.
  • I especially related to and loved Sarah’s observation that the Somali family’s processing of things was very complex (whereas their inability to communicate in English fed the assumption that they were “simple). Sarah writes, “It was easy for me to make the atrocious assumption that because they couldn’t articulate sadness, helplessness, discouragement, or other emotions in English, they must not feel them.”

The only disappointment of this book for me is the inability to know more, to “fix it,” to see the girls and their mother flourish and to know Sarah’s health stabilized. For the girls, it is possible to contribute to their trust fund by utilizing the information in this link: http://sarahthebarge.com/theinvisiblegirls/. (But seriously — I have to admit I want (perhaps selfishly) to know more — did they assimilate into their American schools? Are they still crazy about Justin Bieber? Did their father end up supporting them emotionally and/or financially once he came back into their lives? Not sure if those questions will ever be answered but I like the idea of a whole community of readers wanting them to have the means to go to college).

And as for Sarah, I was almost gaping-mouthed at her descriptions of her medical experiences, and at the disappointments her support network handed her (especially the ex-boyfriend). I have to hand it to her for the way she continues to share about her experiences with breast cancer at such a young age (such as this post about The 31 Ways To Help A Friend With Breast Cancer). I want to take her out to coffee and do some of those 31 things.

In closing, hopefully I’ve conveyed my enthusiasm for the book. When Sarah was being interviewed at Yale for their Physician Assistant program, the admissions committee asked her why they should let her into the program. She responded “Because I’m going to change the world. And I’m giving you the chance to say, ‘We knew her when.'”

I think she’s well on her way to making that change. At least one mom and five little girls think so.

cropped somali women

From www.fineartamerica.com

Resources

Sarah’s Website:  www.sarahthebarge.com

To Purchase the book on Amazon, click here.

Sarah can be found on Twitter by clicking here.

Sarah can be found on Facebook by clicking here.

Information about the issues facing girls and women in Somalia can be found here.

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.