Do You Think I Should Get a Doctorate?

By Jan Pearson

“Do you think I should get a doctorate?” Calvin, asked me one afternoon after from a call from a friend.

“Sure. I think you can do it,” I answered.

It was a simple question and a simple answer but the reality was far from simple.  This would be his fifth graduate degree after high school.  So navigating academics was certainly a known for us.  How difficult could this one be?   Getting into the program was easy but getting out proved to be far harder than either of us could have imagined.

I thought this doctorate would simply be more of what he already had done, reading, writing, attending lectures, researching and conferring with professors then writing a final paper.  Surely he could accomplish that. He had done it all before.  What we weren’t anticipating was the depth of emotional and psychological reserves this work would require.  It wasn’t just – do the work, turn in the paper and then you’re finished.  We found that there was always more work that needed to be done.  More writing, more editing, more research and most frustrating of all was that he was never really sure when he was finished or even who decided if he could finish.

Calvin is very intelligent and diligent in his studies.   I never doubted that he could finish this program he had the drive to do it.  So after a long day of work teaching master and doctoral level work, he would get up from dinner table walk into his study to begin his second job – the doctorate.  After finishing the dishes, I’d bring him a cup of coffee and a cookie – a little respite to the grueling hours of work before him.

You’d think the longer he was in the program the more confident he would be in his ability to reach the goal but we found the opposite to be true. A friend with a PhD told us, “It’s not the smartest who finish the program, it’s the ones who simply don’t give up.”  When Calvin started the program we thought it might take four to five years, but then when those markers passed, he began to joke that maybe he would finish before he was eligible for retirement.  But gradually even that smile faded because the years of work slogged by with no tangible indication that he was getting nearer the end.  He was losing confidence that he could finish. I realized this as more and more often he asked friends and family to please pray that he could finish.  This was no longer a given –in his mind he was not sure.

Calvin’s assurance was slipping away one severe comment or cutting criticism at a time.  But the worst was night after night to continue writing chapter after chapter, week after week, month after month.  Turning his work in only to wait and wait for a response from his professor not knowing whether he was on the right tract or not. Then six months later to be told to completely scrap what he had written and begin again in a completely different direction.  It caused him to believe he was incapable of doing the work required and that he may never be able to do it and so ultimately that he would never finish.   When the one pastor friend who began the program the same time as Calvin dropped out that thought was reinforced.

That’s where we were that cold, rainy December evening.  We had decided to take an overnight break and celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends who lived about an hour away.  We were going to have an early dinner at a rustic steakhouse in Ponder, Texas.  But it wasn’t open until later so we needed to kill some time.  There’s not much was available in Ponder at 4 o’clock, but we found a dilapidated furniture store with dim showroom lights still on.  Cowhide has never been my style so it was fun walking around looking at rustic tables, chairs and beds.  It all seemed like a joke.  As usual the girls and boys separated so we wouldn’t interfere with each other’s conversations.

Calvin has always been somewhat of a Texas history buff.  We even went to the Alamo on our honeymoon!  I watched him stop and look intently at a nicely framed picture of an 1836 map of the State of Texas.  Walking over to stand next to him I commented on it.  His eyes brightened up as he started pointing and explaining the various battlegrounds depicted.  It was the most animated and happy I had seen him in months, maybe even years.  I was so thrilled that he had found something that brought him joy.

Since he started the program, I had known that Calvin would finish this doctoral program and I wanted to have a special present to celebrate the accomplishment.  Looking for the perfect gift was always in the back of my mind.  What would be a gift he would really enjoy?  Something really special?  Standing in that little furniture shop in Ponder, I had found the perfect gift.  I would get him this map!

After several minutes he walked away.  I grabbed Linda, my friend, and told her my idea.  She agreed that the map would be perfect.  At first I was going to try to keep it a secret but it was more money than we usually spent without checking with each other and besides it would have been impossible to hide a four foot square package in the back of the suburban.  The store was closing in a few minutes and I didn’t think I would ever be back to Ponder so a decision had to be made quickly.  I knew what I wanted to do and was just quickly checking with Calvin before getting the salesman.

I found Calvin and brought him back to the map.  “What do you think about getting this map for your graduation present?” I asked with delighted expectation.  I was completely unprepared for his volatile answer.  His eyes bore into mine with a kind of panic. “No – Jan don’t buy me a graduation present!” he almost shouted and stormed off.  I was completely shocked.  Calvin never has raised his voice at me in all the years we had been married.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  I knew it wasn’t that he didn’t want the map.  It was something much deeper and I was completely at a loss to understand.

What I did next totally shocks me to this day because it was so out of character for me and I still don’t understand why I did it but I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I needed to buy that map right then, that very night.  I began reaching for the frame to take it down, I didn’t even wait for the salesman to come.  I grabbed it and began wresting it off the wall.  Our friend, Alan, helped me get it safely down.  We walked over to the counter and I calmly told the salesman I wanted to buy the map.  I was anything but calm on the inside.  Never had I deliberately defied Calvin but I felt so sure about doing this even though I didn’t know why.  The salesman carried the wrapped package out for me.  We followed him out then all got in the suburban and left.  Calvin didn’t say a word.  Eventually he tried to make small talk as we went on with the evening but there was a trapped look in his eyes.  I was hurting for him but I didn’t understand what was going on.

Our excursion finished, we headed back home the next day.  In the privacy of our car, I finally asked him, “What was the deal with the map? Why didn’t you want me to buy it?”  After several miles of silence he finally answered, “I don’t know if I can finish!  And now there’s this huge object proving to everyone what a failure I am.”  Through all of the hours sitting alone on the couch waiting for him to finish, it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t.  I simply knew that someday this would all be over and he’d be back beside me.

Watching the shame and despair in his eyes, I sensed I needed to say the exactly right thing.  But I simply blurted out, “I don’t care if you have a whole alphabet behind your name, it won’t make me love you anymore or respect you anymore.  Babe you sensed God wanted you to do this, so I have no doubt that you will finish!  It’s a done deal!”  Not very poetic or theological but it was what I believed in the depths of my soul.

            He just stared down the road as we continued the journey back to home in silence. After pulling in the garage, he reached in back for our bags and dropped them into the bedroom as he purposely walked into his study.  It was all still there. The computer waiting to record his thoughts.  The wheeled bookshelf he had made to bring the 23 gigantic binders overflowing with articles closer so he could be review them again.  The old folding table completely covered with books opened and stacked on top of each other waiting to be referenced one more time.  And yes his roller office chair, the only thing he had allowed me to buy to make his study less painful. But even that was a raw reminder of the hours of work because of the rollers left deep scars in the wood floor. I watched as he walked in and once again closed the door to his prison of isolation.

Later I brought the package in and hid it away in the back of the spare room closet waiting for the day it would be needed!  It was another two years before we were able to bring it out and we celebrate what God had done!  The work was finally finished and the degree conferred.  I often ask myself “Was it worth it?”  At the time he finished I didn’t think I would ever know but five years later I can say, “Yes, it was worth it.”  Though the process was difficult and often painful it was wonderfully effective in teaching him and he has used those lessons in so many ways.  But the scars still ache from time to time.  It was a time, by God’s design, when I believed in him more than he believed in himself.  God was faithful.

Do You Think I Should Get a Doctorate?

By Jan Pearson

“Do you think I should get a doctorate?” Calvin, asked me one afternoon after from a call from a friend.

“Sure. I think you can do it,” I answered.

It was a simple question and a simple answer but the reality was far from simple.  This would be his fifth graduate degree after high school.  So navigating academics was certainly a known for us.  How difficult could this one be?   Getting into the program was easy but getting out proved to be far harder than either of us could have imagined.

I thought this doctorate would simply be more of what he already had done, reading, writing, attending lectures, researching and conferring with professors then writing a final paper.  Surely he could accomplish that. He had done it all before.  What we weren’t anticipating was the depth of emotional and psychological reserves this work would require.  It wasn’t just – do the work, turn in the paper and then you’re finished.  We found that there was always more work that needed to be done.  More writing, more editing, more research and most frustrating of all was that he was never really sure when he was finished or even who decided if he could finish.

Calvin is very intelligent and diligent in his studies.   I never doubted that he could finish this program he had the drive to do it.  So after a long day of work teaching master and doctoral level work, he would get up from dinner table walk into his study to begin his second job – the doctorate.  After finishing the dishes, I’d bring him a cup of coffee and a cookie – a little respite to the grueling hours of work before him.

You’d think the longer he was in the program the more confident he would be in his ability to reach the goal but we found the opposite to be true. A friend with a PhD told us, “It’s not the smartest who finish the program, it’s the ones who simply don’t give up.”  When Calvin started the program we thought it might take four to five years, but then when those markers passed, he began to joke that maybe he would finish before he was eligible for retirement.  But gradually even that smile faded because the years of work slogged by with no tangible indication that he was getting nearer the end.  He was losing confidence that he could finish. I realized this as more and more often he asked friends and family to please pray that he could finish.  This was no longer a given –in his mind he was not sure.

Calvin’s assurance was slipping away one severe comment or cutting criticism at a time.  But the worst was night after night to continue writing chapter after chapter, week after week, month after month.  Turning his work in only to wait and wait for a response from his professor not knowing whether he was on the right tract or not. Then six months later to be told to completely scrap what he had written and begin again in a completely different direction.  It caused him to believe he was incapable of doing the work required and that he may never be able to do it and so ultimately that he would never finish.   When the one pastor friend who began the program the same time as Calvin dropped out that thought was reinforced.

That’s where we were that cold, rainy December evening.  We had decided to take an overnight break and celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends who lived about an hour away.  We were going to have an early dinner at a rustic steakhouse in Ponder, Texas.  But it wasn’t open until later so we needed to kill some time.  There’s not much was available in Ponder at 4 o’clock, but we found a dilapidated furniture store with dim showroom lights still on.  Cowhide has never been my style so it was fun walking around looking at rustic tables, chairs and beds.  It all seemed like a joke.  As usual the girls and boys separated so we wouldn’t interfere with each other’s conversations.

Calvin has always been somewhat of a Texas history buff.  We even went to the Alamo on our honeymoon!  I watched him stop and look intently at a nicely framed picture of an 1836 map of the State of Texas.  Walking over to stand next to him I commented on it.  His eyes brightened up as he started pointing and explaining the various battlegrounds depicted.  It was the most animated and happy I had seen him in months, maybe even years.  I was so thrilled that he had found something that brought him joy.

Since he started the program, I had known that Calvin would finish this doctoral program and I wanted to have a special present to celebrate the accomplishment.  Looking for the perfect gift was always in the back of my mind.  What would be a gift he would really enjoy?  Something really special?  Standing in that little furniture shop in Ponder, I had found the perfect gift.  I would get him this map!

After several minutes he walked away.  I grabbed Linda, my friend, and told her my idea.  She agreed that the map would be perfect.  At first I was going to try to keep it a secret but it was more money than we usually spent without checking with each other and besides it would have been impossible to hide a four foot square package in the back of the suburban.  The store was closing in a few minutes and I didn’t think I would ever be back to Ponder so a decision had to be made quickly.  I knew what I wanted to do and was just quickly checking with Calvin before getting the salesman.

I found Calvin and brought him back to the map.  “What do you think about getting this map for your graduation present?” I asked with delighted expectation.  I was completely unprepared for his volatile answer.  His eyes bore into mine with a kind of panic. “No – Jan don’t buy me a graduation present!” he almost shouted and stormed off.  I was completely shocked.  Calvin never has raised his voice at me in all the years we had been married.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  I knew it wasn’t that he didn’t want the map.  It was something much deeper and I was completely at a loss to understand.

What I did next totally shocks me to this day because it was so out of character for me and I still don’t understand why I did it but I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I needed to buy that map right then, that very night.  I began reaching for the frame to take it down, I didn’t even wait for the salesman to come.  I grabbed it and began wresting it off the wall.  Our friend, Alan, helped me get it safely down.  We walked over to the counter and I calmly told the salesman I wanted to buy the map.  I was anything but calm on the inside.  Never had I deliberately defied Calvin but I felt so sure about doing this even though I didn’t know why.  The salesman carried the wrapped package out for me.  We followed him out then all got in the suburban and left.  Calvin didn’t say a word.  Eventually he tried to make small talk as we went on with the evening but there was a trapped look in his eyes.  I was hurting for him but I didn’t understand what was going on.

Our excursion finished, we headed back home the next day.  In the privacy of our car, I finally asked him, “What was the deal with the map? Why didn’t you want me to buy it?”  After several miles of silence he finally answered, “I don’t know if I can finish!  And now there’s this huge object proving to everyone what a failure I am.”  Through all of the hours sitting alone on the couch waiting for him to finish, it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t.  I simply knew that someday this would all be over and he’d be back beside me.

Watching the shame and despair in his eyes, I sensed I needed to say the exactly right thing.  But I simply blurted out, “I don’t care if you have a whole alphabet behind your name, it won’t make me love you anymore or respect you anymore.  Babe you sensed God wanted you to do this, so I have no doubt that you will finish!  It’s a done deal!”  Not very poetic or theological but it was what I believed in the depths of my soul.

            He just stared down the road as we continued the journey back to home in silence. After pulling in the garage, he reached in back for our bags and dropped them into the bedroom as he purposely walked into his study.  It was all still there. The computer waiting to record his thoughts.  The wheeled bookshelf he had made to bring the 23 gigantic binders overflowing with articles closer so he could be review them again.  The old folding table completely covered with books opened and stacked on top of each other waiting to be referenced one more time.  And yes his roller office chair, the only thing he had allowed me to buy to make his study less painful. But even that was a raw reminder of the hours of work because of the rollers left deep scars in the wood floor. I watched as he walked in and once again closed the door to his prison of isolation.

Later I brought the package in and hid it away in the back of the spare room closet waiting for the day it would be needed!  It was another two years before we were able to bring it out and we celebrate what God had done!  The work was finally finished and the degree conferred.  I often ask myself “Was it worth it?”  At the time he finished I didn’t think I would ever know but five years later I can say, “Yes, it was worth it.”  Though the process was difficult and often painful it was wonderfully effective in teaching him and he has used those lessons in so many ways.  But the scars still ache from time to time.  It was a time, by God’s design, when I believed in him more than he believed in himself.  God was faithful.

Storms Are A Way of Life

Living on the Gulf Coast of Texas a common question is, “When is the next storm coming?”  Listening to television reporters discuss the probability of flooding rains and damaging winds is something I’ve experienced since I was a child.  The Gulf of Mexico is an endless supply of warm moist air and whenever a cooler air mass moves in from the west, wave after wave of torrential rain will inevitably follow.  So you learn to ask before moving into a new area, “Does it flood?” or maybe “When was the last time it flooded?” Time and again it’s not a matter of if the area will flood but when.  Storms are a way of life.

The Mexican restaurant was almost empty at 12:45 pm on that Friday afternoon.  Outside a storm was raging as we sat across the table from friends whose sad eyes and slumped shoulders visually told their story.  The rains were beating loudly against the windows but their voices were quiet, careful not to be overheard by unseen friends or church members.  Occasionally we glanced as the winds began to move the tables and chairs in the outside eating area.  The wait staff had served us our food and they were now much more concerned with the parking lot filling with water than our glasses being filled with water. We hardly noticed.  We were listening to the narrative of a much more devastating storm our friends were going through.  The elder board of their church had given them till the fall to resolve the conflict or they would be fired.  Tears would occasionally leak down our cheeks to be quickly dabbed by the restaurant’s pale yellow napkins which were designed not to absorb moisture but to repel it.  I yearned for a soft cotton handkerchief to absorb our tears of pain.

This was not the first time I had heard of this happening to a pastor.  Unfortunately it is just as common as Gulf Coast storms.  Every one of our ministry friends have endured this scenario and the devastation is real.  About 15 years ago we were the ones seeking handkerchiefs as we shared the heartbreaking account of being asked to leave our church.  The story usually involves an encounter where someone gets offended and then they begin the downward spiral of finding fault that is allowed to fester until one party has to be removed.  Whether it is the pastor or a staff member it is always devastating.

You stare out the front window of your home watching the rain water march across the yard keenly aware how helpless you are to change anything that is happening. Will the waters stop at the steps or continue on and overrun the house?  You can’t do anything to stop the flood from happening and that is how a pastor or staff member feels who receives a call late one night that a special meeting of the elder board has been called to deal with the conflict at the church and you are requested to be there.  You’re not in control and you are helpless to change anything that is happening.

The pain of the special called meeting is intensified because you are close to one of the elders who will be present and they did not warn you.  Your friend has shared their path of suffering and the spiritual growth they’ve experienced through the years.  And you were the one they called to be with them in the hospital waiting room, holding their hands while they held their breath wondering if their child would survive the terrible car crash.  You know the depth of their spiritual walk and have defended them, only to watch as they remain silent throughout the meeting to terminate you from the church staff.

The Houston city official warns residents, “Know where you live.”  To the storm novices this may not make sense but to veterans it means know if you live in an area that frequently floods take precautions like stocking up on food, water and batteries and do not go on roads that will probably be treacherous.  As veterans of storms we know it is important to rest in the knowledge that God is in control whether it be of floods or of the decisions of elder boards. We have learned that we will survive and that whatever happens it will not destroy us.

But we still dread the quiet conversations with our children, trying to explain the changes that are coming.  Or the final days when you are accosted in the parking lot by someone who just wants to “know what’s really going on.”  Waves of anger and bitterness must be contained behind bulkheads of prayer.  And finally the process of uprooting the family again and looking for another place to serve the body of Christ.  Yes, we know we will survive, we’ve done it before.  But each time it gets harder and takes longer than you think you can endure.  But you do endure and you know that someday all of this suffering, will build endurance and endurance will eventually build your faith in God and most importantly that God has been faithful through it all.

Television reporters interview various people affected by the flood waters.  There is the longtime resident who has been flooded out before who calmly watches the waters taking over their living room because they know that eventually it will all recede and life will go on.  They are often the first ones to bring cases of water and food to the new neighbors.  It’s the new ones that have never been through a storm that break your heart. The young couple looking on in dismay as their treasures sit piled along the side of the road waiting to be picked up as garbage.  They have never had to pick up and begin again.  They don’t know if they can.  These are the ones you heart goes out to.

Beautiful young families embarking on a life of ministry are often completely unaware of the storms.  Whether trying to revitalize a church that has a history of firing staff members or planting a new church in a distant community, storms are inevitable.  It is a way of life.  God does not have any painless ministries. The path of serving is the path of suffering.  I wish I could give what I have received through suffering but it is nontransferable.  Each one of us must discover that God is good and so is his plan. So I’m simply giving the same advice that the city official did, “Know where you live.” The work of ministry is often wonderful and such a privilege but you must trust God who has called you to carry you through the storms.  They will not destroy you but will build your faith.

Storms Are a Way of Life

 

 

Living on the Gulf Coast of Texas a common question is, “When is the next storm coming?”  Listening to television reporters discuss the probability of flooding rains and damaging winds is something I’ve experienced since I was a child.  The Gulf of Mexico is an endless supply of warm moist air and whenever a cooler air mass moves in from the west, wave after wave of torrential rain will inevitably follow.  So you learn to ask before moving into a new area, “Does it flood?” or maybe “When was the last time it flooded?” Time and again it’s not a matter of if the area will flood but when.  Storms are a way of life.

The Mexican restaurant was almost empty at 12:45 pm on that Friday afternoon.  Outside a storm was raging as we sat across the table from friends whose sad eyes and slumped shoulders visually told their story.  The rains were beating loudly against the windows but their voices were quiet, careful not to be overheard by unseen friends or church members.  Occasionally we glanced as the winds began to move the tables and chairs in the outside eating area.  The wait staff had served us our food and they were now much more concerned with the parking lot filling with water than our glasses being filled with water. We hardly noticed.  We were listening to the narrative of a much more devastating storm our friends were going through.  The elder board of their church had given them till the fall to resolve the conflict or they would be fired.  Tears would occasionally leak down our cheeks to be quickly dabbed by the restaurant’s pale yellow napkins which were designed not to absorb moisture but to repel it.  I yearned for a soft cotton handkerchief to absorb our tears of pain.

This was not the first time I had heard of this happening to a pastor.  Unfortunately it is just as common as Gulf Coast storms.  Every one of our ministry friends have endured this scenario and the devastation is real.  About 15 years ago we were the ones seeking handkerchiefs as we shared the heartbreaking account of being asked to leave our church.  The story usually involves an encounter where someone gets offended and then they begin the downward spiral of finding fault that is allowed to fester until one party has to be removed.  Whether it is the pastor or a staff member it is always devastating.

You stare out the front window of your home watching the rain water march across the yard keenly aware how helpless you are to change anything that is happening. Will the waters stop at the steps or continue on and overrun the house?  You can’t do anything to stop the flood from happening and that is how a pastor or staff member feels who receives a call late one night that a special meeting of the elder board has been called to deal with the conflict at the church and you are requested to be there.  You’re not in control and you are helpless to change anything that is happening.

The pain of the special called meeting is intensified because you are close to one of the elders who will be present and they did not warn you.  Your friend has shared their path of suffering and the spiritual growth they’ve experienced through the years.  And you were the one they called to be with them in the hospital waiting room, holding their hands while they held their breath wondering if their child would survive the terrible car crash.  You know the depth of their spiritual walk and have defended them, only to watch as they remain silent throughout the meeting to terminate you from the church staff.

The Houston city official warns residents, “Know where you live.”  To the storm novices this may not make sense but to veterans it means know if you live in an area that frequently floods take precautions like stocking up on food, water and batteries and do not go on roads that will probably be treacherous.  As veterans of storms we know it is important to rest in the knowledge that God is in control whether it be of floods or of the decisions of elder boards. We have learned that we will survive and that whatever happens it will not destroy us.

But we still dread the quiet conversations with our children, trying to explain the changes that are coming.  Or the final days when you are accosted in the parking lot by someone who just wants to “know what’s really going on.”  Waves of anger and bitterness must be contained behind bulkheads of prayer.  And finally the process of uprooting the family again and looking for another place to serve the body of Christ.  Yes, we know we will survive, we’ve done it before.  But each time it gets harder and takes longer than you think you can endure.  But you do endure and you know that someday all of this suffering, will build endurance and endurance will eventually build your faith in God and most importantly that God has been faithful through it all.

Television reporters interview various people affected by the flood waters.  There is the longtime resident who has been flooded out before who calmly watches the waters taking over their living room because they know that eventually it will all recede and life will go on.  They are often the first ones to bring cases of water and food to the new neighbors.  It’s the new ones that have never been through a storm that break your heart. The young couple looking on in dismay as their treasures sit piled along the side of the road waiting to be picked up as garbage.  They have never had to pick up and begin again.  They don’t know if they can.  These are the ones you heart goes out to.

Beautiful young families embarking on a life of ministry are often completely unaware of the storms.  Whether trying to revitalize a church that has a history of firing staff members or planting a new church in a distant community, storms are inevitable.  It is a way of life.  God does not have any painless ministries. The path of serving is the path of suffering.  I wish I could give what I have received through suffering but it is nontransferable.  Each one of us must discover that God is good and so is his plan. So I’m simply giving the same advice that the city official did, “Know where you live.” The work of ministry is often wonderful and such a privilege but you must trust God who has called you to carry you through the storms.  They will not destroy you but will build your faith.

Saying Goodbyes

The outside door was weathered and somewhat warped so I was surprised to find it unlocked.  As part of a huge renovation project, the sanctuary of Park Place Baptist Church is being demolished.  Like many things, the care and maintenance of the 60 year old structure is costing more than the building is worth.  The days when 1,200 people filled the structure are part of its past. I stepped into the hall dimly lit from light filtered through dingy windows.  I didn’t need much light because I knew where I was and I knew where I was going. It was as if I had been given special permission to make this last visit.  It reminded me of another time when I had been given the opportunity to say goodbye to someone.

Walking down the antiseptic smelling green halls, I kept going despite the knot in my stomach from being in a nursing home.  It was such an unwelcoming place to be because people who had lived full and meaningful lives were now confined to beds awaiting death.  The hours of life slipping through their gnarled fingers.  I kept glancing at the name plates at each door I passed when suddenly I stopped, “Geraldine Gililland” was printed on the little piece of paper in the metal holder.  How could her name be there?  This person who I loved so much and who so changed my life with her love and compassion.  How could her name be in this place?  I knocked gently on the institutional door not wanting to startle her.  No answer came so I slowly opened it and there in the bed was Geri. She was the same but oh so different.

Walking down the hall of Park Place Baptist Church I glanced in the now empty offices.  The one where Calvin and I were counseled before our wedding. This building once so filled with life was now silent waiting for the end. But I didn’t stop, I kept walking till finally I opened the door at the end of the hall.  The building was silent except for the distant voices workmen muffled through years of memories.  Climbing the stairs I continued my journey.  The last time I had been here was 46 years ago but I clearly remember it because I was dressed in a large, strange white cotton baptismal gown waiting for the church service to start so I could be baptized.  It looked the same but today oh so different.

“Geri, its Jan.”  I quietly said as I opened the door.  She turned her face toward the unexpected words.  “Well bless your heart, Jan,” the low, tired voice from the bed said.  I knew her and she knew me!  The familiar smile appeared but was quickly gone.  I stepped next to her bed and began lovingly stroking her hair as we talked about home and family. Her hair was brushed back out of the way when once the soft waves tumbled around her face and highlighted her beautiful blue eyes that were always so full of joy and life.   But now were shaded with glasses from the harshness of light.  Her once strong, energetic body was confined to the hospital bed.  She was so weak she couldn’t move without someone stronger holding her.  Our visit was over all too quickly.  I told her I needed to go and carefully laid my hand over her hand and prayed for her. The moments of conversation that she always treasured came hard these days, her body and mind were so tired of the fighting.

Everything in the room was gone but the memories.  Suddenly I was 15 years old again standing in a strange white cotton robe surrounded by my best friends Janice, Beverly, Karen and Teresa.  They were holding my hands, praying over me. I had never had Christian friends and certainly no one my age had ever prayed for me. I was shy and a little afraid because I was going into the baptismal waters to proclaim to the whole church what my friends already knew.  I had accepted Jesus as my savior and now had a personal relationship with him.  It was a holy moment for me and they were sharing it with me.

I knew that I was being given special permission to go back and visit the place where I began life, not in a hospital – but in a church.  Standing in that large empty room I now know that I was surrounded not only by my friends but in a very real way by Geri as well.  Her prayers for me and for my salvation were being answered.  I had watched her life for years and it was the loving compassion for me, one who was so lost that finally sealed my decision to follow Jesus.  I’m so grateful I was not alone that day but was surrounded by the my friends and Geri.

Thank you God for giving life not made with bricks or mortar, or even bones and blood but  life that is everlasting.  I won’t see this building again but I know I will see Geri !

 

 

The Sandbox Prayer

 

“Do they know God, Jan?”

“I don’t know, Judah,” I quietly answered.  He continued playing in the backyard sandbox. There was no judging or condemnation, he kept shoveling the moist sand into the buckets, packing it down then turning them over to make towers.

We were sitting under the big shade tree playing in the sandbox my husband had made a couple of years earlier just for occasions like this.  I love to sit in the grass and make sand towers and conversation with our special smaller guests.   Today I was telling Judah about our newest neighbors across the street who had three little boys about his age.

With the directness of a child, he asked the most important thing to know about anyone, “Do they know God, Jan?”  How could he know that I had wrestled with that very question? And I was so stressed and deeply disappointed with myself for not pursuing the answer. I would watch as the young mom would come and go, thinking, “I need to go over there and get to know her.”  But a voice in my mind would say, “Oh, she’s so busy, don’t go now.  Wait till later.”  Waiting for the right moment drew on for days, then weeks, and now it’s been months.

I knew God wanted me to walk across the street and get to know them. But I hadn’t.  So, I had asked the Sunday morning prayer group to pray for me to go over there.  I even asked the high school girls I mentor to pray that I would walk across the street and begin a relationship with our neighbors.  But I had not.

Now Judah asked the question, that should have been the motivation to compel me to cross the street and engage them, but I was still tentative. So I hesitantly asked, “Judah will you please pray for me to go over to the neighbor’s?” Judah is four years old, sometimes a little shy and a very special friend. And in fact, I had never heard him pray. So I’m not sure what I was expecting.  I was watching as he slightly turned his head.   I could easily that his expression did not change. He didn’t close those beautiful brown eyes or even fold his little grubby hands.  He just talked to God.

“God would you help Jan be bravery to talk to the new neighbors?”

The tears still burn my eyes as I remember that moment.  I knew God was closely leaning over to hear Judah’s prayer.  Pausing from shoveling the sand, in a quiet voice Judah asked God for exactly what I needed.

I was stunned and deeply moved, so how could I continue doing nothing?   Holding my breath, I got up from the sandbox, walked to our driveway and looked across the street.  The dad was standing in their yard.  As I stood there I knew he saw me, so hesitantly I waved my hand.  He waved back!  OK, now I’ve got to go.  I went back to our backyard where Judah was.  In the brief moment I had been gone, Judah had given up the sandbox to explore an odd looking spot of bark on the shade tree.  I humbly asked, “Judah would go with me to the neighbors?”  He said, “I’m poking the bark on the tree.”  I wasn’t sure if he would be willing to go because he is a little shy.  So I waited quietly for maybe a minute.  Then he decided he was finished with the bark, and walked over to me.  We made the journey across the street together.

The rest of the story is so amazingly stress-free.  We were invited into their yard and Judah began playing with their three little boys.  After a minute, the dad whose name is Phillip invited us to have hot dogs with them.  Then Andrea, the mom brought their baby out and the conversation flowed so easily.  We had a wonderful time getting to know each other.  The chat naturally progressed to the circumstances of why we came over there today.  I told them about Judah’s question and his sandbox prayer.

Now I know the answer to that very important question.   Yes, they do know God!  Philip spoke freely of the ways God had blessed them even in giving them this house.  And Andrea told how God had miraculously provided a job for her husband which allowed her to stay home to care for their family.  As we left I invited them to come over to our house to play in the sandbox.   I know that when next I see them in the driveway or yard, it will be as friends.  Today I can’t remember why I listened to that voice that filled me with fear.  But I’m so grateful that Judah asked the question I need to ask everyone God brings into my life.

“Do they know God, Jan?”

How has God used the unexpected to move you to obey Him?

What God Changed

 

“What Has God Changed in Your Life For Which You Are Grateful?”  That question from Thanksgiving decoration haunted me.  What had God changed in my life in the past year?  I couldn’t see that anything had changed in a long time, but surely God was at work changing something.  I began to give serious thought to an area of my life I wanted to change – my physical health.  I have friends my age who are suffering from arthritis and cancer.  My sister has constant pain in her hip and knee from falls. I don’t want that in my life and for now I don’t have any of those problems but doctors have wanted me to be more intentionally active with weight bearing exercise to stave off my osteopenia.   My one pound weights in the closet have only ever been used as pretend microphones when playing with our granddaughter.

Our daughter, Anna, has been participating in a physical fitness program called CrossFit for a couple of years and she encourages me to be more active.  It’s not that I am totally inactive now.  I usually take a walk around our neighborhood two or three times a week.  But somehow that was not enough because I am afraid to pick up our twenty-six pound granddaughter from the floor and that breaks my heart.  I don’t have any physical limitations except for having the bones and muscles of a 61 year old who hates to sweat or be sore and each year I’m more afraid of getting hurt. In fact my bones, muscles and life-time habits are limiting me and I am choosing to not do anything about it.  That needs to change – but how?

So March 14, 2016 I walked into CrossFit Magnolia keenly aware that I was the oldest and most out of shape in the room.  The first thing I witnessed was a young woman engaged in some kind of a competition because someone was counting as the whole group stood around and watched.  She would lift a bar, which I assumed was heavy because it had a lot of black discs on it and she was straining very hard. Then she would push it into the air and drop it.  It made a loud scary noise and I was afraid. Next she would run to a metal boxlike contraption made up of metal bars high above the ground where she jumped from a box onto one of the top bars and swinging her legs to get momentum until she could get on top of the bar.  After holding that position she would then drop down and begin the entire sequence again. Each and every part of that scene scared me to death.  People gathered around watching, someone counting while she was doing absolutely impossible things for me over and over.  Yep – terrified would be the right word!

Suddenly she grabbed her right hand and said, “Oh, I’ve ripped!”  Anna had shown me a deep gash where she had ripped the callous on her hand once while lifting weights.  I knew it was not life threatening but painful and his young lady had injured her hand and was bleeding.  I don’t remember anyone ever bleeding in the Jazzercise class I did 30 years ago.  Suddenly I was not feeling so confident that I could or even wanted to do this. My first minutes in this strange world of black weights, metal bars and rubberized floor was turning into my worst nightmare.

However after meeting the instructor, Valerie, I decided to stay.  It was a free trial!  Stretching with the PVC pipes actually felt pretty good.  Then Val told me to do group warm-up but not the WOD (Workout of the Day) because she wanted me to do something else.  The warm-up was doing 10 pushups then running 200 meters down the parking lot and back.  Really???  I could not even remember the last time I did a real pushup and why in the world would I run anywhere?  But I would try.  It was interesting to see the faces of the others as they met me on their return while I was still running down the first time and by the time I arrived back in the gym, (they call it a Box and I can totally see why) they were all well into their workout.

Val had me doing a series of 5 squats and 100 meter runs.  Sounds simple – right?  Well try as hard as I could, I could not do a single squat correctly.  She kept having to modify the exercise until I finally accomplished one and that was with her hand supporting my back and believe me I was so grateful for that hand.  I got a sympathetic smile from a “fellow” athlete.  No one had ever called me an athlete and today I was proving why.  The rest of the time was a blur of trying to squat and going out for the 100 meter run which I totally walked very slowly.  Well if I needed proof that I was out of shape and needed to change, I had it.

I felt kind of good at the end of the session after I stopped breathing like a marathon runner at the finish line.  I knew that my legs would be sore tomorrow but I was ok with that.  I hadn’t hurt anything except my pride and that has always been very healthy.  But I knew then I would never get stronger unless I changed and I guess that change began here.  It was a comfort that the workout while aggressive could be scaled down for me.  And Val seemed to be watching out for me so I would not hurt myself.  Somehow she gained my trust.

 

Later I began evaluating the day to see if any changes occurred?  Of course I had gone to a new place, doing new things with new people. that scenario always been scary for me.   However what I hadn’t expected was the way I changed throughout the rest of the day.  I came home and instead of sitting down with a glass of tea, I grabbed my water bottle and washed down pollen from the back porch.  Something I had wanted to do for days.  Then I found myself not hungry at my usual snack time but lunched on a healthy smoothie. Throughout the day I was more aware of my posture and even tried to practice squatting several times. That evening when my husband and I usually sat down to watch television, I suggested we take a walk and at his pace which is much faster than my usual leisurely stroll.

I guess the most significant thing was when I realized the answer to my question.  The thing God had changed in my life that I was most grateful for was that He had changed me!  I don’t know how long this change will last because it’s only been one week and I still can’t do a squat and the idea of going back on Monday really scares me. But for today and this week – I’m changed.

What has God changed in your life that you are grateful for?  I’d love to hear your story.

 

 

 

 

Wrong Way – Right

 

I’ve never been much of a hiker I’m much more of a stroller and I am famous for getting lost. So those descriptors seem to disqualify me for hiking wilderness trails but I do love to walk in the woods alone and pray.  So when my husband suggests we take a Solitude Prayer Walk in a state park near our home I was all for it.  Of course he wanted to get there just when the park opened so we pulled into an almost empty parking lot with trail maps in hand.

January Mornings in south Texas usually start out cool but warm up nicely through the day as the sun shines beautifully through the trees.  I was dressed in hiking boots, coat and mittens ready to spend time alone with God walking in His gorgeous creation.    The only problem I saw was getting back to the place we parked the car using a map. Well this was the purpose of the morning’s hike – to be alone with God so he would take care of me.

As I watched Calvin’s back disappear down a trail across the street, I got out my map out and looked at the various squiggly lines marking the various trails.  I looked around and saw an arrow beckoning me to go that way and so I began my hike.  The last thing Calvin said to me, “Don’t worry, you can’t get lost.”  From somewhere inside me immediately the thought came, “How many times have I proven that statement wrong?”

However, I really didn’t have much choice of trails, there being only one open to me.  Then as I turned the first curve on the trail there was a lovely little pink flag pinned to a bush marking my way. After the first curve there was another bright pink flag with a reflector pinned to a branch.  I felt much more secure a trail marked by pink flags.  Finally someone planned a trail with me in mind, a fool proof way of hiking.  I began walking from little pink flag to pink flag.  I relaxed and finally realized what a beautiful cool and crisp morning it was with gorgeous sunshine breaking through the leaves beckoning me to go on this journey.  So I began to hum worship songs and pray because surely God was with me. Maybe this time the prediction “You can’t get lost” would turn out to be true.

The trail was beautifully groomed and suddenly rounding a bend, I encountered a trio of men running quickly towards me.  I was a little startled because I thought hiking meant walking not running.  Oh well, I’m learning something new about hiking. Being a friendly person from the south I smiled as they raced past me and said, “Well I guess I’m not lost yet am I?  I’m still in Texas, right?” The first two dashed on past me briskly but the one last in the group said, “Well you’re not in Carolina” and raced away.  I smiled but the thought to myself “Well not yet anyway!”

However, I thought I would have had more solitude but I kept running into groups of runners every few minutes.  But I stopped speaking because I soon realized that they were very serious runners.  Following my little pink friends I knew I was still on the right trail and even when there was a junction with another trail, a bright yellow tape blocked the way and was posted with a sign that said, “Trail Closed.”  This seemed strange since the trails looked so good, but I kept to my plan and followed the flags.

I had encountering more and more groups of serious runners coming along the trail directly towards me.  Oh well, so much for solitude and a gentle pace. I passed the expected lake but then suddenly another lake appeared.  I began to get that very familiar knot in my stomach that appears when I know I am lost.  In the face of my pink flags waving at every turn I had gotten lost.

Then I encountered not only a lake but now a road.  Now I knew I was really lost because my nature hike did not cross a road.  But the pink flags were waving me on urging me to cross the road.  Caught between persevering forward and turning back I decided to continue down the marked trail.  Then without warning it was not just a little pink flag here and there but literally hundreds of flags strung along the path.  It was like hundreds of hands waving me toward an unknown destination.  All of my hiking skills told me that this is not the parking lot where I wanted to end up but I keep on going forward.

I saw a several white tents with people working setting up for some kind of an event.  A man and woman were working in the tent closest to the trail.  I slowly approached the woman and said, “This is my first time in the park and I’m lost.”  She looked like she could hardly believe my words because there were literally thousands of flags all around.  Then she looked more intently at me and asked, “Are you in the race?”

I looked down at my heavy hiking boots, winter coat, hat and warm mittens. I couldn’t have looked less like a racer if I had been dressed in a long formal dress with high heels.  Now it was my turn to look intently around me more.  Oh this is a race and I was right in the middle of it unknowingly going the wrong way.  I pulled out the barely used map and pointed to the star where we had parked our car and asked, “Could you please tell me how to get here?” She turned to her husband and asked him a question in Spanish.  Based on the look on his face I’m sure he was saying to himself, “How did this lady get lost when we worked so hard to make sure everyone could find the trail?”  She pointed to the lot where we parked the car, he looked at me and pointed back the direction I had come. My face must have shown my disappointment.

Then the lady said the most wonderful words, “Would you like for me to take you there?”  I know for any real hiker the thought of catching a ride would be unthinkable, admitting that I couldn’t make it on my own, but I had no qualms about it at all.  I reached out my hand and gently touched her arm as I said with true joy, “Oh yes.  Thank you.”

She stopped her work and walked towards her truck I quickly followed.  The truck was filled with all sorts of food and drinks for the race so I gently moved enough from the front seat for me to sit.  As she started driving down the road, I told her again how much I appreciated her help, and what a blessing she was to me.  Asking her name, she quietly told me, “Andrea.”

We rounded a curve in the road and there sat my car in the middle of a now half full parking lot.  “There it is” I shouted.  I felt so relieved not to be lost any longer.  I told her again how much I appreciated her help and told her I wanted to pray for her.  Andrea looked as if I were offering her something really valuable for a very simple service and said, “Oh no, no.”  I laid my hand on her arm and said, “I want to.”  The prayer was very simple.  Then as I put my hand on the handle she quietly said, “No one has ever prayed for me.”  I didn’t know what to say, so I just smiled and got out and walked away.

I do not know what purpose God had in putting me in the path of Andrea.  But He again reminded me that He is in control of my days and that I am His servant whether I know where I am or not.  Sometimes the wrong way is the right one God has planned.