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Archive for October, 2011

Little Scraps of Love

In our kitchen, a scrap of paper is taped to the cabinet door above the dishwasher. It’s a drawing of a snowman, with the words, “let it snow! let it snow! let it snow!” printed underneath the snowman. The paper is faded and brittle—so brittle, in fact, the top part of the snowman’s head broke off when my daughter handed me the picture. She had rescued it from the kitchen cabinet in my childhood home in Nashville, shortly before all new cabinets were installed.
I drew that picture of the snowman when I was a young adult, and while I don’t remember the details, I know it was during one of those times when I was living at home and working in Nashville, having discovered that the concept of “snow day” didn’t exist outside of school. I remember that my dad was still going to work in Old Hickory, TN and that his carpool was never fazed by inclement weather. I knew that in our household, my father liked snow and my mother only liked snow if, to quote her exactly, “I don’t have to go out in it or any of you have to go out in it” and also if there was enough bread and milk in the freezer (we would have survived months of blizzards based on the milk and bread we had stored in our freezer).
It was snowing pretty steadily that morning as I left for my work and my dad left for his work. Knowing my mom would most certainly be staying home, I hastily drew her a snowman with the inscription, “let it snow! let it snow! let it snow!” and taped it to the kitchen cabinet, above her Desert Rose cup and saucer, Sanka instant coffee, and Sweet ‘n Lo. My father left out those three things for her every morning before he left for work. That evening, I learned that my mother was amused by the snowman, as well as grateful that my dad and I got back home “without incident.” And so the little snowman stayed right there on the kitchen cabinet through about thirty more winters and summers as well. Now I look at that tattered little picture every morning as I pour my own coffee, and fondly remember my father and my mother who never took down the little picture that I taped up that morning.
I am writing about this little picture because it illustrates for me that the journey of grieving is navigated through subtle obstacles that we encounter in places like bathroom drawers, hall closets, and kitchen cabinets. Oh, sure, we miss our loved ones on the obvious occasions such as the holidays or birthdays or anniversaries but the surprise of grief comes when one opens a closet door and a faint, familiar perfume still lingers or we catch a handwritten note that falls out of the leaves of a book. We steel ourselves for the family events which are forever changed by the absence of a loved one and we manage to emerge from those events fairly intact. But on an ordinary day, for no apparent reason, we will stumble across some silly, even trivial object that causes us to feel our loved one’s presence—and absence—with such clarity that it brings tears to our eyes. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s always a surprise. The nature of a surprise is that we can’t be ready for them. And those surprises continue for many, many years, as long as we can remember and grieve.
So when the Apostle Paul wrote, “Love never ends,” in his famous chapter on love (I Corinthians 13), I think part of what he is describing is the unexpected recollection of love. The love we have for someone in this life doesn’t stop when one person moves to life eternal while we stay earthbound. No, here on earth, love lingers and surrounds us through major events and the minor little scraps of paper, so that like Paul, we, too, believe that the “greatest of these is love.”

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Women Ministers

Recently, a minor mishap in assembling a piece of furniture at our daughter’s new manse in Whitmire, SC necessitated the 22-mile drive to nearby Newberry, SC to the locally owned furniture store. The friendly folks at Morris Furniture Store (this is like free advertising!) were helpful and as I was paying for our purchase, the cashier asked what brought us all the way from Franklin, TN to South Carolina? And I proudly replied that our daughter was now the pastor of the Whitmire Presbyterian Church in Whitmire, to which the cashier replied, “Oh, I’m Lutheran myself and I knew that we Lutherans had lady pastors but I didn’t realize the Presbyterians had lady pastors, too.” I told her that I was a pastor, too, as was my husband and we engaged in a wonderful conversation about churches, preachers and genders.
Her comment about “lady pastors” reminded me of when Will and I moved to Ripley, Mississippi where not only were we the first clergy couple that Tippah County had ever known, I was the first woman minister the county had ever known. (Well, there was supposed to be a female pastor at one of the Methodist churches but something happened and she ended up going to another church. I don’t know the story, but wish I did). And as often happens when one is a “first,” the local newspaper wanted to write an article about me (there had already been an article about Will and me). The interviewer for the article was a quiet young man named Kenny Goode, whose name appeared as a byline under most of the articles that appeared in the Southern Sentinel, leading me to believe that perhaps he was the only writer on staff. Kenny, a native Mississippian, hailed from the Potts Camp/Hickory Flat area, southwest of Ripley. Kenny was also a lifelong member of the Church of Christ and from our first handshake, admitted that he had never met a woman minister and in fact, didn’t know that women ministers existed.
Kenny and I had a long chat, which felt less like an interview and more like a theological discussion. While I have encountered folks who, not favoring women ministers, have been somewhat antagonistic and confrontational with me, Kenny seemed fascinated if not somewhat puzzled by this “woman minister” thing. The interview drew to a close; Kenny and I stood up to exchange goodbyes. He said, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and I hope we’ll meet again sometime. . .” and then he stopped and looked at me. “But what should I call you?” he said, “Should I call you Brother Sally?” I considered for a moment, realizing that in a very real sense, Kenny had paid me a compliment. I said, “No, you can just call me Sally.”
That day, a newspaper reporter from Ripley, MS learned about the existence of women ministers, and a woman minister learned that to survive in the male-dominated world of priests and ministers, sometimes it’s a compliment to be called “Brother.”

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