Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Brother John

I believe we were all designed to create something to glorify God.  Whether it's art, lesson plans, furniture or sermons, humans have a desire to make something from nothing and that is most fulfilling when it glorifies the creator.

Last week was our first Sunday as a church without our friend Pastor John.  It has been a long time since my home church has been preacher-less.   From before I was born until my middle school years we had a preacher we called Brother Charles.  He was at our church for about 25 years.  The gap in between him and Brother John spanned of several years.  There was a man in between but he didn't last very long.

Really, I spent some of the most crucial years of my life in a church without a youth minister or a preacher.  My family went to church every Sunday and Wednesday regardless of the lack of staff.  Throughout most of this time I joined the cool kid crowd at school and became somewhat of a "snot", as I have heard it explained before.  I was very focused on myself and my outward appearance, and anyone outside of my friend circle was irrelevant.

Towards the end of May 2007,  the summer before my Junior year, I remember meeting Brother John for the first time.  I was 16 and my attitude portrayed that.  The church hadn't officially voted John into the church yet I don't think, but he was invited to our house for dinner and inspection.  I really don't remember much about that night at all because I didn't care about this new preacher and I really didn't want to eat dinner with him or my family, I had friends to meet up with and things to do.

After a long and meaningless dinner with all the adults, I finally received permission from my parents to go hang out with my friends.  By this point in the evening we were all outside in the garage talking and enjoying the night air.  Realizing that I was in my own world of narcissism, Brother John kindly looked me in the eyes and began asking me about school, my friends, and my love interest.  I remember being shocked that he would care enough to ask me about my life.  I remember thinking it was odd that he cared.  Weren't preachers only interested in old people with money and visiting the sick and dieing?  What does he care that I have 2 best friends who I do everything with?  It's not like they even go to my church.

 His willingness to know me definitely made an impact.  In fact, it softened me long enough to let my worries about my friends and appearance momentarily float into the background of the real world.  That was my first meeting of Brother John.

Just a week or two later I found myself at a Christian leadership camp I had always been forced to go to.  Every year I went for the wrong reasons and came back with little to no spiritual growth.  This year was different though, on the second night of worship I deeply and vividly encountered the Lord.  I tasted him and saw that he was good.  My desire for him became so immense that I decided that night to change every part of my life.  I wanted God, first and foremost.  Nothing else mattered anymore.

When I returned home, a few weeks and another camp later, I think lots of people were shocked at my attitude change.  I had abandoned my old friends and habits and begun actively pursuing a teen girls bible study program.

Brother John had become our official pastor and he was very eager to hear about all of the youth's experiences at camp.  Although we liked the attention, I think all of us were a bit hesitant to trust this new preacher guy.  We had never had an adult take interest in our personal lives, much less a ministry leader at the church.  So in spite of our mistrust, a handful of us teenagers began creating our own gathering.  We met on our own time to talk about God and how to grow the youth membership at our church.  By the end of July there was a solid group of teens on fire for the Lord for the first time in years.  We recruited everyone we could to go with us to Falls Creek, an evangelical camp.  John encouraged us all the way, yet we still weren't 100% sure about this guy.

That year at Falls Creek many kids came to know Jesus.  A flame was lit and it spread rampantly throughout the entire school year.  There were more Bible Studies organized than we knew what to do with, and the church was finally actively looking in to hiring us a youth minister (although we didn't want one because we had never had a good experience with one.)

Every Sunday John encouraged us, both from the pulpit and from eye level.  He was so concerned about our spiritual growth.  He always asked us questions and told the old people to encourage us and lead us.  After church he would come to our pew section and ask us about God, school and our dating habits.  He truly cared and that really set a firm church foundation in many of us for the first time.  We also liked that he didn't care if our friends were Methodist or whatever, he just wanted them to know the Lord.  That's what we believed too and we were relieved that an adult seemed to "get it."

Throughout my last 2 years of high school, John was a big role model for me.  He was a Christian man who loved the Lord and the Lord's people more than anything else.  He brought our broken church together and taught us to love and trust again.  I had never seen my church so friendly and full of love.  It was a refreshing change to have a positive, encouraging and friendly preacher shaking each and every one of our hands every Sunday.  He came to our football games and cheered as loud as Mom and Dad.  He visited our grandparents when they were sick, and he even showed up at the County Fair!  John got it.

When I graduated High School he spoke at my Baccalaureate reception.  Classmates I had prayed over expressed their appreciation for his encouraging speech.

For the following 4 years I moved off to college and found myself in First Baptist every few months or so.  He as always so specific in his questions about my schooling, my future husband I hadn't met yet, and my relationship with the Lord.

This year I moved back home and have been going to First Baptist every Sunday with my parents and grandparents once again.  Of course, Brother John was the first to congratulate me on my new job and tell me how great I was doing.  I can't tell you how humbling it is to make your preacher proud.

I guess we all hurt when he announced his resignation a few Sundays ago.  He assured us a thousand times of his love and we all knew he was doing what he thought was best for his family.  With a bittersweet farewell, we held one last Ice-Cream Social for Brother John and told stories of how much he meant to us.  I wanted desperately to stand up and contribute, but I knew I wouldn't be able to without getting emotional.

When the formal reception was over, I walked over to Brother John and gave him a big hug.  He squeezed me and told me he was proud of me, and big alligator tears instantly filled my eyes.  At a loss for words, I quickly hugged his wife and exited out the back of the building.  I couldn't quit crying when I realized how much this man had impacted my life.  He had been there through every big event and had been a huge part in laying the spiritual foundation of my life.  He taught me to trust the leaders in a church again and also to trust myself and the calling God has given me.

Although it is hard to let go, I am trusting the Lord will provide us with another great man to follow in John's footsteps.  In the meantime I am thanking God for this spirit-led man who has been such a gift to all of us.  He created love out of madness and unity out of separation.  His gift to us was totally inspired from the Lord.  What a blessing it has been to receive what he willingly created.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maybe the Garden Isn't So Bad After All...

Gardening isn't so bad after all.  Maybe I did get a little bit of my grandpa's green thumb in my genes.

Today I picked my first okra crop.  I spent well over an hour and a half in the garden and wound up late for work.  It was 75 degrees and cloudy, a beautiful day to work outside.  I suppose the serenity of it all caused me to lose track of time.  That, and the fact that I had twice as much work to do.

I think gardening is sort of like a video game in that it gets more and more complex with each new step.  When you master level 1 of fighting off big weeds and protecting baby plants, then you move to level two, which is fighting off billions of tiny weeds, watering constantly and still protecting the plants.  Level 3 combines all of this plus evil grasshopper ninjas.  (The secret to that level was finding out about a magical dust that kills off the villain.)

Today I entered level four.  Not only was there big weeds, little weeds and grasshoppers to be fought, but now there was a beautiful menagerie of dead grasshoppers and baby frogs to avoid, plus you have to harvest the crop.  One may think harvesting okra is quite simple.  Well, it is and it isn't.  The picking is easy because you simply break, twist or cut the stem off from the plant and through the fruit in a bucket.  The hard part is knowing when to pick it.  Just like those darn video games, timing is everything.  Pick to early and the fruit isn't ripe, but pick a day or two later and the darn thing is 6 inches long and tough as a rock.

I'm not the hardest working Gardener there is, I'm trying, but my time commitment to the garden has been about one morning a week, sometimes two.  One week ago I tended my garden and was very pleased.  There were lots of baby sprouts of okra, and several small squash plants growing.  It had finally rained a few inches, for the first time all summer!  That rain brought lots of growth, a skip-watering-free card, and the addition of baby weeds solidly covering the earth.  What blows my mind, is less than a week later, the baby okra sprouts are already overgrown and too tough to eat!  Where did the time go?  They grow up so fast...

Luckily it is raining again this week, 1 inch yesterday and it is currently falling outside my window.  We've been in a drought so long I guess I don't actually understand the role of rain.  For the first 2 months of my gardening career I relied solely on water out of a hose for nourishment, but the last two weeks have seemed like a vacation because nature has basically taken care of itself.  I guess that's sort of how the whole thing works, isn't it?  You plant the seeds and help them out along the way, but the end result is up to nature--it's up to God.  Perhaps this is how child rearing takes place too.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of gardening.  I am the type who doesn't do anything without reading a book about it first, and when I took on this whole project I had envisioned grandpa being my book, holding my hand through each step of the process until I knew with somewhat certainty what I was doing.  It hasn't been like that at all though, really, with the exception of the first planting and weeding, I've pretty much done everything on my own.  The level of my family's farm and garden expertise is so high that explaining the basics isn't something they can comprehend.  I could tell by the way my elementary questions were handled by my grandpa and dad.  It's like their minds literally could not register the fact that I didn't already know this stuff.

While I love the farm and the earth and all that jazz, I've never really been an A+ farmer's daughter.  I was in 4-H and FFA, but that was all rather socially obligated since I didn't show animals.  I thought about showing a pig once, but dad said I 'd be the one getting up at 6 every morning to feed, water and walk it, so I decided not to.

A large majority of my childhood was spent playing on the farm.  But I didn't drive tractors, collect eggs and milk cows like one might assume.  My cousins and I ran around the open spaces creating forts and houses, games and adventures.  When we were forced to retract inside for dinner (lunch), we would clean ourselves up and eat with the family, afterwards finding new escapades involving grandma's lipstick and old dresses.  My Dad was always on the tractor working hard and the men in the family would assure my girl cousins and I that we needed to help grandma in the kitchen, rather than our dad's on the farm.  So we did, and I'll tell you what, I do know how to make a mean chicken fried steak, but ask me about acres and cattle and I might give you a blank stare.

It's not that I disagree with my spot on the family farm so much as it is that I just don't learn things in a normal way.  I have to see things written out on paper or acted out in front of me.  If we're going to talk numbers of acres and numbers of cattle blah, blah, better hold your tongue till I have a pad of paper and a pen to take notes on.  Then I need a good hour or so to commit this information to memory.  That's just the way I learn.  Unfortunately, farm life seems to be less educational and more intuitive.  I guess that's what I mean when I say the simplicity of gardening surprised me.  With little to no instruction, each day I show up at the farm with a tank top and some muddy tennis shoes.  I then rummage around till I find a pair of gloves and grandpa's assorted hoes.  After that I pretty well dive into my work.  Each visit presents something different, and each visit I learn something new.  If something odd happens I ask dad or grandpa and they of course, always have the answer.

Actually, I did stump them one time.  Last week after gardening, I cleaned up and got ready for work as usual.  Later that morning I was sitting at my desk when I caught a glimpse of my shin.  I screeched and rolled my chair back from behind the dark interior of my desk.  I blinked hard and my stomach rolled up in a knot as I realized I had large red blotches all over my legs, from knee cap to ankle and from shin bone to the fat of my calf.  Medical things really creep me out, and especially ugly, unexplainable creepy medical things on my own flesh.  Eww.  I looked and I looked and I couldn't turn away even though my stomach was getting incredibly weak.  How awful, how embarrassing, but what was it?  I went home at lunch, eager to show my mom my disgusting news, but she was at sewing class.  So I slapped on some Aloe Vera gel and went back to the office.

It wasn't until late that night I had the opportunity to show my folks what the garden did to my legs.  Horrified, they both asked if it was chiggers.  I had assumed that myself, but because they didn't itch I wasn't sure what to make of them.  Mom suggested I take a benadryl and Dad said the same.  So for a full week, I had to wear pants to work in the Oklahoma July heat of 107 degrees.  It wasn't easy, but I couldn't expose those disease-looking legs.  Fortunately, the bumps eventually went away, and before returning to the garden today I lathered myself in Avon's Skin-So-Soft (an old tradition of our family) and so far, have seen no return of the bumps.  What they were exactly, still remains a mystery.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 1: Blocked Creatives

Yesterday in art class I spoke of this to another young woman in the class with me.  She was an art teacher for K-5.  She just finished her first year and hated it, yet signed up for a second year anyway.  We talked about how we both had great jobs, yet felt completely unsatisfied--like we were longing to do something else, something creative.  But the question lingered, do we do that now and risk poverty, or are we supposed to be miserable the first 40 years of our life so we can comfortably enjoy this freedom on the backslide?  As my new friend Kristen said, “Sounds like a miserable way to live, to me.”

But as I looked around the room at the other 6 students, four of them had shared stories about miserably working for corporate for ++ years before they finally retired and began to pursue art.  Between the other two students, one was a local artist who owned her own family gallery and taught metal-smithing regularly, and the other was a middle school art teacher who lived on a farm south of Eureka.  Although she said she enjoyed her job, she also said she hated dealing with students all day.

So what were we really doing there?  It seems as though we were all just looking for validation as artists.  Are we good enough, Barbara?  Is this okay?  How does this look?

I don’t think these questions were as much physical as they were spiritual.  We were asking for healing to our broken spirit.  Too many times people told us we couldn’t, and this was our small, 3-day escape into a dream we might like to pursue some day.

One student I particularly felt for.  She sat in the back of the room and seemed to enjoy herself more than any of us.  She laughed and played and encouraged the rest of us.  When she shared her story it was a similar path I have seen myself on.  She was almost an art teacher.  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art or Psychology or something, and then spent 40 years being a waitress.  Throughout these 40 years she had always dabbled in painting, yet never fully pursued it.  She has always wanted to be an artist.

Two my left were the two Lindas.  Linda O. and Linda G.  Linda O’Neal was 71, though she didn’t look a day over 50.  She was a fun, spunky, I-can’t-believe-your-a-grandma type.  She had been a hairdresser for 25 years, then in her 40s decided she wanted to be a nurse, so she did that for 25 more years before retiring.  Now she and Linda G. are part of an art gallery in Hardee, Arkansas.  They spend all their time taking and organizing art classes.  They group together with 29 other women to run this gallery and keep the spirit alive.  She was fun and helpful and peaceful.

Linda G. was originally from Boston, and her accent stuck in my dreams after day 1.  Fun and yet the most boisterous student, I see her story as somewhat sad.  She was one had worked corporate for many years, finding herself very successful and very miserable.  She retired and moved to Saint Croy in the Caribbean for a while, where she met her current husband. He owned land in Hardee, and that is where she moved and met Linda O.  The two were the best of friends and quite a hoot to fellowship with.

The ESSA intern, Anja was 3 years younger than me.  She is a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  Born and Raised in Bentonville, yet her parents own a restaurant in Eureka Springs so she spends much time here.  She is majoring in Art and Drawing.  She told me of her dreams.  She said she would take any job she could get after graduating so she could eventually move up to a high-paying, well-respected job.  She is going into her junior year.  I said the same thing when I was her age.  A year later I was miserable.

Life is a funny thing.  What are we all doing here?  Why do we have desires and longings and pains that won’t go away unless we do a certain thing.  It’s called purpose, but why is it such a consuming thing?  Why can’t we just turn it off and be happy?  We can turn it off, but happiness is not the result.

I don’t want to have to wait till I’m 50 to uncover my inner artist.  I want this heart of me to grow up with me, flowing over with love and confidence.

It’s a spiritual journey and I need the help of self and Christ to nurture this desire.  I know without a doubt I am born to write and paint.  I am born to dance and sing and love.  

Where do I go from here?
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