Sunday, March 15, 2015

Late one Night on the Subway

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” Psalm 23:4
The pastor talked about fear this morning in church. He said living in a state or spirit of fear is ill-advised (See 2 Timothy 1:7), but sometimes it’s wise to be scared, like when a bear is chasing you. The sermon made me remember a time I was afraid (one of many) and how I handled it.
            During my Bible college days, a date for freshmen or sophomores meant a double date or a chaperoned date, and that’s how I found myself taking a bus into New York City with Bob and his roommate, Israel. We were going to the best concert ever at Madison Square Garden:  Jay and the Americans! I so desperately wanted to go to this concert that when Bob’s first choice turned him down, I suggested he take me. He must have been feeling fairly desperate himself, because he agreed. Israel was our appointed chaperone.
What I remember most forty some years later about the concert itself is that girls we didn’t know kept trying to get Israel to dance with them. He couldn’t comply. Dancing was another no-no for Bible college kids.
So after experiencing this fabulous performance, we discovered we had missed the last bus back to our college in northern New Jersey. Not only would we miss curfew (yet another no-no) we were stranded in the city. Israel came up with a solution:  We would ride the subway train to his parents’ home in Brooklyn, and borrow their car to drive back to school. I had not realized until that night that Israel was a tough, street-smart, inner city preacher’s kid.
No, I didn't see anyone this scary on the subway.
No, he's not Bob or Israel.

            Descending the stairs into the tunnel unnerved this small-town Jersey girl. Even forty years ago the subway appeared in movies, television dramas, and news stories as a setting for violent crime. The late hour and moving train soon lulled Bob to sleep, so I abandoned my date and moved closer to Israel. Though I didn’t want to be taking this ride at all, his presence made the train a less frightening place. I figured nobody would mess with me if it looked like I was with Israel.
            Like the psalmist, I affirm, “The Lord is my shepherd.” I prefer green pastures, quiet waters, and an overflowing cup, but when I have to walk in the shadowy valley—or ride the subway, or sub fifth grade, or face any number of irrational and rational fears—God’s presence makes it a less frightening place.
            And it doesn’t hurt to have a tough friend by my side as well.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23, NKJV via

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What did the sheep say to the Good Shepherd?

            A student can earn a bonus point on my quiz or test by drawing a picture related to the questions or the material studied. Being the antonym of “artist” myself, I’m very generous in my definition of “picture.” I’m stuck in Stick Figures 101, so I expect and accept them and I’m impressed when I get something better. Some students still haven’t received their quizzes back because I’m saving their artwork in case they become famous.
            Over the last sixteen years, I’ve awarded these bonus points in Bible, U.S. History, English Literature, and even vocabulary. I’m possibly the only teacher you may hear laughing while grading tests. Last year a talented student drew a picture of an explorer with a beautiful woman on each arm; the caption read:  Columbus, Nina, and Santa Maria.
            My juniors at SCA are studying the Gospel of John. (Well, to be realistic, I’m teaching it and some of them are studying it.) They recently took a quiz on my outline of John and were, as usual, invited to sketch for a bonus point. A significant feature of John’s Gospel is the list of “I am” metaphors Jesus uses. One girl drew a stick figure shepherd saying, “I am the good shepherd,” and a tiny stick lamb responding, “Baa.”
I liked it. And then I started thinking more deeply about baa. Being a word-ist in inverse proportion to being an artist, spelling is a concern of mine. (Well, to be honest, spelling is more of an obsession than a concern.) Don’t get me started or I will gleefully tell you about the famous Christian author who mixes up reign, rain, and rein in her best-selling fiction.
So I started thinking of baa’s homophone, bah. A homophone, you surely remember, is “a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir and air.” * I visited to be sure I understood the difference before posting the information on a blog that could go viral. Here’s what I found:
verb (used without object), baaed, baaing.
1. to make the sound of a sheep; bleat.
2. the bleating cry of a sheep. *

1. an expression of contempt or disgust*
            Then I started thinking even more deeply about baa and bah.
            What did the sheep say to the Good Shepherd? Did the animal cry out with a bleat, which might be interpreted to mean, “I need a shepherd to lead me and feed me. I will follow you”? Or did he dismiss the shepherd with a contemptuous “bah!” which might be interpreted to mean, “I don’t need you. I can do life on my own”?
            How do I respond to the Good Shepherd? With baa or bah? How about you?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Friendly Light

“I know Friendly’s is along here somewhere,” my husband insisted as he drove along a span of Route 72 in Lebanon…for the third time. He switched on his Garmin, adding it to the Sinatra channel playing on Sirius Radio and the traffic surrounding us on the darkening highway.

Gene doesn’t mind driving in over-stimulating chaos, though it disturbs me. A few years ago when he drove a van of mission trip teens to a NYC airport, he had two GPS units on display while chatting on his cell phone to his friend Steve who was driving the other van. I prayed a lot during that expedition.

Garmin Gal informed us, “You have reached your destination,” so Gene turned into a bank parking lot. No Friendly’s. He turned the car around again.

“We don’t have to eat at Friendly’s. We can eat anywhere,” I reminded him just before spotting the restaurant’s sign—NOT LIT UP—among a multitude of lighted signs. After one more U turn, we managed to enter the Friendly’s lot. He parked the car and we slowly crossed the dark space, hoping neither of us would fall on unseen ice and have to sue the owners for billions of bucks.

Once seated, Gene informed the hostess that neither their parking lot lights nor their sign was illuminated. She said she’d tell the manager and mumbled something about having trouble with a timer. We thought nothing would be done, so we were totally surprised to look out the window and see the sign come alive and the parking lot become safe. No lawsuits tonight.

Although no one thanked my husband for pointing out Friendly’s huge advertising blunder, he left the eatery feeling smug about the surge in customers.

As a Bible teacher (and somewhat obnoxious Christian) I couldn’t help but compare our experience to something Jesus said. 

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14 – 16, NIV

Friendly’s in Lebanon had a lot to offer—good meals and ice cream and good service—but without the huge sign shining above the dark highway, many diners would have gone elsewhere Friday night. Jesus has a lot to offer—eternal life for starters—but without churches and individual Christians shining, many seekers may look elsewhere. 

Shine on.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Old Pups and New Tricks

            A friend and fellow writer called this morning to discuss some manuscript issues. Like me, she learned keyboarding decades ago when it was still called typing, as on a typewriter. Period space space. 

Now she read the submission guidelines which commanded her to leave only one space after a period. Or else. She wanted to know when and why that had changed. I tried to give the answer I’d heard, but ended up telling her it was one more hoop to jump through to get the manuscript published. Now I would tell her to read the explanation at this website: There are many other articles about this fascinating topic.

Mostly she wanted to know what she could do about it other than go through 300 pages deleting spaces. She couldn’t even tell where she’d spaced once and where she’d spaced twice. The first thing I advised her was to click on the paragraph sign on the tool bar. Now she could see one dot per space between words and the cursed two spaces after periods.

We put our heads together—metaphorically speaking since we were in different towns—and figured it out. I reasoned:   I know you can use Find and Replace in MS Word to change a town’s name or a character’s name. For example, I decided to rename Mama, the hair-braiding Jamaican, Big Mama because Laney refers to her own mother as Mama. I decided my readers didn’t need two Mamas in the same chapter. Find and Replace let me do that. I usually choose Find Next instead of Replace All just so something weird doesn’t happen. 

And here’s an example of Find and Replace weirdness:  The story is told of a pastor who had recently presided over the funeral of a church member, Mary. He saved his funeral liturgy on his computer so he would be ready for the next sad event. Edith was the next to die, and the pastor went into the Word document to Find and Replace Mary with Edith. To save time, he chose Replace All.

The service went along smoothly the next day until the congregation began to recite the Apostles Creed and learned that Jesus was “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Edith…”

BUT, I wondered, could you ask the computer to find two spaces and replace them with one space? I was astonished to learn that it could be done. I advised my friend to do it in stages. First Find and Replace period space space. Then question mark space space. Then exclamation point space space. But you really can do it in one fell swoop by spacing twice after Find, spacing once after Replace, and choosing Replace All.

Some of you young computer savvy whiz kids are snorting and saying incredulously, “You didn’t know that?” No, actually, my friend and I didn’t, but now we do, and I’m sharing it with anybody else born in the stone age who might want to know. And by the way, we stone age sisters know lots of stuff about lots of stuff you kids haven’t figured out yet. I might tell you if you stop ROFL and ask nicely.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

I Miss Inge

When I first met Inge—not her real name—and heard her German-accented English, my immediate reaction was, “I’m in a Mel Brooks movie!” Fellow Mel fans know his movies often feature German and Yiddish accents, which sound ironically similar, considering their shared and tragic history.

I quickly realized Inge is more marvelous than a stereotype. She speaks two languages fluently, which immediately makes her more intelligent than I, which is saying a lot, because I’m a Tucker girl. Then, she’s retired from a career as a registered nurse, which makes her not only more intelligent, but less squeamish than I. I admire nurses greatly, especially after my hospital experience in November 2013, but I believe I dealt with enough bodily functions raising four sons to last several lifetimes.

In Inge’s new career, she serves as Breakfast Hostess at the hotel where I recently spent a week. But Breakfast Hostess is too narrow a title for what Inge does each day. I would re-title her Morning Sunshine. 

I admit I would pretty much like anyone who has several varieties of coffee and a buffet prepared for me in my grogginess, but I’ve eaten from other hotel buffets and never made a personal connection. 

Inge greets everyone who enters the common room. Hello, my dear. Good morning, love. She asks how your evening was, what are your plans for the day, and shares anecdotes. Everyone, Man, Woman, Child. She’s especially affectionate toward the red-haired brothers in their shark and bunny slippers and the dark-haired sisters who brought along their own box of General Mills Frozen cereal.

I don’t know where all Inge’s friendliness and joy come from. Maybe her early experiences as an immigrant married to an American led her to reach out to everyone. Maybe it’s her faith. She told me about finding a statue of Mary for her garden in a local secondhand shop, so I assume she’s Catholic. Speculation. 

Maybe she exited the womb exuding sunshine, and the attending nurses dimmed the delivery room lights.

Many people aren’t happy at a low-paying, menial job. Apparently, this isn’t a problem for Inge, who must have earned several times minimum wage as an RN. Inge brings her happy with her to her early morning job and then goes home and takes a nap.

So I miss Inge. I miss her coffee, biscuits, bacon, eggs, sausages, bagels, muffins, cereal, cinnamon rolls, and yogurt, but mostly I miss her cheeriness. I fear I’ll never visit her again. Winter mornings will be colder and darker without her.

I can only think of one way around this loss:  I’ll have to become Inge. I won’t attempt the accent, and everyone who knows me knows I don’t do early morning joy.

But I can try.