It Is Spring (Part II)

Yes, it is officially still spring.  Green everywhere is lush and deep, not just-emerging, though.  Flowers are in full bloom.  The temperature has risen until the sweaters of spring are mostly unnecessary.  Though it feels like summer, and all the signs point to summer’s imminence, we are yet in the lagging, lingering, last days of the spring season.

This spring a new vision of myself sprang forth.  I made the momentous decision to leave my church.  Though some may make the decision to change churches with the ease that they decide to switch branches of the public library, or to visit a different WalMart, for me deciding to leave my church was like deciding on undergoing a surgical transplant.  For me it meant time and planning, cutting away, attaching anew, and accompanying pain.  So I determined that if God was leading me out, let Him lead.  And so He did.

Sometime early in the year, before I went to my writer’s conference in California, Raquel, a friend and colleague who attends my old church, BT, asked if I would participate in organizing a legal symposium ministry at BT.  I told her sure, I’d love to help.  A meeting was scheduled for the new ministry.

In March, at the writer’s conference, I wore a name tag that listed my hometown in New York.   Despite the fact that New York is a huge state and that you could fly for hours to get from one point in New York to another, I was consistently approached by non-New Yorkers who inquired, “Do you live near Brooklyn Tabernacle?” or “How far is your town from Pastor Jim Cymbala’s church?”, or “Have you ever visited the Brooklyn Tabernacle that’s in New York?”  One pastor, the editor of a national denominational magazine, and a denominational leader told me, “Pastor Cymbala’s ministry has really changed our church.  We revamped our prayer life.  His book was so influential that we gave copies out at Christmas to leaders of other churches in our community.”

After almost a week of having strangers from all over the country telling me how much they love BT, my old church, I started to think, BT is a pretty good church, huh Lord?  I pondered, during my drives through the mountains of Silicon Valley, if I’m going to be waiting to hear from God as to where my next church will be, why not wait to hear from God at BT?  Why not stop my downward spiritual spiral and stabilize my soul spiritually at BT for a while?  Maybe going back is the best alternative for me for now?  What do you think Lord?

In the days following my return from California, my openness to returning to BT bloomed into resolve. 

A few weeks after my return from California I was scheduled to go to BT on Sunday morning for a meeting about the legal symposium ministry I’d agreed to help with.  The ministry team was to meet with Pastor Cymbala after service to discuss our plans.  That Sunday in Brooklyn was to me a fleece.  I prayed that the Lord would soak that one Sunday with the dew of Heaven, if going back was what I should do.

The service was exactly what I remembered and loved finding in worship at BT, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  Besides which I was embraced and welcomed by familiar faces.  This is my family, I was reminded.   Big Willie, the keeper of most everything in the House, asked, as I waved past him with a smile, “Are you visiting or are you back?”  I had no answer.  I moved on to meet with Pastor Cymbala to discuss the new ministry.  He had no questions about my participation on the team, even though I was no longer (officially) one of his sheep.

After the meeting I fellowshipped with friends.  We talked about my church and my sense that it was time for me to move on.  I shared, “I think of coming back here…but I don’t really want to.  It feels like going backwards.”  My friends, wise women, spoke to me words like: 

“What you really want is to be where God wants you to be”; and

“Perhaps you are like Naomi, you went out, now you are coming back and God has a particular blessing waiting for you here”; and

“Maybe God is bringing you back because your assignment is finished there and He has another assignment for you”; and

“Missionaries routinely come back to their home church for periods of refreshment and respite before returning to the mission field.”

They spoke easily.  They spoke as one, without contradiction.  A few minutes of fellowship provided me with more insight about my church situation than I’d had in the previous six months.  Maybe I really would go back to BT. 

But, my anxious heart questioned, if I go back, Lord, what would I do at the church?  Would you want me to sit and not serve?  Would you want me to clean the church, start serving at the bottom and wait to see if I’m allowed back into leadership?  Even if one wants to, how is it that one goes back?

Coincidentally, I returned to BT three days later for Raquel’s graduation from a 10-week Bible discovery group.  She’d invited me to her graduation several weeks earlier.  I knew the program she was graduating from.  I used to be a leader/facilitator of this program.  At the graduation, friends, facilitators, and my former participants (one now a facilitator!) showered me with love.  The speaker, Keith Friday, encouraged us that God is a Good Father.  He used examples from his own experience as a father to parallel God’s love for us.  It took me a while, but by Keith’s third example of God’s particularized love for, and interest in, His children, my ears were opened and I Heard.  God, I acknowledged silently, you really are taking a particular interest in my church situation, aren’t you?  After the ceremony ended, I went to talk to my former leader, the head of the ministry.  Carmen kissed me and asked, “You’re coming back?”

She surprised me by touching on this subject so immediately, so directly.  I answered, “Actually, I think I am…” 

She responded, “You’ll facilitate the fall semester starting in September.”

This surprised (and delighted) me.  I laughingly questioned, “But I only, just one second ago, told you that I think I’m coming back.  How can you give me an assignment already?” 

Carmen then told me, “I’ve prayed that the Lord would send you back.  Now you’re back, you’ve got work to do.”

Word that I was coming back buzzed around the room like a bee.  Rhayna, once junior, now soon-to-be-married senior facilitator, took me aside and confided, “I’m so glad you’re coming back.  I’ve been praying for God to send someone.  The seasoned leaders are going off.  While it’s great to train new people, we need experienced facilitators.  This is perfect.  You can step in and help Carmen without there being any adjustment period.” 

At which my heart whispered, Father, I’m really coming back, huh?

The final factor was my own pastor.  Would he be in sync with this transplant that I believed God was effectuating in my life?    Would he release me?  Lord, I thought, if he resists or opposes this move, then I don’t see how I can possibly go.  I met with Pastor Banarsee a couple of weeks after speaking with Carmen.  We discussed what I believed God was doing.  He shared his experience of being called to move from one church to another.  As he spoke, his words echoed words that I’d heard from the Lord about my leaving, though he did not know this.  Then my pastor, with grace and wisdom and prayer, released me to return to BT.  As I was leaving he handed me a folder that had been on his desk. 

“I prepared this for you before we talked,” he said.  “I had a feeling that we would be discussing your departure.”

The folder contained information about transitioning into a new ministry.

And so, with a bittersweetness like the ending of springtime, I’m going back to BT at the beginning of July.

Scooter-man and L.I. Express Girl

So last night, as I was leaving Manhattan around 8pm, it happened.  I was heading south on Third Avenue, one block before Delancy Street and my left turn towards the Williamsburg Bridge, when traffic backed up in my lane.  The lane to my left was clear, though.  I decided to get over. 

 

 

There was a motor scooter traveling directly behind me that decided to get over at exactly the same time as me. 

Because the scooter could maneuver more quickly than my truck, by the time I turned my wheel the scooter had almost hit my Explorer, and had come to a stop.  I was about to roll down my window to speak to the scooter operator, but before I could, he let loose.  A 40-something, generic, middle-manager, looking white guy began yelling and screaming and cursing at me. I was taken aback.

 

Then the guy banged my driver’s side rear window with his with his fist.  I heard the sound of metal contacting glass.  Hard.  I thought my window was going to shatter.  My physical boundaries felt breached, or at least threatened.  I said, “Do not touch my vehicle!”

 
Angry Scooter-man sped off down the empty left lane and then moved back into the center lane at the head of the line of cars, where he then stopped for the red light.  I sat there stunned and perplexed with the front of my vehicle turned into the empty left lane.  Should I go ahead and drive down the clear lane?  But then I’ll end up stopped right next to Scooter-man waiting for the light.  I don’t think that’s such a good—

 

 

Before I could finish the thought I was heading down the clear lane, stopping my truck beside the scooter to my right, and lowering my front passenger-side window.

 

Scooter-man looked over at me.

 

I said, “You have an anger management problem!”

 

Smiling an I-hope-you’re-not-some-crazy-person-because-I-really-didn’t-mean-anything-by-all-that-yelling-business smile, he said, “What?”

 

I repeated, with my index finger wagging as I leaned across my front passenger seat, “You have an anger management problem and need to get some help!”

 

He said, still smiling that smile, “I don’t have an anger management problem.  I have a problem with women drivers who don’t know how to drive.”

 

During this exchange, I wavered between wanting to cease immediately and drive on, and also wanting to engage him.  All kinds of impressions and thoughts ran through my mind.  What stunningly straight white teeth he has; whoever worked on his teeth did a great job.

 

“Well I have a problem with people who don’t obey traffic rules and then become enraged.”

 

“I didn’t obey the traffic rules?” he asked incredulously, “You didn’t obey the traffic rules either!”

 

How come the woman on the back of his bike isn’t saying anything? She knows I’m right about him.  Maybe she’s a girlfriend and is on good behavior. Is he wearing a wedding ring?  Nope.

 

“Yeah, well, you need to learn to manage your anger.”

 

“I don’t have an anger management problem.  Women buy these big SUVs and use them as bumpers because they don’t know how to drive.  That’s the problem.”

 

I sneered back at him, looking him in the eye, “You’re single aren’t you?”

 

His eyes widened.  He looked non-plussed.  He said nothing.

 

I raised my window and drove off. 

 

Then I laughed.  I felt the thrill of Zinger victory.

 

Ever since 9/11 my soul has been encased in a Titanic-sinking-sized iceberg of fear.  It’s been seven years, just about.  Apparently, the ice is finally melting–and at a rapid rate.  So, while normally I might acknowledge that women, particularly nice, Christian, women, don’t do this kind of thing (sneering, indeed!), instead I am savoring what it was like to not be afraid, and careful, and nervous, and unable to say words that I know should be said to address grievances that I know need addressing.  Maybe freedom is another opposite of fear.

 

This fear of mine was birthed through events that transpired in Manhattan.  How apropos that events transpiring in Manhattan should herald the fear’s demise.

 

Literature Comparatively

(Lazy day musing)

 

Books that, to my mind, beg for comparison:

 

Girl Meets God and Stone Crossings

(Lessons learned by two women on their journeys of faith)

 

Paradise and The Great Gatsby

(Unsuitable (poor) boys fall for well-to-do girls, part from girls, become insanely wealthy, try to win girls-who have fallen in love with eminently suitable men-back)

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sophie’s Choice

(Adrift NYC apartment dwelling heroines of “foreign” origin, with liberal sexual mores, transform themselves into fashionable New Yorkers courtesy of the men in their lives, both are secretly admired by a male neighbor who is not in the same league, both books are narrated by said neighbors who drop homosexual cues in the narrative)

 

The Known World and The Confessions of Nat Turner (A Novel)

(Madness begetting madness among slaves and others in the antebellum South; both won Pulitzers)

 

Howard’s End and The House of Mirth

(Elite classes of England and America in the early Twentieth Century and what becomes of women of such classes whose characters and ideals do not quite fit the prevailing mode).

 

OK, since you insist, I’ll rate them.  Stone Crossings preferred far and away; liked Paradise more than Gatsby I’m not ashamed to say; don’t bother with either Tiffany’s or Sophie’s, the movies were better; the writing in Known World was more excellent than that in Nat Turner, though both were good overall; House of Mirth outpaces Howard’s End by miles and miles and miles.

 

What book overlap occurs to you?

It’s God Who Draws Us to Retreat

Recently I posted about time I spent away in California that was transforming for me.  Experiencing, in a completely unstructured way, the mountains, the sea, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the wind; as well as visiting a new church and seeing faces representing the world’s diversity of people groups, was satisfying and rejuvenating for me.  This rejuvenation came at a time when single, professionally-and-spiritually-burnt-out me, needed rejuvenation.  It was a successful retreat.

 

My friend Bonnie is a Harvard educated stay-at-home mom.  She relocated to Virginia so that her husband could pursue graduate studies at Regent University.  Bonnie mothers three young children, and spends her days creating a beautiful and peaceful home for her family, while trying to stretch a limited budget.  For her, spending time alone, much less time alone in California, is as likely as her walking through her closet to Narnia.  But when I last spoke to Bonnie, she told me that though time and privacy are in short supply, she often has moments that feel like retreat with God.  These moments surprisingly occur for her in the shower.  Something about the ritual of bathing giving her mental freedom, and the steady warmth of the water soothing her senses, I think.  Bonnie finds Godly insight, direction, and peace, even when not explicitly sought, in these few moments that she is alone and, literally, naked before the Lord.  This is a successful retreat.

 

It seems, then that it is God who draws to retreat.  We go on our way willing to seek, but not necessarily knowing how we will find, where we will find, or what we will find.  On our journey, though, unerringly, the Seeker of our souls finds us, and we find that we have had a successful retreat.

 

A special note to readers: This post is part of the HighCallingBlogs.com Group Writing Project “retreat, retreat, retreat,” sponsored by Laity Lodge. As part of their sponsorship, Laity Lodge is offering a 25% discount to all readers of High Calling Blogs, or of this blog, for three retreats. (Just ask for the “HighCallingBlogs.com discount.”)

Also, I’m hoping that since I have chosen to, participate in the writing project myself, that I may  win a FREE retreat!  I’ll let you know if I do.

Election 2008

I voted in a general election for the first time when I was 18.  I still remember how excited I was.  Reagan was running against Mondale (or was it Dukakis?).  Born again Christian and high school debater that I was, guided by my understanding of the issues as well as my conscience, I voted for Reagan.  My father drove us to the polls and, after making sure he was listed as a registered voter, he walked out—a protest non-vote.  Since 1988 and that first election, I’ve continued to be guided by my understanding of the issues as well as my conscience.  I have voted for Republicans and I have voted for Independents, but I have never voted for a Democrat in a national general election.  Mostly, I have never caught the vision cast by the Democratic nominees.

Until now. 

Ingrained in my memory is the image that I saw on television a couple of months ago of a Hispanic working-class man at a rally who was calling out in a loud voice, “Si puedemos!”  I later learned that “Yes we can!” is a campaign slogan.  I hear in my mind the voice of one of the Kennedy progeny saying how she’s often told by people that her father and uncles were inspirational in those people’s lives, and how for the first time she is, herself, experiencing what it means to be inspired by a candidate.  I’m turning a page in my life and acknowledging that there are issues other than abortion and gay marriage that matter to me, and it’s reasonable to expect a candidate to address more than these two issues. 

A couple of years ago I (inadvertently) went out-of-network to see a doctor for one measly stress test, and it cost me almost $2,000.  Affordable healthcare would be nice.  In the Summer 2008 issue of the World Vision magazine that I receive, President Rich Stearns writes, “Just once I would like to hear the candidates discuss the importance of addressing one of the greatest terrors facing our world today:  poverty that enslaves one-third of the world’s population and results in nearly 10 million children under age 5 dying needlessly each year….In 2007 the US spent five times more on the war in Iraq—one country—than we provided on foreign aid for the rest of the world.”  Yes, less myopic foreign policy would be nice.

Mrs. Loving, of “the Loving case” fame if you went to law school, died this past week.  In 1967 (practically yesterday!) the Supreme Court effectively did away with the anti-miscegenation laws of 17 states.  Specifically the Court decreed that it was unconstitutional for the State of Virginia to prosecute Mr. and Mrs. Loving for living together as man and wife, he being White and she being Black.  [The Virginia judge in his lower court ruling declared that God made people black, white, yellow and red, and put them all on different continents clearly intending that they not mix together.  Funny.  Now.]  The loving Lovings, who had escaped incarceration in Virginia only by agreeing to leave the Commonwealth, were allowed to move back to their rural community.  Their marriage was recognized and validated by the State.  Mr. Loving lived with his wife in quiet enjoyment for less than ten years before passing away.  Mrs. Loving never remarried.  Because of the Lovings any of us, who live anywhere, can marry anyone that we choose.  I think about the Lovings, and 1967 (practically yesterday), and ask myself, how can I vote for a candidate whose voting record on Civil Rights issues is consistently awful?  Who I’m sure would have voted in favor of an anti-miscegenation law.  Why should I vote for such a candidate, anyway, when I’m not at all inspired by anything that he has to say, or even with the way that he says what he says; when I’m not catching his vision?  When he’s so 2004?

I cannot vote with the visionless.  I hear the voice of a leader.  I hear the voice of inspiration.  I hear a different voice than the ones I’ve been hearing for the past twenty years.  And I’m liking the sound of this voice.

What will I do, I wonder, if a vote for vision is not offered in November?  If the choice is between Same Old Thing A and Same Horrible Thing B.   I can see where a protest non-vote might be tempting.

It Is Spring, Part I

It is Spring.  Which means changes are taking place all around me.  I noticed for the first time ever that cherry blossoms bloom all along the main street of my town.  How is it that I’ve never noticed them before?  Daily I see that branches are greener, grass is taller, daylight lasts longer; I notice that people are a bit more relaxed, their tones more agreeable, their smiles more ready, and their pace more languid.  This is Spring.  This Spring I am alive to change.  Transformation, renovation, reformation, even revolution, might better convey what is taking place, or budding, in my life right now.  At the forefront of this seasonal shift is a change of churches.  This change feels like a life reformation.  And so it is. 

I matured spiritually at a large, multi-ethnic, urban church, a mega-church really.  An imperfect, but fine, fine church.  A few years ago I sensed the Lord saying to me that it was time to go from this haven.  Eventually I was drawn back to the church where I first met the Lord.  I felt impressed to return to this small, suburban congregation of peoples from different countries around the world, though all of the same race.  There was a new pastor, there was a new vision, there was a new vitality to the people it seemed.  I followed the Lord’s prompting, and I do believe it was the Lord, relinquished my leadership responsibilities at the mega-church, and moved on. 

It has been a few years since I came to my suburban church.  Of course there were adjustments.  There are differences.  One key difference being that there is a lower level of spiritual maturity among these saints, which I anticipated.  What I did not anticipate was that, in the years that I dwelled among them, I would experience a steady spiritual decline.  Steady.  Decline.  The issue has become, on the one hand, that this church has taught me in ways, grown me in ways, and changed me in ways that could never have occurred at the mega-church; it has been profitable to be here, kind of.  On the other hand, how far back is one expected to slide before it’s acceptable to cry out for a rope and reeling in?

Truly, I have known for quite some time that change was necessary and inevitable.  In the heart of winter, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I sought the Lord in earnest and He promised Spring.  But winter went on for weeks and weeks more.  I went to California in March planning, after the Writer’s Conference, to spend extended periods of time in the presence of the Lord praying and crying out for direction.  But I didn’t.  Nonetheless, looking back on my time spent in the doing of nothing in particular–on long meandering drives (now to the city, now to the beach); in ebbing and flowing conversations with Jesus; drenching my senses in the incomparable California sunshine; finding spontaneous answers to the daily question, “What am I going to eat for dinner tonight?”–I realize that my time away was transforming.  Winter ended while I was there.  I returned to New York in the spirit of tranquility and expectation.  I returned owning the experience of sunshine, belonging, purposefulness and weightlessness.  The parts of my life that had been merely ill-fitting before my trip, upon my return could no longer contain me.  My soul had expanded, my spirit had enlarged.  The Spring that commenced for me in California insisted and clamored that winter at home, in New York, desist.

And so, the winter released its hold on my life.  It is Spring, at last.  There are cherry blossoms blooming on my main street that I never noticed before.  I am leaving my church.  The, “How do I…?” and the, “Where do I..?”  I have left for the Lord to answer…

 

3 More Quick Things

About the English Majors.  I continue to suffer from relapses of envy.  Not as to matters of style, but definitely as to matters of form.  Yes.  Syntax, grammar, sentence structure, these do not come easily to me.  Reading my workbooks, I realize that I am rather familiar this subject, these rules.  Observing the rules in my writing, though, is where my challenge begins.  The English majors make proper usage seem natural, as natural as speech itself.  I must be lesser-than, language impaired, to have to concentrate so to get it right.  Right?  But just as my heart began to waver, Maya Angelou helped me:  Some critics will write ‘Maya Angelou is a natural writer’ – which is right after being a natural heart surgeon.  I’m not the only one concentrating hard to get it right, it seems.

Surfing the blogosphere, I came across a very interesting post about the increased level of c-sections that are being performed in America and the risks posed thereby.  It caused me to realize that almost every woman that I know who has given birth in the last 5-10 years has done so via c-section.  That’s downright curious.

I had dinner on Saturday evening at the Outback.  Our waiter had the ear-tingling Southern drawl of the actor who was in The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez.  He said, “I’mon go ahead and get yall some honey butter to go with that…”  Plus he kept touching my arm as he spoke.  I’m sure it was all affected.  Nevertheless, my sister and I left a big tip.  J