Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New Book, An Old Story

Critics voices have swarmed and buzzed over the most anticipated book, Go Set a Watchman. Some were disappointed that the story line did not match perfectly with its prize winning companion, To Kill a Mockingbird; its hero, Atticus, showed unexpected flaws. Some people, supposedly close to Ms. Nelle Harper Lee, thought that it should never have even been published, claiming that the loss of her sister, her protector, had opened her up to manipulation by a new lawyer and a new editor. Having heard stories and witnessed some personal events related to influencing elders, helps me understand both sides of these concerns.  Sometimes well meaning relatives or friends who try to be gatekeepers for the aging ones seem to actually stifle their choices of activities they love, foods they like and times when they simply want to rest; sometimes these same trusted people misuse or misdirect the aging ones' money to fund their own desires.  In the case of Ms. Lee, I hope that did not happen.  For my own personal edification, I am so glad the book was published.  Her unedited voice from long ago spoke to me.  It seemed a gutsy, off the cuff tale of her life as it was and had been; an outcry on the role of women and the place of African Americans in her time.  Her time overlapped strangely with my time.

Go Set a Watchman was written around the time of my birth and first years, mid fifties, and was not published until 2015, the year I turned 60. It's the story of Scout as a grown up, it's the story of Susan Kohn Green as a child.  Monroeville AL I have never seen, but Ms. Lee's description and my own imagination tells me it was very much like Royse City TX in that era - just a small East Texas town of cotton farmers vaguely connected to the big city of Dallas before I-30 was constructed.  I was a child of privilege - not by wealth but by being known through family ties and by being white.

"Isn't that Beau and Sue Ann's little girl? Bally's grand daughter?  Pack's grand daughter? Hooker's niece? Smiley's niece? (the men carried lifelong nicknames that would confuse ancestry.com researchers) Usuallly traveling in the company of relatives to stores on Main St., to church on Sunday (mostly Baptist but sometimes Methodist with the Fisher side of the tree), to visit friends of the adults - I received doting attention.  People praised me for being smart or cute or sweet or for being created as the spittin' image of my mom (she was very popular).  They served me treats like fresh picked peaches, watermelon, blackberries or rice with butter and sugar, cold biscuits or that kind of homemade sherbet ice cream made in aluminum ice trays. I was allowed to play with their little porcelain nick nacks arranged on tatted doilies - figures of Victorian people, animals and shoes.  I could touch the pianos and press on electric organs. 

The town and times were safe. It was a normal occurrence to walk across the street to my friend's house or catty corner to play in another neighbor's yard (we loved Mr. Carr's smokehouse, wagon parked under the weeping willow and corn field). I could go around the corner on my own to play at a favorite location, "The Big Tree", or go a little further down this street to my grandparents' house to help mix up cornbread or have a treat of coke float or Juicy Fruit gum.  When you are a child, you think as a child and you think that everyone else lives just like you.

One day when I was in the company of my childhood best friend (words were spelled out in those days, BFF had not been invented), we decided to take a walk and explore the destination of a dirt road that ran next to Mr. Carr's field. We walked past black folk picking cotton in a field, past an old abandoned shack ready to fall down at the next windstorm and came out on pavement that was a street we recognized. No problem. We knew the way home.  When views of our houses appeared, we knew there WAS a problem. Our moms were in the front yards looking upset. They greeted us with frantic hugs but boy were we in trouble! I may have even received a swift swat on the bottom, don't exactly remember. There were stern discussions of our boundaries and "asking permission".  Even though we were allowed to roam, we had to learn the "understood" rules that accompanied freedom.

Like all southern towns of the 50's, Royse City was segregated, the black folk (called N#%$ by most towns people) lived in their own neighborhood across the railroad tracks. They had their own houses, their own church, their own school. As a child I thought like a child and I thought everybody lived as they did by choice. The only black person I knew by name was Gussie, the woman who came to help us out when my baby sister was born.  She was nice, I liked her.

During these pre-school days of my childhood (I didn't actually go to pre-school, these were simply developmental years before moving to the Dallas suburb of Carrollton where I started school in first grade), there were many occasions where adults gathered and children ran underfoot. White noise (pun intended) is expected to pass over the heads of kids, but not always, not mine. People would be sitting balanced in metal lawn chairs in a back yard passing bowls of homemade ice ream and chatting into the dark.  Sometimes the idle gossip would gain intensity as someone would audaciously accuse The Catholics or the NAACP of some shenanigans.  Too young to know fully, but the tone and some words caught in my innocence and twisted my heart.  God had set a watchman in me.  A conscience was being born to guide me through life.  I was too young to know, but there was a spirit telling me that something was off kilter in my perfect world.

Thankfully, my soul was spared some of the wrenching anguish of Jean Louise (Scout) in her adult sized eye opening moments. My little ears never heard the voices of my heroes, my mama and daddy, in the questionable utterances; they have remained my models of greatness throughout my whole life, even though I know they must carry their own human flaws.  The white noise remains unnamed but I know it had to come from neighbors and relatives, people we loved.  People who must be forgiven. Maybe I should actually be thankful for them, for stirring my childhood awakening to grow the seed of justice.

On a few recent visits back to this once hometown to attend funerals, I noted changes to the once Negro community that clustered near the cemetery. Newer houses appeared and the "Colored School" had been remodeled and revamped into a special district alternative learning center named after a man who had been my parents' teacher and principal. The black dirt cotton fields are being covered by new affordable housing developments touting the pleasures of country living.  Hopefully prejudices have dissipated and mutual respect prevails in the growing little city of the new millennium. 

Many people and events have continued to teach me about how to live my life on this earth, relating to others in our world.  Jesus' words and actions are the ultimate model.  The Golden Rule.  The Beatitudes.  The Sermon on the Mount. The Lord's Prayer.  The Great Commission. 

My Watchman is set.

Isaiah 21:6
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

Thank you, Dear God, for giving Harper Lee to our world, whose iconic, influential words shaped her readers. Thank you for my friends and family who love to read and discuss favorite books. Thank you for teachers who taught us how to read and question and explore. Thank you for Pastor John who delivered a Sunday sermon on Go Set a Watchman giving light to eternal insights. Thank you for your eternal grace toward us. Amen.

Go to Audio Podcast

Sermon by John Mollet

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!

Simply just being - together. Slight winds wafted through pool side wisteria, while we sat waiting, watching, listening.  Watching the dynamic tension of circling hawk suppressing neighborhood birdsong, listening for the punchlines of silly priest jokes, waiting for the just right moment to fill our plates of shared friends' foods bounty. These are the moments to remember, being in the presence of people with good humor, good hearts.
In her coughing, slightly tipsy voice she confessed an uncanny obsession. Lord Byron's poem kept coming to her consciousness in some connection to me. "She walks in beauty..." From depths of memory I could complete the next line. Darrell and I sang this together in high school choir, an acapella performance, led by a man we loved and revered, blended with other voices still innocent of adulthood. She blamed her Irish roots of mysterious intuition and I accepted the mystery, a gift.

There must have been a hasty, college kid review written for Lord Byron's poetry in my earlier years, English Lit, UNT, circa 1970's.  Here is my current reflection:
She walks in beauty....beautiful words, beautiful imagery....on the surface it describes a
woman who possesses both outer and inner beauty...a worthy, far reaching, timeless theme, something you and I and others aspire to be. 

On a personal level, I notice the particular contrasts between light and dark. I'm borrowing phrases from a book I'm reading by Sue Monk Kidd (Traveling with Pomegranates) to describe my reaction, "The irony is that I had to go on an elaborate journey to figure this out.  So much of my growing older seems to be about paradoxes.  The reconciliation of opposites.  The bringing to balance."                                                                              

So I view my darkness as disease and the light as goodness, blessings that surround me.  In the darkness, "the cloudless climes"  obstructions/distractions from daily life fall away and I am given clarity to see all the goodness, "the starry skies".  So I have been "mellowed" to see "tender light"  that might ordinarily have gone unnoticed in "gaudy day", or normal activity.  So I notice all the good that people carry in them and care to share - bringing flowers, replanting dead pots, baking blueberry muffins, book shopping, destination driving, sending cards, encouraging messages, simply just being - together.  Besides the goodness in people, there is also evident innate purity in nature for those who observe - flourishing plants, effects of powerful floods, circling hawks, birdsong restored, light effects at certain times of day and night, chameleon geckoes, mama ducks and their babies, squirlish antics, and more.

Ironic that being in a shade greater of darkness and a ray less of light, keeps a balance that reveals nameless grace.  The goodness is there in the smiles and kindnesses of friends, family and even strangers.  So in my inner dwelling place there is a fullness of good thoughts, comfort, love, peace in my heart.  Would I know this so deeply without "the night"? I love this poem and I'm glad she brought it out of my distant past into my present. Remembering the scripture that was read by Ashley at her father, Don Bigbie's funeral, the one shared in letters between Don and a friend Mark.  It has stayed with me as a God sent message, coming at me repeatedly from various places. The poem carries the same message.

2 Corinthians 12:9New International Version (NIV)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Deep thoughts by Susan Green. On Gilda Radner's birthday.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Pray for one another

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (‭James‬ ‭5‬:‭13-16‬ KJV)

Unexpected phone calls and emails from people in our church's Kenya village make my heart sing and my face smile. If you happen to make a connection with this village, there is no going back to who you were before, no forgetting! Adopting an orphan, feeding children from the street, supporting medical services or evangelists who travel to remote areas, meeting with African church representatives who visit our community or joining a mission trip which travels to Meru - however you are lead to put action into your attitude of caring, you will be blessed. Over and over. Again.

Lawrence Mathieu is a lovely man of faith who works in a school in Kenya. He has a passion for loving Christ and serving others. He has visited us in Grapevine and hosted us in Africa. Last fall he happened to send an email of greetings and questions. His questions of "how are you?" were answered with concerns for my mother. A general health check up had revealed a problem, irregular heart beat. Several procedures were tried to get it back in rhythm but so far nothing had worked. She had been feeling "really tired". He promised that he and his family would pray for my mother. Follow up emails occurred with more greetings and questions, "how is your mother?", "we are lifting her up in prayer". Although with aging, human bodies show effects of stress, my mother's new doctor was able to find a medication and dosage to reset her heart at a good pace. My heart was amazed and encouraged that wonderful people on the other side of our globe were caring and praying for someone so dear to me.

Travel to Kenya is not required to make a caring connection. Hundreds of people in our own congregation will reach out and care for you. Prayers overlap, Bibles are open, acts of service welcome volunteers, classes challenge and inform, joint worship inspires - Kum ba yah, My friend; kum ba yah, my Lord!

Dear Lord,
We recognize you as The Father of all. We thank you for connecting us as one big family and we thank you for being All-knowing and All-caring. Help us to follow your commandments and model the life of your son. Thank you for the joy that is found in caring for one another. Let us honor you in every day, Amen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Lessons from a Two Year Old

Matthew 18:10 See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my father in heaven.

Lay down, you need to get some rest.  Keller was not agreeing with my talk about nap time.  Chattering away about the planned excursion on the Polar Express Grapevine Christmas train, he tossed and turned, flipped and scrunched.  Come on now, let’s be quiet and sleep a little while.  “No, Ma.  I’m not tired and I have options!”  My giggles would not suppress.  Oh, what are your options?  “Well, I can get down this way or I can get down that way!”  The ends of the daybed were open where the middle was blocked by his safety rail.  The option exercised was the one closest to the door where we escaped to play until time for the train ride.

Whether you are a toddler or a senior citizen, you DO have options!

Lately I have been plagued with hyper sensitivity.  Why does the world have to be so cruel?  Why do people I know have to be so mean, so rude?  D wisely advises to not let things bother me, but I do.  My brain is wired to rethink, rehash, relive – wondering, questioning, analyzing incidents. To. Death. 

So what are my options?

If I were Taylor Swift, I would vent by writing a song.  Mean: 

You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again
Got me feeling like I'm nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I'm wounded
You picking on the weaker man

You can take me down with just one single blow
But you don't know, what you don't know...

You, with your switching sides
And your wildfire lies and your humiliation
You have pointed out my flaws again
As if I don't already see them
I walk with my head down
Trying to block you out 'cause I'll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again

I bet you got pushed around
Somebody made you cold
But the cycle ends right now
'Cause you can't lead me down that road
And you don't know, what you don't know...

If I were Edvard Munch, I would create an expressive painting of The Scream.

Since I am me, I have to turn to the inspired words of books and speakers to guide me. The theme that has been coming to me from words of wisdom is JOY!  From my current read, the Lessons of Saint Francis, I find that a common occurrence in our modern era with people who lived in the 1200s is darkness and bad news.  Francis warned his students that dejection could “generate an abiding rust in the heart”.  Remember the tin man; I don’t want my heart to be ruined by rust!  Francis went on to caution the friars that Satan sought to exaggerate even the slightest wrongs into full- fledged crises.  “The devil exults when he can extinguish or even impede the devotion and joy brought about by pure prayer or other good works in the heart of God’s servant…it would be very easy for the devil to take the slightest thing and turn it into an ever heavier burden.” (when I first was writing this post and came to this quote about the devil, my computer mysteriously shut down and I lost everything I had written- damn the devil!- it completely creeped me out but I took a break and came back – there!) Just manually saved.  Precaution.

Francis was not denying the reality of bad news, he was instead encouraging his people to avoid dwelling on sadness and cynicism that could block out the light of God and the light of love.


During my break from the devil, I listened to an advent sermon podcast by Cindy Ryan, speaking about the pink advent candle of Joy. I had heard it back in December but it seemed like good timing to hear it again.  She talked about Joy as being out of place in our world of craziness and pain.  Joy is a supernatural gift from God.  It can be found in sunny days in January, cloud formations, sunsets, butterflies, hugs, smiles, toasts, wildlife spottings, FB posts, innocent words of little children, books, songs, art – it’s all around.  Just look.



In the recent sports world wrapped up in football mania, one commentator spoke about his time under the coaching leadership of Bill Parcells.  Preparing his team for playoffs, film would be viewed of various players while mistakes were pointed out.  The coach would say, “Don’t be that guy!”  I have been too aware of those who criticize, exclude, shun, ignore, hate, lie – it’s not pretty.  So the option I choose is – don’t be that guy.

A quote from Mr. Rogers comes to mind, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.””

For me (and maybe for you), choices are in how to respond to people/events that bring you down.  I can carry hurt, I can avoid situations, I can grow thicker skin, I can retaliate – or I can look for the good in the midst of all the messiness.  When I look for the good, I see it is so many times stronger than the bad.  There is the joy!

Philippians 4:8  Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.





Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Luke 1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

This is the story of a $1000 donation to Weekend Food from Berkeys.

My heart is heavy with the needs of children – not constantly in my fore thoughts, but constantly in my subconsiousness.  Visions of my visits with hungry children in Africa remind me to support them with my prayers, my words and my finances.  Knowledge of hungry children in my own hometown should bring the same response.


Debbie Price and I connected at some time in the fall to discuss possible grant writing to seek funding for the growing numbers in the Weekend Food Program. 
 I had successfully submitted many educational grants during my time as a public school teacher so I knew that experience could help me work on grants for this community need.  First research what grant opportunities are out there – many, many can be found but requirements for a non-profit Tax ID code would not match our administrative plans through church missions.  Most opportunities available count us out, except for those listed through Wal Mart.

Local communication came to mind, so I drafted a letter to share with businesses and community groups.  Many were sent out by email to car dealerships and insurance agencies.  Results were zero response. Maybe those requests just filtered to junk mail? Dear God, am I wrong to think that you want this?

What I really believe is this.  God is so personal.  He knows our thoughts – both cognitive and subconscious.  He knows our desires – and smiles on those aligned with his good purposes.  He wants his children to be fed – both physically and spiritually.  He is the supernatural, ultimate, intimate power – and delights when we recognize this at work in the world.  Some people call it amazing coincidence – I call it God’s hands.

On one random day during the holidays, a business advertisement randomly appeared on my Facebook news feed showing a local company called Berkeys.  At the time I did not need air conditioning or heating service but something else about their ad caught my attention. They needed to make a holiday contribution to a worthy favorite charitable program.  The notice asked for an essay of 100 words or less to explain the mission and needs of such a group who could use a donation.  My heart beat quicker as I recognized hearts that God had prepared for giving!  I shared their post to put it on my home page with plans to come back to it later and apply.  As you can tell from this story, my writing tends to be wordy!  My saved letter was edited down to meet their maximum word requirement and submitted through Facebook.  Christmas plans took over my daily life and I forgot about the Berkeys post …until I received a notice in the final days of advent that this business had selected Weekend Food for their planned donation.  God is the divine connector!  I am awed and amazed but I know it is not just a coincidence.

In the following days even more good news for Weekend Food, Walmart awarded a grant through Debbie’s application from last year, church members made donations and a former GCISD teacher led her family to gather food and money to support feeding these kids in Grapevine.  God is good, all the time!

John 15:5  I am the vine, ye are the branches:  He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit:  for apart from me ye can do nothing.

Psalm 31:19   Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!